HC Deb 14 August 1889 vol 339 cc1222-7
MR. STOREY (Sunderland)

Mr. Speaker, lam sorry that I feel it my duty to bring under your notice what I regard as a breach of the privileges of this House. I shall make no speech, but perhaps I had better read the letter which a number of the Members of the Committee have had the honour of addressing to you, Sir, yesterday:— August 13, 1889. MR. SPEAKER.—We, whose names are hereto appended, respectfully desire your advice and ruling: —

  1. "1. We are members of the Grand Committee on Trade, to which has been referred the Light Railways (Ireland) Bill.
  2. "2. At the beginning of to-day's sitting the Chairman announced: 'I will rule out of order every Amendment which is hostile to the Bill as a Bill.'
  3. "3. Various Amendments were so treated. As an illustration take the following:—Clause 4, Sub-section 2, reads thus, 'The Treasury may, subject to limitations as to amount in this Act contained, agree that the undertaking may be aided out of public money, either by a capital 1223 sum or by an annual payment, or partly in one way and partly in another.' The minority objected to grants of cash drawn even when this clause only proposed such to existing railways. But in the Committee the Government have accepted Amendments which bring mere promoters into the clause, and this has intensified the objections originally raised. Under these circumstances one of our number moved to omit the words:—' Either by a capital sum or,' so that the aid might be by annual payment only for a fixed term of years. The Solicitor General for Ireland rose to order, on the ground that the Amendment was hostile to the Bill, and thereupon the Chairman ruled the said Amendment out of order.
We desire your counsel and ruling on the following points:—(a) Are not the discussions in Grand Committee in lieu of discussions in Committee of the whole House, and therefore subject to the same rules? (b) Would not the above-stated Amendment have been a perfectly orderly and proper Amendment in Committee of the Whole House? (c) Whether the refusal to submit such Amendment was not in the mature of a breach of the privileges of Members of this House? (d) What is our remedy, so that this and other proper Amendments, even though hostile, may be discussed in Committee? We are, Mr. Speaker, your obedient servants—
  • "Samuel Storey,
  • "Halley Stewart,
  • "John Barran,
  • "James Craig,
  • "Arthur B. Winterbotham,
  • "William Abraham,
  • "Thomas Burt,
  • "Joseph G. Biggar,
  • "Handel Cossham,
  • "Alexander Blane."
I may say that there were two other hon. Members who left the House after giving their assent to this letter, and whose signatures we did not get in consequence. I refer to Mr. Robertson and Mr. George Howell. Those hon. Members are, however, in full accord with the action we have taken. Without any further remark, I beg, Sir, to ask for your ruling in the matter.


I received last night a letter signed by the hon. Gentleman, and a1 so a protest signed by himself and nine other Members of this House, and I gave it at once my most respectful consideration. I at once in dicated to him, and I have to inform the House now, that I do not regard the matter as one of privilege. At the most, it is only a question of order. But I should like to say, regarding as I do all questions of order that may be raised in Grand Committee upstairs, that I cannot allow appeals to be made to me on points of order rising in Grand Committees, there being no such appeal, in my opinion, from the decision of a duly-constituted Chairman of a Grand Committee. The hon. Member asks me whether, as a general rule, Amendments could be admitted which were hostile to the Bill. I cannot, on an abstract proposition, recognise the propriety of that statement. I do not know what were the circumstances that arose in Committee, or what the difficulties may have been; but, speaking without prejudice, I hope I may be allowed to say that I cannot admit that, as a general rule, Amendments hostile to the Bill may not be admitted. I may instance the feeling I have in the matter by saying that, in regard to the particular Amendment which the hon. Member has just brought under my notice— namely, to omit the words "either by capital sum," so as to leave the amount to be granted out of the Consolidated Fund by annual payment instead of by one capital sum—I see no reason why that Amendment, though hostile to a portion of the Bill, should not have been admitted. It is clearly within the powers of a money clause passed by this House, and the money powers given to the Committee. The Committee, I think, would not have exceeded its powers; but they wished to restrain the Bill within such limits as they thought proper. Under these circumstances, I wish to say that I should have admitted an Amendment of that kind. The hon. Gentleman further asks me what remedy there is. I can only say that I think the remedy would be that when the Bill comes back to this House from the Grand Committee, on Report it would be competent for the hon. Gentleman and those who act with him— or, indeed, for any hon. Gentleman— to move such Amendments as may be thought fit, and, indeed, the hon. Member can move the particular Amendment to Sub-section 2 of Clause 4 to which reference has been made. The hon. Gentleman asks me if the proceedings in Grand Committees are not in lieu of the proceedings in Committee of the whole House. They are so far in lieu of proceedings in Committee of the whole House that there is no stage of Committee of the Whole House in the case of a Bill which has been referred to a Grand Committee. When the Bill comes up on Report there will be ample opportunity for any Member who considers himself damnified or the cause he has in hand injured in the Grand Committee to move such Amendments as he considers necessary, and then full opportunity will be given him of redressing any grievance under which he may consider himself to labour. I hope the matter will not go further now. It is not, as I have said, one of privilege. At the most, it is one of order, and I think I have answered categorically all the questions which have been put to me.


I think, Sir, it will be useful to the House if we can have your ruling upon another point. You have stated that the proceedings of the Grand Committee are in lieu of the proceedings of a Committee of the Whole House to this extent— that when a Bill has been referred to a Grand Committee there can be no Committee of the Whole House upon it. Will you also give us your ruling as to whether or not the rules which govern this House when in Committee with reference to Amendments on various points should be, and are, precisely the same rules as those which govern the consideration of Amendments in a Grand Committee?


I think it must be obvious to the right hon. Gentleman that the rules which are applicable to proceedings in Committee of the Whole House cannot be altogether applicable to proceedings in a Grand Committee, seeing that there are powers possessed by the Chairman of Committees which could not be exercised by the Chairman of a Grand Committee. In accordance with the Standing Orders of the House, the course of proceeding applicable to a Standing Committee is that which regulates the proceedings of a Select Committee, and as far as the Rules of this House can be applicable, they are applicable to the proceedings of Grand Committees in the way I have indicated.


The material point I wish to raise is whether the rule which governs the admissibility or otherwise of Amendments in Committee of the Whole House is one which should also govern Amendments proposed in a Grand Committee.


I think that would be so. As a general rule, the same regulations which would apply to Committees of the Whole House would, in this respect, apply to the Grand Committees.


May I ask you, Sir, in connection with this matter, whether the Chairman of a Standing Committee has not a discretion to refuse to put Amendments which are obviously frivolous, and intended merely to delay the consideration of a Bill?


That is a matter upon which I think I ought to decline to express an opinion. The question of discretion is a very difficult one. A very large amount of discretion is necessarily vested in a duly-constituted Chairman selected and appointed by a Committee which enjoys the confidence of the House. I should be sorry to express an opinion that the large discretionary powers entrusted by the House to the Chairman of a Grand Committee can be otherwise than properly exercised.


I am very much obliged to you, Sir, for the information you have given to the House, and I have no desire to carry the matter further. There is only one question which I will venture to ask. The position in which we are in is this. The serious and operative clause has already been passed without discussion.


I rise to order. I would ask you, Sir, if the hon. Member has any right to discuss the matter after you have ruled that it is not a question of privilege?


I am clearly of opinion that it would be out of order to discuss the matter now. The hon. Member must wait until the Committee have reported.


The question I was going to ask has nothing to do with the proceedings of the Committee. I wish to know if it will be competent when the Committee present their Report to move that the Bill be re-committed, so that it may be considered by a Committee of the Whole House?


A Motion would have to be made to suspend the Standing Order.


Then I beg to intimate, under those circumstances, on behalf of myself and the other Members of the Committee with whom I am acting, without exception, that we intend, with the full consent of our leader, to withdraw from the Committee.