HC Deb 02 June 1904 vol 135 cc705-10

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith) in the Chair.]

*Mr. C. R. SPENCER (Northamptonshire, Mid.)

said he was sorry to interfere with the business of Supply, but he wished to call attention to the incident which occurred at the conclusion of the Morning Sitting, in order to ask the Chairman's ruling on the following point. He was in the Aye Lobby, accompanied by twenty-three other Members, twenty-four of them had passed the division clerks, and had had their names ticked off. Suddenly there was a call of there being no division. He confessed that he had hurriedly left the Chamber to go into the Lobby at twenty-eight minutes past seven. He wished to know whether those hon. Members who were called upon to stand up in their places took part in a division, or whether he did. He wished also to know whether his vote would appear in the division lists to-morrow as having taken part in a division, or whether he should be stigmatised as having frivolously and vexatiously claimed one.


said the hon. Member asked him whether he would appear as having taken part in a division which did not take place. [Cries of "No" and "Withdraw."] If the hon. Member had been in his place he would have known exactly what occurred, namely, that no division did take place. [Cries of "Why?"] If hon. Members would look at the Rule, they would find it was as follows— Mr. Speaker or the Chairman may, after the lapse of two minutes as indicated by the sand-glass, if in his opinion the division is frivolously or vexatiously claimed, take the vote of the House or Committee by calling upon the Members who support and who challenge his decision successively to rise in their places, and he shall thereupon, as he thinks fit, either declare the determination of the House or Committee or name tellers for a division. And in case there is no division the Speaker or Chairman shall declare to the House or Committee the number of the minority who had challenged his decision, and their names shall be thereupon taken down in the House and printed with the lists of divisions. The hon. Member was not in his place, he did not rise to challenge the decision, and therefore his name would not appear on the list.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

said might he ask the Chairman to complete his ruling? What happened to Members who-were in the lobby expecting a division? Were there no means open to those Members of recording their opinion upon the Question which was put from the Chair?


I have read the Rule, and it makes no provision for this. This is not the first time the Rule has been put in force, and if hon. Members find themselves in the Lobby instead of being in the House—["Oh"]—I was asked a Question, and I tried to give an answer.


May I ask—when you came to the conclusion that a division was challenged frivolously, there was only a small number of Members present at the time—whether you had informed yourself that a considerable body of Members, in accordance with the practice of the House, had gone to the Lobby?


I certainly came to the conclusion that the division was challenged vexatiously. If it had not been so I should not have put the Rule in force.


There was only a small number of Members in the House.


My decision was based on the general course of the debate and the action taken by the hon. Member who challenged a division and who moved the reduction.

MR. EMMOTT (Oldham)

May I ask whether the names of the hon. Members who stood up were taken down, and, if so may I ask that my name should be added to them, because I was in the Lobby and passed the teller?


I would really ask the hon. Member to look again at the Rules. He cannot ask to have his name put down when he did not rise in his place. The names of the hon. Members who rose in their places were taken down, and will appear to-morrow in due course.


May I ask whether we were out of order in going into the Lobby? This is a serious matter. We should not go into the Lobby at all if our votes are not to be counted.


I will not undertake to say that the hon. Member is out of order in going into the Lobby. The old Rule of the House was that no Member could vote until he heard the Question put from the Chair, but for the general convenience of Members that was found impossible.


May I make an appeal to the Prime Minister?


Order, order! I have to administer the Rules of the House. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to alter them he must take the ordinary procedure.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid.)

Are we to understand that it is our duty to remain in the House until the Question is put a second time?


May I point out that this procedure only takes place when a division is vexatiously and frivolously challenged?

MR. WHITLEY (Halifax)

May I ask whether an appeal was made to you that the Members who were in the Lobby should be permitted to come in and stand up in their places and register their votes?


The Clerk at the Table has no means of sending out information to Members in the Lobby. The Rule says that Members must rise in their places.

MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

said that in view of the importance of this question might he ask whether the ruling was that twenty-five Members whose names were taken in the Division Lobby, many of whom challenged the Question on the first occasion, and the fifteen Members who rose in their places on the second occasion were to be considered guilty by the ruling of having challenged the division vexatiously and frivolously.


I wish to pass no reflection on the hon. Members who went into the Division Lobby. I do not know what their intention was. The opinion I came to was that the division was vexatiously claimed. It is for me, and not for hon. Members, to give the decision. It is an unfortunate position in which I [am placed, but the Rules impose upon me the duty of coming to a determination. I came to that determination in this particular instance. That being so, it only rested with me to put the Rule in force. I have no dispensing power with regard to the Rules. I am as much bound by them as anybody else.


I wish to ask whether there is any precedent for the action which was taken this evening, the Chairman not having been fortified by a previous division that the minority did not amount to forty. I wish to know how you, Sir, made up your mind as to the extent of the opposition. I have in my mind many instances where such action was taken, but it was always taken after repeated divisions which showed that the minority did not amount to forty Members. I ask you. Sir, respectfully, whether there is any precedent for the action you have taken, no division having been held.


There is nothing whatever in the Rule with reference to previous divisions, or that the Speaker or Chairman must be guided by previous divisions, in coming to a conclusion as to whether a division is vexatiously or frivolously claimed. I used the best of my judgment, and came to the conclusion I did.


Is there any precedent for the action which was taken this evening, a previous division not having been taken?


I have said there is nothing in the Rule with regard to! previous divisions; but as the hon. Member asked for a precedent I will give him the precedent of the 22nd April of this year, when the same course was taken without a previous division.

*MR. NORMAN (Wolverhampton, S.)

I wish to ask, on a point of order, as arising from your replies, whether; it is proper for the division clerks to tick-off the names of hon. Members as having taken part in a division when in fact no division was taken?


The hon. Member has been some time in the House; but if he had been as long in the House as I unfortunately have been he would know that the division clerks tick off the names of hon. Members before the Question is put a second time; and that is for the convenience of Members themselves. When a division is "off" nothing happens as regards the names which have been ticked; and hon. Members are no worse off.


My point is that, as the result of your ruling, a new situation appears to have arisen.


There is no novelty in the situation. The pro-cceding is perfectly according to the Rule.

MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)

On a point of order, Sir, I wish to ask, Can you consider a division to be claimed in a frivolous manner irrespective of numbers?


I can only refer the hon. Member to the Rule. I may say again that I am as much bound by the Rule as the hon. Member himself; and if the hon. Member will kindly look at the Rule which I have read to the House he will see that there is nothing whatever in it about numbers. The Speaker or Chairman has to come to a conclusion as to whether a division is frivolously or vexatiously claimed or not.


Is it within the power of the Chairman, even if fifty or a hundred Members challenge a division, to decide that that challenge: is vexatious?


The Rule says nothing about numbers. The hon. Member had better wait until such an occasion arises.


It has arisen to-night.