HL Deb 02 April 1868 vol 191 cc690-6

, who had given notice to move the following Resolutions:—

  1. 1. That it is expedient that Notice of an Intention to ask a Question should be given in the Minutes, except in Cases which admit of no Delay:
  2. 2. That the Committee of Selection are desired to exercise their Discretion in calling for the Service of Lords absent from the House:
  3. 3. That in future, in entering the Reports of Bills amended in Committee of the Whole House in the Journals, instead of the Report of such Amendments being entered as made formally by the Chairman of Committees, the Name of the Lord who moves the Reception of the Report and takes charge of the Bill in that Stage be substituted.
said, he would direct their Lordships' attention to a subject which had been discussed on Thursday evening—the Report of the Select Committee upon the Conduct of Business in their Lordships' House. It appeared to him at that time that the best way to proceed would be for their Lordships to assent to the Report, and that the recommendations of the Committee should be discussed in detail afterwards, at their Lordships' discretion. He had inferred, however, from the debate of the other night, that their Lordships would prefer that the recommendations of the Report should be embodied in a set of Resolutions to be proposed seriatim. That wish of their Lordships he had endeavoured to Carry out. He thought the most convenient course would be to move the Resolutions separately, and their Lordships could discuss them one by one as they were moved. He begged to move the first Resolution.

Moved to resolve— That it is expedient that Notice of an Intention to ask a Question should be given in the Minutes, except in Cases which admit of no Delay."—(The Lord Privy Seal.)


said, he thought that the Resolution of the noble Earl went beyond the recommendation of the Committee, and, if carried, would put a stop to many Questions which might be fairly asked without notice. In the other House of Parliament there was a very convenient usage, no discussion being permitted on a Question being asked. He concurred in the opinion that it was not desirable to stop the putting of Questions in all cases without formal notice; but, at the same time no Question which was at all likely to give rise to debate ought to be put without notice having been given. The proposal of the noble Earl, in its present form, might put a stop to a number of Questions that were not likely to raise debates; and it was scarcely expedient to go quite so far as that.


said, he saw no objection to the Resolution as proposed. It would have the effect of stopping any noble Lord from putting a Question at ten minutes past live o'clock, and thus initiating a debate which might last a considerable time, to the great inconvenience of those noble Lords who had given notices. He thought it might fairly be left to the discretion of noble Lords not to put Questions early in the evening without notice, unless they could be answered at once by the heads of Departments, or unless it was apparent that the Question was such as to show the propriety of suspending the rule in that instance.


said, he did not think the present practice of the House led to any serious inconvenience, for noble Lords usually gave notice of Questions when they were of such a character as probably to give rise to discussion. He thought it undesirable that any positive rule should be laid down.


said, that the Resolution carried out the intention of the Committee in making the recommendation. In the other House, the Speaker would stop any Member seeking to put a Question without notice, as being contrary to the rules of the House. In their Lordships' House, however, they had no similar functionary whose duty it would be to stop any irregularity. The great point to be attained was, no doubt, to put a stop to the practice of putting without notice Questions which were likely to give rise to debates.


suggested that the noble Earl should vary the Resolution, and follow more precisely the words of the Committee. This would stop the practice of putting Questions without notice, when there was no necessity for haste; but would not prevent the putting of urgent Questions, although they might possibly give rise to discussion.


said, there ought to be some rule on the subject which should be sufficiently distinct to prevent debates being raised upon Questions; but the rule could always be suspended in cases in which the House might think discussion desirable.


said, that if their Lordships followed the precise words of the Committee they might not attain the object the Select Committee had in view. That object was not merely to prevent the putting of Questions without notice; for that object might easily be gained by the refusal of the Minister or the other Member of the House to whom the Question was addressed to give an answer until he should have had an opportunity of informing himself upon the subject to which it related. The real evil was the debate which was sometimes raised by putting a Question. It had been complained that Questions had been put and discussions raised without notice; and it went forth to the public that many noble Lords who might have been most anxious to express their opinions on the subject had been denied the opportunity of so doing. That was the evil which had to be remedied; but what he was afraid of was that the Resolution would, on the one hand, operate to prevent Questions being put which might very conveniently be asked; and, on the other hand, it would not check discussion, because, without a Question, by other devices easily specified, any Member of their Lordships' House might initiate a discussion upon any subject. He suggested that the Resolution, instead of taking the form which had been proposed, should be in these words— It is desirable, where it is intended to make a Statement, or raise a Discussion on asking a Question, that Notice of the Question should be given in the Minutes and Orders of the Day. He therefore proposed that the following Resolution should be substituted for the proposed Resolution:— That it is desirable where it is intended to make a Statement, or raise a Discussion on asking a Question that Notice of the Question should be given in the Orders of the Day and Notices.


considered that the suggestion of his noble and learned Friend would be on improvement upon his Resolution, and proposed that their Lordships should adopt it.

Motion (by Leave of the House) withdrawn.

Then it was moved to resolve, That it is desirable where it is intended to make a Statement or raise a Discussion on asking a Question that Notice of the Question should be given in the Orders of the Day and Notices.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


warned their Lordships against the proposed alteration, which he conceived was opposed to the spirit of the privileges and usages of that House from time immemorial. The Resolution which they already possessed, providing that the Business on the Paper should be proceeded with at a quarter past five o'clock was quite sufficient, and he preferred it to the one now moved. It would be very injudicious for their Lordships to bind themselves down in the manner now proposed.


said, his noble Friend who had just sat down did not seem aware of the precise grievance which it was sought to remedy. He was surprised that one who had attended so closely to the debates in that House as his noble Friend should not have been aware of numerous occasions on which a noble Lord, who had only given a private notice to the Minister of the Crown, had risen a few minutes before a quarter past five o'clock, and made an hour's speech in reference to a matter of which the House had not been apprised. The consequence was that, the House having had no notice of the Question, the debate which might otherwise have been of general interest was confined to the noble Lord who put the Question and to the Minister of the Crown. He thought that the debates of the House had suffered materially from the existence of that practice. The objections to the Resolution were met by the Amendment of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack.

Motion agreed to.


moved the second Resolution— That the Committee of Selection are desired to exercise their Discretion in calling for the Service of Lords absent from the House.


explained that the Committee of Selection had already the power of proposing the name of any Peer; but, as a matter of fact they did not propose Peers who were known to be absent, nor any Peer without first communicating with him. The object of this Resolution seemed to be to direct the Committee of Selection to be less careful about obtaining the consent of a Peer before nominating him on a Committee. He saw no reason why the Resolution should not be adopted.


remarked that the Committee of Selection did exercise their own discretion at present.


said, he wished to see adopted much the same system as was adopted in the House of Commons with regard to Members selected to serve on Committees. Many Peers who were perfectly able to perform these duties avoided doing so by absenting themselves from the House, except upon great party debates and divisions; and thus the matter had an important bearing on the attendance in that House — a subject which had been commented on out of doors. This was a great grievance, which he should like to see put an end to. Then, again, many young Members of the House—having made their engagements for the next month, whether for pleasure, business, or otherwise—now refrain from coming down to the House, where they might train themselves for taking part in its discussions, from a fear that if they showed their faces there they might be pounced upon by the noble Lord (Lord Redesdale), or the other Peers who selected the Private Bill Committees.


said, he was sorry if any noble Lord stayed away from the fear of being asked to serve; because it had not been his practice to ask any Peer to serve on a Committee when he could plead any important engagement, or any other sufficient reason. Owing to the time when the Private Business came up to their Lordships' House, it would be impossible to appoint their Committees by rota in the manner adopted in the other House. At first they might find many Peers willing to serve, while few would offer themselves afterwards, and some would have to serve twice; but there would not be the same disposition as was now shown to undertake those duties voluntarily. The present system, even when there was a considerable pressure of business, worked well.


wished the Resolution could be brought back to the original form in which it stood in the Report of the Committee; and if the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) gave the House an opportunity of dividing on his proposition, he would support him. The Resolution, as it now stood, was mere surplusage, as it only asked the Committee of Selection to exercise a discretionary power, which they already exercised.


said, the proposal of his noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal was not that the House should give a discretion to the Committee of Selection which they already possessed, but that they should be requested to exercise that discretion when deemed advantageous.


said, what was really desired was that the absence of a noble Lord from that House should not exempt him from serving. He would, therefore, suggest the adoption of words to this effect— That the Absence of any noble Lord from this House, except on sufficient Reason, ought not to prevent the Committee of Selection from calling for his Services.


preferred the words just suggested to those proposed by the Lord Privy Seal; and he trusted that the Resolution, when adopted, would not remain a dead letter. It was both desirable and just that Peers who were in the habit of absenting themselves from the House should be called upon to serve on Committees when their services were required.


opposed the Resolution, which he regarded as open to great practical objection.


said, that some years ago he moved for a Return of the number of Peers who had served on Committees. He believed that in the year to which the Return referred only 120 Peers out of the whole number of Members of their Lordships' House had served on a Committee at all. The consequence was that many Peers had been obliged to serve twice; and, besides the Chairmen of the different Committees, one Peer had served on three Committees. Thus a heavy burden was entailed upon conscientious Peers by the idleness and default of others. The system under which the noble Lord (Lord Redesdale) obtained Members to sit on Private Bills must remind their Lordships of the system of recruiting for the British army. There was one great difference certainly; for he had never heard of the noble Lord offering anyone anything to drink; but he was obliged to go round and to whisper first to one and then to another, holding out hopes where he could that the inquiry would not be a very long one. He should be sorry to see a system of conscription adopted for the British army; but a well-managed conscription for compelling the Members of that House to take their fair share in Private Business would be a very good thing.


moved an Amendment— To leave out from ("Selection") to the end of the Motion for the Purpose of inserting the Words following, ("should in the Exercise of their Discretion call more frequently than at present for the Service of Lords absent from the House.")


could not agree to the Amendment.


thought that the Amendment of the noble Viscount (Viscount Halifax) exactly met the wants of the case.

Amendment (by Leave of the House) withdrawn.

Then it was moved to resolve, That the Absence of any Lord from this House, except for sufficient Reason, ought not to prevent the Committee of Selection from calling for his Services.—(The Viscount Halifax.)

Motion agreed to.

Then it was resolvedThat in entering in the Journals the Reports of Bills amended in Committees of the Whole House, the only Name entered therewith shall be that of the Lord who moves the Reception of the Report and takes Charge of the Bill in that Stage.—(The Lord Privy Seal.)