I now rise, Sir, for the purpose of proposing the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the best means of promoting the despatch of Public Business in this House. I do not intend to enter at large into the question, which I think would be disadvantageous for the House to consider before the Select Committee is appointed—if it be the pleasure of the House that it shall be appointed; but I would remind the House very briefly of what occurred last year. Last year a Committee of the same kind was appointed, but appointed in the main with a limited view. Difficulties had arisen with respect to the enforcement on a then recent 154 occasion of a Rule of the House in regard to the exclusion of strangers. It was thought desirable that that matter should be referred to a Committee; and as a Committee was about to be appointed, the Committee was empowered to consider various matters connected with the despatch of business in this House. That Committee sat; it made several recommendations—some of them recommendations of importance. It happened, however, unfortunately, that one or two of the most important of them came to the House only by the casting vote of the Chairman, or with a majority of the feeblest character. It was the desire of the Government to have submitted those recommendations, or such of them as appeared to the Government likely to be acceptable, to the judgment of the House; but the pressure of business and the circumstances of the Session prevented the fulfilment of that intention until we had reached so late a period that it did not appear expedient to spend any more of a commodity that we possessed in such scanty measure—the time of the House—in discussing the particulars of those recommendations. I think, also—though in this I speak only for myself—that during the last Session—quite apart from certain features of that Session with which I have now nothing to do—there was in the public mind a sense of growing difficulty in the transaction of the business of Parliament—a sense of the demands of the community for legislation, and that the variety and the weight of the calls on our time were increasing under the operation of causes more or less, perhaps, of a permanent character. That being so, we are of opinion that the recommendations which were considered and made last year might with advantage be reviewed by the fresh appointment of a Committee, and that an opportunity might be given for the consideration, in the first place in that Committee, and secondly by the House itself, of any other suggestions of a useful nature which, without introducing violent or subversive changes into the proceedings of the House, might nevertheless tend to this most desirable object—that of expediting the despatch of business. In that sense and with those objects the Government has considered the matter during the Recess, and they would now propose the Committee with this 155 view—that the Committee, if appointed, should, in the first place, consider the recommendations of last year; that there should also be brought before the view of the Committee the various notices of which last Session was prolific, embodying the views of various hon. Members in respect to improving the methods for despatching business. The Government would make their contribution to the labours of the Committee by submitting to it some proposals which they deem to be of a safe, useful, and practical description; and, of course, the Committee would likewise receive with attention and respect the suggestions of other Members that might be appointed to serve on the Committee to the same purpose. From a Notice of an Amendment given by my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) I gather that he proposes that the Private Business of the House should be included within the purview of this Committee. I am far from saying that the Private Business of this House does not require to be considered; I am far from expressing an opinion adverse to the appointment of a Committee for that purpose; indeed, I do not at this moment express any opinion at all upon that point; but the proposal of my hon. Friend, taken in its substance, would be this—that we should intrust to the same Committee the consideration both of Amendments in the mode of carrying on Public Business in this House and also Amendments in the mode of carrying on Private Business. My disposition would be to defer in this matter to the general feeling of the House—if there be a general feeling—but I would frankly state my own opinion. The question of the general conduct of Private Business runs into a multitude of details quite distinct from those relating to the general conduct of Public Business. There is one very large question connected with Private Business on which for many years I have had a strong opinion. There is one great and cardinal amendment which ought to be made, and which I think it is a discredit to us not to have made long ago—I mean the consolidation of the Committees of both Houses on Private Bills, so as to substitute a single for a double procedure. That is a question of such importance and magnitude that, as far as its nature is concerned, it perhaps belongs very much more to the public than 156 to the private arrangements of the House. Whether it would be desirable that that subject should be considered by the Committee I now propose I cannot say—individually, I should have no disinclination to such a course; but my hon. Friend will forgive me for saying with deference that I much doubt whether it would be expedient to intrust the question of our Private Business to the same body of Gentlemen who will be asked by the present Motion to consider the Public Business of the House, and amendments in the mode of conducting it.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the best means of promoting the Despatch of Public Business in this House."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I would interpose for a few moments between the ton. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) and the House. With regard to the topic to which the hon. Member is about to draw our attention, I confess I have a strong impression that it would not be advisable to refer both the Public and the Private Business of this House to the proposed Committee. It is possible that an inquiry into the conduct of Private Business might be advantageous; but, at the same time, I hesitate as to the expediency of joining, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite suggests, the Private Bill Committees of both Houses. I rise, however, principally to express my grave doubts as to the expediency of having another Committee on Public Business. The right hon. Gentleman said the appointment of the Committee of last year was occasioned mainly by difficulties arising out of a single point in our procedure—the Rule in reference to the exclusion of strangers, and was, in fact, of a limited character; but having been a Member of the Committee, I believe I may say it went into the entire subject of the conduct of Public Business, and I am at a loss to understand how a further inquiry by a Committee into that subject could be beneficial. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that such further inquiry might lead to the decision of important points by the aid of larger majorities than those obtained in the Committee last year; but that, I believe, is rather a fallacious view to take of the matter. Whatever may be the 157 decision of a Committee as to conducting Public Business, the House would, I think, not be influenced by their decision in any degree, beyond the deference which it would of course always entertain for the opinions of eminent Members. But when you deal with the mode in which our Public Business should be conducted, and when propositions are made to change the Rules and Orders of the House, it is a subject so deeply interesting to every hon. Member that you may rely upon it every one of those questions will be decided by divisions in this House itself and not by any Committee. Therefore, whether the recommendations of the Committee on a particular point might be carried by a considerable majority or by a single vote, I think that is not a circumstance which ought to influence us. I entered into the Committee of last year with every desire to make every concession to the Government in respect to the conduct of Public Business which was consistent with a due regard to the rights of private Members. But this is not an age in which concessions appear to be successful. Although we did not arrive at our recommendations in several important instances by large majorities, yet we took ample evidence, and from the highest authorities; and that evidence is now in the possession of the House. The information thus collected is very valuable, and such as should influence the decision of the House, and if the Committee met again I do not see what further advantage we should obtain. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will hesitate before he determines to press his Motion. At all events, if he decides to take the opinion of the House, I trust hon. Gentlemen will express their views upon it. I think a further Committee would be of no use, and that the Government ought to make up its own mind, and on its own responsibility tell the House what are the changes which it deems necessary and expedient, because it will ultimately come to this—that all these questions must be decided on full debate in this House. The Government should on important points which may require attention offer their opinions to us, and then let the House say whether their suggestions should be adopted or rejected.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he thought that after the loss they had sustained 158 by Mr. Speaker's resignation, and knowing, as they all must do, that the labours of last Session had contributed to that loss, which he sincerely regretted, the House would do well to consider the mode of its procedure, and whether it was not capable of amendment. He (Mr. Newdegate) felt that at times he might have appeared less obedient to the Speaker than other Members of the House; but his feeling had always been, that the great characteristic of that Assembly was, that it was as much master of its own Rules and the interpreter of them as it was the judge of its own privileges and of their extent; and it followed that it was most important that the Members of the House, who were least experienced in its Rules, should be duly informed of their application. They had all felt that in the Speaker they possessed one fully competent to maintain the dignity of the collective House, to give reproof where it was necessary, and advice where it was wanting, in language and in a manner which had reconciled the most refractory to his well-ordered sway. A feeling existed out-of-doors, as well as in the House, that there was need of some re-organization of their Rules, such as would insure deliberation upon every measure that came before them, and prevent the lamentable confusion and the excessive accumulation of Business which pressed so heavily upon many hon. Members, as well as upon Mr. Speaker and some of the officers of the House at the close of the Session, in the days of their weariness. Scant justice had been done to the Committee of last year by either of the right hon. Gentlemen who had spoken. That Committee did not decide carelessly; but devoted its best and its earnest attention to the questions brought before it, as was proved by the rapid despatch of its business, and the closeness of several of its divisions. Last Session he had repeatedly urged upon the Government that they were bound to express some opinion upon the Resolutions which that Committee had reported, and that some opportunity should be afforded to the House of recording their opinion; but the Government had turned a deaf ear to all such representations. He hoped the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) would submit the substance of his Amendment to a separate Committee; and that if the Prime 159 Minister was not prepared to suggest Amendments in their mode of procedure, he trusted the Committee the right hon. Gentleman had proposed would proceed with all due despatch in the discharge of its functions, and that thus before very long some remedy would be devised against a recurrence of the evils experienced last Session.
§ MR. W. M. TORRENS
, in rising to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice, said, that with regard to the question of economising the time of the House, he believed the experience of last Session would suffice to satisfy the most unthinking that they had reached a period in their Parliamentary history at which it was essentially necessary that they should try to adapt their forms and Rules to the ever-increasing weight of business. The burdens imposed on Members of that House, physically and mentally, were greater than they could for a continuance possibly bear. He submitted, with deference to both of the right hon. Gentlemen who had spoken, that if they wanted really to redeem the House from the state of embarrassment and of self-reproach which four-fifths of them felt themselves placed in at the end of last Session, they could not divorce the two great branches of Business transacted by that House. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) thought it would be better to have no fresh Committee at all, and he had himself hoped that the Government would have been able to offer to the House some suggestions on that subject. It was not the first, second, or third reading of Bills, nor the Motions of independent Members, that constituted the Business of the House, but the real time of the House was spent in Committees. If they wanted to increase the working force of the House, it was not only inexpedient but illogical to sever the two considerations, or to divorce in the inquiry those two great functions relating to Private Business and Public Business. There was no abuse so ripe for the sickle as that. He did not wish to press any matter upon the attention of the House without their having time for reflection; but it was not the mere idea or crotchet of an individual, that there should be a consolidation of Committees of the two Houses. The idea of sending Private Business before a Joint Committee of the two Houses was not a new one. A Joint Committee, consisting 160 of six distinguished Members of each House, including Earl Granville, the Marquess of Salisbury, Lord Halifax, and the former Speaker of that House, Lord Eversley, and Sir George Grey, the Chairman of Ways and Means, Mr. Walpole, and others, sat in 1869, and that body had reported in favour of the Private Business being submitted to Joint Committees of both Houses, and he believed that opinion was fully justified by the evidence that was before them. The right hon. Gentleman, whose great services had been so gratefully acknowledged that night, had also given his opinion in favour of such a change in our mode of legislation. He begged humbly to suggest that it would be a great improvement upon our present system if, at the commencement of every year, two, three, or four joint panels selected from the Members of both Houses were to have imposed upon them the duty of arranging Public Bills Committees, in the same manner as was done by the Committee of Selection with Committees on Private Bills. Was it reasonable to suppose, he might ask, that every man in that House was competent to take part in deliberations in Committees of the Whole House in reference to every subject that was brought under the notice of Parliament? Some were country gentlemen, some were merchants, and some were lawyers, and it was improbable that they were all equally conversant with matters relating to agriculture, to commerce, and to law. Directed by a wise instinct, whenever a measure came before a Committee of the Whole House, those who were not familiar with the subject wisely put on their hats and took a walk in the Park, if it was fine, or went into the smoking-room, or went to sleep—they did anything but attend to the business that had been referred to the Committee of the Whole House. No greater fallacy could be conceived than the notion that every measure was carefully considered by all the Members of that House in Committee of the Whole House. They did not even attempt to examine the Bills; on the contrary, they left them to be dealt with by the 150 gentlemen who understood what they were about. But there was another part of the question which, to his mind, seemed most absurd and preposterous. When the hon. Members who were attending to the business before 161 fore the Committee differed in opinion, and a division was required, the electric hells were set ringing, and hon. Members rushed from every part of the House to decide a question of detail, of the arguments in respect to which they had not heard a single word. But what he objected to most of all was, that after measures had been discussed in Committee by Members who had attended diligently to the deliberations, and who were conversant with the whole subject, when they came before the House for the Report or Third Reading, Members who possibly had not heard a single word of the previous discussions, or who had not attended a single sitting of the Committee, should have the power of altering the details, or even of rejecting the measure altogether. Was such a course founded upon common sense, and was it not appealing to the inattention and to the ignorance of the House against its attention and its knowledge? He could not see the advantage, after the Report of the Committee of 1869, of appointing a fresh Committee to do again what the Committee had already done, and he should be delighted to see the First Minister of the Crown rise in his seat and move for leave to bring in a Bill founded on the recommendations of that Committee. The public impression of the results of the working of the present system of Private Business was, that men were forced every year to spend enormous sums of money in promoting legislation which resulted in nothing. The reputation of Parliament was endangered by such a system. What the Joint Committee of 1869 proposed was substantially this—it proposed that every Committee on personal and local Bills should consist of six Members, three from each House, to be nominated by the Committee of Selection of each House, who should have the power of conferring together in order to frame rules and regulations from time to time for the conduct of business in Committees on Private Business; that the chairman of each Committee should be of that House in which the Bill originated; and that when a Bill of that character had been recast, it should be sent down to be read a third time in that House in which it had originated before it was sent to the other House, who would then deal with it rather in the position of an appellate tribunal. Last Session 157 Members of 162 that House had been told off to sit on Committees—in other words to serve as jurymen upstairs—and one of the groups sat no less than 27 days. But that was not the worst case, for he himself had sat on Committees during one Session for no less than 40 whole days. Another group had sat for 21, and a third for 19 days. Such continuous labour was most injurious to health, and he had been informed that the rate of insurance on the lives of Members of that House was daily rising. He had himself seen Members of that House whose state at the end of the Session was far from enviable. He had himself sat in four Parliaments, and he must say that the long hours passed in a sudorific atmosphere, and the attempt to digest Blue-books, were more than could be endured with safety to health. During last Session there were no fewer than 254 local and personal Bills introduced into that House, of which 166 were opposed. All these had to be litigated in Committee before Members of that House, who after their morning's labour were required to occupy their seats from 4 o'clock in the afternoon frequently until 3 the next morning. How was it possible to find sufficient men capable of enduring this? He knew it might be answered that one-half the Members did not regularly attend the House, and that of those who did many took it easy, leaving the business to those who, as they said, were fools enough to work. But this did not answer the argument—where were they to find competent Members. The old Parliamentary qualifications had certainly been abolished; but if the present system were continued the right hon. Gentleman ought to put a clause into his Ballot Bill prohibiting the election of any candidate who did not possess the qualifications of youth, robustness, and an inability to speak. If a man did not possess youth he had no chance of living through the Session; if he were not robust he would be unable to sleep upright, and a man who talked upon every subject was an enemy to mankind. He ventured humbly to express his concurrence in the observation of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, that the Government, if possible, should take this matter into its own hands and make its definite proposition to relieve hon. Members from the inordinate labour that was imposed upon them.
At the end of the Question, to add the words "and to consider what provisions may be made with regard to passing Local and Personal Bills through Parliament as may lessen the cost of such proceedings, and may economise the time and labour required from Members of this House,"—(Mr. W. M. Torrens,)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
said, that having taken a considerable interest in this question last year, he wished to say a few words upon it. In his opinion they ought to receive this proposition of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government with great reserve, and, indeed, with some suspicion, because the proposal came with a bad grace from a right hon. Gentleman who advocated its acceptance on the ground that it was necessitated by the growing and multifarious Business of the House, when he himself was solely responsible for the amount of the business. Whose fault was it that the House was overloaded with business last year? And what was the result? Why, that recourse was had by the head of the Government to a course which he (Mr. Bentinck) ventured to think was unconstitutional. There was before the House a great constitutional question bearing upon the election of Members of the House, and to facilitate the progress of the measure the right hon. Gentleman imposed upon his followers the task of remaining silent during the progress of one of the greatest and most important measures that ever came before Parliament. Was that a constitutional course of proceeding? It was neither more nor less than an attempt to prevent fair discussion in the House of Commons. He feared that the present proposal would involve a still further attempt to interfere with the freedom of debate in that House. That was a House of "palaver," and if they were not to speak their sentiments, or those of the persons who sent them there, they had better not be there, for, under such circumstances, Parliamentary government would be a farce. He could not agree that they should act upon the Report of the Committee of last year, for he should be sorry to find the Report of the Committee exercising any influence upon the Business of the House. The Committee was almost entirely com- 164 posed of official Members of the House; and he did not think that that was desirable. What they had to consider was this, whether the Government should have the sole and entire control of the character and nature of the business discussed, or whether the House should maintain its independent character. He therefore begged to be allowed to suggest that if they adopted the proposal of the Government, and assented to the appointment of the Committee, there should be only one official member of the Committee, who could fill the position of counsel for the prosecution, and that the body of the Committee should consist of independent Members of the House, who were the best judges of its rights and privileges.
§ MR. DODSON
said, he did not intend to enter into an argument with the hon. Member who had just sat down as to whether the chief business of that House was "palaver," or whether it was more constitutional to speak or to hold one's tongue, but he believed that a wiser man than he was had said that there was a time to speak and a time to be silent, and that rule he thought was very applicable to that House. His object in rising was to appeal to the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) to withdraw his Amendment. He could assure the hon. Member that he was as anxious as any man in that House to lighten the labours of hon. Members as far as possible. The hon. Member had said that the subject in hand was ripe for the sickle. He (Mr. Dodson) wished that the crop could be reaped by so simple an instrument; but he was afraid that the saw or the are would have to be called in before the necessary clearance could be made. Whatever was done in reference to the appointment of this Committee, he hoped, at all events, that the hon. Member for Finsbury would not press his Motion, the passing of which would add to the labours of the Committee by placing upon them the consideration of the reform of the means of conducting Private Business. They had already had a very strong Committee which had reported upon Private Business—he alluded to the combined Committee of the two Houses which had already been referred to; and by referring the question of private legislation to the Committee now asked for by the 165 right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government they would he asking a Committee of that House to review the decision on that subject which had been already arrived at by the Joint Committee of both Houses. He regretted to hear an expression fall from the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) which appeared to him to be adverse to the Report of the Joint Committee of the year 1869, because the right hon. Gentleman was a Member of that Committee, and was present and consenting when the Report recommending Joint Committees upon Private Bills was agreed to: there was, indeed, only one dissentient from the recommendation. He (Mr. Dodson) hoped to have an early opportunity of calling attention to the Report of the Joint Committee, and of offering some further suggestions for the improvement of the Private Business system. One of his objects would be to facilitate the obtaining legislative powers for local and personal undertakings by localizing inquiries; but he thought that any such facilities should be offered equally to every part of the United Kingdom. It would afterwards be competent for the hon. Member for Finsbury to propose the appointment of a Committee, or the House might refer the question of Private Business to the Committee now proposed. He trusted, however, that the House would itself deal with the question of Private Business, for 17 or 18 Committees had sat upon it within 18 or 20 years with very little result, and he had little hope of another Committee proving more fruitful. If this department was to be reformed the House should itself adopt Resolutions, or call upon the Government to take up the question. He would appeal to the hon. Member for Finsbury to withdraw his Amendment, which would only lead to a year's postponement and to the production of a Blue-book which few people would read and those few would take no interest in.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
My hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Dodson) can hardly have heard the statement of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) that he did not intend to press his proposal, that not being the object he had in view. With regard to Private Business, I am glad to hear that the subject is to be brought before us by so well qualified a Member as my hon. 166 Friend, and I am sure the House will readily consider his suggestions; but I am at a loss to understand how the labours of the House would be shortened by the appointment of Joint Committees, for many of the Bills now originated in the other House never reach us. If we want to devise a better mode of conducting our Public Business, ample data are already before us in the shape of Blue-books and our personal experience. Why, therefore, should not the right hon. Gentleman opposite submit at once to the House itself the Resolutions which he is prepared to lay before a Committee? Any question of this kind is sure to be debated in the Whole House as thoroughly as if it had not been considered by a Committee. I remember that in the debates at the Universities the only questions which used to excite earnest discussion were those which affected the room in which we met, or the newspapers which should be taken—matters on which everybody had an opinion—and so with regard to the Orders of this House. Every Member knows where the Orders have inconvenienced him, and is anxious, therefore, to take part in the discussion; so that no time will be saved by the appointment of a Committee—which, indeed, would probably sit through the Session, deferring to another year the advantage of any reforms. To appoint another Committee would, moreover, be discrediting last year's Committee, which was composed not only of official Members, but of many hon. Gentlemen of fearless independence. I understand, indeed, that the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. G. Bentinck), whose independence everybody admits, for he generally differs from the right hon. Gentlemen who lead both the Government and the Opposition, was offered a seat upon it. Their Report has never been considered by the House, and it would be discrediting them to appoint a fresh Committee before the House has taken into consideration the Resolutions to which that Committee have arrived.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
I intended to offer the very view which the right hon. Gentleman has just urged. The question was raised last Session, with reference to the practice of excluding strangers at the instance of a single Member. A most influential Committee was appointed, including all the eminent Mem- 167 bers who take an interest in the Business of the House, and the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire was a constant attendant, giving us very valuable assistance. We took the only skilled evidence which was of any value—that of Mr. Speaker and the Chief Clerk at the Table, Sir Erskine May—who suggested from their experience several improvements. We carefully considered them, and a portion of our Resolutions was apparently adopted by the Government; for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Chairman of the Committee, placed on the Notice Paper three Resolutions—one of them of great importance in relation to our procedure for going into Committee of Supply. Owing to the press of other business those Resolutions were not discussed. If they were not well-considered Resolutions, of course the less said about them the better; but, if well-considered, why should not the Chancellor of the Exchequer again submit them to the opinion of the House? To appoint another Committee, thus giving the go-by to the Committee of last year and its evidence, would hardly be respectful towards that Committee, and it might be equally barren of result, leaving the process to be gone through a third time next Session.
My right hon. Friend has expressed with great force a feeling which I am conscious will possess considerable weight if it be justly entertained, or even if it be entertained at all—namely, that it would appear disparaging to last year's Committee to refer the same questions to another Committee. Now, it was not any imperfection in last year's proceedings which led us to desire another inquiry, but a wish to widen the field and submit to the consideration of Parliament some new propositions with regard to evils of growing magnitude. The advantage of consideration by a Committee has been questioned; but my opinion, based on tolerably large experience, is that the field of discussion is very much narrowed by first of all taking the opinion of a body composed of the most experienced Members of the House. The proceedings of last year's Committee have full claim to our attention, and we have no objection—I am sorry we are not in a condition to do so to-night—to submit to the House in the first instance the proposals of the Government founded 168 on the Report of last year. There can be no inconvenience in dealing with these at once; and it will then be competent for us, if we think there are sufficient grounds, to ask the House to appoint another Committee for renewed and wider investigation of the subject. I am not prepared to accept the advice of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and deviate from precedent by bringing the views of the Government directly under the notice of the House; but I am prepared to withdraw this Motion, in order that the Chancellor of the Exchequer may first take the opinion of the House upon the Resolutions he proposed last year.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
, as a Member of last year's Committee, regretted the course now taken by the right hon. Gentleman. One or two of the divisions in that Committee were exceedingly close; and, but for a mistake in changing the day of meeting, which caused some of the Members to be absent from a meeting when an important Resolution was moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), the Report of the Committee would have been materially different. He should like those points to be re-considered, and the suggestion of the Gentleman who ably presided at the Table (Sir Erskine May), that Grand Committees should undertake the ordinary business of the House, was entitled to more consideration than it received last year.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
wished at once to give Notice that, in the event of the present Motion being withdrawn, he would on Monday move the Resolutions referred to by his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, he thought it desirable that the Committee should be re-appointed, and that the matters discussed last year should be re-considered; for the proceedings of that Committee, able and experienced as were the Members of whom it was composed, were not altogether satisfactory. The day of its meeting was put on, instead of being put off, by communications between the Chairman and one or two of the Members—a course almost unprecedented; and but for this alteration the majority on some points might have come to a different conclusion, The hon. Member 169 for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) obtained a pledge from the Prime Minister that ample notice should be given of any action upon the Committee's Report, yet the Resolutions were laid on the Table at midnight, with the intention of discussing them at 2 o'clock the next day—a design, however, frustrated by the vigilance of the hon. Member. The official element, past and present, moreover, was very strong in the Committee, and in all the narrow divisions those Members voted together, official men being interested in getting credit for carrying measures. Among those who were especially active in thus endeavouring to curtail the privileges of independent Members, were the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), and the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington). It behoved the House to be cautious in allowing the two Front Benches to regulate its business. The burden of the speeches of Ministerial Members during the Recess had been that the conduct of the Opposition last Session brought Public Business to a standstill, and that the forms of the House must be altered in order to take away from the minority powers which had been improperly exercised. Now, as far as he (Lord Elcho) was concerned, he denied the justice of this censure. As to the Ballot Bill, the right hon. Gentleman in charge of it (Mr. W. E. Forster) exchanged compliments with the Opposition on the way in which it had been considered; and as to the Army Bill the Opposition would have bowed to the opinion of the majority, had the information repeatedly asked as to the intentions of the Government been supplied; instead of which the Surveyor General's answer was—"Pass the Bill, and then we will tell you." He was not surprised, indeed, at that reply, for he doubted whether they yet knew how they meant to use their powers. He warned independent Members on both sides to guard jealously those forms which were among the best securities for maintaining the liberties we had gained. When they found official Members putting their heads together under pretext of "facilitating the Business of the House," it was time for independent Members to stand upon their guard.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, that as an independent Member, he should protest against the extraordinary an- 170 nouncement that important Resolutions affecting the privileges of every Member were to be brought forward on Monday, in the form of a sandwich between two stages of the Secret Voting Bill. This was, he thought, playing fast and loose with both sides of the House. The right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) had urged what he was sure were bonâ fide objections to the appointment of another Committee. If a proposition was made bonâ fide from that or the other side of the House to help the Government over the stile, he must say it was not a legitimate or fair way of meeting that to jump up at once and steal a march upon the House. He trusted the Chancellor of the Exchequer would re-consider his proposals, and not try to entrap the House into the discussion of a matter in which they ought to proceed with deliberate judgment.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, he trusted the Chancellor of the Exchequer would give the House an assurance that he did not intend to proceed with his Resolutions on Monday—it was impossible they could be discussed so early and unexpectedly. Those Resolutions would not be circulated till to-morrow morning, and what opportunity would Members have of considering the bearing of those Resolutions on the practice of the House, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer persisted in his intention of proposing them on Monday? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock had left the House. Those hon. Gentlemen were not aware of the sudden change which had come over the mind of the Government, and, unless they had distinct notice, they would be surprised, when they came down to the House on Monday, to find that these most important Resolutions were to be taken that evening. Moreover, it was well known that the first business on Monday would be the election of a Speaker; so that no one could say at what time the Resolutions would be reached. It must be remembered that the Resolutions introduced last year were not those of the Committee, but the amended ones of the Government. The present proposal was only a manœuvre to secure the premature discussion of the subject, and he gave notice that, if Her Majesty's Government would persist in that most unusual 171 and unParliamentary course, he would give the strongest opposition he could, and would endeavour to induce his hon. Friends to avail themselves of all the forms of the House to prevent a discussion in so very improper a manner.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
also expressed his hope that the Government would not persist in taking the Resolutions on Monday. The subject was one in which hon. Members of all shades of opinion took a deep interest, and the premature discussion of it would be attended with much inconvenience. Referring to a remark of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), he said he had never any intention of unfairly or unduly restricting the privileges of Members of the House.
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.