HL Deb 10 December 1935 vol 99 cc145-50

THE MARQUESS OF HUNTLY moved to resolve, That it is not obligatory for Peers to wear hats when attending the trial of Lord de Clifford on 12th December. The noble Marquess said: My Lords a little more than a month ago the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack issued a circular with reference to the approaching trial of a member of this House. In that circular, as your Lordships will remember, there was a paragraph stating that those Peers who attended the trial of course would have to wear their robes and cocked hats. Upon receiving that circular I addressed a letter to the noble and learned Viscount calling his attention to the fact that I did not think that the wearing of hats was obligatory upon Peers attending a trial, and stating that as I had been present at the last trial of a Peer in Parliament—that of Earl Russell in 1901—I was able to state from memory that we did not wear what are called cocked hats. The correspondence ended with a letter from the noble and learned Viscount in which he told me that there was a difference of opinion upon the point and that it was a matter for the House to decide for itself.

I therefore put down the Motion which stands in my name and I will give your Lordships the reasons that lead me to recommend that the wearing of hats is not compulsory on an occasion of this sort. To begin with I think the description "cocked hats" is a misnomer. I have looked through the most recent edition of the procedure of the House of Lords—the twelfth edition brought up to this year—and in that there is a very voluminous account of the proceedings at the Russell trial. There is, however, no nutrition in it of cocked hats, nor is there any mention of cocked hats in the very long report of the trial which was published in The Times on 19th July, 1901. I think the meaning to be attached to the statement that Peers uncover at the reading of the Commission and any Proclamation of the Sovereign is that those who are covered, those who have hats on their heads, take them off in the same way as when the King's Speech is read from the Woolsack by Commission those who happen to be wearing hats take them off. There is not a word in any report of the trial of Peers about the compulsory wearing of hats.

I have said that the description "cocked hats" seems to be a misnomer. These hats are three-cornered, and I think in the old phrase they were called shovel hats. But, whatever they are called, I remember vividly that on the occasion of the Russell trial—I was sitting in the Barons' Bench at the very top of the Royal Gallery and had a view of all the Peers present—these three-cornered hats were worn by the Law Lords and only by one or two others. It seems to me an omission that the Select Committee which sat to consider the proceedings to be followed at the trial of Lord de Clifford did not include any Peer who was present at the Russell trial. There are still in this House about a dozen Peers, I believe, who were present at that trial on 18th July, 1901. Among them was the late Chairman of Committees, the Earl of Donoughmore, and also I think the Earl of Shaftesbury, the Lord Steward, the Earl of Malmesbury, Lord Hamilton of Dalzell, and some five or six others. I should like any of them who were present to say what their remembrance is of the procedure on that occasion.

We assembled in this House in our robes, and Lord Halsbury, the Lord Chancellor, was appointed Lord High Steward to act on the occasion. After we had left this House we marched to the Royal Gallery. There had been a temporary Throne erected at the far end, and a chair was set for the Lord High Steward and the proceedings opened. I can say that the few Peers who did have their three-cornered hats on of course removed them when the Royal Commission was read, but certainly the bulk of the Peers present were not covered. It is said that this will be the last trial of a Peer. I do not believe it, but I am certain that if we go by former times we should follow our precedents strictly and it should not be made obligatory upon Peers, if they wish to attend the trial of one of their own body, to wear three-cornered hats. They should be allowed to wear them if they like, and if they do not wish to, they should not have to wear them. I therefore beg to move the Motion which stands in my name.

Moved to resolve, That it is not obligatory for Peers to wear hats when attending the trial of Lord de Clifford on 12th December.—(The Marquess of Huntly.)


My Lords, I had hoped that some of your Lordships might be able to respond to the invitation of the noble Marquess, but unfortunately none of you who were present seem to have availed yourselves of his invitation, and therefore it is left to me to answer the Motion. I am a little sorry in some ways that this is the subject of debate in this House. I am sorry, not because it is not perfectly legitimate for any one to raise any point in your Lordships' House, but because disrespectful people may perhaps think that it is not very dignified, when these grave questions are being debated outside, for us to spend much time on the consideration of what clothes we shall wear on the day after to-morrow. The noble Marquess based his argument, as he told your Lordships, on his recollection that on the occasion of the Russell trial, which was the last occasion when a noble Lord was indicted for felony, members of your Lordships' House did not have hats. I did not understand him to say that they wore any other hat than their ceremonial cocked hat—they did not appear in bowlers or top-hats—but that they had no hats at all.

As the noble Marquess has told you, he wrote to me some two months ago and said that he was right in that recollection. Naturally I had no recollection or knowledge myself, but I invited the learned Clerk of the Parliaments, who had himself been present at the trial, to give me his recollection and also to reinforce it as far as he could by others who were there. Human memory is naturally often at fault, and I can only tell your Lordships that he told me that he had a very clear recollection that hats were worn or carried, and that such inquiry as he was able to make corroborated that memory. Among others whom he was able to ask were some of those who were professionally engaged in the trial, and their recollections accorded with his own.

Further than that, he looked up the record, the formal Minutes, and, as the noble Marquess has said, there appear in the Minutes several references to the covering or uncovering of the Peers on that occasion. For instance—I only take this because it is perhaps the clearest reference—when the Commission was read at the beginning of the trial, the record in the Minutes provided that The Peers uncover themselves, and they and all others stand up while the Commission is read. The noble Marquess had obviously seen that passage; he said it only meant that those who were covered uncovered themselves and the rest stood up as they were. The matter does not, however, rest merely on that negative testimony, because I have, since the noble Marquess first wrote to me, been at pains to have search made in the contemporary Press, and I find these three quotations—I believe there are others—as to what actually happened at the trial.

On July 18, the Evening News said, describing who were there: Peers wearing mantles of scarlet and ermine and gold and with quaint black cocked hats on their heads… The reporter at any rate thought he saw the Peers covered with hats. Then on the following morning, July 19, the Morning Post, reporting the Russell trial, said: Peers wore their robes of scarlet barred with ermine and carried cocked hats in their hands. The Globe, reporting the trial, said: Each Peer"— I call your Lordships' attention to that word— wore or carried a black cocked hat. So that those who were reporting the trial at the time recorded that they had seen the Peers each of them wearing or carrying a black cocked hat. Even the best of memories after thirty-four years is perhaps not quite so reliable as the contemporary record of what happened.

In addition to that, the learned Clerk of the Parliaments has procured a copy of the illustration of the trial, which was published in the Illustrated London News at the time in 1901. That is on the Table, if any of your Lordships should care to look at it. If you look at the drawing—it is of course on a small scale—you will observe that the Peers are depicted sitting in the Royal Gallery with their black cocked hats on their knees. They were not wearing them, apparently, when they sat down. I think what happened was that, as the procession was formed and passed from this House into the Royal Gallery, the members of the procession walked covered, wearing their cocked hats, and that when they arrived in the Royal Gallery and took their seats they took their hats off and put them under their seats or on their knees. That being the record of what happened at the time; that being also the recollection of such persons as I have been able to inquire from; that being also the record of the Minutes, I venture to think that we may take it as fairly certain, in spite of my noble friend's recollection, that in fact cocked hats were either worn or carried, although no doubt he may have carried his and not actually worn it.

It is open to your Lordships, of course, to make any modification in dress which you think desirable. I do not think it would effect any substantial economy in the present case, because all those of your Lordships who are proposing to sit in judgment on Thursday and take part in the trial will have sent in their names and presumably by this time have equipped themselves for the trial by the acquisition of their robes and their hats, which, after all, form part of the ceremonial dress. It is open, of course, to this House to determine that your Lordships should sit without hats, or, for that matter, without robes. I think that there is a good deal to be said for taking the view that this manner of trial has outlived its usefulness, and that your Lordships' House might think it desirable, perhaps on an early occasion, to express an opinion to that effect. But this is not the moment to do that, and I am prepared to suggest to your Lordships, and to my noble friend, that perhaps so long as the old method of trial is maintained, it would be more in consonance with the dignity of this House and with its traditions if we maintained the method of trial which prevailed apparently in 1901, and certainly in every other trial of this kind of which we can find any record, and that so long as that method of trying Peers indicted for felony continues the old form should be main tained and the old tradition should be followed. It is for these reasons that I venture to suggest to your Lordships, and to my noble friend, that it would not be advisable to pass the present Motion.


My Lords, I rise to address you for one reason only. I also happened to be present at the trial of Lord Russell. I was not at that time a member of your Lordships' House, but nay father was Lord High Steward, and he asked me to act as his secretary. Therefore I was present at the trial. I was not present at the part of the trial which took place in this House, but only at that part of it which took place in the Royal Gallery, and my recollection is in accordance with that of the noble Marquess. It was an occasion which impressed me very much, as your Lordships can understand; but having told your Lordships that, I go on to say that I entirely agree with my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack that memory is not a thing that you can say is going to tell you exactly what happened. After the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has called our attention to these contemporary accounts of the trial, I can only say that I think my memory must be at fault.


May I ask the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack what is the use of carrying a hat in your hand? If by only carrying a cocked hat in your hand you conform to usage, surely the time has arrived when it would be wise to say that you can dispense with it.

On Question, Motion disagreed to.

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