HC Deb 30 April 1914 vol 61 cc1883-6

I wish to draw attention to a matter affecting the privileges of this House. On the 13th August last this House asked the House of Lords to concur in a Standing Order, and the House of Lords did so. That Standing Order embraced this provision:—

"That any Petitions presented against the Kingstown Order in the Electric Lighting Provisional Orders (No. 6) Bill [Lords], which stood referred to the Committee on that Bill, shall stand referred to the Committee on the Electric Lighting Provisional Order (No. 8, Kingstown) Bill [Lords], in the next Session of Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th August, 1913, col. 2472, Vol. LVI]

The House of Lords carried out its part of the bargain. But yesterday the House of Commons suspended this Standing Order. It was done by a Select Committee of the House of Commons in the exercise of its jurisdiction, of which I do not complain. The rule is, apparently, when a Select Committee suspends Standing Orders, it shall seek the concurrence of this House. Rule 95 provides:—

"When any Petition, praying that any of the Sessional or Standing Orders of the House relating to Private Bills may be dispensed with shall stand referred to the Select Committee on Standing Orders, they shall report to the House whether such Sessional or Standing Orders ought or ought not to be dispensed with"

To our astonishment in to-day's Votes there appears this statement, which is a false statement of fact:—

4. "That, in the case of the Electric Lighting Provisional Order (No. 8) Bill [Lords], Petition for dispensing with Standing Order 128 in the case of the Petition of the 'Kingstown Urban District Council,' the Standing Orders ought to be dispensed with."

At the end appear the words—and this is the false statement—"Resolution agreed to." The House of Commons, as I understand, as a rule, expects, when a Resolution is agreed to, that it shall be put from the Chair. The Select Committee met last night, I am told, about 4.30 or 5 o'clock. Private business in this House had then been dispatched. Nobody who was interested in this Bill had had any notice whatever of any such proceeding, and my submission is that to simply put a notice on the Votes that such a Resolution has been passed is really to turn the procedure of this House into more or less a form—I will not say a sham. Certainly when this House is so careful of its procedure and when promoters spend thousands upon thousands of pounds in resorting to this House as a Court of Justice, the least one expects with regard to a Resolution which this House asked the House of Lords to concur in, and which it did concur in, is that notice to suspend it should be given Members interested, and it should not be the case that one should first learn that the Resolution had been suspended when he receives his Parliamentary Papers the next morning. I am told there is a practice in this House of that kind, and I can well understand it in the case of the ordinary Standing Orders of the House. But this is not an ordinary Standing Order. This is a Standing Order which was agreed to as a result of a compact that this Bill should be put in the same position in the Session of 1914 as it was in the Session of 1913. The House of Lords carried out its portion of the compact, but the House of Commons has broken its portion. I do not challenge the ancient practice, if it be one, that the Standing Orders shall be suspended pro forma and without their being put from the Chair. But I ask whether, in the case of a special Standing Order, which we have asked the House of Lords to join in concurring in, we might not at least get the courtesy of notice and a Question put from the Chair?


On a point of Order. May I ask you, Sir, whether the Standing Order passed last Session was only a Standing Order declaring that this Bill, when it came before this House this Session, should come before it at the same stage at which it left this House last Session, Chat we should dispense with the First and Second Reading, and that the Standing Order further declared that to save expense to petitioners who had petitions against the Bill those petitions should be kept alive? I ask also whether that Resolution of the House debarred any further petition; otherwise would it not be putting the Bill in a better position this year than it was in last year? I submit that a petition can be presented against the Bill up to the time the Committee upstairs has decided, if it is sanctioned by the Standing Orders.


Unfortunately I have not got the Order which was passed at the end of last Session suspending this Bill, but, speaking generally, the effect of this Standing Order is, as the hon. Member who has just addressed me says, to replace the Bill at the beginning of the new Session in exactly the same position as it was in at the end of the old Session. That is, generally speaking, the intention of these suspending Orders. The hon. Member asks is it open this year to any petitioner to put in a petition, even if he may be out of time. I conceive that is so, provided he obtains the assent of the Standing Orders Committee to allow the petition to proceed. The hon. and learned Member for North-East Cork asks me whether it is suitable and proper that there should be an entry in the Votes that this House agreed to a Resolution which, as a matter of fact, has never been agreed to, and which was never put from the Chair. I have inquired into that, and find it has always been the practice, at all events, for a great number of years, to enter as agreed to the Resolutions which come down from the Standing Orders Committee. I take it that that has been done upon this ground, that this matter being of a semi-judicial character the House has committed to the Standing Orders Committee the decision of all matters which affect Standing Orders and that the House would not of itself, having discharged itself of the duty and handed it over to the Standing Orders Committee, as a general rule, revise those decisions. Therefore, it would be a work of supererogation to put the Question from the Chair. We already have quite enough questions to put. I think that Mr. Speaker Peel, some years ago, added to the number of Resolutions which are entered in the Minutes as having been put, a considerable number which, in fact, never were put from the Chair, which related to purely formal business. I would point out that the hon. and learned Member is not in a worse position by reason of the Resolution having been entered as agreed to, because it is always open to him to take one of two courses—either to move that this matter be referred back to the Standing Orders Committee in order that they should reconsider it, or to ask the House, by Motion which would come on at the time of Private Business, to rescind the Order of which he complains. Those two courses are open to him if he chooses to avail himself of either. I am afraid I cannot assist him any further than that.


I am much obliged to you, Sir. All I wanted to know was whether this ruling extends to the practice-of Standing Orders after we have sent a Message to the House of Lords asking them to concur in it, as well as to the ordinary Standing Orders of the House.


I think the fact that it was a special Standing Order, and that we sent it to the House of Lords for them to concur in, does not differentiate it from the other Standing Orders over which the Standing Orders Committee have control.