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Committees (Ascension Day)

Volume 34: debated on Wednesday 22 May 1895

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

*MR. W. P. BYLES (York, W.R., Shipley) rose to move as an Amendment, to add at the end of the Motion the words:

"Except the Standing Committee on Trade, &c., to which the Factories and Workshops Bill is committed."

He said that the Motion with respect to Ascension Day was annually made, annually opposed, and he was afraid he must admit annually carried, although he was glad to believe that it had been carried with decreasing majorities. He did not complain of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's action, but he would ask him to leave his colleagues to vote

according to their own predilections, and then he thought he could promise the right hon. Gentleman that the Motion would be defeated. This was not a genuine Motion, not an expression of a genuine desire, but a pretence of faith, a simulation of devotional feeling; at the best, a mere expression of conventional piety. Hon. Members would vote for it on the same principle on which they paid for their pew in Church, not because they went there themselves, but because they thought it right that Church-going should be kept up in the interests of the lower orders, and for the sake of the women and children. Everyone knew that this solicitude for Church worship to-morrow was a mere fiction and a sham. The only Members who would really go to Church were the Catholic Members, and their Mass would be over long before 12 o'clock. He opposed the Motion in the name of true religion, which could not be upheld or advanced by pretence and unreality. At any rate, he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would accept the Amendment. The work of advancing the Factories Bill, which was intended for the health and safety and protection of the hard-working factory operatives of the land, especially women and children, was a work of true religion. For his part he should be quite willing to stay away from Church for once and chance the consequences. He believed the majority of the Members of the Grand Committee were quite willing to meet to-morrow at 12 o'clock. As to the Home Secretary, who had charge of the Bill, he had understood the right hon. Gentleman to say yesterday that he would be quite ready to sit at 12. Other branches of the Constitution were not so punctilious in this matter as the House of Commons. He believed that the Select Committees of the House of Lords would meet to-morrow at 11 o'clock—at any rate, they did so last year and the year before; and the Royal Commission on the Financial Relations between England and Ireland would also meet to-morrow morning. It was only the Committees of that House that were precluded from sitting before two o'clock, to the great inconvenience of the Members composing them, and great expense and loss of time to those engaged in promoting private

Bills. It was monstrous that they should do this in order that some of them might pretend to go to Church. The getting of a private Bill through that House was a disgracefully costly process as it was, and they should do nothing that might increase this cost. The whole of this proposal for delay was, in his judgment, a hollow pretence. He begged to move the Amendment standing in his name.

said, that the House would form its own opinion of the taste of the observations of the hon. Member for the Shipley Division. Anything in more execrable taste he had never heard in that House. If the hon. Member did not want to go to Church on Ascension Day it was his own affair; but what right had he to say that a desire to go to Church on that day was a pretence on the part of other Members? The Chancellor of the Exchequer's Motion had been made in accordance with a custom that had prevailed for many years, and which, he thought, still deserved observance by that House. The hon. Member opposite had moved to except the Standing Committee on Trade from the operation of the Motion. As a Member of that Committee he traversed the assumption of the hon. Member that it was the desire of the Committee to sit at twelve o'clock to-morrow. The question was never decided by the Committee. If it had been it would have been discussed and put to the vote. If the Committee had decided that it was desirable to exclude it from the operation of the Motion, the Chairman would have been instructed to make a representation to that effect to the House. What right had the hon. Member to say what he had said when no such steps had been taken? He could understand hon. Members holding different opinions respecting the merits of this Motion. It might be undesirable or desirable that Committees should meet at Twelve o'clock on Ascension Day, but if the rule that they should not sit on that day until Two o'clock were applied at all it must be applied universally. The only possible reason for the exception proposed by the hon. Member would be the reason of urgency, but there was no urgency in regard to the proceedings of the Committee on Trade. If there were any urgency he should suggest that the hon. Member might with advantage persuade the small minority on that Committee to occupy less of its time than they did.

said, that he had made this Motion in accordance with the established practice of the House of Commons. If that practice were to be altered it must be altered by a vote of that House. The hon. Member for the Shipley Division had expressed the hope that he would not exert any undue pressure upon his followers. He could assure the hon. Member that he had no tyrannical feelings with regard to this matter.

explained that he had asked the right hon. Gentleman not to exercise any pressure on his Colleagues in the Government.

regretted that the right hon. Gentleman opposite should have made some of the observations which he had made respecting the action of the hon. Member for the Shipley Division. Such remarks might lead to personal controversies, which they all desired to avoid. But as to the merits of the Motion, the right hon. Gentleman had said that this was a question for the House of Commons to decide, and that was clearly true. He could not accept the Amendment. If a particular exception were made to the rule, the result would inevitably be that members of other Committees would make similar applications for exemption. This question could not be dealt with in that fashion. The House must pronounce its opinion upon the subject as a whole. He trusted that this question would not be discussed with reference to its religious aspect, which, he was sure, ought not to find a place in their Debates on the floor of that House, where different views on religious questions were entertained. That House was never employed to so little advantage as when it allowed questions involving religious differences to become the subjects of debate.

supported the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the ground that the great Council of the nation, in Parliament assembled, ought not to ignore the cardinal points of the Christian faith. He regretted that the hon Member for the Shipley Division should have thought fit to attack those—of whom he was one—who intended to go to church to-morrow. It was also a matter for regret that the Amendment should have been seconded by an hon. Member of the Jewish persuasion, who, of course, did not subscribe to the great and vital Christian doctrine connected with Ascension Day. In these days, when so many men were ashamed or afraid to avow their adhesion to the cardinal points of the Christian faith, he considered that he would be guilty of a dereliction of duty if he did not protest strongly against what had been said by the hon. Member for the Shipley Division.

said, the right hon. Baronet opposite questioned the account given by his hon. Friend the Mover of the Amendment, of what passed in the Grand Committee on Tuesday. In his opinion, and in that of several hon. Members who sat near him, the statement of his hon. Friend was absolutely correct. A suggestion was made by the Conservative Member for Ashton-under-Lyne that the Committee might meet as usual on Thursday. On that suggestion there was general cheering in all parts of the room, and many Members of the Committee called out, "Why don't you make a motion?" It was in consequence of that that the Amendment was moved by his hon. Friend.

said, that the Motion was only casually suggested by his hon. Friend. He was quite sure that those who sat on his side of the House in the Grand Committee did not concur in the suggestion that they should ignore the great event which was to be celebrated on Thursday.

said, this was not a matter of the opinion of any Member of the Committee on Trade. It was a much more serious matter, and must be settled by the House itself. He was exceedingly surprised to hear the hon. Member opposite make imputations of religious insincerity against hon. Members who were in favour of this Motion. ["Oh, oh!"] The hon. Member's suggestion was, that the desire of hon. Members to meet later was a mere pretence. He did not think it was decent or proper, or necessary to make such imputations. But the hon. Member went even beyond that. He made imputations on the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He represented the right hon. Gentleman as going about among his Colleagues with a whip and driving them to church. The hon. Member represented those who objected to all religion. He did not profess to be more devout than his neighbours, but he did think that a custom of this kind was one that should not be disregarded. There was, at any rate, this to be said for it, that it reminded them that this was once a Christian country.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The House divided:—Ayes, 94; Noes, 82.—(Division List, No. 98.)