HC Deb 17 November 1884 vol 293 cc1820-4

I wish, Sir, by the permission and indulgence of the House, to make a brief intimation which I think it desirable the Members of the House should have in their possession. A great deal, Sir, has been said with regard to the present political circumstances, or, as it has sometimes been called, "the crisis," about an interchange of views between different Parties, and about the question whether Government ought to introduce a Bill relating to the redistribution of seats before the Franchise Bill can have passed the other House of the Legislature, or even before that House may go into Committee on that measure. Sir, for my own part, with respect to those communications between Parties, I think there is no conclusive objection of a universal character to such communications. Indeed, an interchange of views on certain occasions may, in my opinion—and it is shared by my Colleagues—afford the readiest means of averting serious public evils. A noble Lord (Lord John Manners) has recently stated, in respect to the present political circumstances, that no private or public communications could be held with Her Majesty's Government. I do not wish to hold anyone to an expression which may have been one of inadvertence, and I have nothing to say now in respect of private communications in particular; but, of course, as regards public communications, no one has the power to proscribe or prevent a declaration being made openly in this House. Sir, with respect to the Bill that has recently been before us, and with respect to the settlement of the question of the representation of the people, our object — the object of the Government—is to secure the passing of the Franchise Bill without delay. We could not, consistently with our sense of duty, enter into any understanding, and we could not take any step as to the immediate introduction or prosecution of a Bill relating to the redistribution of seats, or relating to any other particulars connected therewith, unless it were such as to afford us an adequate assurance that we should thereby secure the attainment of our main purpose—namely, the passing of the Franchise Bill without delay, that is to say—that there may be no difficulty as to the sense we attach to the phrase—that is to say, during the present Autumnal Sitting. If that object were gained the Franchise Bill would then come into operation, and take effect for voting purposes on the 1st of January, 1886, and not before. Now, Sir, if we are adequately assured—and I have spoken of adequate measure—if we are adequately assured of the attainment of that object—namely, the passing of the Franchise Bill without delay, in the sense in which I have explained it, then I am not aware of any demand likely to be made in relation to proceedings upon the other measure to which we should not be able to accede. In illustration of this remark—that Gentlemen may understand that it is not used without a meaning—I will specify the three following points, which I particularize because I think they are obvious and of the greatest importance. In the first place, we should be ready either to make the main provisions of our redistribution scheme or the draft of the Bill itself the subject of friendly communication at once and before its introduction, and to make every effort—every reasonable effort—for accommodation in regard to these particulars, or we should be ready, apart from what I have just said, to present a Bill at once to the House conceived in the spirit of that sketch which I made in the House, and which, perhaps, I may best describe by saying that it was one very much noticed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), and one which, as we thought, was favourably received by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) on Friday evening, I think the 7th of November. That is the first of the three points. The second point is that we should be ready to prosecute the measure with all possible speed, even to the point of moving the second reading simultaneously with the passing of the Franchise Bill into Committee in the House of Lords; or, if any matter of procedure there rendered that impracticable, then simultaneously with any subsequent stage. I do not refer to any proceedings simultaneously with the second reading in the House of Lords; because, first of all, the time is too short to introduce that practically into the question; and, secondly, because we have understood—and the world generally appears to understand as we understand—that the second reading of the Bill is not a contested stage on the present occasion. Thirdly, we are quite willing to make the passing of our Bill for the Redistribution of Seats a vital question for ourselves, and also to use our best efforts to bring it to an issue in the House of Commons early in the coming year. That, Sir, is the substance of the communication I have to make; and I have been authorized by my Colleagues, in a matter of such deep interest, to convey it to the House at the present moment.


Sir, the proceeding of the right hon. Gentleman is an unusual one, and I do not know whether I have any right to make any remark upon it. I will only venture to say this—that I entirely agree with him that questions of this kind ought to be made a subject of public arrangement in the presence of the House of Commons and Parliament. But I am perfectly unable to make any remark upon the suggestions he has made at the present time. They come to me as a surprise, in the form in which they are presented, and I am unable myself to say what is the view which may be taken on the subject. I hardly think that the right hon. Gentleman can expect an answer at the present moment.


I have not the slightest intention of making an appeal either to the right hon. Gentleman or to anyone upon the subject. I consider the observations I made, if I may say so, to be in the nature of a prolonged Notice, but not calling upon anyone for reply; and I am sorry if by my manner, or in any way, I have conveyed the idea that I could have expected anything so obviously impossible.


I want to know, Sir, whether I am in Order? [Cries of "Order!"] I merely rise, Sir, for the purpose of putting a Question to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, and not for the purpose of making any remarks upon the statement he has made to the House. We, sitting here, did not understand from the right hon. Gentleman what was the nature of the guarantee which he expected to have from hon. Gentlemen opposite or from the House of Lords in return for which he is prepared to act upon the three courses which he has pointed out. If the right hon. Gentleman will enlighten us on that point, it would give great satisfaction to many of us here.


I cannot say that I think my hon. Friend is not quite justified in putting that Question. The phrase I used was "an adequate assurance." After all, I am not now speaking of what is to guide the conduct of the Government; and necessarily, from the nature of the case, they must be the judges, under great responsibility—they must be the judges ultimately of the meaning that they would give, for practical purposes, to any phrase of that kind. Such assurances are sometimes conveyed in a form extremely definite, sometimes they are conveyed in a form less definite. Either the acceptance or the rejection of such an assurance would be an act of high responsibility on the part of the Government. My hon. Friend may be perfectly confident that we shall be very desirous not to arrive lightly at any decision upon that question.



said: I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the statement he has made as to the existence of the Government being at stake on the passing of the Redistribution Bill has reference to the passing of the measure through this House, or through both Houses of Parliament?


When I spoke, Sir, I had in view especially the passing of the Redistribution Bill through this House; but I can conceive that a pledge of that kind applies equally to the other House of Parliament.

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