HC Deb 24 February 1891 vol 350 cc1538-41

Order for Second Reading read.

(10.22.) MR. ATKINSON (Boston)

I have had a long time to wait to move the Second Reading of this very small Bill, which everyone understands, so I need not occupy much time in speaking about it. It is a small measure, but I believe that every hon. Member and the public generally will gain by its being passed into law. We know that if an hon. Member speaks for two or three hours he does not get reported in the Press, and he does not deserve to be reported. I remember one of my first experiences when I entered the House some six years ago. I asked one of the Whips to make an arrangement by which I should be enabled to leave the House, and go and dine at the Carlton Club. An hon. Member had at that time been speaking for half an hour, and had said nothing; and the Whip said, in reply to my question, that I might go and dine at the Carlton Club because this hon. Member had received orders to address the House for two hours longer. It was added that if I went to the Carlton Club and came back to the House at 10 o'clock I should be in plenty of time. I was a little incredulous as to this, but when I returned from the Carlton Club at 10 o'clock I found the same hon. Member still addressing the House, and saying nothing. I should have liked an absolute quarter of an hour Bill, but I am modest in my proposition, and, as the House will see, it will be possible to extend the time. I have had a large experience in public affairs, and for 30 years I have been a member of a Corporation of one of our large towns; and my contention, founded on that experience, is that unlimited time for speeches tends to the waste of time and the pre vention of useful business being done. If members of the Corporation with, which I am acquainted had made the same use of their time as Members have made of time in this House, I believe that we should have been able to put that matter right in about 15 minutes. I know the argument is that this is a very important place for the discussion of very important subjects, and that if we err at all we should err on the side of leniency in the latitude allowed to a speaker. No one, however, can deny that we have during the last five or six years erred too much on the side of leniency. I have many times seen 12 or 14 hours at a stretch go by with nothing done. I remember one occasion when I waited for my Bills to come on—Bills that have not yet been carried—from 4 o'clock in the afternoon until a quarter to 6 the next morning. On that occasion we had 16 Divisions—I will not say which Party initiated them—but can any man say he has done the State any service by such waste of time? Five hours and twenty minutes did we occupy in the useless occupation of walking through the Lobbies and recording the fact that we had done nothing and that our friends opposite to us did not intend that we should do anything. Well, we have had a slight reform since then. Things are not so bad now, but they might be made a good deal better, and so I submit this Bill to the good judgment of the House. I applied to a gentleman who, in the political world, is well entitled to give an opinion, and asked him did he approve of such a Bill—it was then a 15 minutes' Bill—he replied that he did approve of it, but, said he, let the Privy Councillors have 30 minutes. My remark was that in my exparience some of these gentlemen were the greatest bores in the House, but, said I: "If you say they should be excepted it shall be so." Therefore, I have put down 30 minutes for the Right Honourables. A short time ago I remember there was one precious hour of a Sitting left; Irish business was coming on, and one of these Bight Honourables was called upon to use the hour, but he said he could not say what he had to say in an hour, and so he refused to utilise the time. Now, if I had asked any 12 Members if they wanted to hear that right hon. Gentleman for an hour upon Irish affairs they would have repelled the idea with horror—they would say they would rather not hear him for 15 minutes, because they had already heard everything he had to say inside or outside of the House. Yet this right hon. Gentleman refused to be content with this hour. With this Bill in operation that right hon. Gentleman would make the best use of his 30 minutes, and then if the House desired to hear him longer he would be allowed another 30 minutes. But I think I shall be a very old man if I live to see the House accord another half hour in an instance of that kind. My opinion is that if a man cannot, in ordinary circumstances, say all he has to say on every subject before the House in less than 15 minutes, he ought to be sent to his constituents to be cashiered, and another hon. Member sent back in his place. At the Œcumenical Conference in London delegates came from California and Australia to address their brethren here. Each speaker who had to introduce a Resolution was allowed 10 minutes, five minutes being allowed to the subsequent speakers. It was found that the speakers who had five minutes allotted to them distinguished themselves by rattling out their speech to the time of 230 words a minute. It was very good practice for them; but if they had anything to say worth hearing they took pretty good care to put it in the beginning of their speeches. No matter how eloquent they were—and some of them were very eloquent—the speech was ruthlessly cut short by the ringing of the bell, and the speaker had to resume his speech when the time was up. Now some very cheap wit has been exercised at the introduction into Parliament of such a bell as used at Diocesan Conferences. But the bell is not the essence of the Bill. I do not care whether it is a bellman's bell or a muffin bell, or or any other kind of bell, because I feel sure that the dignity of the House of Commons will provide such a bell as shall be heard, and if the speaker is deaf, there are plenty of hon. Members who will cry "Order, order!" when an hon. Member has gone beyond his allotted time. I do not want to occupy more than five minutes on such an occasion as this, and so I commend the Bill. If there is anything to reply to I will reply, but I do not think that a valid argument can be found against the Bill.

(10.30.) The House divided:—Ayes 44; Noes 72.—(Div. List, No. 67.)