TOPICS OF THE DAY.
A NEW LEAF TURNED OVER.
Decinenfar the House of Commons has commenced a reform, in a spirit which incites hope and hearty approval rather than the wish to detect shortcomings. Admitting once for all that the resolutions proposed by Lord John Russell on Monday, and passed by the House, do not effect all that is needed, it may still be said that they constitute the most important supplement which the Reform Bill has yet received ; helping to solve the question mooted by the Duke of Wellington, "How is the King's govern- ment to be carried on ?" And the subject was handled by the Members in a manner which evinces a sincere and fixed purpose.
The new standing orders tend to diminish the number of formal occasions for debate, those especially which give opportu- nity for the most superfluous and obstructive discussions. One also removes obstacles to the progress of measures by a partial waiver of privilege in regard to "money clauses" originating in the House of Lords—namely, such as refer to penalties, remune- ration for service rendered, and arrangement of expenses under local or private bills—which do not affect the general taxation of the subject. Another resolution, the consideration of which is postponed, is to give precedence to Government measures on three instead of two days in the week, after the 1st of May next. It is not more days, however, that Ministers have wanted so much as the will to use the days. For many sessions, a habit of yielding to obstructive Members has grown upon Ministers, in a manner that would make the three days of much less value than two days might be if the time were used with greater firmness. But indeed, in the management of Parliamentary business as well as other business, nothing costs a Government so much as a want of firmness, nothing is more profitable than the exercise of firmness. The very temper in which these resolutions were received may serve as an illustration : where the Premier was most firm—went most directly and vigorously to his purpose—he was evi- dently most successful. A feeble and flinching demeanour draws on a Minister that most embarrassing kind of help which consists in the attempt to outdo him, as in gr. Milner Gibson's one-hour resolution ; and it also tempts directly hostile opposition. The great obstructers of the Government business are, we will not say men of very inferior standing and capacity, but at all events men who cannot substantively command the attention of the Com- mons: it is the unsuccessful and slighted class of Members that seize hold of formal motions, motions of Supply and the like, in order to surprise the House-.out of its attention and have a say when nobody else is in possession : to that weak class a still weaker submission has been paid by " leaders " of the House, who might easily have •trampled the obstruction down, and so rescued the public time from waste. The one-hour rule was proposed but not adopted. Lord John Russell saw " difficulties in adjusting the rule so as to provide for exceptional cases. Sir Robert Peel would not exclude those future Cannings and Burkes in posse who may delight the House, —as in some countries a seat is kept at the board for the absent guest. This is a grievous fallacy in the practical Peel. The most Characteristic part of the eloquence which distinguished Canning and Burke, that which demanded the most space of time, however it may have delighted and inspired the House on great occasions was on ordinary occasions the least essential part—the collateral and ornate ; and both those Members might be cited as men who wasted the public time in listening (when it did listen) to compositions which in our day are advantageously left to the quarterly reviews, but which in reality hinder a debate. There are difficulties, no doubt, in applying the one-hour rule to our Parliament : in particular, we believe it may be justly said that careful and complete expository statements of fact, both by official and independent Members, are of more frequent occur- rence in our Houses than in the American Congress or the French Chambers. But the wish so generally expressed by Members, for greater conciseness, seems to be sincere; and although we agree that no reliance is to be placed on a bare "understanding," much is to be done by perseverance and fixity of purpose. It is clear that Sir Robert Peel intends to make some long speeches— and who would prevent him ? But he may set the valuable ex- ample, on proper occasions, of making short speeches—of showing how, when elaborate exposition and illustration are not needed, useful counsel may be interjected without lavish expense of words or time-: and indeed he did so last session. Other leading Mem- bers may do the same ; and they may do a substantial and pa- triotic service, by keeping one another up to this new and not inarduous duty of greater condensation. Let the leading Mem- bers of all parties set the fashion of condensed speaking—measur- ing their speeches less by the absolute measurement of the clock than by the ratio of ideas to words and the material importance of the ideas ; let Ministers, as official leaders of the discussion, be &en and well supported by all intelligent men ; let admonitory reminders be freely given, though as thoroughly without offence as the goodhumoured hortatory exchange between -Sir .Robert Peel and Mr. Hume; let these things be done, and idle prolixity will be driven from the discussion.
It seems probable that the press may contribute its share of in- fluence to this -work. Colonel Tynte echoed our suggestion to that effect ; and it is expressly accepted by the Times, truly enough, as coming from Members and the public in general. We see evident signs of increasing care to economize the space de- voted to Parliamentary reports in that journal ; and we know, from evidences which others may gather if they please in all quarters, that prolix reporting is a nuisance to the general reader. Not only does he grudge the time bestowed on reading what is lengthy, but still more does he resent the onerous teak which is thrust upon him, of finding out, experimentally, what is or is not worth reading. Your philanthropic promoter of public meetings, or your political agitator, may appreciate the report by its measurement in yards—when it is on his own particular sub- ject ; but the true newspaper reader dislikes it, because it hinders him from readily finding out the news. The Times at once indi- cates and obeys the set of the public feeling in that direction, and with its usual tact aims at keeping the lead in supplying the chief newspaper want of the day—which is, to have the news of the day, complicated and voluminous enough in itself, presented in a shape as distinct and accessible as possible, and not mixed up with what, as the antithesis to the news of the day, may be called the olds of the day—those trite matters which men of average dulness delight to repeat, in sentences that are "of no use to any but the owner." Men like to eat their bread without the bran and the straw to boot ; and the Times is going to take the lead in the reaction against cramming the public stomach, like that of an old horse, with a daily load of straw.
The " cloture " alluded to by Mr. Evelyn Denison's Committee, and also by the speakers on Monday, is a postponed subject : it would come very well into the practice of our House, and may be needed as an effective screw on the Parliamentary dullards of " a forty-parson power."