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Late Sittings

Volume 114: debated on Wednesday 5 February 1851

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then moved, in; pursuance of notice—

"That in the present Session of Parliament no business shall be proceeded with after midnight; and that at Twelve o'clock at night precisely, notwithstanding there may be business under discussion, Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without putting any Question."
The proposition was so reasonable he could have hardly anticipated its rejection; but that the division which had just taken place was not very encouraging. It embodied no new principle; 150 years ago the Speaker quitted the chair at 12 o'clock at noon, and the House had lately adopted the rule that he should quit the chair at 6 o'clock every Wednesday. The present system of late hours was exceedingly injurious to the health of Members. There never was a Session during which there was such a mortality among them as the last; and he attributed it to their being worn out by sitting so long after midnight. As to the inconvenience of adjourning at 12, he might remark they were in the habit of wasting a great deal of time after that hour in discussing whether they would adjourn or not. If the rule were once established, they could make any little domestic arrangements they pleased, and would have the convenience they now experienced on Wednesdays. It had been remarked that he had relaxed in his efforts to adjourn the House of late years as soon as the clock struck 12; but then it should be remembered he could not interrupt a Member in his speech, and could do nothing if he did not catch the eye of the Speaker. He had a table for the last nine years of the number of the days and hours the House sat, which was well worth notice, and which he would read:—
Days.Hours.Hours after Midnight.
The only argument that could be used against his proposition was, that hon. Members would speak against time whenever they sought to defeat a Motion; but even that was better than debating after midnight. The practice of speaking against time was obtained in some very few instances on the Wednesdays; but the good sense of the House would always prevent its being carried to any great length. He asked them to adopt his proposition for the present Session, merely as a trial, and if it did not answer they could easily drop it next Session; but he believed they would see its advantages if once they agreed in passing the Motion as a Sessional Order.

said, the House having decided against the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose, he could not conceive that they would adopt one which went much further. No doubt it was very undesirable that the habit should prevail of continuing the debate long after midnight; but that was not the general practice, es- pecially in the earlier part of the Session; the adjournment generally took place about Twelve o'clock. Still, if the rule were to adjourn every night at that hour, the business of the House would be placed, to a great extent, in the power of a minority, and the Session be protracted by the habit of speaking against time—an evil against which his hon. Friend had provided no remedy. He would be glad to see a further adoption of the salutary practice of abridging speeches, and inducing Members to shorten their observations as much as possible.

could not concur in the Motion; but thought, nevertheless, that no new matter should be brought on after Twelve o'clock.

expressed his intention of voting for the Motion on grounds peculiar to the Irish Members. He had observed that the Irish Secretary had almost invariably introduced measures affecting Ireland after Twelve o'clock at night, and he felt sure the rule would be of use in stopping such a practice.

said, that some measures depended for success on the chance of being passed after midnight. He had supported the previous Motion, because he thought it exceedingly improper that any of the public money should be voted away after Twelve o'clock at night. But, on the other hand, measures of great public importance might be thrown over if the rule were applied to everything. One of the most important measures of last Session passed through the House at Two o'clock—he alluded, of course, to the Engines for taking Fish Bill.

said, that the strongest reason which induced him to vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Salford was the objectionable practice which prevailed of granting money after Twelve o'clock—a practice which he believed had made a very unfavourable impression on the country, and which would, of course, be at once put an end to by the adoption of the present Motion. Another advantage which would be gained by its adoption would be, that the leaders of parties on both sides would be obliged to address the House at an earlier hour than they were in the habit of doing at present.

regretted that the hon. Member for Salford had not moved that the House should meet at Twelve o'clock in the day, which he thought would be a great improvement. If his reading recollection was correct, the House was in the habit, at one time, of meeting as early as eight o'clock in the morning. Inasmuch as merchants and men of busineas generally found the daytime most convenient for the transaction of their business, he believed that the business of the nation would also be better transacted during the day. He agreed with the hon. Member for Clonmel that the Irish Members had peculiar reasons for complaining of the present late hours. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland, without intending it perhaps, had put him (Mr. Reynolds) to great personal inconvenience. The right hon. Gentleman had charge of a bundle of Bills in which he (Mr. Reynolds) took a deep interest; and, in order to watch their progress, he often remained in the House so late as Three o'clock, and then found them postponed after all.

The House divided:—Aves 32; Noes 108:Majority 76.