§ LORD REDESDALE
said, a Bill with Amendments of very great importance had that day been returned from the other House of Parliament, and the noble Earl had moved the adjournment of the House without proposing any day for their consideration. He begged to remind their Lordships that he gave notice last evening that when that Bill came back to their Lordships' House, he should move that the Amendments made therein by the other House of Parliament be taken into consideration that day six months. He (Lord Redesdale) thought that the question as to the consideration of the Commons' Amendments in the Bill should now be determined by their Lordships.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, this Bill has come up from the other House of Parliament with a great quantity of very important Amendments, which your Lordships have not had an opportunity of reading or seeing. It has been reported that the noble Lord, availing himself of the position in which he has placed himself, is now about to move that these Amendments be taken into consideration this day six months. My Lords, in what position would that put your Lordships' House with the country? Here is a Bill involving a most important question, debated and deliberated upon for a month in your Lordships' House, and for six weeks in the other House of Parliament, and is an attempt now to be made to get rid of it by—[the rest of the sentence was interrupted by cheers]. Every one in the House knows that there is a misunderstanding of the notice given. I trust that the noble Lord the Chairman of your Lordships' Committees will not put your Lordships in such an invidious and discreditable position in the eyes of the public as his Motion would place your Lordships.
§ LORD REDESDALE
The noble and learned Lord is extremely irate and indignant at what he conceives to be my conduct in this matter. I rose when the adjournment of the House was moved to speak upon the Bill in question, because no Motion had been made that the Bill should be taken into consideration on any particular day, and I thought it was not right that we should leave the House without anything having been said as to the course which the Government intended to pursue with regard to the Bill. Being a Government measure, I could not, of course, venture to move that it be considered on any particular day—it must be left to the Government to fix that; but when any noble Lord moves that a Bill be taken into consideration on a particular day, it is open to any other noble Lord to move that it be taken into consideration on any other day, and I did most distinctly give notice to the noble Earl (Earl Granville) that when the Bill in question did come up I should move that the Commons' Amendments on it should be taken into consideration that day six months. I thought it was improper that your Lordships should be asked to consider the important Amendments made in that Bill on the day before the prorogation of Parliament, and it was on that ground that I 1964 gave notice of my Amendment, in order that all parties might know that it was my intention to move that the Commons' Amendments be taken into consideration this day six months.
§ LORD REDESDALE
The words that I used last night when giving notice of it were these:—I expect that the Divorce Bill will be brought up from the other House to-morrow, and I give notice that when that Bill comes up to this House I shall move that the Commons' Amendments be taken into consideration this day six months.
§ LORD REDESDALE
It could not be entered on the notice-book, because the Bill was not then before the House. ["Oh, oh!"] He asserted that the course which he had adopted was perfectly regular. It was open to any noble Lord on a Motion that a Bill be taken into consideration on a particular day to move that it be considered on some other day, and when he gave notice that he should take the latter course with regard to the Divorce Bill, he acted quite fairly and courteously towards the House. It was no ground for raising an objection to his proceeding that it was inconvenient to the Government, for every one knew that if things were to be done precisely as suited the Government and they were allowed, without being subject to the control of the House, to fix important questions for the end of the Session, when there was no time for consideration, and for days only on which their adherents were specially summoned, their Lordships might just as well give up all opposition and all attempts to improve a measure. Such a proceeding was contrary to, and would amount to an absolute restriction on the freedom of their Lordships' deliberations. He maintained that he had given full notice of the course he intended to take, and that he was strictly in order.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I think this is a matter in which the character of the House is at stake, and it is therefore to be hoped that your Lordships will calmly consider your decision. In this assembly we are, perhaps, not always so strictly regular in our conduct of business as the other House; but what I have remarked in this House during the short time I have had a seat in it—and I appeal to the noble Marquess 1965 (the Marquess of Lansdowne), the highest authority among us, to confirm what I am stating—is that your Lordships have invariably observed it almost as a religious principle not to take petty advantages that might be gained by a surprise, but to take the most fair and straightforward steps to bring any matter before the House. The noble Lord says, he gave notice yesterday of the course he intended to take, and I do not doubt that the words as quoted by the noble Lord were the words he used. But I venture to ask every Peer who was present at the time it was given, whether the noble Lord's notice, applying as it did to a contingency, would admit of his proceeding regularly with his Amendment tonight? I feel quite confident, that if the noble Lord himself only reflects for a moment, and puts aside the strong feeling he entertains in regard to this Bill, he will see that the course he has himself proposed is not one that he would have approved on the part of another Peer. It is perfectly monstrous that we should be asked to reject the Commons' Amendments before they have been printed and submitted to our examination; and I cannot think that my noble Friend, to whom, from his official position, we usually look up for guidance on questions affecting the regularity of our proceedings, will persist in the intention he has indicated. At all events, I hope that this House will not subject itself in the eyes of the country to the imputation of seeking by a mere trick to get rid of an important measure.
§ LORD ST. LEONARDS
said, he certainly did not understand that the Amendments were to be considered that evening. He regretted the heat that had been shown, and the use of expressions that were seldom introduced into their Lordships' debates. Noble Lords opposite had also cheered with unusual vehemence some expressions of the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack—a circumstance calculated to excite a corresponding warmth of feeling on that side of the House. His noble Friend (Lord Redesdale) had given notice that when the Divorce Bill came up from the other House he would move that the Commons' Amendments be considered that day six months; but nothing, he was persuaded, could have been further from his intention than to take their Lordships by surprise. Indeed, he was sure that his noble Friend was incapable of anything of that kind. Let the 1966 House calmly and deliberately consider this question, and let the Government distinctly state whether they meant to afford full time for the consideration of the numerous and important Amendments which had been made by the Commons. But if it was true that Parliament was to be prorogued on Tuesday, and they were to have no other opportunity than Monday, to discuss and decide upon the many important Amendments which had been introduced into the measure elsewhere, he should be compelled, however unwillingly, to vote with his noble Friend against such a proceeding. He hoped, therefore, that the Government would fairly inform their Lordships when this subject would be brought forward, and would also give an assurance that there would be no attempt to prevent a full and free discussion.
THE MARQUESS OF WESTMEATH
confessed that he had not the slightest notion that anything of the kind was coming on to-day, and, indeed, until he came down to the House, he was in total ignorance of the fact that the Bill had been brought up. He hoped that his noble Friend would not persevere in the Amendment of which he had given notice, even though it might be strictly in accordance with the rules of the House, for he thought it would have a very mischievous effect.
THE EARL OF WINCHILSEA
said, he thought the consideration of the Bill should be postponed till next Session. It was of so important a character that they were bound to demand the most satisfactory explanations upon every point that was required, and he was sure they had not time to discuss it with the Session just upon the point of closing.
said, he should support the Motion for the adjournment of the House. Upon his solemn word and honour his opinion was, that the proposal of the noble Lord (Lord Redesdale) was irregular, and contrary to the practice of the House. He understood, and he believed their Lordships all likewise understood, the noble Lord to have stated that he should bring forward his Motion when the discussion upon the Commons' Amendments came on. That would be a perfectly legitimate course, and the understanding on both sides of the House, with the exception of a few who were in the secret was, that the discussion would be taken on Monday, and not sooner. He could not believe his cars when he understood the noble Lord to say that he meant to take the discussion when 1967 the Bill came up to the House, and not when the time came for their consideration of the Amendments. He thought it must be a hoax, for he could not imagine the noble Lord would do anything inconsistent with his station and reputation.
protested against the Government giving only a single day for a discussion upon a Bill so important, to which the country was adverse, and which would, in his opinion, be fraught with mischief. Material Amendments had been made in the Bill, and it was impossible to consider the measure adequately on Monday, when so few Peers were in town, and when the right rev. Prelates were detained in the country upon the business of their dioceses. Their Lordships would stand in a false and invidious light before the country if a measure of this kind were smuggled through the House without due deliberation. His noble Friend (Lord Redesdale) had given regular notice that on the Bill being brought up from the other House, he would move that the Amendments be considered on that day six months.
said, he fully expected that the Government would have brought on the discussion on the Amendments that night on the bringing up of the Bill,—he certainly understood his noble Friend's (Lord Redesdale) Amendment to refer to the bringing up of the Bill, and he had therefore acted in a perfectly fair and legitimate manner. He thought it would have been upon the Minutes, and was certainly surprised that the noble Earl would not fix a day for its discussion. He regretted extremely that these Amendments would have to be considered next week, when the Bishops would be absent on their pastoral duties. The Bill was on their Lordships' table—why not proceed with it now?
THE MARQUESS OF BATH
also expressed his conviction that the notice was, that when the Bill came up to their Lordships' House the noble Lord would move that the consideration of the Amendments be deferred for six months. Some observations had been made about unfairness, and taking Her Majesty's Government by surprise—he should like to know whether Her Majesty's Government were not taking those noble Lords by surprise, who, on the faith of the clause giving to the wife the power to sue for a divorce on the ground of adultery on the part of the husband being omitted from the Bill, had given it 1968 their support? That clause, however, had been reinserted in the Commons, and therefore the pretence that the Bill was not an alteration of the law, but only the constitution of a new court, was no longer of avail, and if the Bill passed, as amended, the votes of those noble Lords now in the country, who had given their support on that ground, would have been improperly obtained. It was scarcely fair, he contended, upon the part of the Government, at a moment when they had entire command over the House, to endeavour to force a clause, which had been introduced into the Bill in the House of Commons, upon their Lordships, particularly when it was taken into consideration that the absence of that clause the success of the Bill in their Lordships' House was to a great extent to be attributed.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
was understood to say,—My Lords, the noble Marquess who has just sat down seems to have based his observations upon the assumption that Her Majesty's Ministers now possess entire command over this House. But what is it, let me ask, which has given to them that command? Why, my Lords, it can be nothing else than the non-attendance of noble Lords opposite, whose duty it is to be in their places as much as it is the duty of any other Peers, and to whom the same means of being present at our deliberations are open as are within the reach of Her Majesty's Ministers. To state, therefore, that the Government have the command of this House is to take a course which it is, in my opinion, almost unconstitutional in the case of a Peer of England to adopt. Her Majesty's Ministers never have had the control of this House, and I trust the noble Marquess will never see the day when such a state of things shall exist. With respect to the course proposed to be taken by the noble Baron (Lord Redesdale) I think that any proceeding which would take the conduct of this Bill out of the hands of Government would introduce a new and ingenious practice. I cannot deem it right that a Bill of great importance such as that under discussion, in which material alterations have been made in the other House of Parliament, should be pressed upon your Lordships' attention without due notice of the nature of those Amendments being afforded. If, my Lords, a contrary course were to be sanctioned, and if Her Majesty's Government—what they have an unquestionable right to do, 1969 though they do not possess that authority over this House for which the noble Marquess opposite seems to give them credit—were to resort to the practice of having measures of great moment brought up from the other House and passed without notice, I ask whether such a system would not be open to grave objection. It undoubtedly would, and yet such is the course which the noble Baron opposite asks us now to pursue. I have unfortunately had a longer experience of the proceedings of your Lordships' House than the noble Marquess who has just addressed us—an experience extending over a period of forty years—but I am not aware that in the course of the whole of that time the noble Baron would be able to show him a single instance in which, without a notice upon the book, a Bill has been taken up by a Peer who was not the author, and not the mover of the Bill, for the purpose of discussing it, without any notification being given to the mover of the Bill that such was his intention. I hold it to be the wisest course for a person intending to proceed with the discussion of a Bill to give notice of his intention by entering it in the book, for the purpose of preventing any misconception. I think that an unceasing source of misapprehension and ill-blood would arise from any omission of this well-established and salutary rule.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, that if his noble Friend had not taken the course he had it was his intention to have fixed the consideration of the Amendments for Monday. With respect to the other question, the Government had by no means come to the determination that the prorogation of Parliament should take place on Tuesday; and he might add further that the prorogation depended entirely upon the state of the public business.
§ LORD REDESDALE
said, he could not have supposed that the course he had taken would have given rise to the tone which had been adopted by the noble Lords opposite. In what did his offence consist? The noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) gave a private intimation to several Peers that he intended to proceed with the consideration of the Amendments on Monday. He (Lord Redesdale), on the contrary, had given public notice that when the Bill came up—those were his very words—he should move that the consideration of the Amendments should take 1970 place that day six months. He did not see what else he could have done in the way of notice, or that he had pursued an irregular course at all; he defied anybody to say that it was. He never attempted to take the conduct of the Bill out of the hands of the Government, and the noble Earl in moving the adjournment without having given the customary notice as to the day for the consideration of the Amendments, appeared to admit that he (Lord Redesdale) would be justified, in accordance with the notice he had given, in moving "this day six months," as an Amendment to the Motion that they should be considered on Monday. With respect to the observations which had been made about surprise and unfairness, he, for one, was not the man to take any undue advantage, and he was not going to do so now; though he was perfectly convinced that as far as order and regularity were concerned it was perfectly legitimate for him to make the Amendment of which he had given notice. That notice was that he should move a certain Resolution on a particular day—namely, the day on which the Bill came up. For that he had been assailed in the most extraordinary manner. Surprise had been expressed that he should have taken such a course, and his conduct had been stigmatised as something discreditable. He certainly did not expect such observations from the noble Lords opposite. He, however, did not blame them for being a little irritable on the subject, because they, no doubt, felt that if he were to press the Motion, of which he had given notice, to a division, they would be left in a minority. Noble Lords, however, appealed to him in a way that touched him strongly—namely, whether his proceeding would be perfectly fair to the House. He felt himself placed in a great difficulty, for if he were to forego pressing his Motion, he might allow an opportunity to pass of defeating a measure which he conscientiously believed to be fraught with the most mischievous consequences to society. After the appeal made to him by noble Lords opposite, he felt there was a difficulty in pursuing the course of which he had given notice. But, when he stated that he would not persist with that Motion he trusted that noble Lords were prepared to give more than ordinary consideration to the Amendments in question, all of which were of importance, and some of them a dangerous innovation on the law and usage of the country. In making this 1971 concession, almost against his conscience, and in allowing the Bill to go forward, he did so in the hope that the Government would not press the Amendments through the House with precipitation. He could not say that he willingly withdrew the notice which he had given, but he did not object to withdraw it on the ground stated by the noble Lord opposite, and out of deference to what appeared to be the wish of the House.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, his noble Friend near him (the Marquess of Lansdowne) and himself entirely acquitted his noble Friend (Lord Redesdale) of any intention to take the House by surprise, and they were the more desirous of doing so after the handsome manner in which his noble Friend had withdrawn his Motion. It only remained for him (Earl Granville) to say he would withdraw his Motion for the adjournment, in order that his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack might give notice of his intention to move that the Commons' Amendments to the Bill be taken into consideration on Monday.
§ Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, to Monday next, half-past Four o'clock.