HL Deb 03 August 1860 vol 160 cc591-6

rose to move, pursuant to notice, "That the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Public Business, of the 14th of August. 1848, be reprinted." His noble Friend now sitting on the cross benches of their Lordships' House (Lord Eversley) was then Speaker of the House of Commons. He gave most important evidence before the Committee, and stated the various obstacles which impeded the progress of public business, and offered most valuable suggestions as to the remedy; and the Committee made several recommendations with a view to facilitating the business of Parliament. It appeared also that then, as at present, Members complained of the increasing tendency to the accumulation of business towards the end of the Session, though no one proposed a remedy for that evil. His noble Friend near him (Lord Derby) had made a full statement upon the subject; but with him he (Lord Brougham) admitted that it was, under existing circumstances, necessary that the recess should intervene before they could attempt any mature deliberation on the remedies required. He also desired, before the end of the present Session, to bring before their Lordships the Resolutions which he (Lord Brougham) had himself proposed in 1845, for the better conduct of private business in their own House. He quite agreed with what his noble Friend (Lord Eversley) stated before the Committee, that a large part of the evil complained of in the hindrance of public business arose from the great and increasing mass of private business. The Members of the other House having been occupied all the morning in Committees on private Bills, necessarily came to the House at four or five o'clock quite exhausted; and the natural conse- quence was that they frequently left the House at seven o'clock in the evening, and did not return until perhaps ten o'clock. This often led to an unnecessary prolongation of the debates, for subjects in which they were interested having been brought on during their absence, they had lost their opportunity, and it was necessary either to find or make an opportunity of delivering their sentiments, the result was that constant Motions for Adjournment were made, and on other questions debate was forced on to the great prejudice of the progress of public business. That was the description of the state of things in 1848, and the Committee, in order to remedy the evil, recommended—a proposal which had been sanctioned—that certain restrictions on the making Motions of Adjournment should be imposed. At the present day, however, those restrictions were, so far as he could learn, ineffectual to prevent the abuse of the privilege, especially in the case of the Motion for Adjournment from Friday until Monday, when the opportunity was seized upon by Members of the other House to enter into the most desultory discussion of every variety of subject. Indeed the whole process was a series of debates, not upon the questions before the House but on everything, and the speeches were without number and almost without end. The Committee, he might add, had received the evidence of various witnesses from foreign countries as to the peculiar rules and modes of procedure adopted by their Legislative bodies. It appeared that in the United States Legislature the Motion for Adjournment was not allowed to raise any debate, and there was a form of procedure known as "the Previous Question," which amounted rather to what the French termed la cláture than that to which would come under the designation of the Previous Question in this country, its effect being instantly to put an end to the debate; and it is determined by a vote without any debate. It was asserted that the French system to which he had just alluded did not interfere unduly with freedom of discussion, and that all men believed business could not be carried on without the clôlure, while it was also contended that the one hour remedy—that was to say, the limiting of the time allotted to each speaker to one hour—worked well in the United States, and was universally popular both in the House of Representatives and out of doors. He was, however, afraid that such a remedy applied here would not so work, unless hedged round by such safeguards as would render its operation perfectly inefficient to promote the object which those who would adopt it must have in view. The Committee having made some further recommendations for facilitating the progress of public business, wound up their Report by stating that they could not recommend the adoption of any new restrictive rule, and that the real remedy for the obstacles which had existed to that progress was to be found in the good feeling of the House itself, the forbearance of Members, their desire to conduct the proceedings with regularity and order, and their willing acquiescence in the decisions of the Speaker as well as in the enforcement by the Speaker of the established rule that everybody addressing the House should strictly confine his remarks to matters pertinent to the subject under discussion. The Committee, however, in relying upon the forbearance of the House, and the enforcement of the rule in question, placed their trust, he feared, in a broken reed; while there was, he thought, much weight in their statement that the satisfactory conduct of public business must in no small degree also depend upon the control which was exercised over it by the Government, and on the due preparation by the Government of the measures which they submitted to Parliament as well the proper distribution of those measures between the two Houses. In the expectation of the Committee that the independent Members of the House of Commons would do all in their power to assist the Government in disposing of the public business, he was not, he might add, inclined to place much faith, while he cordially concurred in the opinion that the great mass of private business lay at the root of the evil of which he complained. Therefore, he would call their Lordships' attention to the proposals he had more than once brought forward as to the mode of dealing with private business. But especially he had brought forward the matter in 1837, with the support of his illustrious Friend the late Duke of Wellington. The origin of the plan then proposed was this: In 1834, when he (Lord Brougham) presided in this House, a Bill was brought up from the Commons for dealing with boroughs accused of corrupt practices. On looking at its provisions he found them such as could never be agreed to, for the entire disfranchisement of any borough might be finally carried by a single vote obtained through surprise or inattention; and when such a vote had once passed the Commons for disfranchising Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, in the state of their Lordship' House, and with the prevailing prejudices on the subject, no doubt the Bill was sure to pass through all its stages very easily. He spoke to the Duke on this oversight, as he considered it, of the other House, feeling quite certain that his noble Friend was greatly above availing himself and the party which he led of what must prove such an advantage; and he found, as he expected, that be had rightly judged his noble Friend. He then spoke to another noble Friend whom the Duke held in high respect (Lord Ellenborough), having with all men the greatest admiration of his talents, and the truest esteem for his manly straightforward nature, so congenial to his own. In that noble Lord he found the same fair and candid disposition, not to take advantage of what had been done in the Commons. It was, therefore, agreed that the Bill must be materially altered; and the Duke mentioned a plan that had occurred to him, on which he would write a few observations, and give them to him (Lord Brougham), asking his assistance to work it out, and to give the needful details. They considered it repeatedly, in every point of view, and the result was the proposal of a Joint Committee of the two Houses to examine the evidence in each case. When he suggested that the Commons might require a majority of the number, the Duke had no objection, and it was settled that there should be seven Commoners and five Peers. The Duke also proposed that the Committee should, if it chose, act with the assistance of a Common Law Judge, in considering questions of law and matters of evidence, to which he (Lord Brougham) did not object, though he warned his noble Friend that this part of their plan would occasion great objections in the Commons. It was proposed that this Joint Committee should examine the whole case, and report to both Houses, that the Report should only be conclusive on the facts, and that the subsequent stages of the Bill in each case should be entirely within the jurisdiction of each House. This plan was fully discussed in the Select Committee to which the House of Commons Bill was referred, and it was adopted first by the Committee, and afterwards by the House, and the Bill, as so amended, was returned to the Commons, where it met with a general approval, all being of opinion that, to whatever objections it might in some parts be exposed, it was a very great improvement of the measure as sent up to this House; but aw it was rather a new Bill than an amended Bill, it was deemed impossible to adopt it upon the single vote of agreeing to the Lords' Amendments, and the measure therefore went no further, the Session being near its close. Next year the Government was in the hands of the noble Duke and his friends, and when he (Lord Brougham) proposed to renew this Bill, the Duke concluded that the Ministry was not in such a state as gave it a reasonable prospect of being able to carry so important a measure. In fact, they remained only a few weeks in office. Two years later he (Lord Brougham) brought forward his orders for the better conducting of private business, and he naturally consulted the noble Duke not only because he had expressed the strongest opinion upon the absolute necessity of some measure to facilitate that business, but because lie knew no one so entirely worthy of being consulted upon all subjects. He spoke from long experience of that illustrious man, and from long observation before his experience commenced; and he could assert that his wisdom in civil affairs, his sagacity, his firmness, and all the qualities which combined to make a great statesman were only less than his military superiority. With a mind that at once fixed on the object to be accomplished, his eye surveyed all the surrounding obstacles and difficulties, and descried the path by which that object was to be attained; and his firm will proceeded resolutely in the shortest path, by a straight line, to the end in view. To this great man he commended the Resolutions which he proposed for conducting private Bills. He approved of them entirely, but said, "Why not try our plan of 1834?" His answer was they could not hope to carry it. Then, said the Duke, "let us try, and if we are beaten we can retreat upon your Resolutions upon the lesser plan." Accordingly they did try it, and the Duke stoutly supported it in the Select Committee to which the Resolutions were referred. They were unable to carry it, and the lesser plan being adopted, was reported to the House, and forms the Standing Orders now in force. This was communicated to the Commons and for two or three years rejected, but afterwards adopted, and he (Lord Brougham) was bound to admit to his noble Friend (Lord Eversley) adopted with one important addition, which was a great improvement, that of the Select com- mittee of Chairmen in the House of Commons. The Resolutions which he now proposed were founded upon the plan which the illustrious Duke and himself had endeavoured to carry in 1837, and to these Resolutions proposed then and in 1845 he had added two not confined to private Bills but applicable to all measures. To the whole he respectfully invited the attention of their Lordships, as well as to the important evidence and suggestions in the House of Commons' Report. He placed the whole subject before their Lordships, he might almost say testamentarily. He grieved to say that he was about to quit a scene in which he had long aided their Lordships, according to the humble measure of his powers, in their judicial as well as legislative capacity. Hereafter, should his health permit, and his faculties servo to make him worthy of again partaking in their labours, he might hope to revisit the same scene. Meanwhile he might say in the words of Bishop Lowth:— Cara, vale, veniet felicius ævum, Quando iterum tecum, sim modo dignus ero. He moved that the Select Committee's Report on Public Business, 14th August, 1848, be printed.

Ordered to be printed.