HL Deb 17 August 1860 vol 160 cc1444-52

said, that before their Lordships proceeded to the Order of the Day, he wished to say a few words with regard to the position of this measure, and the course which, after consideration, he thought it desirable that their Lordships should adopt with regard to it. He was not at any time desirous of unduly pressing his Resolution respecting the last day on which second readings would be taken; and on consideration of the subject he was bound to admit that when the Resolution was passed the ease which occurred on Monday night last was not contemplated—namely, that of an equal division. He had considered that a division on the question whether a Bill was of that urgency, that it ought to be excepted from the operation of the Resolution was tantamount to a division on the second reading; and on the question of second reading, even numbers only prevented the Bill from being read at the particular time; it did not, however, deprive those who had charge of the Bill from moving the second reading on another day. He was, therefore, bound to admit that by the result of the division on Monday night, upon the Resolution of Urgency—the number of Contents and Not-Contents being equal—the second reading of the Bill was not negatived, but an opportunity was allowed for a further consideration of the subject; and had the noble Earl opposite at once announced his intention to repeat the Motion there would have been no objection to that course. It was extremely desirable that when their Lordships had made an Order it should be as far as possible respected, and therefore he thought that it would be better that the noble Earl (the Lord President) should repeat the Motion declaring that this Bill was a matter of urgency, rather than pursue the course, which he had yesterday given notice he intended to adopt—that of moving the suspension, with regard to this Bill, of the Resolution of the 18th of June. He did not himself see that this was a case of urgency; but after the statements which had been made by the Government, and the strong feeling which they, who were better judges than he could be, had shown upon the matter, he should not resist the further progress of the measure.


was understood to concur in the suggestion of the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees.


said, he was not present when the discussion on the urgency of this Bill took place, and should not therefore give any opinion on the merits of the question. But he entirely approved the course which had been suggested by his noble Friend the Chairman of Committees, the adoption of which would, in his opinion, conduce much to the dignity of the House. He regretted that the House should be, by the urgency of any measure, compelled to revoke its previous determination or rules; but, as the Government had so strongly asserted the necessity of passing this Bill at this particular time, he should offer no opposition to it.


My Lords, after the suggestion which the noble Lord opposite has made to me in such moderate and conciliatory terms, I may, perhaps, be allowed to say a few words to relieve the Government from the charge which was made by the noble Lord upon the cross benches (Lord Monteagle) last night, that their conduct in regard to this Bill had been contrary to fact, contrary to straightforwardness, and full of art. I think I shall be able to show that not one of these epithets was deserved. The Resolution of the 18th of June is a repetition of a Resolution moved by the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees for several years; and both this year and on previous occasions, I have spoken favourably of it, provided its operation be confined within certain limits. I have thought that it was most useful, as protecting this House against the enormous evil of having sent up from the other House, within three or four days of the prorogation, thirty or forty Bills which we were obliged to pass through their several stages without either moral or physical opportunity of examining their details or even their principles. I have also thought that it acted well as a stimulus to the Executive Government and the House of Commons somewhat to hasten the progress of Bills so that they may be brought up before the day fixed by the Resolution. But I have always said, and I repeat it now, that strictly and in principle that Resolution cannot be defended, and that if you press it in such a manner as to cause it to be thoroughly examined, it will be found not to be in accord with our relations either with the other House or with the Crown. This year, owing to the circumstances of the Session, that Resolution has been in a very peculiar position. The noble Lord first proposed to fix the limit at the 17th of July, but on my representation he postponed it until the 27th. Subsequent experience has shown that, with reference to the prorogation of Parliament, even that day was much too early. Since that time we have been sitting here almost idle while the House of Commons has been overwhelmed with business, and have been sending down Bills to them notwithstanding that accumulation; and at the same time have been exercising our discretion in a somewhat arbitrary manner as to reading a second time any Bill which they might send up. The whole thing has arisen from the unforeseen length of the Session, but it has placed us in a difficulty with regard to the Resolution. While I admit the great fairness of the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees and his anxiety to assist Members of this House in moulding Resolutions that Bills may be passed, yet several circumstances have occurred which have still further weakened the case in favour of the Resolution. I think it was unfortunate that it should have been defended upon the ground of the individual convenience of Peers; and I think your Lordships have further damaged the Resolution by restricting yourselves to passing certain clauses of a Bill which were urgent, and refusing to consider others which were not urgent, although the Bill itself was admitted to be so. I think further, that it was damaged by the Motion of the noble Lord on the cross benches (Lord Monteagle) to reject a measure which in spirit and in principle ought to have been excepted from its operation. Having said so much about the Resolution, I may now state the history of this particular Bill. Every body admits that the legislation with regard to saving banks required considerable improvement. A Bill—Iam not going to argue whether it was a good or a bad one—was introduced by the Government into the other House with that object. That Bill was objected to, and a considerable portion of it was withdrawn. The remaining part, fortified by the support of such men as Mr. Henley and Mr. Sotheron Estcourt, was, so far as I am aware, without opposition sent up to this House, where it was read a first time. As soon as it was read a first time the noble Lord on the cross benches stated that he had some objections to it, and that it would require the introduction of Amendments. By that statement he clearly indicated his opinion that at that time, at all events, the Bill was one that would naturally go through some further stages. Subsequently, finding that the Amendment of the Bill would be regarded as a breach of privilege by the other House, he uses this Resolution as an instrument for defeating the measure. The usual notice was given, and the noble Duke behind me (the Duke of Argyll) stated in the clearest possible and most accurate terms the object and purposes of the Bill, and then urged reasons why the Sessional Order should be suspended in regard to it. The noble Lord followed, and took occasion, notwithstanding the accuracy of the noble Duke's statement, and notwithstanding that neither I nor any other member of the Government had spoken, to intimate that we knew nothing whatever about the subject, but giving out that he himself perfectly understood it; an assurance which the House, remembering the official position which the noble Lord formerly occupied, and his present connection with the Exchequer, naturally accepted. Nevertheless, the noble Lord began his speech by committing a gross error, showing that he was ignorant of the present state of the law and of its consequent effect on the Bill. I have reason to believe that several of your Lordships were induced to vote against the Motion in the belief that the Bill gave undefined powers, by which the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be enabled to deal with the money of the savings banks in connection, among other things, with the terminable annuities to be created for the purpose of defraying the cost of fortifications. I do not know whether the noble Lord shared that impression or helped to extend it; but I think such must have been his notion, because he made a similar mistake in arguing that Exchequer bonds might be good securities in certain respects, but that it would be wrong by this Bill to enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer to invest the money of the savings banks in them. I answered that the noble Lord was totally in error, inasmuch as Exchequer bonds and also terminable annuities were already available for that purpose, and that this Bill would not give the slightest additional power to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the matter. I must say I think the noble Lord, in persuading the House to take the lamentable course which, as I believe, it adopted, ought to have made himself better acquainted with the subject on which he presumed to give such authoritative instruction to your Lordships. Unluckily, we had not a majority, and the numbers for and against it being equal, our Motion, according to the forms of the House, was lost. I come next to the alleged unfairness of the Government in not giving longer notice, and fixing a later day for the consideration of this subject. As I stated yesterday, it would have been quite impossible, on a question of this importance, for any individual Member of the Government to have immediately announced, on his own responsibility, what course we should pursue. It was absolutely necessary that the Government collectively should be consulted, and the earliest opportunity the Government had for that purpose was on Wednesday last. And how did matters stand when we thus came to deliberate? We knew that already a very strong feeling existed on this subject in the House of Commons. We knew that the highest authority in that House thinks your Lordships acted against the privileges of the Commons. [Dissent.] The noble Lord shakes his head, but I am not now arguing whether this view be right or wrong; I simply state the fact. The leader of the House of Commons certainly exerted his influence and ability in a most successful manner on behalf of conciliation, and with a view to prevent a collision between the two Houses, when on a former occasion your Lordships interfered in an unusual degree with the financial arrangements of the year. Is it fair, then, even towards the noble Viscount, to put him in a position in which he must either lead the House of Commons in a course exactly the opposite to that course of conciliation in which he has been already so successful, or attempt to defend that which in his judgment is indefensible? Independent Members of the other House, who also lately used their best endeavours to avert a collision between the two branches of the Legislature, are likewise strongly opposed to the course which your Lordships took on Monday. It is, perhaps, natural that the Members of the other House, justly valuing their high privileges, should be disposed to press them to their utmost limits without much regarding in what position they may place this House. Their language is this:— This is the fullest confirmation of what we said—namely, not that the House of Lords thought there was an extraordinary emergency, to be met only by extraordinary means, but it is a proof that they are designedly entering upon a system of interference with the financial arrangements of the country. Under these circumstances, I think it would not only be unwise, but unfair towards this House, if the Government had not resolved to give it an opportunity of reconsidering its decision. As to the assertion that we have fixed too early a day for the discussion, all I can say is that as soon as the Cabinet came to its determination on Wednesday, that very evening notice was written to the Earl of Derby, the acknowledged leader of the Opposition in this House, that your Lordships were to be asked to reconsider this question; and next day, as soon as the exact line we should take was decided upon, another communication was made to the noble Earl. I may add that even those noble Lords behind me who take a kind interest in the dissemination of information, particularly in reference to matters likely to lead to a division, were not acquainted with our intention, either by word or writing, till the day after it was notified to the noble Earl whom I have named. I appeal to the House, therefore, whether we have acted in a manner that is not straightforward, or that is "full of art." If we had postponed the Motion till next week, should we not have been met with this objection:— This is too bad. You mean to propose the direct reversal of their Lordships' decision, but you are going to put off your Motion still further when you know that Peers are leaving town every day. Putting aside that imputation, however, which we might have easily borne, is it not manifest that, if the House is likely to rescind its decision, it ought to he done as early as possible r Is it desirable that this whole subject should be taken up in the House of Commons, and that our mode of transacting business should be there discussed and attacked in every possible manner, and at a period of the Session when so many Members of weight and consideration have left town? From what has been stated in so fair a spirit by the three noble Lords on the other side, I think this House will be able, with perfect dignity, to reverse its original decision on this matter. But should we have, been in that position if, after an acrimonious debate in the other House of Par- liament, we had been accused and threatened in every possible form? Would not such a state of things have made it infinitely more difficult for us then to retrace our steps? I have deemed it necessary to trespass at some length on the attention of your Lordships, to explain the reasons why I do not think the noble Baron was justified in using towards us the language which he thought fit to employ the other night, and which he might have been expected to retract in the course of the evening, when he became a little cooler. I deny that he had the slightest right to employ those offensive epithets, and I cannot help saying that the tone of triumph which he assumed depreciatory of us reminded me forcibly of the lines of the old poet:— Give me a look, give me a face Which makes simplicity a grace. Hair loosely flowing, robes as free, Such sweet neglect more taketh me Than all the adulteries of art, Which strike the eyes, hut not the heart. The noble Lord did not exactly use that language, but he certainly adopted its spirit. In conclusion, I have only to add that I shall be most happy to yield to the suggestion which has been made to me, that this question should be postponed till Monday, when I shall move a similar Resolution to the one which your Lordships rejected the other evening, together with the second reading of the Savings Banks Bill itself.


who was very imperfectly heard, was understood wholly to deny the correctness of the noble Earl's representation of the course he had pursued on this subject. He could assure the noble Earl that if he felt that he had deserved his censure, whether expressed either in the language of prose or poetry, he should have considered it his duty to take the earliest opportunity of expressing his regret at having giving him any pain. He now begged to assure the noble Earl in all sincerity that he did not say anything that conveyed the meaning the noble Earl had attached to his words—he did not think he had said anything that ought to have justly excited the susceptibilities of the noble Earl. When he heard the question argued in favour of setting aside the Sessional Order of the House, and reading the Savings' Bank Bill a second time contrary to that Order, on the alleged grounds of urgency, he felt, as he still continued to feel, that the course the Government pro- posed was utterly indefensible. He well remembered when Lord Redesdale's Resolutions as to the period when Bills should be received and read a second time in the House of Lords was originally brought forward he stated that appeals would be made year after year to make exceptions in its application, and the Order would be only a delusion and as inconvenience if independent Peers did not support its strict enforcement. He therefore stood by the Resolution of the House on Monday evening, as he had always done. He had not the slightest expectation that the division would result in the manner it did. It was as much a matter of surprise to him as to any of their Lordships. But that decision, adhering, as it did, to the Order of the House was pronounced by their Lordships, and it only re-affirmed the Resolutions adopted and enforced during several successive years. When the noble Earl yesterday announced his intention to move the reversal of the vote and of the Order of the House, and that without full notice, the appeal he made was the very moderate one of entreating the noble Earl to postpone the Motion for two days, in order to give the proceeding the appearance and the certainty of fair discussion. When he spoke of "art" and taking the House by surprise as matters to be guarded against, he meant that by giving fair notice of his intention the noble Earl would relieve himself of that which, considering the high character and position of the noble Earl, he was sure would be most painful to him; the possible imputation of having endeavoured to carry any point by other than the fairest means. Both Houses of Parliament were justly strict in adhering to their Resolutions, and avoiding anything in the nature of a surprise. It was with this view that Orders were framed and notices required; but even what was considered as an understanding between the two sides of the House, or even between individual Peers was very rarely abandoned or set aside. A word spoken, a sign made, must be considered, under all circumstances, as a bond between party and party; and any attempt to pervert the Orders of the House or to do anything inconsistent with perfect fairness was equally to be deprecated on both sides. Speaking with perfect coolness and on reflection, he did say, and at the risk of again encountering the vituperation of the noble Earl, he repeated, that by taking any unusual course which deprived either side of the ordinary advantages which the forms of the House gave them in turn, was objectionable and inconvenient; but he did not say that the noble Earl had justly exposed himself to that imputation, though it might raise such a suspicion, he was truly sorry if anything he had said could be considered at all personally offensive to the noble Earl, and he repeated, nothing was further from his intention. He should be prepared to state his general objections to the Bill itself when it came on for a second reading.


said, although this Bill was not technically a Bill of Aid or Supply, it was a Bill which had respect to money, and was one of the class of Bills any Amendment in which would be regarded as a question of privilege by the House of Commons. He trusted their Lordships would consider a Bill touching money which came up from the House of Commons, at however late a period of the Session, as deserving the consideration of this House. He was certain that if their Lordships so strained the Resolution of the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees, that they would not take into consideration a Bill touching money which had been passed by the unanimous vote of the other House, the Resolution could not and ought not to be retained.


said, he was not about to enter into the general question of the Resolution, but he was quite ready to defend it when necessary. The time might come when the House of Commons might see right to adopt a similar Order themselves, as being the only way in which they could get through their business. When the other House complained of the way in which their Lordships transacted their business, they had better look at home and see how very ready their Lordships were to receive measures emanating from the House of Commons, and how that House received the measures coming from this House.


was unwilling to let the discussion close without acknowledging the handsome manner in which the noble Lord had acted.