on the Floor of the House of Commons
This page records all occasions from the meeting of the first Parliament after the passing of the third Reform Bill to the end of the great war, when the electoral system was again extended. During this period politics was marked by an increased partisanship, with the titanic struggle over Irish Home Rule a constant presence. However, individual Members of Parliament were under much less pressure from the party whips, and on matters that were not highly controversial their power was limited. Pairing, the system by which a government and an opposition MP jointly agree to be absent, was not so extensively used as it is now.
This meant that Parliament was more responsive to individual popular campaigns, and if one side managed to have more MPs present on a particular day, it might defeat a government whch had a large majority. This is the largest category in the list below, to which may be added a number of defeats on issues relating to the government of Ireland. Large numbers of Irish Nationalist MPs (who dominated the representation of Ireland) could be counted on to turn up and defend their country, while few Members from Britain would be interested.
It was not always the practice for a government defeated at a general election to resign, and in January 1886 and August 1892 a defeated government was forced from office by a vote of no confidence. There are two other votes of no confidence in the list: the defeat of the home rule Government of Ireland Bill in June 1886 put an end to the third Gladstone governments reason for existing, and Gladstone resigned immediately after.
The other vote of no confidence is as baffling now as it was at the time. In June 1895, a minor censure was carried against the Secretary of State for War (Henry Campbell-Bannerman) over the supply of cordite to the Army. This motion was not considered an issue of confidence beforehand, but the Earl of Rosebery resigned afterwards. He was probably looking for an excuse to resign, tired of the impossible job of conducting a divided government in the face of constant opposition from the House of Lords.
A succession of government defeats on 28th June 1897 resulted from the absence of many Conservative MPs at celebrations of Queen Victorias Diamond Jubilee. When the Liberals realised that they had a temporary majority, a snap division was called on the previously uncontroversial Isle of Man (Church Building Acts) Bill and the government was easily defeated. The government then withdrew all its remaining business and moved the adjournment, but was again defeated; a private members bill was then debated. The government again moved the adjournment when more members had returned, but lost by one vote. Eventually the Jubilee celebrations ended and the government members returned; the adjournment was carried overwhelmingly. The defeated Bill was eventually allowed through.
Another defeat in the list has more to it than meets the eye. In March 1894, the Irish Nationalists and backbench Liberals voted for an amendment to the loyal address calling for the end of the Lords powers of veto; the Conservatives abstained on this vote in order to exacerbate their opponents split.
* - The arrest of Miss Cass was a minor late Victorian cause célèbre which has received no interest recently. As the defeat of the government on the motion for the adjournment on 5th July 1887 was central to future developments in the matter, it may be as well to recount the story in outline here.
Miss Elizabeth Cass was born in Summer 1863 in Grantham, and grew up in Stockton, County Durham. She was employed first as a seamstress and then moved to London to be a dress designer early in 1887. She was employed by Mrs. Mary Ann Bowman and lived on her premises at 19 Southampton Row. On 28th June 1887, she went out in the late evening to do some shopping in the West End at Jays Shop at 243-253 Regent Street (the premises on the south-west side of Oxford Circus are now occupied by Benetton and French Connection). Jays were a respected retailer of silk and millinery, holding a Royal Warrant. The week had seen Queen Victorias Golden Jubilee, celebrations of which were continuing, and London was thronged with people enjoying a month of record sunshine.
Miss Cass found that Jays were closed, and the pavement full of people. As she pushed her way through the crowd on Oxford Street to go home, she was suddenly arrested by PC DR 42 Endacott, of Tottenham Court Road Police Station. She was taken to the police station and charged with solicitation and prostitution, and the next morning she appeared at Great Marlborough Street Police Court before Robert Milnes Newton, one of two Stipendiary Magistrates. Newton (1821-1900) was an irritable man who had been Chief Magistrate at the court since 1866. PC Endacott gave evidence of the arrest and testified that he had seen her three times before in Regent Street late at night soliciting for prostitution.
Miss Cass employer, Mrs. Bowman, was called in her defence and testified that she had been in London only a few months, and had never before been out late at night. Further, she was a respectable woman of perfect character in a good job. Mrs. Bowman was unshakeable in her evidence. Faced with this, the Magistrate had no option but to find Miss Cass not guilty. However, he then added the following piece of advice:
Just take my advice: if you are a respectable girl, as you say you are, dont walk in Regent Street at night, for if you do you will either be fined or sent to prison after the caution I have given you.
It was clear from this sentence that the Magistrate believed Miss Cass was really guilty, but had persuaded Mrs. Bowman to perjure herself to secure her acquittal.
The next day, 30th June 1887, Mrs. Bowman wrote to the Metropolitan Police headquarters to complain about the polices action in the case. The day after, Llewellyn Atherley-Jones, Liberal MP for North-Western Durham, first raised the case in Parliament. Atherley-Jones was then aged 36 and a rising star on the radical wing of the Liberal Party; he was a Barrister by profession. Atherley-Jones enthusiastically took up the case of Miss Cass. On 5th July at question time he asked the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Rt. Hon. Henry Matthews, to order an inquiry into the case. Matthews, noting that no conviction resulted, gave what seemed to Atherley-Jones to be a flippant answer and Atherley-Jones then decided he would seek to raise the matter on the adjournment. By securing the support of forty MPs rising in their places, he won the right to hold the debate that evening.
Atherley-Jones was delighted (and we may suppose, surprised) to receive the support during the debate of Lord Randolph Churchill and Joseph Chamberlain. The last-named may have been partially influenced by malicious feelings towards Henry Matthews, who was a Roman Catholic and had earlier in his career been favourable towards Irish Home Rule. Atherley-Jones was again disatisfied with the Home Secretarys reply and pressed the motion to the vote, defeating the government by five votes.
The Home Secretary accepted his defeat. He ordered the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, Sir Charles Warren, to undertake an inquiry. PC Endacott was suspended on 6th July, it was claimed as a result of Mrs. Bowmans letter. A few days later the Lord Chancellor began an inquiry into the conduct of Mr. Newton. The Metropolitan Police inquiry opened on 11th July and after six days of hearings concluded on 26th July; the report was completed immediately and sent to the Home Secretary the following day.
The report was not published though it can be consulted in the Public Record Office. It was inconclusive in that it failed to make any findings as to whether the arrest was justified (calling for the evidence to be tested in a court under oath), but Sir Charles Warren did conclude I am not prepared to say that I can see any grounds for accusing PC Endacott of wilful Perjury. However, that is a matter on which I think the Public Prosecutors should decide. Mrs. Bowman and Miss Cass had already begun a private prosecution of PC Endacott for perjury, and after due consideration the Law Officers wrote to their solicitors offering to take over the case, or permitting the case to go ahead under their direction. They chose the second option. Colleagues within the Metropolitan Police raised a subscription to pay for Endacotts defence.
Meanwhile the informal inquiry into the Magistrate had concluded in secret, with the decision to give Mr. Newton a formal reprimand. The Magistrate had relied for justification of his warning to Miss Cass on a statute which allowed a Magistrate to issue such a warning to a defendant who had been found guilty but whom the Magistrate felt was undeserving of any sentence, and the Lord Chancellors letter highlighted the severe mistake in law.
The Grand Jury found a true bill against PC Endacott for perjury on 13th September but the trial was postponed to the Michaelmas Term, eventually beginning on 31st October. On the second day, 1st November 1887, Miss Cass was called to give evidence; by this time she had celebrated her marriage, becoming Mrs. Langley. After her evidence Mr. Justice Stephen heard a submission (in the absence of the jury) from the prosecution and ruled that the case was confined to whether PC Endacott committed perjury in saying that he had seen Miss Cass three times before in Regent Street. The Judge further said that in his own view, there was no evidence that Endacott had been wilfully mis-stating the truth: the most likely explanation was that he had been making an honest mistake. The Solicitor-General accepted that view and withdrew the prosecution.
The defenders of Miss Cass were not pleased by this outcome. The inquiry and the trial had given the opportunity to PC Endacotts legal representatives to make further assaults on her character, and Llewellyn Atherley-Jones insisted his original objection had been to the actions of the Magistrate. In his autobiography he claims he gave in to pressure from the Home Secretary not to press for Mr. Newtons dismissal. Atherley-Jones made a name for himself with the case; he acquired the nickname the Member for Miss Cass. Many years later the Liberal Pall Mall Gazettes Guide to the House of Commons was still referring to the fact that the nickname had once been applied.
A Bowden Endacott of 17 Gower Street had his electoral registration objected to in that year (see Times, 16th September 1887), though he was said to be a caretaker. This must be the same man. There is no record of what became of Elizabeth Langley - perhaps some of her descendants may remember?
The surviving papers on the case are in the Public Record Office in file HO 144/472/X15239 (relating to the Police inquiry) and HO 144/472/X15239B (relating to the prosecution of PC Endacott). The former contains the most important papers, including some of the public representations made - most expressing sympathy with Miss Cass, but one letter from Stockton in which allegations against her are made. This letter has endorsed on an attached Home Office memorandum the comment Illegible and unintelligible. Letters from PC Endacotts solicitors making dark hints of evidence due to come from Stockton relating to Miss Cass are there. The most interesting document in the file is number 28, a Home Office memorandum attached to a letter requesting payment of the legal expenses of Miss Cass and Mrs. Bowman. On this, the Permanent Secretary (chief civil servant) of the Home Office, Godfrey Lushington, has written I see no ground for giving compensation either to Miss Cass or Mad. Bowman. My own belief is that Miss Cass did solicit & that Endacott made no mistake. This attitude from the Home Office, flying in the face of all the credible evidence, explains a great deal of the official reaction to the case from the start.