HL Deb 26 June 1845 vol 81 cc1190-3

Order of the Day for the attendance of Lord Gardner in his place, to state to the House the reasons for his not attending the Select Committee on the Glasgow Bridges Bill, read,

Lord Gardner

said, that not being in the habit of speaking in the House, he had prepared a statement upon paper, which, with the permission of their Lordships, he would read. The noble Lord then read a statement, which was, in substance, that his non-attendance upon the Committee in question was occasioned by no disrespect towards their Lordships; that he was ignorant of the Standing Orders, and therefore considered himself incompetent to adjudicate in Committee upon points arising out of them. He had, moreover, a conscientious scruple against serving upon Railroad Committees, as he had some years ago become a shareholder in almost all the trunk lines; and he did not conceive it proper to place himself in a position in which he might become in a manner a judge in his own case. He had been asked by his noble Friend (the Earl of Besborough) to be a member of the Committee in question; but he had considered it rather in the light of an invitation which might be accepted or declined at pleasure, than as an Order of the House, which must be obeyed. He had no objection to serve if required; but he thought that the right rev. Prelates in that House ought to perform their fair share of the business of these Committees, and he would give notice of a Motion on the subject.

The Duke of Richmond

could not understand how the noble Lord's being a shareholder in railways could operate in preventing him being a Member of the Glasgow Bridges Committee. The Committee on which the noble Lord had been appointed to serve, had nothing to do with railways at all, and it was not apparent how the noble Lord's conscientious scruples were applicable in the present case. He must inform the noble Lord that it was not his noble Friend (Lord Duncannon) who had required his attendance on the Committee in question, but the Select Committee for recommending the Members of the different Private Committees, the recommendation of which Select Committee was enforced by a vote of their Lordships' House. The noble Lord had said he had no objection to serve upon Committees, if the right rev. Prelates in that House performed their share of duty. The noble Lord was not only perfectly ignorant, as he had acknowledged, of the Standing Orders, but of what had occurred within the last three weeks. There had been many right rev. Prelates on Committees; and to their credit be it said, they had never declined when their services had been requested. He would remind the noble Lord that Peers possessed many privileges; that they were exempted from numerous offices which other gentlemen had to serve; but with their privileges they had duties also, and this was one of them. It was only necessary to add that in having moved that the noble Lord should attend and give an explanation of the cause of his absence, his (the Duke of Richmond's) only object had been to maintain the high character of their Lordships, which would be injured in the eyes of the country, if it appeared that Peers wished to shrink from the performance of their duties.

The Earl of Besborough

agreed that Peers were bound to attend, and if they did not, they would not only be disobeying the Order of the House, but neglecting the business of the country; and he explained that he had informed his noble Friend that attendance was compulsory.

The Earl of Malmesbury

did not deny the existence of the great powers that had been ascribed to their Lordships in cases of non-attendance; but when heavy fines were spoken of, and the sending Peers to the Tower, he did not think that such a course could be taken practically with respect to the Railway Committees, for they must have the feeling of the country with them in the adoption of such extreme measures. He had already served on one Committee, and he was ready to serve again; but when noble Lords spoke of resorting to stringent proceedings against those who absented themselves from these Committees, it should be remembered that there were about two hundred Peers who never came near the House at all; and if the law of Parliament was to be put in force at all, it should be against all alike, both those who were in the habit of attending the House, and those who never came, so that the public might see that all Peers were upon the same footing.

Lord Brougham

said, there was not the least doubt that the House had the powers to which he had before adverted. On one occasion, before he had the honour of being a Member of their Lordships' House, all Peers had been compelled to attend on the service of the House for six or eight weeks, and had been compelled to give up the whole of their vacation. He agreed with the noble Earl that all Peers who had taken their seats in that House should be placed on the same footing; and those who were in the habit of attending the House on other business, ought not to be punished with greater severity than those who never came near the House at all.

Lord Redesdale

did not perceive the necessity of calling Peers from a great distance, if a sufficient number were in town to perform the necessary duties. Such a course would at least be discourteous to their brother Peers. The noble Lord had rather misunderstood the nature of the duties which would devolve upon him in attending a Committee. They did not necessarily require so perfect an acquaintance with the Standing Orders as the noble Lord seemed to suppose, but were such as, were he not a Peer, he would be very likely to be called upon to perform as a juryman.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

said, that undoubtedly all Peers ought to attend; but if they were to summon Peers for the express purpose of attending these Railway Committees, they would be adopting a novel course of proceeding; for all the precedents of this kind on the Journals related to matters of much graver import, such as the consideration of matters of State. Moreover, if they were to compel Peers to come from a distance for the express purpose of attending these Committees, the question was, whether they would attend them in a spirit and temper best calculated for the discharge of the duty.

Lord Gardner

then gave notice of Motion to the effect that the Lords Spiritual, as well as Temporal, be summoned and compelled to attend the House, beginning with those of the highest rank, and so continuing until the whole of their Lordships had served.

The Duke of Richmond

repeated that the Lords Spiritual had attended the Committees without any excuse, and without pleading ignorance.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that if the House was in course of performing those duties with regularity, and if they were going on in a satisfactory manner, he entreated their Lordships to discontinue this discussion. When there was a difficulty in finding Members for these Committees, let their Lordships consider what course ought to be adopted. Meanwhile he thought that all the Members of the House would lend their aid in carrying through the duties.

Lord Brougham

said, he believed the form now would be, to enter on the Journals that Lord Gardner having attended in his place, and explained the cause of his non-attendance, the Order was discharged.

The House proceeded no further in the matter.

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