HC Deb 30 April 1889 vol 335 cc812-7

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Reports of the Committees of Supply, and of Ways and Means, may be entered upon at any hour, though opposed, and. the Proceedings thereon shall not be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the Sittings of the House, except of Standing Order No. 5. But, after such proceedings are disposed of, no opposed business shall be taken "—(Sir Michael Hicks Beach.)

*SIR W. BARTTELOT (Sussex, North-West)

I would like to say a few words before the question is put. I am quite prepared to support the Government, even on this proposal, if they will state clearly and distinctly that it is necessary, in order that they may finish the important business they have in hand before the 15th of August. I am sure the House will do all it can to accelerate business so -as to avoid another mischievous Autumn Session. But I must point out that we are breaking through one of the main conditions imposed by the House when the Rules were altered. We now come down an hour earlier than we did before. We are quite willing to support the Government by every means in our power, but I think they ought to consider the health of hon. Members and give them an opportunity of getting to bed at a reasonable hour. We are now breaking through a Rule which we were promised—and I was the means of extracting that promise —should never be broken through, except on most urgent occasions, that is to say when great debates were going on which it was necessary to finish. I feel somewhat strongly upon this subject; and I think we ought not to agree to this Resolution without a strong protest against the loss of the power to save ourselves from the disgraceful scenes which frequently occur when the House sits after midnight.


I think the appropriate and fitting protest which we have just heard comes excessively well from the hon. Baronet. By the Resolution just agreed to, the House has practically extended its sittings up to one o'clock, and by the present Motion it is proposed to extend them to an indefinite period. For my own part I would rather sit a little later in the Session and have an opportunity of going to bed at a decent time than sit up till all hours during the Session in order to obtain a somewhat earlier prorogation.

MR. COGHILL (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I am strongly opposed to this proposed interference with the 12 o'clock rule, which worked admirably last Session. When the House sits after midnight, it is simply a question of physical endurance, and of who can stop out of bed the longest. It is really imposing upon our constituents to take credit for these late sittings, because we cannot legislate properly after 12 o'clock at night. Of the hon. Members who remain in the House after that hour a great part have lost their tempers, and of those who have not the greater number are fast asleep. I do not think we ought to sit after 12 o'clock at all. I do not take the same view with regard to Autumn Sessions as the hon. Baronet (Sir W. Barttelot). I think we ought to have Autumn Sessions—that we ought to rise early in August or even in July, and meet again in the autumn. If we do not do this we have six or seven months in which the House does not sit at all, and the business of the State is then administered not by the Ministers but by the permanent officials, who really govern the country. We may have every confidence in Ministers, and I think we have, but I do not think we have the same confidence in the permanent officials. But, whether we have an Autumn Session or not, I think that in the interest of the health of all who are concerned in the proceedings of this House we ought to resist most strenuously the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to extend the sittings of the House beyond 12 o'clock.


I think there must be some misapprehension in the mind of the last speaker with regard to the scope of this proposal. It is not proposed that we should legislate after 12 or 1 o'clock, but merely to take report of Supply and report of Ways and Means after that time. There are many occasions when these reports are taken without any debate at all, and, in the case of a repetition of the discussions that have taken place in Committee we propose to take them after the usual hour for adjournment.


May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that on one occasion quite recently, on report of Supply, we were kept here till nearly four o'clock in the morning?


Yes; and that may happen again. That was an occasion when it was absolutely necessary to pass a particular vote within the financial year, and the law would have been broken unless the House had been willing to make the sacrifice. It was an isolated case, and it is with a view to such isolated. cases that we put this proposal before the House, and certainly not with any intention that we should frequently sit late. It certainly is not intended that we should have a repetition of the tremendous strain involved in the late hours of previous sessions. I can assure my hon. Friend behind me (Sir W. Barttelot) that we do not intend to put any further strain upon Members of the House than is absolutely necessary. We are deeply grateful to hon. Members on this side of the House for the constant attendance they have given under most arduous and difficult circumstances, and for a length of time such as has never been called. for on previous occasions. We are most anxious to avoid an Autumn Session. There is no class of members who more desire to avoid an Autumn Session than the Ministers of the Crown. We are most anxious to avoid any of those extraordinary occurrences which happened last year and the year before. I may say that the country is not in the hands of the permanent officials during the time that Parliament is in recess, and that it is important that ministers should have some months at their disposal for carrying on the work of their departments in a more consecutive manner than is possible whilst the House is sitting. It is quite proper, as my hen. and gallant Friend has contended, that Ministers should have time for the preparation of their measures. We feel the force of that, and we trust that with the cooperation of the House we may be able to avoid that Autumn Session which I know he regrets so much.


I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Coghill) seemed to be under the misapprehension that he was sitting on the Ministerial instead of on the Opposition Benches. A gentleman who declares his unlimited confidence in Her Majesty's Government would more appropriately find a seat on the Government Benches. It is not the business of an Opposition to have unlimited confidence in the Government, and on the whole I have more confidence in the permanent officials than in Her Majesty's present Administration. I also entirely concur with the right hon. Gentleman in condemning the hon. Member for Newcastle-under Lyme for desiring an Autumn Session. There is nothing I less desire than an Autumn Session. I wish that the Ministers will have the longest possible time for considering their measures, and I will do everything to insure that result. But is it necessary that the Government should press the Motion at this moment? No occasion for it has arisen. The Motion applies to Report of Supply, and it will have the effect of breaking through a very valuable rule, which, according to promise, was not to be broken through except in cases of special necessity. The Session is yet young, and I do not think that any special necessity is raised by Report of Supply. If, later on, it should appear that any inconvenience is arising to the Government from their not being able to get Report of Supply, it will be time enough to make this unusual application. The Government ought not to complain that a greater amount of time is taken in Committee of Supply, because two additional Morning Sittings have been granted to them expressly for that purpose.


I do not know that I can add much to what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, but I would point out the difficulty in which the Government will be placed if the proposal is not acceded to. It is suggested that the proposal may he postponed, but the Government do not wish to be continually coming to the House with proposals for altering the rules, or for giving them more time in order to make the necessary progress with business. The House has granted additional time for the transaction of proceedings in Committee of Supply, but what may happen under the rule at present? When votes agreed to in Committee are reported to the House the objection of a single Member after 12 o'clock will be sufficient to prevent the consideration of the report. Then it will be necessary that the report should be placed first on the Paper next day, with the result that a fresh discussion may arise, which would never have arisen if it had not been in the power of a single Member to object to the report stage being taken at the previous sitting. The Government would thus be deprived of no inconsiderable part of the time to be devoted to the consideration of Supply. That is the reason which has induced the First Lord of the Treasury to place the Motion on the Paper; and the Government have not the least intention of utilizing the Resolution for the purpose of regularly keeping the House up to an unreasonable hour. Power will be resorted to very rarely for the purpose of any real discussion on the Report of Supply, for there is no desire to get rid of the 12 o'clock rule by its means.


I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can point to any occasion on which one or two Members have practically prevented the Government getting Report of Supply. The objection we find to this proposal is not so much that we may have to sit beyond 12 o'clock, but the state of uncertainty as to when the House will rise on the particular evenings when Report of Supply is put down. The great advantage of the 12 o'clock Rule is not so much that we rise at 12 o'clock, but that it gives hon. Members almost the absolute certainty that at a specified time they will be able to go home. The great drawback of the old system was that even if we went to bed early we did not know that we were really getting to bed early. I trust the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give some heed to the protest made on this side of the House against the present proposal. He has himself whittled down the proposal so that at the present moment it seems perfectly unnecessary. It would be only courteous to the general feeling of the House if now, when we have given additional time to the Government, they would yield on this small point.

The House divided: — Ayes 183; Noes 114.—(Div. List, No. 88.) Resolved, that the Reports of the Committees of Supply, and of Ways and Means, may be entered upon at any hour, though opposed, and the proceedings thereon shall not be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the sittings of the House, except of Standing Order No. 5. But, after such proceedings are disposed of, no opposed business shall be taken.