HL Deb 05 March 1888 vol 323 cc159-63

, in rising to move the following further Standing Order, namely— That in the event of two or more Peers rising to address the House at the same time, the Lord Chancellor or Chairman of Committees may call on one of them to speak, and the Peer called upon shall then proceed to do so, said: My Lords, these Standing Orders are a part of Resolutions which were submitted to the House in 1884, and of which one was disposed of in that year, on the 4th of December. The urgent reason for going back at least to some of them at present is to be found in the two Notices of two noble Earls, for a Committee, to aim, as I understand them—as indeed they have avowed—at fundamental changes in the Upper Chamber. One of their Notices, having been fixed for to-morrow, bound, me to this day as the only day on which such Standing Orders could be properly considered. It is true that Notice has been since withdrawn, and I am not under the same necessity of going on this evening. But as the hour, although advanced, is not yet very late, your Lordships may, perhaps, approve debate upon the first with the adjournment of the others. Let me assure the two noble Earls that I have no wish to anticipate in another shape the general discussion they have meditated. Such a course would be unjust to them; it would be repugnant to myself, and I entirely repudiate it. I stand on the position which I did in 1884, and which your Lordships will admit to be a strong one. It is that, when organic change is likely to be mooted, it is desirable to rectify anomalies which depend upon the House itself and not upon the Legis- lature, which require a Standing Order but not an Act of Parliament to alter them. If that position was correct in 1884, after the agitation in that year as to the House of Lords, which quickly passed away, it is more correct just now, when two distinguished Members of our Body are prepared, in some degree, to reconstruct it. Now, as to the point itself I need not long detain your Lordships. It was explained in 1884, and previously in 1870. It is familiar to all who have attended our proceedings. In 1870 it was insisted on by the noble Marquess, now Prime Minister, in a speech I shall not try to emulate. To sum it briefly, the practice which exists is calculated to prevent many in the House—above all the right rev. Bench—from rising to address us; it places men who rise in an undignified position; but, what is graver—since it affects not only individuals—it exposes the House itself at any moment to the chance of a Division in the midst of a remarkable and critical debate for which the time already is inadequate. It is, besides, a practice which exists in no political Assembly you can mention. The only question is as to the remedy. In 1884 it was proposed to attach the duty of calling on noble Lords when two or more rose together to the Lord Chancellor or Chairman of Committees, whichever was presiding. On much consideration and conference with other men, I am inclined to something rather different. Some of the objections to increasing the power of the Lord Chancellor for this end are thoroughly untenable. It could not be abused in any Party sense, as no one could be excluded by its action, and there would only be a question of priority. But it is true that, as one Session—in the vicissitudes of history—may give us many Governments and so many Lord Chancellors, the Lord Chancellor might not have the personal and local knowledge necessary for the function. I venture to suggest, therefore, that either the Lord Chancellor or Chairman of Committees should close the difficulty when it happens. If the Lord Chancellor was conscious of being equal to the task, he would perform it. If not, he would devolve it on the Chairman of Committees, who is appointed by the House, who represents the House, and knows it well from daily intercourse with many in it. No conflict would arise between them. On any given night it would be previously arranged which had to exercise the function. To devolve it wholly on the Lord Chancellor was the course in 1884 rejected by your Lordships. To devolve it wholly on the Chairman of Committees might be thought to give too much a secondary aspect to the Lord Chancellor, who is the Speaker of the House, although debarred from nearly all the power of that Office. As we have been frequently reminded by the illustrious Duke who often sits on the Cross Benches, everything is tentative. We should soon see how the Standing Order worked, whether it was wise to keep or proper to amend it. But nearly all depends on Her Majesty's Government. If they wish to bring in the words "whichever presiding," and thus leave the power to the Lord Chancellor in the House, the Chairman in Committees, I willingly accept them. If they would restrict the power to the Chairman in both cases, I see no practical objection to it. If they desire the House to have a final veto, as the noble Marquess did in 1870, they may recall his own expression—" unless the House do order otherwise." The only thing essential is that a remedy should be adopted before the merit and demerit of the Upper Chamber is examined. One point ought to be mentioned. In 1881 it was remarked as an objection that the Woolsack is sometimes occupied by the noble Lords who manage the Divisions, in the absence of the Lord Chancellor and the Chairman of Committees. By this Standing Order no new power is bestowed upon them, and no new power is wanted. It is only when the House is nearly empty and there is little competition for its ear or chance of two Peers rising that such a circumstance can happen. Moreover, if that recent system leads to inconvenience, there is no occasion to preserve it. Once more I ask the House to guard itself upon a vulnerable point against the hour of arraignment.

Moved, as a new Standing Order, That in the event of two or more Peers rising to address the House at the same time, the Lord Chancellor or Chairman of Committees may call on one of them to speak, and the Peer called upon shall then proceed to do so."—(The Lord Stratheden and Campbell.)


said, he rose to speak on this subject with some diffidence in the presence of much older Members of the House than himself. From his experience, however, there did not seem to him to be so great a rush of Members to speak in this House as to require any stringent legislation on the subject. The Standing Order suggested by the noble Lord would in its working prove very inconvenient. For instance, it was customary for the Lord Chancellor in that House, unlike the Speaker in the other Assembly, to take part in the debates; but it would put him in a very difficult position, for he would not like to call on himself when other noble Lords rose. The Lord Chancellor was imposed on the House, and was not elected by their Lordships. It ought also to be borne in mind that the Lord Chancellor was not necessarily a Peer, and it would be a strange anomaly if the Order of the House was entrusted to one who might not be even a Member of the House. If the grievance sought to be remedied were a great one, or part of a scheme of reform which was to render the House of Lords better adapted to the exigencies of the present time and its debates of greater weight and influence in the country, the case would be very different. Under the circumstances he thought the House would hesitate somewhat before they surrendered the power of keeping order in their own Assembly; and, in his opinion, it would be far better to adhere to the present Rule without introducing the complications that would flow from the noble Lord's suggestion.


said, he quite agreed with the observations of the noble Viscount. His objection to placing this power in the hands of the Lord Chancellor was that, although the Lord Chancellor from his high Office was entitled to the greatest respect, yet he was a Member of the Cabinet and a politician, and was not in a position of impartiality. No doubt any Lord Chancellor would, as an English gentleman, act as he conceived impartially; but he would not, as he ought to, be free from the suspicion of acting partially. The question was not one of much importances; it was comparatively seldom that there was any difficulty about the matter, and no reform on this point would do anything to increase the weight of public interest in the debates of that House.


said, he would point out that the noble Viscount who had just spoken wholly misapprehended the nature of the Standing Order he objected to. It was not to give the Lord Chancellor a general authority on Order, like the Speaker in the House of Commons, but simply the power to name the Peer who would continue the debate. The two functions had no species of identity. The noble Viscount who represented Her Majesty's Government had also quite forgotten the proposal now before them. It did not give the House a final voice, but left the whole decision to the Lord Chancellor or Chairman of Committees. However, it was useless to divide the House if the Government determined—as he thought most unfortunately—to oppose all alteration. According to his previous statement, he would not go on that evening with the further Standing Orders.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Ten o'clock.