§ LORD BEAUMONT
rose, pursuant to notice, to move—That their Lordships do take into consideration No. 130 of their Standing Orders as to the Presence of Strangers during the Sitting of the House.In making this Motion, he hoped he should meet with the indulgence of their Lordships whilst he stated the general view which he took of the subject, and also what were the particular means by which he proposed to facilitate the carrying out of the object he had in contemplation. It appeared to him that the Standing Order itself was inconsistent, and not only inconsistent in itself, but in some degree disadvantageous to the proceedings in their Lordships' House. He had no doubt that the original object of excluding strangers entirely from their debates—not admitting any strangers to be present during their proceedings—was in order that their Lordships might have greater freedom of debate and greater freedom of speech. At an earlier period of English history persons making a speech here might run a risk if their remarks were reported, and their Lordships, therefore, had preserved the power of sitting with closed doors in order that any Member of the House might deliver his sentiments without intimidation. He believed another reason for that practice had been suggested—one which, when acted on, had produced the most unfortunate results. The other reason was this—namely, that something which ought to he kept secret from the rest of the world might be stated here in the course of debate, and that it was possible that the enemy might derive knowledge from what passed in their Lordships' debates of something which it was not for the benefit of this country that he should possess. These were the two chief objects—if not the only objects—that he could discover for their Lordships sitting with closed doors. On the last occasion in which it was attempted to carry this Standing Order into execution, the scene was so ludicrous—the conduct of both Houses was so strange—that, on looking back to the occurrence, he had been tempted to make a note of the description preserved of it, and he would read one or two sentences to their Lordships on the subject. The occasion to which he alluded was the 10th of December, 1770, when the Duke of Manchester 179 made a Motion with regard to the defence of the West Indies, Minorca, and Gibraltar; and in the course of the debate which then toot place, it seemed that Lord Gower interrupted his Grace in the midst of his speech, and desired that the House should be cleared of all but those who had a right to be there. A very extraordinary scene took place in consequence. There were Members of the House of Commons then below the bar, who were excluded with the rest. They were excluded with difficulty; and when they were excluded they immediately proceeded to retaliate in the other House, by moving that the House should be cleared of strangers, which necessarily included the Members of the House of Lords then below the gallery. Mr. Burke, who spoke on the occasion, said, "Sir, there is not common sense in the Standing Order of both Houses of Parliament that either House should not have hearers of their debates;" and, subsequently. Colonel Barré described the scene in the following manner:—I was a witness of the scene, and never shall I forget it. I was listening to the Duke of Manchester speaking on the important subject of Gibraltar and Minorca. I am not aware that he was in possession of any secret. If he was, he did not disclose it. Suddenly the whole scene became changed. I could not suppose that a single Peer remained in the House. It seemed as if the mob had broken in, and they certainly acted in a very extraordinary manner. One of the heads of this mob—for there were two—was a Scotchman, who cried out, 'Clear the hoose, clear the hoose!' The face of the other was hardly human, for he had contrived to put on a nose of enormous size that disfigured him completely, and his eyes started out of his head in so frightful a way that he seemed to be undergoing the operation of being strangled. It was altogether the most violent mob I ever beheld. You would imagine that these leaders would have continued so throughout. But, no! at the latter end of the day two men took the office of doorkeepers, who executed the office with as much exactness as if the House had been a well-regulated assembly.That was the description as given in a speech of Colonel Barré, reported in Cavendish's Debates. Various other accounts were to he found in other speeches made at the time, describing the scene in almost similar language. After that period, for some time, as their Lordships were aware, there was a spirit of retaliation carried on between the two Houses, and all strangers were excluded. It certainly would have been a most unfortunate thing for the future history of this country if some persons in the House of Commons had not taken notes and supplied the deficiency. He would go the full length of saying, that 180 the debates in Parliament—that the opinions expressed in Parliament should be made public. That might not be the opinion of every Member of the House; but his own opinion was, that the deliberations of the House should be given to the public, both for the benefit of the public and for the dignity of their Lordships' House. He imagined that the period had gone by when it was possible that any of their Lordships could be intimidated either into expressing what he did not feel, or into concealing sentiments which he really felt; and he hoped there was no Member of the House who would not boldly state before the public that which he should wish to express if they were to sit with closed doors. If even their Lordships did not go the length which he himself did, and say that their deliberations should be made public to all the world, they would at least agree with him, that if there was to be a report of their proceedings given to the public, that report should, as far as it went, give a correct representation of what passed within the walls of Parliament; they must allow that it was a great inconsistency that they should exclude every stranger by their Standing Order, and yet connive at the daily publication of reports of their debates, made by strangers whom that Order was assumed to exclude from their walls. He would sooner that the case were reversed—that the general rule should be that the debates of the House should be public—and that it should only be by a special Motion, and for some special reason, that the House should sit with closed doors, or exclude strangers, those strangers being employed in the useful task of reporting their Lordships' debates. In whichever way their Lordships viewed the case—whether they agreed that it was right that their debates should be reported, or whether they consented to a breach of their Standing Orders, at least they would agree, if any reports of their deliberations were to he laid before the public, that it was highly advisable that these reports should be correct and impartial. In proportion that it was of advantage to the public to have correct and impartial reports of their Lordships' debates, so, in an equal degree, it was injurious to the public that totally incorrect reports of debates should be given—above all, reports which gave an impression totally different from that which a correct report would produce on the public. He could advance, if he chose, many instances in which reports 181 had been so very incorrect that an utterly contrary impression must have been produced on reading them, to that which would have been produced on a person listening to the debate in the House: he could also give instances of apparent partiality, where arguments had been well given on one side of the question, and totally omitted or given very briefly and imperfectly on the other. He could produce many instances in which, when questions had been put to Ministers, the answers of Ministers had either not been given, on the plea that they were inaudible, or, if given, it had been given in a sense contrary to that in which it was stated or intended to be conveyed. It was self-evident that such a proceeding as that must produce the greatest inconvenience and considerable injury. When the words of a Minister in reply to a question on an important subject, were thus misinterpreted and misrepresented, and sent forth to the public, of course a false impression was created both at home and abroad, and the result might be most detrimental to the public interests. In the same way, when important questions were debated, and if their Lordships wished to refer back to important speeches, they had no certainty, or rather, they had the certainly that the report was so doubtful that they could not rely on it. He was induced to say this from having looked back to the report of the important speeches made on the great question of the navigation laws, and in so looking back he found, with regard to two of the most important delivered on that occasion—in his own mind (without any offence to other speakers) the two best speeches delivered on either side—he referred to the speech of the noble Earl on the cross bench (the Earl of Harrowby) against the Bill, and the speech of his noble Friend, also on the cross bench (Lord Wharncliffe), in favour of the Bill—two speeches of remarkable ability, in which were concentrated the whole of the arguments on either side, and which in themselves formed a complete epitome of the whole debate; he referred to those speeches for the purpose of considering the subject himself, and he must say that the reports were such that he found in them little more than a skeleton and imperfect sketch of what was said. Therefore it was, he said, that if the debates were to be reported, it was most essential and necessary that forcible and eloquent speeches like those should be correctly given; and therefore, from that 182 motive, he thought their Lordships were bound under all circumstances—however they might view their privilege of excluding strangers—to take means, as long as they allowed any reports to be published, to place those employed in reporting in such a situation and in such a position as that they could have no excuse for giving false reports, but on the contrary have every means of giving a fair and just representation of what passed in the House. In proceeding to carry this proposition, he had met with some very considerable difficulties. Supposing their Lordships should not consent to the Motion which he was about to make, namely, that their Lordships should reconsider this Standing Order with a view to its repeal, and the substitution of another in its place more in accordance with the spirit of the time and practice of their Lordships' House, he should still persist in submitting a Motion which would enable their Lordships to consider some means of placing the reporters in such a situation as to give—although the reports would be a mere connivance at a breach of the Standing Orders—the means of reporting correctly. In order to do this it would be necessary that the subject should be considered in Committee. It might be necessary that their Lordships should examine architects and others on the subject. If their Lordships proceeded on the general question of the repeal of the Standing Order itself, he believed he should be bound to refer the matter to a Committee of Privileges. According to their Standing Orders, a Standing Order could only be repealed by a Committee of Privileges—that was, a Committee of the whole House. But if it were merely for an architectural alteration, he found he could do that without submitting the question to a Committee of Privileges. He found that, after the burning of the Houses of Parliament in 1834, the Library Committee actually reported with regard to the reporters' gallery, and suggested that certain accommodation should be furnished for the reporters. He could, therefore, either refer to a Select Committee, or to the Library Committee, the question of considering by what means the reporters—[Lord BROUGHAM: Say "strangers]"—might be so placed as to be able to hear. He wished to give the Members of the House of Commons an entrance to their Lordships' House by right. He also thought it would be convenient, as a great portion of the gallery was considered to be in the House, but 183 which was never used by any Member of the House, to consider whether that portion should not be voted as out of the House the meant (he centre galleries) and used for strangers? Again, with regard to Foreign Ministers, instead of their being obliged to stand at the foot of the throne, with great fatigue and inconvenience to themselves, he thought it would be advisable that a proper place should be assigned for them. In the late Chamber of Deputies, in the time of Louis Philippe, places were assigned for the Members of the British Legislature, to which they had access as a matter of right. In referring to a Committee the question whether it was advisable that those galleries should be considered out of the House; whether those side galleries should be appropriated to those strangers who were connected with the press; or, whether there should be some alteration in the gallery at the end of the House, by which the same object would be gained as if they were placed in the side galleries, he should wish, in the first instance, to ascertain the feeling of the House with regard to the consideration of the Standing Order. For this purpose, therefore, he should move that the said Standing Order be taken into consideration with a view to its alteration.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
said, that as the question had been so distinctly placed before their Lordships by the noble Lord, who moved them to take into consideration one of the most important of their Standing Orders, with a view to its total abrogation, he felt bound to say that for himself individually—for he did not know how far he spoke the sense of the House—to such a Motion he had an insuperable objection. It ought not to be forgotten, that although their Lordships had wisely shown a disposition to permit a knowledge of their debates to be diffused among their countrymen, it had always been under sufferance, and with the intention of maintaining all their privileges, one of which privileges, whenever they thought fit to exercise it, was the exclusion of strangers. Whilst, however, he objected to the abandonment of this privilege, and to the repeal of their Standing Order, he felt, that so long as persons were permitted to have access to the House with a view of reporting the debates of their Lordships, under sufferance, so long as persons were in the habit, without any objection on the part of their Lordships, of communicating to the public 184 the proceedings of Parliament, their Lordships had the deepest interest in having that duty faithfully and impartially, and he must add, conveniently discharged. He was likewise bound to say, that if, in common with many of their Lordships, he had occasionally suffered from an incorrect representation of the remarks which had fallen from his lips, he had no reason to believe that that imperfect, or it might be false, representation had proceeded from any improper motive on the part of those who, he believed, sedulously and conscientiously discharged the duties which they had undertaken. Indeed, he was surprised that under some circumstances the reporters discharged their duties as excellently as they did; for their very imperfections proceeded, and must proceed, from that of which their Lordships were the most adequate judges, the state of disorder which prevailed within as well as without the walls of what was technically called "the House." For the purpose of obviating the difficulties by which the reporters were at present beset, he thought that their Lordships would do very right to adopt the second of the alternatives mentioned by the noble Lord—namely, that of referring to a Select Committee—or, perhaps, the Library Committee would be more convenient—the consideration of the question, whether any greater convenience could be obtained for the prevention of that which they must also confess to be in itself an evil. He could not refrain from suggesting to their Lordships on this occasion the duty imposed upon themselves individually of preserving order; and he ventured to add his conviction, that any effort directed by the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack for the preservation of order would meet with the unanimous and constant support of their Lordships.
observed, that as he had himself had the honour of filling the office of Speaker of their Lordships' House during the period when he sat on the woolsack, he naturally took a great interest in this question. He entirely concurred in the view taken of it by the noble Baron, with one exception, namely, that he thought the necessity for this Standing Order did not exist. He should have been much better pleased if the proposal for taking this Standing Order into consideration, had not been made the preface to the Motion. It was an important Standing Order, and he was not prepared to give it up. It was 185 of the greatest importance that the privileges of that House should be not only thoroughly understood, but also strictly maintained, so far as regarded the interference with their proceedings of any persons who did not belong to the Peerage. If their Lordships should once relax the absolute prohibition of that interference in favour of any party, there was no knowing—at least he did not know—how soon their Lordships might be in that state to which he would not further allude, but which had been found so mischievous in foreign countries. With regard to the strangers' gallery, their Lordships had long recognised, even by their orders, the presence of strangers attending in that House; but they had not yet recognised by their orders the publication of their debates. Their Lordships knew that those debates were given to the public. Their Lordships connived at their publication—their Lordships would be very wrong if they did not so connive—and their Lordships and the public would be sufferers, nay, legislation itself would be a sufferer, if their debates were not communicated to the world, and freely canvassed by the public at large. But still, by the wisest and most patriotic of their predecessors, holding, in both Houses of Parliament, the same opinions on this point as himself, it had been unanimously held that it should be by connivance, and not by express permission, that such publication took place. He had been going to state, when he was led away into this digression by the importance of the matter, that the strangers' gallery was not, technically speaking, within the walls of the House, and, consequently, that it was not necessary to take this order into their consideration with a view to the alteration of the House, or the exclusion of strangers. How far it might be expedient to extend that portion of their Lordships' territory, which, although within the walls of the building, was, nevertheless, not in the House, was another question, and fit for consideration by a Committee. He entirely agreed with the noble Lord, that it would be futile to consider this question as a question of privilege. Their Lordships had never been in the habit of referring to a Committee of Privileges any question except one of doubt. Now there was no kind of doubt in this case. That was a reason why it appeared to him to be a fit case to refer to the Library Committee, to which their Lordships might add any new Members they 186 pleased. Having stated the grounds on which he thought that their Lordships ought to look at the reports of their debates as a matter of connivance, he must now express his entire concurrence, as in justice to the parties he was bound to do, in the panegyric which the noble Marquess had so justly pronounced on the generally unexceptionable manner in which the accounts of their proceedings were given to the public. There was great difficulty at all times in giving accurately words spoken. It was a task requiring great attention, great industry, and great ability. Their debates were given, as far as his knowledge and belief extended, with most exemplary impartiality, as well as with great fidelity and talent. That was his decided belief and opinion. He believed it to be also the opinion of all their Lordships who took any interest in the perusal of their debates. He did not forget that among the many difficulties under which the reporters at all times laboured, they laboured now unhappily under a difficulty belonging to and arising from that very beautiful and magnificent structure. There was a difficulty at all times in hearing in that part of the House (the reporters' gallery) more than in any other, as he had shown on different occasions. He would add, in confirmation of the statement of the noble Marquess opposite, as to the maintenance of order in the House, that those who were in the habit of attending there in the morning sittings during the hearing of causes, were aware how much of that difficulty depended not on the structure of the House, but on the peculiar structure and functions of the parties then sitting within it. Their attention was not always of the sort which it ought to be, though they might not be engaged in unmeaning conversation. In the morning, when few were present but law Lords and counsel at the bar, and the parties interested, there was no extraneous conversation. The House was the same then as now, and it was only justice to Mr. Barry, their architect, to say that there was then no difficulty in hearing. But when the bar was so crowded as it always was upon great occasions in the evening, he must say that both in coming into and in leaving the House, he had heard but little, when passing, owing to the constant buzz of conversation among the parties near it. All this very much increased the difficulty of hearing to the reporter, and with the difficulty of hearing the difficulty of reporting was incalculably increased. 187 The Speaker of the House of Lords did not, like the Speaker in another place, possess the privilege of preserving order. He wished that their Speaker had that privilege, but he feared that it could not he. He himself might he "pulled up," as the phrase is, with some other of their Lordships, if that were the case, but at present they had no fear of the kind.
The MARQUESS of LONDONDERRY
considered their Lordships to he much obliged to the noble Baron for bringing this Motion forward. The noble Baron had alluded to certain speeches as not having been sufficiently reported. Such was unquestionably the fact, and he thought that their Lordships should take measures to have every speech sufficiently reported. He concurred with the noble Lords who preceeded him that there was great impartiality, and no wish to misrepresent, on the part of those who undertook to report the debates in that House. He did not think that the prominent Members of their Lordships' House had any reason to complain; but it sometimes happened that it might be important to a Member of less eminence, that the reasons for the vote which he was about to give should be known. On a former night he had taken some exceptions against the Navigation Bill, and no note was taken of them in the reports. He did not quarrel with this himself, but Ministers were in a different position. If their answers were, as was constantly stated, inaudible, it certainly was important that the reporters should be placed in a better position, where they might do justice to all parties.
§ LORD REDESDALE
decidedly objected to the removal of the reporters into the side galleries. If those galleries were better known, they would be better filled. There was only one alteration that could be made with effect, and that was the bringing of the reporters' gallery much more forward. As to the allegation that parties not commanding the attention of the House were not so well reported as others who did command it, it arose from the vast space which existed below the bar—where, during the delivery of an indifferent speech, much conversation went on among the persons in attendance just below the reporters' gallery, much to their impediment and confusion. If the reporters' gallery were brought more forward—and it could be done without injury to the architecture of the House—it would 188 deaden and prevent the noise now so justly complained of. He objected, however, to the proposal of considering strangers as out of the House; for if they were out of the House their Lordships would have no means of enforcing order among them.
§ The EARL of GALLOWAY
My Lords, as it has been asserted that the reports of our proceedings are accurately given to the public, I beg leave to give my humble but most emphatic dissent to that assertion. When the noble and learned Lord, and other individuals who occupy a high position in public estimation, address your Lordships, there may he more attention paid to what goes on, and therefore they are more accurately reparted, and, being occupied with many things, do not look at any other speeches than their own in the reports of the debates. But when an humble individual like myself, to whom it is a most unwelcome task ever to have to speak one word in public, feeling himself urged by public bodies, is forced to address the House—such an individual generally considers, before he does so, what he means to say, and uses very few words. He looks into the newspapers the next day to see how his speech is reported; and it has been my unhappy fate, who have had to present hundreds of petitions on a most important subject, having heard from friends in the gallery that every word that I said was heard perfectly, to find that not one word which I said was reported. I hope I am heard now. My Lords—I must say—I can smile at this—I care nothing for myself personally; but I think, upon my word and honour, that there is nothing more calculated to lower this House in public estimation—than the way—the miserable way—in which the debates of the House are reported.
§ EARL GREY
very much agreed with the noble Earl who spoke last but one, that part of the inconvenience suffered by the reporters arose from the buzz of conversation carried on at the bar. He must say, that since he first knew the House of Lords, a very great change had taken place in that respect. He recollected that, in former times, if a stranger said a single word in way of conversation within the House, one of their officers or messengers was always ready to rebuke and check him, and to request him to be silent. He thought that the House should revert to that system; and although its messengers 189 were not authorised to interfere with any of their Lordships who violated the rules of order, he thought that they might properly interfere with those parties who, being only present by courtesy, employed themselves, not in hearing the debates, but in talking about them. That was a great inconvenience, not only to the reporters, but also to their Lordships themselves. He had himself frequently found it difficult in Committee to collect the observations made by noble Lords only on the opposite side of the table, in consquence of the buzz of conversation going on at both ends of the House. He thought that some peremptory instructions should be given to their officers to prevent the recurrence of such disorder.
§ The EARL of GALLOWAY
If the speeches are not heard by the reporters, I think at any rate that they should not be allowed to make other speeches instead of them.
§ The EARL of MALMESBURY
thought that the reports were as well given as they could be under the existing state of things; but, in saying that, he was far from saying that the speeches of their Lordships were always correctly reported—for they were very far from being so. He could never understand what the objection was to the House having an official reporter of its own. Their Lordships now quoted Hansard; but Hansard had no other channel of intelligence save the reports in the newspapers. It was of importance that their Lordships should have some authority attached to their reports; and he could see no reason why they should not have a shorthand writer in the House to take a note of their debates, as they had in their Committees to take a note of evidence. They might have some persons employed for this object, as was the case in most of the legislative assemblies of the Continent.
§ LORD MONTEAGLE
observed, that a good deal had been said in the course of the debate as to the rights of various classes, both in and out of that House; but not a word had been said of the mode in which the rights of readers would be affected by the proposition of the noble Earl. If every speech uttered in that House were taken down totidem verbis, and were so given to the world, nobody would be able to read such a mass of verbiage.
§ The EARL of MALMESBURY
I did not propose to publish it. I meant that there should be an official reporter, an officer of the House, whose report should be 190 official, and should be preserved in the library of the House, to be referred to hereafter as an historical record.
§ LORD MONTEAGLE
pointed out the great inconvenience of such a measure. He had that day had put into his hand a minute printed by authority of their Lordships. It showed that a shorthand writer, however skilful, even Mr. Gurney himself, might fall into strange and important errors. No shorthand writer, however able and however careful, was capable of reporting everything correctly and without mistake. If their Lordships should appoint an official reporter, they would make themselves responsible for his reports. At present nobody but Hansard was responsible for the reports which their Lordships quoted. If you had an official reporter, who might be a sworn shorthand writer, you could have no greater certainty of his accuracy than you have of the present reports, and therefore it appeared to him that the proposition of the noble Earl was not sustainable.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
assured the House that he had no intention of conferring upon his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack any power, authority, or privilege which was not in existence at present. All he had intended to observe was this—that the noble Peer on the woolsack, filling the high position which he did, had a right to exercise that authority which every Peer had, and to declare that such and such a Peer was departing from order, and that such a declaration coming from such a quarter would have great weight, and would meet with cordial support from the House. It was only just that he should state the opinion of the very distinguished architect to whom their Lordships were indebted for their very magnificent chamber, and that was, that the House was not ill-constructed, but too well constructed, for hearing; that, owing to that circumstance, the reporters heard at once not only the speeches which their Lordships were delivering, but also all the other speeches which other parties were delivering in the House; and from that chaos they found a difficulty in extracting that alone which they ought to hear.
said, with regard to the suggestion of the noble Earl (the Earl of Malmesbury), that unless a speech was made with the most perfect accuracy, and was so prepared that there could hardly be the possibility of an error in a word, their Lordships would be astonished, and 191 not very much edified, if they saw the very words they had used represented. Those speeches which were delivered at the bar of their Lordships' House, which were elaborately prepared, and which were spoken as if they were extempore, in point of manner, were most admirably given by Mr. Gurney; but he had seen a copy of extempore debates among the counsel, and he could assure their Lordships that the speeches of the most able, eloquent, and accurate advocates did not redound much to the credit of their accuracy of diction.
The MARQUESS of SALISBURY
thought they might do much to effect the object they had in view, by a simple order of the House, directing that silence should be strictly kept, as was done in the House of Commons.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
considered that the sense of the House had been pretty satisfactorily ascertained on this subject. The Motion before the House was, that the Standing Order No. 130 should be taken into consideration; but the general feeling of their Lordships seemed to be against abandoning their existing privilege. He had, however, heard nothing which had induced him to change his opinion; and he believed that in abandoning that privilege, they would only abandon a privilege which was injurious to themselves, and one which was never acted upon. He looked upon the Standing Order as so many useless words; and he thought if it were abandoned, they might be enabled to claim rather more consideration from those strangers who gave accounts of their proceedings than they could do at present; they would put them in a different position, and one in which it would become more their duty to attend to the proceedings of the House. As it appeared, however, that their Lordships were still anxious to retain their privilege, he would not press the subject, but would beg leave to withdraw his Motion relating to the Standing Order, and substitute in its place the following Motion:—That a Select Committee be appointed for the purpose of considering the Accommodation afforded to Strangers in this House.If such a Committee were appointed, they could go into the whole question, and would be able to consider any alteration that might be suggested in the construction of the House. He did not know whether such a Committee would be empowered to take into consideration the proposal of his noble Friend (the Earl of Malmesbury); 192 and unless the noble Earl anxiously wished that they should take it into consideration, he would prefer that they did not. He thought it would be impossible to carry out the suggestion, and that if it were adopted, it would be almost useless. He would therefore prefer confining the reference to the Committee to such alterations as might enable strangers to hear better than they now could do what passed in the House.
Motion withdrawn. Then it was moved—
That a Select Committee be appointed to take into consideration the Accommodation of the House;
§ which was agreed to, and Committee appointed.