HL Deb 17 June 1936 vol 101 cc82-119

THE EARL OF CRAWFORD rose to move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House the growing practice of reading speeches is to be deprecated as alien to the custom of this House, and injurious to the traditional conduct of its debates. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have made so bold as to put down a Motion on the Order Paper, because I think that the conduct and the efficiency of debates in this House is a matter of general importance. Unfortunately, the attendance in your Lordships' House has been greatly reduced ever since the powers of the House were curtailed by the Parliament Act; but, none the less, it is always possible in this House to hear debates conducted by men with great, almost world-wide, experience, speakers who are well acquainted with men and affairs. In this House we have several advantages over another place. In the first place, we never have to speak against time. We never have to try to reconcile our duty in the House with our duty towards constituencies or towards the local Press, and it is nearly always possible to choose the true psychological moment for any debate on public affairs. Of all deliberative assemblies this is the most attentive; but we shall cease to be a deliberative assembly if we cease to deliberate and fall into the easy-going habit of reading our speeches.

I do not wish to be dogmatic about this matter; I do not wish to try to lay down any hard-and-fast lines. I think that there are occasions on which it is correct to read speeches in this or in another House: where a Motion of Condolence has to be made, where a personal explanation is desired, where some subject dealing with the intricacies of finance or, we will say, of naval construction requires a series of carefully-prepared phrases or facts which one may suitably commit to paper. But those are in the nature of announcements and pronouncements, and not what I classify under the heading of ordinary speeches in the ordinary rough and tumble of debate. I have heard from many quarters of the House the expression of a growing sense of anxiety at the increasing practice of having speeches typewritten out and delivering them from that text. I should like to say that, in drawing the attention of your Lordships to this subject, I have the assent and the approval of the Offices Committee, because, as I say, this growing tendency to read speeches undoubtedly spoils debates. Peers come in with their speeches prepared; they naturally do not refer to the speech which has gone before and do not expect the speaker who follows to refer to them; they come in at the right moment and, as soon as they have delivered themselves, they withdraw. That is not really debating. One advantage of this House is that votes are affected by the speeches which are delivered, but Peers do not pay so much attention to essays which are written the day before and which, as I say, are often irrelevant to the subject-matter of the debate as it develops.

Here, my Lords, may I refer to a rather queer fallacy which I have seen mooted lately about this subject? The idea that a speech which is written or read is necessarily more fully prepared than a speech which is not written I look upon as a complete fallacy.


Hear, hear.


I myself never address this House without notes. I think that notes, so far as I am concerned, are necessary to ensure that my facts are properly marshalled and that such arguments as I advance are in proper sequence. But I may have been twenty minutes or I may have been twenty years in mastering the subject-matter on which I speak, and, so far from it being true that the speaker who, like myself, relies upon a few headings of notes has prepared less than a speaker who reads his speech, I am pretty sure that people read their speeches because they have not mastered the subject-matter of their address. In a written speech it is much easier to evade the difficult points than if you have to answer a speaker who has just gone before you.

Another odd paradox is that some of the best speakers we know, as every one of your Lordships knows, fall into the habit of reading speeches they have dictated the day before because by reading them the speaker can give point to his phraseology. In short, he is giving more attention to the presentment of his case than to the main line of his argument. A friend of mine the other day, a very experienced man, said that he was shy of speaking without typewritten notes in your Lordships' House: he said that his phrases did not come right. There again, my Lords, that does not really much matter. In any case, we know that we can always rely on the reporters to correct our prose. It is well understood and quite proper that they should do so.

Let me carry my argument a stage farther, if I may. Set speeches inevitably lead to set debates, and now the order of speakers is regularly prearranged. You can always see the list behind the Throne. Then again, set speeches, set debates, too often encourage the Minister to speak last, whereas in nine cases out of ten he ought to speak first and be supported at the end of the debate by one of his colleagues or, if necessary, ask your Lordships' permission to speak for a second time. But that, again, is making our debates stiff. Nobody else can intervene in these circumstances. It makes our debates stiff, it takes away all their valuable spontaneity, and, as I say, it ceases to interest new members of the House and therefore ceases to influence the way they vote. I may be wrong, but I have a strong impression that this growth of the practice of reading speeches tends to increase the conversation of Peers during the debates. The reason is not far to seek—that one feels small sense of obligation towards a speaker whose effort is purely mechanical.

Those are reasons of a very general kind which I submit to the House with very great deference and respect. There is no doubt at all that I am right in saying the practice of the House is against the reading of speeches. We have no Standing Order to that effect, as there is in the House of Commons, but our invariable practice and preference—making exceptions such as I have indicated—have been for spoken rather than for written speeches, and I greatly hope that your Lordships will see fit to accept the Motion I have put on the Paper, because I think it will help to maintain the character as well as the efficiency of the debates in the House of Lords.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House the growing practice of reading speeches is to be deprecated as alien to the custom of this House, and injurious to the traditional conduct of its debates.—(The Earl of Crawford.)


My Lords, the noble Earl has raised a question of general interest and of some public, as well as domestic, importance, but it does not give rise to issues of really serious moment. We may all agree, I think, that the ideal debate in this House would be one of free and spontaneous discussion, where thought clashed with thought in the hope, that at the end we should have seen the weaknesses in our opponents' armour and come to some generally useful conclusion. When it is an arranged affair it may acquire more superficial dignity but is a good deal less real and useful for public purposes. But there may be occasions other than those which the noble Earl has mentioned when a written speech would be permissible. It may sometimes happen that a person who is scarcely articulate and yet who has very great distinction in a special line ought to communicate his thoughts to the House, and if the House could not accept those thoughts in the only way in which he could present them it might represent some real disadvantage. But as an habitual thing, it is, I agree, a perversion of general usage and represents a general loss in debate.

The disadvantages of reading speeches are known to all of us. It is not a widespread difficulty. The greatest sinners are, of course, the Ministers of His Majesty's Government. They are called upon to deal with issues beyond their own immediate experience and become the mouthpieces of the Departments. Parliament therefore listens to the echo of a remote and impersonal Government Department. But even there we at least do get the facts, or rather we get a carefully selected set of facts, and, with very great skill, another important set of facts is very carefully hidden. But whilst that represents an evil, I ask your Lordships to think what the evil would be if we were deprived of the facts. To live in a desolation of Ministerial speeches without having the facts of the Department at our disposal would be a great deal worse than anything we have now. But the whole system seems to me to be wrong. It might be worse, however, than it is at the present time.

The advantage of reading speeches is that we have the right to assume that a speech which a man has taken the trouble to write he has also taken the trouble to think about. He puts his thoughts in the way which he thinks is best, and he has the opportunity of revising his speech, which we extempore speakers have not. Such a speech should be more satisfactory in matter, it should be more solid in construction, it should be more satisfactory in style, and above all it should be shorter. I hope it is not a sign of impatience when I say that I have sat in your Lordships' House and have endured for an hour or more extempore speeches of great fluency which at the end amounted to very little indeed. The noble Earl surprised me rather because I, in common with the rest of your Lordships, look to him as the apostle of style. He loves so much beauty of form and construction that he is often able to help us in a very special way. But here he is asking your Lordships to put up with, not perfection, but whatever may happen to be the inspiration of the moment. I am sure, if such a thing could be conceived of, that he hates a bad speech almost as much as he hates an entirely good and unanswerable Socialist principle. But when that has been allowed for I want to ask him not to condemn us to fluency without form, or to mere spontaniety without useful information.

My own experience for what it is worth is that there is no good speaking without preparation and also, if possible, meditation. There are those who feel able to trust to the inspiration of the moment, and sometimes they succeed. They probably are influenced by, and are disciples who follow, an old injunction that "it shall be given to you in that hour what ye shall speak"; but unfortunately it is not always evident that the gift has been received. There are, of course, great natural speakers who are able on almost any subject at short notice to present an impressive and well-phrased speech for your Lordships' consideration, but those of us who have to rely upon a painful, ragged eloquence need to prepare beforehand. There seems to me no doubt at all that Burke's immortal speeches were either read or memorised, and that is true, I think, of a great many other speeches that we are asked to admire in modern literature. There is a story of Lord Morley, who was not without a sense of form in debate. It happened to a friend of mine, who went to see him one morning, and he said: "You see me very laboriously preparing my impromptu remarks for this afternoon in the House of Lords."

I cannot help feeling that whatever difficulty there may be in this matter a part of the difficulty belongs to this House itself. It is a trying experience for anybody but a very seasoned offender to address your Lordships' House. I have had, I am sorry to say, fifty years of experience in public speaking, and your Lordships' House is by far the most difficult assembly that I have ever had to address. It is not exactly that one speaks to a dead wall of countenance, but that one speaks to an audience which is bored and resigned to the inevitable. What disturbs the speaker, I think, is not opposition, because that stimulates and brings out reserves of power: it is the silent resentment that is evident in your Lordships' faces; and when one speaks in the House and hears the sound of one's own voice one feels almost like brawling in church. There never could have been a more tolerant and patient assembly, one of greater courtesy, than this House. I pay that tribute to your Lordships' power of self-suppression, because whenever you have heard the "thin red line" on these Benches you have done so with a very earnest desire to hide whatever irritation you may feel. Nevertheless it is true that those of us on this side address your Lordships much as I think a heretic must have addressed the Holy Inquisition. We know that whatever we say will make no difference and that in all probability we have been condemned before we are heard.

I like to contrast the speaking in this House with that in another place, to which I had the privilege of belonging. There the atmosphere somehow is different. You are met by immediate challenge. There is the quick transition from grave to gay. There is the sudden outburst of temper followed immediately by genial good will and happy comradeship, and it brings out in some subtle way the best that there is. Many speakers live upon that give-and-take in public debate. I hope your Lordships will not mind if I give an instance of that some years ago when I was in the House of Commons, while Mr. Churchill was speaking. He loved to draw the fire of the Labour members. He was always equal to whatever occasion presented itself. He was admired by all of us, and most of us had a very deep regard for him, but one day we entered into a merry conspiracy such as often happens in the other place, and we agreed that when he got up to speak he should be met by a stony silence and indifference. That did not make dumb the right honourable gentleman—you could not conceive of that happening in any circumstances—but his speech was, at any rate, the least effective speech I ever heard him make.

I only desire—and I hope I am not detaining your Lordships too long—to say that in my opinion the styles and the atmospheres of the two Houses differ. One brings out a good deal of what is in a man. Benjamin Disraeli once said: A man may speak very well in the House of Commons and fail very completely in the House of Lords There are two distinct styles requisite. I intend in the course of my career, if I have time, to give a specimen of both. I feel sure that that eminent disciple of success would easily and successfully accommodate himself to the needs of the hour. I do not know how it is with the rest of your Lordships who are more gifted as public speakers, but for my own part I always think of the best things afterwards and not when I am trying to promote a case or meet an attack.

What then ought we to do in this matter? I think that the Motion which the noble Earl has placed on the Paper should serve to draw attention to the matter, should be an admonishment to those who can speak not to write down their speeches; but I cannot feel, however, that it would be wise for us to prohibit written speeches. What we can do, and what we do not do, is to encourage speakers by some visible interest in what they are trying to say. That is especially necessary in regard to young speakers who enter upon their duties with very great apprehension and desire to do right and to give the best account of themselves that they can. I have had the enormous honour, which I most deeply appreciated, of being consulted by young members of your Lordships' House, not entirely of my own Party, for advice as to method and so on. I cannot help feeling that if we tried to provide a better atmosphere in which they could work we should get good results from it.

Let us also impress upon them that audibility is not of necessity vulgarity, and also that the worst service that a man can render to any audience, however distinguished, is to be afraid of it. There can be no good speaking unless a man feels that what he has to say is of infinite importance and that it is his business to make other people listen and attend. Therefore I feel that if we could encourage young people—and old people for that matter—to prepare their speeches carefully in regard to argument and material, and then to launch themselves upon the generous sympathies of an audience that is awake, the results would be entirely satisfactory.


My Lords, may I be permitted cordially to support the Motion before the House and to congratulate my noble friend Lord Snell on having given—unwittingly perhaps—such complete support to it. I think he has made the best possible speech in favour of the Motion. For see what happened. Obviously he had thought out his speech. As my noble friend Lord Crawford said, it is not people who speak with notes who have to think the most beforehand. I shall give your Lordships some experience from the past of other great speakers, but the noble Lord, Lord Snell, had clearly thought out what he had to say. But suppose he had done what I have seen done in this House. If he had written out all those quips and fancies, some of them so admirably appropriate, and read them from a typewritten document, turning over page after page, the whole effect of what was an admirable speech would, I am sure, have been utterly lost. I myself have had twenty-five years of experience in the House of Commons and a few years in your Lordships' House. I cannot help feeling that if the rule were made absolute it would be greatly to the advantage of debate.

I venture to say with great respect that in view of what has happened in another place in the past, it would be a good thing if the Leader of the House could consider decreeing that even Ministers should never read their speeches from a typewritten document which has been the cause of the downfall of more than one Government, and may be again. A Minister loses touch with the House, whether this or the other, while he is reading this typewritten document. We had an instance this Session in another place of what can happen if a speaker is reading from a typewritten document. I do not wish to quote myself in evidence, though it is a fact that in consultation with Mr. Bonar Law I agreed with him shortly after the War came to an end that we would always speak without a single note. He did it with marvellous success. I did my best with, of course, nothing like his success, but I did introduce the Army Estimates without a single note of any kind, even of a figure. I remember that my right honourable friend commented upon it at the time. A string of figures had to be produced, as is always the case in introducing the Army Estimates, and anything I could do before I made the speech by way of preparation I did. I set about the task of memorising the figures and I did not make a mistake. That, of course, involved much more labour, and not less, than the preparation of a typewritten speech and the reading of it. It is a fallacy to think that more labour is employed in preparing a written speech than in preparing oneself to speak extempore. The people who read typewritten documents are the people who prepare their speeches with less labour than those who have to speak without a written document.

Now I come to a greater man than any of those I have yet mentioned. I refer to the late Earl Balfour. It was my privilege to enjoy his close friendship. We often talked on this particular subject, and he told me of his experience when he first addressed the House of Commons. He was intensely nervous and attempted to write it all out beforehand. That was the greatest crisis in his life; so at least he described it to me. He decided that he had just got to jump into the cold water and swim. From that time onwards—and all those who served with him in the House of Commons, and in this House too, no doubt, will bear me out in this—he never spoke, however important the subject upon which he was to speak, from a written document. If he had to quote a particular phrase he would hold up the piece of paper containing it so that everyone could see.

Once, after the War, when he was Foreign Minister, I said to the late Lord Balfour: "Are you not afraid sometimes, when any word that you say is watched and might cause a flame? "He replied:" No, from the time I jumped into the cold water and started to swim I decided that henceforth I would not speak from a written document. A few notes provide me with the necessary guidance. As I did not read my speech I could, if I saw at any moment that I had not conveyed the meaning I meant to convey, put the matter in another way." He went on to say: "Take this case. Suppose I have a very important interview with a Foreign Minister or Ambassador, or some matter of vital importance to deal with, and there are others present, perhaps, as sometimes happens, especially at Geneva, reporters present. If at that moment I produce a typewritten document the man to whom I am speaking pays no further attention, whereas, if I have my thoughts carefully prepared and speak to him as man to man, we may possibly come to an agreement."

The late Lord Balfour said that a written speech was a folly; and I am sure it is so. There is a noble friend of mine, Lord Davies, whom I had expected to see here to-day. He makes admirable speeches on a particular subject—an International Air Force and International Forces of other kinds. He has frequently addressed your Lordships, and he has now got a considerable reinforcement in the person of Mr. Churchill, whom my noble friend quoted. Your Lordships never listen to him. Why? Because he has always a typewritten document. If only he would realise it I am sure it would be better for him to stand up and address the House on this subject without any written speech. Then all the members of the House would come and listen to what he has to say. It may be said that a speech would not read so well if it was not written beforehand. On the contrary, I think extempore speeches read better. I am sure it is much better that your Lordships' speeches should be adorned by the reporter of The Times than that they should smell of the lamp. I am sure that is so. I wonder myself very often when I read reports of my speeches how I came to speak so well, because I thought at the time that I had spoken extraordinarily badly. The explanation is that these expert gentlemen of the Press know what you mean to say and, except when they are quoting some actual phrase, they make what you have said much clearer and better than you can make it yourselves.

With this tribute to them I will not delay your Lordships further except to urge your Lordships to remember the cases of Lord Balfour, Mr. Bonar Law and many others, and above all, remember the present occasion when the noble Lord, Lord Snell, got up to say he could not quite agree with what had been said. His speech was infinitely better than any he could possibly have made if he had written it out beforehand. I trust your Lordships will adopt the salutary rule which obtains in another place and say that henceforward, even in the case of Ministers, there should be no reading from typewritten documents.


My Lords, I think perhaps it is a tribute that I owe to my noble friend who has introduced this debate that I should not, on this occasion at least, expose myself to the charge that he brought against the occupants of this Bench that they always wait until the House has exhausted its capacity of absorbing any further eloquence. It is for that reason I ask your Lordships' permission to intervene for a few moments at this stage. If my noble friend has done nothing else by the Motion he has made he has, as I am sure all your Lordships will agree, been the means of eliciting before this House three speeches, all different but all delightful, and not the less delightful because they have been based upon a Motion that for a few moments has deflected us from the ordinary currents of Party politics and the like in which we are generally immersed. I speak with considerable diffidence as a comparatively new recruit to your Lordships' House and, moreover, as one who is not endowed with any fraction of that natural eloqence that would enable me to introduce the Army Estimates without a note. Therefore I can approach the subject in what for me at least is a sternly realist spirit.

It is quite true, as my noble friend Lord Crawford said, that the position of any deliberative assembly must, of course, ultimately depend upon the quality of its speaking and the vitality of the debates that take place within its walls. I am not sure that I quite agree with him in one matter that he, I think, was disposed to deplore—namely, that the practice should exist, not I think one of wholly recent growth, by which your Lordships on entering the House can inform yourselves as to what is to be the prospective order of debate. For myself, I should have been inclined rather to feel that such an arrangement as that was for the general convenience of your Lordships, always provided that the conditions in which the arrangement is made and in which effect is given to it are not such as to deprive the discussion of any title to the character of debate. For example, I go the whole way with my noble friend in feeling that, both on that ground as on the ground, I would almost say, of common courtesy, it is a wholly undesirable proceeding for any of us in this House to make a speech according to so strict a time-table and, having made it, immediately to withdraw from the Chamber without having the courtesy to wait for any criticism or hostile observations that it might attract.

With regard to the practice of reading speeches itself, I have been at some pains to try to ascertain the extent to which it could truly be said that the practice was a new one or, if not a new one, a growing one. I believe I am right in saying that there is no strict Standing Order either in this House or in another place that deals with it. In the course of the research that I made into this point I came across one incident that I think is perhaps of sufficient interest for me to ask your Lordships' permission to read it to you. In another place Mr. Speaker Abbot drew the attention of members on May 14, 1806, to the fact that a member Mr. Jeffery, had read his speech. On that Mr. Secretary Fox remarked that what the honourable gentleman was reading was not anything like what was called notes. It was a written discourse. If this practice should prevail, members might read speeches that were written by other people and the time of the House be taken up in considering the arguments of persons who were not deserving of their attention. I make no comment on that beyond saying that I think perhaps that it was a wise warning. Mr. Jeffery incidentally, while admitting that the paper was not in his own handwriting, claimed that it was copied from his writing by his direction.

In your Lordships' House I find only one case which I want to put before you. In 1845, Lord Gardiner made a statement and said that "not being in the habit of speaking in the House he had prepared a statement upon paper which, with the permission of their Lordships, he would read," and he was granted permission to do so. Opinion in this House was not indisposed on occasions to temper the wind a little bit to the lamb. I do not pretend to be sufficiently well informed to know what may have been the practice of earlier orators in our own country or of other countries of more classical note. I do, however, believe it to be true that any of the old classical orators in classical days would have been startled and pained by the doctrine that has just been laid down by the noble Lord opposite—which commands indeed my own assent to a very great extent—that the less preparation that can be given to a speech the better.


Oh, no. If my noble friend will forgive me, I said just the opposite. I said the more preparation the better, and that the fact of not being allowed to read a speech would compel you to give more and more preparation because you had to think it out. The more preparation, the less writing, like Socrates.


I think if my noble friend had heard me out I should have made myself plain, but he has saved me the trouble. The point I wanted to make with regard to ancient practice was simply this, that as contrasted with the view that prevails in some quarters, that the impromptu speech if it be good is a thing to be admired, the view of the ancients would have been that impromptu speech was almost of the nature of an irreverent act in that it implied disregard for or disloyalty to the great art of rhetoric that demanded prolonged and careful preparation. However that may be, I have no doubt that it is in fact true, as the noble Lord opposite said, that many of those whom we are accustomed to regard as classical orators of our own country must have read written speeches. I should imagine that certainly was the practice with Burke, and certainly I should suggest that it is true of some of the speeches of Sheridan and Lord Chesterfield and others one could name. I remember reading the other day with some interest an observation that the late Lord Curzon made in which he said that from his place in the Gallery of the House of Commons he had been able to see Mr. Gladstone, with the peroration of his speech on the Second Reading of the first Irish Home Rule Bill completely written out, in the palm of his hand, on which he relied for the exact perfection of language with which he concluded that very notable speech.

All that of course shows, as my noble friend opposite and the noble Lord, Lord Snell, and the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, have all emphasised, that in one degree or another, speeches that are deserving of consideration demand very full preparation. Indeed, the absence of preparation and the unprepared speech itself often produce upon an audience, I think, sensations the reverse of that which Ben Jonson attributed to the speaking of Bacon, of whom he said that the only sensation of those who listened to him was fear that he might make an end. That would not be at all common. I am quite sure that upon this matter our predecessors and ourselves are not really very different people. Then, as now, in this as in other things, the gods distributed their gifts with whimsical inequality. For those who have no gift of speech to behave as if they had merely spells discomfort and disaster. The noble Lord opposite quoted the late Lord Balfour. I remember very well a bit of advice he gave me when I had just got into the House of Commons. He asked me how I liked it, and I remember saying to him that I felt rather like a little boy who had just gone for the first time to a private school and was rather diffident of life. He said: "My dear fellow, there is no reason whatever to be frightened. In this place all you have got to do is to speak as often as you can and as long as you can. You will rapidly acquire that contempt for your audience which every bore always has." I thought that was very good advice, although I hope I have not always followed it implicitly.

There are, and always will be, two elements in any speech—one the actual speech itself and the other the thought that is behind the speech—and it will be a question upon which opinion will always differ as to which is the better, a good speech badly delivered that is worth reading afterwards, or a speech that is in itself bad but still at any rate conveys the personality of the speaker, although devoid of that personality it would not deserve reading by a wider circle. That is a matter upon which we can all form our own judgment. It is true, as the noble Lord said, that preparation may be of many different kinds. I suppose it would be almost true to say that the classical case of a speech delivered without any direct preparation was the historic speech of the late Lord Grey of Falloden, delivered on August 3, 1914, the construction of which your Lordships will remember he describes in his own book. He had no time to give to it at all, and the great speech, which came out in perfect form, was spoken in a manner that carried conviction to all hearers because he was so soaked in the subject that it could do no other. But I confess I should greatly hesitate to apply that method of preparation to a subject such as tithe, which shortly may be occupying your Lordships' attention in this House.

My noble friend was good enough to admit certain exceptions to the general practice that he seeks to encourage, and I think indeed that certain exceptions are clearly necessary. The noble Lord opposite said that Ministers were in this respect the greatest sinners. I am not sure whether that is actually true, but if it is in any sense a charge that can lie, I think that I might perhaps in justice to myself, who am ranked amongst the greatest sinners, and others who sit on this Bench, point out that we do not infrequently have to answer on not unimportant matters of policy for Departments for which we are not directly responsible, and although we are naturally the most humble body of men ourselves, the world insists upon attaching in the case of some of us wholly disproportionate importance to what we say. Therefore, when some of my friends have said to me: "Encourage Ministers on the Bench to let themselves range freely, and if they make mistakes rely upon others to pull them out of the mess," I think that is not a gospel which will commend itself to Ministers, and still less to the Departments of which they happen to be the temporary spokesmen. It is, of course, physically impossible for any of us, able and industrious men as we may be on this Bench, to render ourselves equally familiar with, and equally masters of, all the intricacies of administration, as if we were in actual charge of the Departments ourselves.

I do not really know what are, so far as it is possible to analyse them, the causes which are operating to render more general this practice of reading speeches, if my noble friend's case is well founded. I dare say in part it is that the pressure of life is much greater, and many of your Lordships—and I speak here also a little selfishly—have not literally and physically the time to soak themselves in a subject before coming to give counsel to your Lordships' House. It may be that Party polemics are keener and that the penalty of a slip, certainly when speaking from the Front Bench, is more severely exacted. I do not know. Lord Rosebery, I believe, once said that good reporting and good speaking were uncongenial bedfellows—that they went ill together. In addition to those matters which my noble friend mentioned, it is certainly the case that whoever has to speak, as Lord Stanhope has had to speak, from this Bench on foreign affairs, must necessarily be singularly careful with regard to almost every word he utters.

I suggest to your Lordships that the real question, if we are agreed that preparation is essential, and that the more the preparation the fewer the notes that become necessary, is what do we do with our preparation when we have made it? When does a note cease to be a note and become a manuscript which paralyses our thoughts and powers of expression, and interferes with our ability to get in contact with the thoughts and minds of those in other parts of the House? There is no short answer, and it is not possible in my judgment to draw a perfectly satisfactory line that suits all the human material that we are fortunate enough to gather inside this House. I will merely venture with all humility to assert two or three general principles, with which I do not think my noble friend who moved the Motion would at all disagree. The first is that we should all feel it to be of the greatest importance that this House should be at pains to continue to justify the reputation at present enjoyed by its debates; and the second, that that reputation would certainly be prejudiced if it were ever to travel far along the road of changing its character of a debating chamber for that, if I may so put it without offence, of a prize essay society. That would be a disaster, and it does postulate that speakers in debate must exhibit some vital contact with each other; that it is not enough for us to make our own contribution unless we establish that contact without which the vitality of debate ceases to exist.

Therefore, while I think my noble friend's ideal and my noble friend's practice are greatly to be commended of being able to speak, if possible, without notes, because the preparation has been so ample, that is not a matter which is within the power of everybody, and your Lordships would feel, perhaps, that it would be wiser to refrain from attempting to lay down any too formal a rule upon a matter of this kind. This House, as was another place, as I have always found, is a most generous, even if a very penetrating, critic of our performances, and is on the whole a very good tribunal. When the noble Lord opposite says that he always found the House of Commons stimulating, whereas he finds the atmosphere of this House repressive and discouraging to his personality, I can only assure him, on behalf of all who sit on this side of the House, and especially on behalf of those who have sat with him in another place, that whether in this House or another he retains the quality of personality which should mark any deliberative assembly. We are glad to have him here as a member, and as one whose counsel we are always pleased to hear, even if we are not always able to follow him.

For the rest, I would suggest that the Motion of my noble friend will have been of great value and benefit to us in this House by encouraging, as I hope it may, all of us to try, however feebly, to reach the stage of having speeches first of all lucidly prepared in our minds and, because lucidly constructed, capable of being delivered in such fashion as to influence in some degree the thoughts of your Lordships' House. Above all, we should all strive to use whatever aids to memory the different quality of our brains may demand in such fashion that we may the better be able to place our whole selves, our thought, at the service of your Lordships' House and at the service of others who will be similarly called upon to contribute to it.


My Lords, I should like to say one word, very briefly, in support of what has fallen from the noble Viscount who has just sat down. I thought that in the admirable and most interesting speech made by Lord Snell the noble Lord made a little too much of a hiatus between those who read their speeches and those who spoke unprepared. I was very much astonished to hear the remark made by the noble Viscount with regard to Mr. Gladstone's method of warfare. I happened to hear the speech to which he alluded and of which Lord Curzon said that the peroration was carefully written out. That may be so, but I do not think that anybody, unless he was looking on from the Gallery, could have guessed it for a moment. I have heard Mr. Gladstone explain his own view of how speeches should be prepared. He said: "There are only two ways in which you can meet your audience fairly. The first is to go down absolutely prepared, with the whole sequence of your speech—except for debating purposes—in your mind and do the very best you can with a fully-prepared mind and a fully-prepared speech. But there are circumstances in which it is quite impossible to make that preparation, and your only chance then is to go down with your mind full of the subject, eat the very best dinner you can get, and trust to luck." That was Gladstone's view.

Now, if I may take one other great speaker in the House of Commons who I do not think has been mentioned tonight—Mr. Chamberlain—I have reason to know that Mr. Chamberlain's speeches, of which he never appeared to read a line, were so absolutely well prepared that nothing threw him off his point. We are all familiar, especially my noble friend opposite, who sat for some years in the House of Commons, with the manner in which the House of Commons will break into a speech so that the whole course of it may by chance be deflected. But this never affected Mr. Chamberlain, because his speeches were so admirably prepared that, though he appeared to read nothing, he would chase the offender a long way down and then come back and immediately resume the straight line from which his argument had been deflected. One one occasion he told me that he attached so much importance to the theme of his speech that he never allowed himself, before one of his great efforts, to sleep more than four or five hours, lest his nerve should get settled down and he should forget the sequence of the argument he proposed to use. I only mention that remark from this point of view, that there seems to be a great confusion of thought expressed in the idea that either you speak unprepared or else you have to depend on written notes to such a degree as has been so admirably impeached by the noble Earl behind me.

May I make one contribution, one suggestion, before I sit down? Does not a good deal of this set speaking depend on two factors neither of which has been mentioned, I think, this afternoon? In speaking of the first I know I shall have the sympathy of the noble Lord opposite. Is it not a fact that most debates here are really the statement of a case to a vast majority, and by no possible means can an effect be produced on the assembly which will change their vote on the subject which we are debating? I do not believe that you will conquer this apparent indifference until the two Parties in this House are far more evenly poised than they are at this moment. I merely throw that out as a suggestion. The other factor lies with every one of your Lordships to correct. Lord Sherbrooke, when asked how he liked his transference from the House of Commons to this place, said that he felt it to be like addressing tombstones by torchlight. I have often felt that the awful silence to which we have heard some allusions this afternoon is due to an apparent want of appreciation or interest by those who sit on these Benches, so that many men in this House are tempted to degenerate into which I may call pulpit oratory. I wonder whether I am not right in appealing to our reverend brethren the Lords Spiritual who are sitting here and asking them whether or not the greatest drawback that they find in the pulpit is that they can never get appreciation, never get a word which shows them whether they are or are not having a good effect on their audience. I believe that they would say that their transference to this House has not materially altered their condition in that respect.

But I can honestly say that I do not believe that there is anything which tends so to nullify the power of our debates, the keenness of the speaker, the influence of that which he advances, as the intense gloom and silence with which even the very best speeches in this House are received. If I might venture to say so, the fact that to-night, almost for the first time, when we have had some very interesting exchanges, there has actually been some manifestation of interest by those Peers who do not propose to address the House—for my part I came down hero without making a single note—has had the happiest results and has produced a very charming and interesting debate.


My Lords, I am one of the babies of the House, I think, and we all know that children should be seen and not heard. Possibly it may be that I am rather pushing myself into the company of my elders and betters, Parliamentarily speaking; if so, perhaps I ought to be turned up and properly spanked, and I am sure that the Lord Chancellor would do it with vigour! As regards the Motion before the House, I think the question we ought to put to ourselves is whether the practice of writing a speech and reading it is a good one or not. We ought to ask whether it is useful to the public service, or harmless; and then leave it alone. I do not gather that the proposal is actually to lay down a rule to prohibit anybody from reading a speech, but that is what I personally should prefer. We all know that the written speech, the read-out speech, is never half so effective as the spoken speech. Therefore, if an opponent were to keep on reading his speeches, one would be rather pleased than otherwise to think that he had weakened his cause rather than improved it.

We all know that if we were to give way and allow a real practice of reading speeches to grow up other speaking would drop out altogether. Nearly everybody would want to read his speech, and we should be faced with people coming down with sheaves of papers, perhaps foolscaps, full of stuff to which nobody wants to listen and which the speaker himself unfortunately feels bound to read to the bitter end. If he is only speaking his speech he very likely will not; he will say that he had better shut up and sit down. But if he has brought down a written speech nothing will stop him from leading it right through. In my opinion we should lose somewhat if we prohibited altogether the written speech, because there might be good matter from people who cannot speak at all, and which we might miss; but on the whole I think that that argument should not carry weight. As regards the value to the hearers of the spoken speech, we have read that Warren Hastings, who was one of the greatest men when it was a matter of putting his thoughts and views on paper, was quite a failure as a speaker. I do not think that we should gain at all by allowing a considerable amount of reading. I think we ought to restrict it. I am sorry to have detained your Lordships. This is my first effort as an absolute novice, and so I must throw myself on your consideration and ask you to tolerate what I had to say.


My Lords, I rise in reply to the challenge of the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, who asked about pulpit oratory and its defects and disadvantages. But first may I endorse everything that was said by the noble Earl who introduced this Motion. I should like to say that we owe a great deal to him, not only for that Motion but for the manner in which he introduced it. His speech was, I think, to all of us a perfect model, as all his speeches are. I would travel a long way to hear the noble Earl speak on any subject, because I know that he will not speak at any great length, I know that there will be a great deal of thought in his speech, and I know that there will be exquisite expression. Those three things taken together make speeches which live in my mind long after the occasion when they have been delivered.

But, returning to the remarks of the noble Earl on pulpit oratory, I would say to him that there are a good many other ways in which a practised speaker will know whether he has the attention and the interest of his audience than by waiting for applause. No one who has been in the pulpit as much as I have can fail to be perfectly well aware whether the audience—we call it the congregation—is interested or not. I need not tell you all the tricks of the trade, but they are not difficult to learn. We have a great deal of practice in addressing our audiences and congregations. Not very much has been said on the subject of practice to-day, but I remember one day a few years ago talking with the late Lord Rosebery when he was expected to make an important speech, not on a political subject, and he said to me: "I have not the least idea what I am going to say to-night. Do give me something to say." I was greatly surprised. "Oh," he said, "you are surprised, are you? I am out of practice. I am not making speeches as I used to do. Really I do not know in the least how to begin and what I am going to say to-night." I need hardly say that when the speech was made his whole manner of delivery and the way he threw himself into the question enchanted his audience and won the hearty approval of those who read his speech in the morning.

Our debate seems to me to have covered two really rather different subjects. They both concern the thing that is in our minds but they do not equally concern the Motion of the noble Earl. We have had a good many hints as to how other people have made speeches and what they found to be the best way in which to prepare them. My own impression is that no two men are really made alike in that way, and that if Mr. Gladstone had taken the method of Mr. Chamberlain, or if Mr. Chamberlain had taken the method of Lord Balfour, it is more than likely that their successes would have been very much smaller than they were from following their own bent in preparation. If I may revert again to the question of sermons, when I am asked to give young men hints as to preparing their sermons, I really do not know that I can give any clearer hint than to say: "Do not try to be anything but yourself. Do not try to adopt the methods of somebody else, because you will not reproduce his manner, you will only make a caricature. Give your best attention to it, and then develop along the lines of your own personality the method in which you can hammer out the best way of arresting the attention of your congregation."

There is a good deal of difference between the debates in this House and pulpit oratory. In the pulpit people are there to instruct and to exhort and to encourage. You do not want thrust and parry—I do not know what would happen in church if you did. But quite obviously there is a great distinction between a debate in the House of Lords and a sermon in a cathedral or elsewhere. So far as concerns the sermon, while I often hear people say, "You will never arrest the attention of your congregation if you use notes," the occasions are not few when I have greatly desired that a man who was preaching extempore had written down beforehand what he had to say, first because I should have understood him more clearly, and secondly because I should really have felt that he was uttering his own real convictions. Many preachers are carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment and really come to say things which do not represent the deliberate convictions of their minds and their affections.

I have been somewhat surprised to find that every speaker so far has, I think, spoken against the atmosphere of this House. In the twenty years in which I have been a member of it and have sometimes addressed your Lordships, while I have heard many others address you, I have found that it is an extraordinarily fair House, that if anybody has anything to say, no matter who he is, he is listened to. But however eminent he may be, if he begins to say things that are not worth saying, then members retire to the tearoom, and so forth. There have been members of this House who so rarely had anything to say and so frequently gave utterance to thoughtless speeches that a man may have achieved such a reputation that the very fact that he rose to his feet was sufficient to empty the House. That would not happen on the first occasion; he must make a bad reputation for himself.

The Motion of the noble Earl is in regard to the debates in the House and how all of us who are members of the House can best help one another to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. It is quite clear that speeches made here are quite different to essays, articles, or books. A great Greek orator remarked once, perfectly truly, that the aim of the speech was to persuade. That I believe, is perfectly true of oratorical efforts in dealing with a matter under real debate. Ministers very frequently have to make speeches not to persuade but to instruct. Then it seems almost a necessity, unless they have the colossal memory of Mr. Bonar Law, for them to have a good deal in front of them. The noble Earl who introduced the subject did say, what I think is a perfectly fair remark to make, that a speaker may read a particular part of a speech where every word is of importance and every word is likely to be quoted. It is quite clear in such circumstances that even the most eloquent speaker should have written out clearly in front of him what he wishes to say, because there are some speakers who do not quite accurately at the moment say what they intend to say.

The noble Viscount asked what is the reason for the growing practice. I believe the reason of the growing practice is very simple; it is the existence of the typewriter. It is so easy to commit one's thoughts to paper through the typewriter that more and more people are tempted to get rid of the trouble of remembering what they have prepared. I rose to answer the noble Earl's question and your Lordships will forgive me if I have covered a rather larger ground. I revert to what I said at the beginning, that we are all indebted to the noble Earl for introducing this subject. We can only hope that the speeches which have been made in a rather thin House will have the effect of restraining those who make too facile a use of the typewriter and of encouraging new speakers to believe that, though the audience may appear to be impassive, yet if they have anything worth saying it will be carefully weighed up, digested and remembered.


My Lords, I do not want unduly to prolong the debate. I merely rise in answer to one or two points which have been suggested during the speeches which we have heard. I should like in the first instance, before proceeding to those points, to say how entirely I approve and agree with the wording of my noble friend's Motion. I think that the words "growing practice" exactly represents the situation. From a long experience in the other place I can say that practically never when I first joined it—and I was in it for over thirty years—was it the practice to read speeches. It has grown up slowly. One has noticed it stealthily increasing from time to time, and it is very unfortunate for the excellent reasons set out by the mover of the Resolution, by the Leader of the House, and by my noble friend Lord Snell and others who have spoken.

I said I wished merely to comment on two points which have been suggested. They were both mentioned by the right reverend Prelate who has just sat down. He said, as regards one of them, that he did not think it was possible to lay down any rule or anything of the kind which could define what was the proper means of regulating the reading of speeches. I want to call the attention of your Lordships to the fact that in the other place it is true there is no Standing Order with regard to procedure of this kind, but there is a Rule, and I think this Rule ought to be realised. It is Rule 150 (1) and reads as follows:— A member may not read his speech but may refresh his memory by reference to notes. I think that exactly expresses the right attitude, and it is very relevant to this debate.

The right reverend Prelate also referred to the existence of a considerable parallel between speaking in such a House as this or anywhere and preaching. I felt very doubtful while he was speaking whether there was a great deal of parallel to be drawn at all, for the reason that I remember very well after leaving Oxford University, taking a walk with a friend, now a right reverend Prelate, who had just been preaching in the University church, and saying to him that I noticed he used more notes in delivering his sermon than he ever used in speaking in the Oxford Union Society or elsewhere. His answer to me was: "Oh, but my friend, preaching is a very different thing indeed to speaking." Therefore it is perhaps difficult to urge that there is a great deal of parallel between the two. After our excellent debate I will not detain your Lordships longer.


My Lords, before the debate concludes, there are one or two points I should like to make. I shall not detain the House long. There is general consent that the noble Earl who introduced this Motion has rendered a service to the House and that there is undoubtedly some justification for the Motion. Nevertheless I am not entirely satisfied that the case for it is so well made out as the noble Earl himself appeared to think. The noble Lord who spoke last said he agreed that the words "growing practice of reading speeches" entirely represented the position. I have a very great respect for the noble Lord, but I am sure he will not take offence when I say he has not been in this House very long, and although I cannot and do not pose as an old member of your Lordships' House, still I have been here about a dozen years. Although undoubtedly there has been some tendency to err in the direction which has incurred the displeasure of the noble Earl, yet I seem to remember quite clearly a good deal of what might be termed reading of speeches many years ago, certainly almost from the time I first came to your Lordships' House.

I think that there might be some argument about what reading a speech means. If the noble Earl means literally having a full typewritten manuscript on which every word is written, with the eyes kept closely on the paper, that is something which it is not desirable to encourage and which as a matter of fact does not occur very often in your Lordships' House. On the other hand, I can recall a very eminent member of your Lordships' House who is, in fact, reading his speeches but does not give that impression. He is an artist in the matter; he has cultivated the art of reading without the House realising that he is reading.

However that may be, I venture to suggest that there are one or two extenuating circumstances in regard to this matter which ought to be given full attention. One has been referred to already, the other one has not. The first is that, admittedly, speaking in your Lordships' House is not an easy task. Various disrespectful observations have been made from time to time in regard to the degree of difficulty which it imposes upon noble Lords to speak here. It has even been suggested, as one noble Lord this afternoon suggested, that to address your Lordships' House is like talking in a graveyard. For my part I do not think that is quite fair to your Lordships' House. It is true that many of what I may call helps and supports which are frequently forthcoming to speakers in other chambers and assemblies are not forthcoming here; yet, on the other hand, it is only right to say that very often here a close attention is paid to speeches which is not always the case in less august assemblies. At any rate, speaking for myself—I have now been a member of your Lordships' House some twelve years, and I was a member of the other House I think for nine years—I find that I am not in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Snell. I certainly would not say that this is the most difficult assembly to address of which I have had experience. For my part I regard it as less of a strain and less difficult to speak in your Lordships' House than it was in the House of Commons.

The other extenuating circumstance—I hope I shall not arouse any ill-will in saying this, for I am only trying in a small way to be helpful—is this. We have to recognise that a considerable proportion of the members of your Lordships' House are no longer young. There are indeed a very considerable proportion who I think might be rightly described as elderly. It is true in these days of increasing longevity that there might be much argument as to what the precise connotation of that word is, but it is true that many members are certainly, as I have suggested, no longer young. Therefore speaking is a greater strain upon them, and also possibly the mental processes are not so alert as in the case of younger men.

There is also this: Many of these members have held very distinguished positions both in this country and abroad. We have in this House, as your Lordships know, ex-officers, ex-Ambassadors, ex-Governors, and so forth, men who have rendered great service to their country and who, in the countries and territories where those services were rendered, had become accustomed very largely to read their speeches, at any rate upon important subjects, because they had to be so careful in what they said. These noble Lords do not as a matter of fact intervene often in your Lordships' House; in fact they very seldom do so; but when they do it is nearly always on some very important occasion when they want to make some contribution. Perhaps some crisis has arisen in the country which they know so well, and they have to be careful what they say; indeed, it is their duty to be extremely careful what they say, because their words are not only reproduced in the Press of this country but most likely are reported verbatim in the newspapers of the country concerned. I think there is in those circumstances every reason why they should take the greatest care. They cannot just get up and throw off a few remarks which they may or may not have prepared after lunch.

Moreover, there is the rule or understanding which has been referred to that Ministers are allowed to read speeches if they want to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, says that that particular rule has led to the downfall of Governments. If that is so I hope it will not be abolished at present. I do not quite know what instance the noble Lord had in mind. I hope he is right. I hope that that rule, if it be a rule, or that understanding might up to a point be applied a little more widely. I think there might be an understanding that if some eminent Peer is making what is obviously a pronouncement on a very delicate situation, he should not be upbraided if he does not get up and speak without notes. I think that is only reasonable.

The last thing which I want to say is this. I am quite sure that the noble Earl who introduced this Motion does not wish to do anything which is not for the good of the House, and he certainly would not wish to do more harm than good. I do not think there is a danger of that happening as a result of his action to-day, but there is one matter about which I should like to say a word. It is this. There might be a danger, as a result of this debate, of some noble Lords when they are speaking becoming too self-conscious and wondering whether they were adhering too closely to their written memoranda or not. If that should be so it would be a very undesirable state of things. I have already said something in regard to speaking in your Lordships' House which is not altogether uncomplimentary. I do not speak of myself as a rule, and do not go out of my way to give bouquets to your Lordships' House, but it is only right to remember this. Speaking is a very difficult thing anywhere. Psychological effects come in. If a member is to have a sort of nervous fear that he may not be doing quite the right thing, that is not going to help him or the House.

My conclusion from this is that I hope that this Motion of the noble Earl, with which I think we are all in general agreement more or less, will, if I may say so, not be taken too seriously. That is the submission I am putting. I rather take that to be the advice of the noble Viscount who leads the House. There is some justification for the Motion; but, on this point of self-consciousness and nervousness resulting from it, I may say that a very successful member of another place, a man who has achieved considerable position as a speaker, said: "I never like to be told of a single one of my faults as a speaker. I have got past that. I cannot change myself now. If I am told of my faults it always makes me self-conscious." Let us recognise then that we are discussing a very difficult problem which ought to be discussed with restraint, and I think undoubtedly has been discussed with restraint, but I certainly feel that this Motion should be taken rather as a mild warning than as laying down something which has to be, shall I say, literally mandatory.


My Lords, my noble friend who introduced this debate says that there is a growing practice of reading speeches in your Lordships' House. That is a matter of opinion. I have been a member of your Lordships' House for twenty-five years, and I suppose I am one of those well preserved persons to whom my noble friend Lord Arnold referred in such sympathetic terms. For myself I do not think there has been a very great increase in the practice of reading speeches during the time that I have been a member of your Lordships' House. Perhaps that may be a wrong impression. It is purely a matter of opinion. My noble friend the Leader of the House corrected an impression that a Standing Order existed in another place forbidding the reading of speeches. My noble friend Lord Rockley explained the matter in most careful terms, saying that there was a Rule and he quoted that Rule to your Lordships. I think what has been said proves that in another place there is considerable latitude, as there is in your Lordships' House, in regard to the practice of reading speeches. I remember once that I had the privilege of sitting on the Front Bench, and I had to take charge of a Bill at rather short notice. The Minister in another place who had conducted his Bill through that House gave me his notes. All I can say is that they were very full notes indeed. I should not like to say whether they were simply notes or whether what he gave me was a speech. I think we may say that latitude is certainly allowed both in your Lordships' House and in another place.

We must distinguish between what I may call statements and speeches. My noble friend Viscount Halifax referred to the extreme importance of statements on foreign affairs which are frequently made by my noble friend Earl Stanhope, in whose accession to high office I am sure all your Lordships will rejoice. The statements he has frequently to make must be very carefully made, and therefore it is necessary that certainly to a very large degree they should be committed to paper. It would be a great misfortune if any slip or inaccuracy were taken up in a foreign country and prejudicial use made of it. But it is not only statements on foreign affairs that require meticulous accuracy. That is also necessary in the explanation of complicated measures. I think it is very important indeed that the House should have a very clear exposition of complicated Bills, and although, as one of the previous speakers said, the gentlemen of the Press come to our aid on the following morning, that is not very much use to your Lordships if you wish to debate a complicated Bill and express opinions upon it. It is I think incumbent upon the Minister in charge of the Bill to explain it in the clearest and most lucid language.

Some people have a great facility for memorising figures and can even introduce Estimates without making any use of notes, and others can introduce legislation of a complicated character without notes, but that is not a gift that is given to all of us. Therefore, I think great latitude should be given to noble Lords who have to introduce Bills of a complicated nature. When I first had to introduce a Bill I consulted a noble friend, who was a Minister, on the subject of reading speeches. He said: "It does not very much matter—all you have to do is to prove to the House that you know your subject and have taken trouble about it." If adventitious aid is necessary to enable a Minister in charge of a Bill to explain it to the House, I think he is entitled to make use of it. My noble friend Viscount Halifax quoted the case of Lord Gardiner in 1845. I think the latitude which may be allowed now was not so readily granted then, because Lord Gardiner happened to be my grandfather and I have correspondence in which he is severely criticised by members of your Lordships' House for having read his speeches.

The difficulty which occurs on Second Reading, in the case of a Minister in charge of a Bill if he has to rely only on his memory, applies even more to the Committee stage. It may happen that a Minister will have to deal with three or four hundred Amendments, proposing some himself and giving answers in the case of others which he has to refuse on behalf of the Government. It is impossible for him to carry all the details in his mind. I think in that case also latitude should be allowed to speakers to the extent at any rate of allowing them the use of very full notes. What I have said so far in speaking of Bills has been mainly from the point of view of Ministers, but my argument applies also in the case of those Peers who represent associations such as the Association of Municipal Corporations, the County Councils Association and so on. They have to come here and move Amendments in Committee and it would be unfair to deny them the full use of notes. If they know their subject it would be not only unfair to them but inconvenient to your Lordships if they were not allowed every possible means of presenting their case with complete accuracy.

There is one other subject which I would venture respectfully to touch upon. Although I have listened with pleasure to those who have read speeches which they themselves compiled, I confess that I have listened with less pleasure to quotations from the speeches of others. It does not often happen, but I have heard it, and I think that there might be a change in the direction of speakers giving only the gist of the matter and not the text of what has been said by others. I think really this is a matter which must vary with individuals. Some people have great gifts of memory and are able to carry complicated matters in their heads, but others are not so fortunate. Some people are able to address your Lordships on the spur of the moment, and bring back into their recollection facts which have been instilled into their minds some time before, but, again, others are not so fortunate. Therefore, while we should always bear in mind the wish of the House—because I think it is the general wish—that there should be as little recourse as possible to notes and the reading of speeches, members of the House should be trusted to do their best to present their views in the most lucid and clear form, and should be allowed such aid as they think necessary for this purpose.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships more than a few minutes, and indeed I should not have risen at all but for the fact that I am not sure, of the attitude of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House. I do not know whether he accepts the Motion or not. I trust he will.




Then all I want to say is that I entirely endorse everything that was said by my noble friend who brought forward this Motion. I think, however, that certain exceptions must be allowed. The principal exception is in the case of those unhappy Junior Ministers who have to go from Department to Department and get up and present to your Lordships such crumbs of argument as the Departments allow them. I think their position is most unhappy, and it is quite impossible for them to present the arguments of the Departments to your Lordships without having them written down. Of course, the cure for that is to allow them to represent fewer Departments and to give them better amenities in those Departments. I understand that at present they have no room in the Department for which they speak, and that they have no private secretary in that Department. If those things were altered there would not be the same necessity to read statements. A very striking instance of what I had in mind is presented by the rise of my noble friend Earl Stanhope, which we all gladly welcome. In a number of cases when he spoke for the Foreign Office, before he had an official position there, his statements were so barren that on one occasion my noble friend Lord Peel suggested that it would be better if a gramophone or some other mechanical device were set upon the table through which the views of the Department could be stated. From the moment that the noble Earl was given an official position the whole thing changed. He spoke with authority, and although he cannot have prepared the speeches with which he ended several Foreign Office debates, he was able in most difficult circumstances to answer with assurance and with cogency. Therefore, so far as that particular difficulty goes, I think it might be solved in that way, but of course could not be universally applied at present.

Equally I think there are occasions on which a Minister must read important parts of his statement. I suggest that on those occasions the Minister or individual member should, as it were, ask the leave of the House. He should not seem to be making a statement when he really is not. He should say: "By leave of the House I will read a statement, for reasons which your Lordships will appreciate"; or in the case of some expert he might say: "From my experience in this House I trust your Lordships will allow me to read." But the other should be the rule and reading should be the exception. I trust your Lordships will pass this Motion, although I am not sure whether the word "growing" is necessarily appropriate.


My Lords, I had a country engagement which disabled me from attending the House in time to hear the greater part of the debate, and consequently I had no intention of intervening had it not been for a few remarks which fell from the Lord Chairman. The Lord Chairman has sat in this House for some years, but he is still eight or nine years younger in this House than I am, and I do not agree with him when he says that the practice is not a growing one. It is unquestionably a growing practice. Curiously enough, when I ventured to make my first speech in this House it was the Lord Chairman's own father who said: "Now, remember, you are not to read it." He possibly had in mind the grandfather to whom the Lord Chairman referred. The late Lord Onslow followed up that remark by saying to me at that time, more than thirty years ago: "People are beginning to read their speeches in this House." It is an undoubted fact that, probably owing to the aid given by typewriters, to which the right reverend Prelate referred, the practice has continued to grow.

Probably the majority of members of this House will agree with me when I say that it is not the read speech to which one objects so much as that it is so badly read. There are very few people who are good readers. Lord Arnold spoke of the difficulty of speaking in this House. Personally I should think it was infinitely more difficult to read than to speak, for reading is a difficult art which few can master. I know of one who is a master at reading speeches, but he reads it at the box on the Table, and he could not do it unless he had almost microscopic sight. It is the badness of the reading which becomes such an affliction, and the reader of speeches is never quite able to gauge the right moment at which to bring his speech to an end. How difficult must it be when writing a speech to include in it all that you wish to say, and yet be able to gauge the length of time that it will take to read. I could not do it myself. Yet noble Lords know full well that if they speak too long it becomes necessary to truncate their speeches, to leave out the part containing the really important points, and to go on to the preroration.

On the other hand, he who speaks extempore or with notes is in a position to gauge the atmosphere in which he is speaking, and to bring in the important points that he wishes to develop, without the garnishing which is wholly unnecessary, and yet finish his speech within a reasonable space of time. Therefore a speech which is not read must be better than a speech which is read. Moreover, there is the inconvenience from which readers of speeches must suffer, such as constant interruptions, not only in the House but at the Bar. A speaker speaking after preparation and with full knowledge is not greatly affected by such interruptions and conversations, but the reader of a speech is of course greatly inconvenienced by them. I, personally, think the House might be a little more insistent that there shall not be such interruptions from that end of the House. I think the House would do well to deal with that matter, and to help speakers by more insistence upon quietude within the House.

With regard to the Motion, I think it would be wrong to make regulations of a hard and fast kind, forbidding the reading of speeches, particularly on important topics and on subjects of national and international importance, and speeches delivered by Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries when compelled to voice the opinions of the Cabinet or even of the Departments for which they are speaking. On the other hand, I think it is possible that this debate may have the effect of dissuading those who would read long speeches from doing so, and induce them to concentrate more upon their subject, learn more about it, and not insist upon reading from type script. I do myself heartily support my noble friend Lord Crawford, who first advocated this improvement, but I hope nevertheless that no attempt will be made so to tie the House as to make it impossible for important announcements to be read, or to deter those who have not the gift of tongues from standing up in their places and addressing this House.


My Lords, I hesitate very much to intervene in this debate, for I have only been a member of your Lordships' House for seven years; but as your Lordships know I have been a fairly constant attendant. It seems to me that one at any rate of the reasons for the increase in the reading of speeches is the increase in the number of societies and corporations; and the noble Lords who are asked to represent the views of particular societies or corporations nearly always come down with set briefs containing the views of those societies. They give them in extenso to your Lordships, and that I believe is one reason for the practice of reading speeches. There is one other point to which I would allude. Lord Arnold spoke of the lack of approbation with which speeches were received in your Lordships' House. May I remind him that there is also a very courteous lack of disapprobation?


My Lords, may I say a word in conclusion about the debate, which to me has been a very interesting one and which, if I may say so, has been a real debate. There has been no read speech this afternoon. There has been no intrusion of typewriting. I think those of your Lordships, and I see a good many here, who have attended throughout the debate will acknowledge that it has been a really informative debate, in which opinions have clashed and been replied to, and been again fortified, and from which opinions may possibly emerge stronger than before.

However, I would like to criticise one or two observations which have been made. First, Lord Snell rather assumed that the non-written speech lacked style inherent in the typewritten document. In that I must say I differ entirely. The laboured prose that we hear lead from typewritten documents is the very negation of style. It is homebody else's prose in many cases. The brief to which the Chairman of Committees referred, the brief prepared by the Association of Municipal Corporations, or a group of county councils, or the Gas Consumers' Union—you cannot expect style in that; at least, it is a style that is alien to debate. I am only interested in the question of debate, and why I object to typewritten speeches is that I think that they ruin debate. Lord Monteagle of Brandon, who is a very new member of this House, is a Peer of great seniority and one who has evidently watched the world. He observed with some justice that nobody who has a typewritten speech ever spares the audience a single line or page of his speech; he goes from beginning to end mercilessly. That is the way with a prepared speech, a brief. If you do not know your subject you have got to go through with it, and you do not get very much style, I am sure, in that kind of communication.

I do not wish to compare this House with the other House, I do not know why Lord Snell did so, but he did. They differ, toto cælo. He finds the atmosphere of this House chilly. I think I should find the other House a little too stimulating. When I make a speech, I do not want to meet with interruptions and to be shouted down for twenty minutes. I should not like that. The noble Lord prefers the other House because of its vivacity. I do not; I prefer this House. The virtue of this House depends upon its debating capacity, and not on its endurance against noise! The written speech, in my submission and in my complaint, is not a debating speech. The reports which we get to-morrow morning will be reports of Parliamentary debates, not of Parliamentary theses. Lord Arnold said that this Resolution was all right; he does not differ from it, but says that it must not be too rigidly interpreted. I do not know if he heard one of the remarks I made a couple of hours ago, but I expressly pointed out that certain people might communicate their speeches where the matter is such that it is not ordinarily suitable for a speech with a few notes. As for Lord Mottistone's speech about the Army, I gather that there were twenty mistakes of fact in it, as he had no notes when he made the speech twenty years ago in the House of Commons!

The Minister's written speech is a statement, it is an announcement, it is a pronouncement, it is the basis of debate, and pro tanto I do not object to its being read, within moderation; but I wish that Ministers, and others, would be so good as to read a little more audibly than has been their practice hitherto. The cause—I was sorry that the Leader of the House was driven to admit it—of reading speeches, according to him, is in some cases that there is not time to prepare the subject. Well, I should then say that the remedy would be to find somebody who has time to prepare the subject and who will not depend entirely upon the Civil Service for what he says to the House. If you have not time to prepare the subject and communicate such a speech to the House of Lords, remember, my Lords, that you are quite incapable of answering the debate later on, and that is perhaps the reason why, as I pointed out, Ministers are so often accustomed to conclude the debate rather than to give information to the House in its earlier stages.

I very much hope that the House will pass this Motion. I do not ask for a Standing Order. It is not a Standing Order, it is not even a Rule, but it is an expression of our wish—I hope our corporate wish—that what I am confident is a growing practice should be checked. I am interested in this reading of speeches. I have been watching this use of notes, I can tell the Chairman of Committees, for two or three years, and I state emphatically without fear of contradiction that the practice of reading speeches from long typewritten documents is steadily growing in your Lordships' House, except on the Front Opposition Bench. Now I shall ask for no rigid interpretation of my Motion, but I greatly hope that I am correct in thinking that my noble friend below me, Viscount Halifax, on behalf of the Government and as Leader of the House, is prepared to accept it as what I hope it will be, a wholesome influence upon our debates.

On Question, Motion agreed to.