HC Deb 28 February 1888 vol 322 cc1722-31
THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

said, the object of the Rule he would now move was to obviate the necessity for Divisions in certain cases. It would be recollected that in previous Sessions numerous Divisions had been taken in which there were comparatively very few Members on one side and an almost overwhelming number on the other. A serious loss of valuable time was involved in that practice, hence the proposed Rule. It was obvious that the Rule would not be put in force, unless the numbers challenging a Division were so small as to render it unnecessary to appoint Tellers.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Mr. Speaker, or the Chairman, may, at his discretion, take the Vote of the House or Committee, by calling upon the Members who support, and who challenge his decision, successively to rise in their places; and he shall thereupon, as he thinks fit, either declare the determination of the House or Committee, or name Tellers for a Division."— (Mr. W. H. Smith.)

MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

said, he proposed to move an Amendment in this Rule which would practically carry out one of the recommendations of the Committee on Procedure presided over by the noble Marquess the Member for the Rossendale Division of Lancashire (the Marquess of Hartington) which sat two years ago. That recommendation, while reserving the right of the Speaker or the Chairman at his discretion to call upon the Members who supported a Motion to rise in their places, put a limitation on that power by declaring that if the minority exceeded a certain figure then a Division should take place. Under the existing Rule, on a Motion to report Progress or to adjourn, the Speaker or the Chairman might call on the Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and if less than 20 stood up then a Division was not necessary. His Amendment was to the effect that if the minority who stood up were more than 40 then a Division should be taken. If the Rule as proposed by the Leader of the House had been confined simply to dilatory Motions, or to Motions of Adjournment, he did not know that he should have pressed his Amendment; but as it would apply to any Motion whatever before the House, he thought they should have regard to the interests of their constituents, who had a right to know how their Members voted. In past times many great and important questions had been introduced into the House which at first had very small minorities in their favour; and it therefore ought not to be put out of the power of constituencies to know how their Representatives voted on matters in which they were deeply interested. He thought that where the minority was more than 40 there ought to be a Division taken, and he now moved his Amendment accordingly.

Amendment proposed, In line 4, after the word "and," to omit the words "he shall thereupon, as he thinks fit, either," and insert the words "if the minority be less than 40 he shall at his discretion."— (Mr. H. H. Fowler.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he thought that the extremely practical mind of his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) would not be disposed, on further consideration of the matter, to insist upon the Amendment.


I see that the hon. Member for South Louth (Mr. T. P. Gill) has an Amendment upon the Paper which will come in before that of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

MR. T. P. GILL (Louth, S.)

said, he had put his Amendment upon the Paper, because he desired to have a statement from the Government as to whether it was intended by this Rule that the Speaker should count one by one the Members rising in their places, and register the number of Members voting for or against the Question, or whether what would take place would simply be that a mass of Members would rise on one side and a mass of Members would rise on the other side, and then the Speaker would declare which side had won the day? In his (Mr. Gill's) opinion, the latter mode of ascertaining the sense of the House would be most unsatisfactory, and would lead to a great deal of dissatisfaction. On the other hand, if the Speaker or the Chairman was required to count one by one the Members who rose in their places, it would go a long way to relieve the ambiguous and somewhat dangerous tendency of the Rule. If the counting of the Members was not implied in the Rule, he should certainly move his Amendment, at any rate as far as the first clause of it went.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it be in the discretion of Mr. Speaker or the Chairman to take the Vote of the House in the following manner: — He shall, on his decision being challenged, forthwith order the doors to be closed, whereupon he shall call upon the Members who support or who challenge his decision successively to rise in their places, and he shall proceed to count them one by one in an audible voice. At the conclusion of such count he shall declare the determination of the House or Committee. Provided always, that on any Member declaring himself doubtful of the accuracy of such count, and calling for a Division, Mr. Speaker or the Chairman shall name Tellers for a Division."— (Mr. T. P. Gill.)

Question proposed, That the words ' Mr. Speaker, or the Chairman, may, at his discretion, take the Vote of the House or Committee by calling upon the Members who support, and who challenge his decision, successively to rise in their places; and,' stand part of the Question.


said, the hon. Gentleman would see that the effect of the Amendment would be to give any hon. Member declaring himself doubtful of the accuracy of the counting the power of calling for a Division.


said, he would not press the last clause of his Amendment if the first part met with the approval of the House.


said, that in that case the value of the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman consisted in this—that the Speaker or the Chairman was to count in an audible voice. He could not doubt but that the Speaker or the Chairman would, in all cases, only declare the results of a difference of opinion when he felt himself satisfied as to those results. The hon. Member would see that if the Speaker or the Chairman was to have this responsibility placed upon him, it was not necessary to prescribe precisely the method by which he should arrive at his decision.


said, he would ask the permission of the House to point out that what was not provided by the Rule was that the number of the voters should be declared by the Speaker or Chairman. That was what he wished to procure. The Chair might declare that "the Ayes have it, "or" the Noes have it." There might be a strong division of opinion, and it would be an invidious thing on the part of the Speaker to say that "the Ayes have it," or "the Noes have it," when a great section of the House might desire to know what the exact result was. He believed there was no Legislature in the world which had such a Rule as this. He hoped the Rule would not be accepted hastily, and that the House would make some provision for registering the numbers, if a considerable section of hon. Members desired it.


said, he thought that the Amendment was a very reasonable one, and he could not understand why the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H, Smith) should resist it. It appeared to be clearly within the contemplation of the right hon. Gentleman that the Speaker should make a count of the numbers on one side or the other, in order to ascertain what the opinion of the House was. In what other way could the opinion of the House be arrived at, except by counting the numbers for or against a particular question? He presumed that the new method proposed by the right hon. Gentleman was proposed from a mechanical point of view for the purpose of rendering the mechanism of counting the vote more simple than at present. But was it to be tolerated that the House or the country was not to know how many Members were in favour of or against any particular proposition? By the Rule as it stood, they were told that Members were not to declare themselves individually in favour or against a proposition, and for the first time in the history of Parliament the country was not to know what the voice of its Representatives was with respect to any particular proposition. He thought the right hon. Gentleman on reflection, would admit that, having obtained eight Rules up to the present time with the most unexampled facility on his part, the time had now arrived to yield a little to the Opposition on this matter. Neither the efficiency of Parliament as a whole, nor the power of the majority, would be injured by some slight concession on this exceedingly drastic Rule. He looked upon it as being the most offensive Rule yet proposed in Parliament, because it placed the minority in the position of standing up in their places in order to be jeered and laughed at by the majority. The Government deprived the minority of the right of registering their names and opinions on the questions debated, and they also deprived the minority of the right of letting the country know how many Members voted one way or the other. What Rule could go further than that? He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would see that some concession to the Opposition would be seemly on his part at this juncture, and that he should not, relying upon the facility with which he had obtained these Rules, stand fast to the ipsissima verba of the original, but concede what was reasonably asked. He was precluded from going into the other question as to whether there should be any right to take a Division at all where the minority amounted to the substantial number of 40; but when the Amendment bearing upon that point was proposed he would have something to say. At present, they had this Rule before them in all its nakedness. There was no provision even that the bells should be rung, and that the Members who were interested in the question should be summoned to take part in the Division, or to stand up in their places. There was no provision such as that which was made in the Rule of 1885, directed to a much less important matter —Divisions on dilatory Motions. He thought that as they were going beyond mere dilatory Motions, they ought to consent to insert some safeguard in this stringent and drastic Rule, so as to secure if the time should ever come, which Heaven forbid, when they might not have the proceedings of the House governed and directed by the same impartiality which now distinguished them, they should have some safeguard to secure that this Rule might not be opposed even by the authority of the House, a thing which the experience of other Legislative Assemblies in regard to the very matter they wore now discussing had shown to be quite possible.


said, it seemed to him that the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) had not carefully studied the Amendment he supported. The hon. Gentleman believed that the Amendment only compelled the Speaker to count the minority; but, if he read the Amendment, he would find it compelled the Speaker to count both the minority and the majority. The Divisions to be guarded against were Divisions in which there was a large number, an overwhelming number, of the House on one side, and a very small number on the other side. There must be for the Rule to operate an enormous majority on one side and a very small minority on the other. The hon. Member (Mr. T. P. Gill), by his Amendment, called upon the Speaker to count not only the minority, which might be from 10 to 40, but to count the majority, which might be from 200 to 500. The Amendment in its present form was not one, which could be put in force. The Speaker could not count a majority of 500, or even of 250, for he did not think the Benches on this side or on that would hold 250 Members. He had a suggestion to make to the House and to the Government on this subject, but before making it he wished to say he thought the Rule was a most valuable one, the most valuable one which appeared upon the Paper if they were really aiming at expedition in their Business. Divisions took up so much time, and were so wearisome, that, undoubtedly, private Members had it in their power to inflict an amount of labour, trouble, pain, and annoyance upon the House. He did not think private Members ought to have such power. He quite admitted that under the Rule the House was at the discretion of the Chair; but did anyone suppose for a moment that the Speaker or the Chairman would ever put the Rule in operation, except when there was a marked and overwhelming disparity of Members on one side or the other, and, more than that, except when the opposition partook of an obstructive character? Now, he came to a point raised by the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and raised to a certain extent by his right hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler)—namely, that there ought to be some means of recording the numbers of the minority. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton would have the names of the minority published whenever the minority numbered 40. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) did not like that, for he did not think it rested upon any solid foundation. He did not see why a minority of 30 should not have their names published as well as a minority of 40. The suggestion he made to the Government and the House was that, whenever the Rule was put in operation, the Speaker should count the minority, and declare it to the House, so that the public should always know the size of the minority. [An hon. MEMBER: Declare the names?] He would not suggest that; he thought that was going too far. He proposed that this course should be adopted in order that the public might know that the Rule was not being put in force unjustly. The hon. Member (Mr. T. P. Gill) who moved the Amendment said there was no Legislative Assembly in the world where such a Rule as this was in operation. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) had seen the French Assembly and the German Assembly at work. Only the other day he saw the German Assembly in Committee of Supply, and he saw six Divisions—three of them upon important matters—taken by the Members rising in their places; taken in a most expeditious and practical manner. The Chairman called upon the Members to rise in their places; there was a small number on one side, and the proceedings passed off with the greatest possible expedition. He had also seen the same system at work in the French Assembly. He saw it in operation when President Grévy disappointed the Chamber by not tendering his resignation. He heard a Motion made, it was supported by a vast majority of the House and opposed by a few, and, again the decision was taken by the Members rising in their places. Consequently, the hon. Gentleman was not correct in saying the system now proposed by the Government was unknown in other Assemblies. [Mr. T. P. Gill: Were the numbers counted?] The numbers were not counted. The Chairman simply called on the Members to rise, and he decided which way it was. It was obvious which way the decision lay, because there was a vast mass on one side, and a small number on the other. He earnestly pressed the House to adopt this Rule; it was a most important one in regard to the conduct of their Business. The Chair would never think of not allowing a really respectable minority to be brought to the notice of the public. The Rule was entirely aimed at obstructive and frivolous Divisions, which it really ought not to be in the power of Members to put the House to the annoyance of taking. He trusted the Government would consider the suggestion he had made in regard to allowing the Speaker to count the minority and to declare the numbers to the House. Perhaps it would be well to adjourn the consideration of the subject until to-morrow, when, if the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury thought the suggestion a good one, he might bring down words to add to the Rule which might satisfy hon. Gentlemen opposite.

MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)

said, the suggestion of the noble Lord would be acceptable to both sides of the House, if in addition to the numbers there could be some means of recording the names of the minority. All great causes had very small beginnings. It was well known that when Wilberforce commenced the battle against slavery he had but a small following. The Repeal of the Corn Laws and the adoption of the Ballot were not in the first instance supported by more than 30 or 40 Members. It was most important that the names of the men who first advocated great reforms should be recorded. His hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Moans (Mr. Courtney) was to be congratulated that he was one of a minority of 18 who voted against the Transvaal War. That Division was on record, and those who formed the minority had every reason to be proud. He was as anxious as any Member of the House to expedite Business, but he thought a minority ought to have the right of walking through the Division Lobby and of recording their names.

MR. R. T. REID (Dumfries)

said, he thought that the names of the majority ought to be recorded as well as those of the minority; because the constituents had a right to know how their Members voted. He did not suppose the Rule was likely to operate unjustly, but still it might happen that on some occasions a majority of Members would avail themselves of the Rule for the purpose of destroying a Bill or proposal which they would not do if their names appeared in the Division List. He hoped that if the right hon. Gentleman accepted the suggestion of the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) he would reconsider before to-morrow whether it was possible to enable some machinery to be adopted by which the names of the majority as well of the minority could be recorded.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

said, that that matter was of great importance, and therefore he would move the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Bradlaugh,)—put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Tomorrow.

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