HC Deb 07 March 1888 vol 323 cc514-23
THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

said, he would now move the next new Rule which stood in his name on the Paper. The Resolution, he would explain, was designed to meet the difficulty which had been experienced by hon. Members who desired to introduce Bills and to propose Motions for the nomination of Select Committees. Since the operation of the Rule closing opposed Business at 12 o'clock, the courtesy usually extended to hon. Members who wished to bring up Bills had frequently been withheld. Objections had been made, with the result that hon. Members had been unable to move. It was not intended by his Resolution to give the Government power to introduce without explanation any Bill of great public importance. Obviously, Mr. Speaker would not permit a Bill which ought to be accompanied by an explanatory statement to be introduced in silence. It would, he felt sure, be acknowledged that private Members ought to be protected against a pernicious exercise of the power to object to the introduction of a Bill after 12 o'clock. It had been suggested in some quarters that there should be an extension of the new 12 o'clock limit; but he believed that the general feeling of the House was opposed to any such change. He thought it, therefore, better to adhere, for the present at all events, to the existing Rule, but, if difficulties should supervene, and if it should be found that hon. Members were denied the fair privileges to which they were entitled, it would be for the House to reconsider the proposals which had been adopted. He hoped, however, that the Resolution which he now moved would meet the existing difficulty.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That on Tuesdays and Fridays, and, if sot down by the Government, on Mondays and Thursdays, Motions for leave to living in Bills, and for the Nomination of Select Committees, may he set down for consideration at the commencement of Public Business. If such Motions he opposed, Mr. Speaker, after permitting, if hethinks fit, a brief explanatory statement from the Member who moves and from the Member who opposes any such Motion respectively, shall put the Question thereon without further Debate."—(Mr. W. H. Smith.)

MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)

said, he begged to move the following Amendment:—To leave out all after "That," and insert— Motions for leave to bring in Hills, which have passed through Committee of the Whole House, shall be exempted from the operation of the Resolution of 24th February, 1888 (Sittings of the House). The Amendment had the same object as that moved by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, but it seemed to him that it would meet the difficulty in a more regular way, as it was drafted on an analogy with a Rule which already existed in regard to terminating opposed Business at half-past 12 o'clock. Under his Amendment there would be no distinction between the case of a Motion made on a Tuesday or Friday and that of a Motion made on any other day, nor would there be any distinction between Bills introduced by the Government and Bills introduced by private Members. There was another point upon which he thought the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House was open to objection. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that his proposal would not apply to Government measures of great importance. Of course, it was obvious on the face of it, that measures of that kind would be introduced after a full debate—or, at any rate, after there had been a full statement as to their objects and full opportunity given to all sections of the House to express their opinions upon them. There was a further objection to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, and it was with regard to words contained in the last section of the Motion which stated that "Mr. Speaker, after a brief explanatory statement from the Member who moved and the Member who opposed might put the Question without further Debate." he thought that would be putting upon the Speaker a duty, a difficult and invidious duty, as it would leave it to him to determine what was the "brief explanatory, statement" and what was not. It would require the Speaker to determine whether any statement whatever should he allowed or not. It must be quite within the knowledge of the House that opposition made to the introduction of Bills sprung from a spirit of mischief at a late hour of the night. There really was not, except in very few cases, anything like substantial opposition to a Bill, and he thought the practice of opposing Bills at this stage would be much less likely to be indulged in if this stage of Bills was exempted, from the operation of the Rule of February 24. There might be much more delay occasioned by an hon. Gentleman insisting upon taking a Division on such a question at the commencement of Business when the House was very full than at the end of the Business when Members were anxious to get away. It was with a view of substituting another method of Procedure that he (Mr. Buchanan) had put down his Amendment. He had also included in his proposal Bills which had passed through Committee of the whole House. He had taken those words from the Standing Order relating to what was known as "the half-past 12 o'clock Rule." His desire had been to draft the whole of this proposed Rule on the analogy of the half-past 12 o'clock Rule, but he had been informed by Mr. Speaker that he would not be entitled to include all the words necessary in the Amendment. He would, therefore, move the Amendment, omitting the words "and Bills which have passed through Committee of the whole House." He confessed he abandoned those words with some reluctance, because they no doubt were privileges at present enjoyed and privileges of much greater importance to private Members than to the Government. If the Government got a Bill through the Committee stage it was not difficult for them to pass it through its remaining stages; but, in the case of a private Member it was very different, and it was very hard that if a private Member progressed so far with a measure, that he should be prevented from carrying it by the action of a single Member.

Amendment proposed, To leave out all the words after the word "That," and insert the words "Motions for leave to bring in Bills, and for the nomination of Standing and Select Committees, shall be exempted from the operation of the Resolution of 24th February 1888 (Sittings of the House)."—(Mr. Buchanan.)

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


said, the Government were to be congratulated upon having foreseen and having attempted to provide for a great danger to the operations of the new Rule, because, undoubtedly, some danger had been evidenced during the past few nights. There had been an indiscriminate prohibition on the part, of private Members against the introduction of Bills after 12 o'clock. If events of that kind took place frequently, and those sort of attempts were to be persisted in, no doubt it would be necessary for them to reconsider their arrangements as to the hours of adjournment, which they had, after much consideration, arrived at. Therefore it was that hethought the Government were entirely in the right, and were to be congratulated in their present endeavour to deal with that which was an obvious danger. As to that part of the new Rule which dealt with the introduction of Bills, he was entirely with the Government. There could be no doubt that the introduction of Bills was a purely formal matter, and he did not think that the House would ever be disposed in future to refuse its assent, or rather to debate at great length Motions for leave to introduce Bills. Nor did he find any fault with the power that the proposed Rule gave the Speaker to exercise his judgment as to the length of the debate upon a Motion for the introduction of a Bill. That was a matter which might well be left to the judgment of the Chair. But there was another question as to which he should be glad to hear opinions from greater authorities than himself—namely, the nomination of Select Committees. The system of nomination was a very curious one. It was done by the Whips on both sides. The Whips on each side ascertained from their Chiefs and by communication with those belonging to their Party who, in their opinion, would be best qualified to serve, and the Government Whip then nominated the majority, and the Opposition Whip the minority of the Committee. That system worked fairly well as far as the regular Opposition and the Government supporters were concerned, but not as regarded the interests of independent Members of the House. No one could assert that the composition of the Committee on the Army and Navy Estimates nominated last year was satisfactory to the great body of Members. It might have been satisfactory to the Treasury and the front Opposition Benches, but it was not satisfactory to those who had the interests of economy at heart. What would happen under this Rule if the nomination of a Select Committee gave rise to a debate? Obviously, he did not think that debate could be terminated. If it were, then the power of the Chair to prohibit debate would not preclude some section of the House from putting the House to the trouble of a Division upon every single name in the Committee. There was nothing in the Rule to provide for the Chair putting an end to the debate whenever it saw fit, nor was there anything to provide for the Chair expressing the opinion that the debate was of so important a character that it required more time than the House was then prepared to give it. He trusted that her Majesty's Government would give their careful attention to these considerations.


said, he did not presume to say that this proposal would meet every difficulty which could be raised; but it was one which appeared to him calculated to meet most of the difficulties which arose from their having fixed an hour at which Opposed Business ceased. So far as the nomination of Select Committees by Government was concerned, those nominations would be put down for Government days, and if difficulties arose they must be surmounted either by the continuation of the debate, to the inconvenience and delay of other Business), or by the adjournment of the debate. He did not think any Rule could be made which would meet every difficulty which might be raised as to the nomination of Select Committees. At the present time the Government had the power of putting down Motions or Orders of the Day on the Paper for consideration in such order as they might think fit. Therefore, if the nomination 'of a Committee was likely to be opposed at half-past 3 o'clock, it would be for the Government to consider whether they would proceed with the nomination that day or adjourn it to another time. Then as to private Members' days—Tuesdays and Fridays—it would appear to be undesirable that lion. Gentlemen who had Notices of Motions down for those days should be prejudiced by lengthened debates on the introduction of Bills or on the nomination of Committees; but then came the question, Should private Members be deprived of the right of bringing in Bills and nominating Committees, which was usually granted willingly by the House? On the whole, he thought that the elastic terms of his Motion would accomplish the object which he had in view, and would do justice alike to the hon. Members who had Motions on the Paper, to the character of the House, and to the interests of the country. The hon. and learned Member for West Edinburgh (Mr. Buchanan) suggested another method; but that other method would break through the 12 o'clock Rule. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) hoped that the House would, by a species of moral pressure upon Members themselves, bring them to a full understanding of the duty which they owed to each other and to Parliament, and enable hon. Gentlemen to exorcise those privileges which it was always understood that Members of the House possessed.

MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)

said, he thought that the light hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. II. Smith) had very fairly endeavoured to meet the difficulty that had already occurred in working the 12 o'clock Rule. As a matter of courtesy, private Members were usually allowed to bring in their Bills. They should at least give a fair trial to the 12 o'clock Rule, and not readily permit an infraction of it. The Business of the House would adapt itself to that Rule, It would save time if any three Members of that House could lay a Bill on the Table and have it read a first time as a matter of course without debate. In "another place'' Bills were brought in and read a first time as a matter of course. As to the nomination of Committees, as he (Mr. Mundella) understood the Rule proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, two speeches could be made on the proposal of each name. The names had to be put to the House separately; and thus the nomination of the Committee became in fact a series of Motions. If that were to happen after 12 o'clock, as the hon. and learned Member for West Edinburgh (Mr. Buchanan) suggested, the House might be kept sitting to a very late hour. The Rule, as proposed by the Government, he thought met the immediate requirements of the case; and he trusted that they would give the new system a fair trial, at least for one Session.

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

said, he agreed that the new Rule ought to have a fair trial, and that, whatever doubts there might be about its working satisfactorily, the time had not yet arrived even for ventilating those doubts. But his right hon. Friend and other Members were wrong in speaking of the 12 o'clock Rule. There was no 12 o'clock Rule; there was a 1 o'clock Rule; the arrangement come to was that the House should meet at 3 o'clock and should adjourn without Question at 1 o'clock. Opposed Business was to be stopped at 12 o'clock, and the understanding he thought was that the hour from 12 to 1 should be available for un-contested and routine Business. He was met with scepticism when he said that, unless certain words were introduced into the Rule, the practical result would be that the House would adjourn about five minutes past 12 o'clock. That had actually been the fact, and the proceedings which had taken place after 12 o'clock were not conducive to the despatch of Public Business. He wished to preserve the 1 o'clock limit for their Sittings, and did not want to break down the principle of adjourning the House at a reasonable hour. But hon. Members were sent there to do the Business of the country. That Business ought to be done; and if the course of procedure which had been followed in some instances was to be repeated every night at 12 o'clock, the Business of the country would not be done, and all legislation by private Members would be at an end. As to Bills being' always brought in as a matter of course, that had not been the practice of the House. They all anticipated an interesting debate on the bringing in of the Local Government Bill. There was a debate on the introduction several Sessions ago of the Bankruptcy Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain); and they all remembered the great debate when the Home Rule Bill was brought in by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). Then with regard to the nomination of Committees, if a Committee consisted of 22 Members, there might be 22 Questions put from the Chair under the present proposal of the First Lord of the Treasury. Were there to be 22 explanatory statements? Their Rules ought, as far as possible, to be so framed as to work automatically, without imposing undue responsibility on. The Chair. He was quite prepared to support the Government, and he thought that in their mode of dealing with the question they had hit upon a better solution than that proposed by the hon. and learned Member for West Edinburgh (Mr. Buchanan). He wished to point out to the House that it must be a question whether they would not abolish all half-past 12 Rules, and deal with Business as it stood on the Paper, without giving any man the right of stopping it. It was not fair or just to say that this power was being exercised by one section of the House only; objections had conic from behind the Government, as well as from that side of the House, and it became one of those wars of reprisals which, in his opinion, lowered the dignity of the House of Commons.


said, that as the feeling of the House seemed to be against his proposal, hedid not intend to press it to a Division, although he considered that if adopted it would save the time of the House.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said, that in order to meet some of the objections brought forward by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), hewould move to omit the words "shall put the Question thereon without further debate" at the end of the Rule, in order to substitute the words "may without further debate put the Question thereon, or the Question that the debate be now adjourned." He was by no means certain that all difficulties would be mot by this; but it was an attempt to deal with the question in a manner which he trusted would assist the House and hon. Members who had questions to bring before it.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "respectively," to the end of the Question, in order to add "the words "may without further Debate put the Question thereon, or the Question ' That the Debate he now adjourned.'"—(Mr. W. H. Smith.)

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


said, he rose to express his concurrence with the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He had been struck with the course which the Business had taken, especially on Monday night last, when all the Motions for Bills were opposed and leave was not obtained to bring them in. He thought it right that the Government should try to obviate this, because, if it went on, there would be an end to Private Bill legislation altogether.


said, that with regard to what had been said as to reprisals, the Business after 12 o'clock had been of two kinds—namely, Motions for Leave and for Second Readings. He did not think any objection had been raised on that side of the House to the former; but there had been objections to the second reading of some Bills, because several of them were of such a nature that hon. Members on those Benches did not wish to see passed without discussion.

Question put, and negatived.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to. Resolved, That on Tuesdays and Fridays, and, if set down by the Government, on Mondays and Thursday, Motions for leave to bring in Bills, and for the Nomination of Select Committees, may be set down for consideration at the commencement of Public Business. If such Motions be opposed, Mr. Speaker, after per- mitting, if lie thinks lit, a "brief explanatory statement from the Member who moves and from the Member who opposes any such Motion respectively, may, without further Debate, put the Question thereon, or the Question, that the Debate be now adjourned.

Resolutions (30th April 1869), read.