HC Deb 04 May 1898 vol 57 cc335-40

On the Motion for the Adjournment of the House,

SIR T. G. ESMONDE (Kerry, W.)

, said: Mr. Speaker, I believe I give expression to the very general sense of the House in saying that the present arrangement for dealing with private Members' Bills is exceedingly objectionable. There are a number of Measures introduced every Session—Measures which are often very beneficial and non-controversial, and Measures upon which Members on both sides of the House are agreed; and yet, because under the Standing Orders of this House, objections, and occasionally what I may call frivolous objections, are taken to these Bills, Session after Session they cannot be passed. Now, to-day we have had a Scotch Bill, which is very much required in Scotland, and is a non-controversial Bill, containing no contentious matter, another Bill dealing with national monuments in churches, which is non-controversial and urgently needed, and we have also an Irish Bill which would enable us in Ireland to get back certain Celtic ornaments which have been taken from Ireland and placed in the British Museum, and that is a Bill to which no one could reasonably object. Yet these four Bills and others have been objected to, and, of course, under the existing system, these bills will not be passed this Session. Sir, may I humbly suggest to you this question? Would it be possible for you to take the matter into consideration before next Session in order to get some change made in the orders and regulations of the House so as to—[Cries of "No, no."] Well, it would be a matter for the Government to consider; but, Sir, we should be quite willing to leave the matter in your hands, in order to arrive at some arrangement whereby non-controversial Bills, which are universally accepted, and which are really for useful purposes, may be protected against what I must call a system of frivolous objections.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

Mr. Speaker, the honourable Baronet who has just spoken, I am bound to say, is not the person I should have expected to raise this question, occupying as he does, a responsible and honourable position connected with that party which has certainly not been very prominent in affording facilities for the progress of private Members' Bills. As I understand the honourable Baronet, he advocates the sub silentio passing of Measures, which he considers desirable whatever the House may think of them; but I hope that suggestion will not be adopted.

SIR J. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

Sir, it has been for a good many years my strong belief that this House should consider the advisability of adopting the system which is adopted almost universally by the Legislatures of Europe, and that is that every Bill is considered by a committee before it is brought before the House. I am satisfied that the time of the House would be very greatly saved if some such scheme were adopted. There are Bills, Sir, which are brought before this House day after day, or, at any rate, week after week, which never have any chance of being passed; and yet they take up the time of the House just as much as Bills which ought to be passed. I have thought the matter over for many years, and I am one who is urgently desirous that this House should hold a high position amongst the Legislatures of the world, in respect of the workmanlike character of its legislation.


With reference to what the right honourable Member for Thanet has said as to the action of honourable Members on this side of the House in objecting to the Bills, he will, perhaps, bear in mind that the Bills objected to on this side of the House have generally been, if not always, Bills of a controversial character. The complaint which the honourable Baronet, the Member for Kerry has raised is as to Bills being objected to which are practically non-controversial, and which have been backed by Members of all parties in the House. Now, two Bills this afternoon, the second reading of which I endeavoured to get carried, are both Bills which have received the support of, and been backed by, Members on both sides of the House. Yet they were objected to, not, I believe, because there was any real objection to the object of those Bills, but in accordance with the practice which prevails of objecting to Bills at this hour. Personally, I feel it very much, because it is the first time I have endeavoured to legislate. I have myself, so far as I know, never objected to any Bill. It is altogether contrary to my nature to offer objections, especially to Measures which I know nothing whatever about, and I sincerely endorse the observations of the honourable Member for Kerry, who has referred to one of the Bills objected to this afternoon, which had for its purpose the removal of a purely technical difficulty in the way of returning to Ireland from the British Museum certain old Celtic ornaments.


The honourable Member will not be in order in discussing the object of that Bill.


I am quite aware of that, Mr. Speaker, and I merely alluded to it by way of illustrating the evil of which the honourable Member for Kerry has complained—namely, the objections offered at this stage to Bills which are really non-controversial, and which, if they were properly inquired into, would meet with the support, I believe, of the vast majority of the House, even if they were not unanimously supported. As it is, Mr. Speaker, I see nothing for it myself but to fall into this practice of objecting. My two simple Bills have been objected to, and, if that objection is persisted in, I shall have to come down every evening and adopt this practice, which is most repugnant to my nature, of objecting to every Bill proposed by honourable Gentlemen opposite.

MR. DUNCOMBE (Cumberland, Egremont)

I should like to say, Sir, that I am fully in sympathy with the remarks which have fallen from the honourable Baronet the Member for Kerry. As this discussion has arisen, I wish to ask the Government whether they cannot find some method of dealing with this long list of private Members' Bills more in accordance with the dignity of this House, and with the dignity and interests of the constituents which honourable Members represent, than such a system as we have witnessed this afternoon?


May I suggest that what we want is some Measure to prevent so many private Members' Bills being brought in. It seems to me that there is a great waste of public money in printing these Bills, which have not the smallest chance of passing, and I really think that some restriction ought to be placed on an abuse of this kind, especially as, when a Bill has been squeezed through this House, it is liable to be rejected elsewhere. On the whole, I cordially agree in the view expressed on this matter by the right honourable Member for Thanet. Usually we do not agree in our opinions, but on questions of this kind I am inclined to agree with him. It is absurd to suppose that Members of Parliament should devote themselves to the task of reading the 300 or 400 Bills which are brought in every year; and, in my opinion, anyone who protects the House in that respect by acting as a common blocker serves a very useful purpose.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

This is the result of the change made 10 years ago by the then Conservative Government in bringing in the 12 o'clock and the half-past 5 o'clock rule. Before that time it was possible for private Members to get Bills passed, and a large amount of legislation was passed, not by the Government, but by private Members. Now, under present circumstances, it is utterly impossible; and the fact is that we are called here only for the purpose of passing Government Bills, and the sooner we make up our minds to it the better. Departmental Bills brought in by the Government, which could not be stopped merely by the exclamation, "I object!" have often prevented Measures promoted by private Members from being passed; and the only remedy would be to go back to the old plan of giving us an opportunity of dealing with these Bills between Twelve and One o'clock. There was a very wise Amendment proposed limiting speeches on Bills introduced and read a first time, and with regard to non-controversial Bills we might insist upon that being done. Under this new plan you must take your chance of any person objecting, for all sorts of reasons, spirituous and otherwise.


I feel, Sir, in this particular case rather strongly. For years past, I have, of course—more or less in pursuance of the policy of my dear old friend, Joseph Biggar—opposed Bills and tried to prevent other legislation passing simply because Irish legislation was not allowed to pass. It was simply quid pro quo. The smallest Irish Measure introduced from these Benches was strenuously opposed under the old system by blocking, and now, under the system of objecting, continued to the present time. Accordingly, Sir, I can tell honourable Members opposite, and I can assure the House, that whatever opprobrium I may incur by merely doing my duty, I shall strive to do my duty to the end without fear and without favour, according to the rules of the House and for the benefit of the Party to which I belong.

MR. J. BRIGG (York, W.R., Keighley)

I would like to remind the House of a suggestion made on this subject by the honourable and learned Member for Plymouth, who took a common-sense view of the question, that a Bill which had obtained a Second Reading in one Session should be taken up in the following Session at the stage at which it had been left. I would urge that that is a practical way in which this difficulty might be met.

House adjourned at 5.58.