THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
Your Lordships may remember that yesterday, after my noble friend behind me, Lord Islington, had offered an apology to the House for having broken our rules by voting without having previously taken the oath, and after the noble Marquess opposite had made some observations, I promised to consult with the noble Marquess and with the officers of the House in order to see what steps might properly be taken. I have in the meantime refreshed my memory with regard to what happened in the year 1906, when four noble Lords had committed the same crime as did my noble friend. At 1321 that time Lord Ripon was the Leader of the House, and he pointed out that it had at any rate been some time since it was necessary to pass a Bill of Indemnity through both Houses of Parliament in respect of such an offence, and he suggested, therefore, that the names of the noble Lords should be struck out of the Divisions in which they had improperly taken part.
That proposition was objected to by the noble and learned Earl on the Front Bench opposite (Lord Halsbury), and also by the noble Earl, Lord Camperdown, whom I do not see in his place, but who, as we all know, is one of the most vigilant watchmen on any matter connected with our procedure; and in the result the whole matter was referred to a small Committee, which looked up precedents and considered what had best be done. As it happened, I was on that Committee. The result of our deliberations was agreement that practically the only course which could usefully be taken was to issue a circular to noble Lords who had not taken the oath by a particular date warning them of the serious consequences which might ensue if they sat and voted. Since then that has been done, and I have no doubt that the practice has saved some noble Lords from inadvertent action. In the case of my noble friend, who has been serving his country in more than one capacity abroad and had not taken his seat in this Parliament, I understand that the notice did not come before him, and he was under the impression, as many noble Lords have been who have been introduced to your Lordships' House, with all the ceremony which accompanies such introduction, that it is not necessary to take the oath afresh in every new Parliament.
After the quite ample and frank apology which my noble friend has made, I think that in all the circumstances it will not be the desire of the House to proceed any further in the matter. Of course, I am not in a position to make the assertion, but I cannot imagine that the Attorney-General, with whom the matter alone rests, can have any desire to proceed against my noble friend in respect of the liability which he has thus incurred. At the same time I quite agree with what I believe to be the general sentiment of the House that we are right in alluding once more to the matter, because a lapse of this kind, however excusable it may be, cannot be regarded as in itself trivial or one which ought to be 1322 altogether passed over. But in this particular case, as the noble Marquess opposite was good enough to say yesterday, I think we may regard the question as closed, and accept the full explanation which was offered by my noble friend.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I venture to think that the course which the noble Marquess recommends to the House is one that we shall do well to adopt, if only for this reason, that I really believe no other course is practically open to us. I do not think any one, quite apart from technicalities, would desire that the noble Lord should be subjected to penalties, financial or other, for the omission which he explained, and for which he frankly and with obvious sincerity apologised last night. Again, I do not suppose that any one would desire that this incident should be made the occasion for the passing of a Bill of Indemnity through both Houses of Parliament. One's natural impulse in a case of this kind is to amend the record of your Lordships' proceedings and expunge the vote given by the noble Lord in these particular circumstances, but my noble and learned friend beside me (Lord Halsbury) on a former occasion stated to the House, and I believe would make the same statement to-night, that this is a course which, for various good reasons, is not open to us to take. In these circumstances I cannot help thinking that enough will have been done if notice is taken, as it has been taken, by the House of the noble Lord's irregularity, and that notice having been taken the matter may be allowed to drop.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, the only reason that I intervened on the former occasion was that the noble Lord then in question was warned at the time he was voting that it was irregular and that he ought not to vote until he had taken the oath, but he disregarded that warning and voted in spite of it. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House referred to this procedure as a rule of the House. It is not. It is a Statute. If a Statute is openly disobeyed, it appears to me it is assuming a power to this House which it does not possess to think that the House can overrule a Statute. I intervened on the occasion in question because it seemed to me that open defiance of the law was a thing which we ought not to pass over. What happened afterwards I really do not know. I do not remember whether a Bill of Indemnity was brought forward.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
At that time I took exception to the course proposed, but I understand now that nothing is to be done.
§ LORD ISLINGTON
My Lords, I only desire to add to my apology of yesterday my best thanks to the House for the leniency displayed to me on account of the serious irregularity, however innocent on my part, which I have committed in the early days of my entry to this House. I wish at the same time to apologise for having been the unwitting cause of delaying the business of the House. My regret is tempered by a sense of relief that at least I shall not be responsible for further delaying the business of Parliament by causing the necessity for a Bill of Indemnity.