HC Deb 20 April 1891 vol 352 cc1006-12

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Sitting of the House at Nine o'clock be held subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 which relate to the Interruption of Business and the Adjournment of the House; that the said Resolution be a Standing Order of the House; that Standing Order No. 8 be repealed."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)

(12.7.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)

I should like to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether the Government in tend to avail themselves of the hour from 12 to 1 o'clock for the purpose of their own privileged business, such as Report of Supply, Committee of Ways and Means, and Money Bills? If so, the effect of this Resolution will be, not to enable Members to go home earlier, but merely to take an hour from private Members and give it to the Government. Under the circumstances, I think we ought not to make the change in this form, and unless the Government pledge themselves not to put down their privileged business after midnight on Tuesdays and Fridays our position will be that whilst we have lost an hour the Government will have gained it. I would suggest that we should pass the Resolution in this form—" on Tuesday and Friday at 12 o'clock all disputed business shall cease."

(12.10.) SIR R. FOWLER (London)

Of course, I should be wanting in Party allegiance if I exercised the privilege which every Member of this House possesses of objecting to this Motion. At the same time, I must say I very much regret that my right hon. Friend has brought it forward. If carried, it will only leave three hours for the consideration of Motions on Tuesday and Friday nights, which in cases such as that of the Opium Resolution of last Friday week will be .quite inadequate. In the Opium Debate an hour and a half, or rather more, were taken up by the Mover and Seconder. Another half hour was very properly taken up by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, so that if we had had only three hours not much more than half an hour would have been left to Private Members, and as it was there were some we should like to have heard. My right hon. Friend who represents the Party opposite on Indian questions (Sir U. Kay-Shuttleworth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney (Sir Guyer Hunter), whose knowledge Of the subject in some respects is unrivalled, neither of them addressed the House. As I had an Amendment to which allusion has been made this evening I should have been glad of a few minutes. Four hours is quite a short enough time for the discussion of such a Motion. An hon. Member opposite has a Motion on the Paper for to-morrow attacking the English Church. I do not think an important question of this kind can be satisfactorily debated in three hours. I very much regret that the House has not had an opportunity of taking a Division on this question. No doubt on a great many questions we give way to the Government, and hon. Gentlemen opposite to their leaders, but this is a question upon which every Member of the House is equally able to form a judgment. Some Members say that the House of Commons has degenerated. I do not express any opinion as to whether it has degenerated morally or intellectually, but I do say that this Motion shows that the House has degenerated physically. Go back 10 years. We thought ourselves fortunate in those days if the House adjourned at 3 o'clock in the morning on Mondays and Thursdays, and at 2 o'clock on Tuesdays and Fridays. But now we find young Members of the House doing all they can to shorten the Sittings. I regret that this Motion has been brought forward, but I should be wanting in Party allegiance if I opposed it. I can only offer an humble protest against it.

(12.15.) SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

The hon. Baronet who has just sat down, and whom we all like to hear, more especially when he is not dealing with a Party question, has spoken with strong feeling on this matter, but I am not sure that he has proved the main part of his case. There are many of us who think that 13 hours of work, with a break of two hours, is too much, and that is the amount of work to those who have begun the day by sitting on a Committee. There are others who think very strongly that the Debates gain very much by compression. It may be the case that when a new subject is being brought forward a long speech is required, but I am satisfied—and many hon. Members will agree with me—thatin the discussion of an abstract Motion, on which no hon. Members have an interest in delaying business in order to keep out of the way some particular result which they dread, the Debate is all the better if the speeches are of a moderate length. For my own part, I should never wish to make a speech of more than 20 minutes' duration on an abstract Motion, however much I might be interested in it; and if you give 40 minutes to the Mover that would enable eight speeches to be made within, the three hours. I must say that under the present Standing Order the hour between 12 o'clock and 1 is very dreary. I am informed by hon. Members that so little were they aware of the nature of this Standing Order that on the first night after a Morning Sitting, when they found that the House did not adjourn at 12 o'clock, they were unpleasantly surprised. These considerations, however, do not take away from the weight of the remarks of the hon. Member for Caithness. It appears to me, if I may say so without disrespect, that in the proposed arrangement personal advantage is more on the side of the Government than on the side of the Opposition for private Members, and especially private Members who are supporting the Opposition, may go away very freely on nights when abstract Motions are on, but, if once the House is formed, and the Debate set going, the Members of the Government and their warm supporters are not able to do this. The personal advantage to the Government is very great, and I do not think they should insist on any political or Parliamentary advantage in addition. The Government at present cannot use Tuesdays and Fridays after a Morning Sitting for the purpose of advancing Money Bills or Reports of Supply; so that if the Government are willing to give an assurance that they will not—except in most extreme cases—use this hour for the purpose of Supply, and so keep the House up for Government Business, when we have consented to renounce an hour of private Members' time, then I almost hope the Resolution may pass. I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should consider whether it is not better to make the Order a Sessional Order, instead of a Standing Order. If that is done, I feel certain that when the proposal has been adopted the House, and especially the hard - working Members of the House, will regard it with very great favour. For my own port, I should be quite as glad to have it a Sessional as a Standing Order.

(12.20.) MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)

I entirely agree with the right hon. Baronet as to lengthy speeches in the abstract, but I also must express some sympathy with some remarks that fell from the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir R. Fowler). If I mistake not, when we first adopted the 12 o'clock Rule, the hon. Baronet expressed a doubt as to its consequences. I entirely agreed with him in certain respects with regard to that Rule. I am satisfied, having considered the matter carefully, that in certain directions if we make this change in haste, consequences will flow from it, especially in matters in which the Secretary to the Treasury is interested, which are not at present anticipated. I hope we shall have an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman as to the cogent remarks that fell from the hon. Member for Caithness, and that he will consent to make this a Sessional Order until we see how it affects the Business of the House. If the last few words of the Motion are omitted, it will carry out the suggestion as to a Sessional Order.

(12.23.) MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I agree with the hon. Member for Caithness as to Government Business; but the striking out of " one " and the insertion of " twelve " in the Standing Order would have the necessary effect. The House would then necessarily have to adjourn at 12 o'clock, and uncontentious business that many hon. Members are interested in would have an opportunity of being brought forward; whereas, under the proposal of the Leader of the House, Bills on which no Division is taken would have an opportunity of being further forwarded. Therefore, 1 think the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman is the better of the two. I feel sure, from the way in which the right hon. Gentleman has met the views of the House, that he will be prepared to give an undertaking, which I quite believe he intended when he made his proposal, that these evenings shall remain as they are at present in the hands of private Members. I do not understand that the right hon. Gentleman proposes that the Government should derive any advantage from this proposal. I take it that his Motion is simply to enable Members, on Tuesdays and Fridays, to go home earlier than 1 o'clock in the morning. I am glad to find the House so unanimous on this subject. We are not all so enamoured of long hours as my right hon. Friend opposite. We do not all look back to ancient days as being the greatest plea- that suggestion, so that the House can sure of our lives.

(12.25.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

I think the proposal of the hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow might well be accepted by the House. I confess I feel surprised at what has fallen from the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London. We are all interested in the speeches of the hon. Baronet in the early hours of the morning. I can say for myself he has always seemed to me an honest watch dog. We know very well that this Resolution imposes a severe disability on hon. Members opposite. They cannot talk in Government time; therefore, it is only natural that they should desire to talk in private Members' time. But I would point out to them that, after all, the time will come when they will again be in Opposition—and will come very soon. They will then be able to carry out the famous rule, which almost amounted to a Standing Order with my late lamented Friend (Mr. Biggar)—"Never talk except in Government time." Apart from these considerations, I give my absolute support to the proposal of the Government.

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

One would suppose, listening to hon. Members opposite, that this is a deep design on the part of Her Majesty's Government to deprive them of some of the ancient privileges to which they are entitled. I would remind them, however, that it was only in response to what might be called a conspiracy on the part of hon. Members opposite that I undertook to make this proposal, at the same time explaining that it was for the House itself to say whether it should be adopted. We have no desire to obtain more time for the transaction of Government business, but we cannot consent to deprive ourselves of the power in the event of an emergency of using the existing conditions to put forward Government business, which must be transacted sooner or later. There are, sometimes, occasions when exempted business is of such an urgent character that it is absolutely necessary that we should ask the House to consider it, even after, 12 or 1 o'clock. It is suggested that this should Joe a Sessional Order. I am perfectly willing to accept that suggestion, so that the House can see whether the change that is now desired is one which is for the convenience of Members. I cannot consent to the change proposed by the hon. Member for Caithness, but I consent to the Order being a Sessional one, and we shall never ask for Report of Supply to be put down on Tuesday or Thursday, after a Morning Sitting, unless it is absolutely necessary in the public interest. I would remind hon. Gentlemen that this will give us no priority after 12 o'clock on Tuesdays and Fridays. The Orders of the Day will have to be gone through before any Government business can be taken, therefore, hon. Members will see that they will have the great advantage of being able to take unopposed Motions and stages of Bills, and of fixing the stages of Bills for other days, which at present it is impossible to do on Tuesdays and Fridays. I think it is greatly to the advantage of the conduct of the Business of the House that Bills down on the Paper and undisposed of should be fixed for a future occasion, whereas at present you, Mr. Speaker, have to leave the Chair on Tuesdays and Fridays at 1 o'clock without going through the Orders of the Day. I think it would be to the convenience of the House to accept this Motion, but if there is an indisposition to do so I shall be perfectly prepared to abandon it.


I move that the last line but one, which says, " That the said Resolution be a Standing Order of the House," be omitted.


I will put the first part of the Motion.

Question, "That the Sitting of the House at Nine o'clock be held subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. I. Which relate to the Interruption of Business and the Adjournment of the House,

—put, and agreed to.


It is not necessary to alter the last line but one, so as to substitute "Sessional Order "for "Standing Order." The line need not be put.

Question, " That Standing Order No. VIII. be suspended for the remainder of the Session," put, and agreed to.

House adjourned at half after Twelve o'clock.

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