HC Deb 21 July 1884 vol 290 cc1751-3

I wish to ask the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether, having regard to the statement he made in the House upon the 27th of October, 1882, in answer to the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), in regard to the appointment of Casual Chairman of Committees, the time has not come for him to state if and when he intends to submit for the consideration of the House proposals for regulating their appointment? Within a recent period no less than three "Casual Chairmen" have taken the Chair.


I wish, further, to ask the right hon. Gentleman, Whether, having regard to the opinion which he frequently expressed during the Procedure debates that the Chairman of Ways and Means was not a Member of the Government, but an independent Officer of the House, he thinks it desirable that any Member of the Government should take the Chair in Committee of the Whole House except by the vote of the House on the Question being put?


Let me first deal with the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). I admit that there is a certain amount of presumption in favour of the exclusion of Members of the Government from the Chair in Committees; but I think that those who are acquainted with the course of Business, especially when the House is very thin towards the close of the Sitting, and upon Bills of secondary consequence, would know that it would not be easy at all times to find any person sufficiently acquainted with the Forms of the House to be able to discharge the duties of Chairman except some Member of the Government. I, therefore, do not think it desirable to make any positive Rule of the kind suggested by my hon. Friend, excluding Members of the Government, although, to a certain extent, I agree with my hon. Friend. We all deeply lament the severe domestic affliction which has deprived us of the services of the Chairman of Ways and Means, for some little time at least. I have no doubt that he will make those sacrifices which, unfortunately, have to be exacted from the Officers of this House, and even sometimes from the Members of this House, in painful circumstances; but we cannot expect him to take the Chair for some little time, and his absence must be provided for. With regard to the Question of the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton), it is quite true that I referred to this subject in October, 1882, and in conformity with the opinion then given, in the spring of 1883 I put upon the Notice Paper a plan which had been a good deal considered with the aid of the authorities—a plan or regular system for supplying the Chair in the absence of the Chairman of Ways and Means; but, unhappily, one or two Gentleman gave Notice of Amendment to that plan, and it was impossible, on account of the pressure of Business, to find time for their discussion. On that account I removed the Notice, after a certain time, and I have not renewed it. At the same time, I shall be very glad to renew it, if there is a prospect of the adoption of some scheme without any large expenditure of the time of the House in discussing it. So much for the general subject. As regards the immediate necessity, I think it can be provided against, for there is nothing urgent in the case. The right hon. Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth), the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), and the right hon. Member for the University of Edinburgh (Sir Lyon Playfair), have all kindly offered their assistance during the present week, so there is no immediate pressure. But as regards the general subject, I think it desirable that we should have a fixed system, and possibly I may receive encouragement to renew the Notice to which I have referred.