HL Deb 05 March 1906 vol 153 cc38-43

rose to ask the Lord Privy Seal whether in view of the appointment of a Committee upon Parliamentary Procedure in another place, steps will be taken by the Government to secure due consideration for the rights and privileges of this House.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in returning to this somewhat well-worn topic, which is always associated by my noble friend Lord Rosebery with the advent of spring, I must admit that at first sight there is apparently no connection between a Committee upon Parliamentary Procedure in another place and what goes on here. It is evident, however, that if important changes with regard to the session are effected, and if no changes are made with regard to the method in which Bills are presented to, and considered by, this House, then our interests will materially be affected. Nevertheless, as far as I have been able to notice, our existence appears to have been so far entirely forgotten, which is perhaps not surprising if we reflect that during the last few years the existence of this House has been almost entirely ignored.

This unsatisfactory state of things has frequently been called attention to in this House, and I will not repeat those arguments with which you are by this time so painfully familiar; but I do not think anybody can fail to realize that during recent years we have gradually allowed ourselves to be elbowed out of legislative work, and we really seem to be approaching a position which an unfriendly critic might describe as a sort of compromise between a high-class debating society and a registry office. As far as loquacity is concerned, there is absolutely no check upon us at all, except such as is imposed by modesty. We discuss all manner of things very frequently, and even this afternoon we have touched upon an immense variety of topics, more so than would have been expected from a casual study of the Notice Paper.

We occasionally go through the form of passing Bills, but after they have passed through all their stages in your Lordships' House they disappear and are swallowed up in the vortex in another place. In spite of this frruitless labour, I observe that the noble and learned Earl Lord Halsbury has already introduced and taken the Second Reading of two important Bills which are presumably before long to appear in another place, and I observed with interest that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack recognised in one of those Bills an old acquaintance with which he had frequently come in contact before, but which, for some unfortunate reason which he did not specify, had failed to find a place on the Statute-book. The measure which I allude to is the Bill relating to the prevention of corruption. As I say, there is practically no limit on our loquacity for the greater part of the year, but when our real functions begin and we have to consider Bills which are sent up to us from another place, when you might imagine that the functions of a revising Chamber would come into full play, we are practically told that the time for talking has come to an end and the registering period has arrived. We are practically obliged at the close of the session to confine ourselves to what I term purely registry work; and the climax was reached, I think, last session, when on the occasion of the introduction of the Aliens Bill time was so limited that the representative of His Majesty's Government was actually afraid to move his own Amendments. This is a state of things which has often been protested against, not only by unofficial persons like myself, but by the most rev. Primate, and more especially by noble Lords who are now sitting on the Front Governmental Bench. But, in spite of all this somewhat profitless though indignant talk, very little has been achieved, and I can only point to two tangible actions on our part. We have during recent years passed two Resolutions. One of them was due to myself and had regard to the alteration of the time and the session, an alteration which I am glad to think there seems to be some hope of carrying out; and the other Resolution to which I desire to call your attention was one passed unanimously by this House as late as April of last year.

This was an extremely bold, if not aggressive, Resolution, what I might almost term a sort of blood and thunder Resolution, asserting that we would refuse to consider Bills unless we had time to do so. But what happened? The usual thing happened; and my noble and learned friend Lord James of Hereford, after we had disposed of the Aliens Bill under the ignominious conditions I have just mentioned, made a pathetic and indignant speech in which he pointed out that no less than sixteen Government Bills had been passed through this House, had gone down to another place, and had there been lost sight of, including several measures introduced by the Lord Chancellor himself. I remember that Lord James was specially scandalised by the fact that the ex-Prime Minister, when perpetrating his annual "massacre of the innocents," paid no attention whatever to, and never even mentioned, those luckless measures. The protest of Lord James of Hereford was echoed by other peers, and I believe that Lord Spencer—whom we all regret to see no longer in his place—remarked that he was as jealous of the dignity and importance of this House as noble Lords opposite. What he wanted to preserve was that this should not be merely a House for recording the proposals of the Government, but a real House of revision; and he declared that we were in great jeopardy of losing our powers of revision. As far as my personal opinion is concerned, I should be inclined to assert that that power of revision had already been lost, and we may possibly never recover it.

This dignified protest had barely ceased last session when the Unemployed Workmen Bill made its appearance. It was introduced, rushed through its various stages, and, if I am not mistaken, in two more days or less the House was up. Everybody agrees that this is a thoroughly unsatisfactory state of things, but it may not unfairly be retorted upon us that we have ourselves to blame to some extent. If, instead of indulging in the luxury of these blood and thunder resolutions, which I an sorry to say we have run away from, we had every now and then thrown out a Bill or two our position at the present moment would be somewhat more satisfactory.

On the occasion of the first debate this session, upon the Address, the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition pointed out that we were at the present moment confronted with a very exceptional state of things. He pointed out that the Unionist Party was represented by an exiguous minority in another place and that in this House there was a large majority; and, more especially in view of the protests which had frequently been made by noble Lords opposite, it was clearly desirable that this House should be consulted in good time as to any important measures which may be contemplated. He asked for an assurance on this point which he did not obtain.

I suppose it would be hoping too much to anticipate that this assurance will be obtained by me. I am afraid we must recognise with sorrow that, so far as one can judge, the majority of the Members in another place are not animated with any particular sympathy for this assembly. It is possible, although it would be much to be regretted, that points of difference may arise between the two Houses. I need not say that personally I hope that these points of difference will not arise, but, if they do, it does seem to me most desirable that neither House should be entitled to complain of want of consideration on the part of the other; and for this reason, if for no other, I would venture to appeal to noble Lords opposite, now that they are in office, to act up to those professions which we have so often heard from them, and have regard to the honour and dignity of this House.


who replied in the absence of the Marquess of Ripon, said: My Lords, I can re-echo what fell from my noble friend Earl Spencer last year, and can assure the House that we on this side are in no sense less anxious than noble Lords opposite to maintain the dignity and to secure the privileges of the House. I am rather glad to think that my noble friend Lord Newton is afraid that the House will continue to be a mere House of registry. My own idea is that the principal reason why the House has been a House of registry during the greater part of the last twenty years is that for seventeen of those twenty years the great majority of this House have been in sympathy with the great majority of the other House and have, therefore, been only too glad to pass the measures that have come up from the other House. I have a recollection of 1894, when, I think, the House ceased to be a House of registry, and became a House of a very different character.

I do not think the appointment of a Committee upon Parliamentary procedure in another place is an occasion to discuss the business of your Lordships' House. It would be better, surely, in order to show our respect for the other House, to allow the other House to have its Committee and decide upon its procedure and then, if we found that our privileges were in any way infringed, to consider in what way we could approach the other House, and come to an agreement that our privileges should be properly maintained. I venture to think it is altogether previous to raise this question now; and, therefore, I can only say, on behalf of the Government, that should there be any danger, or should it be considered that there is any danger, to the privileges of this House, we shall be only too glad to consult with noble Lords opposite with a view to securing a proper arrangement for the benefit of this House.


My Lords, I take it that so far as the substance of my noble friend's Motion is concerned there will be a general concurrence on both sides of the House that it is desirable that some steps should be taken to put an end to a state of things which we have all so frequently deplored.

I venture to say in reference to the form of his notice that no Committee of the other House would be in a position to deal with the rights and privileges of this House. My noble friend's action is certainly opportune. Last year, your Lordships will recollect, we were all of one mind, but we all felt that no permanent and effectual improvement in the existing state of things could be looked for except with the co-operation of the other House of Parliament, whom we may regard as the predominant partner in such matters. After the discussion which then took place, I made inquiries from the Prime Minister as to the possibility of inducing the predominant partner to interest himself in the matter, but the result of my investigations was, I am sorry to say, not of a re-assuring character.

But, at the present moment, the position is changed. The predominant partner has interested himself of his own accord in the question of Parliamentary procedure. If, however, the Parliamentary machine is really to be put into good working order, that cannot be done except by some measure of co-operation between both Houses. Such co-operation may not be possible at this moment. I assume, however, from what the noble Lord opposite has said, that the matter is being considered, and that His Majesty's Government prefer a dilatory policy to one of prompter action. But it does occur to one, as a conceivable solution of the difficulty, that the question might be dealt with by a joint Committee of the two Houses, or, again, that any Committee appointed by one House should make it its business to inform itself as to the condition of things which prevails in the other, and as to the feeling of your Lordships upon the subject. We have the assurance of the noble Lord opposite that the matter will not be lost sight of; and I earnestly trust that he and his friends will be more successful than we were in bringing about a lasting improvement in the conditions Under which our business is transacted.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.