18 FEBRUARY 1888, Page 7


IT is the custom of the English, when they alter procedure either in the Law Courts or the Houses of Parliament, to introduce a better system bit by bit ; and we must not, there- fore, complain that the new Rules, laid on the table of the House of Commons on Thursday, are still too mild. They will be made harder if further experience should prove the need, as it probably will ; and meanwhile, they mark a distinct advance in the effort to secure order. The Closure, for example, is made much more workable. It may in future be applied whenever the Members voting in the majority number one hundred,—that is, whenever the question at issue is large enough to draw a fairly numerous attendance on the Ministerial side. Considering that any Bill, however important, may be passed if forty Members are present, and that a majority of one is constitutionally as potent as a unanimous vote, we see little sense in the restriction still to be kept up ; but if it pleases the House, that is a reason, and it will seldom do much harm. A Minister with a majority can usually command the attendance of a hundred Members ; and it is not at the fag-end of a Session, when the House is left to the officials, and all are intent on despatching business, that obstruction is usually rampant. Its object is not to stop Bills, or to improve discussion, but to discredit Parliament, and curry favour with rebellious constituencies ; and those objects require the obstructives to intervene most energetically in the middle of the Session, when great matters affecting the position of Ministers are before the House. The new rule, therefore, may prove sufficient, which is more than can be said of the rules against disorder. They will enable the Speaker to suspend a disorderly Member

at his discretion for that sitting, and, of course, may enable him to terminate a " scene." They will not, however, enable him either to imprison or to fine a disorderly Member, and we fear mere suspension may not effect a cure. There are Members in the House whose delight it would be to be suspended every evening, and who would, because they were suspended, be sure, even if they neglected every other duty, of being re-elected. The suspension, however, will be recorded against the offender, and as it is in the power of the House to expel a Member who is constantly suspended, and to delay the writ for his district till a dissolution, the new rule may, if faction does not grow too hot, prove a useful check upon reckless rowdyism or premeditated disorder. We should, how- ever, we confess, have preferred a clear admission of the principle that the House is as much entitled to respect as a Court of Justice, and that any insult to its Speaker is a grave offence, deserving not only of reprehension, but of condign punish- ment. The present proposal is, however, an advance, and so is its corollary, the right of the Speaker to silence a Member who is obviously talking against time. There are, we presume, decent men upon whom the rule against "irrelevance" or " tedious repetition " might tell a little severely ; but the Speaker can distinguish, and the Member has always the option of recognising his own deficiencies, and holding his tongue. To separate bores from obstructives is a fine art ; but then, it is an art which the whole course of his official experience compels a Speaker to learn, and to learn completely. The toleration of bores is his trade, and if there should grow up in his mind a horror of some extreme specimen of the genus—well, it is doubtful if a habitual miscreant of that aggravated degree has any rights which a House of Commons is bound to respect. Beggars are not permitted to exhibit sores in public, and there is no reason why a_ man afflicted with the disease of boredom should be allowed to parade his mental imperfection before the House of Commons.

The rule authorising the Speaker to take a vote by "rising and sitting," as it is called in the French Chamber, is only sensible, and will make divisioaa such as obstructive Members sometimes force on merely to give annoyance, nearly impossible ; the omission of the Committee stage in the debate on the Address is a distinct relief to humanity, which is in danger of intellectual suffocation when the Address is discussed ; and the remaining rules concern rather the Members than the public. They know the hours which suit them best, and if they think that sittings till 2 or 3 in the morning use them up too fast, they have a right to protect their lives. They are not paid to perish silently, like sempstresses, of nervous exhaustion. We do not find that journalists on the daily papers are much harassed by their late hours, or die quicker than other people ; but then, no doubt, they are exempt from floods of Irish eloquence. Six hours of strenuous labour, and two hours of an Irish orator complaining that, like every monk in Europe, and most passengers by ship in the tropics, he slept on a plank- bed, are not the same thing in their effects on health ; while the officers of the House, who cannot stay away, deserve special consideration. We must, however, point out that the official work of Ministers cannot be done at night, because their staffs cannot be kept up twenty-four hours at a time, and that in opening debate at 3 instead of 4, a clear hour is taken away from their working-day. That is a serious loss for the public ; but then, we admit the public has few rights, available rights at all events, against the House of Commons. The Rules will work, we doubt not, on the whole for good, and until the constituencies clearly perceive that obstruction is treason against them, and should be punished as the offence next to levying civil war, it is impossible to introduce reform in Procedure except step by step. When the democracy wakes up, it will perceive, as in France, that outrage upon the representatives of the people when collected for business, justifies at the least a fine.