HL Deb 06 July 1882 vol 271 cc1580-90

, in rising to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice on this subject, said, that his great object was so to place the reporters that they might be enabled to hear, and, therefore, accurately report, the proceedings of their Lordships' House, for owing to the acoustic qualities of the House it was difficult, if not impossible, for them to do so at the present moment. A Select Committee had sat on the subject two years ago, and, after giving it full consideration, had suggested various expedients that might be tried in order to facilitate the work of the reporters. As the result of the Report of that Committee, parts of the side Galleries had been temporarily appropriated to the reporters towards the end of the Session; but he did not consider that experiment afforded a fair test of the benefit of the change, for the simple reason that that experiment was made near the end of the Session, and that there were not more than one or two debates which could afford the reporters an opportunity of testing the change. He recollected that, upon that occasion, the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees (the Earl of Redesdale), had read a letter to the House from the reporters, in which they expressed themselves against the change; but he believed that since that time there had been what some persons termed a revolution, and others a reform, of the Gallery, and that what was not desired by them then was very much desired now, for nothing had been done since, and the evils of inadequate reporting and inadequate accommodation for the reporters still existed. At any rate, some change was necessary, seeing that serious complaints had been made. Considering the very indifferent acoustic qualities of the House and the difficulties which the reporters had in conveying to the public a perfectly accurate report of their Lordships' speeches, and especially of Ministerial replies, which were telegraphed immediately all over the world, and a mistake in which might be productive of serious consequences, they ought to give the reporters every assistance they could in their endeavours to report their Lordships' speeches accurately. He remembered that the question was considered one of very great interest two years ago, and he thought it advisable to take up the question where it was left at that time. What he proposed was merely by way of ex- periment; but with a view to making permanent arrangements and arriving at a satisfactory result. With a hope that the proposal then made would receive a fair trial, he would move the Resolution of which he had given Notice. Moved, "That until the end of the Session the reporters be provided with temporary accommodation on each side of the Peers' Gallery under the two centre windows."—(The Earl Beauchamp.)


said, that he was against the proposed change; because he did not think that the experiment tried last year had caused any improvements in the reports of speeches, some of which were now very well reported. The reporters inserted what they chose, and omitted whatever displeased them. He (Lord Denman) thought that it was not desirable that the representatives of Peers—Princesses and Peeresses and their daughters—should find their seats occupied and the cushions pressed by the feet of reporters, especially in the interesting debates which might be expected to arise before the end of this Session, unless the system carried out in "another place" should prevail. The four windows were about the very best part of the Peers' Gallery, and he (Lord Denman) did not see any sound reason for the proposed change.


said, that two years ago the Select Committee which was appointed had fully considered this question, and had made the recommendation in question; but, although he (the Earl of Carnarvon) thought some remedy should be provided for the present inconveniences, he did not quite agree with the proposal of his noble Friend (Earl Beauchamp) to displace the Peeresses from the Galleries in the most conspicuous part of the House, and to interpose two bodies of reporters between them, or to relegate them to the end of the House; for the result of it, if adopted, would be that the speakers on either side of the House would be quite inaudible to the reporters behind them, and that would necessitate a double staff of reporters, or else require rapid travelling of the reporters from one side of the House to the other in the short space of 40 seconds. With regard to that point, it had been suggested that there should be some means of rapid transit from one Gallery to the other; but how that could be done did not appear; and yet, cer- tainly, it would be necessary when an animated discussion took place between his noble Friend the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) and the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville). If it could not be done it would be impossible for the reporters to do justice to their remarks. He would also ask their Lordships to consider a further objection—namely, that by the adoption of the proposal, the House would undergo very great loss, not to say injury, to its architectural effect, if a Gallery were to project from either side, for that was one of the very few rooms which could be looked upon with satisfaction in an architectural point of view. In his opinion, not much fault could be found with the acoustic properties of the House, and they were not so bad as they were alleged to be. He had himself sat there now for a considerable number of years, and he thought, on the contrary, that the House was very well constructed for acoustic purposes. The only thing required was that the speakers should speak clearly and distinctly. He could remember hearing the late Lord Lyndhurst, when in extremely old age, delivering those famous speeches which one could look back upon with pleasure and satisfaction, and in which every single syllable was reported without an omission through their being so clearly spoken. Then, in the case of the late Lord Derby, everything he said was reported without fail, and he could name many more speakers who had stood in the same position. If the House would, during a debate, remain perfectly silent there would be no difficulty in having speeches accurately reported. The difficulty really arose from the fact that there was a constant hum of conversation in the House. Many noble Lords made it a place of resort where matters of business and other arrangements could be talked over, to the great inconvenience both of the speakers and of the reporters. That could be remedied. In the Report of the Committee of which he was Chairman, it was recommended that the officers of the House should take care to carry out the requirements of the Standing Orders by enforcing silence. If that recommendation was acceded to, and the officers of the House would do their duty, then a great part of the present inconvenience would be remedied. There was one other difficulty which it was not so easy to cure. The Woolsack was at one end of the House while the reporters were at the other. If the two seats could be brought into juxtaposition a great improvement might be effected. Subject to those remarks, he was of opinion that his noble Friend had not made out his case, and he certainly strongly objected to material alterations being made in the structure of the House.


said, he agreed with a great deal of what the noble Earl (the Earl of Carnarvon) had said as to there not being much fault to be found with its acoustic properties. But there was no doubt that the hearing was bad, and that it was often very difficult to report the speeches—though through no fault of the reporters, and not always through the fault of the speakers. There was a large space below the Reporters' Gallery filled with strangers whose conversation competed with the speaker. The noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury) himself had given evidence before the Committee, and had said how inconvenient it was that important speeches and also important answers to Questions on Foreign and Colonial Affairs should not be accurately reported. It was, no doubt, extremely desirable that their answers to Questions should be correctly reported. The noble Earl said that he had presided over the Committee, and the Committee had made many excellent recommendations, but not one of them had been adopted. It now appeared that there was a desire to have the experiment which was made last year repeated. That experiment was tried, and only one debate took place afterwards. That might be done. The expense would not be very serious, and the structure of the House would not be affected in the slightest degree. It was, in his opinion, very important for the general character of the House that its debates should be well reported, and, therefore, he thought it would be valuable to the House to have the experience of the rest of the Session, and to try the experiment again; and he understood from the noble Earl (Earl Beauchamp) that such was the desire of the majority of the reporters. It would be desirable next year to re-appoint the Select Committee which sat to consider the subject two years ago.


said, he hoped their Lordships would hesitate very much be- fore they adopted this Resolution. He was most anxious that everything right and possible should be done to facilitate the important and difficult work of the gentlemen who reported their debates; but he did not believe either that the reports were themselves defective, or that the means of reporting were open to the observations of censure that had been made. Where debates of importance arose on subjects that were attracting great interest in the country he had always found that the speeches made were extremely well reported. He did not agree with what had been said in. depreciation of the acoustic properties of the House. They were not, perhaps, so good as in some other buildings, or as in the House of Commons; but he thought that where there was a reasonable amount of attention and an absence of noise—he would say of foreign noise—there was a great deal to be said in favour of the acoustic qualities of that room. What he objected to most strongly in the noble Earl's (Earl Beauchamp's) Resolution was that his proposal was put forward as a temporary measure; but if it proved successful, then they were going to make it absolutely permanent, and the success of the experiment would be its greatest objection, for it would be the absolute ruin of that House. Though he did not mean to say that much might not be done, he was strongly of opinion that the reporting should not be conducted in blocks of Galleries projecting from each side of the House. The moment they had a Reporters' Gallery on each side of the House there must be seats, desks, and arrangements as in the present Reporters' Gallery, and arrangements of that kind would be quite fatal to the beauty of the House. He had always held that it would be a great improvement if the side Galleries were extended more than they were now, so as to afford two rows of seats for Peeresses and other persons who were entitled to sit and hear the debates, because he believed that could be done without spoiling the architectural appearance of the House. He believed that if the side Galleries were extended in that way they would act as sounding-boards, and would improve very much the acoustic qualities of the House. It was said that by giving accommodation to reporters in the side Galleries, the space occupied by the present Reporters' Gallery would be gained; but that did not answer the objections to this proposal. Reporters at the end of House, over the clock, would hear very much better a speaker who was speaking from the Bench behind him than a reporter on that (the Opposition) side of the House, because the speaker would stand with his back to him. But then it was said the reporter could go round to the opposite Gallery. That implied that there would be seats for all the reporters on both sides of the House. Suppose an important Question on which, to repeat an expression which had been made use of, the fate of nations might depend was to be asked and an answer given by a Minister; there must be a stampede of reporters the moment they had got the words of the Questioner in order that they might catch the words of the Minister. Such a proceeding would be simply ludicrous. He thought it would be a much wiser course, as the Session was far advanced, to appoint at the beginning of next Session a Committee similar to that which had already reported, and which Committee, having heard the views of the reporters themselves, might make recommendations for improved facilities without injuring the structual beauty of the Chamber. The noble Earl (the Earl of Carnarvon) said that nothing had come of the recommendation of that Committee. That was the fault of the Government. When a Committee made recommendations it was the duty of the Government, and not of individual Members of the House, to act upon the Report of the Committee.


My Lords, having been a Member of the Committee which met two years ago on this subject, and having taken some interest in it, I hope your Lordships will allow me to make a few remarks. The noble and learned Earl who has just spoken (Earl Cairns) has objected in strong terms to the bare idea of the reporters being in the side Gallery, because he thinks a projection of the side Gallery would be so unsightly as to spoil the architectural beauty of your Lordships' House. The noble and learned Earl has himself again advocated that the side Gallery should be widened so as to allow for two rows of Peeresses—a proposal he first made two years ago. If this were done, the Gallery would, I believe, be wider and projected further into the House than was deemed necessary by the Committee for the small portion in the two bays required for the reporters. As will be seen by the plan, the utmost that is necessary would be a projection of one foot nine inches. The question of the heavy woodwork or screen, which the noble and learned Earl thinks would be necessary and look hideous, might be settled by having a brass grill very similar to the present brass-work. It seems to me, my Lords, perfectly clear that the widening of this little piece could not be so unsightly as widening the whole Gallery in the way proposed by the noble and learned Earl, and I think that this objection, therefore, falls to the ground. The noble and learned Earl then speaks of the acoustic properties of the House as being by no means deficient, and states that, on the occasion of interesting debates, good speakers can always be heard. In reply to that, I will only say that by the evidence brought before the Committee, your Lordships will see that the strongest testimony was given by one after another of the reporters, that the acoustics of the House are bad, and that the position they (the reporters) are placed in does not enable them to hear properly the ordinary debates in your Lordships' House. It is perfectly true that on important nights it is not difficult to hear certain Peers, who speak out and with a clear voice, when the House is quiet and attentively listening. As the noble and learned Earl is himself one of the special exceptions comprised under this head, it is not surprising that he usually finds himself well reported; but I maintain that in regard to the ordinary Business of the House the reporters are unanimous that the difficulty is very great and intolerable. It seems, my Lords, as if the Members of the Committee on Reporting are looked upon as the natural enemies of the House; and I confess I despair of any proposal whatever to remedy the defects ever being acceptable to the majority of your Lordships' House. One thing I can say—that the Members of that Committee sat continuously over some weeks, took a great deal of weighty evidence, and deliberated upon the subject with great care and earnest attention. The noble Earl who brought forward this Motion was Chairman of the Committee, and has lately received a letter from a committee of the reporters, showing clearly that every one of them sitting in the Gallery is dissatisfied, and is anxious for this experiment to be made. Further, it is quite certain that if newspapers are to be allowed and expected to obtain fair reports, considerable alteration must be made in the accommodation and position provided. I will not trouble your Lordships by going into the other matters proposed by the Committee; but I venture to think that if the Report and Evidence taken before the Committee are read, it will be seen that the Committee took great pains to arrive at a satisfactory result.


I think, my Lords, that there are some considerations which are powerful against this Motion. The proposal for a locomotive body of reporters, who, if they are to keep up with the rapid changes of debate, must keep up with something more speedy than their own legs, in running from one side of the House to the other, in order to obtain reports of what is said, is one that is hardly likely to work well. I therefore hope the noble Earl (Earl Beauchamp) will not go to a division. I do not know what the result of a division would be; but I think it would be wiser to withdraw the Motion, and to refer the matter to the Black Rod Committee, in order to hear the reporters on the subject. In that way, their views upon the subject might be accurately ascertained, as well as any proposal they may have to make upon it. I am bound to enter a protest against one principle which seems to me to have been laid down by the noble and learned Earl beside me (Earl Cairns). I have a very great respect for the architectural proportions of this House; but I cannot allow purely æsthetic considerations to overbear every other, and I must say that I would rather be in an ugly house where I could hear, than in a handsome house where I could not. I do not think the acoustic qualities of the House should be allowed to suffer for the sake of its architectural beauties. There is one other thing, however, which we ought to bear in mind. The beauty of this House may be very great, but the habits of this House are very bad; and there are some noble Lords who, while the House is sitting and endeavouring to proceed with its Business, make up for a good deal of their taciturnity, so far as public speaking is concerned, by a large amount of private conversational eloquence. The consequence is that unless a speaker exerts himself very considerably it is very difficult to hear him. I feel some embarrassment in this case. As a Member of the Conservative Party, I do not wish to interfere with the ancient arrangements of this House; but my own opinion is very Radical on this subject. I believe there will be found nothing suitable to the proceedings of Parliament but an official report, and that the official reporter should be placed at the Table of the House. It is somewhat extravagant, if not ridiculous, that every word spoken before a Select Committee, either by a Member of that Committee, or by a witness before it, should be carefully taken down by a shorthand writer and printed; while, as to the proceedings in the two Houses of Parliament, on which I will not, like my noble and learned Friend, say "the fate of nations," but on which, at all events, the most important diplomatic issues may depend, and where the very words uttered are used in favour of or against the rival statesmen of the day, and they are judged before the constituencies by what is said there—I say it is somewhat extravagant that of what is said in Parliament there should be no formal or official record—no record that pretends to be complete. I am sure that to an official record we must in the end come, though I am persuaded that the chief difficulty is that the House of Commons is perfectly terrified as to what the results of an official report would be. Had the matter, however, depended on the House of Lords, a decision would have been reached long ago. For the reasons I have stated, I think that for the present no better course could be adopted than to ascertain what the wishes of the reporters actually are upon the matter.


, in reply, said, that the remarks of noble Lords were intended to affect the opinions of the country; but that could not be done unless satisfactory reports were given of those remarks. The reporters complained bitterly of the present want of accommodation, and he had submitted the matter to their Lordships. If the House was disposed to wait for better reports till their Lordships spoke with distinctness, their prospects of getting them would be very bad; but the late Lord Beaconsfield, whose articulation was remarkably distinct, had once complained to him very much of an inaccuracy in the report of a speech he had made. The suggestion as to reporters running from one Gallery to another had nothing to do with the present proposal. It was a semi-jocular proposition made on a previous occasion. This matter really pressed for solution; but, after the discussion that had taken place, he would not trouble their Lordships to go to a division unless he got more support. He had not moved in the matter by any desire of his own, and the treatment he had received would cause him to retire with a keener appreciation of the couplet— They who in quarrels interpose Must oft expect a bloody nose.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.