HC Deb 21 July 1909 vol 8 cc522-3

I desire to ask the First Commissioner of Works a question of which I have given private notice, namely, will he say by whose authority the strip on the floor of the House beyond which members are not permitted to remain standing, which has hitherto been in line with the seat occupied by Mr. Serjeant-at-Arms, has been advanced to the Bar; if by his authority, what practical advantage he considers is gained by this alteration; and, on occasions when Members are standing in large numbers at the Bar in future, how he proposes that Mr. Serjeant-at-Arms shall advance to the Table of the House, or discharge his duties in connection with disorderly Members in different parts of the House?


I am obliged to the hon. Member for giving me notice of his intention to put this question. I accept the sole responsibility for the alteration which has been made. But in accepting that responsibility I beg the House to believe that I did not act without consulting those whom I thought best qualified to represent its opinions. I have not moved the Bar, I have merely rectified the venerable but not specially hallowed blunder of an upholsterer. I have now placed the strip of leather on the floor matting under the actual Bar, which remains where it has always been. I did so for the general convenience and comfort of the House, and as a subsidiary improvement in the new Division system in which I take a paternal interest. It has been observed by many besides myself that in rapidly succeeding Divisions there is a natural and necessary congestion at that end of the House—a congestion which is often intensified by the insistence of seated Members that their standing fellows should remain behind a leather strip which they erroneously believed to mark the position of the Bar. Few blunders are irreparable—certainly, I hope none of my own in this building. If the House prefers the old position of the leather strip—and its attendant inconveniences—it is easily replaced. I would only suggest to them that they should try the "new model" for a week or ten days, and if at the end of that time I find there is still a "moaning at the Bar," it and I will retrace our steps. The House has been very indulgent to me in many matters great and small, and I only wish to remind them that unless I had been prepared to take some initiative, some responsibility, and to incur some odium, they would have had none of those alterations which some amongst them have recognised as improvements. I have always realised that the day might come when for one reason or another they would demand my head on a pike on Westminster Hall. I hope that that [pointing to the leather strip] may not be the reason, and that this will not be the day. If I survive for another week I will endeavour to collect the voice of the House on this grave matter, and in the meantime I am convinced that neither the Constitution nor our own comfort is endangered.


Was not one of the reasons for placing the strip on the floor in the position from which it has now been moved that when anybody was called to the Bar of this House he could stand at the Bar in an isolated position, and not be crowded amongst Members of the House, as he would be if the strip remains in its present position?


I am afraid my historical knowledge does not carry me as far as the hon. Member's.


Was the Serjeant-at-Arms consulted?


As I have said, I take full and sole responsibility. Although I have consulted others, I do not wish others to share my responsibility.


Before making such an innovation, ought not the right hon. Gentleman to have first asked the consent of the House?


I should hardly think the hon. Member considers the matter so serious as that. It would mean that any petty change, such as putting in a new window-pane or ventilator, would have to come before the House for sanction. The hon. Member can hardly wish to suggest that.


Would the right hon. Gentleman have a right to put the strip nearer to the Gangways if he so chose?