HL Deb 27 June 1927 vol 67 cc1013-20

My Lords, I beg to call attention to the fact that the Parliament (Qualification of Peeresses) Bill was on the Orders the Day issued for your Lordships' House on Friday evening and received on Saturday morning. Another Notice was sent on Saturday from which this Bill was withdrawn, nor does it appear in the White Paper which we have in our hands. I have to ask whether this proceeding is in order, and for these reasons. In the debate on the Motion of Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent some severe reflections were cast upon Peers for non-attendance in this House, and considerable comment was made on the figures which were cited. There are, no doubt, questions of distance. For example, I have travelled 1,200 miles to register my vote. There is the time taken up. I have been here for eight days waiting for the debate on Lord FitzAlan's Motion, and the debate promised on Lord Astor's Bill. There is the cost, also, and there are the engagements that have to be broken, and so forth, all of which things hamper many Peers, who do not live on the banks of the Thames, in attending your Lordships' House so closely as they would wish to do.

But why attend when Bills appear and re-appear and disappear? Last Tuesday the Liquor (Popular Control) Bill and the Qualification of Peeresses Bill were changelings. Five weeks ago I came up from the Bath and West of England Show, with great reluctance, to vote against the Liquor (Popular Control) Bill, for which a Whip had been issued. There was no Division. I arrived on Tuesday morning to vote against the Qualification of Peeresses Bill, and I found that the Liquor (Popular Control) Bill had taken its place. Again there was no vote on the Liquor (Popular Control) Bill. Then came the Whips for the Qualification of Peeresses Bill to-day—the ordinary Whip and a Whip signed by many noble Lords. It was also intimated that a noble Earl, a member of the Government, was to move the rejection of the Bill. Again there is no Bill, and I think at least there ought to be an assurance forthcoming that it will not appear again on the Paper of your Lordships' House this Session.

I think also some explanation is needed as to why one is kept hanging about here unnecessarily. The noble Viscount who is responsible for the Qualification of Peeresses Bill spoke in the debate on Lord FitzAlan's Motion, but he was absent from the Division, where he was sought for to ascertain his intentions regarding the Bill. The Whips on Thursday firmly believed that the Bill would come on to-day. That was the opinion of the officials of this House on Friday afternoon, when I came here to mak siccar, as we say in Scotland. It was not until the afternoon of Saturday that a telegram was despatched from this House to inform me that the Bill would be withdrawn. Then this morning we have the belated explanation of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, in the Press. As an old Whip I would remind those who are either in charge of Bills or opposing them that if the business of your Lordships' House is presented in this kind of manner no satisfactory attendance can possibly be looked for, even with the best intentions of those of us who live at a distance to serve the House as much as is in our power. I think your Lordships would also concur in the opinion that some assurance from the Government is due that the business of this House will be so allocated and regularised as to encourage attendance instead of discouraging it.


My Lords, I thought I was coming down to-day to ask your Lordships' permission to withdraw the Parliament (Qualification of Peeresses) Bill. Last Monday the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, stated that the Government intended shortly to introduce a measure for the reform of your Lordships' House. The noble Earl, the Secretary of State for India, announced on Wednesday that the Government intended to proceed with that measure some time next year. That obviously created an entirely new situation as far as this present Bill is concerned. Your Lordships will remember that I introduced it on April 12, when there was no immediate proposal on the horizon for the reform of your Lordships' House. On Thursday last I had to leave London very early in the morning to go to Manchester to keep two long-standing engagements. I did not get back until late on Thursday night. That is why I was not in your Lordships' House on that day. I had informed the noble Marquess who leads the House on Wednesday night that I could not be here on the following day.

On Friday morning I looked up in the OFFICIAL REPORT the record of the debates on this Bill in 1926 and 1925. I found it there recorded that the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, had both made it quite clear that any measure of reform of your Lordships' House must alter their attitude about the inclusion of ladies and that they would no longer oppose the inclusion of ladies in the Upper House as soon as it came to be reformed. I at once rang up the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, on Friday morning and told him that in view of the new situation I intended on Monday to ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Qualification of Peeresses Bill altogether. I sent a message to the noble Lord who acts as Whip for the Liberal Party and to the noble Lord who acts as Whip for the Labour Party, telling them of what I intended to do. I also sent round messages to the noble Lords who supported the Bill. I do not know whether I ought to have notified all the opponents of the Bill. I rather assumed that the Whips would do that. I deeply regret that the noble Viscount should have been kept in London for the week-end. I confess that I thought that on Friday morning I had done all that was required of me, but I apologise to him if he has been put to any inconvenience. I do not know whether it is in order, but I had intended to ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Bill. I understood that I could not take it oft the Order Paper without your Lordships' authority and sanction as there was a Motion down for its rejection.


My Lords, I do not reside at a distance from this place so that I am not put to the inconvenience that the noble Viscount, Lord Novar, has been, who comes down here thirsting for the blood of Peeresses and other people and finds that no Division is to take place; but I confess that the explanation of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is of a somewhat inadequate nature, though at the same time I do not think he is altogether to blame. When I heard the statement of the Lord Chancellor with regard to what the Government intended to do—action in which I have no confidence whatever myself—I did say this to myself: "Whatever may be the result of this statement, at all events it does away for the time being with the Peeresses Bill." In the circumstances I should have thought that the natural thing to have occurred would have been for the Government Whip and the other Whips to approach my noble friend and ask him what his intentions were with regard to the Bill. They do not appear to have done anything of the kind. It naturally comes as a surprise to people who are interested to find that the whole thing must drop.

I cannot resist taking this opportunity to make a protest against the slip-shod and slovenly way in which business is carried on in this House. I have been a member of both Houses, and I have no hesitation in saying—and I am sure that everybody who has been in the other place, if he is sufficiently honest, would corroborate me—that the so-called whipping in this House is absolutely beneath contempt, and it has always been. I am not making any particular charge against the present Whip because I do not know that he is worse than his predecessors; but, as a matter of fact, the Whips do not seem to me, and never have seemed to me, to understand the A. B. C. of their business. Surely it is the business of the Whips to find out what is going to take place and to arrange that debates shall be conducted in a proper way. It frequently happens that nothing of the kind takes place. What does frequently, nay constantly, happen is that what is expected does not take place at all, and as often as not, if an important debate is down for a particular day, you find that somebody has been allowed to interpose some trivial, ridiculous Bill, which completely interferes with the discussion. And even when an important debate does take place no steps are taken, as a rule, to continue it on consecutive days. Other debates are sandwiched in between, and as regards the debate itself, it usually happens that, members of the Front Bench feeling it inconsistent with their dignity to speak for less than three-quarters of an hour or an hour, members on the Back Benches do not get an opportunity of expressing their views.

Take this last debate on House of Lords reform. Why should it not have been continued until Friday? What do we know of the opinion of the backwoodsmen upon their future? They never had an opportunity of expressing their views. I admit it is very easy to find fault and it is not so easy to discover a remedy. At one period we have far more time at our disposal than we require and at another period there is no time in which to do anything. I hope noble Lords will not be offended if I express the opinion that we are not by any means an industrious Assembly and I do not think we get any more industrious as we grow older. When I first had a seat in this House we used to sit for four days a week. I am rather disposed to propose, if the subject is ever considered seriously, that we should revert to the old practice. At all events, if we met four days a week we should ascertain more or less what was going to happen. As a matter of fact we now, until Whitsuntide, only devote about nine hours in the week to serious discussion and that is naturally quite inadequate later on. I hope that this protest of my noble friend will not be entirely lost upon the Government, and I think it would be more worth their while if they instituted some sort of inquiry as to whether our business could not be more efficiently conducted in the future. As has been pointed out, this extremely unsatisfactory method of conducting business results, naturally, in an equally unsatisfactory attendance at our proceedings.


My Lords, it is much to be regretted that the noble Viscount, Lord Novar, has been inconvenienced, but I cannot pass over in silence the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Newton, who has made this an opportunity or an excuse for making an attack upon the Government's method of conducting business and apparently upon the Whips of all Parties. I think that attack is a most unjustifiable one. Your Lordships will agree with me that my noble friend the Leader of the House (the Marquess of Salisbury) takes the utmost care to consult the convenience of all members of the House as far as he possibly can do so. With regard to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, I do rather regret that, after hearing the statements which were made in debate on Monday and Wednesday last, he did not then make up his mind to withdraw his Bill, because in that case noble Lords would have had earlier notice of its withdrawal. But I am bound to say that from the moment at which he came to that conclusion he did all that was possible to give notice to the officials and to inform the Whips of all Parties of the course he had undertaken. Perhaps it would have been more regular to keep the Bill upon the Orders of the Day and I do not know how it came about that the Bill was removed. The noble Viscount would not, however, have been in any better case for he would still have been here to see the Bill withdrawn. I hope, however, that the trouble which has been occasioned will not recur.


My Lords, I cannot deal with the reasons for our present situation, but I have a great deal of sympathy with noble Lords who have come down this afternoon expecting an important debate and finding that nothing of the kind is to take place. I cannot help feeling on the other hand that it is a little due to the habit of your Lordships' House of postponing everything until the summer months. There were the Liquor (Popular Control) Bill and the Qualification of Peeresses Bill and also the Motion of the noble Viscount, Lord FitzAlan, all of which might just as well have been brought before your Lordships' House before Easter, when there is little work for us to do. We are always saying that we want work then and there is comparatively little to do at that time; yet, somehow or other, everything is always put off till the summer. This seems to be a lesson which I hope will be borne in mind in the future by noble Lords who wish matters to be discussed. In such cases I hope that noble Lords will bring their matters before your Lordships' House quite early in the Session.

I feel some hesitation in speaking on the matter in the absence of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House. Nobody is more jealous than he of the rights of your Lordships' House and I am sure he would not be absent to-day unless he had a very important engagement elsewhere. I am, therefore, unwilling to say very much upon the subject. With regard to the way in which the duties of the Whips are carried out, I will only say that the whipping of my noble friends is admirably performed. It is not for me to say anything about the way the whipping of other Parties is carried on. I think the matter is a little more than one of one Bill or of two Bills. It is really a matter of how to get business of this kind done in the early part of the year, when there is very little for us to do, and of leaving this part of the year for the measures of His Majesty's Government. I think there is little difficulty in having everything known at this end of the Session. It used to be so when I had the honour of trying to conduct the business of your Lordships' House. If we would agree to leave this time of the year to the Government of the day so that they should have every facility to get their measures through, it would be to the convenience of all Parties in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I do not know what your Lordships propose should be done now. I had come down here thinking the Qualification of Peeresses Bill was still on the Paper and intending to ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw it. I knew I could not take it off the Paper without leave as there was a Motion down for its rejection, but if it meets with your Lordships' approval I shall propose in a minute to ask leave to withdraw the Bill. I can only again apologise to the noble Viscount for his having been kept in London. After all, it was not until Wednesday afternoon that I realised what the Government's intentions were. It was only then, and not until after the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, had spoken, that I realised that the Government intended to bring their Reform Bill in next year. I myself was intending to address your Lordships and anybody who has a speech to deliver knows how difficult it is to think of other things until that speech has been delivered. So that it was not until late on Wednesday night that I could begin to think about this matter. I sincerely apologise to the noble Viscount for any inconvenience to which he has been put.