HL Deb 19 July 1860 vol 159 cc2129-50

My Lords, we have now arrived at the third week of July, a period when it is generally hoped that the Session is drawing to a close. On former occasions the review of the Session has often been made the subject of an exciting political controversy, and I am far from saying that the present Session is so far an exception to the general rule as not to afford ample material for debate. But on the present occasion it is my desire not to seek, but sedulously to avoid, anything approaching to a party discussion. I wish solely to draw your Lordships' attention, as a matter of dry detail, to a state of things which is a matter of great importance not only to the country, as affecting the character of the legislation of both Houses, but also to the interests of any and every Government which happens to be charged with the responsibility of office. I trust, therefore, we may approach the consideration of the question without the slightest reference to party feeling, and merely as a subject in which we all have a great and common interest. The state of things is this:—We have now been sitting for the space of twenty-six weeks, and at the expiration of that time I find that thirty-four Acts of Parliament have received the Royal Assent, and that there are thirteen other Bills which, as they have passed both Houses, and only await the Royal Assent, may be supposed to be already added to the legislation of the Session. On examination, however, the great proportion of these Bills prove to be measures of the most absolute and complete routine. There is hardly a single measure among them that can claim the dignity of being Legislative measures of even second-rate importance. This is not a circumstance which is new or peculiar to the present Session, for I find that during this Session nearly as many Bills will have been passed up to the expiration of July as in any of the last ton or twelve years. The number is somewhat smaller, but the difference is not material. What I wish to bring before your Lordships is that almost by the necessity of the case the same thing must be found in nearly every Session of Parliament. I wish to direct your attention to the manner in which Parliamentary business is conducted in the two Houses, for the purpose of ascertaining whether the mode of proceeding may not be altered so as to avoid the difficulty I have pointed out. I begin by acknowledging that the great proportion of Bills, 9 out of 10, or even 19 out of every 20, require to be originated in the other House of Parliament. This does not arise merely because there are a number of Bills which, owing to the privileges of the House of Commons, we are precluded from originating in this House. I will frankly confess that, as a general rule, the House of Commons is better adapted for originating and discussing measures of legislation in the first instance, and that your Lordships are better employed in revising and correcting the rough work, if I may say so, of the other House of Parliament. I do not mean to cast any discredit on your Lordships' House when I say that the proceedings here do not bear any comparison with those of the other House in regard to the minute examination of measures, especially if they are of any length. There is, comparatively speaking, so small a number of your Lordships who are disposed very carefully to consider the provisions of measures which may be introduced, or who are interested in calling attention to matters of detail, and there is so great a readiness to allow measures to be sent from this for consideration by the other House, that I suspect, unless a Bill happens to excite general attention, there is a risk of its being sent down without receiving that attention and consideration which would probably have been bestowed on it had it been sent up to your Lordships to be passed into a law. But assuming that in the great proportion of cases Bills should be introduced first in the other House of Parliament, we are led to consider what is the course of proceeding which is taken in regard to Bills in that House, and what is the prospect that those which originate there will come before your Lordships in a reasonable time in order to give you the opportunity of deliberately considering them. There is one point of difference between the proceedings of the House of Commons and those of your Lordships' House. I need not say that by the courtesy of this House any noble Lord has the privilege of placing a Bill on the table and obtaining for it a first reading, without the necessity of first obtaining consent to its introduction. In the House of Commons Members have no such power. It is necessary for them first to give notice on a preceding day that leave will be asked to introduce a Bill, and then upon that leave being asked considerable discussion may arise. Practically, therefore, Bills have one more stage to go through in the House of Commons than in your Lordships' House; and in cases where it is necessary to originate the Bill by the Resolution of a Committee of the Whole House there is added another stage, making two stages upon the introduction of certain measures more than are necessary in your Lordships' House. But, then, what are the facilities which the House of Commons affords, especially to the Government, for the introduction of Bills and the progress of public business? By the rules of the House of Commons two days are set apart for Motions by individual or independent Members of the House, and a third day, Wednesday, is set aside for the consideration of Bills without any preference in favour of Government measures over those of private Members, the Bills being taken in the order in which they stand on the notice paper. At the commencement of the Session the Government, by giving notice of all the measures they have prepared, and sometimes also, I fear, of measures that they have not prepared, during the recess, occupy the ground, and have an opportunity of introducing some Bills. But, except for the first week or fortnight of the Session, the Government have no precedence over private Members, and they are often placed in circumstances of great difficulty with regard even to the preliminary step of the intro- duction of their measures. When Bills are introduced the Government have nominally two days in the week for their consideration. We should, however, recollect the position in which the Government stand at the beginning of each Session with regard to the two days in the week allotted to them. It is necessary, in consequence of the expiration of the Mutiny Act, that a very early opportunity should be taken of laying before Parliament the number of men and the amount proposed to be demanded for the military and naval service of the country. The first object, therefore, is to go into Committee of Supply. The Mutiny Act cannot be passed before the Votes for men and money have been taken, and it is therefore necessary before Easter that these Votes should be considered in Supply. But, although the Government are nominally in possession of two days out of five for the transaction of Government business in the House of Commons, that statement, without further explanation, would lead to an erroneous idea in regard to the time actually at their disposal; because on every occasion of going into Committee of Supply it is open to any hon. Member to move any Amendment, and a discussion may be taken upon any subject whatever, on the ground that the consideration of grievances ought to precede the granting of Supply. It therefore often happens that a whole evening, and sometimes more than a whole evening, is occupied by discussing some question that has nothing to do with Committee of Supply. With regard to other Bills, a satisfactory rule has recently been made, that when the House has once gone into Committee on a Bill, and the Committee has reported progress, it is not competent for any hon. Member, when the Bill again comes before the House, to move an Amendment to the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair. But formerly that was not the case, and this was one of the modes that has been adopted by the House of Commons for the purpose of curtailing the forms of the House and saving time. I believe that this alteration was made under the presidency of my noble Friend (Viscount Eversley), whom I do not now see in his place, who presided with so much dignity and public utility over the deliberations of that House, and that was one of the many valuable improvements he introduced into the Parliamentary practice of the House of Commons. It has been found necessary, of late years, indeed, to carry these restrictions to an extent that can hardly be justified. Your Lordships all know that on the presentation of petitions in this Souse the whole subject of those petitions may be entered upon and discussed; but it has been found necessary to put so absolute a restriction upon this right in the House of Commons that Members are not allowed to state anything except the substance of the petition, the parties from whom it proceeds, and their prayer. With regard to Committee of Supply, it is not only necessary that a Motion should be made whenever the Speaker leaves the chair; but upon every occasion when the House goes into Committee, afterwards, although no vote may have been taken on the previous occasion, a new Motion must be made and a new Amendment may be moved. And that may take place on every occasion when the Government seek to go into Committee of Supply. During these two days in the week, when devoted to the business of Supply, the Government may thus be indefinitely embarrassed and the public business indefinitely postponed by Amendment after Amendment. But, as I have said, it is necessary that a portion of Supply should be taken, otherwise it is impossible to pass the Mutiny Act. But that is not all; for every Friday, which is one of the two days at the disposal of the Government, a Motion is made "that this House at its rising adjourn to Monday." That Motion affords weekly an opportunity not indeed of moving a specific Amendment, but of discussing every description of subject, introduced without the slightest order or regularity, or without the possibility of any Minister speaking more than once in answer to numerous interpellations which may be addressed to each of them. Recently Thursday has been taken as a Government day instead of Friday, and the discussions upon the Motion for adjournment on Friday are not now taken out of the time allotted to Government business. So far as the promotion of public business is concerned, that is a very considerable improvement. But in the early part of the Session the Government are limited to two days in the week, and for public business of the character of legislation there is little or no time before Easter, from the necessity of obtaining Supply, and the difficulty of entering upon the consideration of Supply. I hope it will not be supposed that in alluding to the practice of the House of Commons I conceive myself entitled, or that your Lordships are entitled, to pass an opinion upon the mode in which the House of Commons transact their own business, or that such an opinion would carry any weight with it. Undoubtedly it is the function of the House of Commons to carry on their own business in their own way. What I want to show is that this is a state of things which the House of Commons have made many attempts to amend. It is to be regarded not as an exceptional state of things, but as one that does and may affect every Session of Parliament. I do not mean to say that there may not have been some additional delay in the present Session, owing to the introduction, at an unusually early period, of a Budget of an ambitious and complicated character, simultaneously with the introduction of a Commercial Treaty which led to much discussion and difference of opinion, and simultaneously also with the introduction of a Reform Bill, which occupied a great deal of the time of the House—upon which, however, I am not going to say a single word. The House of Commons, then, having one stage more for every Bill than your Lordships, and originating a greater number of Bills, the Government having only two days for the conduct of the Government business, those two days being greatly occupied by Motions in Supply, and those Motions being liable to interruption and great delay from the introduction of other subjects, the time for legislation at their disposal may be regarded as almost nil, and the result is that the number of Bills which received the Royal Assent before the end of July is comparatively small. From the year 1848 to 1860, but not including this year, the average number of Bills that received the Royal Assent up to the end of July for each year was 61, while the average number that received the Royal Assent from the end of July up to the end of August was also 61. That is to say, the number of Bills passed in a month when there is a very small number of Members of either House in attendance is equal on an average of years to the number that received the Royal Assent in all the five preceding months of the Session. My Lords, I have before me a precise state of the business of the House as it was this morning. Your Lordships have gone through some measures this evening, and so far it will not be correct at the present moment; but this morning there were 5 Bills standing for a third reading, 8 for Committee, (2 of which are referred to a Select Committee), 9 for a second reading the day for which is fixed, and 16 are waiting for a second reading for which no day is fixed—including 3 Bills which originated here, and appear likely also to terminate their existence in this House. The total number of Bills now on the table of your Lordships' House is 43; but even with regard to these 43 Bills, 15 or 16 of which came up on Monday, and 5 or 6 to-day, there are comparatively few which are of great importance. Now, there is, as I said before, a large number of Bills which your Lordships have not the power of originating. So far, however, as your power in that respect extends, you have not neglected the public business in the course of the present Session; for I find that you have sent down to the House of Commons 22 or 23 Bills, many of which are very important, including 7 relating to the Consolidation of the Criminal Law, which received your assent at an early period of the Session, and to whose consideration much industry and professional knowledge was applied. In addition to these, you passed a Bill for the regulation of the Divorce Court, the Indictable Offences Bill, the Companies Bill, a Bill for the Union of Benefices, another on the subject of Church Temporalities, the Ecclesiastical Courts and Registries Bill, the Bill relating to Endowed Charities, and a great number of other important measures. It must, however, be admitted, when we come to take notice of the progress which these measures have made in the House of Commons, that the position which they occupy on its Votes is not such as to encourage us to originate Bills in this House; for having examined the Votes of the House of Commons, I find that not one of the Bills which you have sent thither—the course of three of them, I may observe, I have been unable to trace—has yet passed through Committee. Ten of them are awaiting that stage, having passed a second reading, while there are nine which have not been successful in making even so rapid a progress, and have not passed the preliminary stage of the second reading. Consequently, under these circumstances, I am very much afraid that the time which your Lordships have given to the consideration of these Bills will have been, so far as the present Session is concerned, absolutely thrown away. I now come to deal with the state of business generally as it stands in the House of Commons, and that, I find, presents by no means a satisfactory aspect. There were in that House this morning only three Bills awaiting a third reading; eight awaited consideration, having been amended in Committee; while there were no less than 41 set down for Committee, including 10 which were sent down from this House; 25, including nine others sent down by your Lordships, stand for second reading; and, over and above this mass of business, there are, on the Votes of the other House, no less than six notices of Motion for leave to bring in Bills, which have yet to go through all their stages. Among these are the Militia Ballot Expenses Bill, the Medical Relief Bill, the Volunteers (Ireland) Bill, the India Civil Service Appointments Bill, and the East India Judicature Bill, some of which are Government measures. But more than this, there are financial proposals, in respect of which it will be necessary that the House of Commons should go into Committee and pass Resolutions to form the groundwork of Bills, which Bills will then have to pass through their several stages in the House of Commons, and go through your Lordships' House, before the Appropriation Bill can be introduced. This, I think you will agree with me, is no small amount of work to have to accomplish; especially when I tell you that this morning that huge impediment, the Bankruptcy Bill, consisting of 500 and odd clauses, stood at the head of the List—a Bill which the Attorney General, like another Sisyphus, is endeavouring to roll up the Parliamentary hill, but which no sooner reaches the top than it comes down again with far greater rapidity than it ascended. I said this Bill stood at the head of the list in the House of Commons this morning; but I believe it does so no more, for, if I am not misinformed, among the other painful sacrifices which Her Majesty's Ministers have been obliged to make, is the abandonment of the Bankruptcy Bill, with its 500 and odd clauses. It remains for the unfortunate Sisyphus to recommence rolling the Bill up-hill next Session. But there yet remain the Highways Bill, the Ecclesiastical Commission Bill, which is an important measure and must receive considerable discussion, and the European Forces in India Bill—one of the most important and difficult measures with which the Government is called upon to deal—besides the Poor-Law Board Continuance Bill, the Bills relating to the tenure of land in Ireland, the London Corporation Bill—which, to my certain knowledge, has been for some years on the Votes of the House of Commons—the Roman Catholic Charities Bill, another very important Bill which Parliament is all but pledged to pass this year—making, together with several other measures which I need not more particularly mention, but many of which are of considerable importance, 77 Bills in the other House of Parliament, in various stages, from which if I deduct the 19 Bills to which I have already alluded as having passed your Lordships' House, there will be left 58, none of which, or very few of which have yet gone through Committee—and all are awaiting the remaining stages in the House of Commons previous to coming up to your Lordships' House—and this at the end of the month of July! I have, however, in the observations which I have made given your Lordships but a very feeble picture of the embarrassment of the Government in regard to the business of the country. I say this, because I have been informed by a right hon. Gentleman who is likely to know, that according to the best calculation that can be made eight or nine nights more will be required to get through the Votes in Supply which still remain to be passed. Now, when you take into account the fact that the Government have only two, or at the utmost, three nights in each week at their disposal, I ask you what prospect there is at this period of the Session that the 58 Bills which I have mentioned will receive that consideration to which they are entitled, and without receiving which it would reflect no credit on Parliament that they should be allowed to pass into a law. And what, let me ask, is likely to be the result of this state of things? Why that, with perhaps a few insignificant exceptions, measures on the expediency of which the opinion of the country has been clearly pronounced, the main principles of which met with almost universal approval, and which it is most important should be settled, will fall to the ground, a sacrifice to that general massacre which usually takes place about this time of the year, and which this year will, I have no doubt, be as extensive as any former anniversary. So that legislation will have been absolutely brought to a standstill, and but little or nothing will have been accomplished in that direction during a Session which has already lasted six months, and which will not, in all probability, terminate for a month or six weeks to come. Now this, my Lords, is a sub- ject which, in my opinion, will press itself upon your attention more and more, year after year, and if for the evils which it involves no remedy can be provided, the result must be that Parliament will be placed in a position neither creditable to itself nor useful to the nation. Surrounding circumstances have in the present Session been favourable to legislation. The Thames has this summer been more inoffensive than has of late been its wont. The temperature has been such as to enable the Members of the House of Commons to go through their senatorial labours without the feeling of absolute exhaustion. But, with all these incentives to work, it is too much to suppose that a large number of the independent Members of that House could go through six additional weeks of slavery, sitting from ten to fourteen hours a-day. And, if men could be found to accomplish so great a task, I feel certain that the physical prostration consequent on the exertion is not the means by which they would be best fitted to give due consideration to details of the measures brought under their notice; which, under such circumstances, there would be a tendency to slur over, so as to get rid of measures themselves, with the view of sending them up as speedily as possible to your Lordships' House. Such, my Lords, being the evils with which we have to contend, where are we to find for them a palliation or a remedy? Great benefit, it must be admitted, has been conferred by the operation of the Resolution of my noble Friend the Chairman of Committees, in accordance with which your Lordships will not, after a certain day, undertake the responsibility of dealing with a measure which it is impossible for you—owing to the time at which it is laid before you—to consider satisfactorily. In former years, Bills which were postponed until a late period of the Session were frequently passed with extravagant haste, and without the least consideration. I find that in one year—Parliament having been prorogued on the 5th of September—37 Bills received the Royal Assent in that month, and 61 in the August immediately preceding, while only 27 received the Royal Assent before the end of July of the same year. That perhaps was an extreme case. I also find that in 1853 only 40 Bills received the Royal Assent before the end of July, while in the following August 97 were added to the legislation of the country. It is impossible that these measures could have received the attention due to every Bill which passes your Lordships' House. The consequence of such a system is, that year after year we are called on to pass Acts for the purpose of amending mistakes, whether of this or of the other House, which have been committed from the great haste and necessary carelessness with which these Bills have been passed. Some twelve years ago I called your Lordships' attention to this subject, and I at that time proposed a measure to which I had the satisfaction of obtaining your Lordships' concurrence, for enabling the House of Lords, and, vice versâ, the House of Commons, to take up at the commencement of the next Session, under the particular circumstances, the Bills which should make their appearance as remanets from the Session before. I am perfectly satisfied that in one mode or other, if we desire to obviate the evils of the present system, we must come to some understanding by which the principle embodied in that Bill shall be adopted. The measure received very general concurrence on the part of your Lordships. I am afraid I must make one illustrious exception in the person of my noble Friend the Chairman of Committees, who opposed alike its principle and details. The noble Lord on the woolsack, I recollect, was favourable to the plan proposed in the Bill, but objected to its being introduced into an Act of Parliament, and suggested that the same object might be effected by Resolutions of the two Houses. Now, I am not on the present occasion about to make any distinct proposition to your Lordships. I have desired to call your Lordships' attention to the state of public business at the present moment, and to the absolute necessity there will be of sacrificing a great portion of the Bills now standing on the paper, and thereby rendering useless the labours of this and of the other House of Parliament. And more especially I would say that it is a matter for the sincerest regret that those measures for the consolidation of the criminal law which were sent down from this House, as to which all parties were agreed, have been left, I know not why, except from the great press of other business, to so late a period of the Session that there is little probability of their passing the House of Commons, notwithstanding that but slight or no opposition is made to them. But if an illustration be needed of the importance of our being able to carry on legislation from one Session to another, I cannot have a better example than is afforded by the Bankruptcy Bill. That was a measure with regard to which probably a much larger number of Members in proportion to those who attend in your Lordships' House than in the House of Commons were fully informed and competent to decide. The 550 clauses of that Bill ought to have been elaborately discussed in both Houses; but after two or three nights in Committee, and before half its provisions have been gone through in the House of Commons, it is found absolutely necessary, I understand, to abandon the Bill, and all the labour bestowed upon it has been consequently lost. But, supposing that Bill had come up to us in the month of August, what would have been the alternative placed before us? We should have been called on to abandon and throw over altogether this very material alteration, and I hope very great amendment, in the commercial law and practice of this country; or else to pass on credit, and without due consideration, a Bill of 500 clauses, on a subject as to which a very large number of those in your Lordships' House are peculiarly qualified to judge and to give sound opinions. I take that as an example of the position in which we should have been placed if this Bill, which unfortunately has not received the sanction of the House of Commons, had been sent up to your Lordships. I ask what can be a course more prudent than that a Bill which has been passed by the Lower House, and the principle of which has received the sanction of your Lordships, should he left over for the consideration of its details to the commencement of the next Session of Parliament, when we know that a general complaint is made at the commencement of every Session that we have little or no business before us, and that in the interval Bills which have passed the House of Commons will be submitted to examination and criticism by the public generally, so that your Lordships in approaching the consideration of these measures will have the opportunity of knowing not only the opinions put forward in the other House, but the view taken by the public of their principles and details. The House of Commons might then receive the Bill as an amended one from this House. That appears to me the plain and obvious solution of the difficulty. Of course, such a plan could only be carried out with the sanction and concurrence of the House of Commons, in such cases as they were satisfied in the next Session to accept the decision of the House of Lords as Amendments to their Bill, instead of beginning over again from the beginning and carrying it through all the different stages, by which so much time was previously lost. An arrangement of this nature would afford the two Houses the amplest means of deliberation, while the public would obtain the benefit of well-considered instead of hasty and ill-considered legislation. Of course it would be perfectly competent to the other or to either House of Parliament to decline taking those amendments into consideration, and to drop the Bill if they thought fit to do so; but I am quite sure the business of the House would be much facilitated and the interests of the country greatly advanced by any agreement come to between the two Houses for the purpose of carrying into effect the principle, at all events, which I have stated to your Lordships, and to which I endeavoured twelve years ago to obtain the sanction of Parliament. It is said the effect of this will be to encourage attempts at legislation—that persons will bring forward Bills hoping, though they may not pass in one Session, that ultimately they may become law. For my part, I cannot help thinking that, although it might afford encouragement to the introduction of measures, it would at the same time afford the best means of giving to those measures, when they were introduced, the fullest and most impartial consideration. Moreover, there is at present great temptation in the House of Commons to the promoters of Bills to hurry them forward, in order that they may be brought under the consideration of this House within the time limited by your Lordships' Resolution. On the other hand, there is equal temptation to the opponents of Bills, however valuable and important they may be, to interpose unnecessary obstructions by way of delay, and delay only, with the security that if they can only postpone the passing of the Bill till after the period fixed by your Lordships' Resolution it will be altogether lost. Now, I do not consider in ordinary cases that such is a fair mode of opposition to measures in the other House of Parliament; and I am quite sure a great motive for that kind of resistance would be taken away if the persons resorting to it were aware that even if they succeeded in protracting the passing of a Bill beyond a particular time it would not have the effect of destroying it altogether and of rendering it necessary to begin next year all over again, but would only cause the postponement of its consideration to another Session, when the other House would be able to deal with it as it thought fit. I do not pretend to point out to your Lordships the mode in which the object to which I have directed attention is best to be attained, but I think you will be satisfied that the present state of legislation is not satisfactory to this House, to the other House, nor to the country; that many and very valuable measures which well deserve to pass are lost, that much valuable time is sacrificed in either House, and that with regard to the legislation which does take place, a great portion of it is of necessity so hasty and inconsiderate as to require very early and frequent amendment. My Lords, all these things are of constant annual recurrence; and according to the mode in which business is conducted, I see no hope that they will not continue to be of annual recurrence. I know no possible mode of counteracting the evil effect of this waste of the greater part of the Session, save by enabling measures to be postponed from July to February, as they may now be postponed from February to July, and as they are sometimes deferred by a prorogation or even by a dissolution of Parliament. I think I am not mistaken when I say that after the dissolution of 1859, this House, at all events, passed a Resolution declaring that private Bills which had reached a certain stage should be allowed, when the new Parliament assembled, to be resumed at the point at which they had been left at the dissolution. I do not propose that the arrangement I have suggested should apply to the case of a dissolution; because a dissolution alters the constitution of the House of Commons which agreed to the Bill, and consequently the subsequent House may refuse to receive as mere amendments alterations in the measure passed by their predecessors. But with regard to prorogation, I cannot see any reasonable ground why the same power should not exist of postponing a Bill over a prorogation that may be applied indefinitely to the adjournment of Parliament, even although that adjournment may be from February to July. There are various modes in which this object may be effected. The mode adopted in 1848, which received the general concurrence of your Lordships, was the framing of an Act enabling both Houses to take the course which I have described. It was not thought expedient, however, in the House of Commons, to press the consideration of that Act, which accordingly fell to the ground, and the question has not since been renewed. Another mode has been suggested by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack—namely, that the two Houses should simultaneously appoint Committees which might be placed in communication with each other, and on their separate Reports, corresponding with each other, Resolutions might be founded which would accomplish the desired object. I do not know whether any advantage would be derived in this case from a conference between the two Houses; the instances, at all events, are very rare in which a question has been referred to a joint Committee; but in some one of these modes I do think it most important that the opinion of both Houses should be taken, and that means should be discovered of remedying what everybody admits to be a great grievance and a great inconvenience. I do not undertake to suggest to your Lordships which of these modes would be the preferable course. On the contrary, I think it is a matter which had much better be left to the Government; and on consultation with their colleagues in the other House, they will propose such a measure as they on their responsibility shall think fit. I do not therefore intend to trespass further on your Lordships' indulgence than to lay before you the statement which I have made as to the state of bublic business, and the nature of the only remedy which I believe can be successful. If it be convenient to the House, for the sake of regularity, I shall move that a Committee be appointed to consider this question, of course without the slightest intention of pressing that Motion. I hope my noble Friend the President of the Council, who I presume will follow me, will not satisfy himself with saying in his usual courteous manner, that he is sure the House and the Government are much indebted to the noble Earl opposite for the pains which he has taken in making himself master of this subject, and for the very clear exposition which he has given of the difficulties of the case; and that he could assure the noble Earl that he concurs with him in thinking the subject one of very deep importance, and that it shall receive the very best consideration of the Government. Of course, I do not expect any specific plan from my noble Friend to-night, but I hope to obtain from him something more definite than the courteous answer which I have heard from him on more than one occasion. I hope he will give us some intimation of the view which the Government take of this question, and that he will be able to say whether or not his colleagues are of opinion that any legislation or any Resolution, or any other course by which an agreement might be come to by both Houses, is likely to meet with acceptance, or would in their opinion be a mode of diminishing if not altogether doing away with the inconvenience which both Houses, and your Lordships' House in particular, must feel in being called on either to reject Bills passed by the other House and thus to render it necessary to begin again with them next Session de novo, with probably as little chance of success, or else to pass them without giving them that consideration which it is due to your character and the interest of the country you should give before affixing your sanction to any legislative measure. The noble Earl then concluded with his Motion. Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and consider the best mode of carrying on the Parliamentary Business.


Notwithstanding the pleasant sally of the noble Earl, I must say that I think your Lordships, and indeed, both Houses of Parliament, are much indebted to him for having brought the subject under our notice, and further, notwithstanding his protest, that I think he has made a most clear statement of the evils which exist. The House will agree with me, too, that the noble Earl has amply redeemed the pledge which he gave the other night that he intended to treat the question entirely as one of public importance and divested of any party spirit. I am free to admit that there are circumstances this year, though as far as the Government is concerned a satisfactory explanation of them might be given, which a leader of the Opposition might be tempted to make use of in a party spirit. There is no doubt as to the existence of the evil, though I think there is something to be said on the other side. The noble Earl has said that somewhere about 150 Bills had been, or would be, brought under the consideration of Parliament this Session. I am not altogether clear whether it is desirable that that number of Bills should be passed every Session; but, on the other hand, there is no doubt that the present difficulties of legislation do prevent useful measures being passed, for no other reason but the accumulation of business in the other House of Parliament. This is not a new evil. The noble Earl himself says he called attention to it twelve years ago for the purpose of remedying it; and I remember hearing both Lord Aberdeen and Lord Lansdowne say that they had heard similar complaints, more or less loud, during the whole of their official existence of nearly fifty years. At the same time it must be admitted that the evil is rather on the increase than the decrease, and this year it has been so great as to be a hindrance to the passing of useful and necessary measures through the other House. But when after considering the evil they came to consider the remedy, the matter became more difficult. The noble Earl has alluded to one remedy which we have attempted to apply as one means of mitigating the evil—namely the Resolution which we pass annually, fixing a certain day after which we will not read a Bill a second time. I may remark that that Resolution has been pointed to elsewhere as a hindrance to legislation, and I have often thought that it was a Resolution which might fairly be questioned. It was agreed to by your Lordships, however, for your own defence, and as far as I can form an opinion, if acted upon with a certain elasticity, it works usefully, and has not a disadvantageous effect on the legislation of the other House. With regard to the other remedy proposed by the noble Earl—the suspending of Bills at a certain stage, so as to make it possible to take them up in another Session—it is a most important question, and one to which, so far as your Lordships are concerned, you have given your assent by passing the Bill of the noble Earl some years ago. Constitutional objections may be urged to it, I believe; but, not having perhaps thoroughly considered the subject, I cannot see the force of them. With regard to private Bills, where both Houses act more as courts of justice than legislative bodies, it is an immense hardship on parties, when they have gone to a considerable expense in promoting a Bill, and have got to a certain stage, their further progress is stopped, by some public object, all the money they have spent is sacrificed, and they are obliged to commence again in another Session. A question was raised as to the principle here involved in the case of the impeachment of Warren Hastings. If I remember rightly the lawyers raised an objection that the im- peachment had abated in consequence of a dissolution. I do not know that they were not right, but they were laughed out of it by Burke, who said that "though they might be competent to understand the gestation of a mouse they were not competent to understand the gestation of an elephant." This shows, however, that a constitutional objection might be raised. At the same time, there is no doubt that any general change in the principle of our legislation is one which requires the greatest possible care. The noble Earl said, he hoped he should receive not a vague but a clear and definite answer. Well, I am ready to inform him that I have communicated with my Colleagues in the other House several times on the subject, but in the present pressure of business the Government have not found it possible to bestow that attention to the subject which it is necessary to give before committing themselves to any definite plan. During the recess the subject shall receive full consideration, and if it appears likely that any satisfactory result would be obtained I think it would be most desirable that some inquiry should be instituted in order to arrive unanimously, if possible, at some plan which would be of assistance to the progress of legislation. With regard to the mode of doing it, the noble Earl has suggested a Joint Committee. I believe there has not been a Joint Committee of both Houses for 200 years, but it is quite competent to both Houses to appoint a Joint Committee. I believe the objection which led to their ceasing came from your Lordships. You objected that the House of Commons would not take off their hats, as at a conference, and you also objected to their claim to have a double number of Members. If a Joint Committee were not appointed, the other plan of the noble Earl might be adopted—two separate Committees to consider the question, authorized to communicate with each other. These, however, are matters of detail, which may be considered during the recess. I do not propose to take any action this year. Among other reasons, besides the lateness of the Session, it is quite clear that it is not the best moment to choose to propose a joint action on any subject of this kind, when questions have arisen between the two Houses with regard to which a certain number of Members of the other House feel a soreness at an unusual proceeding of your Lordships. It is obvious that, whatever measure is adopted, it should be as nearly as possible unanimously adopted by both Houses.


concurred with the Lord President in thanking the noble Earl for the clear, useful, and (to coin a new word to describe a novelty) "unparty" statement which he had made on this subject. It was the duty of Parliament, without more delay than was absolutely necessary, to endeavour to apply a remedy to this evil; but circumstances had recently occurred which rendered it expedient that immediate action should not be taken. The course which he would recommend would be a Joint Committee, and in whatever way that Committee was composed—whether or not the Commons had an equal number—he trusted that they would act in the impartial spirit of jurymen, and that they would not be found to give their votes in two divisions, one of the Lords and the other of the Commons, so as to bring matters to a standstill, but that the important subject committed to them should be fairly and calmly discussed, with a view of arriving at some practical and useful result, as their Lordships were aware it had been proclaimed that Parliamentary Government was on its trial, and never, till the present Session, in the opinion of foreign countries, had it shown itself so incompetent for the discharge of its functions. People elsewhere thought that only one mode of free Government was tolerable, and it was one which we deemed intolerable—namely, universal suffrage. Universal suffrage meant Government by the mob, armed and unarmed, and a dictator presiding over that multitude. That was the form which was supposed elsewhere to be the perfection of free Government, and which was set up in contrast to Parliamentary Government. His belief was that our Parliamentary Government, with all its faults, was infinitely preferable to anything of that description. Universal suffrage was unlimited despotism—Parliamentary Government was free and inferred the capacity of improvement. He believed that either by Standing Orders of both Houses, or by Act of Parliament, or by some other measure resulting from the action of a Joint Committee, the greater part of the mischief could be greatly mi Li-gated, if not wholly remedied. The Motion on Fridays in the other House, that upon its rising it adjourn to Monday, gave rise to endless debates, to the exclusion of every other subject, and to the postponement and defeat of most important measures. It was a most mischievous practice, which had been introduced only in recent times, and could be remedied at once by a Standing Order. He would not enter further into the proceedings of the other House, for which he entertained the greatest possible respect, and for that particular proceeding he entertained all the respect which was possible. He believed that much might be done without any Act of Parliament, by Orders and Resolutions of the two Houses, backed by that without which all Orders and Resolutions would prove of no avail—namely, a firm determination on the part of the leaders in Parliament to carry the Resolutions which had been framed into effect.


agreed with the noble Earl, the President of the Council, that they should be very cautious in altering their proceedings, as they had been found, upon the whole, to work well; and they were not sure they could make them work better. The question could not be fairly judged by particular cases. The noble Earl had instanced that of the Bankruptcy Bill, which was of enormous length, and was entirely unconnected with party, as affording a strong support to his argument. But let them take, on the other hand, the Reform Bill. It was necessary for the promoters of it to per severe to a certain degree, on account of its importance, although it did not meet with general approbation; and the conviction that it could not get through both Houses in the Session, afforded a just and useful excuse for its withdrawal. But if the Government could have carried it through the House of Commons, and then passed it up to this House for discussion in the ensuing Session, would not a great deal more pressure have been put upon the Government not to drop it; and would that not have led to a greater consumption of time than had already taken place upon it, to the exclusion of other business? And, he would ask, could anything be more mischievous than to hang up a Bill of that character during the recess, or could a stronger proof be afforded that such a practice would lead to the ultimate adoption of bad measures, and especially on matters of the greatest importance on which there was much difference of opinion? He was not one who thought that they legislated too little. He thought that, upon the whole, there was as much legislation as was desirable for the country, and in some years a great deal too much. He thought it an advantage that this Bankruptcy Bill of 500 clauses should stand over for another year, and be considered in the interval in all its bearings, and divided into two Bills. In some Sessions a great deal of business was done, because the measures had been previously considered. That was the case in 1845. Perhaps no public measure caused much greater excitement than the Maynooth Act. It was introduced early, and occupied a great deal of time; but while it was under discussion both Houses passed the Companies Clauses Act, of 165 clauses, and a Scotch Act equally as long; the Lands Clauses Act, of 153 clauses, and a Scotch Act of about as many; and the Railway Clauses Act, of 165 clauses, at an early period of the Session. Most of these measures were the result of previous experience; and on account of that experience, and the conviction that some general legislation was desirable, they were passed with due attention and great expedition, notwithstanding their minuteness of detail, their extreme length, and the manner in which they affected the interests of private individuals. In the same Session they passed the Poor Law Amendment (Scotland) Bill, with 92 clauses, a new system of Customs regulations, embodied in a Bill of 163 clauses, a Bill for the registration of British vessels, and other measures; and in the same Session the Enclosure Commission Bill was introduced, which contained 169 clauses. It showed that there was great power of legislation in Parliament, if there was a disposition to use it; and he believed the failure of Bills was, in a great degree, owing to doubts arising as to their soundness, and to the unwillingness, therefore, of Parliament to entertain them. But, supposing any remedy were desirable, this was not the House in which a change was necessary. With regard to any amount of business which they were called upon to do, they were always ready to do it; and, if the other House were to adopt a little more the practice of this House in the manner of conducting its proceedings, he believed that the business would be carried on in a much more rapid and satisfactory manner. He did not say that he wished the other House should in the present Session enter upon a discussion of the subject, because it would only occupy one or more of those nights, which were already too few for the measures which must pass. If what had been proposed by the noble Earl was the proper remedy, it could be effected in the other House by an Order. For example, supposing the Bankruptcy Bill had passed the House of Commons, they could, if they chose, send it up to this House next Session, without commencing de novo. It was not for their Lordships to inquire whether it had been read a first, second, or third time; or whether two or more of these stages had been omitted, or even if, after a single debate, it had been sent up in the same shape in which it passed in the Session preceding. Such a mode of treating measures was not necessary in their Lordships' House, because they could find enough time to consider every measure; but if such a remedy in the other House were necessary, that course might be adopted, and perhaps limited to Bills of great length, and of a particular character. With regard to legislation generally, he was of opinion that there was often an advantage in a Bill being lost for want of time, and that the proper control of Parliament would be perilled, if the Government had the power to suspend Bills, and take them up again in the next Session. He trusted that great reluctance would be shown to depart from that principle upon which the legislation of the country had been so long and satisfactorily conducted by both Houses of Parliament.


said that, although he took a great interest in this subject, and had devoted a considerable degree of attention to it, he would content himself with thanking the noble Earl for calling attention to the subject and for the manner in which he had brought it under the notice of their Lordships. He did not agree with his noble Friend who had just spoken in thinking that no improvement could be effected in the present mode of transacting the business of Parliament. He believed that their mode of legislation was capable of amendment; but he refrained from going into any details at that moment. He would be happy to use his best exertions to bring forward a measure on the subject, with the assistance of his colleagues, and he hoped with the support of the noble Earl, than whom no one was more capable of giving advice on the subject.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

House adjourned at Half past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, Half past Ten o'clock.