HL Deb 22 June 1869 vol 197 cc400-10

I venture to call your Lordships' attention to a circumstance which must already have presented itself to your notice—namely, the applause which during a recent debate proceeded from the Strangers' Gallery. Your Lordships are aware that there is a Gallery allotted to the gentlemen of the Press, and another at the back of it appropriated to strangers; and it is to the latter I am referring. Now, if the expression of approbation which occurred last week had been a casual and solitary case I should have taken no notice of it; but those of your Lordships who have paid attention to the subject cannot fail to have remarked that the practice of applauding speeches in which a particular interest is taken has been exhibited during the entire Session, and has of late been gradually increasing. Now, I do not consider that a very grave offence—far from it. I should be the last to visit with severe reprehension those who applauded the touching peroration of the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby) by stamping with the feet, or those who clapped their hands at the somewhat more elaborate and laboured peroration of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Cairns); but what I wish to do is to call the attention of the House to the consequences which must flow from such manifestations unless they are checked—and they cannot be checked at all unless in their infancy. I may re- mind your Lordships of a very hackneyed piece of history—an incident of the first French Revolution. Your Lordships will rember that the persons present in the Galleries during the sittings of the National Assembly took a great interest in the discussions, and there gradually grew up a sympathy between the occupants of the Galleries and some of the orators, which eventually came to overawe the Assembly. Sometimes the sentiments and sympathies of the Assembly were not in accordance with those of the Gallery — on one occasion indeed, a speaker remarked that though the Assembly did not sympathize with him, the public did — and the Gallery, in point of fact, was used for the purpose of overawing the Assembly. Now, unless this practice is stopped in the outset it will acquire such a head, that your Lordships will in the end be unable to check it. This becomes the more necessary, since it has been stated to be very desirable to bring your Lordships' House more into accordance with the feelings and opinions of the public, and to make it an Assembly in which the public will take greater interest than they have hitherto done. It is therefore of the utmost importance that your Lordships should not allow any interference on the part of strangers in the direction of overawing or in any way affecting the expression of opinion of your Lordships. I need not point out, too, how inconsistent such practices are with the dignity of your Lordships' House. When I was a Member of the House of Commons, the rule, I believe, was that if the person making a demonstration could be distinguished he was removed from the Gallery, and that if he could not be distinguished the Gallery was cleared. That, it seems to me, is the only course which can be pursued. I think that if a notice stating the rule of the House, and that it will be rigidly enforced, were put up at the entrance to the Gallery, it would probably prevent any further trouble. I owe some apology for having brought the subject before your Lordships, but it is one on which I feel very strongly.


I am very much obliged to my noble and learned Friend for having brought forward this subject, which is one certainly worthy of the attention of the House. I was not aware, until my noble Friend mentioned it, that these manifestations had been of frequent occurrence; I am aware, of course, that, to a considerable extent, they had prevailed during the course of the debates of last week—and, perhaps, I am myself culpable in not having taken more notice of it. Indeed, on rising after the able speech of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Cairns), I was asked to move that the Gallery be cleared, in consequence of the cheers which followed the noble and learned Lord's peroration. I hesitated, however, to take that course, for I felt that probably the great majority of the persons in the Gallery on that particular occasion were from a part of the United Kingdom where the people are supposed to be peculiarly impulsive; doubtless, also, many of the old constituents of the noble and learned Lord | were there, and having heard their own thoughts better expressed by one of their own countrymen than they had ever been able to express them themselves, the temptation to cheer was irresistible. I thought it better, therefore, to make no remark, though the cheers somewhat interrupted the observations which I felt it my duty to make. Before sitting down I may also add that I was asked to call attention to the conduct of a very distinguished and eminent member of the Church of England, standing on the steps of the Throne, who was alternately cheering and groaning at passages of speeches to which he assented or dissented. I refrained in that case also from taking any public step; but I sent a private message to him that the observation had been made, and, as it is an ill wind which blows nobody good, I am happy to say that I received a charming letter, together with the present of a book which animadverted on the speeches delivered on the great debate of last year, and which I always retain as a memorial of these debates. I quite agree with my noble and learned Friend that these demonstrations in the Strangers' Gallery ought to be put a stop to. The plan he has suggested seems to be sufficient for the purpose, and I hope it will be adopted. I think also that the officers who are charged with the preservation of order in the House should receive strict injunctions to see that no infringement of the rules of the House is allowed.


said, he quite agreed that the practice referred to was a very irregular one, and ought not to be continued. He could not, however, agree with the noble and learned Lord (Lord Romilly) that there was any intention of overawing their Lordships on the part of the strangers in the Gallery who had applauded a particular speech. [Lord ROMILLY said he had not said so.] He understood his noble and learned Friend to say, that if the custom were not put down at the commencement it might in time assume dimensions which might lead to their Lordships being overawed. He (Lord Cairns) did not think there had been any intention on the part of the strangers, on the occasion in question, to overawe their Lordships. His noble and learned Friend had pointed out how, in one memorable instance, the custom had assisted very materially in bringing about a revolution. That was certainly a precedent of very evil omen, when many people thought that the course they were taking in regard to the Irish Church amounted to a revolution. The noble Earl seemed to have ascertained the nationality of those from whom the manifestations proceeded; but he (Lord Cairns) was rather disposed to regard them as an example of that quality which had been so recently commended in that House—namely, that feeling of John Bullism which was always sure to make its innate ideas and convictions known, without reference to the suitability of the place or time, or to the manner in which they were expressed.


said, there were some points connected with the regulations for the admission of strangers and their location here which, as well as their conduct, it might be desirable to refer to a Committee. But while they were discussing the question how strangers were to be made more conformable to rule noble Lords themselves should be careful to inform themselves of the rules of the House, and conform to them in all cases. He noticed a right rev. Prelate last week who invited three strangers to take their place on the steps of the Throne.


said, their Lordships were much indebted to the noble and learned Lord (Lore Romilly) for having called attention to this matter. He could hardly suppose that we were on the eve of a revolution, or that such catastrophes as those which occurred in France were impending; but there was no doubt that much mischief might arise from allowing this practice to continue, and that steps ought to be taken to stop it. Allowance should, no doubt, however, be made for the peculiar circumstances of the occasion; and the noble and learned Lord, from his cognizance of legal proceedings, must be aware that there were occasions when the rule of silence which was so stringently laid down in the courts of law and justice could not be altogether enforced even by the most resolute Judge. There was another inconvenience from which their Lordships frequently suffered—the hum of conversation which was constantly kept up below the Bar. The noble Earl who usually spoke from the cross-Benches (Earl Grey) was on one occasion, indeed, so interrupted that he was obliged to break off and remonstrate; and in the Committee which sat last year to consider the arrangements of the House, of which he (the Earl of Carnarvon) was Chairman, he drew special attention to the fact that their discussions were constantly interrupted, though unconsciously and unintentionally, by the hum of conversation below the Bar. That arose from the large space so set apart, and partly from the practice of Peers, Members of the House of Commons, and strangers collecting there and discussing public matters. The suggestion of the Select Committee was that the officers of the House should have orders to enforce silence, and this should be done both in the Gallery and below the Bar. In fact it was their duty to do so. The space below the Bar was a serious evil; and he should ask permission later in the Session to call attention to the Report of the Committee with a view to the adoption of some alterations, which, though slight, would, he thought, be of great advantage.


said, he desired to say a word on behalf of the persons below the Bar. He did not think they were the greatest interruption in their debates. It appeared to him that the hum of conversation of which they complained proceeded quite as frequently from those within the House as from those without. He remembered, indeed, that when he was comparatively new to the House, he was astonished to find that, while one Cabinet Minister was making a speech, two other Cabinet Ministers were talking in so loud a tone that he could not hear him, though sitting opposite to him. The practical suggestion he would venture to make was that their Lordships should abate something of that jealousy which they had always manifested with regard to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and should place in his hands the power of keeping order, not only in the Gallery and below the Bar, but within the precincts of the House. They need not fear, he believed, that such a measure would lead to any real curtailment of their privileges, for they would always be able to prevent a tyrannical Lord Chancellor from abusing his powers.


said, he would remind his noble Friend that he (the Marquess of Salisbury) had himself moved a Resolution in the Select Committee with reference to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack; but the feeling was that any such authority should not be exercised by a Member of the House appointed by the Government, but by an officer appointed by the House, irrespective of political considerations.


said, the noble Marquess had hit the right nail on the head when he said that the noise by which their debates were sometimes interrupted proceeded much more frequently from the interior of the House than from the external portion of it. The fact was, that whenever a speech was worth hearing there was always a dead silence in the House —and there could be no better proof of that than the way in which the important debate of last week was conducted, for every speaker was listened to with the greatest possible attention. It was only when the orators were themselves not very audible, or when the subject was not very interesting, that private conversation went on. The noble Marquess had suggested that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack should be the custos of our manners and proceedings. No one, I think, could be more fitted to the task than the noble and learned Lord who at present occupied the Woolsack; but he (the Earl of Malmesbury) hoped that the noble Marquess would not go further and require that the Lord Chancellor should be invested with more than the usual formal powers—that he would not, for instance, furnish him with a bell, to ring whenever any of their Lordships were out of order.


said, he thought the House was generally speaking, exceedingly attentive, and there was not much conversation, when the subject under discussion was one of interest. He feared, however, that the noble and learned Lord (the Lord Chancellor) would find it extremely difficult, as was the case with the Speaker of the House of Commons, to preserve order in cases where the subject was one about which half the Members present cared nothing. He agreed with the noble and learned Lord (Lord Romilly) that what occurred the other night was an abuse; and he was told that it had happened, on three or four occasions. It was therefore time that they should act on the principle of obsta principiis, and should take some such measure as that suggested by the noble and learned Lord. It was true that in courts of law the silence which ought to be preserved was sometimes transgressed; but this always met with, censure from the Judge; and so in their Lordships' House notice ought to be immediately taken of any interruption. The officers of the House should be directed to take notice of any person who committed a breach of order; and, in extreme cases, they might resort to the clearing of the Gallery—though that had very seldom been done in the House of Commons, and should not be lightly resorted to.


said, he should be glad if the noble and learned Lord (Lord Romilly), or the Government, would follow up this conversation by proposing a Standing Order for intrusting the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack with the duty of maintaining order in the House. It was obvious, however, that the noble and learned Lord could not properly discharge some of the functions of the Speaker of the House of Commons. He could not, for example, decide what particular Peer should, address their Lordships, for he himself took part in the debates; whereas the Speaker of the House of Commons was excluded from so doing. He might, however, very properly discharge the function of seeing that order was preserved, and no one could doubt that it would be most satisfactorily discharged by the noble and learned Lord at present occupying the Woolsack.


said, their Lordships should bear in mind that the situation of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was very different from that of the Speaker of the House of Commons. The latter was chosen by the House itself, took no part in the debates or in party politics, and was, therefore, always an unsuspected authority, who could regulate the proceedings of the House with the strictest impartiality. The Lord Chancellor, on the other hand, was appointed by and was a Member of the Government of the day, and was not removed beyond the sphere of party politics, and if he were required to regulate the order of their debates, he would often be placed in a very invidious position. No doubt all their Lordships would have the fullest confidence in the noble and learned Lord who at present filled that position, but it was necessary that the question should be considered in a much more general manner. License might be taken by speakers as well as by hearers; and when a Member who did not address the House with any great acceptance was not very interesting, or spoke at greater length than was necessary, a discipline was necessarily exercised. Indeed, the sittings of a public body would be intolerable if there were not means of showing a speaker—though it might be in a rather unpleasant manner—that it was not inclined to listen to him; and if the slightest whisper or conversation was repressed by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack with judicial authority, it would not be for the convenience or advantage of the House. Unless the evil was much greater than he believed it to be, he should be very sorry to see the duty of keeping order intrusted to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. With regard to the Gallery, it was quite right that decorum should be maintained, and that such displays of feeling as they had witnessed last week should be at once suppressed. At the same time he did not think they were very terrible, or that they were likely to lead to an invasion of the House by fishwomen and others like those who overawed the Assembly of revolutionary France.


said, he entirely agreed with the noble Lord who last spoke (Lord Taunton) as to the undesirability of giving any such authority over their debates to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. Their Lordships must remember that the Lord Chancellor was frequently the junior Member of the House, and it would consequently be most painful for him to begin his duties by having to call other Peers to order. Moreover, he was always connected with the Government of the day—frequently a prominent Member of the Administration—and his first appearance on the Woolsack was necessarily in connection with a change of Government. These considerations were sufficient to show how difficult it would be for him to keep order in times of political excitement. Much, too, would depend on individual character. All must admit the courtesy and discretion of the present Lord Chancellor; but he had known Lord Chancellors whose exercise of authority would have been resented in the strongest possible manner; and he feared that might at some time occur which would lead to most unpleasant circumstances if their Lordships were in any way to alter the custom of the House with regard to the maintenance of order. He remembered a time when certain noble Lords paid special attention to the order of their proceedings, and were always ready to interpose their cry of "Order" whenever they observed any infraction of their rules. This interference proved very effectual in enforcing regularity. There did not, unfortunately, seem to be any Peers at the present moment who cared to undertake that duty.


said, that all their Lordships had the power of enforcing order, and all ought to contribute individually to the maintenance of order during their debates; but there was another Member besides the Lord Chancellor who had not yet been named, and who might in a peculiar manner be entrusted with that duty, and that was the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees.


said, their Lordships would allow him to say that he agreed so entirely with every observation that had fallen from the Chairman of their Lordships' Committees that it was scarcely necessary for him to add anything to what had been said; but in three sentences he would state why it was their Lordships ought not to introduce any such change as had been suggested with reference to the Lord Chancellor. There were three remarkable distinctions between the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Peer who occupied the Woolsack, which distinctions had a bearing on the cheerful obedience which was paid to the Speaker on the one hand, and the feeling which was entertained with respect to the authority of the Lord Chancellor on the other. First, the Speaker was chosen by those who wished to select him for the office; secondly, he was chosen from among Members distinguished by their long acquaintance with the business of the House, and to whose decisions on points of Order or calls to Order implicit deference was therefore paid; and, thirdly, he could not be a partizan, had no opportunity of speaking except in Committee, and was generally supposed to be a person free from the trammels of party. The Lord Chancellor was at a great disadvantage in these particulars, and it therefore seemed to Mm that great inconvenience might be expected to arise from placing him in the invidious position of regulator of their Lordships' deliberations.


pointed out that the conversation had drifted away from the original subject—that of the conduct of strangers in the Gallery. He would not take up their Lordships' time by going into the graver question of maintaining order among themselves — but they ought not to loose sight of the very grave question which was involved in the conduct of strangers in the Gallery. He rose to confirm what had been said with regard to the great irregularity committed, in admitting strangers to the steps of the Throne during the debates of last week. The steps of the Throne were reserved for sons of Peers, Privy Councillors, and foreign Ambassadors; but last week the steps of the Throne and the passages of the House were thronged by persons who had no claim whatever to any of these qualifications. Many of them indulged in loud conversation during the debates. Something had been said about preserving order through the medium of the officers of this House. Last week he was himself annoyed by three persons talking loudly; he called them to order, and found that they were three of the messengers of this House. Therefore they must not be too sanguine with regard to enforcing rules through the medium of their officers, unless some of their Lordships would themselves enforce the rules of the House, and insist on maintaining that demeanour on the part of strangers which no doubt ought to be preserved. At the same time he hoped measures would be taken to have the steps of the Throne reserved for those who had a right to be there, and who were naturally annoyed at finding themselves jostled and hustled by those who had no claim to the privilege. The place for strangers was in the Gallery and at the Bar; and he trusted that in the future, if the debates should be as attractive as they were last week, the steps of the Throne would be reserved for the distinguished personages for whom they were intended. Last week their Lordships' House had been graced by a large attendance of Peeresses, and he regretted to say that, in addition to Peeresses and the unmarried daughters of Peers, there was a considerable attendance of the married daughters of Peers, who had no right to a place in the Gallery, and who occupied the places which otherwise would have been occupied by Peeresses who were anxious to be present. He trusted that in the future the rules of their Lordships' House in this respect would be better observed.