HL Deb 03 July 1865 vol 180 cc1033-8

rose to move for a list of those Lords who had served on Private Bill Committees during the present Session of Parliament, and the number of times that each Lord had served; and to call the attention of the House to the question whether it was not desirable that it should be compulsory upon each Member of the House, with certain exceptions, to serve, if required, on a Private Bill Committee once during each Session of Parliament? The arrangement of which he suggested the adoption worked admirably in another place, and he believed that it would operate with equal advantage in their Lordships' House. It might be objected that while no man need become a Member of the other House, and consequently become liable to the performance of these duties unless he pleased, their Lordships were born Peers. But, apart from the some- what trite observation that rank had its duties as well as its rights, no Peer need take his seat unless he chose, and if he did not take his seat he would not have to serve on these Committees. Perhaps he might be told that there was no difficulty in getting Peers to do all the work that was necessary; but the great majority of their Lordships never attended at all, and those who did the work could not help feeling that some injustice was inflicted upon them. In the early part of the Session there was always a very small attendance, and the speaking was almost entirely confined to the Members of the Government and one or two other noble Lords. There was a great number of Peers who had nothing else to do, and they might as well come down to that House as go anywhere else. He had no doubt that the fear of being called upon to serve on Private Bill Committees kept many of them away, and probably if the duty of serving upon such Committees were better distributed that fear would operate less than it did at present.

Moved, "That there be laid upon the table a List of those Lords who have served on Private Bill Committees during the present Session of Parliament, and the Number of Times that each Lord has served; and to call the Attention of the House to the Question, whether it is not desirable that it should be compulsory upon each Member of the House, with certain Exceptions, to serve, if required, on a Private Bill Committee once during each Session of Parliament?"


said, that the noble Earl (Earl Cowper) could, after the speech which he had just delivered, have no excuse for not in future taking a more prominent part than he had hitherto done in the debates of their Lordships' House. He believed that the system which the noble Earl had recommended worked very well in the other House, and that arrangements were made at the commencement of each Session by which the convenience of Members was consulted as to the time of the year at which they would prefer to serve upon Committees; and he was afraid that the practice followed in their Lordships' House operated injuriously by throwing the work upon a small number of Peers. Practically there was no difficulty in getting a sufficient number of Members of their Lordships' House to form the necessary Committees, but there was in the minds of those who acted a feeling that they were doing the whole of a work of which others ought to take a share. He heartily agreed in the observations of the noble Earl as to the general thin attendance of noble Lords in the House. A very distinguished Member of the other House, who was present at a great debate, when the Benches on both sides of their Lordships' House were crammed with Peers, said, "What a power the House of Lords would be if they constantly sat in numbers such as this !" The younger Peers were sometimes reluctant to attend the meetings of their Lordships' House from the fear of being called upon to serve on Committees out of their course; and that fear aggravated by their belief that if they consented to serve an unequal share of the burden would be thrown upon them. He (Earl Granville) had been informed by several Lords, not anxious to shirk business, that it was this fear that caused them to absent themselves. The best course for the noble Earl to adopt would be to confine his Motion at present to asking for the Return mentioned in his Motion, and next Session to move that the subject should be referred to a Select Committee, by whom the question would be carefully inquired into.


said, it was formerly the practice in their Lordship's House to enforce the attendance of Peers by penalties, but this was dropped from finding that it did not work well, and the present plan of voluntary attendance had been followed of late years. He thought that some means should certainly be adopted to secure the attendance of Peers on Committees, but at the same time wished to point out that the health of the Peers who did attend ought to be taken into account by the introduction of improvements in the Committee rooms. He had written to the First Commissioner of Works to point out the necessity for the windows being opened at the top, but regretted to find that, with the exception of one small room, this had not been done. The Committee rooms were inconvenient and badly ventilated. If a Committee were appointed next Session it might mitigate the evils complained of.


said, he agreed that the best course to be adopted would be to move for a Committee on the subject. If their Lordships required any change they must so arrange that more business should be originated in their House, and not allow the great mass of the private Bills to be commenced in the other House, and then thrown upon them all at once late in the Session. Perhaps, if a Committee were appointed, and a conference arranged Earl between the two Houses, some improvements might be effected.


entirely acquiesced in the observations of the noble Lords who had preceded him, that the present system under which the private business of their Lordships' House was conducted was most unsatisfactory. It was not fair that noble Lords who were perfectly capable of discharging the duties of the House should absent themselves, and so throw the burden altogether upon the few Peers who did attend, putting, at the same time, an undue pressure upon the noble Lord the Chairman of the Committees. But this was not a matter which ought to be decided hastily, and the suggestion of the Lord President was a good one; and he hoped the noble Earl who had made the Motion would endeavour next year to have the matter referred to a Select Committee.


said, no Member of their Lordship's House would be more relieved by the change proposed by the noble Earl (Earl Cowper) than himself; but, at the same time, it was his duty to express his entire dissent from the alteration suggested. As one who had been a Member of the Nomination Committee ever since 1838, he could say that the present system had worked well for the public, and that the Committees of this House where the attendance was voluntary, gave more satisfaction to the public than the Committees of the other House, where the attendance was compulsory. Nothing could be more unsatisfactory than compulsory attendance. He recollected that in one instance, where a noble Lord had been compelled to attend a Committee, he was found to be perfectly useless, and he was afraid if they were to make the attendance generally compulsory, the public would be the sufferers. It would be impossible to commence a very much larger number of Bills in their Lordships' House, as at the beginning of the Session there were but few Peers in town, and it would be difficult to obtain good Chairmen of the Committees. At present the division of the business was regulated by agreement between the two Houses, and such an amount of business was appointed to commence in their Lordships' House as would occupy them until the time when the business from the other House would begin to come in, which was generally shortly after Easter. The business from the House did not come in all at once, as had been stated, but came in a constant stream, so that their Lord- ships were kept steadily employed from about Easter down to the end of the Session. He must also say that a large number of their Lordships did sit upon Committees. After all, the question was, in what manner Chairmen of Committees were to be found; for, if there was not a good Chairman of a Committee, the compulsory attendance of Peers would be most unsatisfactory. It might seem an unpleasant duty to try to form a Committee; but, in his twenty-seven years' experience of the duty, be must say that he bad never met with an uncivil or uncourteous reply, and though the duty was laborious and ungracious he was still willing to discharge it. In reply to the suggestion of the noble Lord that young Peers were prevented from attending their Lordships' House by the fear of being compelled to serve on Committees, he might say that no Peer was required to serve more than once in each Session unless he showed a disposition to serve more frequently. If the attendance was compulsory there could not be less than one service, and no pressure was put on any one at the present time. For these reasons he thought that the voluntary service was preferable; and that if any one had a right to complain, it was the Chairman of Committees. He hoped the noble Earl would amend his Motion by striking out its compulsory clause, and by adding to the Return he moved for the number of days each Lord had sat.


said, the Return moved for by the noble Earl should include the names of those Peers who had sat upon Select Committees, as well as those who had sat upon Private Committees. A great deal of business was done in Select Committees. The Return, as proposed, might lead to the supposition that the Peers named in it were the only Peers who had served on Committees, which would be unjust. He agreed with the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees that the attendance should not be made compulsory.


said, he would adopt the suggestion of the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees, and would omit from his Motion the passage making the attendance of Peers compulsory, and would move that the Return should include the number of days on which each noble Lord had sat on one of their Lordships' private Committees.

Motion amended, and agreed to.

Ordered, That there be laid upon the Table a List of those Lords who have served on Private Bill Committees during the present Session of Parliament; and the Number of Times that each Lord had served; and the Number of Days he sat on every such Committee.—(The Earl Cowper.)