HL Deb 01 November 1906 vol 163 cc1291-4

On the Motion "That this House do now adjourn,"


said: My Lords, on this Motion I desire to call attention to a matter affecting the privileges of this House. It appears that four Members of the House have been sitting and voting during the present session without having previously taken the oath. I learn from Sir Erskine May's work on the laws and usages of Parliament that a Peer voting or sitting in the House of Peers without having taken the oath is subject for every such offence to a penalty of £500. I further learn that one, of these noble Lords is Lord Grimthorpe, the latest acquisition to the Ministerial ranks, who, with the proverbial zeal of a convert, has accumulated a total penalty of no less than £8,500. As a matter of strict fact and legality, I believe I am entitled to claim a portion of that money in the character of a common informer, but I need hardly assure the House that I am not actuated by sordid motives, but am inspired solely by a lofty regard for the privileges of this House. I therefore beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether, in spite of an undertaking that no contentious legislation was to be introduced during this portion of this session, they are prepared to bring in a Bill of In- demnity in order to relieve these misguided persons from the consequences of their neglect?


My Lords, Bills of Indemnity were formerly necessary in cases of this kind, which unfortunately do sometimes happen, but I understand that they are no longer necessary, because in the year 1882, in the Bradlaugh case, it was decided by this House that no one could be sued for a penalty without the fiat of the Attorney-General. Therefore, no common informer will have a chance of getting any of this money. I am sorry for my noble friend opposite, but it can only be done by the Attorney-General under the direction of the Crown. I have, had only an hour's notice of the noble Lord's intention to raise the question, but I think I may take it upon myself to say that His Majesty's Government will not instruct the Attorney-General to extract £8,000 from my noble friend. But something does require to be done, and therefore I give notice that I shall on Monday move, "That, notice having been taken that the following Lords, Lord Manners, Lord Clements (Earl of Leitrim), Lord Grimthorpe and Lord Armstrong, voted in certain divisions during the present session without having previously taken the oath, it be ordered that the entry in the Journals be amended by striking out the names of the said Lords from the lists of the divisions in which they voted before taking the oath."


I am bound to say that the noble Marquess is creating a precedent which I think requires some consideration. What the noble Marquess said is quite true as to the effect of the decision in Bradlaugh's case, and since that time the same facts have occurred more than once, but it has always been considered necessary to bring in a Bill of Indemnity. Such an occurrence has never yet been passed over without that being done. That is a point which requires to be considered, and I hope the noble Marquess will not finally determine the question till he has considered it.


I have only stated what I have been advised in the matter, and I cannot say anything further. But when my Motion comes on on Monday I hope the noble and learned Earl will favour us with his opinion in the matter.


As one of the misguided persons singled out by my noble friend opposite, I think it my duty to rise and offer an apology to the House for inadvertently having violated its rules. I can only offer an excuse similar to that made by Dr. Johnson on a celebrated occasion, "Ignorance, sheer ignorance." I had an impression that while House of Commons may come and House of Commons may go, the House of Lords went on for ever, and that, having once taken the oath, it was not necessary to repeat the ceremony. If I may say so, the rule is a little ambiguous in that respect. I do not mean to say that I studied the rule very carefully, but it distinctly states that— On the opening of a new Parliament those present shall take the oath. It does not say anything about those absent. I was not one of those present at the opening. As it happened, I did not show the zeal of the convert which has been attributed to me by my noble friend, inasmuch as I did not appear until June last year, by which time things had settled down and there were none of those signs and tokens in your Lordships' House so numerous in the House of Commons that forcibly remind one that an old Parliament has given place to a new. Under these circumstances I hope your Lordships will pardon the inadvertence of which I have been guilty; I can only apologise sincerely, and throw myself on your indulgence.

House adjourned at half-past Eleven o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter past Four o'clock.