HL Deb 17 May 1900 vol 83 cc383-5

My Lords, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty's Government why they allowed the late Reading Clerk of the House to be superannuated since they have not appointed a successor; and why they have not appointed one. This is a question which, I think, would be more properly answered by the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees, who is expected to look after the interests of the House. The natural answer to the question why Her Majesty's Government should allow the late Reading Clerk to be superannuated before appointing a successor would be that they adopted the maxim to be sure they were off with the old love before they were on with the new: which does not apply to either public or private service. We may be told that it is the everlasting enemy, the Treasury, which is at fault; but my noble friend at the head of the Government has been encouraged over and over again by the press and the public to crush the Treasury, and not to bring it forward as an excuse on all occasions. I strongly protest against the hard and fast rule of superannuating officials at a certain period, ignoring altogether the question whether they are incapacitated or not. Only the other day I met a retired colonel of cavalry who was as fit as ever to lead a charge, and a naval captain who, though possessing all his faculties, was on the retired list. This principle does not obtain in all civil matters. Who would think, for instance, of superannuating the most rev. Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack? The disadvantage of leaving the Reading Clerkship vacant is that it will give the Treasury an opportunity of saying, "You have been without a Third Clerk at the Table for four months, so you can very well do without him for the other two," Again, supposing one of the two Clerks should fall ill, great inconvenience would arise owing to there being no Third Clerk to take his place. On æsthetic grounds, too, the vacancy should be filled, as at present the Table of your Lordships' House is shorn of one of its ornaments. Lastly, there is a personal consideration so far as I am concerned which gives me a locus standi in raising the question. I have had occasion, when putting questions to Ministers, to ask the Reading Clerk to write down the answers, which it is impossible for me to hear, and he has always most courteously rendered this assistance, without which I am entirely at a loss to know what answer I get. I mention this to show that I do not put this question in order to give trouble to Her Majesty's Government. I have heard a rumour that the appointment depends upon more than one person. If that is so, and they cannot agree, why not arbitrate? They could ask the noble Marquess at the head of the Government to be arbitrator; but if there is no one else willing to do so, I shall be very glad to arbitrate. It is certainly a great disadvantage not to have the vacancy filled.


I am afraid I am afflicted with the same difficulty as the noble Lord, and did not exactly hear what he said; but I venture on the opinion, with great diffidence, that it would not be competent for us to take any steps of any kind for the purpose of providing a person to write out answers for the noble Lord. I think that that would be an unusual application of the authorities of the House, and I am afraid I cannot promise him any assistance in that direction. I should probably be running into the danger of treating the noble Lord's necessities with levity if I ventured to suggest to him any remedies for the awkward position in which he finds himself, but I do not think he can find a remedy in the appointment of officers of the House for the purpose of relieving him.


I should like to say one word before this question drops. Independent of writing out answers for my noble friend, there are many duties attached to the office of Reading Clerk, and no little inconvenience has been caused owing to a successor to the late Reading Clerk not having been appointed. The question was discussed on 22nd March before the Committee on Parliamentary Offices, and it is to be regretted that a decision, whatever that decision may be, has not been arrived at.


The noble Lord's question ought not to have been addressed to Her Majesty's Government, but to me, in whom is vested by statute the power of making this appointment. In reply, I have only to say that as soon as certain matters now under discussion are arranged it is probable that an appointment will be made.

House adjourned at a quarter before Five of the clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four of the clock.