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Parliament—Conduct Of Business

Volume 203: debated on Thursday 14 July 1870

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Question

said, he would beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury, If in lieu of adopting the proposals of the honourable Members for East Surrey and Leicester, now before the House, he does not think the business of the Session would be more effectively performed, as well as the health and the patience of Members less tried, by the introduction of the ten minutes time principle, by which a no longer period for speaking would be permitted to any Gentleman other than a Member of the Government, an ex-Cabinet Minister, or the proposer of a Bill or Motion; and, whether it would not be advisable to curtail the right of initiative in Legislation now belonging to private Members, by necessitating the previous submission of their Bills to a Committee to be elected by the House, and which should decide as to the expediency of their introduction, or the contrary?

said, he must interpose on the point of Order, believing that the practice of putting Questions to the Ministry was degenerating into a mere means for the expression of opinion. He apprehended that the object of putting Questions to Ministers was to elicit information on facts of which they were officially cognizant, or as to transactions for which they were officially responsible. Nothing of an argumentative or controversial character should be introduced; and, indeed, he believed it was a rule of the House that in putting a Question hon. Members should not be allowed to use an argument or express an opinion, and, therefore, they were equally disqualified from requiring from the Government such an expression. His hon. Friend (Sir Henry Hoare), however, was transgressing the Rules of the House in putting a Question in which he invited opinions from the Prime Minister. If the Question were put an answer must be allowed, if even it were an hour long, and by moving the adjournment of the House it was then open to any hon. Gentleman to answer the arguments of the Prime Minister. He wished, therefore, to submit to Mr. Speaker whether his hon. Friend was not out of Order in putting this Question?

It will be convenient that I should remind the House of the Rules which exist with regard to Questions. Questions may be put to Ministers of the Crown relating to public affairs; but in putting such Questions no argument or opinion is to be offered, nor any facts stated, except such as may be necessary to explain such Question. Now, in looking at the Question of the hon. Baronet, it appears to comprise not less than six Questions. First, he asks the First Lord of the Treasury whether, "in lieu of adopting the proposals of the hon Members for East Surrey and Leicester," he will not adopt another course. That is one Question. Then he asks the right hon. Gentleman whether the business of the Session would not be more effectively performed in another way. That is a second Question. The third Question relates to an ex-Cabinet Minister, the fourth to the proposer of a Bill, the fifth to the proposer of a Motion, and the sixth is whether it would not be advisable to curtail the right of initiative in legislation belonging to private Members: all matters of opinion, all open to argument. It is perfectly true, as has been stated by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Horsman), that these Rules have been made for the purpose of excluding from Questions matters of opinion and argument which are fit for debate. In my opinion the Question of the hon. Baronet is not of such a kind as to come within the Rules of the House.

I think, Sir, I shall act in the spirit of the decision you have just delivered if I say that such matters as those involved in the Question of the hon. Baronet, relating as they do to the despatch of business in this House, had better be raised in the form of a proposal for a Committee of the House to consider its arrangements for the despatch of business.