Government Defeats

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 government’s 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 Victoria’s 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.

DateAyes NoesQuestion
Conservative Government (Salisbury)
1885-86 Parliament
26th January 1886329-250Amendment to the motion for an humble Address to Her Majesty to express regret that no measures were announced for the present relief of those suffering under economic pressures, especially for affording facilities to the agricultural labourers and others in the rural districts to obtain allotments and small holdings on equitable terms as to rent and security of tenure.
Liberal Government (Gladstone)
11th March 1886131-114Motion to grant a sum of 62,216 to Her Majesty to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1887, for the Royal Parks and Pleasure Gardens, not 112,619 (the motion arose out of the objection of non-London Members to state funds paying for London parks).
19th March 1886108-112Motion to retain wording of motion that Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair (to allow the House to resolve itself into the Committee of Supply) (and to reject amendment declaring it unjust and inexpedient to embark in war, contract engagements involving grave responsibilities for the Nation, and add territories to the Empire without the knowledge and consent of Parliament).
6th May 188670-69Amendment to the Crofters (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill to change the definition of a crofter so that it includes those who reside on or near their holdings, not just those who reside on them.
18th May 188659-73Motion to adjourn debate on motion calling for Schemes of the Charity Commissioners to provide for the majority of Trustees or Managers being directly elected by the Ratepayers in the locality to which the Charity extends.
3rd June 1886135-112Amendment to the Public Health Acts (Improvement Expenses) Bill to divide the expenses of street improvements ordered under the Act between lessors and lessees for properties held on less than 20 year leases, instead of the charge falling only on lessees.
7th June 1886311-341Motion to retain wording of the second reading question on the Government of Ireland Bill (and to reject an amendment to delay Second Reading by six months).
Unionist Government (Salisbury)
11th June 188660-23Motion that the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again, during consideration in Committee of the Coal Mines Bill.
16th June 188691-35Motion that the Returning Officers’ Charges (Scotland) Bill be re-committed in repect of a New Clause (the New Clause permitted Returning Officers’ expenses in Scotland to be paid from the Rates, as was proposed in England and Ireland).
16th June 188697-65Motion that Schedule 2 stand part of the Parliamentary Elections (Returning Officers) Act (1875) Amendment Bill (the Schedule provided that Returning Officers’ expenses be paid from the Rates).
1886-92 Parliament
23rd June 1887119-127Motion to retain wording of the Coal Mines, &c. Regulation Bill (to retain the power of the Secretary of State to exempt mines from the provisions of the Bill relating to the payment of persons employed in mines by weight. The exemption would have allowed payment by measure).
5th July 1887153-148Motion that this House do now adjourn (debate on the subject of the circumstances connected with the Arrest of Miss Cass in Regent Street*).
12th June 1888113-94  Motion to retain wording of a motion declaring the re-organizations in the Accountant-General’s and Secretary’s Departments of the Admiralty injurious to the public interest by increasing charges for those Departments and by needlessly adding to extravagant pensions and bonuses, and resolving that future reorganizations will transfer officials still able and willing to render service to employment in other Departments (and to reject an amendment to delete the motion and not to anticipate the report of the Royal Commission on Civil Service Establishments).
19th June 1888216-246Motion to retain wording of the Local Government (England and Wales) Bill (to retain responsibility of the Quarter Sessions for the appointment, control and dismissal of Chief Constables, and not transfer it to the new County Councils).
30th April 1889113-103Motion to declare the opinion of the House that the fiscal system of the Government of India leads to the establishment of spirit distilleries, liquor and opium shops in large numbers of places where, till recently, they never existed, in defiance of Native opinion and the protests of the inhabitants, and that such increased facilities for drinking produce a steadily increasing consumption, and spread misery and ruin among the industrial classes of India, and calling for immediate action on the part of the Government of India with a view to their abatement.
13th March 1890102-135Motion to retain wording of motion that Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair (to allow the House to resolve itself into the Committee of Supply) (and to reject amendment declaring the expediency of making good all deficiencies of the equipment of Volunteers which are necessary to efficiency, and all debts of corps properly incurred on account of the same, after a certain fixed date.
10th April 1891130-160Motion to retain wording of motion that Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair (to allow the House to resolve itself into the Committee of Supply) (and to reject amendment to declare the system by which the Indian Opium Revenue is raised morally indefensible, and urging the Indian Government that they cease to grant licences for the cultivation of the poppy and sale of opium in British India except for legitimate medical purposes, and to take measures to arrest the transit of Malwa opium).
30th April 1891218-159Amendment to motion giving precedence to debate on the Purchase of Land and Congested Districts (Ireland) Bill to give precedence only after the Bill has passed through Committee.
18th June 1891202-186Second reading of new clause to the Factories and Workshops Bill (to prohibit the employment of any child under the age of 11 years in a factory or workshop from 1st January 1893).
1892-95 Parliament
11th August 1892350-310Amendment to the motion for an humble Address to Her Majesty to add a humble submission that it is essential that Her Majesty’s Government should possess the confidence of this House and of the Country, and respectfully representing that such confidence is not reposed in the present Advisers of Her Majesty.
Liberal Government (Gladstone)
2nd June 189376-84Motion to retain wording of motion that Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair (to allow the House to resolve itself into the Committee of Supply) (and to reject amendment to require that examinations for the Indian Civil Service are held in England and India, are identical, and that all candidates are finally classified on one list according to merit).
5th September 1893103-95  Motion that Item C, Salaries be reduced by 500 in Class II, Civil Services and Revenue Departments (Salaries and Expenses of the Offices of the House of Lords) (The motion was a protest against the disproportionately higher salaries of officers of the House of Lords in comparison with those of the House of Commons).
16th November 1893147-126Motion for an Instruction to the Committee of the Whole House on the Local Government (England and Wales) Bill that they have the power to enfranchise all those women who would be entitled to be electors if they were men.
Liberal Government (Rosebery)
13th March 1894147-145Amendment to the motion for an humble Address to be presented to Her Majesty to add a prayer that the power of persons not elected to Parliament to prevent Bills being presented for Royal Assent shall cease, and hoping that Her Majesty will use her power to secure the passing of this reform.
14th June 189563-43Motion to grant a sum not exceeding 24,325 for the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st March 1896 for the Houses of Parliament Buildings, not 24,825. (The motion was a protest at the number of rooms in the Palace occupied by officials of the House)
21st June 1895132-125Motion to reduce Item A in the Charge for Salaries and Miscellaneous Charges of the War Office by 100, in respect of the Salary of the Secretary of State. (The motion was a censure on the deficiencies in the supply of cordite to the Army)
Unionist Government (Salisbury)
None.
1895-1900 Parliament
22nd July 189686-99Motion to retain wording of the Land Law (Ireland) Bill to retain the power of the Land Commission to pay advances for land purchased under the Act by means of money as an alternative to paying by guaranteed land stock.
28th June 189752-65Second reading of the Isle of Man (Church Building Acts) Bill (Lords).
28th June 189758-64Motion that this House do now adjourn.
28th June 189769-70Motion that the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again, during the Committee of the Whole House on the Education Endowments (Ireland) Act 1885 Amendment Bill.
1900-06 Parliament
12th August 1901163-141Motion to retain wording of the Factory and Workshop Acts Amendment and Consolidation Bill (and therefore to reject an amendment to allow the employment of young persons and women in textile factories to continue to 1 PM on Saturdays instead of noon).
Unionist Government (Balfour)
15th March 1904141-130Motion to grant a sum not exceeding 29,400 to His Majesty in order to pay the expenses of the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland for the year ending 31st March 1904, and not 29,500.
7th June 190566-62Motion calling for the State to assume the full responsibility for Lighting of the Coasts of the United Kingdom as a departmental responsibility, instead of, as now, imposing charges on merchant shipping.
20th July 1905199-196Motion to grant a sum not exceeding 83,315 to His Majesty for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Irish Land Commission, and not 83,415.
Liberal Government (Campbell-Bannerman)
None.
1906-10 Parliament
None.
Liberal Government (Asquith)
None.
1910 Parliament
None.
1910-18 Parliament
15th March 1912129-158Motion to commit the Housing of the Working Classes Bill to a Committee of the Whole House.
11th November 1912227-206Amendment to Financial Resolution for the Government of Ireland Bill to limit payments from the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom to the Irish Exchequer to 2.5 million in any one year, exclusive of the proceeds of Irish taxes, and savings to the United Kingdom from services transferred to the Government of Ireland.
Coalition Government (Asquith)
None.
Coalition Government (Lloyd George)
25th October 191735-44Motion to retain wording of Money Resolution for the Petroleum (Production) Bill (to authorise payment of public money into the Petroleum Royalties Fund and payment for searching and boring for petroleum in the United Kingdom of a sum equal to 9d./ton gotten on behalf of His Majesty), and to oppose an amendment to reimburse only expenses incurred by or on behalf of His Majesty.

* - 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 Jay’s Shop at 243-253 Regent Street (the premises on the south-west side of Oxford Circus are now occupied by Benetton and French Connection). Jay’s were a respected retailer of silk and millinery, holding a Royal Warrant. The week had seen Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, celebrations of which were continuing, and London was thronged with people enjoying a month of record sunshine.

Miss Cass found that Jay’s 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, don’t 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 police’s 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 Secretary’s 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. Bowman’s 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 Endacott’s 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 Chancellor’s 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 Endacott’s 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. Newton’s 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 Gazette’s 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 Endacott’s 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.