HL Deb 20 May 1873 vol 216 cc159-64

(The Earl of Carnarvon.)

Suspension of Standing Order, No. 34a.

Standing Order, No. 34a, considered (according to order).


said, that through oversight and inadvertence, this Bill, after coming from the Commons, had remained on the Order Book three weeks and a day without any Peer giving Notice of his intention to move that it be read a second time; and thus, by one day's delay, it had come under the operation of the new Standing Order that a Bill from the other House should not be proceeded with if no one took it up within 12 sitting days. The object with which that Standing Order was passed was to remedy a grievance—the crowding of their Lordships' Order Book towards the close of the Session with Orders relating to Bills that were not to be carried further. This Bill stood in an exceptional position, as it had come from the other House early in the Session, and it had the concurrence and support of the entire Episcopal Bench. The Bill had been placed in the hands of a Member of the right rev. Bench, but had been returned to him (the Earl of Carnarvon) with the request that he would take charge of it. But it happened that, when he came down accordingly to give Notice of the second reading, he found that the Bill had already fallen under the provision of the Standing Order. Under these circumstances, he proposed that the Standing Order should be considered in order to its being dispensed with. He understood that his noble Friend the Chairman of Committees contended that the Bill was actually extinct, and that no suspension of the Standing Order could revive it. On the other hand, he (the Earl of Carnarvon) maintained that the Bill was not dead, but merely in a state of suspended animation, and that if the Standing Order were suspended the Bill would revive. The words of the Standing Order were that "the Bill should not be entered on the Minutes, and should not be proceeded with."


During the Session.


But when the Standing Order was suspended the bar was removed and the Bill revived. Their Lordships were in the habit of suspending their Standing Orders with reference to Protests being entered on the Minutes, and he ventured to think this was really a case in which he had a right to ask that, as a matter of convenience, in a case where there had been no mala fides, the Standing Order should be suspended. The noble Earl then moved that the said Order be dispensed with in respect of the said Bill.


thought the Order an important one, and it was very necessary that their Lordships should properly deal with it. The Order was that "the Bill should not be proceeded with in the same Session," and they all knew what was meant by an Order that a Bill should not be proceeded with—it meant that the Bill could not be renewed—could not be brought up again. He was not expressing his own opinion merely, but also the opinion of the noble Lord the late Speaker of tire House of Commons. He took the Bill to be dead, and the Bill had been dead a fortnight before notice had been taken of it.


said, he would take but a small part in this post-mortem inquisition. It was no doubt true that the Bill could not be proceeded with this Session if the Standing Order was not suspended; but if the Standing Order was suspended, the estoppel to the further progress of the Bill was removed, and the Bill, like any other Bill, being free from the operation of the Standing Order, would proceed. He must say if over there was a case in which it was just and proper that the Standing Order should be suspended, it was the present. He did not object to the Standing Order, which was an excellent one, its object being to prevent Bills which had come up from the other House in ample time for discussion being allowed to lie dormant till near the close of the Session, when many of their Lordships had left town, and then being suddenly revived after they had been lost sight of. This Bill did not come within that class. There was still plenty of time to proceed with it, and ample notice might be given. By suspending the Standing Order he thought that they would be doing what was just without infringing on the principle of the Standing Order. There was another reason why they should do so. It was perfectly competent for those who were anxious to proceed with the Bill to lay on the Table the identical Bill as a fresh Bill originating in that House, and after it had passed its different stages to send it down to the other House, which could have no objection to it, seeing it had passed the present Bill.


objected to the suspension of the Standing Order in question in this case. He considered that the Motion was too late, as the Bill was extinct under the Order, and suspension was always moved before the Order had taken effect. Lord Eversley agreed with him in that opinion, and if the Bill had been regularly removed from the Table under this Order it was not wise to revise it by this process, as the noble Earl could bring in as a new Bill an almost identical measure. To consent to such a suspension would, he feared, lead to bad results in the case of Private Bills. There was no fair comparison between this case and those cases referred to by the noble Earl who had introduced the subject. To rescind Standing Orders relating to general legislation was a very serious matter. He could not, therefore, assent to the precedent which the adoption of the noble Earl's Motion would lay down.


said, he concurred in the opinion which had been expressed by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Cairns). In the present state of the case their Lordships had nothing to do with the merits of the Bill, and for himself, he had not studied it so as to be acquainted with its merits or demerits—all he knew was that it was a measure of some public importance, that it had the approval of some members of the right rev. Bench, and that it had passed the House of Commons. There could not be a doubt as to their Lordships' power in this matter—the Order that a Bill in the position of the present should not be proceeded with operated until it should be their Lordships' pleasure to dispense with it. The Standing Order was useful as a weapon of defence in their Lordships' hands; but if they treated it as admitting of no suspension, they might perhaps raise questions in which they might not be wholly right between that and the other branch of the Legislature. If an Order of that kind were simply an arbitrary rule that a Bill which had come up from the other House must be proceeded with in a limited time, there might be persons who would call in question the suitableness and propriety of such an Order. It was quite otherwise if they retained in their own hands the power, on reasonable cause, of which they were the judges, of dispensing and relaxing the Order. If their Lordships refused on such grounds as those suggested to allow such a Bill to go forward, they would simply abdicate their own powers over their own regulations. But of course their Lordships would not relax a Standing Order of this kind without good and sufficient reasons.


said, it was undoubtedly in their Lordships' power to suspend Standing Orders if they pleased; but if they were to suspend them on such grounds as had been advanced in this ease, it would be better not to have Standing Orders at all. Standing Orders gave an assurance that a particular measure would not be proceeded with when once certain conditions were not fulfilled. He was not going to enter into the merits of the Bill—all he would say was that many persons had spoken to him on the subject, and he, relying on the Standing Order, told them that the Bill was extinct, and that they had no reason to trouble themselves further about it.


said, he could see no ground for refusing the suspension of the Standing Order in the case of this Bill if their Lordships saw that the occasion was sufficient. There was scarcely a Session in which Standing Orders were not suspended five or six times.


was understood to oppose the Motion.


admitted that the Standing Orders afforded their Lordships considerable protection in the conduct of business; but when they considered the period of the Session and the fact that sufficient Notice had been given, he thought the Standing Order might be suspended in this case without inconvenience. He would suggest, by way of precaution against abuse, that they should put some such Preamble as the following to the Resolution:— Whereas the Session is not far advanced and it is convenient to interpose an interval of not less than three weeks between this time and the second reading of the Bill.


said, he did not admit that the inconvenience of suspending the Standing Order was so great as to require such an apology. It was quite right that the House should take some measures to remedy any abuses arising from delay, but he was not aware of a single case in which there had been any intentional delay in taking up Bills—here there had been no intentional delay, and it would be better to alter the Standing Order than to preface the Resolution suspending it by such a Preamble.


opposed the suspension of the Standing Order.


pointed out that if the Standing Orders were maintained, no great harm would be done after all, for things would go on for the next 12 months just as they had from time immemorial. Whatever else the Bill was intended to remedy, it would be better to bear them for a while than to incur the evils which might arise from suspending the Standing Order.


thought the very fact that there were numbers of persons out of the House who objected to the Bill, was a reason why the Standing Order should be suspended, and the Bill considered on its merits. It was far better, even in the interests of those who were opposed to it, that it should be rejected on its merits—if rejected it should be—than that it should be defeated by the indirect operation of a Standing Order.


expressed his willingness to modify the Motion in the sense suggested by his noble Friend (the Marquess of Salisbury).


put it to the noble Earl whether it would not be an encouragement to noble Lords to move frequently at early periods of the Session that the Standing Orders should be suspended if the words in question were introduced.


said, he did not care to press the Preamble.

Motion agreed to.