HL Deb 04 December 1884 vol 294 cc585-95

who had the following Resolutions on the Notice Paper:—

  1. "1. That in the event of two or more Lords rising to address the House at the same time, the Lord Chancellor or Chairman of Committees, whichever then presides, shall call on one of them to speak, and the Lord so called upon shall speak, unless the House do order otherwise:
  2. "2. That Private Bill Committees shall consist of three, and that all applications to Lords to serve upon them shall be in writing, and delivered at their residences:
  3. "3. That the House he lighted always at the commencement of Public Business and continue lighted until the adjournment, unless the Lord Chancellor or Chairman of Committees gives a different instruction:
  4. "4. That no Lord who has a Motion or Bill upon the Paper shall rise to bring it forward out of its precedence:
  5. "5. That where the House permits reply to any Lord upon his Motion or his Bill, the debate shall on no pretence be continued after the reply is over:
  6. "6. That a false roof be introduced, similar to that in the other House of Parliament, to correct the present difficulty as to hearing,"
said: My Lords, I rose 10 days ago to explain these Resolutions, when I was stopped by the noble and learned Earl upon the Woolsack, on the ground that the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees (the Earl of Redesdale) was unable to attend. The noble and learned Earl did not inform me, at the same time, that, if my Notice stood first another day, the Government would put on important Business to precede it, or I might not so readily have yielded to him. The present hour may be thought inconvenient; but it will, perhaps, enable us to dispose of one Resolution without proceeding to the others. Let me meet at once the question which arises; whether the juncture is a proper one for considering the Standing Orders, or amending them. My Lords, on more than one ground it is specially a proper one. In the course of last Session a noble Earl now absent (the Earl of Rosebery) moved for a Committee on the modes of adding to the efficiency of the House. He did not carry a majority, in some degree because his Motion became entangled with the question of Life Peerages. But his remarks, which were most animated, elicited an obvious disposition to listen to, and even act upon, the views which he brought forward. Before the effect of that speech has died away, since nothing in the way of Parliamentary exertion is immortal, the subject ought, if ever, to recur. In the next place, during the autumn there has been a vehement commotion, in order wholly to supersede this House, or radically alter it. Periodicals, before remarkable for talent, have abounded in schemes which rival one another in their crudeness and audacity, but which have still disturbed and exercised the public mind upon the subject. There is something further. Within a fortnight, a Motion highly adverse to the constitution of this House has been debated in "another place," and sustained by a minority of 70. No one who has watched the history of our age will deem that minority an unimportant one. The principle which I submit is that a threatened institution should correct itself, remove irregularities or blemishes, bring order into its arrangements, and thus destroy the pretexts for attacking it. Internal changes which are just may be the best security against external changes which are mischievous and violent. But even if, as some maintain—to-night I offer no opinion on that point—external changes are desirable, it is well to see what definite improvements are attainable without them, so that they may not be invoked for work which easier and safer as well as quicker operations can accomplish. Now, the gravest charge preferred against the House, by quarters whose criticism is of value, is the inadequate attendance, except on Party conflicts and remarkable occasions. It is observed that the Roll is about 500, the number generally present about 50. All these Resolutions are more or less directed to remove the causes by which such absence is produced, or by which it can, in some degree, be justified. These general expressions may suffice to explain and to uphold the general position I have taken. I will now confine myself to the 1st Resolution. In June, 1870, it was brought by me before your Lordships, in terms very similar to those I have adopted. It was supported powerfully by the noble Marquess who now leads the Opposition (the Marquess of Salisbury). It was supported by the late Lord Clanricarde, who had no little weight in this Assembly, not only as the son-in-law and representative of Mr. Canning, but as a statesman of rare acuteness, eminent ability, considerable patriotism, and whose acquaintance with the Business of the House where he had sat from early youth was perfectly unrivalled. The Lord Chancellor of the day, who had not long been nominated, and rather underrated his capacity to preside over the House, was not inclined to favour it. It was withdrawn, to be renewed; but I was much blamed by some for not having divided. It would long ago have been renewed, had it not appeared desirable to connect it with other propositions kindred in their nature and identic in the object which they aim at. Now the evil is undoubted. The House will not require pictures which everyone can draw himself, or has already glowing on his memory. Not long ago the noble Earl the Leader of the House (Earl Granville) and the noble and learned Earl who occupied the Woolsack under the late Government both rose together. After much confusion the House had to divide. One vote determined the priority. We were all placed in the invidious necessity of publicly arraying ourselves against one of the competitors. It is to avoid necessity of this kind—as well as upon other grounds not now before us—that noble Lords are tempted to be absent. The only point which merits even slight discussion is the remedy. The noble and learned Earl who sits upon the Woolsack is well acquainted with the House and with its Members. He entered Parliament in 1847. He would inspire confidence in the decisions he arrived at. The new procedure would begin under the most favourable auspices. The fact is, no loss or injury could accrue to anyone. If he is called on he speaks; if he is not called on, he is nearly certain to speak later. In that case he has a better chance of guiding the division. In both Houses we look for the greatest efforts of persuasion about midnight. Should the Lord Chancellor be led into an erroneous choice, by the last words of the Resolution, to which the noble Marquess opposite attached great importance in 1870, the House might supersede his judgment. But that, of course, would rarely happen. If we have no confidence in the Lord Chancellor, he ought not to preside at all; if we have, he ought to be entrusted with at least a portion of the attributes essential to the function of presiding. No doubt the Lord Chancellor may be considered as appointed by a Party. But the Speaker of the House of Commons is appointed by a Party, although the process is more hidden. Have we not heard of the great conflict in 1885 between Mr. Abercromby and Mr. Manners Sutton, when all the resources of the Government and Opposition were exerted to secure the victory of one over the other? The defence of the proposal is that there is no other remedy for a striking inconvenience. Freedom of debate does not exist, when noble Lords can only take a part in it under humiliating circumstances, at the risk of yielding when they ought not to yield, or of insisting on their claims when those claims ought not to be insisted on. The actual system may have been adapted to a former age, when the House was far more limited in number, and when there may have possibly been usages for settling precedence of this kind which have not been transmitted to us. It ought not now to be endured, and would not be endured in any other Chamber. I will now conclude by moving the 1st Resolution.

Moved to resolve, That in the event of two or more Lords rising to address the House at the same time, the Lord Chancellor or Chairman of Committees, whichever then presides, shall call on one of them to speak, and the Lord so called upon shall speak, unless the House do order otherwise."—[The Lord Stratheden and Campbell.)


said, he wished, in a few words, to state his objections to the proposal of the noble Lord. The noble Lord had made a comparison between their Lordships' House and the House of Commons; and he endeavoured to show that the Speaker of the House of Commons was in the same position as the occupant of the Woolsack. To his (the Earl of Redesdale's) mind, there was a great difference between the position of the Speaker and that of the Lord Chancellor. The latter was nominated by the Queen; while the other was elected by the Assembly over which he presided. The Speaker was the Representative of the House, and was shut out from taking any part in the proceedings of the House of Commons; and as he could not take part in any debate, he was, therefore, in the Chair as an impartial judge to decide between one side and the other, whereas the Lord Chancellor had as much right to discuss any question which came before the House as any other Peer. These were points which required great consideration. The noble Lord had also proposed that the same power should be conferred on the Chairman of Committees. He would admit that the same objection did not apply in that case, because the Chairman of Committees was appointed by the House, and, as Chairman, could not take part in a debate in Committee. He thought, however, that it would be very awkward to have different powers on the Woolsack and in the Chair. Then, again, by the Resolution proposed, other persons who might be in the Chair would have the same power, which would thus be given to a very wide body. The occasions on which the grievance mentioned by the noble Lord arose were extremely rare. It occurred once last Session; but for a very long time before there had been no case of the kind. He could not, therefore, support that proposal.


said, it often happened, in important debates, that a number of noble Lords rose at the same time to address the House, and no one knew who was to speak, or who was to decide the point of precedence. There was, therefore, a real inconvenience attending the present practice; and it would be more consistent with the dignity of the House to amend it. The present proposal was about the mildest remedy that could be devised; and, on the whole, he thought the balance of argument was in favour of the change suggested by the Resolution. He thought their Lordships should be not only ready, but anxious, to accept changes which public opinion seemed to prompt.


said, he thought that, on the whole, things worked very well in respect to that matter at the present. They heard a great deal in the present day of the principle of natural selection and the survival of the fittest; and the Rules of their Lordships' House might, therefore, find considerable favour among modern philosophers. The position of the Lord Chancellor in that House was entirely different from the position of the Speaker of the House of Commons. Not only was the Lord Chancellor appointed by the Crown, but he might possibly be called upon to exer- cise the power proposed to be vested in him by that Resolution before he bad acquired any experience of the House. It would, therefore, be unfortunate if their Lordships hastily adopted the Resolution.


said, he did not consider that the inconvenience which had been specially referred to was of so marked a nature as to require interference by the proposed Resolution. At the very moment when his noble Friend (Earl Beauchamp) rose, he (the Earl of Longford) himself rose with him; but he had no difficulty in yielding, that he might have the pleasure of listening to his noble Friend's remarks. But there were some real defects, such as the want of a proper writing-room; and if the noble Lord would include them in a future Motion it would have his support.


both rising together, the former gave way.


in supporting the Resolution, said, he did not think that any noble and learned Lord who attained the dignity of the Woolsack was likely to have any difficulty in soon mastering the Rules and procedure of the House. Notwithstanding the personal courtesy of Peers to each other, inconvenience arose when a number of them got up at the same time, many of them quite unconscious of the fact that anyone else had risen, perhaps from a Bench behind them.


said, that, upon the whole, he was opposed to the Resolution, and the more so in consequence of the arguments which had been made use of in the course of the evening. The noble Lord who moved the Resolution (Lord Stratheden and Campbell) had alluded to the considerable number of the minority who voted the other day on a Motion respecting the House of Lords. He (Earl Granville) did not, however, think that that minority, whatever was its number, was influenced in any degree by the consideration whether one Peer—as, for example, himself (Earl Granville)—should be heard first, or afterwards. No doubt the motive they had was that they thought the House of Lords, from its constitution, was very often found not to be in perfect harmony with what was generally the character of the House of Commons. That might be a great evil, but it was one to be corrected by one of two ways—either by heroio and drastic measures; or, on the other hand, by good sense on the part of both sides of the House, of which they had had a remarkable instance in that short Session. He thought, therefore, they need not trouble themselves with, regard to this particular question, and with the proceedings which took place in the House of Commons the other day. He entirely agreed with what had been stated by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees in regard to the position of the Speaker and the Lord Chancellor being in every way different. The House of Commons elected the Speaker. He was their creature; and, being their creature, they invested him with powers more or less arbitrary, as they thought fit. The Lord Chancellor, on the other hand, was named by the Queen; and there was a natural jealousy on the part of the House—he thought a proper jealousy—to subject itself to the arbitrary ruling of a person in whose nomination they had had no share whatever. A noble Earl had objected to the difficulty which might arise of a Lord Chancellor being appointed who knew nothing of the orders of the House. He (Earl Granville) owned that this argument did not weigh in the slightest degree with him. He had the greatest possible respect for all the successive Speakers of the House of Commons, and some of them were very remarkable men; but he was perfectly certain that the Speakers in their Lordships' House would not have to give way to them either in ability or in character. They did not get any inexperienced Lord Chancellors in their Lordships' House. There had been no Lord Chancellor within his memory who had not had the greatest possible experience of the Forms in the House of Commons, which was naturally a good training for any position they might take in their Lordships' House. He had not the slightest doubt the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack, or the noble and learned Earl opposite (Earl Cairns), would be perfectly impartial in executing their duties; but they would be placed in a very difficult position, and in a very inconvenient one, if the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack, having made a most eloquent Party speech in defence of the Government, should be allowed to select the noble Lord who was to answer him. A noble Lord said that it would not cause much inconvenience; but he (Earl Granville) could not agree with him. They had seen two or three noble Lords get up to speak; the House generally called for one. Sometimes, however, there was a division of opinion; but there was almost a unanimity of opinion as to which noble Lord should be preferred. He owned that he sometimes had a suspicion that their Lordships had been lately influenced in preferring a short speaker to one who was exceedingly tiresome. But the general principle of their selection was to select a speaker quite irrespective of Party feeling, and sometimes they saw one Conservative Peer follow another Conservative Peer, all being actuated with the desire that the man whom, on the whole, the House desired to hear was he who would contribute in the most forcible manner to the elucidation of the argument. He, himself, had yielded just now with the greatest pleasure to the noble Earl (Earl Fortescue), who had risen to speak at the same time, and he thought he had not suffered from being obliged to follow him. In reference to the case which had been mentioned as having occurred between himself and the noble and learned Earl opposite (Earl Cairns), he had to say that his experience in their Lordships' House had been considerable, and this was the only instance he remembered of a question of this kind going to a division. The noble Lord (Lord Stratheden and Campbell) said their Lordships were placed in a most invidious and disagreeable position in having to vote either for the noble and learned Earl or for himself (Earl Granville); but he doubted very much whether there was a Peer present who felt that he had been placed in an invidious position for having to vote for one or the other. The matter at issue being a peculiar one, affecting to some degree their personal honour, both he and the noble and learned Earl opposite had a justifiable anxiety to speak first in order to tell their own story, though, as it happened, it did not matter, for both were agreed as to the facts. When, however, the matter went to a division, to his great surprise, he got a majority of 1, and therefore spoke first. But supposing the matter had been settled by the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack, with the greatest respect for his impartiality, his suspicion was that, in his desire to be perfectly impartial, the noble and learned Earl would have decided for Earl Cairns instead of for him. He really did not see that they suffered any inconvenience of importance in this respect from the present system. He thought it was most Constitutional; in practice, it was not open to any grave or considerable objection; and therefore he thought it would be better not to agree to the Resolution.


said, that some 14 or 15 years ago, in consequence of some scandal that had taken place during one of their discussions, he voted in favour of a similar Resolution in company with the present Viceroy of India, then a Colleague of the noble Earl's. That was about the time of the Irish Church, or the first Irish Land Act; but since then he had been induced by several considerations to modify his former opinions. He agreed with the noble Earl who had just spoken (Earl Granville) that this was not a question of large dimensions. The number of cases in which practical inconvenience had arisen was very small. On the other hand, when they were told of the difficulty about the Lord Chancellor selecting a speaker, because he was new to their Lordships' House, he thought they had found that 11 years had passed away since they had had a Lord Chancellor appointed new to the House. That difficulty could not be regarded, therefore, as one of a practical, or of a serious, character. He confessed that, in listening to the debate, the difficulty which weighed on his mind had been in the consideration that they had altered the character of the tenure of their Speakership very considerably. A good deal had been said about the impartiality of the Lord Chancellor, and it had been said that it would be very difficult for him to select a Peer to answer him in debate. He had no doubt the noble and learned Lord would act impartially; but a still more serious difficulty arose. Suppose the Lord Chancellor desired to speak himself; what was he to say? The position reminded him of what was recorded of Pope Celestine V. Pope Celestine V. was convicted of heresy, and there was a great difficulty to know what to do with him. But he settled the difficulty in the most self-devoted and heroic manner. He said, "Judico me cremari"—st crematus fuit. Such was the record that was found in books; and he did not know whether every Lord Chancellor would be as self-devoted. He had to remember, however, that, under our present rule, it was not only with Lord Chancellors they had to deal. He saw another noble Lord sitting on the Woolsack (Lord Monson) in conversation with the noble and learned Earl (the Lord Chancellor), whose aid in some cases might be sought as the arbiter in these instances. He did not think the side of the House which got the worst of it would submit to the decision of the Whip of the Party opposite. He thought considerations of this kind made the question one of serious difficulty; and, while not in the least degree believing that those persons who objected to the House of Lords as an institution would be pacified by this Resolution being passed, he thought, on the whole, the present system should be maintained.


Before the House divides, I may be, perhaps, allowed to make a remark on what has fallen from the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees (the Earl of Redesdale). The House has formed too high an estimate of the noble Earl to concur in his opinion—that although he merits confidence when he is acting as their nominee, he cannot be depended on a moment when he becomes the organ of the Sovereign. The noble Earl the Leader of the House (Earl Granville) thinks it a matter of deep risk that the Lord Chancellor should call upon the speaker who would follow him. The noble Earl has disposed of his objection by the additional remark that, if the Lord Chancellor had possessed the right in question when he and the noble and learned Earl on the other side (Earl Cairns) got up together, it would have been exercised against the Government with self-denying rigour. As to the noble Marquess who now leads the Opposition (the Marquess of Salisbury), having lately read his speech in favour of this Motion, and to my astonishment to-night heard his speech against it, I can only say that the first is as conclusive as the last is altogether unconvincing. The noble Marquess had really nothing to advance, except a question which was put in the original debate, when he sup- ported me—what would happen if the Lord Chancellor and other Peers all rose together? It was answered then, as it may be answered now, that in such an event, without, a Rule or Standing Order, the constant usage of the House would give the Lord Chancellor priority. My Lords, those who lead on either side are so favourably privileged that they cannot judge, in its extent, the inconvenience it is now desired to put an end to. Every noble Lord can form his own opinion on the question. It is not to be determined by authority or Party. I would venture to impress upon the House, and more particularly on the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, a maxim Mr. Canning has bequeathed to us— Those who resist improvement, because it is innovation, will afterwards submit to innovation when it has ceased to be improvement.

On Question? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 8; Not-Contents 46: Majority 38.

Resolved in the negative.