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covered with a rough fibre matting. answers prepared by the permanent
The rows of benches at each side are divided in the centre by a narrow passage, with steps that run up from the floor to the wall. This passage on either side is called "the gangway," and has its own special political signification. Members who sit above the gangway-that is, nearer to the Speaker's chair and the table either on the government side or on the Opposition side, are regarded as the out-and-out or orthodox supporters of the recognized leaders of their party, while those who sit below the gangway are supposed to be somewhat independent of the occupants of the front bench on their side of the House. The Irish Nationalist members have since the rise of Mr. Parnell in 1880 sat below the gangway on the Speaker's left in permanent opposition, no matter what party may be in office; but the respective followers of the two great political parties, the Conservatives or Unionists, and the Liberals, cross the floor according as their party is "in" or "out."
Lower down the Chamber, on the Opposition side, and close to the swingdoors which form the main entrance, is the large chair of the sergeant-at-arms. Beside it is the Bar, the line of which, marking the technical boundary of the House, is raised about half an inch above the level of the floor. Over the portals of the Chamber, and directly facing the Speaker, is the clock.
The Chamber has now rapidly filled up for "question-time," which is usually remarkable-if for nothing else for the number and variety of subjects about which members interrogate ministers. Two or three days' notice, at least, must be given of a question. One of the clerks at the table receives the questions in writing, and they are printed, with the dates on which they will be asked, on the notice-paper containing announcements of coming events, which is circulated every morning among the members. Copies of these papers are also sent to the different State departments. In each depart. ment the questions addressed to the minister at its head are cut out, and the
officials of the department, without the minister being troubled with them in any way, except, perhaps, occasionally, when the matter inquired about is of such importance that the officials think it well to obtain the opinion of their chief in regard to it. Every day's questions are then printed with the "Orders of the Day," or the daily agenda of the proceedings of the House. The answers are brought to the House, before the sitting opens, by messengers from each office, in a despatch-box, one key of which is kept at the department, and the other by the minister in charge; and as question-time approaches ministers may be noticed entering the Chamber with their little boxes, by the door immediately behind the Speaker's chair, which gives handy access to the cor ridors leading into their private rooms.
Formerly every question was read out by the member in whose name it stood on the paper, but a much simpler and more expeditious system now prevails. The questions, as they appear on the "Orders of the Day," are numbered, and the members responsible for them ris in their places when called on in succession by.the Speaker, and simply say-as the case may be "I beg to ask the secretary of state for the Home Department question No. 1," or, "I beg to ask the chief secretary for Ireland question No. 44." The home secretary looks up question No. 1, or the chief secretary for Ireland question No. 44, from the bundle of answers supplied him by the officials of his department, and reads it in reply; and so on until the list of questions is completed. The questions and replies are eagerly followed, evoking cheers and counter-cheers. Oftentimes, indeed, the reply to a question which gives dissatisfaction-if it be further aggravated by the sarcastic or flippant manner of the minister-will precipitate the House into one of the wildest, stormiest, and most passionate scenes that have ever disturbed its decorum.
Every obstacle to proceeding with legislative business being now removed, the Speaker rises and says, "The clerk will now proceed to read the 'Orders of
," and the clerk, with a copy journment of the debate is moved by of the "Orders of the Day" in his hand,. an opponent of the government; and reads the first of the long list of bills vice-versâ, if a member of the Opposi down for consideration. A big debate tion concludes his speech at midnight, probably follows. Mr. Disraeli once a supporter of the administration sesaid, "The House of Commons is a dull cures the advantage of resuming the place, but there are moments of emo- debate on the following evening. tion." Yes, there are moments of emotion in the House of Commons which make the life of a member of Parliament well worth living. To the stranger the House of Commons is always an interesting place, and always well worth a visit. But it is most in teresting on the occasion of a big debate on some important question which arouses political passions and prej udices, and brings down into the arena of the floor of the House the chiefs 01 the parties to fight out the issue with the keen and subtle weapon of the tongue.
A big debate often lasts a fortnightthat is to say, it is carried on during the Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays of two weeks, the Wednesdays being usually devoted to the consideration of bills introduced by unofficial members. The order in which the lead ing members of the government and of the Opposition speak is previously arranged by the Whips of the different parties, and the Speaker, being in. formed privately of the understanding, calls on these members in the order appointed, no matter how many small men may, at the same time, strive to catch his eye. A member of the Opposition always follows in debate member of the government. The open. ing of a sitting, and towards its close, or before and after the "dinner-hour"that is, from five till seven o'clock, and from ten o'clock till twelve-are considered the best and most favorable times for speaking. It is during these periods of the sitting that the "big guns" on each side are brought into action. Under the rules of the House, all opposed business must cease at twelve o'clock, and the member who at that hour moves the adjournment of the debate has the right to open it the next evening. If a member of the government speaks last at night, the ad
This privilege of moving the adjourn. ment is always reserved to men of distinction. Sometimes there are many eager claimants for the privilege. There is often a good deal of parleying and wrangling about it, and it is no easy task for the Whips to arrive at a decision in the matter without wounding the pride and vanity of some of the members whose claims have been set aside. There are several reasons which explain this eagerness to secure the adjournment of the debate. A crowded House has a most exhilarating influence on a speaker, and there is sure to be a large attendance of members at the opening of the sitting. When the distinguished member who has been called upon to resume the debate has finished his speech, some man of mark in the party on the opposite side of the House rises to answer him, in accordance with the programme arranged by the Whips. These two speeches will probably last till seven o'clock.
From seven till ten o'clock is known as the "dinner-hour;" and it is only during this period of a sitting, when a great debate is in progress, that small or undistinguished men can have the pleasure of addressing the House. Before seven or after ten the member who can only "twinkle a taper" has no chance; the member who can "flare a flambeau" then holds the field. Consequently, during the dinner-hour, when the vast bulk of the members are in the dining-room or smoking-room of the House, or are dining outside, or are at the theatre, the small men, or the new men, who desire to speak have the Chamber all to themselves. There are hardly ever more than twenty members present-sometimes the attendance falls as low as a dozen or half-a-dozen, and these remain, not because they are interested in the speeches which are then being made, but simply and solely
because each of them is anxious to lay slumberous tones of the gentleman his views on the subject of debate. learned in the law had ended. before his own constituents through the medium of the reporter of the local paper who is above in the Press Gallery.
Feeble statement, pointless argument, irritating iteration, are usually the characteristics of a debate during the dinner-hour. It is then that the House of Commons is a dreary place indeed. It is then that the bore is in his element. He comes down to the House fearfully equipped with material for his speech. Papers, documents, and notes surround him while he is speaking-some being in his hands, some in his hat, and others spread over the empty bench behind him. The lot of Mr. Speaker during these dreary hours is by no means a happy one. Members can come and gc as they please. If they remain in the Chamber, they need pay no attention to the honorable gentleman on his feet; they can chat and joke with each other, or double themselves up comfortably on the benches, and go roving in the land of Nod. But, save for half an hour between eight and nine o'clock, when the proceedings are suspended, Mr. Speaker must remain in the chair, and follow, or seem to follow, all the speeches, however flat and discursive, with the deepest and most absorbing interest.
But perhaps that air of concentrated attention the Speaker habitually wears is simulated. Perhaps practice has made it possible for him to hear with out heeding. Perhaps, while he smiles appreciatively at the broken-winded witticisms of the honorable member who is speaking, he is deaf to every word, and his thoughts are far, far away, gambolling and frolicking amidst green fields, bright odorous flowers, balmy caressing air, golden sunshine, and sweet singing birds. Perhaps all the time the sweet murmurs of woods, or the soothing lapping of water on the sands, are in his ears. It is quite possible, indeed. We have heard more than once of the happy judge who could fall asleep during the speeches of counsel, and wake up when the sweet
The Speaker's lot would indeed be in. tolerable if he were unable, during some of the dreary addresses of honorable, and learned, and gallant members, to leave his animate and apparently wide. awake outward semblance in the chair, and ramble in spirit, with a cigar as a companion, through the life, and bustle, and excitement of the Strand and Fleet Street. If a thought of this kind suddenly entered the head of a member on his feet, and if, with a view of testing its probability, he wandered a little from the subject of debate, and asked the Speaker had he got a match, or challenged him to walk on his head to the Bar, or proceed to demonstrate that the moon was really made of green cheese, would the Speaker hear him and heed him? But as the game would not be worth the candle-for the thumbscrew and the rack forever would probably be the fate of the daring member who tried the experiment at a moment when the Speaker was all alert-the matter must ever remain in the regions of philosophic doubt.
The Speaker cannot put an extinguisher on a tiresome member. All he can do is to call a member to order for irrelevance or repetition, and, on the third unheeded warning, to direct him to resume his speech. The House, however, shows its resentment by disconcerting cries and exclamations. A member who was once subjected to considerable interruption while addressing the House, appealed to the Speaker, Sir Spencer Compton, to put down the disturbance, saying that he had a right to be heard. "No, sir," replied the Speaker; "you have a right to speak, but the House have a right to judge whether they will hear you."
No Speaker would venture in our days to make such a ruling; but at the time it was delivered the duty of the Speaker was not so much to preserve order and decorum in the Legislative Chamber as to "speak" the opinion or decision of the House in matters of great State concern and importance, and hence his title "Mr. Speaker." But even in our days
members enjoy considerable license in expressing their dissent from the views that are being laid before them, or their desire to bring an irritating speech to a speedy conclusion, by interrupting cries of "Vide, 'vide, 'vide," without having to fear any reprimand from the chair. Cries of dissent were not so decorous as late as fifteen or twenty years ago. It was then the custom of honorable gentlemen to endeavor to suppress sentiments obnoxious to them by barking like dogs, crowing like barndoor fowls, bleating like sheep, braying like donkeys, and by indulging in coughing, sneezing, and ingeniously extended yawning.
These interruptions are, to some men, only an incentive to extend the scope of their unappreciated remarks. "If you don't allow me to finish my speech in my own way, I'll not leave off at all," said a member who was regarded as a bore. The threat had the desired effect. "I am speaking to posterity," said an other member grandiloquently, in reply to his interruptors. "Faith, if you go on at this rate,” remarked a voice from the Irish quarter, "you will see your audience before you." "Sir," said the member on his legs-but, unhappily, not his last legs-"I can afford to wait."
It must not be supposed, from some of my preceding remarks, that the House of Commons is tolerant only of the participation in its debates of men of eloquent tongues, men of great ability and knowledge, men with a pleasant knack of saying funny things, or with the dangerous gift of saying caustic things-members, in a word, who are interesting or entertaining. The House nowadays accords, for a time, to the crank, the faddist, and the bore, especially if these tiresome individuals show evidence of earnestness, sincerity, and honesty, and kindliest and most indulgent of receptions. It denies its ear to no man. It will listen with pleasure to any man who has anything to say; it will listen with resignation to the windbag-the man who takes a long time to say what he has got to say-or even to a man who has got nothing to say-the man who has got
The gift of lungs
Without, alas, the gift of tongues. But while allowing to every man, no matter how dull his manner or objec tionable his views, sufficient latitude to give, at an opportune time, ample testimony of the faith that is in him, the House cannot stand the irrepressible bore who, determined to speak on every subject, rises, as a rule, at the most inopportune moment of the debate to give expression to his vague and illformed views at unconscionable length; or the member, however able, who, in his effort to instruct it, adopts the irritating tone of the pedagogue or the superior person. These members are not popular, even with their own party. But while a party cannot very well join with the enemy across the floor in showing their contempt and exasperation by shouting down some objectionable member of their own ranks, they heartily sympathize in secret with these demonstrations of disapproval.
The House is kindest and most considerate to the member who rises for the first time to address it, or to make, as the phrase has it, his "maiden speech." He always gets precedence in a competi. tion to "catch the Speaker's eye." It is well, however, that such a member should display a certain amount of ner. vousness or deference, inspired by a modest appreciation of his own capabilities, or by a becoming awe of the assembly listening to his words. If, relying perhaps on a reputation made outside the House in politics or literature, he should adopt a tone of superiority, or an attitude of perfect ease and self-confidence, he is certain to arouse the antipathy of members opposite, and chill even the greetings of the political friends who sit around him. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain told a very good story illustrative of this peculiar mood of the House of Commons, which perhaps some would ascribe to its morbid self-esteem and its exalted sense of its own importance.
When Mr. Chamberlain was first elected, an old friend of his, who was also an old member of the House of Commons, came to him and said:
"Would you mind, as I am an older member, my giving you a bit of advice?" "I would be very glad to have it," replied Mr. Chamberlain. "Well," continued the old man, "you know you have come into the House of Commons rather late, and you have come in with some sort of reputation from outside. The House of Commons," he went on, "does not like outside reputation-it is accustomed to make and unmake its own-and, as you are going very shortly to make your maiden speech, if you could contrive to break down a little, I think the House of Commons would take it as a compliment, and you would be all the better for it."
The varying aspects of the House of Commons during a big debate are very surprising. Members are continually entering the Chamber or leaving it by the portals under the clock. Imme diately outside these portals is the Lobby-that neutral ground of the House of Commons where men who scowl at each other-metaphorically at least-across the floor of the House during a hot party debate, meet subse quently and soothe each other's ruffled feelings by retailing racy stories. But it is now ten o'clock, and the House is rapidly filling up again in every part. Many of the members who crowd the benches are in evening dress. They have been dining out, or attending some other social function, or have been at a theatre and have hurried away to the House in order to hear the two concluding speeches of the debate. It has been arranged that some leading member of the Opposition will speak shortly after ten o'clock, and that he will be followed on behalf of the government by a distinguished occupant of the Treasury Bench. After that, probably about twelve o'clock the division will be taken.
Accordingly, about ten o'clock a small man-small, that is, in reputation and not physically-who has been so fortu. nate as to secure the last chance of the unimportant men during the "dinner. hour," brings his speech to a conclusion and sits down. Then follow the two speeches which every one in the House
is so anxious to hear the last attack by the leader of the Opposition and the defence by the champion of the govern. ment. The House is moved by great excitement during the delivery of these speeches. There are cheers and shouts of defiance; and statements and denials; charges and recriminations are hurled across the floor of the House. It is on such an occasion that the advantages of a diminutive Chamber are seen and appreciated. The gaslights stream down through the glass panels of the ceiling on a House that is now crowded to its utmost capacity. Every member present may not be comfortably seated; but in a small Chamber like this all can command a complete view of the situation and hear the speeches distinctly. This tends to keep the debate at a high level. The audience are not compelled to give a strained attention to the orator. They are therefore more sus ceptible to the music of his periods, and their cries and acclamations, reacting on him, inspire him to higher flights of eloquence.
There is also a great rhetorical advantage or aid to invective in having the rival political parties on different sides of the Chamber, separated by a broad floor. With the enemy straight before him the orator can point the finger of scorn at them with tremendous effect. This was a favorite gesture of Mr. Gladstone during his passionate and emotional speeches. Flinging himself almost half-way across the table, and shooting out his right arm, he would point the extended forefinger at the occupants of the front bench opposite, his face ablaze with righteous indignation and infinite disdain in his voicewhile they, instead of being transfixed in mental agony, beamed with delight that they should be the objects of the great orator's fiery rhetorical wrath.
But the last word has now been said. The great debate has closed, and now comes the division, which is oftenespecially when the result is uncertain -the most exciting and most dramatic episode of the debate. Let us suppose that the debate is on the motion for the second reading of some big government