HL Deb 28 March 1890 vol 343 cc134-43

My Lords, the Lord President of the Council and the Lord Privy Seal yesterday, on behalf of the Government, read quite correctly the words of two Standing Orders. I naturally, feeling that I was responsible, and being perfectly aware that your Lordships have a right to enforce any Standing Order, immediately gave way, and I took the course which was suggested by those two noble Lords. My only compensation at the time was that I thought it would call even a little more attention than would otherwise have been paid to the objections which a small number of Members of this House desire to record, and whose example it was just possible a larger number might follow. Upon further inquiry, I find that there was no error committed at all yesterday. That entirely relieves me, and I may state now what happened. The chief officer at our Table, with that courtesy with which he always assists Peers on both sides of the House, undertook to put the notice in exact form. He advised that some notice should be given, and those were the words which he adopted. I have here a list, with which I need not trouble your Lordships, of instances during the last seven or eight years, where Motions of this kind have been made, absolutely without any notice at all, and therefore, if notice had been given in the way proposed, it would have been an innovation, and contrary to the practice of your Lordships' House. I do not, in the slightest degree, retire from the position I then took.


I thought it was contrary to the Standing Orders.


There is one question which I would like to ask the noble Earl, whether he is now alluding to the first or second of his Motions? The noble Earl will remember that he has made two Motions. The first Motion is now for the suspension of the Standing Order.


I am talking of the objection which was raised yesterday to my question proceeding without notice previously given of the suspension of the Standing Order. Upon that, I say at once it is quite clear that any Peer has a right to say the Standing Orders shall be carried out to the letter; but that the constant practice has been, and the authorities are not aware of any single exception to it, that such permission has been given to Members of the House without any notice whatever. Therefore, what I propose now to do with regard to the first Motion is to ask your Lordships to do exactly what the Lord President of the Council and the Lord Privy Seal requested should be done. My second Motion is of a different sort. It is that owing to a misunderstanding, and to a change having taken place in the practice of the House, the names of some Lords, who yesterday, under a misapprehension, signed the Protest, be permitted to stand I think, considering that it is an innovation which your Lordships have introduced into our practice, and considering the alacrity which I showed to meet the wishes of the House, it would only be in cognisance with the usual good feeling of the House if that permission were given.

Moved, "That Standing Order No. XXXV. be dispensed with."—(The Earl Granville.)


My Lords, I am quite sure that the noble Earl will understand it is not with any desire to be discourteous to him that I say I hope you will not accede to the Motion he has made. The Standing Orders of your Lordships' House are not, as it seems to me, made to be broken. They are, I think, of some value; and if your Lordships accede to this Motion, all that noble Lords need do on another occasion when they wish to evade them will be to get up and move their suspension. If that is so I fail to see what use Standing Orders can be. I recollect the noble and learned Lord Herschell saying on one occasion that the difference between the Standing Orders of the House of Commons and those of your Lordships' House is chiefly this— That those of the House of Commons are not so severe, but they are always in force; whereas those of your Lordships' House, though much more severe, are very seldom enforced. No doubt the Government may from time to time move the suspension of the Standing Orders in order to enable Bills to pass quickly through the House during the Session. That is a privilege which I think everybody will agree that Governments of whatever shade politically ought to possess. There may be cases where it is necessary to exercise that privilege; but in this instance, neither yesterday nor today, has the noble Earl given your Lordships a single reason for suspending the Standing Orders. He has now explained why he did not give notice of his Motion in the form which was suggested by Lord Cranbrook and Lord Cadogan; but why your Lordships, should allow the Standing Orders to be suspended and should accede to the proposal he makes for allowing those noble Lords, some of whom were not present at the debate at all, and some of whom, I am told, were not even in England, to sign this Protest, he has not given a single reason. I need only refer to Sir Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice to show what the custom of your Lordships' House is with regard to these Protests. He says this— Sometimes leave is given to Lords to enter Protests against any vote of the House some time after the period limited by the Standing Order. And that is part of the proposal of the noble Earl. I have looked back to see what other occasions there were of this kind: they are not numerous, but there were undoubtedly two upon the Irish Church Bill. Then he says— By the usage of the House of Lords the privilege of entering a Protest is restricted to those Lords who were present and voted when the question to which they desire to express their dissent was put; but leave is sometimes given to Lords to sign the Protest of another Peer, although they wore not present when the question was put. But not a word about their not being present when the debate took place, and I can find no instance of any Peer being allowed to sign a Protest who was not present during the debate.


Before the noble Earl proceeds I should like to call his attention to a few instances. On the 21st July, 1882, without any notice of Motion whatever being placed on the Paper, it was ordered that Lord Stratheden and Campbell be allowed to sign a Protest, and "that he sign the same before the rising this day." This Protest was entered and signed by, among others. Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, who was not present that day. Then, upon the Army Discipline Bill, in 1881, it was ordered that Lord Stewart of Garlies have leave to enter a Protest "before 2 o'clock tomorrow," he and such Lords as desired: and the Protest was entered and signed by, among others, Lord Hylton and Lord Waveney, who were not present. I really do not think I ought to trouble your Lordships by going through all the precedents which I have here.


This is rather a long interruption, and I think it would have been better if the noble Earl had given those precedents to the House when he made his Motion; but I do not gather from them that the Peers mentioned were not present at the debates.


Yes: none of them were present.


However that may be, I will presently call attention to an authority to whom I think some of your Lordships, at all events, will pay respect—Lord Brougham—showing that this is not the practice of the House. In 1823 the Duke of Somerset, who had not voted on the question, nevertheless protested, and upon Motion, he having been present at the debate, though he had not voted, the Protest was allowed to stand on the Journals; but that was an extremely exceptional case, and was made dependent on the fact that though he had not voted he was present at the debate and had then protested against the Motion. Now Some of these noble Lords were not present at the debate. Then there is reported in Hansard another occasion which occurred in this House on the 16th July, 1846. That instance was with regard to a Protest against the Corn Importation Hill. On that occasion the Karl of Radnor was allowed to call their Lordships' attention to a question of some importance as he conceived. He alluded to the Protest of certain noble Lords against the Third Reading. That Protest was signed by 93 Peers; and he always understood that only those Peers who were present could enter their protest, and that was a salutary rule. He was present when the question was put, and he denied that more than one-third of those Peers were present. It appeared on an examination of the Journals of the House that 10 or 12 Peers had put their names to the Protest against the Third Reading of the Corn Importation Bill, who were not in the House during any part of the discussion of that measure. He (the Karl of Radnor) was not desirous that any Peer who wished to have his name handed down to posterity as professing the opinions expressed in that Protest should be deprived of that honour; but he thought that, under the circumstances he had stated, it was a matter for their Lordships' consideration, and he would leave the House to deal with it as it thought proper. He found, on comparing the number of Peers in attendance on the discussion of the Bill with the number of names affixed to the Protest, that the names of 10 or 12 Peers who were not present at the time were appended to that Protest. Now, if their Lordships overlooked the first objection, he hardly thought they would overlook the second; because the inference would be that any Peer, at any time, whether he took part in the discussion or not, might come down and protest against it, even although his arguments and reasons had been refuted in the course of the debate. Upon that occasion Lord Brougham, an authority, I think, as I have already said, to whom your Lordships will pay some attention, said that he conceived his noble Friends had done great service by calling attention to this irregularity, which, he believed was no doubt unintentional, and arose from those noble Lords not having attended to the Rule of the House. After what I have ventured to say to your Lordships, I think you will see that the irregularity in this case cannot have arisen from that cause, and the Rule is, undoubtedly, that no person who was not present could protest. He lays that down without reservation, and he concludes— It was not so in the Irish Parliament, for in the Irish Parliament they could vote by proxy and protest by proxy. But clearly, where that is not done in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, this cannot be done. Now, my Lords, I will ask whether we are, for no reason whatever, to abolish that undoubted custom of Parliament in favour of these noble Lords, some of whom I am credibly informed were not even in England when the debate took place, and one of whom has not yet even taken his seat in this House. If that noble Lord had been foolish enough to gratify the noble Earl by signing this Protest, he would have rendered himself liable to a penalty of £500.


I should like to say a few words on the question of procedure in reference to the Standing Orders of this House. It appears to me that two questions have been somewhat confused in this discussion: the first is whether Peers have ever been allowed to sign a Protest, not having been present at the debate, and the second is the manner in which that leave has been given. I believe my noble Friend behind me (Lord Granville) is perfectly right in stating that Peers have been allowed to sign such Protests; but the method by which that leave has been given has been to enter it simply on the Minutes, without bringing it before the House at all. In this case the question of suspending the Standing Orders did not arise at all. When the question is brought before the House, as it was by my noble Friend yesterday, the question of the Standing Orders at once arises. There, again, my noble Friend opposite (Lord Cadogan) was right in saying that notice should be given before Standing Orders are suspended; and I think your Lordships will agree with me that there is no case in which it is of so much importance that notice should be given as the suspension of Standing Orders. Under these circumstances, it seems tome the noble Earl is now quite in order, and if the noble Lord goes to a Division I shall certainly vote with him.


I think the course we are asked to take is rather an unusual one. We are asked to suspend the Standing Orders in order to relieve certain noble Lords who were not present during the debate and enable them to enter this Protest. Why are we to be asked to act contrary to the Standing Orders of this House? What is the intention of this Standing Order? It says— Such Lords as shall make protestations or enter their dissents to any votes of this House, as they have a right to do, without asking leave of the House, either with or without their reasons, shall cause their protestation or dissents to be entered into the Clerk's Book the next sitting-day of this House, before the hour of 2 o'clock, otherwise the same shall not be entered, and shall sign the same before the rising of the House the same day. Now the debate took place this day a week ago, and the Protest was not entered in the Clerk's Book before 2 o'clock of the next day of the House sitting: on the contrary, I believe it was hot entered until Tuesday week, and the noble Lords did not sign on that same day. What was the object of this Standing Order? It was, I apprehend, to ensure that noble Lords should be present at the debate, or should be, at all events, attending in Parliament. Of course, the Protest could not be drawn up until the result of the debate was known; but the Rule points out that the Protest shall be entered on the very next day of the sitting of the House, and shall be signed the same day, that is to say, the very next day afterwards. We are now asked to say that this Rule shall be suspended nearly a week after the debate occurred, and in favour of noble Lords who were not, in some instances, as the noble Earl has stated, even present. He has stated that they were to have signed on the morrow, and he now asks us to suspend this Rule in order that these noble Lords shall sign it. I think it is a very irregular course, and therefore I ask your Lordships not to assent to it.


I should like to call attention to a precedent in this matter. On the 7th April, 1881, on the occasion of the Third Reading of the Army Discipline Bill, a Protest was entered nearly a month afterwards. On the 5th May it was ordered that Lord Stewart of Garlies should have leave to sign a Protest. The Protest was entered accordingly, and was signed by several noble Lords who had not been present.


The Easter holidays may have had something to do with it.


As the noble Lord has mentioned my name in connection with the proceedings of yesterday I will take this opportunity of stating that it was far from my intention either to act with discourtesy towards the noble Earl or to take advantage of the forms of the House to obstruct the Motion which he then made. But I would remind your Lordships that in proceedings yesterday two Motions were made by the noble Earl. First, there was a Motion brought forward contrary to one of the Standing Orders of this House, without any notice to suspend that Standing Order for the purpose of the Motion; and the second was a Motion to suspend the Standing Order at once without any notice. I felt that the last state of the noble Earl was worse than the first; because however inadvisable it was for the noble Earl to take the course of moving in opposition to a Standing Order, as he did in his first Motion, at all events it might be said that he gave notice of that Motion; but the Motion for the suspension of the Standing Order which he subsequently made was given without any notice whatever. I quite agree that the practice of this House with reference to matters of order is at all times lax, and especially so in comparison with the practice of the other House. I cannot say that I regret that laxity; but, at the same time, I am bound to remind the House that it is—and I speak subject to correction—very unusual to move a suspension of Standing Orders without notice.


Certainly; we are all agreed about that.


I think the noble Earl will agree that it is not only an unusual but an extremely undesirable course. It was for that reason that I ventured to protest yesterday against the course which the noble Earl took. With reference to the Motion which he has this day placed upon the Paper, it is not, in my opinion, a matter for Government to decide; it is a question which the House must decide for themselves. I venture to think that perhaps too much importance and too much stress has been laid upon this Protest, of which we have now heard so much; and, for my own part, I can only say that if my noble Friend behind me goes to a Division I shall deem it my duty to vote with the noble Earl opposite, and in saying that I believe I am expressing the opinion of my Colleagues who sit on the same Bench with me. I have risen chiefly to explain to the noble Earl the reasons for the course I took yesterday, and to explain that I shall not be prepared, in case of a Division, to vote against him.


It seems obvious, notwithstanding the precedents which have been cited, that a blot is often not hit until the matter raising the question has been brought conspicuously into notice; but I think it is a sort of reductio ad absurdum with regard to the privilege of signing a Protest which is to be preserved to these noble Lords, of whom I am told one is not in England and others heard not a word of the debate, to enter a week afterwards their names on the Protest. No doubt, in times past, very remarkable Protests have been made and signed by men of great eminence; but every argument that applied to the disuse of the practice of giving proxies, which your Lordships agreed to within my recollection as being one that was unseemly, seems to me, at least, as applicable to the signing of Protests by absentees a week after the debate has taken place. Whether the privilege of signing Protests is worth maintaining I do not know: I have no very strong opinion on the subject; but, I do say that if ever there was a reductio ad absurdum of a practice I think we have had a sample of it to-day, and therefore I shall vote against the Motion of the noble Earl. I think its effect would be to abolish practically the signing of Protests incidentally and in an ignominious way.

On Question, their Lordships divided:—Contents 34; Not Contents 23.

Resolved in the affirmative.

Moved, "That the following Lords be at liberty to sign, before the rising of the House for the Easter Recess, the Protest entered against the Resolution of the House of Friday 21st March, although their Lordships were not present when the question was put:—

M. Breadalbane. L. Acton.
E. Chesterfield. L. Aberdare.
E. Ashburnham. L. Hothfield.
L. Camoys. L. Northbourne.
L. Wentworth. L. Hobhouse.
L. Vernon. L. Burton.
L. Thurlow. L. Hamilton of Dalzell
L. Leigh. L. Thring.
And that the names of who signed yesterday (27th March) under a misapprehension, be permitted to stand (Earl Granville); agreed to."