HC Deb 12 February 1917 vol 90 cc277-9

I beg to ask a question in reference to the procedure and practice of this House, and the invariable etiquette and usage of this House. I see on the Paper to-day Notice of Motion for the presentation of two Bills which are to be taken as read, one by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary and the other by the Attorney-General. One of the Bills is for the institution of two further Government-paid Parliamentary offices and the other is for the abolition of one of the primary stages of trial by criminal law. When this Rule was passed, on 17th February, 1902, a distinct understanding and pledge was given first of all that it should be pre-eminently availed of by private Members only for their own Bills and that it should not at all attach to Government business, and that the Bill should be, when it did attach to Government business, purely Departmental Bills. A Bill to abolish grand juries and to add two Parliamentary offices to those in existence are not Bills of trivial importance. When the Motion was proposed, Sir William Harcourt vehemently opposed it. Then an Amendment was put down to say that it should not be available for the use of any Minister of the Crown. Next the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who was in charge of the Motion, said that no one would ever dream of using it except for Departmental Bills. Sir William Harcourt said in reference to that: I think we ought to ask him to put into this Rule a provision which will prevent it applying to important Bills, because I think by some other Government this Rule may be made to apply to all Government Bills, and therefore, I think, if it is passed, a proviso ought to be inserted to prevent all important Government Bills being launched without the very important explanations which are usually being made. The present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs assented to that. Mr. Bryce opposed it, Mr. Robertson opposed it, and so did the general sense of the House. The Rule was made subject to this arrangement: that so far as Ministers of the Crown were concerned, it was an honourable understanding that it should only be put in force in regard to merely routine or Departmental Bills, and should not be put into force in regard to measures of first-class importance, such as the two Bills on the Order Paper are. The Government have taken away our time, and will not even give us time to legislate.


There is no qualifaction or limitation in the Standing Order. The Standing Order is what concerns me. The Standing Order says: A Member may, if he thinks fit, after notice, present a Kill without an Order of the House for its introduction. It does not in any way limit the character of the Bills, or say that they are to be Departmental, or large or small, or what their character is to be. Therefore I have no power to prevent any Member from presenting any Bill.