HC Deb 24 November 1837 vol 39 cc193-200
Lord John Russell

should now proceed to call the attention of the House to the report of the Committee with respect to the public business of the House. He would not enter into general matters with respect to the business, for he was of opinion that it was a subject which required much further consideration, and he should, therefore, propose the re-appointment of the Committee, but he intended now to point out such suggestions as had been thrown out by the former Committee, which might be of service. There was no Member of the House, he believed, who would not agree with him, that both in the transaction of public business and in the conversations which took place in the House, it was of importance that the affairs should be conducted with method and order, rather than that they should have desultory discussions on subjects of a nature different from those of which notice had been given, and which tended to confuse and disarrange the proceedings. It was felt much during the last session that the days for the transaction of the business on orders of the day were frequently occupied in the discussion of notices, and on the other hand, that orders were frequently taken on those days which should have been devoted to the consideration of notices; but it also frequently happened, that on both days the House did not meet or was counted out. The Committee, in their report, said that there were many days thus misemployed there were eighty-five sitting days in the session, out of which thirty-three had been Mondays and Fridays, which had been devoted to orders of the day, thirty-four were Tuesdays and Thursdays, which should have been employed on notices, and eighteen of Wednesdays. With respect to the thirty-three days on which Government measures and orders should have been brought forward, the House had once been counted out, and once had not been formed, and twelve days had been devoted to the consideration of notices, so that of the thirty-three days nineteen only had been employed in the transaction of the proper business. Of the thirty-four notice days six had been occupied by adjourned debates which, of course, depended upon the House itself, on three the regular business was superseded by government Bills, and the House was counted out six times. Of the eighteen Wednesdays the House was counted out on five, and once was not formed, so that the regular proceedings appeared to have been delayed about in the proportion of one-third. He conceived that there were two ways in which this misappropriation of time might be remedied. It happened occasionally that on order days Members had notices to bring forward on subjects very often entirely different from those on which the House had determined to transact business, and thus sometimes a question of a far less important character to the House was introduced than that which was set down. But there was another evil which tended materially to aggravate the error in the custom, which had gained ground materially of late years; he alluded to the long notices which were given by hon. Members of motions to be brought forward. The ancient practice was, that any person desirous of making any motion might do so without notice; but in the course of time the present plan had been gradually brought into use for the convenience of the House, inconsequence of which it frequently occurred that Members had notices on the books as much as three or four months in advance together, and the book was filled from the beginning to the middle, and from the middle to the end. The necessary result of this system was, that Members, who, towards the end of the session, had motions of importance on questions which were considered of little interest at the beginning of the sittings of the House, were unable to introduce them in a proper form, and, being unable to bring them forward on notice days, they were compelled to introduce them on the order days. There were two instances last session in which this had occurred. One was the case in which the motion with regard to the affairs of Spain had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Launceston (Sir H. Hardinge) and the other was the case in which the motion on the subject, which had been alluded to by an hon. Gentleman opposite this evening (the church of Scotland), had been introduced by another hon. Member. It could not be doubted that both these subjects were matters very fit for discussion in the House. They were at the time considered of very great importance; but it was impossible for the hon. Members by whom they were introduced to give notice of them, in consequence of the notice-book being filled up, and they were consequently brought forward on order days, when the House should have been occupied with other business. The Committee had made a proposition to the House on this subject which he intended to recommend, and with respect to Mondays and Fridays, on which the orders of the day were taken, he should propose that in future it should not be allowed to propose for the discussion of the House on either of those days any subject except the first order of the day, or any other order which should appear on the order-book as of the day. He did not think, however, that even this regulation would be of much use unless Members were themselves fully impressed with the great evil which resulted from the irregularity of their proceedings, and were determined to bring into effect the regulations suggested, and to make it their custom and constant practice to carry on the business of the House regularly; and he did hope that the House, and particularly those Members who had had the advantage of having sat during the last and former Sessions, and had therefore acquired experience in such matters, would think it most desirable for public business, for their own convenience, and, he might say, for the character of the House, that the measures brought forward should be regularly disposed of on the days on which they were fixed to come on. He should, therefore, in pursuance of the recommendation of the Committee, propose, first, that the orders of the day should take precedence of notices on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; and next, that on the question being put from the Chair, that the order of the day should be read, no amendment should be proposed except that some other order of the day should be read; but this should not apply to Committees of Supply or Committees of Ways and Means. He should also suggest, thirdly, that no notice of motion should be given in which the notice day was fixed at a more distant period than fifteen days from the time sit which the notice was given. These suggestions, although not in the precise terms in which they were made by the Committee, were in effect the substance of their representations. The plans proposed were experiments to make the proceedings of the House more regular, without altering much its ancient rules and practice, and he had striven to keep as much as possible within the old regulations, unless when he found it was inconsistent with the spirit of the rules for carrying on the business of the House. All he desired to propose at present was, that the experiment might be tried; its usefulness could be tested far better by the House than by any further observations of his. The noble Lord concluded by moving the first of the following resolutions:— That in the present Session of Parliament all Orders of the Day set down in the Order-book for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, shall be disposed of before the House will proceed upon any motions of which notices shall be entered in the Order-book. That upon days appropriated to Orders, and a question being put from the Chair that any Order of the Day be read, no amendment shall be proposed, except that the other Orders of the Day, or that any Order set down for the same day, be now read; but that this regulation shall not apply to the case of a Committee of Supply, or of a Committee of Ways and Means. That no Notice shall hereafter be given beyond the period which shall include the four days next following on which Notices are entitled to precedence, due allowance being made for any intervening adjournment of the House, and the period being in that case so far extended as to include four Notice days falling during the sitting of the House. That with the exception of Notices already given, it shall not be permitted to any Member to fix any day for a Notice given by him beyond the term of fifteen days from the lime of giving such Notice.

Mr. Hume

had observed much more confusion during the last two or three Sessions in conducting the business of the House than ever before, and he could not but think that this was in some measure produced by the want of attention to the business of the House of those whose duty it was considered to be; although undoubtedly the duly was not confined to them, but extended to all the other Members of the House, to be in attendance on the House, and by their presence to prevent the House from being counted out. It was always believed to be the duty of the Government to lend its aid in making a House; and formerly it was understood that they did so; and if this practice were continued, he had no hesitation in saying that the business of the House would be better conducted.

Mr. O'Brien

said, that his attention had been directed to the point of the prac- tice which had existed of taking the orders out of their turn. He thought that this should not be done, or, at all events, that the Government should give notice of the measures which it was their intention to press forward.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that the resolution which had been moved contemplated two objects, one of which was to restore the practice of the House to appropriate Wednesday and Friday to the consideration of Bills, and of the public business of the House conducted by her Majesty's Government. It did not appear to him an unreasonable proposition to preserve two days, Monday and Friday, to what was properly called public business, as the votes of supply were usually taken on those days, and if those days throughout the Session were appropriated to that purpose, it would not be more than was necessary. In naming Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as the days on which the orders should have precedence, it was meant that nothing but business of that description should be taken on those days, and he thought that there could be no question of the propriety of enforcing, by a new regulation, that which was already the practice of the House. Then there was a second point, as to no more than fifteen days' notice of motion being allowed. He had no objection, as a Member of the House, that this proposition should be adopted, although, as one of the Committee, he had felt some difficulty in recommending it, and he trusted that his prediction that it would be unsuccessful might prove to be without foundation on the plan being brought into operation; but it did appear to him that without some other corresponding regulations they would be only defeating the new proposition. The fifteen days would generally embrace four notice days; for instance, the notice being given on a Friday, the Member by whom it was given would have the option of selecting the Tuesdays and Fridays in the two following weeks. Then, supposing that there was a great appetite for legislation, and a strong desire among hon. Members to be distinguished as the introducers of new laws—and, indeed, it was in the anticipation of the appetite increasing that the new regulation was proposed—the inconvenience would still exist, for four days only were allowed in which the motion could be brought forward. Then, on Fri- days the candidates for legislation would come to the House, and a great number of notices would be given on one day. It might be said that those, which were of the greatest importance should be taken first, when all could not be gone through; but to whom was the question of precedence to be referred? He would venture to say that each Gentleman would consider his own notices of the most importance, and no suggestion offered to him would convince him to the contrary. Then who was to determine the matter? It would be an extremely unenviable office to give to any person, and even the Speaker would feel it to be attended with much inconvenience. Suppose the time for giving notice to have arrived, and perhaps twenty Gentlemen would start up at once; the Speaker would have to exercise his office, and perhaps might select a Gentleman who might have the most frivolous motions to make, but who, nevertheless, with his pocket well filled with papers, might occupy the attention of the House for two or perhaps four days. Some corresponding regulation, therefore, must be established for taking the motions in turn, in the event of the rules proposed being adopted. Thus, also, with regard to adjourned debates. It was known by all Members how frequently debates lasted over more than one night, and the importance of the debate being pursued on the earliest opportunity was admitted by all; for if a long postponement took place, the arguments which had been used on the first night lost their force, and the energy of the debate was much weakened. The debate, then, would take precedence of any notices of motions, and the Members by whom they had been given would forfeit their right to proceed in the usual course, and on the next notice night he would find the House engaged by the motions of other Members. He might well say, then, that provisions had been made for breaking into the notice days, but that there was no regulation to remedy the evil. Whether or not, it would be expedient that Members should ballot for their priority in the list on their giving notices of motion he was not then prepared to say. He was sure, however, that all Members would be anxious to take advantage of any opportunity that might occur to bring forward their several motions in the course of the fortnight for which the notice would stand. If the noble Lord would accompany his proposed resolutions with others embracing the objects he had adverted to, he would have a better chance of attaining his object.

Sir E. Sugden

suggested, that in case an hon. Member was prevented bringing forward a notice of motion in consequence of an adjourned debate, that the Member should have precedence on the next motion day.

Lord Stanley

did not think that it was the duty of her Majesty's Ministers to see that Members attended on those days when there was no Government business before the House. Undoubtedly it was their duty to take care that there was a sufficient attendance to enable them to proceed with the Government measures, but surely they could not enforce an attendance on motion days. It appeared from the report on the table, that the House was generally counted out on notice of motion days, and this was the necessary result of hon. Gentlemen bringing forward motions on matters about which no human being cared. He found that on one occasion the House was counted out when there were not less than twenty notices on the paper, and on another occasion not less than thirty-two. Now, supposing only eight Members attended in addition to the thirty-two who had given these notices, there would have been a House; but the fact was, that most of the notices were a mass of trash and rubbish to which no one thought it worth while to attend, except the Member who gave the notice. The Government could not have succeeded if they had attempted—and they certainly would not have done their duty had they done so—to enforce the attendance of Members to listen to such matters. He thought that the plan involved in the resolutions of his noble Friend was an imperfect remedy for a palpable and increasing evil, but still it was doing something, and he was anxious that the plan should be tried. At any rate the adoption of the resolutions would facilitate to a certain extent, the transaction of the business of the country, and thus, at least, some good would be done. He was glad to see that there appeared to be a general disposition in the House to adopt the resolutions, but they would not afford a remedy by an acknowledged act unless the feeling of the House went with them.

Mr. Hindley

wished to know, whether a motion could be brought forward as an amendment to an order of the day?

Lord John Russell

observed, that if this course were pursued it might prevent the progress of the most important Bills. For instance, it was essential that the Mutiny Act should be passed by a certain day and by bringing forward motions or amendments to the order of the day its progress might be impeded, or perhaps altogether slopped.

The first and second resolutions were agreed to. On the third resolution being put.

Mr. Wakley

suggested, that the consideration of it should be postponed. He thought that it was a great advantage that Members had an opportunity of bringing forward motions as amendments to the orders of the day. This was the old constitutional system, by which it was declared necessary that a remedy should be applied to abuses before supply was granted. He hoped that the resolutions would not be hurried through the House, but that the further consideration of them should be postponed until Tuesday or Thursday.

Mr. Hindley

thought, that the hasty adoption of these resolutions would interfere with the rights of independent Members; he should, therefore, if no other hon. Gentleman did so, propose that the debate be adjourned until Thursday next.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that he would recommend an alteration in the resolution, to the effect, that no Member should give notice of a motion extending beyond four of the days usually appropriated to motions, or, at least, on which they had priority; namely, two Tuesdays and two Thursdays.

Mr. Hume

was sorry that the noble Lord had not had his resolutions printed and circulated with the votes. By this means ample time would have been given for the consideration of the subject. He begged to move that the debate be adjourned to Tuesday next.

The House divided on the amendments. Ayes 66; Noes 354: Majority 288.

List of the AYES.
Alsager, Captain Chichester, J. P. B.
Barrington, Visconut Christopher, R. A.
Blake, W. J. Clay, W.
Blakemore, R. Darby, G.
Brotherton, J. D'Eyncourt, r. h. C. T.
Brownrigg, S. Dick, Q.
Buller, Sir J, Y. D'Israeli, B.
Duke, Sir J. Leader, J. T.
Duncombe, hon. W. Logan, H.
Egerton, W. T. Lushington, G.
Eliot, Lord Mackenzie, T.
Forbes, W. Mackinnon, W. A.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Maclean, D.
Gibson, T. Molesworth, Sir W.
Gillon, W. D. O'Brien, W. S.
Gladstone, W. F. Pakington, J. S.
Gore, O. J. R. Pechell, Captain
Gore, O. W. Plumptre, J. P.
Halse, J. Roche, W.
Harcourt, G. S. Round, C. G.
Harvey, D. W. Salwey, Colonel
Hawes, B. Sandon, Viscount
Hayes, Sir E. Scholefield, J.
Hindley, C. Sibthorp, Colonel
Hope, G. W. Stewart, J.
Hotham, Lord Style, Sir C.
Hughes, W. B. Tancred, H. W.
Ingestrie, Viscount Verner, Colonel
Jackson, Serjeant Vigors, N. A.
Johnston, General Wallace, R.
Jones, T. Warburton, H.
Kemble, H.
Knatchbull, r. h. Sir E. TELLERS.
Knightley, Sir C. Hume, J.
Law, hon. C. E. Wakley, T.
List of the NOES.
Acheson, Viscount Blunt, Sir C.
Acland, T. D. Borthwick, P.
Adam, Sir C. Bowes, J.
Adare, Viscount Brabazon, Sir W.
Ainsworth, P. Bradshaw, J.
Anson, hon. Colonel Bridgeman, H.
Archbold, R. Broadley, H.
Ashley, Lord Broad wood, H.
Ashley, hon. H. Bruce, Lord E.
Bailey, J. Bruges, W. H. L.
Bainbridge, E. T. Buller, E.
Baker, E. Bulwer, E. L.
Ball, N. Burdett, Sir F.
Baring, F. T. Burr, H.
Baring, H. B. Burroughes, H. N.
Baring, W. B. Busfield, W.
Barnard, E. G. Calcraft, J. H.
Barneby, J. Callaghan, D.
Barron, H. W. Campbell, W. F.
Barry, G. S. Canning, rt. hn. Sir S.
Bateman, J. Cavendish, hon. C.
Bateson, Sir R. Cavendish, hon. G. H.
Beamish, F. B. Cayley, E. S.
Belfast, Earl of Chalmers, P.
Bell, M. Chandos, Marquess of
Bellew, R. M. Chaplin, Colonel
Bentinck, Lord G. Chapman, L.
Berkeley, hon. F. Chute, W. L. W.
Bernal, R. Clive, E. B.
Bethell, R. Clive, Viscount
Bewes, T. Clive, hon. R. H.
Blackburne, I. Codrington, C. W.
Blackstone, W. S. Codrington, Admiral
Blair, J. Cole, Viscount
Blake, M. J. Collins, W.
Blennerhasset, A. Colquhoun, Sir J.
Blewitt, R. J. Compton, H. C.
Conolly, E. Grimsditch, T.
Courtenay, P. Grimston, Viscount
Cowper, hon. W. F. Grimston, hon. E. H.
Craig, W. G. Guest, J. J.
Creswell, C. Hale, R. B.
Cripps, J. Halford, H.
Crompton, S. Hall, B.
Curry, W. Hallyburton, Lord D.
Darner, hon. D. Hardinge, r. h. Sir H.
Davies, Colonel Harland, W. C.
Denison, W. J. Hastie, A.
Dennistoun, J. Hawkes, T.
De Horsey, S. H. Hawkins, J. H.
Divett, E. Hayter, W. G.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Heathcoat, J.
Dowdeswell, W. Heathcote, Sir W.
Duckworth, S. Heneage, E.
Dugdale, W. S. Heron, Sir R.
Duncan, Viscount Herries, rt. hon. J.
Duncombe, T. Hinde, J. H.
Dundas, C. W. D. Hobhouse, T. B.
Dundas, F. Hodges, T. L.
Dundas, hon. J. C. Hodgson, R.
Dundas, hon. T. Hogg, J. W.
Dundas, Captain D. Holmes, W.
Easthope, J. Hope, H. T.
Eastnor, Viscount Horsman, E.
Eaton, R. J. Houldsworth, T.
Ebrington, Viscount Houstoun, G.
Egerton, Sir P. Howard, F. J.
Eliot, hon. J. C. Howard, P. H.
Ellice, Captain A. Howard, hon. W.
Ellice, E. Howick, Viscount
Ellis, J. Hurst, R. H.
Estcourt, T. G. Hurt, F.
Estcourt, T. H. Hutton, R.
Etwall, R. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Euston, Earl Irton, S.
Evans, Colonel de L. Irving, J.
Evans, G. James, W.
Evans, W. James, Sir W. C.
Fazakerley, J. N. Jenkins, R.
Fielden, W. Jermyn, Earl
Fellowes, E. Jervis, S.
Fenton, J. Johnston, H.
Ferguson, Sir R. Jones, J.
Ferguson, R. Jones, W.
Fergusson, rt. hn. R. C. Kinnaird, hon. A. F.
Finch, F. Knight, H. G.
Fitzroy, Lord C. Labouchere, rt. hn. H.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Lambton, H.
Fitzsimon, N. Langdale, hon. C.
Forester, hon. G. Lascelles, hon. W. S.
Fort, J. Lefevre, C. S.
Fox, G. L. Lefroy, rt. hon. T.
Fremantle, Sir T. Lemon, Sir C.
French, F. Lennox, Lord G.
Freshfield, J. W. Lennox, Lord A.
Gibson, J. Leveson, Lord
Glynne, Sir S. R. Lewis, W.
Goddard, A. Liddell, hon. H. T.
Gordon, hon. Captain Lister, E. C.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Litton, E.
Granby, Marquis of Loch, J.
Grattan, J. Lockhart, A. M.
Grattan, H. Lygon, hon. General
Grey, Sir G. Mackenzie, W. F.
Macleod, R. Richards, R.
Macnamara, Major Rickford, W.
Mactaggart, J. Roche, D.
Mahon, Viscount Round, J.
Mahony, P. Rundle, J.
Maidstone, Viscount Rushbrooke, Colonel
Manners, Lord C. Russell, Lord J.
Marshall, W. St. Paul, H.
Marton, G. Sanderson, R.
Master, T. W. C. Sanford, E. A.
Maule, W. H. Scarlett, hon. J. Y.
Maunsell, T. P. Scarlett, hon. R.
Meynell, Captain Seymour, Lord
Miles, W. Shaw, rt. hon. F.
Miles, P. W. S. Sheppard, T.
Milnes, R. M. Shirley, E. J.
Mordaunt, Sir J. Slaney, R. A.
Morgan, C. M. R. Smith, R. V.
Morpeth, Viscount Smyth, Sir G. H.
Morris, D. Somerset, Lord G.
Murray, rt. hon. J. A. Spry, Sir S. T.
Muskett, G. A. Standish, C.
Neeld, J. Stanley, E.
Nicholl, J. Stanley, E. J.
Norreys, Lord Stanley, Lord
O'Brien, C. Stanley, W. O.
O'Connell, D. Stansfield, W. R. C.
O'Connell, M. J. Steuart, R.
O'Conor, Don Stewart, J.
Ord, W. Stuart, H.
Owen, H. O. Stuart, Lord J.
Packe, C. W. Stuart, V.
Paget, Lord A. Stormont, Viscount
Paget, F. Strickland, Sir G.
Palmer, G. Strutt, E.
Parker, J. Sturt, H. C.
Parker, M. Sugden, rt. hn. Sir E.
Parker, R. T. Surrey, Earl of
Parker, T. A. W. Talfourd, Sergeant
Parnell, rt. Hon. Sir H. Thomson, rt. hn. C. P.
Parrott, J. Thompson, Alderman
Patten, J. W. Thornley, T.
Pease, J. Tracy, H. H.
Peel, rt. hon. Sir R. Trench, Sir F.
Peel, J. Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Pemberton, T. Tufnell, H.
Pendarves, E. W. W. Turner, E.
Perceval, hon. G. J. Turner, W.
Perceval, Colonel Vere, Sir C. B.
Philips, M. Villiers, C. P.
Philips, G. R. Villiers, Viscount
Planta, rt. hon. J. Vivian, J. H.
Ponsonby, C. F. A. C. Vivian, J. E.
Ponsonby, hon. J. Vivian, hon. Sir. R.
Poulter, J. S. Walker, R.
Powell, Colonel Wall, C. B.
Power, J. Welby, G. E.
Power, J. Westenra, hon. H. R.
Price, Sir R. Whalley, Sir S.
Pringle, A. White, A.
Pryme, G. White, L.
Pryse, P. White, S.
Ramsbottom, J. Whitmore, T. C.
Ramsay, Lord Wilberforce, W.
Redington, T. N. Wilbraham, G.
Reid, Sir J. R. Wilbraham, hon. B.
Rich, H. Wilkins, W.
Williams, R. Wood, T.
Williams, W. Worsley, Lord
Williams, W. A. Wynn, rt. hon. C. W.
Wilmot, Sir J. E. Yates, J. A.
Winnington, T. E. Young, J.
Winnington, H. J. TELLERS.
Wood, Colonel Rolfe, Sir R.
Wood, G. W. Wood, C.