HL Deb 19 July 1934 vol 93 cc864-7

THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY asked His Majesty's Government whether they will undertake, the printing and publication of the history of the institution and personnel of Parliament which is being prepared under the direction of a Committee consisting of members of both Houses. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, there is a remarkable gap in the historical records which have to do with Parliament. Much has been written upon the nature of our Constitution, much has been written on the great events which mark its development, but the records of the actual living individuals whose life and work, whose function, whose offices, have gradually built up the Constitution—those records have never been put together. They exist in scattered form all over this country—much, of course, in the hands of the State, but much in private hands; and they have never been collected, they have never been put upon record.

These persons, of both Houses of Parliament, stretching back perhaps to the reign of Henry III or further, are the people who have actually made the Constitution as we know it. It has grown under their hands, by their action, by their views; and yet no record has been made of it. They had no design; the Constitution has arrived without design; that is its great merit. They never looked forward, of course, but we may profitably look back and trace the steps by which these wonderful institutions have been evolved. And therefore a very distinguished Committee has been formed under the patronage of the Prime Minister and of all the ex-Prime Ministers who are alive, of Mr. Speaker, the Lord Chancellor, and many other persons of great prominence and distinction in both Houses of Parliament, and this Committee is intent on gathering together these records. It will be a work of very great importance, and all that we ask is that we should have the co-operation of the Government. We do not want more than that. My Question is merely to ask them for that co-operation in the form in which I have put it. I feel quite certain I shall receive a favourable reply.


My Lords, for the second time to-day I find myself in complete agreement with the noble Marquess—I am getting rather nervous. But I should very much like to support the Question which he has addressed to the Government. I was on the original Committee that brought this matter before the Government of the day, and it was a matter of surprise to me that there should be no complete record of that personnel of the Mother of Parliaments. Some of the great names in our history—I found their constituencies were entirely unknown. Some of the great Divisions that have taken place in Parliament and the numbers of the people who voted in them were not known. That is gradually being corrected. A mass of information is being brought together, and I think it only right, in addition to those whom the noble Marquess has mentioned, to mention very specially the name of my right honourable friend Colonel Wedgwood—


Hear, hear.

LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE—who has been quite indefatigable in pursuing this matter, in stirring up interest in it, and in collecting a body of willing helpers, many of whom are doing research work for nothing. I only hope the Government will give a sympathetic response to the Question which the noble Marquess has addressed.


My Lords, I feel that from these rather empty Benches some humble support ought also to be accorded to what the noble Marquess has said. History is so tremendously important in the education of every one of us—and I am afraid it is rather neglected—that anything that can encourage its study is worthy of the greatest consideration. I would only add that I hope your Lordships' House will receive as much attention in this history when it is published as will another place.


My Lords, I think no one can entertain any doubt as to the importance and permanent value of the work which is being done by the Committee to which my noble friend Lord Salisbury referred. The names of those who form the Committee are perhaps the best guarantee of their adequacy for the labours that they have undertaken and the satisfactory and complete results we may expect from their work. I was glad to hear from the noble Lord special reference to my right honourable friend Colonel Wedgwood, to whose initiative so much of this work has been due. On behalf of the Government the discussion with the Committee has been undertaken mainly by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Your Lordships will appreciate that Treasury considerations are necessarily involved in the sort of question which is being submitted by the noble Marquess, and the answer which I have to give is an answer with I have received from him and which I deliver with his authority.

My right honourable friend tells me that he has been assured by the Committee that the proposed history will not involve a net charge on public funds, and with the object of assisting the undertaking my right honourable friend has agreed, on behalf of the Government, to an arrangement which is accepted by the Committee as satisfactory and likely to produce the results hoped for. This is the arrangement which has been reached: Provided that there is secured beforehand from sources other than public funds a minimum sum of £15,000 towards the cost of compiling the history, the Government, while they cannot pledge Parliament or future Administrations to a continuing expenditure of public money, will be prepared for their part to authorise the publication and placing on sale by the Stationery Office, at the public cost, of volumes of the history up to a maximum number, varying, proportionately with the amount collected, from twenty, if only the minimum sum is secured, up to the total of forty if £.30,000 is secured. It is anticipated by the Committee that receipts from sales, which will be credited to the Stationery Office Vote, will cover the cost of publication. It is understood that the Government cannot take any responsibility for raising the above sums, but my right honourable friend is sure—and I know his feeling is shared in this House—that there will be a general hope that the Committee may be successful in their efforts.


My Lords, I desire, as a member of the Committee which has been referred to, to say one word of thanks to the noble Viscount for the statement he has made and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the promise he has given. I might point this out: The State is prepared to pay for the printing and publication of historical manuscripts. It has issued a great number of volumes of historical manuscripts. Surely the history of Parliament itself is quite as important as the manuscripts, which are the documents relating to what was done in the Parliaments, documents written some by official, others by non-official, persons; but surely the history of who the persons were who came here, how they came here, what they did when they got here, and what their decisions were is just as important as, if not more important than, the historical documents which the State has already published. In these days particularly, when it is the fashion to derogate from the position of Parliament and to suggest dictatorships and various other things, surely a history which records how our Parliament grew from small beginnings to the great position which it now occupies is not one which ought to be neglected or despised. It is one which should be of vast interest not only to the people of this country, but to the people of the Dominions and the people of the United States as well.