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tating practical legislation, as for other political objects; and the fruitful Session of 1853 was due to an Administration combining every political and personal element of strength, and using its power for the best and most practical purposes.
But with all political facilities for good legislation, can it be necessary that Parliament should be occupied so large a proportion of every year, straining to do its appointed work, and yet leaving much undone ? Is it fitting that the legislature of an old country, with long-established institutions, and defined principles of law, should be as much engaged, year after year, in deliberating upon new laws, as if it were the Constituent Assembly of a Model Republic, having institutions and laws to create out of political chaos? Here there is little to construct, though much to repair, improve, and finish. And to do this work, Parliament has at its command the most advanced political science, enlightened public opinion, and all the practical ability and experience of the nation. With these aids to legislation, a strong Government, apart from political obstacles, ought to experience little difficulty in the enactment of good laws. No facility should be conceded, if inconsistent with the fullest publicity and ample means of discussion ; but expedients may be devised for simplifying the process of legislation, and, at the same time, improving its character.
On account of the great length of some of the Parliamentary Debates, it is very commonly supposed that discussion, followed by small results, forms the main business of the House of Commons; whereas, by far the larger part of its business is transacted with little or no discussion. In the last Session, there were 11,378 entries in the votes, of orders made, bills read, committees appointed, and other proceedings of the House; and probably not more than a twentieth part of them were debated. Many of them could scarcely have been sufficiently considered, while hundreds of questions, proposed for consideration, failed to obtain a hearing. The Votes and • Proceedings of a single day have sometimes amounted to a volume. On the morning of the 20th of April last, the Votes and Supplementary Papers delivered to Members extended to no less than 84 folio pages-being equal to an octavo volume of 168 pages; and again, on the 23rd July, they contained 80 folio pages, or 160 octavo pages.
On turning to the list of business appointed for each day, the hopelessness of attempting to dispose of it, is immediately apparent. To select a few of the most remarkable days : on the 21st July, there were 33 orders of the day, and 79 notices of motions; on the 22nd, 23 orders of the day, and 72 notices of
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motions; and on the 29th, 25 orders of the day, and 73 notices of motions. It should, perhaps, be explained to the uninitiated, that orders of the day have already been appointed for consideration, by the House itself; and that notices are given by individual Members, with a vain hope of being able to submit to the House propositions of their own.
On some days, in addition to an extraordinary list of business for the House itself, there were no less than 30, 32, and even 33 committees sitting for four or five hours in the morning; and in which upwards of 200 Members were engaged.
The pressure of committee business upon the Members of the House was unusually severe during the last Session. There were no less than 49 Election Committees, consisting of five Members, which sat, upon an average, for 5} days each. Of these, the Chatham, the Cork, and the Clitheroe cases each occupied 14 days, and the Liverpool case 21. There were 51 Public Committees, consisting generally of about 15 Members, but, in many instances, of a much greater number. As many as 31 Members served on the Irish Tenant Right Committee, and 38 on the Committee on Indian Territories. The latter sat 46 days, the Railways' Committee 40 days, and the Committee on Public Petitions 87 days. There were also 44 committees on opposed Private Bills, many of which were occupied for several weeks, as well as 119 committees on unopposed Private Bills. The aggregate number of these committees amounted to 263.
The assembling of these numerous committees, and of the crowds repairing to them, is a stirring sight. It should be viewed in Barry's noble octagon Hall, which may be termed the political centre of the British Empire. Midway between the two Houses, and common to them both, it is the central chamber whence all the communications of the vast Palace of Westminster diverge. Straight through it, the Queen on her throne, in the House of Peers, may see the Speaker, in his chair in the House of Commons; and, as if to illustrate the quick pulsations of our political system, here is the Electric Telegraph, reporting events as they occur within these busy precincts, and speeding them far and near with its magic wires.
Here, then, let us take our stand, and watch the moving groups as they pass on. They form a panorama of English society, in which representatives of every class are exhibited. Among the Members are many whose names are familiar as • household words :' but they are soon lost in the pressing throng. There are counsel, attornies, and civil engineers mayors, aldermen, town-councillors, and town-clerks--directors,
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secretaries, and shareholders — clerks and short-hand writers, election agents, publicans, and incorruptible voters — pilots and harbour-masters-general officers and Parsee merchants-dignitaries of the Church and dissenting ministers — farmers and cotton-spinners. But when will they all have passed under review? Their numbers and variety proclaim the imperial attributes of Parliament, which has gathered them together.
Various as these groups, are the jurisdiction and inquiries of the committees whose sittings they are about to attend. The rooms in which they assemble are approached by a corridor upwards of 600 feet long; and every room, throughout its length, has its Court of Inquiry and its audience, or eager expectants outside its doors. In one, the government of our Indian Empire is investigated; in another, the clauses of a Turnpike Bill discussed. The largest principles of public policy, and the most petty details of local administration - subjects for the deliberations of a Cabinet Council, and of a parish vestry, are here alike considered. At the same time, judicial inquiries are proceeding, by which public and private interests, and often the character of the parties concerned, are more largely affected than by the decisions of all the Judges in Westminster Hall.
Day after day the members of committees are occupied with these absorbing duties, in addition to their laborious attendance upon the sittings of the House itself. A few minutes before four o'clock they are released from the committee rooms by the welcome announcement that . Mr. Speaker is at prayers,' and hasten to the meeting of the House.
And now begins the proper business of the day, which is as remarkable for its variety and miscellaneous character as for its extent and duration. Petitions are presented, reports brought up, private bills advanced a stage, and sometimes discussed, returns ordered, notices given, and lastly before the commencement of the debates of the evening, questions are addressed to Ministers of the Crown.
This political catechism has become one of our popular institutions. Without the formality of a debate, every matter supposed to be of public interest is brought under notice, and the opinions of the Government promptly elicited. While it is of the highest value in awakening the attention of the House and public opinion, it increases the responsibility and strengthens the hands of the Executive. But questions put merely to satisfy curiosity or attract personal notice are so frequent, that the advantages of the interrogatory privilege are apt to be overlooked. It would seem to be the chief amusement of some members diligently to read
the newspapers in the morning, and to ask Ministers of State in the afternoon, if they have read them too, and what they think about them. And in order to be prepared to answer such questions (often fitter for the club window than the Senate) the Minister must devote himself to newspaper literature as well as to state-papers. The happy facility with which Lord Palmerston would turn the laugh against his questioners has often formed an agreeable prelude to the graver and more wearisome business of the evening.
When all questions are exhausted, the House proceeds to the regular business appointed for the day, often of a character as miscellaneous as the questions. No classification of subjects is attempted. When Government measures are entitled to precedence, they are, indeed, arranged with a view to facilitate the general progress of business; but at other times, the arrangement is literally left to chance, the precedence of motions being determined by ballot. Nor is Government business always free from the intrusion of other debateable topics ; for whenever the Committee of Supply is appointed to sit, it challenges the proposal of a medley of chance motions. The 2nd of August last affords a good illustration of this practice. The business appointed for that day was the Committee of Supply; but in the votes appeared twelve different notices of motions, or amendments to be proposed before going into committee. They related to the Dublin • Hospitals,' * the Kafir war," "arterial drainage in Ireland,' the
Royal Geographical Society,' “the Norwich election petition,' the annexation of Pegu,''the Metropolitan Police,' the diocese
of Bath and Wells,' the Postal arrangements at Stoke-upon· Trent,' the Parsee merchants Jevangee Merjee, and Pestongee • Merjee,' the state of the Metropolitan Bridges, and the
conduct of the East India Company towards the Carnatic • stipendiaries.
The multitude of minor subjects, introduced independently of the general business of legislation, cannot fail to have been noticed. The columns of advertisements, in the daily papers, are scarcely more diversified than the columns of Parliamentary debates. A cabman at Bow Street, a pauper at Lewisham, a maniac at Colney Hatch — each in their turn - within a week occupied the attention of the Grand Inquest of the Nation.' Like the elephant's trunk, which, having uprooted a foresttree, can pick up a pin, this potent and flexible instrument of popular government, having provided for the government of India, demands fair play between Mr. Serjeant Adams and the termagant who had called the policeman at Clerkenwell ' a
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Many evils result from this confusion of subjects and this absence of classification. The Government measures are retarded, not so much by the discussion to which they naturally give rise, as by the continual intrusion of other subjects of debate. This delay is often a serious inconvenience, more particularly in regard to financial and fiscal questions which require a speedy determination; and as the cause is in constant operation, it at length affects so many measures, that the general business of the Session is unduly postponed. The Government bills are contending with one another for advancement, and some are kept waiting for months, without making any progress. And while the Government are thus embarrassed, the members who have contributed to the delay, are themselves exposed to continual disappointment. Week after week the motions they have been anxious to bring forward are postponed, until speeches composed for the occasion are forgotten, or dressed up again for some other debate. The more pertinacious endeavour to obtain an irregular hearing on motions for adjournment, or on going into Committee of Supply, and thus increase the general delay; while those who value the convenience of the House more than their own voices, throw up the game with as good a grace as may be. For any Member, unconnected with the Government, to succeed in passing a measure of his own, has long been regarded as nearly hopeless.
These difficulties are aggravated by the unequal pressure of business upon the House of Commons. Often when that House is sitting night and day, to the distress of Mr. Brotherton, it has been observed by an irreverent wit, that the Lords sit scarcely long enough to boil an egg. This inequality arises, in some measure, from the privileges of the Commons, by which all bills are required to originate with them, which impose a burden upon the people; and it is much to be desired, that some arrangement could be made, by which a larger proportion of bills might originate in the House of Lords. With this object, a partial relaxation of their privileges was agreed to by the Commons in 1849; and the propriety of making some further concessions is worthy of their consideration. At the same time, it must be confessed that the ill-advised attempt of the Opposition Peers to amend the Succession Duty Bill—in open violation of the undoubted privileges of the Commons — does not encourage such concessions.
But political causes contribute more to this unequal pressure upon the two Houses than the stumbling-block of privilege. On the 14th of April, 1848, Lord Stanley, after adverting to the inconveniences arising from the inaction of the House of Lords