HC Deb 27 November 1882 vol 275 cc128-42

Order read, for resuming Further Consideration of the New Rules of Procedure.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the seven first and the three last of the said Resolutions be Standing Orders of the House."—(Mr. Gladstone.)

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

MR. GLADSTONE moved— That the first seven and the last three of the said Resolutions he Standing Orders of the House. The right hon. Gentleman remarked that a Resolution was only passed for the current Session, and consequently there would be no trial of the New Resolutions unless they were made Standing Orders. Speaking generally, there was no reason to regard them as experimental, and the Government proposed that they should at once become Standing Orders. The 8th and 9th Resolutions, which were already Standing Orders, did not require any Resolution to make them such.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the first seven and the last three of the said Resolutions be Standing Orders of the House."—(Mr. Gladstone.)


rose to move an Amendment which, he said, was one of considerable importance. He desired, first, however, to make two preliminary observations. In the first place, it was not his object in the least to try to get rid altogether of the 1st Resolution. He did not intend to discuss the policy or principle of that Resolution; and if hon. Members would cast their eyes further down the Notice Paper they would see that he had another Amendment, the effect of which would be to make the 1st Resolution a Standing Order until the end of the next Session of Parliament. In the next place, he wished to say that he sympathized with hon. Members in various parts of the House who proposed to extend his Amendment. But, at the same time, he felt that some at least of the Resolutions ought to be made Standing Orders; and his present object was to draw a distinction, which he believed to be vital, between the 1st Resolution and the other Resolutions which had been under the consideration of the House. When the Resolutions were first introduced by the Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman said— Another point is whether these Resolutions should be made Standing Orders. We have not thought it right to lay down any proposal on the subject in definite terms; but, of course, they must be made Standing Orders if they should be found to work usefully. Perhaps they may bear the test of experience so well that we shall ask the House to make them Standing Orders."—[3 Hansard, cclxvi. 1133–4.] That was in February; but before the month was passed or the Resolutions were discussed, except to a very small extent, the right hon. Gentleman told the House, without a single word of preface or explanation, that he proposed to make all these Resolutions Standing Orders. But the right hon. Gentleman made this very important distinction between the Resolutions up to 12 and those with regard to Standing Committees. He said that the Resolutions with regard to Standing Committees were so thoroughly novel and tentative that they ought to be tried for a Session or two to see how they would work. With respect to all the other Resolutions, except the 1st, they had been considered over and over again in detail by various Committees, they had been constantly before the minds of hon. Gentlemen, they had been recommended for adoption by various Select Committees, and a good many of them had undergone the test of experience, because they had been included by the Speaker in the Rules under the Code of Urgency. But the Clôture Resolution stood in a totally different position. It was an absolutely novel proposal, and so far from having been recommended by any Select Committee, though considered by several, there was at least one Committee which had rejected it, while the minority in its favour consisted of only one Member. A second important distinction was the mode of its adoption. Could anybody doubt that that particular Resolution had been carried against the unanimous feeling of the minority of the House simply by a Party vote? He desired, therefore, to urge earnestly upon the Prime Minister whether these distinctions should not induce him to make a difference between the 1st Resolution and all the others; whether, in fact, the reasons in favour of making the 1st Resolution a temporary experiment were not stronger even than in the case of the Standing Committees; whether he would not yield to the very earnest expression of opinion of Members on that (the Opposition) side, and allow the Resolution to be tested by experience before making so important an innovation in the Rules which governed the Procedure of that House? He begged to move his Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To leave out the words "first seven," and insert the words "second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh."—(Mr. E. Stanhope.)

Question proposed, "That the words 'first seven' stand part of the Question."


said, that the affect of the Amendment which he desired to move would be that the 1st and 2nd Rules would remain in force during the present Parliament, and would then lapse unless they were re-enacted. He based his argument on the uncertainty as to how they would act. It must surely be admitted that the 2nd Rule had worked very differently from what was expected. Already they had had two cases in which the adjournment had been moved immediately after Questions. As to the first instance, he would say nothing; but the second certainly did not appear to have been such a case as was contemplated by the Rules. The words of the Rule were that the subject must be one of "urgent public importance." Now, the Resolution of the hon. Member for East Gloucestershire (Mr. Yorke) might or might not have been a clever Party move—he had his own opinion— but that it was a Party move could not be denied, and an inquiry into the circumstances attending the release of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) was certainly not an "urgent" matter. Under the old Rule a Member moving the adjournment did so on his own responsibility. His conduct was generally condemned by opponents and coldly received on his own side. But now he obtained the support of many Gentlemen who shared his responsibility, and even appeared in advance to give a general approval to the view he advocated. With reference to the 1st Resolution, there seemed much force in the proposal of the hon. Gentleman opposite; it was passed in spite of the strenuous protests of the Opposition, and only by a small majority. Moreover, the narrowness of the majority was especially significant when they considered the circumstances. He was not at all complaining that any undue pressure was exercised. Still, what was said by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. G. Russell) last week—that the wish of the Prime Minister was law to nine-tenths of that (the Ministerial) side of the House—was, no doubt, true. He felt it as much as the hon. Gentleman, and, perhaps, even more. On the occasion when the hon. Member voted, and told against the Government, he came down to the House intending to vote with him; but in consequence of the personal appeal made by the Prime Minister, he voted with the Government. He did not, as regarded the present question, suppose for a moment that any Gentleman voted against his judgment, still loss against his conscience; but he believed that some surrendered their judgment to that of the right hon. Gentleman. Well, then, under these circumstances, it was surely not unreasonable to ask that they should give the Rule a trial before making it permanent. He could not put his argument in stronger language than that used by the Prime Minister himself in 1880 with reference to the Rule proposed by the then Government, and now re-affirmed with some modifications. The right hon. Gentleman said— There is one more question on which I think I may say a word, although I believe it is in the 2nd Resolution before the House. I do not see the advantage of constituting this new scheme at once a Standing Order. I do not see what is gained for it from the point of view of the Government. The whole thing is necessarily experimental. That is not the fault of the Government; but it is extremely difficult to tell beforehand—I am sure those who have considered the matter most will feel the truth of what I say—what will be the precise effect and operation of the different parts of the Resolution if, which we all deprecate, it should become a practical measure…Why are we to attempt, considering the extreme limitation of our own knowledge of the matter, and the great difficulty of forming confident forecasts in a matter so entirely new—why are we to deal with it conclusively? Why not leave the new Parliament, which will have to consider the subject, perfectly free and open for its consideration? I am entirely ignorant what advantage the Chancellor of the Exchequer would obtain from making this a Standing Order. Further consideration of the matter must be, and I ask that the further consideration should be, as free and unprejudiced as possible."—[3 Hansard, ccl. 1591–2.] The hon. Gentleman the present Secretary to the Treasury felt so strongly the force of the argument that he seconded the proposal. In doing so he said— In seconding the Amendment, it was true that a Standing Order might be altered; but it would have to be a very bad one indeed before that was done. A Sessional Order, on the other hand, would be tried, and any defects it might have speedily remedied."—[Ibid. 1707.] He might also logically claim the cooperation of several leading Members on that side of the House. The hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), in moving— That, in the last Session of a Parliament, it is inexpedient to constitute an untried experiment by which the proceedings of Parliament may be materially altered, and the privileges of Members lessened, as a Standing Order of the House," said, "that a Standing Order was a permanent Order; and, therefore, before it was finally decided on, he thought it was necessary that there should be some experience of its working."—[Ibid. 1706.] Lastly, he might claim the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), who told them that— He, for one, while prepared to give the Government all the aid in his power to prevent the abuse of the privileges of debate, could not consent to inflict a stab on Liberal progress in this country by borrowing from the Continent those new-fangled ideas for controlling the rights of minorities."—[Ibid. 1600.] The truth was, however, that the Continental Rules were by no means the same. Those now adopted had been tried nowhere. He hoped that they might work well; but it seemed to him that they would be wise in the words of the Prime Minister to leave the next Parliament "free" to deal with the matter in accordance with the experience of the next few years. He concluded by moving the omission of the word "second" from the Amendment.


said, that the hon. Baronet's Amendment could not yet be moved.


said, that his hon. Friend behind him wished to place the 2nd Resolution in a condition of inferiority by granting to it only the cha- racter of a Sessional Order. [Sir JOHN LUBBOCK: No, no!] The Government, to some extent, shared the apprehensions of his hon. Friend with regard to this 2nd Resolution, which was adopted by them in deference to what they believed to be the prevailing sense of the House. It had seemed to them that there was much, to be said for the principle that a minority of sensible proportions should be able to bring forward a question independently of the sense of the majority. They had relied a great deal upon the discretion and self-denial which Members, as they hoped, would exorcise in interpreting for themselves the phrase "a subject of urgent public importance." That was a check of great moment; but, undoubtedly, it was one that might be rendered valueless by lax consideration, and by lax consideration growing into a habit. It would be invidious in him if he were to refer in detail to what took place last week, and therefore he should not do so. He wished to state that, notwithstanding the fact that the Government entertained misgivings, he was not at present disposed to despair of the working of the Resolution, He felt such a disinclination to shut out the kind of discussion that might be raised on a Motion for Adjournment that he should be very loth, except in a case of evident necessity, to do anything, not only that would reverse the decision to which they came a fortnight ago, but that would weaken or disparage the Resolution, The stress upon the 2nd Resolution might be said to be severe when two Motions for Adjournment had been made on two successive days, But they ought, in fairness, to remember that the position of the House during the past six weeks had been very peculiar, It was really marvellous that the House of Commons should meet, and be engaged in steady and rather severe labour for five days a-week, and should allow itself to be tied up to one subject, He could not but feel that that constituted so exceptional a consideration that he thought it would be unfair and inequitable if they were to allow themselves to give too much weight to what had happened, or to what might happen, in circumstances so peculiar, For the reasons which he had given, he could not accede to the Amendment of the hon, Baronet, With regard to the Motion of his hon. Friend opposite, he had to say that the hon. Member had stated, with perfect candour and accuracy, the facts and the arguments that could be brought to bear upon his side of the question. But, although the change effected by the Resolution had never been recommended by a Committee, he felt sure the hon. Member would admit that it had been recommended by considerable authority. The argument which the hon. Member used in the case of the other Resolutions—namely, that they had experience of them in a state of Urgency—was not only true of the 2nd Resolution, but à fortiori true of it; because they had had more than the Resoultion in operation under the laws of Urgency, under which laws the Rule was that not only might a particular debate be brought to a close, but that a discussion in Committee or on the Report of a Bill might be closed by the putting of all the remaining Amendments without debate. They had, therefore, had great experience of a still more stringent Rule than the present one. It had been said that the Resolution had been carried by a Party vote. He could not admit that. A very sensible number of Gentlemen belonging to the Liberal Party voted against the Resolution, and, therefore, against the Government. It would have been carried by a Party vote if the Government, in discussing the Resolution, had ventured to give notice that they intended to stand or fall by it. That would have been bringing to bear the authority of the Government in its most stringent form. The whole House, however, understood perfectly well the language which the Government used. What we said was this—and the words were noted by the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote)—"We shall urge you; we shall intreat you to adopt this measure for the sake of the House itself; but we recognize the supreme authority of the House in regard to it, and we shall look to that authority to decide the question." It was perfectly well understood that if a majority had not been favourable to the Resolution, the Government would have accepted with the deepest regret the failure of their plan and with extreme misgivings, but still with submission, and would still have continued to discharge the duties of those intrusted with Executive power. He thought therefore, that when a not inconsiderable majority was found to support this Resolution in the circumstances which actually occurred, and knowing that they had no consequences to apprehend in the event of their giving an opposite vote, it was not accurate to describe a decision so taken by the House as a Party vote. His hon. Friend behind him had quoted a statement made by him in 1880, recommending that the penal Resolution proposed by the Government of that day should be accepted as a Sessional Order only. It was quite true that he made such a recommendation; but there were two things to observe in connection with the circumstances. In the first place, his recommendation was not accepted; and, in the second, he was not aware that he adhered to the recommendation. Though he thought proper to make it, he did not think it was a recommendation which he should press in opposition to the views of the Executive Government of the day. But the recommendation was made in 1880, which was necessarily the last year of the existing Parliament. In a new Parliament the Order would have fallen to the ground, and, consequently, what he said amounted to this—"You have not got the power to give permanence to this Resolution, which must be reconsidered by the new Parliament; therefore, accept it on trial, and let the new Parliament reconsider it by the light of the experience that will have been gained." That was quite a different thing from recommending the adoption of a Resolution as a Sessional Order when a Parliament had still several Sessions to run. What was really meant by the adoption of the present Resolution as a Standing Order? If it were so adopted, it would not lapse of itself during the present Parliament; but it might be altered upon the Motion of any Members. What had been the allegations as to the effects of this Resolution? He had never known a case in which the allegations on both sides had been more widely separated. In the case of the Reform Bill, one side said that the effects would be advantageous, and the other said they would be injurious; but both sides admitted that they would be great. But in this case he who was largely responsible for these Rules, and many others on that side of the House, had always contended that the effects of the Resolution would be comparatively small—that they would be merely preventive and comparatively small. If that was their expectation, how could they be asked to treat this as a portentous experiment that ought to have only a limited range? On the other side, the allegation was that the effects of the Resolution would be enormous and mischievous. If these expectations were entertained—and entertained, as he was sure they were, in perfect good faith—how could it be expected that the experience of a portion of the Session would satisfy those who foresaw such enormous evils as the results of the Resolutions? It would take a much longer time than that to satisfy those Gentlemen. The House would be exposed, in the course of next Session, to the chance of spending another 19 days, or even half that period, on the re-enactment of those Rules. He was convinced that a moderate time would satisfy his hon. Friend that his fears were groundless; but he was not convinced that his hon. Friend would be converted in the course of the few months of next Session. Therefore, the House would see that the greatest injustice would be done if it were exposed to the chance of spending a long time in the re-enactment of the Rules before they had been in operation long enough to satisfy those who now so greatly feared their effects. In the next few months they could hardly expect that hon. Members would be converted. The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowen) would probably again come down to the House and exert his great powers of eloquence against the Rules, and receive the incense of his admirers in nearly as great abundance as during the present Session. But, by degrees, hon. Members would get reconciled with the Resolutions. The Clôture Resolution represented 19 days' work, and he thought that the House was entitled to ask that it should be enforced for the remainder of the present Parliament. How was it that they had been enabled to carry it? By the fact that the Resolutions had been made the exclusive subject of the attention of the House. If the Government had been reduced to the ordinary time at their disposal, if the Resolutions had been taken from Monday till Thursday and from Thursday to Monday, and had had to be reconciled with the de- mands upon public time for Supply and legislative measures, they never could have got through them. They could not, therefore, by any voluntary act on their part, subject this Resolution to the risk of being defeated next year, not upon its merits, but by the difficulties they would have in finding time to again submit it to the House. He trusted that he had shown ample reason why the proposal of the Government should be accepted.


said, he was sorry the 2nd Resolution had been passed, for he thought it would have been much better to leave the matter to the judgment of the House. At the same time, he concurred with the Prime Minister that the experience of the last few days was not sufficient to enable them to judge as to the operation of the Rule. The House was then working at high pressure, and private Members had no opportunities whatever of bringing on their Motions. It was not surprising, therefore, that the new Procedure should have been made use of for the discussion of topics of urgent public importance. With regard to the question raised by his hon. Friend (Mr. Stanhope), he thought that he was perfectly justified in bringing it on. The Prime Minister had said that the Clôture Resolution was based on high authority. But that consisted of nothing more than a sentence of the late Speaker before a Committee of the House, and referred to nothing approaching clôture. Then the Urgency Rules had been relied on as a precedent; but the Urgency Rules were adopted as a temporary expedient, and were most distasteful to the House. The Prime Minister put the position fairly when he said that he had never known a question upon which on each side of the House such diverse views had been taken. On that side of the House they dreaded the operation of this Rule, and thought it an innovation upon the law and practice of Parliament. Having the greatest dread of the results which would accrue from that Resolution, they said that it would only be wise to make an experimental trial of the Rule. They asked that it might be seen how the Rule worked before the yoke was put permanently round their necks. The Prime Minister contended that its effect would be slight, and that if made permanent it could be removed if it worked badly. But if the Rule worked well in the course of next Session, the Government would find the House more disposed to adopt it than at present. He was not surprised that so great an innovation as this Rule should have taken 19 days to pass; but because of the time required for passing it, the Prime Minister urged that it should be made permanent. Evidently the Prime Minister did not like to take another vote of the House, and was afraid that after the House had had experience of this Rule it would object to putting into the hands of any Government so much arbitrary power as this Rule gave those who had command of a majority in the House. On the other hand, they contended that the House ought to see how the Rule worked before they made it a permanent Order. They declined to increase the power of arbitrary Ministers by giving them the power of clôture in perpetuity, and they, therefore, entered their solemn protest against this Rule being made a Standing Order. He hoped his hon. Friend would take a division on the Amendment which he had proposed.


contended that if this Rule remained in its present form Members would enter into combinations, and not the majority, but the minority of 40 Members rising in their places would govern what Business should be proceeded with. Hon. Members would agree with him that if the Rule should frequently be put in force, as it had been during the last few days, it would have to be followed by the use of the 1st Resolution, and that the Party on the Ministerial side of the House had shown a strong desire to avoid.


thought that the hon. Member for Salford should not so soon complain against the Rule. Liberals such as he was should be of a more robust fibre. He had as yet had only two days of purgatory. If the hon. Member would be patient, the time would come, no doubt, when he would be able to have his revenge by asking 40 Members to stand up on some occasion when their action would be inconvenient to their political opponents. He had been surprised to hear the Prime Minister argue that the Rule should be made a Standing Order, because its operation would be rare. According to the right hon. Gentleman, it was such a poor little Resolution that it was necessary to invest it with the dignity of a Standing Order. The Prime Minister's anxiety to calm the fears of those who dreaded the clôture reminded him of the explanation made for the benefit of the ladies, that the lion in Pyramus and Thisbe was no lion in reality, but only Smug the joiner. The clôture, then, was a harmless expedient after all, and the House was to take the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that the rope which it was asked to put round its neck would be of silk. As a matter of fact, however, who could doubt that the question was far more serious? Whatever else the clôture might or might not be, it was, at any rate, a sacrifice of the old dignity and independence of Parliament; and the best arguments in its favour failed to show cause for its use save in a tentative and speculative way. It was said that the Rule was not carried by a Party vote, because a few independent Members voted with the minority; but the fact remained that the majority carried the Resolution under a most urgent Whip, and was composed entirely of Members of one Party. He hoped that the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire would go to a division, so that the Resolution might not be confirmed by the unanimous vote of the House.


said, he should support the Amendment. If the Rule meant anything it was directed against the minority in that House. The Prime Minister, when he said that the clôture was not a Party question, was altogether at variance with the Home Secretary, who had said, in the course of the debate, earlier in the Session, on the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott), that the question was essentially of a Party character. The Home Secretary had since that time changed his views on this point; but that was his opinion a few months ago. The House would probably think the right hon. and learned Gentleman's earlier declaration the wiser of the two, seeing that the clôture was avowedly designed to facilitate the passing of Liberal legislation. That, he was aware, had often been denied; but the speech of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at Chelsea on the 22nd instant made the intention of the Government perfectly clear. The hon. Baronet, speaking on that occasion, had said—"The Liberals have been taunted for desiring these Rules only to secure the passing of their own measures. Of course they do." With those words on record, it was evident that the clôture was aimed, not at Obstruction, but at Parliamentary opposition, and that, if the Rule became a Standing Order, the House would simply be called upon to register the conclusions of the Government.


deprecated needless alarm at the probable operation of the Rule. For his own part, he believed that limitations on the right of speech-making would have been equally effective; that it would be well, for example, to limit the length of speeches, and to prohibit the quoting of words used by the Prime Minister more than 40 years ago. It was avowedly an experimental Rule, and therefore he should vote for the Amendment. To have deprived the former division upon it of a Party character, the Prime Minister should not have spoken before the division. If hon. Members could now act independently of Party the Rules would be modified or dropped altogether.


said, that formerly the Prime Minister had some excuse for abiding by the Rule, because the others had not been agreed to; but now that they had been passed and formed a code of Draconian severity, the House was placed in a totally different position in considering whether it would dispense with this Rule. He would therefore support the Amendment.


said, it was true the Prime Minister had stated that he would not resign; but he had never said he would not dissolve. None could forget the solemn way in which the Attorney General excommunicated the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowen), and if that did not show Party spirit he did not know what could do so. If there were no Party question now, would the Government dispense with the services of their own Whips, and so furnish no guidance to the Members who would rush into the House at the sound of the Division Bell? Before the majority was only 44–323 against 279. If two Members had walked out and one crossed the floor, the proportions would have been 8 to 7; and by such a vote their liberties were taken away.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 187; Noes 90: Majority 47.—(Div. List, No. 399.)

MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK moved to omit from the Resolution the last Rule, which provided that the Speaker should leave the Chair without putting any Question when Committee of Supply stood for Monday or Thursday. The right hon. and learned Gentleman observed that when the late Government proposed to take this power for Mondays only the Liberal Party opposed the proposition. He could come to no other conclusion than that the great Liberal Party still entertained the opinions which they then held, and that they changed their course simply in consequence of the pressure avowed by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. G. Russell), who informed the House how the Prime Minister influenced nine-tenths of his supporters. Unless some explanation were given he should be bound to think that the political morality of the Liberals was not of a very high order. While on this point, he would read an extract or two from a work composed in 1852 by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the present Home Secretary. It was entitled The Morality of Public Men, and was dedicated to the late Earl of Derby. The "Letter" began with this magnificent sentence— The confidence of the nation is shaken in public men; it is impossible to predict, not only from week to week, but even from day to day, the opinions which may be advocated, or the course which may be pursued, by men who make their personal convenience the rule of their public policy. And the right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say— Those who know anything of Constitutional history must view with alarm the introduction of a new political morality, in which a majority is the single virtue, and a minority the only crime. He thought that, in the present case, the rights of private Members and the Constitutional liberties of the Opposition were being sacrificed to the interests of the Government and the exigencies of the moment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "last three," and insert the words "tenth and eleventh,"—(Mr. Cavendish Bentinck,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words 'last three' stand part of the Question."


remarked that the House had had ample experience to enable it to decide the question. The proposal would enable the House to perform in a more satisfactory manner than was at present possible its duty of fully discussing the Votes in Supply.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question put.

Resolved, That the first seven and the last three of the said Resolutions be Standing Orders of the House.