HL Deb 07 December 1938 vol 111 cc386-410

My Lords, I rise to move the Motion which stands in my name, which is "That the practice precluding the quotation in this House of speeches made in the House of Commons should no longer be insisted on." I have put down this Motion in order to give your Lordships an opportunity of considering the present rule on the subject, not because it is of enormous importance, but because I cannot help feeling that the present position is rather unsatisfactory. I have not come across an authoritative statement of what the rule is, but as I understand it, the old conception was that it was out of order or, as some Speakers in the House of Commons put it, "irregular" to quote any of the proceedings, particularly of the debates, in the other House. That was an absolute rule originally, I understand, but it certainly is not an absolute rule to-day.

The most recent decisions in another place—I do not know that there are any in your Lordships' House, at least I have not come across them—make a variety of exceptions. They point out that you cannot insist on that rule in that form. I will quote, before I sit down, the most elaborate of these decisions. But even so long ago as 1891, when the matter came up in the other House, the Speaker, who was Mr. Speaker Peel, gave a ruling. Objection was taken to a reference to a statement made by a Minister in this House, and there was a little doubt as to what the rule was, and the Speaker explained what it was. He said that to follow arguments in detail in the other House was irregular, but not to quote any particular statement that was made and, in point of fact, after that ruling a statement of several hundred words—certainly quite a substantial statement—made by a Minister in this House was quoted without further objection. Gradually there seems to have grown up a number of exceptions of that kind. In spite of that, your Lordships will be perfectly well aware that the rule is continually evaded. If anyone wishes to quote a speech made in the other House, as long as he does not mention it is a quotation, no one would think of interfering with what he is saying. There has been introduced a kind of system of what we used to call at Eton "shirking." There, as long as a boy could nominally keep out of the sight of a master when he was out of bounds, it was part of the duty of a master not to notice him, and consequently the rule as to out of bounds in those districts rapidly fell into disrepute and was abolished. There seems to be something like "shirking" as to the practice of quotations in this House when you wish to refer to proceedings in another place, and the explanation is that there is really no sufficient reason for the rule in present circumstances.

The actual incident which has induced me to raise the matter and bring it before your Lordships' consideration occurred the other day here. In the course of the debate on the Italian Agreement, Lord Snell made a quotation from something that Mr. Eden had said in the other House, not with a view to entering into controversy with a member of the other House, but merely with a view to explaining the position he himself took up, which he thought had been well expressed by Mr. Eden. Then my noble friend Lord Crewe, thinking no doubt that if there was a rule it ought to be carried out, expressed an opinion which I will read to your Lordships. He said: Surely the noble Lord is aware that it is completely out of order here to quote textually from a debate in another place. Mr. Speaker is always most active in at once stopping any quotation from a debate in your Lordships' House. My noble friend the noble Marquess, was evidently speaking on the spur of the moment. I think if he will look into the authorities, he will agree with me that as he stated it he has put it rather too high; at any rate as far as that rule has been explained in the other House. I will quote another ruling of the Speaker before I sit down which, I think, makes that abundantly clear, and that ruling, as I understand it, states the present position.

I am not going to trouble your Lordships with any elaborate investigations as to the origin of the rule. It seems to be put on several grounds. No doubt it sprang up when conditions were extremely different from what they are now. When it originally came into existence no doubt it was a breach of Privilege to report anything which took place in one House anywhere outside the walls of that House. Therefore, to quote it in another House evidently caused very great difficulty, because it might technically be a breach of Privilege. There were other doctrines, and one of them was that it might cause bad blood between the speaker who was quoted and the speaker who quoted him in either of the two Houses. That seems to have been a matter of great anxiety in those days. Your Lordships, of course, are perfectly well aware of the curious relic in the other House, where there is a little carpet before the Front Benches below the gangway beyond which it is not in order for a speaker, a member of the House, to step while he is addressing the House. The reason for that, I have always been given to understand, is that it was done in order to keep the two Front Benches of the House sufficiently far apart to prevent a lunge by one or the other with a rapier. That is not a danger that we should feel to be very acute at the present moment, but in those days apparently they did feel it to be acute.

In looking into this subject I came across a very picturesque story. There was a foreign debate between Mr. Fox and Mr. Wedderburn, and before the discussion had concluded it was observed that Mr. Fox was about to leave the House, whereupon the Speaker immediately rose and directed all the doors of the House to be closed until the two members concerned had given a solemn promise that the matter would not be carried any further outside the House. That takes you back to the kind of frame of mind that perhaps prevailed when this rule was brought into existence, and of course that has all disappeared completely now. I really think that is the chief part of the case that I desire to put before your Lordships. It seems to me that the rule has lost its reality now. It has become whittled away in a number of ways by successive decisions in the other House, and if you are to accept the rule as it is now stated in the other House as a guide to our debates, it practically would mean nothing at all.

Let me read the most authoritative decision that I have been able to find, a decision of my noble friend Lord Ulls-water, when he was Speaker in another place. He was asked for a formal decision by Mr. Harry Chaplin as to what the rule really was, and he said this (I am quoting all the material parts): If an honourable member enters into a controversy with regard to something that has been said in the other House and endeavours to reply to a speech made in the other House, that would be out of order and very undesirable because the noble Lord not being present here cannot answer or explain any quotation which may be made. Next comes what is most material for the case I am drawing your Lordships' attention to: But I do not think the rule can be carried out in its entirety because it might … be absolutely necessary to refer to a statement made la another place, such as a statement upon some great question of policy or a statement by a Minister giving a concession with respect to a Bill. I think it would be mere pedantry on our part if we were to insist on closing our own mouths so as not to be able to refer to that fact at all. … Therefore we must observe a certain amount of elasticity. I think that seems to indicate that the rule as it exists at present, if you can call it a rule, is that you must not quote what goes on in the other House unless it is part of the argument that you are desiring to present to the House which you are addressing on the subject which is before that House—that is to say, you must not enter into a discussion with a member of one House under cover of a debate in the other.

I think it would be practically impossible to apply that, but of course it would be quite improper, not under this rule but under any other rule, for a noble Lord here to enter upon an elaborate philippic against a member of the other House because he was discussing some matter in this House. It world be quite irrelevant to do so, and I imagine would be out of order on that ground quite apart from this rule. The truth is that we have passed altogether beyond the period when this rule may have been, and I dare say was, a useful rule, and one can see that in view of another practice which has taken place recently, the extreme frequency of political speeches in the country and not only in Parliament. Supposing in this particular case Mr. Eden had made this statement outside—and I expect he has said very much the same thing in a speech outside the House of Commons—there would not have been the slightest objection to its being quoted in this House. It could then have been quoted perfectly freely. The fact that it was made in the House of Commons really does not seem to me to make any difference.

If the old rule about Privilege disappears, I see no difficulty. I do see, on the other hand, a great disadvantage, which was alluded to by Mr. Speaker Lowther in the extract I have just read. I see a great disadvantage in shutting out from our debates facts which are of real importance in enabling your Lordships to make up your minds on any question which is being debated here. The opinions of Ministers in this country, certainly on foreign affairs, are part of the very substance of our discussions, and it is a matter of the greatest importance obviously to know what Ministers have said on the subject. It is a matter of almost equal importance, perhaps even of more importance, to know what three or four or perhaps more leading members of the House of Commons have said in like manner; and to say that we are not to be allowed to bring what they have said into the consideration of matters that are discussed in this House does seem to me to be a very grave limitation of the material with which we have to deal in order to arrive at conclusions here. For those reasons I venture to hope that your Lordships will accept the Motion which I now move.

Moved to resolve, That the practice precluding the quotation in this House of speeches made in the House of Commons should no longer be insisted on.—(Viscount Cecil of Chelwood.)


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends I should like in a word or two to support the noble Viscount's Motion for one or two reasons similar to those he has brought forward. It has always seemed to me that it is entirely artificial that this so-called rule should exist. It has existed, as we all know, in a certain form in the other House as well as here, but I think I can say it has been more honoured in the breach than in the observance in both Houses for a very long time past, by the introduction of that convenient phrase "in another place" indicating that a speech might perhaps have been made anywhere else whilst we all know quite well that the reference is in fact to a speech made in the other House of the Legislature.

Whatever may have been the original reasons in justification of the rule, so far as it ever has been a rule, I suggest that there are very good reasons why it should not be continued in operation now. We have had some very good examples even in this short session. The noble Earl the Leader of the House will remember that only a few days ago we had a debate on the question of a Ministry of Supply. We were compelled, if we were to discuss that matter intelligently, to have regard to proceedings in the House of Commons. We could not have discussed it intelligently otherwise, as a great many of the most material facts relating to the case had been stated in the House of Commons. For example, the speech of the Secretary of State for War was quoted by myself, and I think by others, because it was exceedingly material to the issue before us. When this House has not the responsible head of a State Department among its members, it is inevitable and I think most useful that we should be able to refer to his speech in another place. That debate and many others are clear instances of the many advantages which do in fact arise.

It is a custom of course to refer to such a statement in the form of a paraphrase, lest we should be held to be out of order if we quote the statement verbatim. I suggest to your Lordships that it would be altogether advantageous that we should quote such statements accurately, and we should be able to quote them accurately without being disorderly in so doing. In bringing forward this Motion the noble Viscount is asking us to pay a tribute to frankness, to good sense and to existing conditions of discussion. I am sure that members in both Houses can be relied upon not to abuse this privilege, just as they do not abuse other privileges. They would soon be called to order by the sense of their fellow members, if not otherwise, if they took unfair advantage of the privilege. I think we should rely upon good sense and good traditions rather than upon a rule which has long since fallen into disuse and which, I suggest, it is better to get rid of in the interest of accuracy and usefulness in debate.


My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has brought forward this Motion, for the matter is of a certain importance, as everything must be which touches in any way on the relations between the two Houses. The noble Viscount told us the origin of his Motion—namely, what occurred on November 3, in the debate on the Anglo-Italian Agreement, when the noble Lord, Lord Snell, read from the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Parliamentary Debates an extract from a speech made in another place. He was somewhat abruptly called to order upon this Bench, to our great regret, because it seemed almost discourteous to the noble Lord who is always so conspicuously courteous to everybody else. But it was a very marked departure by one who holds a conspicuous place in your Lordships' House from what has hitherto been the practice of your Lordships' House. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, described to us in a very interesting manner the practice of another place. I do not think that what he said went to show that that is in any sense different from the practice that has obtained here—that is to say, that it is in order to make a general reference to a speech in another place, but it has not been held to be in order to read the precise words used in the debate.


If the noble Marquess will allow me to interrupt him for a moment, the first instance I gave of the decision of Mr. Speaker Peel was quite clearly that it was right and proper to read the actual words, and a very large section of the actual speech made in this House was thereupon read by Mr. Samuel Evans.


I am very sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, is not in his place, because he would have been able to tell us what the facts are with far greater authority than anybody else, but I think I am accurate in saying that the present occupant of the Chair has definitely called to order members of the House of Commons for reading verbatim extracts from the OFFICIAL REPORT Of debates in this House. The general practice may be taken, I think, to be that a general reference is permitted, but an argument founded on the actual wording of the speech in another place would be objected to. That is obviously not enough for my noble friend Viscount Cecil. With his accurate mind and his legal training, he thinks it as important to be able to quote the precise words used in a speech made in another place as he would if he were arguing a case in the High Court. Most of us, I think, can hardly go so far. Speaking for myself, after a tolerably long occupancy of both Front Benches in turn, I cannot recall a case when anything I had to argue suffered from my not being able to quote a speech made in another place.

In nineteen cases out of twenty it suffices for the purpose of a speech here to describe in general terms what has been said on behalf of the Government or by some member of the Opposition in another place. The twentieth case is that of a definite Ministerial statement, of which the actual wording, and even the placing of a comma, may be of importance. But it has always in the past—I do not say it always obtains now—been the rule that, so far as possible, statements of that kind should be made at the same time on the same day in both Houses of Parliament. But it is also felt to a great extent by us that we are entitled, so to speak, to sit down to a freshly-cooked meal and not have to be put off with warmed-up cabbage left over from the debates in the other House of Parliament. Therefore the suggested change does not seem to be precisely necessary.

But there are also certain positive objections. My impression is that if such a change were made here, a similar change would be demanded in the House of Commons and that it would be objected to—this is only a conjecture; it is not founded on any knowledge—on the ground that it would throw additional burdens on the occupant of the Chair, whether he were the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees. It is all very well to speak of comments made on a Ministerial statement, or upon the kind of statement upon which Lord Snell commented the other day. But if you lay down the rule, by adopting the plan of the noble Viscount, that the debates in one House are freely open for discussion in the other, you seem to me to run certain risks. You almost invite the possibility of some indiscreet speech or some apparently contradictory observation becoming the subject of a Question or a Motion in the other House. Lord Addison put that objection aside by assuming that all members of both Houses invariably behave well and that no instance of what our Standing Orders call "taxing" observations would be likely to occur. I do not feel quite so sure.

Viscount Cecil somewhat discounted the idea of any marked collision of opinion between the two Houses, and seemed to think that that was a matter of the past. It is not at any rate a matter of the very distant past, and I should be very sorry to assume as a certainty that there is no such possibility for the future. To take a single instance, there is at this moment no occupant of the right reverend Bench, but I can remember occasions, and I can conceive their repetition, in which the expressed opinions of the right reverend Bench have come markedly into collision with the views held by the majority in another place. I think it is not difficult to imagine a most lively debate taking place on an occasion of that kind. Of course I do not for a moment suppose that there would be anything in the nature of a "slanging-match" between members of the two Houses. If it came to that, I have no doubt that some of your Lordships would do your best, but I am afraid that some of the less responsible elements of the other place would be backed to win in such a competition!

Then there is another point. When a Bill had passed through one House and came to another, there would be a certain temptation, if free quotation from what happened in the first House were allowed, and there might even be an attempt, to make a point either for or against the measure by quoting verbatim what had been said elsewhere. In my view the real fact is that, after all, at present we have two Houses. It is undoubtedly the declared belief of noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench, and of their supporters, that the business of the country could be carried on more expeditiously and quite as efficiently in a single Chamber.


Hear, hear!


Precisely; but so long as we have two Houses of Parliament it is highly desirable that their proceedings should, so far as possible, be kept quite independent one of the other; and the invitation which is issued by my noble friend Lord Cecil goes some little way in the direction of merging the proceedings of the two Houses together. For those reasons, I cannot help feeling that this is a case for the adoption of Lord Melbourne's well-known query, "Why can't you let it alone?" If there were a real grievance attaching to the present procedure, the positive objections might have to be faced, but I do not see that the present system inflicts any hardship on anybody. I am prepared to repeat Lord Melbourne's query, and I trust that the Government and the majority of the House will take a similar view.


My Lords, I am afraid I cannot pretend to speak to your Lordships with the same authority as that of the noble Marquess who has just sat down. I have a considerable standing, I am sorry to say, of years in this House, but they do not, I am afraid, compare with the years of the noble Marquess. It therefore makes me very uncomfortable if I feel that upon a matter of the procedure and order in your Lordships' House I do not entirely agree with the noble Marquess. I am very glad that this matter has been brought before the House, because the intervention of the noble Marquess the other day, when he called Lord Snell to order, was a very important matter, that being the method by which the order of procedure of your Lordships' House is determined. We have no Speaker in the sense of a presiding ruler, who tells us what the rules of the House are. We decide for ourselves, and there is no doubt that the intervention of a noble Lord so influential as the noble Marquess, if it had not been brought before your Lordships' House for consideration, would have been quoted, and properly quoted, as—I will not say an abiding precedent but as a very important precedent, governing our future procedure. Therefore we must not be blamed if we seriously consider what the rule ought to be.

There is, of course, a great deal in what the noble Marquess has said with which we must all sympathise, but let us try and remember how limited the application of this rule already is. That has already been mentioned by my noble friend and relative who is responsible for the Motion before your Lordships, but let me just recite them. I do not think he mentioned one limitation. Although, by the practice of the House of Commons and to some extent by the practice of your Lordships in the past, there has been a certain limitation as to the quotation of what passes in another place, yet that is strictly limited. According to recent precedents there is nothing at all irregular in quoting anything which has passed, so long as it has occurred in a past Session. I am no authority on procedure in the House of Commons, but there, I understand, if the quotation is something said in a past Session there is no objection. The point is that it it is not a quotation ipsissima verba of what has passed in the current Session. Will your Lordships realise to what a paradox, almost, that reduces the rule? The Leader of the Opposition, in the speech which is under consideration, if I may so venture to describe it, was speaking on November 3. According to the rigid rule of the House of Commons—I have not a word to say about the rule in this House—he was out of order, but if he had spoken on November 8 he would not have been out of order, because he would have been speaking in a different Session. He would have been perfectly at liberty to recite what Mr. Eden said in another place if he had spoken a week later. We thus see how modern practice has made the old limitations very difficult to defend.

That is one limitation. Let me take another which has been mentioned. The rule does not apply to a Ministerial statement. You may quote as much as you like a Ministerial statement in either House, even in the same Session, but there is a limitation upon a statement by a member of Parliament who is not a Minister. Mr. Anthony Eden certainly was not a Minister at the moment he spoke, but he had only just ceased to be a Minister. Are we to balance the rule upon a foundation so slight as that? Of course I am not referring to any question of Party politics in this matter, but what the late Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said was almost as important as what the present Secretary of State said. It was very important indeed, and to say that one should be in order, and the other out of order, seems to me to be a refinement, if it had not been urged by the noble Marquess, I should almost have said to the extent of pedantry.

Again, there is nothing out of order in saying what has passed in another place, provided you do not quote the actual words. The noble Lord, Lord Snell, might have said that Mr. Eden had, in the House of Commons, said in effect, and so forth, and he would have been perfectly in order, but according to the rigid rule he must not quote the ipsissima verba. Most of us, if quoted, would like to be quoted accurately. Your Lordships know as well as I do, how often in a public debate, when a statement is made about the attitude of someone else, a critic rises in his place and says, "When was that said? Where was that said? Will the noble Lord refer us to the words on which he relies?" Of course, because it all turns on the accurate words. The substance of the thing, which is not out of order, is to be passed, while the ipsissima verba must be treated with these restrictions. I venture to think that a thing which by the process of time has been reduced to such a point as that cannot be defended.

Then there is the actual practice. I think if your Lordships will refer to the handbooks on this subject, and also ask people of experience in another place, you will find that this rule is continually broken in the House of Commons. No doubt the Speaker retains a certain control and does not allow the practice to go too far, but the rule is continually broken. Speaking of your Lordships' House—I do not speak with any authority, except that of having been here a very long time—I do not suppose a week passes in which this rule is not violated, if it be a rule. There is no Standing Order to this effect. It is only a practice, and although I do not make any complaint, for a moment, of my noble friend who is responsible for this Motion, or of the noble Marquess for having recited the practice of the House of Commons, nevertheless I would like your Lordships never to forget that the practice of the House of Commons has no bearing whatever upon our practice, except for the profound respect that we have for that great institution. We make our own rules, and we are absolutely independent in that respect and in our own practice.

I can only say that, having sat here for a very great number of years, I think hardly a week has passed in which I have not heard this rule, if it be a rule, violated, and it must be violated, because it is impossible to carry on the business of the country unless you can recite what has passed of materiality elsewhere. Of course there is no rule against quoting speeches made in the country, and quoting them ipsissima verba. Are you really to draw that distinction, and to say that while what a very important Minister, or an ex-Minister, says in the country may be quoted, we are to be hampered when we come to deal with what he has said in another place? Surely upon that foundation nothing solid can rest. I venture to say that what we have to think of is how best to carry on the business of the country. We must be as free as we can and we must be, may I also add, as accurate as we can, and the ipsissima verba are the only certain road to accuracy.

Of course I realise and sympathise with the argument that we do not want recrimination—I think that is the word which was used—between the two Houses of Parliament. We want no element of discourtesy. I should be the last man to desire the slightest word of discourtesy to be uttered as regards the other House of Parliament, and I hope that will always be the practice of your Lordships' House. But it is the practice and does not depend upon this arbitrary and (if I may use the word again) rather pedantic rule; it depends upon the general spirit and temper of your Lordships' House that we do not use language which is discourteous to another place. If it were necessary to have a rule of that kind I certainly should not be prepared to criticise it, but that is quite a different thing from binding us down to this particular provision. I do not know what line the noble Earl who leads the House will take, and for my part I should be very anxious to guide my conduct by his advice. It is upon his advice that we principally depend in a matter of order in your Lordships' House, and if he thought fit to say that he thinks this rule should be abandoned I should not be sorry, and I should be glad that we should be free, if that be your Lordships' wish.


My Lords, it is rare indeed that I differ from my noble friend who has just spoken, but I am afraid I am obliged to do so on this occasion. Before I come to the substance of the matter I would like just to make two points. First of all, because a rule is frequently violated it does not at all follow that it ought to be abandoned. There is a rule in this House—I do not know whether it is in writing but undoubtedly there is a rule—against reading a speech, but that is continually violated. At the same time, if the practice of reading were carried to a great length I think it might be very useful to fall back upon that rule. Then my noble friend referred to the absurdity of something being in order on November 8 which was not in order on November 3. That is entirely owing to the practice of beginning one Session immediately on the top of another. There is a rule, I think, in both Houses of Parliament that you cannot take a decision on the same question twice in the same Session. Well, there again you might have something that was out of order on November 3 but which would be in order on the 8th, for precisely the same reason. But it does not at all follow that the rule is a bad one. The only conclusion is that because the Sessions come upon one another so closely a certain appearance of absurdity is shed upon all Sessional Orders whatsoever.

I may say a word or two on the rule as it is in the House of Commons, because not only have I heard many decisions there but I think I have had myself to apply it when in the Chair in Committee, or acting as Deputy-Speaker. The rule was, I think, accurately stated by my noble friend opposite. It is that you may not quote the words of a member of another House for the purpose of answering them, and that I think is really in modern times the justification for this rule. You want to avoid anything like a bitter personal wrangle between members of the two Houses. I believe the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, was absolutely justified in what he said on the possibilities that might arise. I am afraid it might easily degenerate into what I may call a personal duel at long range. An instance—it is an old one now, but I believe it is what you may call a locus classicus on the subject—is when Lord Ashburton in the year 1847, or it may have been 1850, wanted to reply to some criticism by Lord Palmerston in the House of Commons on a mission he had to America or Canada; and Lord Ashburton undoubtedly proceeded to a bitter attack upon Lord Palmerston, and then Lord Lansdowne, who I think must have been Leader of the House under a Whig Government at that time, stopped him. Well, if he had gone on, Lord Palmerston obviously would have replied, and so you would have had this rather unseemly discussion.

Now if that was a danger in that time it is surely a greater danger in this time. I quite agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, as to what might happen in the House of Commons if they were to have an unlimited power of criticising speakers in this House and answering them. I think I can remember standing watching the last stage of the Education Bill of 1906, and I well remember the noble Marquess himself saying that because of its rejection harsh things would be done—obviously meaning in administration. Well, there were certainly members of the House of Commons who took a very different view from him who would certainly have censured those remarks if they had had an opportunity of doing so. And I think I can remember instances later than that when members of advanced views in another place sought to criticise utterances of members of this House simply as part of the political game (I am afraid I must call it) that they were then playing. But quite apart from that, whether it is a political or personal matter, I do suggest that if a member makes a personal explanation in one House attacking a statement made in another, then the member attacked will have a right to reply, and one cannot tell where it will end.

I confess I do not see that there is much hardship in the present rule. A noble Lord in this House or an honourable Member in the other can always say "It has been stated" or "It has been alleged," and he can make his position perfectly clear, but no personal element is necessarily involved, and I am afraid it certainly would be involved if this Motion were passed and adopted, as it probably would be adopted, in the other House. I think the noble Viscount who introduced this Motion said that a personal attack upon some Minister or other member of the House would not be in order. I think so long as grossly abusive language were not used it would be perfectly in order, and though it might not be indulged in here I am afraid it very likely would be in another place. At the same time, the rule no doubt has not been enforced rigidly and there are difficulties in knowing exactly what it is and how it can be enforced. But surely this is a matter which ought to be dealt with by both Houses, because what is done in one must react upon the other; and therefore if it be sought to pursue the subject further, I suggest that the proper course is the appointment of a small Joint Select Committee of both Houses.


My Lords, I do not intervene as an authority on Parliamentary procedure, but because it is a melancholy fact that I have had a longer period in Parliament than anybody here present, with the possible exception of my noble friend Lord Salisbury.


No, you have been here longer than I.


One cannot be in Parliament for over half a century without learning something, and one of the lessons that I have learnt is that disputes between the two Houses are productive of nothing but danger and difficulty. This is, we all know, the most good-natured and tolerant of assemblies—tolerant not only of the members of this House but tolerant of other people as well. We are eminently peaceful, but unfortunately there are many misguided people who regard us with feelings approaching to hatred and who are always anxious to obtain an opportunity to attack us. It seems to me that my noble friend opposite is providing them with an excellent opportunity. He brings forward a Motion which apparently is not reciprocal. We are to be allowed to quote what is said in another place, but they do not obtain the same rights themselves. It seems to me that this is bound to lead to difficulty. I remember quite well being in the Peers' Gallery in another place about twenty years ago when a member made a very vigorous attack upon me personally. He got on quite well until he proceeded to quote what I had said, textually, whereupon he was immediately stopped by the Speaker, the present Lord Ullswater, and he collapsed, much, I will confess, to my disappointment.

I cannot help thinking that if we were foolish enough to adopt this Motion it would not only lead to difficulties in another place, but it would very much inconvenience our procedure. We should have people perpetually quoting long extracts, almost White Papers, in explanation of what they were talking about, and it would ultimately be provocative of any number of personal incidents and personal explanations which, to my mind, are almost invariably very mischievous incidents. In these circumstances I trust that the Government will not support the noble Viscount opposite. After all, what is there to complain of? We can quote almost every word that a man says if we omit a comma or a semicolon, and we should be in order in doing so. Where is the grievance? It seems to me, as was remarked by my noble friend Lord Crewe, that this is one of the cases in which one may well ask "Why cannot you leave the thing alone?" Rather an unusual sentiment to be expressed by a Whig politician, but I am entirely in agreement with him, and I cannot help thinking that the majority of the House will be with him, too. I shall have no hesitation in voting against the Motion myself.


My Lords, I well remember the incident that gave rise to this debate. As a very new member of your Lordships' House who had spent twenty-eight years in the House of Commons, I must say I was amazed when Lord Snell was interrupted by the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Liberal Party, on November 3, because frequently I have known members of your Lordships' House quoted quite correctly and ipsissima verba in the House of Commons without the least objection being taken. The rule in the House of Commons is, as stated by Lord Rankeillour, that the whole question turns on the purpose to which the quotation is put. A more innocent purpose than that of the noble Lord, Lord Snell, in his speech on November 3, I cannot imagine. He was not building up any argument against Mr. Eden. He was merely quoting a certain matter which had been put in a particular way, and I am quite sure no Speaker of the House of Commons, least of all Lord Rankeillour, would have ruled Lord Snell out of order if he had made that quotation in the House of Commons.

If the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, wishes to make the rule of this House different from the rule in the House of Commons, I shall vote against his Motion, but if it is to give this House the liberty which is now given to members of the House of Commons and to enable us to do what they are allowed to do by the rulings of Mr. Speaker Peel and Mr. Speaker Lowther, as he then was, then I do think it is a liberty we should have. It did seem to me that Lord Snell was stopped by the House from making a quotation which would have been perfectly in order in the House of Commons. At least that is my experience, and I took it as a new member that we were more restricted, much more restricted, in the use of free speech in this House by the rule as it is alleged to exist now in the House of Lords than we were when I was in the House of Commons.


Does the noble Lord say it is absolutely permitted to hold up, in another place, the OFFICIAL REPORT of one of the debates in this House and to read an extract from it? My impression was that that had been stopped.


I think I have frequently seen it done, but it is always prefaced by the statement "I am not proposing to base any argument upon this." The member is quoting it for the purpose of illustration. It is quite true, unless that is done—and it is almost invariably done—the Speaker would ask the honourable member if he was making this quotation for the purpose of building an argument on it. If the reply is "Yes," then the quotation has to be stopped; but if, as I think, Lord Snell was using the quotation the other day purely for illustrative purposes, that seems to me to be absolutely innocuous and in accordance with the custom of Parliament. I must say I was surprised when Lord Crewe intervened on that occasion. I only hope that the practice of the two Houses will be assimilated, and that we shall not be deprived of the privilege which ordinary members of the House of Commons have in the matter of quoting speeches made in the other House.


My Lords, I was nearly a quarter of a century in the other House, and my recollection of the rule during that time is entirely different from that of Lord Harlech. Whenever any member of the other House took the Report of a debate in this House and read from it ipsissima verba, the Speaker at once called him to order. The practice may have altered in the last fifteen years, but that was the practice when I was a member of the other House. It is very important that neither House should be allowed to quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT and to read long paragraphs out of speeches made in the other House which will bring about conflict. That is most undesirable. At the same time, I realise that we have to have the right of alluding to speeches made in another place by saying what we regard to be the purport of a passage stated by a Minister or by a distinguished member of the other place. That has been the practice in both Houses. It is a good practice, and I hope it will be continued. There is something to be said for the argument that the system should be uniform in both Houses in regard to this matter of reading in one House long extracts from speeches made in the other. I do not want to see that practice commenced, and if anything ought to be done in this matter it ought to be the subject of consideration by a Joint Committee of both Houses so that the practice may be uniform. In this way we shall avoid the dangers which might arise if Lord Cecil's Motion were agreed to in its present form.


My Lords, I am very sorry to have been the innocent cause of provoking this very interesting discussion. I ought really to have known better. In fact, I did know better. I knew precisely what was allowable in the House of Commons, but I also felt that your Lordships' House provided the supreme example of the greatest anarchic assembly in the world. We have no rules because no one wants to break them. We live above the law, and on the particular occasion I did not want to argue the matter, but an ex-Minister had made a statement which looked like the very key of the argument, and I thought it might help your Lordships if you had the thought in his words rather than in my own. I was also clumsy, because instead of hiding the paper from your Lordships' eyes I flaunted it in your faces to show, of course, what I was doing. I gathered that the right thing would have been to have given it, and to have said what I wanted by a kind of dishonest evasion.

The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, said that the right thing in this matter was to let it alone. I do not mind that, but the noble Marquess raised the matter; I did not. Now I do not really mind. It will not put me personally to any great inconvenience. As a matter of fact, when I was in the other House I only had one conflict with the Chair, and that was with my noble friend Lord Rankeillour, who was then Chairman of Committee of Ways and Means. I was a young member then, and I made the same mistake and learned my lesson quite thoroughly. Afterwards I went round to the Chair and explained to my noble friend—I was a great deal more frightened of him in the House of Commons than I am in your Lordships' House—that it was by pure inadvertence that I had done it. He was good enough to say to me: "Don't you trouble. You try to say what you want to say; it is my business to keep you in order." Now we are not guided in that way in your Lordships' House, and we have to do the best we can. I can only say that the next time I want to quote from another place I shall very carefully hide the document concerned, and try to get a reputation for wisdom which I do not deserve.


My Lords, I confess it is with a considerable amount of diffidence that I take part in this debate. Two noble Lords who have been Leaders of the House for a very long period have each of them expressed opinions on this matter, and I have only been Leader of your Lordships' House for a very short time. Who am I to judge between the two of them when they take entirely opposite views on this question? But I think your Lordships have had an extraordinarily interesting debate on this matter. I confess I find myself almost in entire agreement on one point with the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition (Lord Snell). I am not one of those who believe in upholding a custom or a rule when it is allowed to go by default on every possible occasion, and when we pretend to do things which in fact we know quite well we are not doing. Therefore, frankly, I should prefer to see the noble Lord producing the OFFICIAL REPORT and reading from it rather than pretending that he has taken what he quotes from some entirely different source, or suggesting that he is imagining what the speaker has said somewhere else when we know he has it written down verbatim in his notes.

Having said that, I must add that I rather agree with a good deal that was said by the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe. I do frankly think that, if the policy of quoting were allowed, there is a very real danger of—I will not say starting a long-range duel between members of this House and members of another place, but at any rate of something being said in this House which might tend to create disagreement between this place and another place. I also see one much greater danger, and it is this. Noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite, although at one time I was led to hope differently from some remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Snell, are, I gather, in favour of abolishing your Lordships' House. Now it would assist them in that direction if it came to be the custom that a statement made in one House would suffice for both Houses. At the present moment, officially we take no cognisance of what happens in another place. That is subject to a great deal of qualification, because, of course, Bills sometimes come from another place and we know they have come from there, and have not originated in your Lordships' House. But, speaking broadly, a statement made in another place is not taken official cognisance of here. Therefore your Lordships have a right to hear a statement from a responsible member of the Government, and to have that statement made in your Lordships' House, thereby giving this House an opportunity of debating it. I think if we were to take full cognisance of what is said elsewhere this Front Bench might be relieved of a great deal of work, but at the same time your Lordships would be deprived of opportunities of debate. That, I think, would be detrimental to this House.

I confess that I do not entirely share Lord Crewe's view when he says that he has never known of a case when it would have been of advantage to have quoted what was said in another place. I think my noble friend Lord Salisbury will remember the time of the Curragh incident. I see the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, now preparing to take the field. No doubt he will dispute my remarks, but I shall look for support from Lord Salisbury, who was then sitting on the Front Bench, whereas I sat on a Back Bench. What happened in my recollection in 1914 was this. The House of Commons met at an earlier hour than your Lordships, as they usually do, and a statement was made by the Colonial Secretary on what happened. Then, when your Lordships met, a statement was required from the member of the Government who was to reply on the question. In this case it was the late Lord Morley. The difficulty of the Government was that these statements hardly ever agreed. I remember very well that there always used to be one of the Whips or some member of the Liberal Government standing inside the railings in your Lordships' House, in order to rush back to the House of Commons to give them the last version of what was said in your Lordships' House so that the two statements should be made to agree. Perhaps that is not entirely apposite, because the quotations in the cases I have referred to had to be made from memory, as neither the OFFICIAL REPORT nor the newspapers would have had time to print the actual words that had been said in either House of Parliament so that they could be used for the purposes of quotation.

Several of your Lordships in referring to this matter have spoken of a rule. There is no rule. It is merely a custom, and when I am told that the Speaker has said this and the Speaker has said that, as a member of your Lordships' House who has never had, shall I say, the disadvantage of sitting in another place, that leaves me entirely cold. Your Lordships make your own rules and your own customs, and although I see some advantage in both Houses having similar rules and customs, I do not think it is the least necessary that that should be the case on every occasion. Let me take two instances known to all members of your Lordships' House. If members in another place wandered as far from the subject matter on the Paper as your Lordships very often do, they would be called to order before they had spoken for more than two or three minutes. If that was the rule in this House it might be of great advantage to members who sit on the Front Bench and have to answer for the Government. Those who have had to reply for any Government, whatever its complexion, would agree to that. But I think the rest of the House would agree, and probably the public also would agree, that debates in your Lordships' House, as a result of the freedom which we enjoy, are very much wider and more useful than similar debates which take place elsewhere under more stringent conditions. That is a case where we are under an entirely different rule from that which obtains in another place, and it is a case in regard to which we have some advantage. Another case is this. I have noticed that members who come to your Lordships' House after having sat in another place are sometimes in the habit of addressing your Lordships and going out as soon as they have finished their speeches. I am told that that is a custom in another place. It used not to be the custom in this House, and I trust it is not going to become the custom here, although we have had the entry of a considerable number of members from elsewhere in recent years.

Having said that this is not a rule and that it is only a custom, I am bound to say that I should regret very much if your Lordships passed a Resolution on this matter this evening. I rather agree with Lord Crewe that we had much better leave this matter where it is. By that I mean that we should be entitled to quote from speeches made in another place when it is necessary for an argument and where there can be no question of acrimony or of somebody in either House having to get up to make a personal explanation. I do not think that is likely to happen, but I think it must be guarded against, and that we must guard also against any new cause of disagreement between the two Houses. Subject to that, I think that we should recognise the custom which really has obtained in this House for a long period. We have referred to speeches made elsewhere, and we had better be open about it provided we do it with circumspection. Speaking for myself, I should prefer not to have any Resolution on the matter but that your Lordships, having heard what has been said from all quarters of the House, should arrange procedure in future cases accordingly. Then, if your Lordships feel that any speakers are transgressing by going too far in reading long extracts from speeches, we can deal with them as usual by making our own rules of order to suit the occasion and impressing on them that they should behave better.


My Lords, after the speech made by the noble Earl the Leader of the House I should not dream of pressing my Motion to a Division. I am very grateful to him for what he has said, and if I may say so respectfully I quite agree with the line he has taken. I recognise that there would be grave disadvantage in an attack being made this House on a speech made by somebody in the other House. That aspect of it had not occurred to me, ant I think it would probably be out of order on other grounds—on the ground, for example, that you cannot attack the proceedings, conduct or character of the other House. I understand my noble friend has explained that he thinks that as long as controversy and recrimination are avoided there is no objection to quoting speeches made in the other House. That is the most I could desire.

Before I sit down may I say to my noble friend Lord Gainford that he really is entirely mistaken, if he will allow me to say so, in his view of what is the rule in the other House? If he had done me the honour of listening to what I said at first he would have heard me quote an instance where exactly the same point was raised. There was a discussion—I think it was on a Tithe Bill—and there was objection to any reference to what happened here. Mr. Speaker Peel intervened and said he could not accept that. Then Mr. Samuel Evans was proceeding to read a statement made in this House and another objection was raised on the ground that he could not read the ipsissima verba. Mr. Speaker Peel said, in the words which I think I have already quoted, that a Member might quote the ipsissima verba, and in point of fact Mr. Samuel Evans did go on and quoted I should think 150 words of a speech made in this House. The same rule was followed by Mr. Speaker Lowther in 1907. The ruling by Mr. Speaker Peel was made in 1891. I am sorry to trouble my noble friend with these corrections, but those really are the facts. The recollections of the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, and the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, who has had very much more experience than most of us on this question, are quite accurate. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.


My Lords, before the Motion is withdrawn, may I say in justification of what I said previously that I have a clear recollection that on several occasions efforts were made by reading speeches in another place to carry on what was regarded as obstruction? That was objected to by the House, and great cries of "Order, Order," arose so as to prevent the reading of long passages from speeches made in the other House. I think that has never obtained in one House or the other.


Of course I did not expect that my noble friend Lord Snell would immediately take advantage of what I said in order to read long passages for purposes of obstruction.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.