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The Late Sittings

Volume 181: debated on Tuesday 20 August 1907

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asked the Prime Minister whether he could take some steps in the arrangement of public business to prevent the House from having to sit to the early hours of the morning day after day. Hon. Members were becoming quite worn out. He had attended the House regularly; and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would bear in mind the great stress on Members who did not want to sit up continually to forsaken hours when they could not possibly attend properly to business.

The general desire is not to sit longer into the remainder of the year than we can possibly avoid; and, therefore, it is necessary to sit late at night. But I think that some nights we sit unnecessarily long owing to the unnecessary amount of repeated discussion. I think I can see as far through a millstone as most people; but I have not been able to discover what motive or advantage their can be in these prolonged discussions, and I am afraid that they are the real cause.

May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that he is never here to see what goes on?

I thank the hon. Member for his courteous and kindly reference to myself. But, unfortunately, when he comes to my time of life, and has my amount of work to do, he will discover that there is such a power as the family doctor; and he is my master at present.

I, like the right hon. Gentleman, though perhaps with less excuse with regard to the family doctor, have not suffered from these late sittings; and I do not put this question in an invidious spirit. But does the right hon. Gentleman think it judicious to attack hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House for unnecessary debate unless he has been himself present?

One can only proceed by way of sample. In this case, I took a sample by staying up last night until half-past one; and what I saw between 11 o'clock and that hour was quite enough to explain everything to me.

asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he was aware that the House was asked to deal with the Appropriation Bill, the Criminal Appeal Bill, the Limited Partnerships Bill, and the Companies, Bill; and whether, as far as could be judged from private information, there was a single Member of the Liberal Party who thought it possible to get through all that business last night.

said that there was no agreement about business. Did the right hon. Gentleman think that an important Bill like the Companies Bill ought to be taken at half-past five in the morning, when the great majority of Ministers were away, and when the learned Attorney-General, who had spoken already on the Transvaal Loan Bill, the Appropriation Bill, the Criminal Appeal Bill, and the Limited Partnerships Bill, could not be in a state to advise the House?

THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY
(Mr. GEORGE WHITELEY, Yorkshire, W.R., Pudsey)

said that the Companies Bill ought to have come on at half-past twelve. Other Bills were placed before it, but they were practically non-controversial. The Appropriation Bill had never been debated at such length on the Third Reading. Therefore the Government were not asking the House to do an unnecessary amount of business. The Government had a large number Bills to which they attached importance, and if these Bills were to be passed, they must ask the House to sit late.

If these Bills were so important how was it that the Government could not keep more than seventy-five of their men here?

said that hon. Members interested in the Companies Bill had not acquiesced in any arrangement that two hours would be sufficient for its discussion.

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said the business was posted in the inner lobby at five o'clock in the evening, after conversation with one of the right hon. Member's colleagues. It was admitted that several of the orders named would be regarded as uncontroversial, although nothing definite was arranged about the time that might be taken over the Companies Bill.

May I say I was shown a list of the Bills, and I asked how long it was proposed to sit, and the Government Whip, with a smile on his face, said he had no control over that. I suggested to him that in the interests of the amicable arrangement of the Business of the House, he would do well to modify the list.