§ Bill read 1a.
§ LORD REDESDALE
said, that their Lordships had read this Bill a first time out of courtesy to the other House of Parliament; but he thought he should not be trespassing improperly on their Lordships' time in asking the Government what course they proposed to take with respect to it. It would be in the recollection of the House that a Resolution, of which notice was given in February last, was agreed to by their Lordships in May, with reference to the time after which they would not, unless in excepted cases, read any Bill a second time; and it was now for them to consider what course they should take with respect to this Bill, having regard both to this Resolution and to the subject of the measure itself. He was glad, indeed, that he could refer to this Resolution in conjunction with the present Bill, inasmuch as it was not at all of a party character. He must thank the Government for the manner in which they had met the Resolution to which he had referred. They had treated it as one seriously adopted by the House after due notice, and up to the present time no attempt had been made to infringe it. The countenance which the Government had given to the Resolution had, in fact, had considerable effect upon the attendance of Peers; for every one believed that the Resolution was to be carried out, and therefore naturally expected that no Bills of importance, except such as were on the table of their Lordships' House before the 25th of last month, would be proceeded with. There could be no doubt that this Bill was not one of those which the Resolution in question excepted from its operation; and, although, undoubtedly, the subject was one of great importance, he thought it was one as to which the Resolution ought to take effect. The object of that Resolution was not only that their Lordships should have time to discuss measures of importance, and that there might be an adequate attendance of Peers for their consideration, but also, out of regard to the privileges of the other House, that they might have time to entertain the Amendments made by the House of Lords in Bills emanating from them. He believed, in fact, that the independence of both Houses of Parliament as legislative bodies 944 would be materially advanced if that Resolution were properly and fairly carried out, and that more respect would be entertained for their measures if they did not pass Acts to which they were utterly unable to give a fair consideration. He had received from Earl Grey, who was unable to be present, a letter expressing his hope that the House would adhere to their Resolution with respect to this measure, and refuse to consider it in a hurry. His noble Friend added that he thought the Bill altogether a bad one, and would have opposed it if in town; and even those who approved of it must admit that it involved new and startling propositions, and required more consideration than it could receive in the month of August. With respect to this particular Bill, before it had been sent up to their Lordships' House, it had been committed and recommitted again by the other House, and had been, after all, so materially altered on the third reading, that he believed many Members who had taken part in the discussions upon it hardly knew what were the contents of the Bill as it quitted the House of Commons. And so little confidence had that House in the Bill even in its most improved state, that they only passed it after all by a majority of seven. He would, then, ask their Lordships whether they were now to proceed to consider a Bill which was not yet even printed? [Lord LYNDHURST remarked that it had been three weeks before the other House.] Many weeks. It was impossible to touch a Bill of this character without making Amendments of the most important character; and then they might have to send it down again to the other House, perhaps on the last day of the Session, to be hastily considered by the few Members who remained in town. He did not think that that was the way in which a subject of this importance should be dealt with, and he did, therefore, entreat their Lordships to adhere to their Resolution, which had already had an important effect in the present Session, although he regretted that the attention of the Government had only been recently called to it. In future Sessions of Parliament there could be no doubt that it would tend very materially to enforce the early preparation of business for both Houses; and he therefore hoped they would not break through a Resolution which had worked well hitherto, and was likely to work still more satisfactorily hereafter. He did not wish it to be supposed, that he considered the present law in relation to 945 bribery at all satisfactory; but he must at the same time add that the present Bill was open to many grave objections. He was satisfied, therefore, that they could adhere to their Resolution without at all violating the courtesy which was due to the other House, because if they entertained this Bill they must make numerous alterations in it, and by refusing to consider it they were therefore only saying that they would not send Amendments down to the other House at so late a period of the Session that it would be impossible to do justice to their consideration. He was satisfied that, by adhering to their Resolution, which they had passed deliberately at an early period of the Session, they would do that which was most likely to facilitate the transaction of business in future years, and to ensure the due consideration of measures in both Houses of Parliament.
§ THE DUKE OF NEWCASTLE
could not deny what had fallen from the noble Lord with respect to the extreme inconvenience arising in the House from Bills of such an important character coming up so late; but, at the same time, the noble Lord would admit this was no new grievance, having been frequently the subject of complaint. He was extremely glad that the Resolution passed by his noble Friend would be tested with reference to the present Bill, because, as the noble Lord had said, it was not a party measure, and ought not, and he hoped would not, entail any party feelings or struggles in that House. His noble Friend thought the Resolution would be productive of great advantage in future Sessions, and considered it of much importance that their Lordships should insist on its literal fulfilment in the present instance. He (the Duke of Newcastle) must differ from his noble Friend as to the policy, on the first introduction of a measure of that kind, of making it so exceedingly stringent with reference to a particular case, when the other House was not entirely cognisant of the exact nature of their Lordships' Resolution; for his noble Friend admitted that the attention of the Members of the Government in the other House had only been called to it a short time ago. His noble Friend could not have considered what the Resolution was. It did not say that in no instance was a Bill to be read a second time which should come up to their Lordships' House after the 25th of July; but there were to be special exemptions of Bills of Supply and 946 measures of urgency. The noble Lord could hardly deny that there were circumstances of special urgency in this measure. Their Lordships must be aware that, early in the present Session, the House of Commons had come to a Resolution, that the writs of five boroughs Should not be issued, until some legislative measure had passed of a character likely to prevent the system of bribery which had prevailed in those boroughs theretofore. It was specially with reference to the present Bill that the House of Commons had passed that Resolution, and the House of Commons had awaited the issue of this measure before consenting to issue the writs for these boroughs. He thought that their Lordships would admit that the issue of these writs ought not to be suspended longer than was necessary, and the measure therefore came before their Lordships as a special case of urgency. He hoped, when their Lordships came to a decision upon this question, they would agree that, although it was desirable to uphold their Lordships' Resolution, yet that, as regarded the particular measure now before them, their Lordships were called upon, as well from a sense of what was due to the other House, as from the constitutional doctrine that these boroughs should not be unrepresented longer than was necessary, not to insist upon applying their Resolution in this particular case, and to give this Bill a second reading. The noble Lord had himself borne evidence to the fact that the Government had met this Resolution in a proper spirit. Bills had been introduced first into their Lordships' House as far as possible, in order not to infringe the Resolution, and there had been every desire on the part of the Government to uphold it to the best of their power, so that measures of importance should not be protracted until so late a period of the Session. He, therefore, hoped that their Lordships would not insist upon applying the Standing Order to the Bill now before them.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, the noble Duke was right in saying that this was no new grievance, and that Session after Session complaints were made of the late period of the Session at which Bills came up to their Lordships from the other House. Therefore it was that their Lordships had determined to take steps to prevent the recurrence of this evil. His noble Friend (Lord Redesdale) had, so early as the 28th of February in the present Session, given notice of his intention to move the Resolu- 947 tion, which on the 2nd of May received their Lordships' assent. Ample notice had therefore been given; and he must suggest to the Government, that if they intended to interfere with the Resolution on the first occasion when it became applicable, it would have been better not to pass it at all. They had placed upon their journals a Resolution which was intended to guide the proceedings of the other House of Parliament, which had become matter of public notoriety, and to which the attention of the Government had been specially called; and if, when a Bill of small importance came before their Lordships, it was said, "Oh, let this Bill pass; it is a Bill of such trivial importance that you will not think of adhering to your Standing Order;" and when a Bill of grave importance came up from the other House their Lordships were told, "You cannot think of applying the Resolution to this case, because the Bill is of such urgency and importance that it is absolutely necessary to suspend the Resolution," the Resolution would become practically a dead letter. There were several Bills that had been read a second time since the 25th.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
Of course, in the case of more continuing Bills and Bills making no material changes he did not wish to strain the Resolution of his noble Friend (Lord Redesdale), but he thought it would be wise to adhere to the spirit of the Resolution, in order that their Lordships and the other House of Parliament should not send forth legislative measures which were discreditable to themselves, and which could not practically work well for the country; and that their Lordships should have full time to consider any Bill, and the other House of Parliament full time to consider any Amendments which might be adopted by their Lordships, and sent down to the other House for their adoption. The noble Duke said, that the Resolution excepted measures of urgency. Now, the words of the Resolution were—That this House will not read any Bill a second time after Tuesday the 25th of July, except Bills of Aid or Supply, or any Bill in relation to which the House shall have resolved, before the second reading is moved, that the circumstances which render legislation on the subject-matter of the same expedient are either of such recent occurrence or urgency as to render the immediate consideration of the said Bill necessary.Now, the events that had led to the intro- 948 duction of this Bill could not certainly be said to be of recent occurrence or urgency. The Resolution agreed to by their Lordships was intended to provide for cases of unforeseen urgency; but had the House of Commons determined that it was absolutely necessary to legislate on this subject? The present Bill, after having been altered more than half a dozen times in the other House, in its progress through its various stages, had, after being read a third time, had one of its most material provisions—the declaration—expunged from it, on the strength of which it had received the support of many hon. Members. Then came a division upon the question that the Bill from which the declaration had thus been expunged should pass, and whatever the House of Commons might have thought of the original Bill, in a House of 200 Members the Motion that the Bill do pass was only adopted by a majority of seven. Now, was that a case in which the House of Commons could be said to have so strong an opinion of the necessity of passing the present Bill, that, out of courtesy to that House, their Lordships ought to violate a Resolution passed to remedy an evil of long standing? He denied that the Bill was a case of urgency. If their Lordships now set aside their Resolution, it would become in future a piece of waste paper; they would break faith not only with the Members of that and the other House of Parliament, but also with the public, who had a right to expect, from the adoption of the Resolution, that no hasty or ill-considered legislation would take place at this late period of the Session. The reasonableness of this Resolution had been acknowledged by the leaders of the Government in the other House, and it had exercised a practical influence upon the legislation of the other House. Some Bills had been dropped, and others accelerated, to meet the Resolution of their Lordships. But if the House of Commons saw that on the first occasion when this Resolution came into practical effect their Lordships abstained from adhering to it, and that Bill after Bill passed a second reading after the 25th of July, the House of Commons would say that such a Resolution stood indeed upon their Lordships' Journals, but that their Lordships did not mean to adhere to it—that they never intended to act upon it—and that it would be quite idle to take any trouble to send up Bills at an early period of the Session for their Lordships' consideration. This was a case 949 which strongly confirmed him in the opinion he had before expressed, that it was desirable for each House to take into their consideration at the commencement of next Session, Bills which had passed through all the other stages in the other House. To that plan he felt convinced Parliament must come at last. Here was a Bill of great importance and of the deepest interest, in the object of which their Lordships and the other House alike concurred, and yet it was sent to them at a period of the Session when their only alternative was either to reject it altogether, or to pass it in a most imperfect state. But if their Lordships had the power of postponing it, either to the month of February or to November, if Parliament were to meet in that month, then their Lordships would be able to reconcile their duty to the public and their desire to unite with the House of Commons in considering some practical remedy. They might then make a satisfactory measure out of the present Bill, but if they passed it in its present state it would be satisfactory to none, or, at all events, to a very small majority, and their Lordships would send down a Bill to the other House which would be no credit either to themselves or to the other House of Parliament.
§ THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
said, the true question for the House to consider was, whether this Bill did not come under the exception contained in the Resolution. Looking fairly to this subject, he thought that there never was a Bill which more manifestly came under the excepted provisions. The noble Earl who had just sat down had found it convenient to describe this Resolution incorrectly. [The Earl of DERBY: I read it.] But the noble Earl interpreted it inaccurately with a view to show that the present Bill did not come under the exceptions of the Resolution, because he said that this is not a measure of urgency. Now, he should like to know whether the noble Earl was prepared to say that the indefinite postponement of the representation of five boroughs was a matter of indifference, sad was not to be regarded as a serious matter of urgency?
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
had said, that the subject-matter of the Bill was not of such recent occurrence and urgency as was contemplated by the Resolution.
§ THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
begged to say that it was because the House of Commons had come to the resolution that the writs for these boroughs should not be 950 issued until a remedy had been provided against a repetition of the offences against which this Bill was directed. He said, therefore, that it was a measure the subject-matter of which was of recent occurrence and urgency, and that it was an instance in which most properly the Resolution may be relaxed. If the noble Baron who proposed this Resolution had thought of proposing it without such exceptions as he introduced, he was sure he would have had no chance of carrying it. The only inducement he for one had to agree to the Resolution was, the prospect of a liberal construction being put upon it when a case arose to require such an interpretation. They would otherwise never have thought of imposing such an arbitrary condition upon the proceedings of the other House as would have been quite intolerable, and to which that House would never have acceded. The fact was that the Resolution had already, by the admission of the noble Earl himself, produced those good effects which the noble Baron anticipated from it, and this was exactly how he (the Earl of Aberdeen) had expected it would operate—that tacitly, and without the necessity for interfering in the main, they would accomplish what they were attempting to do. But that their Lordships should be deprived of the means of relaxing that Resolution in such cases as the present was perfectly unreasonable; and, had it not been for the prospect of such a power being given, be for one would never have agreed to the Resolution when proposed by the noble Baron.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
thought the noble Duke and the noble Earl would find themselves mistaken as to the effect of that Resolution of the House of Commons; he believed the Resolution of the House of Commons was not that the new writs should not be issued until new legislation had taken place, but that the new writs should not be issued except upon notice of eight days being given; but there certainly was an announcement that an Act would be passed to regulate elections. There was, he believed, a Motion coming on that night in the other House, that new writs should be issued for these boroughs, notwithstanding this Bill had not yet passed.
§ THE DUKE OF NEWCASTLE
observed, that the Resolution might not have been exactly in the words stated by his noble Friend (the Earl of Aberdeen), but his noble Friend had stated the object of the 951 Resolution. He (the Duke of Newcastle) begged to give notice that on Thursday, instead of moving the second reading of the Bill, he would move with reference to it a Resolution similar in terms to the exceptions in the Resolution proposed by his noble Friend (Lord Redesdale) in order that the Bill might then be read a second time.
thought it was not necessary that any Resolution should be moved. The noble Duke might move the Bill subject to the objection that it was against the Standing Order, and he might say it was not against the Standing Order, but in accordance with the exception to the Standing Order. No unnecessary delay should take place in bringing on the second reading. It was most highly expedient that the Bill, if it were to be proceeded with in its present shape in that House, should be proceeded with as speedily as possible, and before any greater number of their Lordships had left town than had already left it. He was rejoiced to hear that the measure would not be put off until next week, which would increase the evil of discussing so important a measure when there was comparatively so small an attendance.
THE MARQUESS OF CLANRICARDE
considered that if it were deemed necessary to suspend the Resolution in this case, the sooner the House came to a decision upon the point the better. If the Order should be suspended, there should then be a very long delay before they took any further steps upon the Bill. When they made up their minds whether they should decide upon the Bill, they should then have some days carefully to read the Bill and look it over.
§ LORD REDESDALE
said, that under the Resolution their Lordships had adopted the circumstances that were to render legislation expedient were either matters of recent occurrence or unforeseen urgency. Now, he submitted that, after what had been said, it was by no means clear that the House of Commons itself thought immediate legislation necessary; but to contend that so old a question as bribery was of recent occurrence or urgency, was really one of the most extraordinary means of getting rid of a Resolution of their Lordships that he had ever heard of. To rescind the Resolution in the present case would, he thought, go far to contravene whatever advantage might be expected to result from the adoption of that Resolution. The effect of the pro- 952 ceeding which was now proposed to be adopted would be, that whoever could command a majority of the House at the time could determine what Bill was a Bill that had reference to a recent occurrence, and was urgent in its nature. The rule would, therefore, do nothing at all, and there would be no protection for legislation, and he hoped the noble Earl opposite would consider the matter before Thursday; because the effect of rescinding the Resolution and considering the Bill might be, that their Lordships might make important alterations, or perhaps replace some of the provisions which the House of Commons objected to; and to send it back to the House of Commons when there would not be a large attendance of Members, would not be treating that House fairly on a question so nearly affecting its privileges. In fact, he did not think they would be paying the House of Commons a compliment by passing such a Bill at this time.