HC Deb 22 February 1886 vol 302 cc921-39

, in rising to move— That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the question of Procedure in the House of Commons, and to report as to the amendment of existing Rules, and upon any New Rules which they may consider desirable for the efficient despatch of business, said: The objcet of the Motion which I make to-night upon exceptional grounds—and it is a Motion of considerable urgency with regard to the Business of the House—is to give the best expedition and despatch that it is in the power of the Government to give to the examination of a question which has, I trust, ceased in substance to be a controversy between the two most numerous Parties in this House. I had better refer to what has taken place with regard to the subject during the course of the present Session. On the evening preceding the delivery of the Queen's Speech I received a courteous communication from the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Leader of the Opposition (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), inclosing to me an important Paper, which embodied the views of the Government with respect to the subject of Procedure. The right hon. Gentleman invited me to make those views the subject of a previous and friendly communication with a view to the easier settlement of the matter. He added that it was his intention, unless I wrote in reply to him that I accepted that offer, to lay a Paper containing the plans of the late Government upon the Table of the House on Thursday at the opening of the Session before the commencement of Business. At that moment—or at least within two or three hours afterwards—I was expecting the usual communication with respect to the Speech from the Throne which, by the courtesy of the Government, is made known to the Leader of any Party; and it was not possible for me, as I at once wrote to the right hon. Gentleman, in those circumstances, considering the importance of the topics before us and the variety of forms which the announcement of them might take, and which it was my duty to consider beforehand—it was impossible for me to make, or for me to ask one of my Friends among the leading men to make, any proper examination or statement about the important Paper of the right hon. Gentleman, or to meet, at so short a notice, his friendly proposal. When the right hon. Gentleman, in consequence of what he had said, laid his Paper on the Table of the House, as he was quite justified in doing, on the day when the Speech was delivered, we proceeded to examine that Paper immediately after the delivery of the Queen's Speech on the first night of the debate on the Address. We found that the proposal of the Government, in placing a great variety of particulars before us, naturally did not—and, indeed, could not—be expected to coincide with our views upon the whole of these particulars. But, nevertheless, we arrived at two conclusions—first, that it would be very desirable to make that plan the basis of further and friendly considerations; secondly, inasmuch as we did not see how private Members, independent Members, of the House could be asked to surrender their means and opportunities of bringing subjects of legislation before the House, we came to the conclusion that it would be well to refer the whole subject to a Select Committee; and that Select Committee we thought ought to be constituted upon a different basis from the ordinary basis, which prescribes a limit of 15 Members. We thought it ought to be a Select Committee of very much more considerable extent, perhaps consisting of as many, or more than twice that number, so as to give free representation of opinion to the various quarters and sections of the House. Sir, in point of fact, we were desirous not to lose what appeared to us an excellent opportunity of arriving at a discussion of this rather difficult question, necessarily giving rise to a good deal of scope for even friendly differences. We were anxious not to lose the opportunity of approaching this question in a friendly spirit, if it were possible to do so. If this were the 21st of January, the question of reference to a Committee might be a more open question than it is at the present moment; because on the 21st of January, and with the command of the time of the House from that date onwards, there would have been, for any Government, a considerable choice with regard to the taking of Votes in Supply, and a certain portion of Government time might have been devoted, not without advantage, to the consideration of Procedure. But in the condition in which the Government found themselves on taking Office last week it was impossible to do that; and the alternative was either to postpone the subject of Procedure until, perhaps, the crowding of Sessional Business had become greater than at the opening of the Session, or to take the course of asking the House to refer the subject to a Select Committee. From the first of these courses we were dissuaded by the feeling that, in the first place, such a postponement would not be agreeable to the sense entertained by us for a long time past of the importance of a settlement of this matter, nor would it have been agreeable to the sense so distinctly manifested by the Government in Office a month ago with regard to the importance of an immediate and effective prosecution of this subject. Moreover, this circumstance offered us a favourable opportunity, and enables us to form a sanguine hope and expectation, that the proceedings of a Committee of this kind would not be very virtual, and would be useful in results. The question of the devolution of Bills, which was proposed in the plan of the late Government, and which was fully raised by them, opens up a channel through which I believe that we shall proceed with the greatest hope of success in the important business of expediting the performance of the weighty tasks which are incumbent upon this House; and never before has there been a period when there was so favourable a prospect of a friendly and effective handling of that subject. With regard to coercive or penal procedure, I certainly still adhere to the opinion that not a great deal is to be hoped from further progress in that direction. [Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH: Hear, hear!] I am very glad to see that that opinion has the sanction of the right hon. Gentleman. But, in regard to amicable arrangements for multiplying the means and instruments at the command of the House, I am sanguine enough to believe that we may perform a very great public service by putting that mode of procedure into operation. These are the general grounds on which we propose to refer the subject to a Select Committee, and thereby to give effect, so far as circumstances permit, to the intentions entertained by us, and also by a large number of Gentlemen on the other side of the House. It will be asked of me what course I should propose that Her Majesty's Government should take in respect to the proceedings of this Committee? It will be felt and thought that a Government proposing the appointment of a Select Committee on a subject of this kind charges itself with a great responsibility. It charges itself with the responsibility of making known at once and in full to the Committee the views which it entertains upon the subject, with all the points of the greatest importance. That, Sir, is the course which we intend to take. The Committee will not be bound to have regard to any one Paper or any one piece of evidence in particular; but, no doubt, considering the importance of the Paper laid upon the Table by the right hon. Gentleman, that Paper must have a prominent place in whatever attention the Committee may give to the subject. The right hon. Gentleman may ask whether we propose to submit a Paper of our own, displacing or attempting to displace that Paper. We do not propose to do so, and for this plain reason—that with regard to the main proposals of that Paper we consider ourselves in sympathy with them. But the right hon. Gentleman may make one further demand upon us. I have already said that there are points in which we think some addition, some substitution, some change should be made. And the right hon. Gentleman will ask—"Is it your intention, when you come into the Committee, to lay before it the views of the Government upon those points?" In answer to him, I must say, in the most explicit and unequivocal manner, it is our intention to do so. It is really an acknowledgment which we feel to be due to the spirit in which the subject was considered by the late Government that we should not make what would be an unfair and untrue appearance of setting up a rival plan when we do not propose a rival plan. But, on the other hand, it is necessary for the right hon. Gentleman and for those who may represent the framers of the plan to know, and to know at once, what are the points, or what are the principal and particular points, upon which we should be prepared to propose modifications of the plan; but it is, however, quite plain that I should be wasting the time of the House were I to enter at this time upon particulars. Were we engaged now in sharp controversy upon every one of the leading items of the subject of Procedure it might be necessary that I should make a statement with regard to those leading items. It might even be necessary that I should, as it were, make my case upon those leading items in order to justify our proposals; but we have before us the broad fact—in the first place, that much time was spent by the late Parliament upon the subject; in the second place, that it is generally felt that the work, as it was left by the late Parliament, was not complete; and, in the third place, that we have now a great degree of concurrence, not only as to the need of resuming, but as to the mode of resuming, the subject; and I am happy to think that, even since I rose, I find that concurrence to be more positive and extensive than I had thought it to be, because we appear to be, in a great degree, at one in the opinion that it is not by penal and restrictive measures—not by a severe Code of Procedure, but by the judicious use of our means of multiplying our instruments of action—that we should really make the greatest and most effective progress. If there is any point upon which the right hon. Gentleman opposite or any Member of the House desires to be informed as to our views and intentions, I shall be most happy to supply it. We accept the responsibility for the Committee we propose. We shall endeavour to deal with it as a Committee proposed on the responsibility of the Government. We shall make known to the Committee at once the plan that we propose to adopt, though the main portions I believe to be contained in the plan proposed by the late Administration. I believe that, with these particulars before them, the House will be perfectly ready to judge whether this proposal is a right proposal or not. Little advantage will be gained by entering upon the particulars of Procedure in Debate in the House. I am in hopes that it may not be found necessary to spend a great deal of the time of the House in the discussion of the Motion which the House has agreed to entertain. The grounds on which we propose this Committee I believe to be clearly before you, and I conclude by moving the Resolution of which I have given Notice.

Motion made, and Question proposed That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the question of Procedure in the House of Commons, and to report as to the amendment of existing Rules, and upon any New Rules which they may consider desirable for the efficient despatch of business."—(Mr. W. E. Gladstone.)


Sir, I wish, on my own behalf and that of my Colleagues forming the late Cabinet, to acknowledge the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman has alluded to our labours in this matter. It is a fair return for the spirit in which we approached the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends when we were in Office; and I would only say that it is a most satisfactory contrast to not a few speeches made by hon. Members now sitting on the Government Bench during the late Election campaign in regard to our conduct on this question. During the whole of the late autumn there was no more favourite subject of accusation against myself and my Colleagues than that we were the friends of Obstruction, and were determined to resist, or at any rate not to support, any alterations of Procedure which would make this House more efficient for its Business. Now, in contradistinction to those accusations, and I may venture to say in complete refutation of them, we have the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues frankly taking up our proposals for the amendment of Procedure, and saying that they are so satisfactory that the Government propose, with some small alterations, to recommend them to the adoption of a Select Committee of the House. I trust that that will be remembered in future, as a proof that this kind of accusation brought against a political Party has sometimes no real foundation in fact. We have shown, by our action in this matter, that we are as anxious to improve the Procedure of the House of Commons, and to make the House of Commons, of which we are proud, thoroughly efficient for its purpose as any Liberal or Radical who ever addressed a constituency. I quite agree with what fell from the right hon. Gentleman as to the question of coercive or penal Rules. It was not our intention, in framing the Standing Orders which I placed on the Paper, to deal either with individual obstruction or misconduct on the part of Members of this House, or even with the greater offence of obstruction of Business by any Party or section of a Party. These are matters with which, to some extent, our existing Standing Orders deal; and if it should be at any future time necessary to take any further steps in that direction, I think those steps must be of a completely different character to any that are included in the proposed new Standing Orders. The objects with which they were framed are simply these—to enable the House to spend its own time to the most profitable purpose, to put a reasonable check, consistently with the liberty of debate, on the undue protraction of debate, and on that garrulity to which I am afraid we are all too prone, and to enable us to transact the Business of the country with somewhat less tear and wear than we suffer from our existing Parliamentary life. Those are the objects, as I understand from the right hon. Gentleman, with which, on behalf of the Government, he proposes the appointment of this Committee. He took some exception to the mode in which we had undertaken to deal with this matter. It appeared to us, I must say, that it would be better, considering the importance of this subject, remembering that the right hon. Gentleman himself had placed it on the threshold of all the subjects which, in his opinion, the new Parliament ought to undertake, and had forcibly observed that— Those who were so keen for legislation on one subject or another should recollect that, with regard to each and all of them, the primary question was as to the sound working condition of the great instrument by which all legislation is accomplished. It occurred to us that the first Business to be done by this House, subject, of course, to matters of great urgency, or those which had to be dealt with within a certain time, was to consider this subject of Procedure. Therefore it was I asked the House, on behalf of the late Government, to give the question precedence. Instead of that, the right hon. Gentleman has proposed the appointment of a Committee. I do not rise now for the purpose of objecting to the appointment of a Committee; but I must say I think our proposal was the best, because it insured, I think, a more early decision upon this most important subject. I remember that on February 20, 1882, when last the right hon. Gentleman called the attention of Parliament to the matter, he then alluded to the numerous Committees which the House had appointed to consider the question of its own Procedure. He told the House that— There have been more Committees of this House upon this subject than upon any other matter. There have been 14 Committees since the Reform Act, or one Committee in every three Sessions and a-half. There have been seven more Committees upon Private Procedure, which is practically part of the subject, making 21 Committees in all, or an average of a new Committee in every two and a-half years."—(3 Hansard, [266] 1134.) And what was the result? Why, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman— These Committees, never leading to adequate results, have now, for many years past, taken effect in what I may, for practical purposes, call total failure. Now we have another Select Committee appointed. It differs, I admit, from previous Committees in this, if I may accurately interpret the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman—that in spite of the wide terms of the Order of Reference which he has moved, it will not be expected or asked to deal with the many and varied sides of this great subject; but that it will have placed before it, on the authority of the Government, a series of Resolutions which will be framed by the Government; that it will be guided by the Government in its deliberations; and that the Government will then be responsible for carrying its proposals into effect. If that be so, I admit, although I do not think much practical good will be gained from the previous consideration of the proposals by a Select Committee, yet that we have some hind of guarantee that something more is likely to come out of its labours than out of the labours of its predecessors. I will only say that, as far as I and my Colleagues in the late Cabinet are concerned, we made the proposals which I placed on the Paper in no Party spirit whatever. We made them after the fullest and most careful consideration, after much consultation with you, Sir, and the authorities of the House; we made them on our responsibility; and what we proposed in Office we shall be prepared, to the best of our ability, to support in Opposition. We shall enter the Committee in that spirit; and although I should have much preferred that the right hon. Gentleman had brought forward his proposals for discussion in the House, still, as far as I can, I will do my best to bring the course which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested to a successful issue, in the hope that, by so doing, we may really promote the efficiency and usefulness of the House of Commons.


said, the House and the country, in his opinion, were to be congratulated on the spirit in which the vexed question of Parliamentary Procedure was being approached. It was not now a Party question, but a Parliamentary one, and that was satisfactory. When the subject was formerly discussed, irritation was caused by the attempt to coerce the House and limit the rights of free speech. That policy was now to be abandoned, and he rejoiced at it. Everyone was agreed that the work of Parliament had increased and was increasing, and that new modes of Procedure required to be adopted; and he was glad to see that the Prime Minister conceived that these modes could best be found in conciliation and mutual forbearance rather than in restraint and restriction. Thus far, he agreed with what had been said; but he could scarcely say that he was as hopeful as to the result of the Committee as the Government seemed to be. The Committee would be appointed, and 15 or 30 Gentlemen, as the case might be, would argue out the subject in much detail upstairs, sitting for that purpose for many days, perhaps for many weeks, and then it would all come back and be argued out afresh in that House. There was no subject that more men spoke on than Procedure, and it usually happened that those who thought least spoke oftenest and longest. The Rules of the House, like the rules of a Club, were considered to be matters that everybody understood; but if the Government thought that the Committee would help to bring about an understanding ho had no objection to its being tried, though he was not hopeful as to the result. His main object in rising was to say to hon. Members that it was quite possible, without any New Rules, to contribute very largely to the better progress of Business. There were many amendments that could be put in force, without Rules, by mutual understanding. Take, for example, the custom of giving Notice of Questions. Members read out long Questions on purely local subjects. Many of those who did that declaimed against Obstruction. Yet the reading of those Questions was virtually a kind of Obstruction, although it might be unconscious. There was no necessity for the Questions to be read out. They could be taken to the Clerk at the Table and printed in the Order Papers. Everything that was gained by a Question would be gained by that process. A quarter of an hour a night was sometimes spent in listening to Notices of Questions of that kind, and a quarter of an hour at the commencement of the proceedings was important. Again, the House was not interested in the Questions, the only people who were so being the Members who read them and a section of their constituents. If the new Members who were anxious to advance the proceedings of Parliament would act on that plan, there would be an immediate improvement made in the Procedure without any Committee or without any discussion. There was another suggestion he would offer. All parties were agreed that the answers to the kind of Questions he had indicated might be printed and distributed with the Votes. There was no Order of the House required for doing that; and if the Speaker and the Leader of the House could agree to allow purely Departmental Questions to be replied to in that way, a further saving of time would be effected. He was quite sure that if Members would, in that and many other like ways, have regard to the general welfare, and not to the gratification of personal objects, the usefulness and force of Parliament would be very materially increased without any of the elaborate machinery that was sometimes put in operation.


expressed his approval of the course taken, and hoped something would immediately be done to save the time of the House. He hoped that the Prime Minister, in the Resolutions to be submitted to the Committee, would not overlook the great difficulties, amounting almost to absolute impossibility, which private Members at present suffered under in getting legislation through the House. There were between 100 and 200 Bills before the House, introduced by private Members, and, under the present Rules of Procedure, there was no certainty that any one of them would pass, if persistently opposed by one or two Members. He urged, therefore, that the Rules of Procedure on Wednesdays should be thoroughly reformed.


said, he entirely concurred in the course which the Government had decided to take; and he hoped the Select Committee would enter on the discussion of the proposed New Rules, not in a Party spirit, but with a desire, as far as they were able, to promote the conduct of Business in the House of Commons. They could all remember the time spent on this question in the last Parliament. He remembered the Autumn Session, with the large amount of irritation it produced in the minds of many Members on both sides of the House. On that occasion the Rules were half crushed down their throats; and, indeed, there was little or no independent action in criticizing some of those Rules. It was made a Party affair, and he always thought that was a most unfortunate state of things. The result was that the New Rules, being passed without the concurrence of the Opposition and the suppressed dislike of many Liberal Members, were not loyally adopted by the House, and they had been practically inoperative. They were entering on this discussion in a different spirit; and the proposals would be met, not in a Party spirit, but with a desire to promote the conduct of Business. He considered it a very desirable thing that, in the first instance, they should have a strong Committee to thoroughly thresh out the proposals made by the Government. At the same time, care should be taken of the rights and privileges of private Members.


said, it was touching to hear from his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Rylands) of the pressure which he was under during the Autumn Session. That was all over now; and he, for one, hoped there would be no Party spirit on this occasion. He could not doubt, after the language of the Prime Minister, that the proposal was brought forward in good faith; but he agreed with the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Joseph Cowen) that the Committee would not lead to any practical result unless its deliberations were kept within reasonable limits. He hoped the Committee would not be abnormally large, and that those who would have to make up the Committee would resist the pressure which would be put on them and keep the numbers of the Committee down. For his own part, he hoped that, at no very distant date, they would arrive at a conclusion by means of which they would be enabled to get through the practical Business of the House, and find themselves in bed at an hour which was more likely to promote their health than the hours which they were now obliged to keep.


said, that the House appeared to be willing to accept the reference of the question to a Committee. That was, no doubt, a correct decision; for the House was not a good body to thresh out the details of such proposals as these. He did not share the hopelessness of the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Sir William Hart Dyke) with regard, to the results of the labours of the Committee. It was quite true that many Committees on the subject had sat since the Reform Bill with but little result; but the reason of that was that the pressure on the House had not been so great, nor had the scandal of arrears of Business before the House been so marked. There had also been a very strong feeling of reverence for the Rules under which they always had worked, and they had been unwilling to lay their hands upon those Rules in a really reforming spirit. But it must be remembered that what came out of the Committee was very much affected by the spirit of those who went into the Committee. There was now a strong feeling, both in that House and throughout the country, that their Procedure was in need of drastic reform. With regard to the question of the numbers, he thought that it should be a large Committee. He quite agreed that a small Committee might be able to get through their business quicker than a large one; but they must remember that there were two things to be thought of—they had not only to thresh out a satisfactory scheme of Procedure, but also to get it accepted by the House. If they could get a large number of acceptances in a Committee, it was certain that the scheme would be more likely to be received by the House. There was another urgent and vital part of the Business to which he wished shortly to refer. Ever since he had been a Member of that House, it had been a matter of complaint that Select Committees before whom great public questions were raised consisted too much of a repetition of the same names. Too many Members were called upon repeatedly in the same Session to serve on different Committees, while too many were left out altogether. There was power and vigour enough in that Assembly to deal oven with such a stupendous task as that before them, if they availed themselves of the whole powers of the House. But, under the system of selecting Committees by arrangement between the two Front Benches, it was impossible to avoid the old evil of having the same name recurring over and over again on different Committees. Everyone who had charge of any subject, or any Bill, was always anxious to get the most experienced men he knew; and such Members were called upon to serve on Committees until they were weary, while a large portion of the House was entirely left out. In that way a large portion of the House did not take its fair share of the Business, while a large amount of practical experience was not made use of. What he hoped to see was, some plan by which the whole House might be employed on Committee work, and by which every Member of the House should serve on some Committee for the purpose of dealing with those subjects which could not be dealt with by the whole House. He fully agreed that it would be of great advantage to get rid of some of the useless stages of their proceedings.


said, he hoped that they would be able to get a Committee which would be thoroughly representative of the general views of the House upon this important question, and not merely those of the two Front Benches. He would suggest whether the Prime Minister should not lay upon the Table his own plan of Procedure, so that it might be considered along with that of the late Government. He was glad that he had heard no suggestion made as to any further application of the Rules with regard to closing the debate after a few Members only on each side had spoken.


said, that the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) had anticipated almost everything that he (the Marquess of Hartington) had desired to say with reference to the appointment of this Committee. He entirely agreed with the hon. Member that, in his opinion, the Government had taken a wise course, and that it was desirous, under the circumstances, that the Committee should be a large one. No doubt, a small Committee might succeed in drawing up a plan as thoroughly as a larger one; but, as his hon. Friend had pointed out, the object of a Committee of this kind was not only to draw up a plan, but also to endeavour to bring before the House the greatest possible amount of agreement of representative Members of the House. It was not necessary to say more on that point; but he wished to call attention to one subject which it was fully as necessary to consider. There had, up to the present time, been a general disposition to object to any extension of what had been called "coercive or restrictive regulations." He was entirely in favour of remedial legislation, in preference to coercive or restrictive legislation, if the former would accomplish the object; but, in his opinion, it would be unwise that anything should be said which would make it absolutely impossible for the House to consider the question of the power of the closure as it had operated up to the present year, and as it might be extended or otherwise. Having had two years' experience of that new system, it appeared to him it would be certainly necessary that any Com- mittee which had to investigate the Rules of Procedure should discuss and consider what had been, up to the present time, the operation of the Rule, and whether it had been so far successful, or whether it could be in any way amended. And in view of the proposal of his right hon. Friend, it appeared to him to be all the more necessary that the consideration of the question of closure should not be excluded from the scope of the Committee. It appeared to him that if the House were going to consider the closing of its deliberations at 12 o'clock, or half-past 12, or at any fixed hour, it was absolutely necessary, if they did not desire that Business should be a great deal more obstructed instead of being less obstructed, that they should consider whether the power of closure could not be made more effective. In fact, he could not conceive that the Members of the late Government themselves, when they laid these Resolutions on the Table, could have thought that they could lend them any improvement for the transaction of Business, unless they were accompanied by some improvement of the Rule relating to the closure. He could very well understand that they (the Opposition) might not have liked to meddle with that subject themselves; but he thought they must have anticipated that a suggestion of that kind would have emanated from some part of the House. He did not want to discuss in what way the closure ought to be amended at the present time. He did not think it was necessary that they should discuss any of the Resolutions. All he wanted was that it should not be understood that that subject was to be excluded from the consideration of the Committee that might be appointed to consider the question; because, in his opinion, it was intimately and very closely connected with the proposed Resolutions that, as his right hon. Friend told them, were to form practically the basis of the Reference to the Committee.


said, he hoped that some arrangement would be made by which the proposals of the Government, which were in the nature of Amendments to the scheme of the late Government, would be made public, and that thus they might have the advantage of that publicity which the proposals of the late Administration obtained. They should be printed with the Votes and Proceedings of the House from day to day, as they were decided on.


said, he was glad to notice that the present question appeared to be entirely removed from Party influences. The longer they were kept from those influences, the more hope there would be of the efforts of the Committee being brought to a successful issue. He wished to make a practical suggestion. The extension of the franchise last Parliament took place principally by a friendly consultation between the two Parties; and he would submit to the Prime Minister that, as the Conservative Party had placed its proposals before the country, if the proposals of the present Government at all assumed in Committee the appearance of being opposite proposals, then, in a very short time, no matter how the Committee was constituted, Party feeling would arise. He hoped, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would consider whether, by consultation with the Leaders of the Conservative Party, he might not eliminate all questions which might lead to such deplorable results. He would further suggest that there could be no Procedure unless there were Members in the House to take part in it; and there could be no Members continuously present as long as they were accommodated so badly as at present. He thought they should appeal to the Prime Minister to endeavour to ascertain how strong was the feeling in the House on this matter; and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would agree soon to appoint another Committee to investigate the subject.


said, he had often heard it stated that it would be highly inconvenient for business men to attend the Sittings of the House if they commenced at 2 o'clock. At those periods of the year when it was usual for the House to meet at 2 o'clock twice a-week, he, though a business man himself, found no difficulty in attending.


said, he strongly objected, as a man of business, to the proposal that the House should meet at 2 o'clock. Two o'clock to 4 were two of the principal business hours of the day, and he declared that the proposed alteration would be most inconvenient; and he would be surprised to find that the Legal Profession did not give a similar opinion. He would point out that Ministers did their official work up to 3, when they received deputations, so that they might be in their places by 4 o'clock. He also had a strong objection to a regular October Session. They all knew that any man who sought a seat in the House must be ready when the House was summoned to give up his time to the public service; but, at the same time, they understood that to be on the supposition that, in ordinary times, the House would meet in February and prorogue in August. Unofficial Members of the House having discharged their duties for six months might surely be allowed the remaining six months for business or relaxation. He apprehended the meeting in October would be a very great inconvenience, and he hoped the Committee would give no sanction to it.


said, that the House consisted of 670 Members, of whom 320 were old and 350 new Members; and he thought that before the latter were called upon to take part in the reform of the Procedure of the House they ought to be afforded an opportunity of learning what the old Rules were. He was a new Member, and the first thing he did as such was to endeavour to obtain a copy of the Standing Orders and Rules of the House; but he was told there were none available. He was further informed that he might go to a bookseller, and purchase a copy; but he declined to do so. [Laughter.] He maintained that he was entitled to be supplied with a copy; but whether he ought to apply for it to the Speaker, or to the First Commissioner of Works, or to the Serjeant-at-Arms, he was at a loss to know. All he could say was that if, in the course of his career, he should commit any breach of Order, he should plead as an excuse that he had been unable to obtain a copy of the Standing Orders from the authorities of the House.


said, ho ought to answer the appeals made to him. In the first place, with regard to what fell from the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), he had perfectly understood the spirit and intention with which he (Mr. Gladstone) had spoken. Their desire was to propose a Committee upon a scale which they deemed to be most agreeable to the ideas of the House; and he had been able to gather some light on that subject from the course of the present debate. They would endeavour to make, with regard to the Chairman of the Committee, that arrangement which they thought would be most likely to command approbation and confidence. With regard to the appeal made to him to publish the Amendments which the Government might propose, or additions, or the variations, whatever they might be, that the Government might desire to recommend to the House, there was a great deal to be said in favour of that proposal; but he would rather not give a positive answer upon it at the present moment, because he thought it was a matter that perhaps the Committee itself would be best able to deal with. They might be inclined to publish, not only the suggestions of the Government, but other suggestions also, and he did not at all see any objection to the proposal, or to the spirit in which it had been made; but he thought perhaps the Committee itself would best deal with its consideration. Then, as to the appeal made by his noble Friend the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) as to what was commonly called the closure, undoubtedly when he said that, in his opinion, the House had more to expect from multiplying its means of action, and judiciously and thriftily applying them, than it had from coercive and restrictive proceedings, he did not mean to go beyond the utterance of a general opinion. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Kent (Sir William Hart Dyke) was under the impression that he (Mr. Gladstone) was the person to whose unnatural and perverse attachment to what was called the closure it was due that the House had to occupy so much time upon it during the year 1882. If the right hon. Gentleman were acquainted with the internal history of those proceedings, he would find that he was far wide of the mark in what he had just stated.


I spoke of the irritation consequent upon it.


said, he did not know if he produced the irritation; but he quite agreed there was a good deal of it, and he hoped there would be none of it on that or any proximate occasion. He had not intended to give more than a general opinion on the matter; but, obviously, he would suppose, the Committee could not refuse to look into a question of that kind. All he could then say was, that neither in regard to that nor any other point could he conceive that they could wish to enforce beforehand considerations upon a Committee which he believed would be so constituted as to deserve and carry along with it the fullest confidence of the House.

Motion agreed to. Select Committee appointed, "to consider the question of Procedure in the House of Commons, and to report as to the amendment of existing Rules, and upon any New Rules which they may consider desirable for the efficient despatch of business."—(Mr. Gladstone.)