HC Deb 23 March 1893 vol 10 cc911-4
MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)

asked the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Denbighshire (Sir G. Osborne Morgan), as Chairman of the Grand Committee on Law, by what authority under the Rules of the House relating to Grand Committees he had that day put the Closure on a discussion upon an Amendment to the Places of Worship Enfranchisement Bill?

SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)

My reply is that I put forward no claim to exercise the power of Closure possessed by the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees. I acted under Rule 271 of the Standing Orders, which provides that the proceedings of Grand Committees are to be the same as those of Select Committees. I have probably attended as many Select Committees as most Members in the House, and I know it is not an uncommon thing for the Chairman of a Select Committee, when a subject has been thoroughly exhausted, to say that the time has arrived when the question ought to be put, and to put it. This was exactly what I did. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Stanley Leighton) had been under discussion for three-quarters of an hour on Monday and over half an hour to-day, and I am bound to say that the discussion was of a rather discursive character. It appeared to me that if no limit were put to the Debate there was no reason why it should not go on for ever. I, therefore, put the Question, acting on the precedent created by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of War (Mr. Campbell Bannerman) last year in the Standing Committee on the Clergy Discipline (Immorality) Bill. I may be permitted to say that unless some power of shortening discussion were vested in the Chair it would be perfectly impossible to carry on the proceedings of Grand Committees, and I myself should most humbly and respectfully decline the honour of acting as Chairman.


then asked Mr. Speaker whether the Chairman of a Grand Committee had the right to put the Question when the discussion of an Amendment was proceeding?


inquired whether that course was not adopted when the Light Railways (Ireland) Bill of the late Government was under discussion?


asked Mr. Speaker whether it was in order to question him as to the order of proceedings on Grand Committees?


I can only interpret the Standing Orders of the House. The Standing Orders do not authorise the Closure as practised in the House to be put in force in Standing Committees or in Select Committees; but, of course, there is an inherent right in the Chairman of a Select Committee or a Standing Committee, if he see that the transaction of business is becoming impossible, to shorten a discussion. It might not be technically right to make the Motion, "That the Question be now put," but I understand that the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Campbell Bannerman) in the former case was generally sanctioned. I believe in that case the right hon. Gentleman did allow discussion of an Amendment for a limited time, and that the Committee agreed to that course. No doubt there is no such thing as Closure in a Standing Committee.

MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

asked the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Denbighshire whether he contended that when he put the Question the state of things was such that the transaction of business was becoming impossible?


I did not state that that was the case on this Committee, but that the matter was entirely in the discretion of the Chairman.


said he was merely adopting Mr. Speaker's test, and he wished to know from the Member for Denbighshire whether that test could be said to have been fairly applied to what took place on the Grand Committee.


Yes, Sir, I think it could.


inquired whether it was not the fact that the contention of those who were at the time criticising the clause under discussion was almost immediately afterwards admitted by the Home Secretary (Mr. Asquith).


I would like to answer that question at once by saving that such was not the case.


asked Mr. Speaker what course could be adopted by hon. Members in the case of a Bill which had been irregularly dealt with in its passage through a Grand Committee in consequence of inattention to the Rules of the House on the part of the Chairman?


It will be enough to put that question when the case arises. I cannot undertake to answer prospective or hypothetical questions.


Then, Sir, how can the matter be brought to your attention or under the notice of the House? An irregularity has, according to your ruling, been committed, the Closure not being possible to be put in a Grand Committee. But the Closure has been put, and I want to know how we can bring this irregularity forward.


I have not stated that any irregularity has occurred, but if the hon. Member thinks the Bill has passed through the Grand Committee under the shadow of an irregularity, and that some impropriety has taken place, it will be competent for him to raise the question by Motion in this House.


Sir, I beg to give notice that on the Report of the Bill I shall move that it be recommitted to the Grand Committee.