HC Deb 07 March 1888 vol 323 cc525-30

That Notices of Questions he given by Members in writing to the Clerk at the Table, without reading them viva voce in the House, unless the consent of the Speaker to any particular Question has been previously obtained.

Resolved, That the said Resolution be a Standing Order of this House.

Standing Order XIVA. (Closure of Debate) read, and amended by leaving out the first Proviso, lines 17 to 21 inclusive.

Standing Order XXI. (Notices on going into Committee of Supply) read.

THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

said, that under the present Rules, whenever Committee of Supply was the first Order of the Day on Mondays and Thursdays, and the House had gone into the Estimates, no Amendment could be made to the Motion for going into Committee on those days. That was an arrangement which had worked exceedingly well; but under the present conditions it was the view of the Government that smaller Government and Departmental measures might be taken on Mondays and Thursdays before the House went into Committee of Supply. It could then be arranged that Supply could be taken at a given hour. He thought hon. Gentlemen who had experience of the matter would agree that nothing was more inconvenient than to report progress at any particular hour, say nine or 10 o'clock, which would necessarily be the course to be pursued in some cases if the present Rule remained in force. This was par- ticularly inconvenient when another hour would probably dispose of the Question before the Committee. The House had power to question the Government as to the time after which Supply would not be brought forward. That practice would still remain, and it might be generally observed with satisfaction to the House itself. He thought the Resolution he was about to move was one which the House would regard as necessary in order that the Business of the House might be taken with regularity and advantage.

Motion made, and Question proposed, as an Amendment to Standing Order XXI. (Notices on going into Committee of Supply), to leave out the words "the first," and insert the word "an."—(Mr. W. H. Smith.)

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


said, he must own that the impression he had formed with regard to this proposal was not favourable. When Supply was set down as first Order on Government nights hon. Members had full notice of what was going to be discussed, and they came down ready to take part in the discussion; but if Supply was put down as the Second Order of the Day, not only would there be a further infringement of private Members' rights, but Supply would be brought on at a time when the great majority of Members of the House would have no notice of the fact. He could foresee that a Government at all clever—not to say artful—might use this Rule to run through several Votes when the House was comparatively empty, and without observation. He could assure the House that there was more in this Motion than met the eye, and as it was one which lion. Members had not had time to consider, he thought it ought not to be pressed at that moment. He would impress on the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House that Governments were but mortal; and the time might come when this Rule would operate against his right hon. Friend when he was occupying another position, which he would, no doubt, fill with the same ability as his present official position. He did not suggest that the Resolution would be taken advantage of by the present Government; but it was of the utmost importance that the House should be most jealous of any facilities given to the Government with regard to Supply, and he would, therefore, press upon the Government that it was desirable to reconsider this proposal in the interest, if not of themselves, of the House and the country.


said, he entirely agreed with the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington, who had pointed out that there were very substantial reasons why this amendment of the Standing Order should not be made. He (Sir Charles Lewis) would prefer that there should be greater certainty as to when Supply would be reached, so that there should be time for hon. Members to consider the Business, and come down prepared to take part in the discussion of the Estimates.


said, this proposal had been characterized as one which would extinguish the powers which the House had of examining and controlling the Estimates. But he did not think the noble Lord appreciated either the difficulties proposed to be met or the effect of the proposed alteration. As far as his experience at the Home Office and the Treasury went, and as the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington would be aware, there were a variety of small Bills useful in themselves, and which had been approved by successive Governments, and to the practical completion of which there was no objection. There were minor Bills of a non-contentious character which every Government desired to carry, but which could not now be proceeded with after 12 o'clock if any Member rose and objected to their being taken. How then was this difficulty to be met? The proposal was that such Business should be put down on Monday and Thursday. It would be perfectly easy to limit the time for the discussion of these Bills, say till 6.30 or 7 o'clock; and any Member could move at the appointed time "That the Question be now put." The objection of the Noble Lord was that the House might be tricked by the Government, who might spring Supply at a moment when the House was very thin, and in that way get through the Votes without discussion. No doubt that was possible, but it would not be a wise game for a Government to play. Again, if Supply were the third or fourth Order, the Question would be asked at what hour would the Government take Supply, and the probable reply would be that Supply would not be opened after 7 o'clock or some such time. There would be no difficulty in carrying out the Rule, because the Leader of the House might stop the Business before the House by moving "That the Question be now put;" so that there would be no difficulty in the matter in spite of the suspicion which animated the Noble Lord the Member for South Paddington and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy(Sir George Campbell). He (Mr. Courtney) thought the Government could be trusted to act fairly in this matter, and as the proposal appeared to be the only way out of the difficulty they were trying to get rid of, he should support the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman.


said, he certainly thought that it was part of the scheme of the Government that Bills should be taken until a quarter to 1 o'clock. If the present practice with regard to private Members' Bills continued, there would only be one course open to the Government—they would have to put those Bills down for Morning Sittings on Tuesdays and Fridays, and the result would be that the rights of private Members would be greatly curtailed. As an instance of the effect of the present Rule, he referred to the way in which the India Railways Bill was dealt with a few nights ago. He conceived that this was a Bill for the discussion of which the Government would have to find an opportunity, especially as it was originally introduced by the late Ministry, and the only opportunity they would have would be by putting it down for a Morning Sitting.

Question put, and negatived; word inserted.

Standing Order, as amended, agreed to. Standing Order XXII. (Select Committees) read and amended by leaving out, in lines 1 and 2, the words "on Wednesdays and other Morning Sittings of the House.


said, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury would sec that under Rule 35 the proceedings of Committees were null and void if they went on during prayers. He would, therefore, save the House some inconvenience, and at the same time achieve the object in view if heagreed to leave out from the Standing Order the words "except while the House is at prayers."

Amendment proposed to Standing Order XXII. to leave out the words "except while the House is at prayers."—(Sir Ughtred Kay-Shuttleworth.)

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


said, the right hon. Baronet proposed in effect to alter Standing Order XXXV., and he(Mr. W. H. Smith) thought it desirable that formal Notice of that proposal should be given. Although he admitted that a good deal was to be said in favour of the proposal, yet there was also something to be said on the other side. For instance; he pointed out that unless Members were at prayers they could not secure seats in the House. It might be that the pleasure of the House would be to make some alteration in the Standing Order in the direction indicated by the right lion. Baronet, but as the proposal of the Government was necesssary for the purpose of facilitating the Business of the House, he trusted the Amendment would not be pressed.


said, the right hon. Gentleman would see that he had endeavoured to deal with this question of private Committees in a subsequent Resolution on the Paper. He sincerely hoped the House would allow private Committees to sit from a quarter before 12 in the forenoon and continue until half-pasts in the afternoon, notwithstanding the Sitting of the House, and that his right hon. Friend would consider his proposal.

MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)

said, it was quite impossible for hon. Members to retain their seats unless they were present at prayer time, and previously placed their hats on the seats they intended to occupy. He asked the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House whether he could not give Members some assurance that at a subsequent period the Governmen would frame a Rule by which Members engaged on Private Bill Committees would be able to retain their seats with less inconvenience. If the House afforded sufficient accommodation for all Members, the present Rule would not be necessary, but under existing circumstances he thought some regulation should be made to meet the difficulty he referred to.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Standing Order XXXVI. (Orders of the Day and Notices of Motion) read, and amended by leaving out, in line 6, the word "Orders," and inserting the words "Business, whether Orders or Motions, Standing Order XXXVIII. (Orders of the Day and Notices of Motion) read, and amended by inserting, in line 3, after the word "Orders," the words "or Motions. Resolved, That the Resolutions of this House of the 24th, 28th, and 29th days of February, and of the 7th day of March, relative to the Business of the House (Rules of Procedure), with the exception of Resolution No. XII., be Standing Orders of this House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Standing Orders Nos. III., IV., V. (Wednesday Sittings), VI., VII., VIII (Morning Sittings), XI. (Debates on Motions for Adjournment), XIII. (Irrelevance or Repetition), XIV. (Putting the Question), XXXIX. (Dropped Orders), XLI. (the Half-past 12 o'clock Rule), and XLIV. (Divisions), be repealed."—(Mr. W. H. Smith.)

Amendment proposed to leave out "XLI. (The half-past 12 o'Clock Rule)."—(Mr. Tomlinson.)

THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

said, hehoped his hon. and learned Friend would not press this Amendment. It was obvious that the half-past 12 o'clock Rule was practically obsolete, because hon. Members had no power of moving Opposed Business after 12 o'clock, although it was hoped that no unnecessary opposition would be made to measures that were not open to serious objection.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to. Resolved, That Standing Orders Nos. III., IV., V. (Wednesday Sittings), VI., VII., VIII. (Morning Sittings), XI. (Debates on Motions for Adjournment), XIII. (Irrelevance or Repetition), XIV. (Putting the Question), XXXIX. (Dropped Orders), XLI. (The Half-past 12 o'Clock Rule), and XLIV." (Divisions), be repealed.