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unvarying steadiness with which they have been observed, for at least three centuries, is a remarkable feature of our Constitution. Precedents for most of the proceedings of both Houses may be found in the very first volumes of their journals, recorded in a language, now quaint and obsolete; but outliving, by the mere force of usage, our written laws, and passing unscathed through civil wars and revolutions. There is a dignity as well as merit in this force of ancient custom, which secures a more willing and reverential obedience, than any modern rules or bye-laws. In the House of Commons the cry of order' has a prescriptive authority, while in other assemblies it is more often the signal for confusion. But this reverence for custom is not without its evils. Politicians of every shade had long agreed in regarding the British Constitution with pride, until the veneration of many had degenerated into fanaticism. It was "holy ground,' and all around and about it was holy. And everything seemed to be near it, and to concern it. To disfranchise a corrupt borough, to reform a corporation, to repeal the duty on corn, or to leave off hanging men for sheep-stealing, were all inroads upon our glorious Constitution,' until the phrase could scarcely be repeated without a smile. And thus has it been with our Parliamentary customs, which are a part of the Constitution. We have been proud of them, — and with good cause. We have seen them adopted-often to the very letter - in every deliberative assembly in the world; in France, Belgium, the United States of America, and all the British Colonies. Their adoption elsewhere is partly due to their own proved excellence, and partly to the prestige attaching, in every free country, to British institutions. But here again, the true faith has not been unmixed with idolatry; and to discontinue an old form was to cast down an idol. With the exception of the daily distribution of the printed Votes and Proceedings, for which we are mainly indebted to the zeal of the late Mr. Rickman, we cannot recall a single change, of any importance, in Parliamentary practice, before the Reform Act. In matters of form the Commons had almost exposed themselves to Napoleon's sarcasm upon the Bourbons; — Ils n'ont rien appris, - ils 'n'ont rien oublié.
An example of this continued reluctance to change may be found in the Report on the office of Speaker, which we have placed at the head of this Article. In 1606, the House, having suffered inconvenience from the absence of their Speaker, appointed a committee to search for precedents; "thereby the * better to direct themselves what were meet to be done here
after, upon all occasions of the Speaker's absence, by sickness
termee an old fortribution of the ted to the ze any im
recall a sihted to the otes and the excep
or otherwise.' The Speaker, however, recovered; and the Committee of 1853 express their regret that the Committee (of • 1606,) which had been appointed to consider the very same matters which, after a lapse of nearly 250 years, have now been referred to your Committee, made no report to the House.' That is to say, for 250 years nothing had been done to prevent the recurrence of an evil, which during that time had frequently been experienced. And, true to the instinct of the House of Commons, the Committee now approach the subject with 'great caution' and apprehension’; offering, as one of their reasons for recommending the least possible change, the
reluctance apparently entertained by the House, in former times,' to do anything that was necessary in the matter. And so it has been on other occasions.
Some statesmen have been foremost in opposing changes in the procedure of Parliament, while others have regarded them with indifference; caring little to understand them, and undervaluing their political importance. Of all our public men who have concerned themselves with this department of Parliamentary Reform, the present Speaker stands preeminent. Fitted by his talents and qualified by his previous training and acquirements, Mr. Shaw Lefevre was marked out for the high office to which he was elected. An active county member, an experienced and able magistrate, — he soon became known as an unrivalled chairman of Parliamentary Committees. Here he displayed the conspicuous talents, judgment, tact, and urbanity, for which he has since been distinguished on a wider and more honourable field. His eminent services in the chair are universally acknowledged. The Commons are justly proud of the Speaker of their choice, and respect his authority with a willing obedience; but few of them are aware of his unceasing exertions, behind the scenes, to facilitate their proceedings, and smooth the numerous difficulties by which they are beset. With a genius for active business, he was not long in discovering where the Commons
had outgrown their forms. Having mastered the dry technicalities of Parliamentary procedure, so as never to be at fault, he watched their practical operation with a critical eye; and with singular judgment, prudence, and sagacity has striven to introduce every practicable improvement. More useful changes have been made during the fourteen years of his Speakership, than in the time, we will make bold to say, of any three of his predecessors.
And here we would observe that, in such matters, the Speaker's position is one of considerable delicacy. In expounding and giving effect to existing rules, his authority is paramount; but new rules can only be made by the House, in which, strange as it may appear, though Speaker, he has himself no voice. It is only by his personal influence with other members, and by the weight attached to his opinions, whether expressed in private, or stated in evidence before Committees, that he is able to promote any change which he may think desirable. Hence he is constrained to a cautious reserve in committing himself to opinions, which he pronounces without authority, and the adoption of which he is unable further to advocate. Moreover, upon questions of this description the Government is ordinarily passive ; and the House, being left without any moving power, is languid and indifferent. Nor is it usual to press forward any proposition of the kind, except with the general concurrence of experienced members, on both sides of the House. Sometimes, also, it is advisable to ascertain the feeling of the House of Lords before any change is proposed, and even to induce them to originate it. Thus while proposals, to which he stands committed, are exposed to numerous chances of failure, the Speaker is often deprived of the credit of having himself suggested acceptable improvements. But none of these discouragements
able amendments in the proceedings of Parliament, with unwearied perseverance, until, sooner or later, he has succeeded in carrying them into effect. To some of these successful experiments we shall have occasion to allude, in reference to other beneficial changes, by which we hope the remaining years of his Speakership will be signalised.
In order to estimate the importance of an efficient organisation of the labours of Parliament, it will be necessary to pass them under review, to point out their extent and variety, and to explain the arduous duties and engagements of its members. As the main burden of public business falls upon the House of Commons, our attention will be more particularly directed to its proceedings. Of its labours and endurance the last Session will supply numerous illustrations.
The Parliament was assembled on the 4th Nov. 1852, and was prorogued on the 20th August, 1853. The leaves of autumn had not fallen when it met; the leaves of another summer had begun to fall, before it bad concluded its laborious sittings. The Session extended over a period of 290 days; during which the House of Commons sat, for despatch of business, 160 days, and was occupied 1193 hours, 14 minutes; of which, 133 hours were after midnight. The average of each day's sitting was rather less than 7 hours; but a glance at Mr. Brotherton's detailed return * will fall upon a column, showing that upon numerous occasions, during the last two months of the Session, the House continued sitting for upwards of 15 hours out of the 24! For example, on the 5th July, the House met at 12 o'clock, and adjourned on the following morning at I before 4, having divided no less than five times after midnight, upon Mr. Keating's ill-timed motion on Dockyard Promotions. And on several other days the House met at 12, and, with a suspension of business for two hours only in the afternoon, adjourned between 3 and 4 o'clock on the following morning.
The bare statement of these unseasonable hours suggests feelings of weariness and exhaustion. What Court could administer justice, with temper, for fourteen hours ? Where are the men of business who could usefully confer upon their own affairs, for so many hours ? Even the poor literary drudge, writing for his daily bread, would fail under labours so long sustained. Yet members of Parliament are found to endure them, month after month, and the public rarely hear of their sufferings. Occasionally, however, a voice breaks forth beyond their walls, and reveals the secrets of the prison-house. Let it tell its own tale.
On the 28th July,
"The Clerk was proceeding at half-past one o'clock to read the remaining orders of the day, twenty-eight in number, when
Mr. Brotherton, amid cheering from all sides of the House, rose and moved that the House do now adjourn. He protested against going into the consideration of new bills at that time of night. He had abstained of late from interfering to move the adjournment of the House, because he considered that he might as well attempt to stop the tide. He had for twenty years perseveringly endeavoured to bring the House to observe reasonable hours. The attempt was now beyond his strength: but he really hoped that next Session some measure would be adopted to prevent a repetition of such late sittings. The House had now been sitting thirteen hours and a half. This might be done now and then ; but when, as had frequently happened of late, the House sat fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen hours, the labour was beyond what human nature could endure.' (From the Times, 29th July, 1853.)
The Members cheered, the clerk read the next order of the day, and the House, not profiting by the counsels of their faithful monitor, continued sitting till a quarter past three in the morning!
* Sittings of the House, 1852-53, No. 945. of sess. 1853.
Again, on the 5th of August, in Committee of Supply, at nearly one in the morning
* Mr. Wilkinson appealed to the Government not to press them so hard. The House ought really to strike for shorter hours of labour.'
"Mr. Hume said he must insist on the motion for reporting progress. He was obliged to leave the House last night at one o'clock. He could stand it no longer!'
Nor was the last Session exceptional and unprecedented. The Session of 1847-48 exceeded it in length by three days, and still more in the number and duration of its sittings; the House having sat on 170 days and for 1407 hours, or ten days and 214 hours more than in the last Session. And even in other Sessions, less remarkable for their duration, it will be found that the sittings of the House have been not much less protracted. For example, in 1834 the House sat on 140 days and for 1187 hours; in 1842, on 125 days and for 1008 hours; in 1845, on 119 days and for 1026 hours; and in 1850, on 129 days and for 1104 hours. In these four, and some intermediate Sessions, the average duration of the daily sittings exceeded that of the last Session, amounting to between eight and nine hours. Long and heavy Sessions have become the rule, and Sessions of even moderate length, the rare exception. The Committee on the office of Speaker calculate the sittings of the House during the present Speakership, as upwards of 13,000 hours, of which 1196 have been after midnight; and conclude, from an examination of the Journals, that already more business has been transacted in his time than during the entire period of any previous Speaker. Assuredly the Speaker will be able to give a good
Speaker.of his stewardship been even longer
If the late Session had been even longer than it was, its protracted sittings would have been justified by the extraordinary number and importance of its measures; but, generally, the length of the Session is no criterion of the business transacted. On the contrary, in the House of Commons, as elsewhere, idleness being the root of all evil,' sets loose every tongue, and encourages unprofitable, if not mischievous discussion. The more there is to do, the less will time be wasted: and no expedient can be suggested, so efficacious in restraining the abuses of Parliamentary debate, as a large budget of measures submitted, at an early period, by the Government, and distributed equally over the entire Session. And while a feeble and inert Government provokes opposition, a strong and active Government quells it in Parliament, and discourages it in the country. A strong Government, therefore, is equally desirable for facili