HC Deb 26 April 1897 vol 48 cc1077-81
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

said that the desired to bring under the notice of Mr. Speaker a question affecting the procedure of the House in regard to what took place at the last sitting. It appeared from the printed Votes and proceedings which were delivered to hon. Members on the morning of the commencement of the recess, that in the course of the sitting of the previous day the Railway Assessors (Scotland) Superannuation Bill passed through Committee, and that thereupon a Motion was made and the Question proposed that the Bill be read a Third time. An Amendment was proposed to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months." A division was taken with the result that 72 voted Aye, and 12 voted No. The object he had in bringing the matter forward was that he was always under the impression—and he thought most hon. Members shared the same impression that, unless with the general consent of the House, no stage of a Bill could be taken at tiny one sitting other than that stated on the Order Paper for that day. He was aware that there had been occasions on which this general rule had been departed from. He himself remembered in one of the early divisions in which he took part in 1866 that the Habeas Corpus Suspension (Ireland) Bill was introduced, passed through all its stages in this House, sent to the other House, and the Royal Assent communicated to this House in the course of the same sitting. But apart from legislation promoted on the ground of urgency of a national character, the general practice had been undoubtedly as he had stated it. He quoted from the "Rules, Orders, and Forms of Procedure relating to Public Business," and from May's "Parliamentary Practice," and said that having looked at all the references to cases cited, he found they were all cases where obviously the consent of the House was given. The question had been raised before now as one of order, with the result that a decision by Mr. Speaker's immediate predecessor had been delivered, and also one by Mr. Speaker Brand. Mr. Speaker Peel, in August 1890, said: — It frequently happens late in the Session, when urgency is in the nature of the case, that two or more stages of one Bill are taken at the same sitting"; and he went on to say that, it is not a question of leave of the House, but of the vote of the House. Acting on that opinion, and in accordance with other precedents, have myself on two occasions—the only occasions can recall—done so. Looking at all the decisions only one, he thought it was clear that the only cases in which an exception had been made to the general practice had been when a Measure had the general assent of the House, or was promoted on the ground of extreme urgency, as in the ease of the Bill of 1866. He drew attention to the matter because he thought that in the future it was by no means improbable that majorities drawn from one side or the other might be tempted not only to do what had been already done to obviate altogether the Report stage by resisting all Amendments, but to take advantage of the principle which would be established, that immediately, at the same sitting, a Motion would be made for the Third Reading of a Bill. He desired also to draw attention to the special conditions under which the sitting upon that day was being conducted, owing to the specific Order of the House embodied in the Motion for the Adjournment for the holidays, which ran as follows: — That the Government business, as far as and including the Order for the Committee on the Railway Assessors (Scotland) Superannuation Bill, may be entered upon this night at any hour, though opposed, and be not interrupted under the provisions of the Standing Order, Sittings of the House; and that, so soon as such business is disposed of Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without question put. Therefore, although he did not attach so much importance to that breach of order as to the departure from general practice which he had first mentioned, he submitted that the taking of any stage of the Bill in question, except for Committee, was a distinct breach of the specific Order of the House made at the commencement of that sitting. That being so, he desired to ask Mr. Speaker whether the proceeding in question was regular, or whether there were special features in the particular case which would not enable it to be quoted as a precedent in the future?


Perhaps had better state first my recollection of what actually did take place at the last sitting of the House. The Bill referred to passed through Committee after a discussion of some two hours, and when came into the Chair, the Motion was made "That the Bill be sow read the Third time." No objection was taken on the point of order to the Third Reading, but the hon. Member for Caithness immediately rose in his place, and proceeded to move that the Bill be read a Third time that day six months. An hon. Member, in supporting that Amendment, did object, not by way of raising a question of order, but as a matter of argument, to the Third Reading being taken the same night of a Bill which, he said, was a contentious Bill. Therefore the particular point which, the right hon. Gentleman now takes was never raised. But as the right hon. Gentleman asks me what my ruling would have been, assuming objection had been taken, may say that do not understand the Rule to be as broad as he seems to suggest. There is no absolute rule that the Third Reading cannot he taken immediately after the Report without the universal assent of the House. It is the more ordinary practice of the House—which, probably, it would desire to continue in the majority of cases—that only one stage should be taken at a time; and, in the ease of a really contentious Bill, debated between the two sides of the House, two stages should not be taken at the same sitting. With regard to the ruling to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, in which Mr. Speaker Peel gave an opinion that it was not a question of leave like the withdrawing of a Motion, but of the vote of the House, think that correctly states what is the Rule of the House. If the question is proposed and objection is raised, the House then has the right to determine "whether it will take the Third Reading or not do not think that that question has been pressed against objection taken, except in cases where there has been something exceptional in the extent or character of the opposition. The decision of Mr. Speaker Peel seems to me to have carefully laid down what the Rule is; and may point out that since then, as lately as June 2,1892, when the Clergy Discipline Immorality Bill was before the House, and when there was no urgency, there was a debate on the Report stage, and several Amendments were moved and divisions taken by a minority limited in number. After the conclusion of the Report stage, the Third Reading of the Bill was asked for. The question was put, and there was a division, when the question was carried by 135 to 14 votes. And there are other precedents. As regards the other point raised—namely, that the particular Resolution under which the House sat upon that Monday prevented the proceedings of which the right hon. Gentleman complained—I may point out that that rule did not prevent anything from being done which could in ordinary circumstances have been done under the Order for the Committee on the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] If there had been no such Resolution of that Order being' called, and the Committee stage taken, and Report made without amendment, the Third Reading might have been moved and taken. There was, therefore, nothing in the Resolution which could prevent the House from disposing of all business which could under ordinary circumstances have been dealt with, under that particular Order of the Day. For these reasons think that, the proceedings were in order.