I am not aware that my suggestion as to requiring a plurality of members to back every bill and every proposal, has gained any degree of support. It was urged that, if the power were taken away from single members to move in any case whatever, the few that are accustomed to find themselves alone, would form into a group to back each other. I do not hesitate to say that the supposition is contrary to all experience. Crotcheteers have this in common with the insane, that they can seldom agree in any conjoined action. Even in the very large body constituting our House of Commons, it is not infrequent for motions to be made without obtaining a seconder. The requirement of even five concurring members would put an extinguisher upon a number of propositions that have at present to be entertained.
The last session (1883) has opened the eyes of many to the absurdity of allowing a single member to block a bill. When it is considered that, in an assembly of six hundred, there is probably at least one man, like Fergus O’Conner, verging on insanity, and out of the reach of all the common motives,—we may well wonder that a deliberative body should so put itself at the mercy of individuals. Surely the rule, for stopping bills at half-past twelve, might have been accompanied with the requirement of a seconder, which would have saved many in the course of the recent sessions. It is the gross abuse of this power that is forcing upon reluctant minds the first advance to plural backing, and there is now a demand for five or six to unite in placing a block against a measure.
It occurred to Mr. Gladstone, during the autumn session of 1882, to take down the statistics of attendance in the House for several days running. His figures were detailed to the House, in one of his speeches, and were exactly what we were prepared for. They completely “pounded and pulverised” the notion, that listening to the debates is the way that members have their minds made up for giving their votes.
[EXTRA-PARLIAMENTARY DISCUSSION INCREASING.]
The recent parliamentary recess has witnessed an unusual development in the out-of-door discussion of burning questions. In addition to a full allowance of vacation oratory, and the unremitted current of the newspaper press, the monthlies have given forth a number of reasoned articles by cabinet ministers and by men of ministerial rank in the opposition. The whole tendency of our time is, to supersede parliamentary discussion by more direct appeals to the mind of the public.
To stop entirely the oral discussion of business in Parliament would have some inconveniences; but the want of adequate consideration of such measures as possessed the smallest interest with any class, would not be one of them.
[Footnote 18: Contemporary Review, November, 1880.]
[Footnote 19: I have often thought that, the practice of circulating, with a motion, the proposer’s reasons, would, on many occasions, be worthy of being voluntarily adopted.]