HC Deb 10 May 1893 vol 12 cc547-50

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Committees do not sit Tomorrow, being Ascension Day, until Two of the clock."—(Mr. W. E. Gladstone)

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

hoped that the House would not assent to this Motion. It, had been customary in every Parliament for the House to divide against it, and he thought that in a House largely composed of Nonconformists it was high time that a line should be drawn with regard to Motions of this kind. He could understand a, Roman Catholic or a High Church Parliament making Motions of this kind, but he could not understand such a Motion being accepted by a House largely composed of Nonconformists. He opposed the Motion, and would divide the House against it.

MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

hoped that the House would assent to the Motion. Ascension Day was one of the vital points in our common Christianity. Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Ascension Day represented the four cardinal points in our common Christianity. He should very much regret the day when the Commons House of Parliament of this Christian country would refuse to assent to this proposition.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

said, that this question had nothing to do with Nonconformity. He understood that the Prime Minister proposed this Motion as an old Form, but that the right hon. Gentleman left the House to decide as an open question whether it should be adopted or not. The real objection, to his mind, to the Motion was that when all these Committees would be sitting a large number of witnesses would in many cases be in attendance. Besides that, as they knew, counsel were retained and were receiving refreshers every day. If by adopting this proposal they reduced the time during which the Committees could sit, they would be inflicting a considerable fine upon those who were interested in Private Bills. He did not know that the matter needed much discussion. He certainly should vote against the Motion, and it seemed to him that, the best thing they could do would be to go to a Division at once.


This Motion is proposed in accordance with established custom.


I think the House once decided against it.


Not to my knowledge. It has always, I think, been customary to leave the House to decide the question as it seems fitting. The Government do not put pressure on their supporters, the question being left to the free judgment of the House. It must be remembered that there is a Rule empowering Committees to sit after the meeting of the House, which is a sufficient reply to the hon. Member, who complains that loss is inflicted upon persons interested in Private Bills who have retained counsel when the length of time during which Committees can sit, is curtailed.

SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N.E.)

said, that the right, hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had given somewhat cold support, to the Motion he had made, though it was well-known that that could not be from want of hearty sympathy with it. He (Sir J. Fergusson) was a Scottish Presbyterian, but, he had always been in the habit of respecting the religious observances of the countries in which he had lived. He therefore heartily sympathised with the observance of tomorrow in England by the large majority of the people. Ascension Day was a day held sacred not only by the majority of the people of England, but also by their Roman Catholic fellow-subjects, and he therefore thought that even those Members who did not desire to go to Church and who did not attach sacred associations to the day would not wish to prevent that recognition which was always given to it by the House of Commons. He was sure it, would wound the feelings of a great many, and be regarded as a tendency of the House to break away from the traditions of the; past if the Motion were not accepted. Was it out of place to remind the House that the recognition of Ascension Day was one of the most ancient observances of Catholic Christendom? The Presbyterians put away hundreds of years ago the keeping of these holidays. Many of them were regretting it now, and there were numbers of Presbyterian ministers and laymen who were now observing Christmas Day and Good Friday and Easter Sunday, feeling that they had taken a step too far in the past, and that it was desirable: to retrace it. Having lived most of his life in England, and being glad to conform to the English Church, he spoke with a, certain amount of freedom on this matter, and he was sure that other Scotch Members would desire the recognition of those days held sacred by the majority of the people of the United Kingdom, and would agree that they should not be spoken of lightly or be dismissed with a sneer or halfhearted support.

MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)

wished to support the Motion, but to guard himself against the impression that he did so on the polytheistic principles of his right hon. Friend who had just spoken. He was not surprised to hear it laid down by the hon. Member for Northampton that the Government, had an open mind on this question. It appeared to him that on this question, as on all others, they had an open mind. There was nothing that they were not prepared to leave to the judgment of the House. He regretted that the Prime Minister had not taken a stronger line. The right hon. Gentleman was going to vote for the Motion of course, but he ought to have exercised his authority on his followers in a more stringent, manner.

MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)

said, he always consistently opposed the Motion, as he objected to being liberal with other people's time and money. He considered it hard upon people who had Railway Bills before Committees that these Motions should be passed. Members of Committees who desired to attend religious services to-morrow could do so without compelling all Committees to suspend their sittings. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had said that Committees could obtain permission to sit during the Sitting of the House, but he (Mr. Heneage) failed to see how Members could be in two planes at once.


said, the argument of the right hon. Gentleman would apply to all Wednesday Sittings, seeing that the House and the Committees commenced sitting at the same hour.

SIR T. LEA (Londonderry, S.)

said, it was intensely inconvenient for Committees to be sitting at the same time as the House. The inconvenience of Motions of this kind were not so great years ago, for the reason that the House was in the habit, of sitting at 4 instead of 3 o'clock as at present. Members now took far more interest in the saving the time of Committees than they did formerly, and he hoped the House would relieve itself of the antiquated custom set forth in the Prime Minister's Motion.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 114: Noes 74.—(Division List, No. 76.)