HC Deb 07 June 1883 vol 279 cc2006-17

said, he was instructed, as Chairman of the Standing Committee on Trade, Shipping, and Manufactures, to move the following Resolution:— That the Standing Committee on Trade, Shipping, and Manufactures have leave to sit on Mondays till half-past Four of the clock, and on Fridays till half-past Two of the clock, during the Sitting of the House. As Morning Sittings had now commenced in the House, the Committee were anxious to utilize, as far as possible, the interval before the commencement of Public Business; but the House would bear in mind that when the Standing Committees were originally formed, a Standing Order was passed declaring that— The said Committees shall not sit while the House is sitting without the Order of the House. Under that Standing Order, the Committee over which he had the honour to preside were anxious to obtain the leave of the House to sit for an extra half-hour on two days of the week.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Standing Committee on Trade, Shipping, and Manufactures have leave to sit on Mondays till half-past Four of the clock, and on Fridays till half-past Two of the clock, during the Sitting of the House."—(Mr. Goschen.)


said, he was rather surprised that this Motion should be made—a Motion so important—at a time when the House was unprepared for it. The circumstances under which the Standing Order which the right hon. Gentleman now called upon them to vary was made were fresh in the recollection of the House. When these Standing Committees were proposed, they necessarily occasioned a good deal of discussion during that Autumn Session which had been forced upon an unwilling House. They were accepted by the House loyally, but with considerable misgiving, and qualified by a strong desire that they should not spoil the Business of the House by interfering with the Sittings of the House. After long debates, in which the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire took a prominent part in opposing them, an agreement was come to, in terms suggested by the Prime Minister; and the operative Standing Order was framed, of which the important words were these— The said Committees shall he excluded from the operations of the Standing Order of July 21, 1856, and the said Committees shall not sit, whilst the House is sitting, without the Order of the House. That was passed on the 30th November last. No doubt, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon was strictly within his rights in making the Motion which had now been submitted to the House; but he was not within the spirit of those rights; he was not within the spirit in which the House assented to the formation of these Grand Committees. Those Committees were still in their most tender infancy. They were an innovation, and already his right hon. Friend wished to vary that innovation. Why did he wish to vary it? In order to bolster up another innovation which gave up Tuesdays and Fridays to the Government in a much more wholesale manner than had ever been done before. The right hon. Gentleman had given no good reason for the change; and he (Mr. Beresford Hope) thought that such a change, so counter to the assurances which had led to the autumnal capitulation, ought not to be granted by an exhausted House at 2 o'clock in the morning, especially when hon. Members had to be there again at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. He would move the Adjournment of the Debate.


said, he thought it was impossible that they should go on extending the work beyond the powers of an average Member of Parliament. The Government were trying to carry their measures by a process of sheer exhaustion. These Committees were agreed to under solemn promises given; but it was the habit of the Government to break all their promises; it was a regular plan with them. When the New Rules were made, they said the Committees were not to sit during the Sitting of the House, and what was now proposed was a clear breach of faith. If the Resolution now proposed was carried, hon. Members who sat on the Grand Committees would be deprived of the opportunity of hearing prayers. The Government, which tried to foist an Atheist on the House, might not have a very good opinion of prayers; but it was the duty and the privilege of hon. Members to pray. He would, therefore, second the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Beresford Hope.)


said, he would have liked to make a few observations on the subject; but he understood that, under the New Rules, it was impossible for him to do so. He was, therefore, reluctantly compelled to vote for the Adjournment.


said, he should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Sclater-Booth) would have done the exact opposite. He (Mr. Chamberlain) was precluded from answering the observations of the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope), because the Motion now before the House was one for the Adjournment of the Debate; and he thought it was desirable that that right hon. Gentleman should withdraw his Motion, so that a discussion could be taken on the Main Question.


said, he should have agreed with the view just expressed, had it not been for the fact that it was now 2 o'clock in the morning. He had a good deal to say on the subject that he could not say now, and he did not think the House was in a proper condition for discussion.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 34; Noes 99: Majority 65.—(Div. List, No. 120.)

Original Question again proposed.


said, he could not help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman who made the last Motion (Mr. Beresford Hope) was under some misapprehension; because he said that the object of the Government in this matter was to vary the Standing Order, which, as the hon. and learned Gentleman who seconded that Motion (Mr. Warton) said, constituted something like a breach of faith with the House. He (Mr. Chamberlain) desired to call attention to the words of the Standing Order, which were that— The said Committees shall not sit, whilst the House is sitting, without the Order of the House. Now, if those words had any meaning at all, the Standing Order distinctly contemplated that there were circumstances in which the leave of the House might be applied for, and the direction of the House obtained. Both the Mover and Seconder of the Motion for Adjournment complained of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) for having introduced this subject at that period of the evening; but he (Mr. Chamberlain) would point out that his right hon. Friend had no alternative in the matter. His right hon. Friend had not acted for himself, but only by the direction and on behalf of the Committee. It had been arranged, with the consent of the House, that Morning Sittings would be taken on Tuesdays and Fridays. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Beresford Hope) said that that was an innovation at this period of the year. He thought, however, that the right hon. Gentleman was mistaken; because it had been the practice, under the late Government, to take Morning Sittings on those days earlier in the Session. For instance, the Valuation Bill was taken at Morning Sittings which began on the 6th of May. There was nothing, then, unusual in the Government asking the House to commence Morning Sittings on Tuesdays and Fridays. He considered it convenient, under the circumstances, to ask that the Standing Committee on Trade, Shipping, and Manufactures should not sit on those days; and he accordingly made a proposition in the Committee that it should sit on Mondays and Thursdays. Objections were taken to that proposal, on the ground that the Members of the Committee had made all their arrangements, which it would be extremely inconvenient to alter. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) then proposed that the Committee should sit three-quarters of an hour longer on Mondays, and half an hour longer on Fridays, thus giving the Committee an hour and a-quarter, in place of the two hours and a-half, which he showed was the whole time gained by sitting on the other days. As that appeared a fair compromise, he (Mr. Chamberlain) withdrew his proposition, and accepted that of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets. The hon. Member for West Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) proposed that their application to the House should be to sit till 5 o'clock on Monday, because he said it would not be a serious matter to miss a few of the earlier Questions; but it was pointed out that that would be inconvenient, among other reasons, because Members of the Government might have to attend in their places to answer Questions. The proposal of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets was then put and accepted, nemine contradicente. It was under these circumstances that his right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon had made the Motion before the House, and which, as it represented the unanimous wish of the Members of the Standing Committee, he trusted would be agreed to.


said, he made no complaint whatever of the course taken by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Goschen) in making this Motion, because he was only acting in accordance with the wish of the Standing Committee; but it was quite another question whether the House should agree to the Motion at that hour (2.5). It was a question whether, under the Standing Order, the Committee had any power to make the suggestion at all, which the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Chamberlain) described as a compromise, although he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) agreed that the proposal was made in the least objectionable form. When the Standing Committees were appointed it was certainly the understanding eventually arrived at that they were not to continue to sit while the House was sitting. Now, if the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon were carried, and the principle were admitted that, simply by the wish of the Members, these Grand Committees might go on sitting, and so overlap the Sittings of the House, there was nothing to prevent another Motion being made next year that they should sit continuously. He wished to show that if they once admitted the principle in an easy case it would be absolutely impossible to resist it in a more difficult one. He doubted whether the interpretation given by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade of the Standing Order was the correct one. When that Order was before the House there was great discussion as to whether the Standing Committees should go on the principle of the Select Committees, and the decision was that the procedure should be the same as that of Select Committees, unless the House should otherwise order. That he (Sir E. Assheton Cross) understood to mean that the Committee might come to the House and ask for an extension of time on a special occasion. But no Select Committee that ever sat had thought of coming to the House to ask for leave to sit continuously. The Standing Order went on to say— Provided also, That the said Committees shall be excluded from the operation of the Standing Order of July 21st, 1856, and the said Committees shall not sit, whilst the House is sitting, without the Order of the House. He imagined that the spirit of those words was that the Order of the House on every special occasion should be obtained. That matter came about on a Motion of his own. In view of the difficulty which would result from the Committee sitting during the Sitting of the House, he moved to insert the words, "which shall only sit whilst the House is not sitting." The House debated the question throughout the evening, and the Government were very strong in their opposition to the proposal. The Prime Minister was absent on the occasion; and he remembered saying that had he been in his place he would have given way on the point raised. The hon. Member for Bedford, who was present, said he thought it was only reasonable to add to the Amendment the words, "except by leave of the House obtained on each occasion." The next day the Prime Minister came down to the House and made a statement, in which he said he had considered the matter, and eventually the Order was passed in its present form. But he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) believed it was generally understood by the House that it was only on special occasions that the Committee should ask leave to sit while the House was sitting. It was all very well to say that only an hour was involved in the one case, and three-quarters of an hour in the other; but the proposal would entail upon hon. Members many inconveniences that he was sure they would not like; for instance, there would be no interval whatever between the times of attendance in the Committees and in the House, and then there would be a great difficulty in securing their seats in the House. Moreover, the proposal before the House was only a matter of compromise; and he was, therefore, bound to say that he did not attach much weight to the fact that the Committee were unanimous upon it. The proposal would never have been made had it not been for the Morning Sittings to be held on Tuesdays and Fridays; and had it been made under other circumstances, he believed that a very different opinion with regard to it would have been expressed. For those reasons he protested against the principle sought to be established, and because he was certain that if it were adopted a future Minister might use it as a precedent for some more inconvenient form of procedure.


said, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had reminded him (Mr. Whit-bread) of a suggestion he had made, he might be permitted also to remind him that that suggestion was not accepted by the House, and that the right hon. Gentleman himself had said that the proposal would not get rid of the difficulty. The Prime Minister, who, as the right hon. Gentleman had stated, was absent on the occasion, came down on the 30th of November, and, in the course of his statement, said that it was the general feeling of the House that the Grand Committees should, not be sitting during the Sitting of the House; but he added that there could be no doubt that it was in the power of the House to authorize any one of its Committees to sit during the Sitting of the House. He (Mr. Whitbread) thought it advisable to accede to the Motion before them at a time when the House was doing its best to get through Business. The proposal was not that the Standing Committee should sit during the debating hours of the House; but that it should take advantage of the time when Private Business and other formalities were gone through. If the House was disposed to get through its Business, he thought that the Motion which, with the unanimous voice of the Committee, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon had been instructed to make should be agreed to.


said, there were many things permissible under the Standing Orders which were not expedient, and the proposal before the House appeared to him to be one of them. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goschen) and the Committee should so early think it necessary to depart from the understanding of the House with regard to these Committees. If the Standing Committees had had any success—and he thought their success had been considerable—it was owing to the fact that they had departed as widely as possible from the practice of Select Committees, and had conformed as nearly as possible to that of the Committee of the Whole House. The immediate result of the change proposed by his right hon. Friend would be to assimilate the practice in respect of the Standing Committees to that of Select Committees and Committees of less important character. These Standing Committees consisted of 80 or 90 Members; and he thought it was too much to ask the House to discharge so large a number of its Members from attending in their places at the proper time. He desired to see a future of great usefulness attending the institution of the Standing Committees, and he believed they would do much to relieve the House of a large amount of Business that would be less well done by Committees of smaller dimensions; but if they were to allow them to sit concurrently with the House of Commons, he was sure that by so doing they would very materially interfere with its powers.


said, he did not think there was much difference of opinion on either side of the House with regard to this proposal. The spirit of the original Standing Order was quite clear; it was that when the House was really in active Session the Committees should not sit upstairs; but what was the extremely limited proposal now made? They all knew what generally happened at this period of the Session. Private Bills had, to a considerable extent, run out, and the Speaker had to remain sometimes half-an-hour doing nothing; and the suggestion now made was that during that time, when their presence in the House was not required, hon. Members should be allowed to sit upstairs in Committees. Members might suffer some inconvenience by not taking their places; but they were quite willing to sacrifice that consideration. As he thought they all felt it was necessary to keep to the spirit of the Standing Order and to use the time that was now wasted, he believed the House was nearly unanimous upon this moderate proposal.


said, he thought the proposal of the President of the Board of Trade was very objectionable, for it disarranged all the ar- rangements hon. Members had made. If he went to a division, no doubt the right hon. Gentleman could carry his proposal; but this proposal was not the desire of the Committee.


said, there had not been a word of dissension in the Committee upon this proposal. The proposition was, not that the Committees should sit when the House was practically sitting, but simply while the House was doing what it could perfectly well do without the presence of the Members of the Committees. If they were willing to continue sitting, he hoped the House would not insist upon refusing this moderate request.


said, he had given the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Chamberlain) warning that this proposal would not pass without challenge. The proposal was that the Committees should have leave to sit till half-past 4, and the argument was that that was the time when Private Business was being dealt with; but this was a time of the year when Private Business ceased to occupy much time. What would happen? In a short time it would be proposed that Public Business should begin at a quarter past 4; and then the Committees would be sitting for a quarter of an hour during Questions. Besides that, at the Morning Sittings, Public Business might begin as soon as the Private Business was got through; and so, both on Monday and Friday, the Committees would be sitting while Public Business was proceeding. The Government had, in the person of the right hon. Gentleman who took the chief part in one of these Committees (Mr. Chamberlain), one of their most energetic Members; but was it right to tax human endurance to this extent? What happened now in the case of the right hon. Gentleman? Very often most important Questions were addressed to him in the Honse. If this proposal were adopted he would have to sit upstairs from 12 o'clock to half-past 4. The Committee had lately passed a Rule which deprived the right hon. Gentleman of his luncheon, for which they had previously given him a quarter of an hour; and now he would have to come straight to the House and find a number of impetuous Gentlemen ready with Questions which he would have to answer. It was not fair to him, full of vigour as he might be, to expect him to devote all his time from 12 o'clock at noon to this late hour—2 or 3 in the morning—to the House. Hon. Gentlemen were trying to drive a willing horse too hard and too far. If they wanted these Committees to work they must work them in the manner originally proposed. Whatever hon. Gentlemen might say about the spirit of the law, as proposed by the Prime Minister and accepted by the House, it meant that the Committees should not sit while the House was sitting. This proposal was the thin end of the wedge; and if it was agreed to now by the House—and, of course, the Government could carry it—the Standing Committees would receive a serious blow, because the understanding arrived at last year was not being properly carried out.


said, he thought that if the hon. Member (Mr. J. G. Talbot) had intended to convey a warning that this arrangement would not be assented to, he was unfortunate in not conveying that intention to the Members of the Committee when the proposal was accepted sub silentio. If it was his intention to upset the proposal, it would have been only fair to have let those who made the proposal understand that. Whatever the hon. Member intended, that intention was not conveyed.


said, he did not think any hon. Members on the other side of the House would say that he was accustomed to support the Government in any measure they brought forward; but, upon this point, he could not help feeling that, if he did not support the Government, he should be committing a broach of faith. At the beginning of the Committee certain days were fixed, and he was the Member who had proposed that the days should be fixed. Upon that, every Member of the Committee made his arrangements; and when the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain), the other day, tried arbitrarily to alter the days, it was thought that that would cause such inconvenience that many Members would not be able to attend, and a compromise was effected. As it was a compromise, he thought hon. Members sitting on the Committee were bound to support the proposal, and he should have no option but to do so.

Original Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 97; Noes 30: Majority 67.—(Div. List, No. 121.)