HL Deb 25 June 1952 vol 177 cc394-426

3.11 p.m.

VISCOUNT STANSGATE rose to call attention to the business procedure of the House; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I should say at once that, if the noble Marquess the Leader of the House is in agreement, I should be prepared to alter the Motion so that, instead of moving for Papers, I moved that a record of the proceedings be remitted to whichever is the correct Committee. In this way, if there were anything in any suggestion that is made to-day, it would go to the right quarter.

I have always stood deeply in awe of your Lordships' House and never more than at this moment. I certainly have had no encouragement in this present matter. I understand to the full what Wordsworth meant when he wrote: One whom there are none to praise, And very few to love. In the last few days everybody has told me what a bad thing my Motion is, and it is therefore with more than the usual anxiety that I address your Lordships. Some said, "Why not let well alone?" Or others, "Let sleeping dogs lie. If you behave well now, then Lordships opposite will behave well when they come to occupy your Benches." I am not sure that that is likely to happen. Others say, "Why save a withered branch?" But is this a withered branch or is it Aaron's Rod? Others declare, "You must treat with reverence this ancient institution." And that argument certainly weighs very heavily on my mind. They would say, "Is it decent to come in here as if you were a man with a plan for repairing the Venus de Milo or straightening up the Tower of Pisa?" They say, "Who are you, who have been here only ten years, to propose to noble Lords how they should behave?"

I can assure your Lordships, therefore, that it is with a sense of more than usual self-abasement that I address you this afternoon. But I think that even a private member of the House is entitled to bring a suggestion to the notice of your Lordships, in order that those who are wiser, more experienced and have more authority than I, should consider it and make any suggestions of approval or disapproval, as they think fit. It seems to me that it might even be an appropriate moment in our constitutional history to consider the position of this House. Two Parliament Acts have been passed and the question now is: where does the House of Lords stand? In this Motion there is not a word about the Reform of the House, or its constitution, or any alteration of its powers—indeed many of us on this side are resolutely opposed to an increase in the powers of this House. The Motion deals simply with the exercise of the existing powers of this House as a complementary, rather than a competing, member of the joint Constitution. That is to say, while, under the Parliament Acts, we have ceased to possess a power of effective competition with another place, we may still, as I think, fill an even more valuable rôle as a complementary organ to the Commons House of Parliament.

The other day I heard a noble Lord say, "We have no Erskine May here." That seemed to me to show a point of view which was completely false. Of course, Erskine May, which is a record of Parliamentary decisions and Parliamentary practice, is largely concerned, not only with the relations between the two Houses but with the procedure in your Lordships' own House. The remark, "We have no Erskine May here," reminded me that the Lords House of Parliament is an integral part of the Parliamentary system. I have been brought up, my father was brought up and my son was brought up after me, like many of your Lordships, in the Parliamentary tradition; and if I have any feeling or passion in this matter it is a passion for the Parliamentary method of government. Your Lordships' House is just as much a part of the Parliamentary system as is the House of Commons. Therefore, when people say to me "we do not want to be like the House of Commons" (and that remark has been hurled at me, day in and day out, since I put this Motion down on the Paper), I reply that of course we do not want to be like the House of Commons—for a variety of reasons. We have not the same powers. We have not the same function. We have not the same contact with the public. But at the same time we have a parliamentary function to fulfil, and to fulfil in the parliamentary spirit. That is the gist of what I am going to say this afternoon.

Your Lordships know very well how much the British influence is spread by the British Parliamentary way, what service the British have rendered to the world in assisting the growth of popular Parliamentary government. There is an Inter-Parliamentary Union in which representatives of many countries come together. When it was decided to set up within that body a special section to consider methods of parliamentary government it was quite natural that they should take the editor of Erskine May, a member of your Lordships' House, Lord Campion, and ask him to preside over their discussions, because of the leadership in the world of the British Parliamentary way. Therefore the preservation of this way, which is the gist of my argument, is a matter of the highest importance.

Of this foreign reverence the examples that I could give are numerous, but I do not want to stray far from my path. I remember that in Turkey, at Ankara, I was pressed by politicians who wanted to know why we excluded King Charles I from the House of Commons. I found out why they asked this. It was because of the custom of Ataturk to sit in the Government Box and control debate by his glances. That has changed; they have changed from a one-Party to a two-Party system, partly as the result of our example, perhaps. We went to Ireland where the President was a man whom we had condemned to be shot and who presided with perfect courtesy and in perfect accordance with the parliamentary rule of the estwhile oppressors of his island. The reports of proceedings in the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, are in exact Parliamentary form. You cannot tell until you open the book—and you must open it at the right end—that it is not a volume of Hansard. The colour and the format and everything is exactly the same.

The liberation of Asia has widely spread the British Parliamentary type of Assembly. It is not only in the Commonwealth, it is also in countries like Burma, and Indonesia, that they are copying our methods. Concluding my remarks on this point, which is partly a digression, the most touching example I have had concerned the Speaker of the great Assembly at Delhi, a Parliament governing some 400,000,000 of people. When I was Secretary of State for India I put him in prison. It was a lamentable time in the history of our relations with India. Now he is President of the Assembly and he has sent his son to this country—to prepare a thesis on the British Parliamentary ways and the history of the Speakership of the House of Commons! This is a moving example, and your Lordships will forgive me if I give it, because in my heart I feel a passion about Parliament, not as the House of Commons versus the House of Lords, but as a system which substitutes the rule of persuasion and understanding for the rule of force.

Now it is easy for this House to abandon its Parliamentary ways. If we sit back and choose to regard it as a kind of afternoon club which we all enjoy, and leave Parliamentary control to go, no one will complain; certainly the Government will not complain. No Government want a House of Lords nosing into their business. They are quite happy if everything goes through without trouble. The Opposition will not complain because they are under the impression that this is the beginning of a permanent coma. But from our point of view and from the point of view of the public I say that the power of debate and the power of cross-examination in this House is something of great value. If you say: "Why bolster up the House of Lords?"—because that is the sort of jargon they use—my answer would be that I believe sufficiently in the virtue of my creed to desire every time to bring it before the notice of critics. This is a learned House. I am no scholar but I got hold of a reliable phrase and copied these words from the Book of Esdras: "Magna est veritas et prevalebit"—which I understand means that Conservative policy will not stand ten minutes close examination.

I am a recent and unlearned student of the ways of this House but I can find no warrant in its history for the idea that we should sit here, say, until eight minutes to five and then go home. I find nothing to support the idea that it has been the way of this House to neglect the close, daily, critical examination of the Ministry. People think that we have no Standing Orders, but we have. I am sorry to say that we are six short of the House of Commons: they have 112 and we have 106. But we have five excellent Appendices, on of which says that the noble Marquess shall sit and be placed on the Bishops' Bench above the Archbishop in order that he may watch the Godly reformation and Redress of All Errors and Abuses in the Church. That is the Act of Henry VIII. Whether the noble Marquess does that in his position as Lord Privy Seal or Vicegerent—I am not even sure that he still holds that office—there it is. The Standing Orders of the House of Lords contain sonic things which are operative daily. There is Standing Order No. XXI, for example, which gives everybody the right to establish himself in his position when he has laid a Motion on the Table. But many are a record of a Combative Assembly which has attempted to cover its difficulties as they arose by making rules to meet them. You find that even the social habits of the centuries are there. There are special Orders that the servants shall be free from arrest—the Peeresses will be interested to know that—and that they should not throng the precincts of this House.

There are others dealing with a variety of subjects. There is the one jewel—Standing Order No. XXVIII—which is sometimes read. It says: That all personal, sharp, or taxing speeches be forborn, and whosoever answereth another man's speech shall apply his answer to the matter without wrong to the person; and as nothing offensive is to be spoken, so nothing is to be ill-taken, if the party that speaks it shall presently make a fair exposition, or clear denial of the words that might bear any ill-construction. … I have often thought that the Standing Orders of the House of Lords would form an excellent wedding present to guide a young couple. The notion that dignified—and of course I am an admirer of dignity and quiet; I will not use the word "somnolent"—proceedings are part of the history of this House is entirely wrong. Read, for example, of the Reform Bill or of the trial of Queen Caroline. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Brougham, sat on the Woolsack—he is easily my first choice as a member of this House—arid when a noble Duke, the Duke of Buckingham, referring to him, spoke of his "potations pottle deep," he leapt from his seat and attacked him: and I think two Marquesses and one Duke and the Lord Chancellor were all trying to speak at the same time. It was not until the noble Duke explained that he was only quoting from Hamlet—I do not know whether that is so—that Lord Brougham accepted the apology and resumed his seat on the Sacks.

The noble Marquess had Standing Order No. XXVIII read on one occasion when I was speaking, and I am proud to know that Standing Order No. XXVIII (it was XV then), was moved also against Lord Brougham. In those days you could get into a House of Commons debate for 2s. 6d., but Mr. Madge, our doorkeeper, would not let you in the House of Lords for £50. There was no gallery; the people stood at the Bar—the reporters, the members of the House of Commons and the public—and there was a great crowd to hear our debates. Finally when they came to the trial of Queen Caroline they had to build a gallery. In The Times a week or two ago there was a description of the debates in the House of Lords of one hundred years ago—they did not say there was a large attendance—and there was a description of how Bills that had been sent up from the House of Commons were "chucked out," one after the other. The great days of the House of Lords, in my view, were the days when it exercised Parliamentary control. Even in my own lifetime, in the period that we call "the filling of the cup"—no doubt the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, will remember it—from 1906 to 1910, when your Lordships spent your time killing by the thousand cuts modest little Bills sent up by the Liberal Government of that day, there was no sign that this was not a Parliamentary assembly — it was a Parliamentary assembly par excellence. The question is: Has the abolition of your Lordships' right to decide, to put the thumb down on the Government, really affected the habit and power of this House, or should it affect the habit and power of this House, to exercise daily Parliamentary control? My plea is that it has not and should not, and that is the plea that I propose briefly to develop this afternoon.

First, I must deal with the great debates that have taken place in your Lordships' House. Taking the last six months, we have had a number of interesting days. We have had two or three debates on economic affairs, a housing debate, an education debate, a food production debate, a transport debate, a town planning debate, a debate on science and industry and, above all, a memorable debate on the British Broadcasting Corporation. But, important as those debates are—they bring renown to this House, but not popular acclaim, because I do not think there is popular interest in the House of Lords; it might be said, if I may make a little joke, that the Temple of our Fame rests on the columns of The Times—so far as Parliamentary control is concerned, none of those debates, with the possible exception of the debate on the B.B.C., has affected Government policy.

It is not the Parliamentary control that this House has been wont to exercise in the past, for three reasons. The first is that many of the speeches are read. People come down and read very learned papers, and they are persons with high qualifications. Then there is a set order of speeches. Imagine a horse race in which all the horses started off in one order and were all guaranteed to arrive in the same order. It would certainly lack a sporting element. The read speech is something on which this House has constantly pronounced its judgment. The earliest pronouncement which I can find on the read speech is as follows: Ordered and declared that the reading of formal speeches and answers out of papers in this House is no Parliamentary way. That was on June 16, 1641. The other one which I will read is the well-known one in the year 1936: It is declared to be alien to the custom of the House and injurious to the traditional conduct of its debates that speeches should be read. That was a Motion moved by Lord Crawford in June, 1936, and approved in that complete and unqualified form. The reason why speeches are read (and it turns this House into a lecture society; it is like going to the Bankers' Institute, the Landowners' Society or the Institute of Foreign Affairs) is that most of the speakers are afraid of your Lordships—as I am myself.

So rigid was the rule against reading, that Lord Gardiner—who I think was a great grandfather of the noble Earl—on one occasion about a hundred years ago said: "I am unaccustomed to addressing your Lordships, and I ask permission to read my speech." Permission was granted. Another noble Lord, Lord Sherbrooke, was much more open about his fears, because he said: "Speaking to the House of Lords is like addressing tombstones by torchlight." The real objection to the reading of speeches is that it deprives the occasion of its debating quality. It never has been the practice of Parliamentarians. I hesitate to quote any Member of the House of Commons, but they have sometimes arrived here late in life and I do not recollect a single one who made a practice of reading his speeches, even in important debates. M r. Bonar Law particularly was a devastating speaker, because he always appeared to speak extempore; but if he was challenged he plunged his hand into his frock coat pocket and produced what we called his "washing book" and made some reply which punctured his critics. Lord Balfour was a man who always spoke without notes, and I doubt whether the noble Earl's famous grandfather put down in writing some of the most interesting of what we used to call "Lord Salisbury's indiscretions."

We know how it works out in these debates. To use a phrase which is delicate and charming, I "pay a tribute" to these evenings for their value, but not as debates. We know what happens. A noble Lord comes down, with the intention of speaking. He establishes a short residential qualification, and he reads his speech. He remains sufficiently long, out of decent respect to those who are going to follow him. The noble Lord who follows him starts by saying: "I do not propose to follow the last speaker." He is followed by others who use the same expression, and by the time we get to what we in this place call a "late hour"—which may be anything from a quarter to six to a quarter to seven—other noble Lords who have come down, probably with very good speeches, and noble Lords who wish to attack what has been said, find that all the previous speakers have removed themselves and that there is nobody to attack. The result is that at the end of the debate the Minister has the most miserable task of all, because where the debate should mount up, where the Government should come out triumphantly in the end and knock over the ninepins, they are not there. They have taken themselves off. The Minister is apologetic, he says that the noble Lord has informed him that he is unfortunately not able to stay. He says: "I do not propose to deal with this; I have not received notice of this question," and it all peters out. It is like an elephant: the trumpeting is at one end and a miserable little tail at the other. I will not mention the forbidden words "House of Commons," but it was anything but the tradition of the House of Lords when it controlled the Governments of this country.

There is a second point about these discussions, and it is this. They are rarely relevant to current events. Again, I do not withdraw one word that I said in genuine admiration for the speeches which have been made. But see what happens. Supposing you are a member of the public. To read the paper every day is almost agony, because of the stresses in the world. Supposing you wish to hear a word from the Minister—a word of soothing, or some sort of assuagement of your anxiety—the opportunity does not exist. Let me give a calendar. In January and February there was the crisis in Egypt: Parliament was suspended there; General Templer's appointment; Mr. Churchill's visit to America; the decision to make charges for the Health Service; the mounting troubles in Korea and the Lisbon Conference. Not one of those subjects came under review in this House. It may be said that that is right. We had two discussions, one on economics and one on housing.

In March there were gathering clouds in South Africa over the Malan policy; the war in Indo-China ("War without end" said the leader in The Times); the two Germanies steadily drifting apart; the trouble in Trieste; new hope in the Sudan and the alteration in the London fares. They were never mentioned in major debate here. Your Lordships may think that right, but I am giving you the facts. We had a fine debate on education, one on cruelty to children and one on the National Health Services. I will not go through all the months, but the only occasion on which the judgment of this House was applied to the current difficulties of the day was the Foreign Affairs debate on April 9, which had been promised from January and which had waited until then. Seven days later, on April 16, Mr. Eden made his critical statement about the guarantees to the European Powers which should, of course, have come under the survey but could not because the debate did not fit in. At the end of the month we had the British Guarantee and the Resumption of Japanese sovereignty. We should have liked to hear about our attitude to European defence, the Chinese Trade disagreement and the Bamangwato troubles. In that month we discussed broadcasting, transport and science in industry.

I do not wish to give the impression that these matters about which I have spoken have gone without any consideration at all. On the contrary, we have had Government statements on Egypt, the Bamangwato, China, Korea, the Bonn Agreements and on Mr. Menzies. Due to the initiative of private members we have had one debate on Egypt. I myself, with great difficulty—I am not complaining about this, but I felt very nervous about it—raised the question of the air exercises over Egypt, and my noble leader asked for a debate on the Bamangwato question, and we had a whole day to discuss it. But these were not part of the ordinary machinery. They were special occasions which had to be sought—and remember that it is a most anxious and nervous business to ask your Lordships to depart from your ordinary procedure.

Noble Lords may ask me: "What do you propose?" I should not presume to make detailed proposals to your Lordships. I have already said that if this Motion goes to the Procedure Committee some answer may be found. I know that it is said that we are free here to do as we like. That is true, subject to the observation of a certain code. But the noble Marquess always has a silken bow string in his pocket, and woe betide the man who should oppose the wishes of the House! I wish there were a little more legitimate opportunity. For example, if we read something in the paper on Sunday or Monday and wish to get some question cleared up, we should be able to get it clear, say, by the Thursday with a Parliamentary answer, and not have to wait ten days. I suggest that possibly we could know more about the business of the House. Perhaps in addition to circulating the Blue Paper, which is official, the Chief Whip could do the courtesy of telling the House at some time what the proposed business is, so that if any noble Lord has a suggestion to make, he may make it.


The noble Viscount means on Thursday in answer to a question?


Yes. What I am really pleading for is an opportunity by which, when an urgent question comes before the public, it may be brought directly before your Lordships, and that we may have an opportunity, not for a prolonged, and not necessarily hostile, but a prompt and relevant discussion. And a discussion free from the reading of speeches. I should not venture to attempt to define what Parliamentary government means. But Parliamentary government, as I understand it, is government by men and not by papers; and the essence of it, is that you can face the man who is governing; ask him questions; see what he is doing and whether he is reliable, and know how he approaches the question at issue. All that is lost, when a man reads his speech and his only rhetorical gesture is the moistening of his finger to turn the page. Every Minister taking responsible office has to ask himself, "Am I more afraid of my Under-Secretary or of Parliament?" The written answer means that he is more afraid of his Under-Secretary. The impression given is that one is talking to the silver screen, a living picture produced by murky ruffians who hide themselves from criticism of any kind while they transmit the rays.

I know it is said that Ministers must read the answers, otherwise they may be wrong—and that is true. It is also said that members of your Lordships' House feel that they must read their speeches out of respect to the House. There is a story told—and I apply it to myself alone—about a curate who was to preach at Balmoral. The Chaplain said: "If you will keep your sermon within ten minutes the Queen will be delighted." The earnest young man replied, "But what can I possibly say in ten minutes?", to which the Chaplain answered, "What you say will have no interest whatever for Her Majesty."

On this question of the appositeness of debate, it so happens that we have at this moment the matter of the Yalu River bombing. We have the honour to have, as a member of this House, the one man who knows everything about it. I have no doubt than my noble and learned Leader will make some arrangement whereby the matter can be raised and questions asked. But the public want to know, and they want to be told by the man who knows. Even the Prime Minister's knowledge cannot be the same as that of the Minister of Defence in this matter. Yet there is not one single day between now and July 23 when, as a right, a noble Lord could put a Motion on the Order Paper. It is that type of thing which I would beg the Procedure Committee to examine. I believe that the noble Marquess's father wrote a memorandum upon this subject when he was Leader of your Lordships' House. There is nothing revolutionary about what I am suggesting. I have been a House of Commons man all my life, and I suppose that I am in spirit a House of Commons man. But there is a House of Lords; and there are things which the House of Lords, if it is to fulfil a complementary and not a competitive function, can do which the House of Commons cannot do. One of these things is to apply the magnifying glass at the right moment over a limited field, and to have criticism and observations made by those with vast experience who are members of your Lordships' House. That is one thing.

The second thing which this House possesses is the ability to decide questions on their merits, without regard to the fate of the Government. A man who is a Member of the House of Commons often has to say to himself: "I should like to do such-and-such a thing, but it would involve the death of the Government, and I must choose to preserve the life of the Government." That is quite legitimate. But that does not arise here. We cannot destroy the Government, but we can decide questions purely on their proper merits. Thirdly, perhaps the most attractive feature of this House is its respect for minority opinion. One of the most disturbing features of modern times is the elimination of independent opinion by our electoral methods. In the House of Commons now there is not one Independent Member. I am not attacking the Party system—all Parties are involved—but the evil is there. Here, there is a great respect for minority opinion. Only the other day a noble Duke made a speech in this House, a speech with which perhaps few agreed. I noticed how the noble Marquess the Leader of the House dealt with it. He made it quite clear that the noble Duke had a perfect right to express his opinion in this House. That is a precious thing; there are few Parliaments where that situation exists today, and that is an additional reason why this House should retain its ancient right to apply a timely, friendly perhaps, but critical, examination of the proceedings of the Ministers. It is in that spirit that I commend this Motion to your Lordships. beg to move for Papers.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, it occurred to me, rightly or wrongly, that it might be for the convenience of the House if I intervened early in the debate to express my views, for what they are worth, on this important topic. I think it will be generally agreed that the Motion which has been tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, for discussion to-day is one calculated to lead to an extremely interesting and stimulating debate—and, indeed, if I may say so, that is already clear. The noble Viscount has argued his case with all the charm and brilliance that we might have expected of him, and with a moderation which is entirely in keeping with the points which he wished to make. The specific aim of his speech has been to suggest certain improvements which might be made in the procedure of the House and which, in his view, would bring greater efficiency and a more vivid life to our activities. That is the specific purpose, but the speech which he has made has ranged much wider than that—and that very naturally. It was in effect, I felt, although spoken in cheerful tones, a cri du cœur.

The real truth, I think, is that, however charming a face the noble Viscount puts upon it, he has never been really completely happy in this House. He does not quite understand it, and he does not quite like it. One felt that his time here, like that of others in his situation, has been a time of exile, because the noble Viscount is, as he himself said, essentially a House of Commons man. His idea of the Parliamentary spirit, that spirit of which he has spoken so eloquently this afternoon, is really the spirit of the House of Commons, undiluted. It was in that House that he spent the great majority of his public life and that is where, spiritually, he still belongs.

Now, my Lords, the essence of the House of Commons is Party battle, the cut-and-thrust of debate. The Members of that House are elected representatives of various Parties, and their embattled forces, Government and Opposition, are marshalled against each other, face to face; and, if I may say so, they hack and slash at each other to their hearts' content. That is what the noble Viscount remembers, and it is what he really hankers after—the "Pringle and Hogg" of his wilder youth. That is the only kind of Parliamentary institution that the noble Viscount really understands. And, in however mild a way that is what he has said to-day. However charmingly he has wrapped it up, we all know from what he has said on former occasions in the heat of the debate that, in his heart of hearts, he viewed our more sedate procedure with a rather sad combination of fury and bewilderment. I must say that he has done his best to brighten us up. He is always leaping up and down in a frenzy of excitement, like a cheerleader at a baseball game; but, unhappily, he produces very little effect. His own Front Bench look slightly embarrassed, and the remainder of the House wait with urbane detachment, if I may say so, until he has finished, and then return to debate the subject before them at their own usual, measured pace. I quite see that that must be infuriating for the noble Viscount, but, honestly, I do not know what we can do to help him in his laudable attempt (if I may quote the words of an old music-hall song) to "Put a little pep into the Lord Mayor's Show."

The fact is—and it is one which he and all of us must face—that this House is not at all the same as the House of Commons: it is entirely different. It never will be the same and, in my belief, nobody—except possibly the noble Viscount and one or two others—wants it to be the same. It is not a House composed of members who have been elected to oppose each other. It is a House composed of men who have not been elected, and whose main purpose is to the best of their ability to pool their wisdom and experience for the common good. I do not say that most of us have not some sort of a Party bias—I except, of course, those noble Lords who sit over there upon the Cross Benches. Everybody knows that, broadly speaking, we belong either to the Right or to the Left. After all, that is only human nature. But our main purpose in this Chamber, I repeat, as we have all seen again and again, is not merely to attack our political opponents, to criticise the Government or whatever it may be, but to make some sort of constructive contribution to the solution of the particular problem confronting the House. Even in the comparatively short time that I have been in this House, there have been a number of occasions when there has not been any disagreement between noble Lords in any part of the House on the subject under discussion. That must be utterly abhorrent to the noble Viscount, but that is the great strength of this House, and that is what makes it so greatly respected in the country as it is at the present time. Whenever any of us departs from that attitude, whenever we revert to our earlier House of Commons manner, in my experience everybody is considerably shocked.

I remember myself making a speech at the beginning of this Parliament in the debate on the Address when I made what I thought was a well-merited attack upon the record and policy of the late Government—and what happened? The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, at once got up from the Opposition Bench and, in a tone of very pained surprise, rebuked me sharply on the ground—I quote this for the benefit of the noble Viscount—that I "knew the House wished to discuss these matters in the national, rather than in a Party spirit." Like the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, I served an apprenticeship, though not so long an apprenticeship, in the House of Commons, and I do not at all mind the cut-and-thrust of debate, on appropriate occasions, when the two sides of the House happen to disagree more or less violently; but I should be very sorry to see as a general rule our present broad approach to public affairs replaced by what I may describe as the unbridled atmosphere of an all-in wrestling match. That would not suit us: it would not be a success. It might brighten us, it is true, but it would not improve us. We must always remember that, apart from everything else, what is said here is read outside, in the outside world. I am sure that the noble and learned Earl, the Leader of the Opposition will agree with me that that is always in all our minds in anything we say, particularly about foreign or Imperial affairs. We always guard our words and take great trouble to do so. I have sometimes felt that in that particular respect the noble Viscount's approach is not quite so successful, if I may put it that way.

I do not by any means say that all the detailed suggestions that he has made to your Lordships this afternoon—and very interesting they were—are necessarily bad. If he will forgive my saying so, I think some are based on a little misunderstanding of the difficulties that occur. He will remember a private notice Question which he sought to ask, as he has mentioned this afternoon, upon an air exercise in Egypt. I think he felt that there had been dilatoriness on the part of the Government in failure to afford him an opportunity to ask that Question on a matter of urgent importance. I can assure him that that was not intended. The difficulty was that it was a matter of considerable delicacy. The Foreign Office had to be consulted, the Air Ministry had to be consulted and, with the best will in the world, we could not get the answer for him at the time when it was needed. I should have thought that that was the only case that had occurred within recent years where there has been a difficulty about a private notice Question. I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, was of the greatest assistance in that respect to ourselves when we formed the Opposition, and I personally have always tried to be the same, and shall continue to be so.

Equally, however, if I understood the noble Viscount correctly, I am not in entire agreement with him that we should get on better if, instead of having lists of speakers drawn up beforehand, we allowed speakers to get up and address the House whenever they could catch—whose eye? I do not quite know. There is no Speaker here as in another place, and I feel that that particular procedure would in any case be impossible. I do not think that the system which we have adopted over a period of years works unsatisfactorily. In any case, all noble Lords who wish to speak can do so in this House—and that is not true of Members in another place that I can name, It is perfectly correct, as the noble Viscount says, that there is a tendency for noble Lords to melt away before the end of a debate. That is true, and I regret it as much as he does. I think that all of us who sit on the Front Benches and who have as one of our responsibilities to see that there is an adequate attendance in your Lordships' House, regret it immensely when we find that the attendance is gradually dwindling before our very eyes. But I do not think that any suggestion put forward by the noble Viscount this afternoon would necessarily alter that problem. That is a matter for us who have the responsibility of leading the Parties to try to bring pressure or persuasion on our followers.

With his suggestion that we should, if I understood him, try to encourage debates on urgent matters more than we do at present, broadly speaking, I am in entire agreement. It is true that we usually have a Monday that we can spare, and on a special occasion—the noble Viscount referred to it this afternoon—when the Bamanewato Tribe came into great public notice and there was a desire for a debate in this House, I was only too ready immediately to fix the debate for the following Monday. That can always be done if we have a free day, whether the subject is the Yalu River or any other one of topical importance. If by further examination we could find any way by which the debate of urgent matters can be expedited, I can assure the noble Viscount that I should be the first to support him. No doubt there are other matters which can be explored at the same time.

The noble Viscount referred to some announcement on a Thursday of the business for the following week. I think that that is a very good suggestion, if it is practical, and it is a matter which certainly should be considered further. That would probably apply, to numbers of other points which he or other noble Lords might raise. Fortunately, in this House we have a Committee on Procedure which was created for this very purpose and which numbers amongst its members noble Lords with long experience of Parliamentary affairs. I entirely agree with the noble Viscount that it would be an excellent plan to submit to this Committee the proposals he has made this afternoon, and indeed any others that he sees fit to make to them; they can then consider those suggestions and report to your Lordships. In that way these proposals will receive the attention which they undoubtedly deserve and, so far as they serve the practical convenience of the House, the noble Viscount will not find any of us in any part of the House hostile or even obstructive. But, my Lords, if his purpose is—as I thought I detected in the general body of his speech—to change the character of this House, to remould it according to ideas which he absorbed in his earlier years in another place, I feel bound to tell him here and now that I think it most unlikely that suggestions of this character will be acceptable. We should, if I may say such a thing, be merely butchering ourselves to make a Stansgate holiday; and, with all deference to the noble Viscount, I hardly think that would be worth while.

There remains one point which the noble Viscount just referred to sketchily in his speech; but there I believe he has really put his finger on the spot, on the real cause of the deterioration of our debates, though I must confess he did not himself come to that conclusion. In spite of what he said in his brilliant remarks, I remain profoundly convinced that one of the main reasons, and perhaps the main reason, why our debates are not quite up to the level which they used to reach in the old days—


Who says that? That will be challenged.


I think the noble Lord ought to allow me to make the point, and I suggest that at a later time when he is speaking he should reply to it. Unless he has thought-transference he cannot yet realise exactly what the point is. What I was going to say was that one of the main reasons, and perhaps the main reason, why our debates have not the vitality which they used to have in the days of Brougham and other noble Lords to whom the noble Viscount referred this afternoon, is to be found in the gradual but steady extinction of our powers. I believe that that has played a very large part. The noble Viscount talked with gusto of Bills being "chucked out," here, there, and everywhere in those great days. He mentioned the wild excitement which existed on those occasions. But we cannot "chuck them out" now. That is what made the vitality, that is what made the excitement and what made this a real legislative Second Chamber. The more our powers are pruned, the more this House inevitably becomes less of a legislative Chamber and more of a debating society. That is a fact that noble Lords opposite as well as we on this side of the House must realise. I believe that to be profoundly true, and I suggest that if the noble Viscount really wants to bring more life into this House, he should support a moderate—of course an extremely moderate—restoration of our powers. If the noble Viscount will consider this matter objectively, I hope and think that we on this side of the House may obtain a really doughty ally and champion, when next the vexed question of the reform of the House of Lords comes before Parliament.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords. I am not going to occupy your Lordships' time for more than a few minutes. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House said that I am somewhat embarrassed when my noble friend rises to his feet. Well, I take no responsibility for Lord Stansgate, now or at any other time. But I frankly confess that there is no one whose speeches I enjoy more, and there is no one whose private conversation stimulates me more and gives me more idea of my own shortcomings and other people's transgressions than does Lord Stansgate's. Long may Lord Stansgate be with us to enliven us! If only we had more Lord Stansgates in all parts of the House, how much more lively our debates would be!

My Lords, for the rest, I want to say this: that whilst not committing myself to any of the details of the proposals, I am glad that the noble Marquess concurs in the idea, which I think is obviously the right one, that this whole matter Should be remitted to the Committee on Procedure in order that they may go through the various ideas and see what is good and what is not good. I agree with the noble Marquess the Leader of the House—and I think I also agree with Lord Stansgate, because I do not think he queried it—that it would be quite foolish for us to try to make ourselves a sort of miniature House of Commons. We must, in the very nature of things, be different. We must be different, for one thing, because we have no Speaker. You cannot have the cut and thrust of debate, you cannot have the system of Parliamentary Questions, and that sort of thing, unless you have someone whose ruling must be obeyed. Of course, in the old phrase, the Lord Chancellor is the King's man. He is not, as is the Speaker, an Officer of the House, elected by the House themselves and a member of the House. The whole thing is quite different, and that must make a profound difference. On the other hand, I think the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, is quite right in asking: Is there nothing we can do, within the setting of our existing powers, to make ourselves more effective as a debating Chamber?

For my part, I will say that there are two great troubles about our debates. First, I think that as a general rule the speeches are too long. I believe our debates would be greatly improved if the speeches were shorter. I am sure I am one of the offenders and I will try to improve. Secondly, I think that our debates would be much better if speeches were not read. I am not going to mention any names at all, but it seems to me that we have had illustrations (to put it vaguely), over the last year or so, of people getting up and reacting their speeches, which absolutely kills debates in this House. One cannot, of course, generalise. Ministers may have to make important statements on foreign affairs or something of that sort, where every word must count, and in such cases no one would be critical of a Minister reading the precise words. I hope that: we shall be able to do something in that direction.

I believe it to be the fact that our debates are highly regarded in the country, yet I think we should be living in a fool's paradise if we did not realise that.—I suppose owing to the shortage of newsprint—our debates are not reported in any paper, except perhaps some of the bigger papers, such as The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Manchester Guardian, and there are large masses of the public who probably do not know that any such place as this exists at all. Of course, if I were to hit the noble Marquess the Leader of the House over the head with a water bottle and he retaliated, that would be in every paper in the country, but obviously we cannot do that in order to get our- selves in the papers. On the other hand, if we could enliven our debates a little, if we could get some more of the cut and thrust of debate, we should perhaps find our way into the other papers. That is all I want to say. I am very glad that the Leader of the House has taken the line which he has taken. I think it is all to the good that this suggestion of Lord Stansgate, and other suggestions which he may make r which may be made in the course of this debate, should be considered by the Committee on Procedure.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I have not spoken in this House for over three years, and I am afraid I am rather a back number. I hope that I shall not be accused by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, of establishing a temporary residential qualification, for, as some of your Lordships know, I do not live here now but in the Republic over the water. I intervene only because I have been a member of this House for twenty-eight years, and for over twenty of those I was a pretty constant attendant, including fourteen years at a stretch—which I think is almost a record—on the Bench below me. I have been a Member of the Households of three Sovereigns, and in my time have answered, at one time or another, for nearly every Government Department. They never entrusted me with the task of replying for the Foreign Office—the Leader of the House probably knew better than that—but I think that I answered for every other Department, and I had to know something about the procedure of the House.

I was very surprised to hear from the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate—my noble friend the Leader of the House has referred to this point—that he was apparently complaining that this House had not the vitality and the powers which it had a hundred years ago. Those powers —I do not say rightly or wrongly; I have my own opinion about that—were destroyed by the noble Viscount's former Party. It is curious to hear those words from him now. The noble Viscount who has brought forward this Motion was a distinguished Member of another place. I wish that I had been a Member of another place also, but that advantage was denied to me. It has always seemed to me, from my observation on the few occasions when I am here and from reading the reports of the noble Viscount's speeches at other times, that somehow or other he does not like the procedure of this House. He is always comparing it to the procedure of the House of Commons, to the disadvantage of this House. Most Peers who have come here from another place settle down fairly quickly to your Lordships' customs and procedure. Not so the noble Viscount.

In order to show what I mean, I am going to refer, in quite a friendly way, because I think it is necessary, to various remarks which the noble Viscount has made during the past few months. Not long ago I read in Hansard for April 4, that he complained to my noble friend the Chief Whip that the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill had been, I think he said, furtively and secretly introduced and read a first time in this House. I really do not know what the noble Viscount is complaining about. The Bill, I believe. was brought up on a Friday. Notice is always given by my noble friend, probably a day or two days before, that there is going to be a special session on a Friday and that Bills are going to be brought up; so anyone can be here who wants to be. Even if the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill—or Act, as it now is—was not specifically referred to, the noble Viscount is, as I know an avid reader of Parliamentary debates, both in the Press and in Hansard, and he would know that the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill must be coming up. So I do not see what he had to complain about in that regard.

Then, on April 8, he said during the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill that it was impossible to work in this House. I profoundly disagree. I should have thought that of all Assemblies in the world this House is the easiest place in which to work. To start with, in spite of all our Standing Orders we have very few rules. You can do almost anything in this House; there are only one or two things which you cannot do. One thing you cannot do is to pass between the Woolsack and the Table when the mace is on the Woolsack. Another thing is that a lay Peer is not supposed to speak from the Bishops' Benches. But even those rules are broken sometimes. I have often seen Peers performing gymnastic feats over the Woolsack, in order to reach a friend on the other side. I remember very well about twenty years ago the late Lord Denbigh making an impassioned speech from the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was taken to task about it by Lord Donoughmore who was occupying the Woolsack, but the mischief was done and the speech was made. Only the other day there took place a most unusual procedure. On May 13 my noble friend the Leader of the House, when the Committee stage of the Health Services Bill had been passed without amendment, somehow created a Report stage when, by rights, there should not have been one. I read the account of this in my distant home across the water and I must say I was rather shocked. I did not know how the noble Marquess did it. I could not understand the procedure. I was relieved to see that my noble friend himself said that he also found it rather difficult to understand.

In my young days there used to be a celebrated conjuror, Mr. David Devant, who no doubt has entertained many of your Lordships. He used to appear in most wonderful evening clothes and with a wand—without which, of course, no respectable conjuror ever appears. He performed the most wonderful tricks and at the end of each trick he used to say: "That is how it is done." I can almost picture the noble Marquess, suitably attired, saying to your Lordships: "Here's a Bill that has gone through without amendment. There is no Report stage, but I propose in a week's time to create one. And that is how it is done." The point is that all this was done to oblige especially the noble Viscount and other noble Lords opposite. So, there is really almost no limit to what you can do under the procedure of this House.

There were certain words in the speech of the noble Viscount with which I must say I agree. I agree with what he said about reading speeches. I think that that is a very reprehensible habit. But I think there is some excuse for the reading of speeches on the part of Ministers, especially on the part of those Ministers who are Under-Secretaries or Members of the Royal Household. I see my noble friend the Chief Whip below me, and Lord Lloyd. I always used to find it very difficult in the circumstances in which I was placed to avoid reading.

I remember one afternoon being called upon to make three speeches for Government Departments—two, I think, were for the Board of Trade, and one was for the Post Office. I have only a limited amount of intelligence and brain and I really could not master three speeches to "spout" straight off. I read them, unfortunately—very nearly all of them—to the great disgust of my dear old friend the late Lord Fitzalan who was sitting just behind me.

I fully agree about the advantage of independent opinion in this House. I think it is a most excellent thing that it should exist. With regard to the list of speakers, I do not think any better system than the one we have now could be devised. We must have a list. Drawing it up is a most invidious task for the Chief Whip to have to perform and I often suffered in this connection myself. You make all kinds of enemies—though only temporary ones I hope. In this House, where we have no Speaker, I do not see how we can very well do without such a list.

I do not wish to detain the House further. I have thought fit to make these few remarks, and although I have spoken in a light vein at times, I realise the seriousness of this debate on the procedure of this House. That procedure has come down to us from past generations and it is a very precious thing. It is based on the underlying ideas that all Peers in this House are equal and that people play the game—which they nearly always do. As regards Peers being equal, no one was more vehement about that than the respected father of my noble friend who now leads the House. Both in public and in private conversation he used always to emphasise the fact that Peers were equal. Even the seat on which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor sits is only on a level with the other seats in this House. I would remind the noble Viscount, as regards our procedure, that a few years ago a tribute was paid to this House—I think it was when the Parliament Bill was going through—by no less a person than Mr. Herbert Morrison. He went out of his way to say that he very much admired the procedure on Bills when they were in Committee We are promised a Committee later to consider the position and powers of this House. Whatever may be decided in connection with those two masters, I beg the noble Marquess the Leader of the House and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and other noble Lords who are keen on House of Lords reform, do not touch procedure. You may think that you will get a better and more efficient system by bringing in innovations such as those demanded by the noble Viscount, but in my opinion you will not. Though I may be thought to be hopelessly retrograde in this matter, to those who wish to touch the procedure of the House I would echo the words of a Prime Minister of last century: "Why won't you let it alone?"

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome the intervention of my noble friend from across the water. Lord Templemore. It is most regrettable that he has not spoken for three years. We are glad to hear him this afternoon and I hope we shall hear him more often in future. For some time he and I formed what are called "the usual channels." I was Chief Whip of a small but brilliant Opposition, in which were men like the late Lord Sankey, Sidney Webb (Lord Passfield), Lord Ponsonby and the late Earl Russell—it was a brilliant Opposition. The noble Lord was always conciliatory and kind to us in representing the massed cohorts of wicked reactionaries behind him. I intervene in this debate because ever since I became a member of your Lordships' House, some seventeen years ago, I have been a member of the Procedure Committee, and I have seen the introduction of innovations like the Starred Questions, which have been of advantage, while we have not yet attempted anything large. I hope that after my noble friend's speech we shall have an opportunity of looking at these matters again. I also have a constructive suggestion to make that has not yet been made in this debate but which I think is practicable and possible.

First of all I want to give to the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, a friendly and amicable warning. He must watch his health. He is showing signs of being more than his age. His intelligence is extremely alert and he is a younger man than I, but when he begins to say that our debates are deteriorating, that they are not what they were, that is a sign of premature old age. It is like the man—


My Lords—


Let me finish. I will give way in a moment. It is like the man who says that Punch is not as good as it was. Now I will give way with great pleasure.


My Lords, I should hate to make any criticism of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, but the point I was trying to make was that he said that the debates were deteriorating. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, will not accuse the noble Viscount of senile decay. I should greatly regret that.


The noble Viscount was making his case. The noble Marquess ventured to make a temperate and courteous intervention when the noble Viscount was speaking. He said—and I took down his words—that "the debates have deteriorated." Of course the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, says that too. But for that to come from the noble Marquess the leader of the Conservative Party, is heresy. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and I sometimes compare notes about the great actresses who adorned the stage in our youth, and we are in complete agreement on this point: that the modern actresses have not the charm, the intelligence—




—or the beauty of the actresses of our youth.


The noble Lord must not misrepresent me on an even more important question. I am equally in love with all.


I forgot that the noble Viscount has been mixed up with the film industry in an official capacity. Perhaps the modern vintage of film stars make up the lack.

The other complaint I make most emphatically, and I hope that I shall be supported by other noble Lords with independence of mind, is the growing habit of responsible Ministers of rising immediately after the first speaker in a debate. We have had a recent example of this in the case of the noble Lord. Lord Woolton. To-day, oblivious of any other noble Lord who might wish to speak, the noble Marquess spoke second, and we do not know whether there is to be any other reply from the Government. I think that is monstrous. What I say may not be of importance, but we have since had a most important contribution from the Leader of the Opposition and a most interesting and useful contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Templemore, who has had great experience and success as a Parliamentarian.


My Lords, I do not wish to interrupt the noble Lord but, as he knows, there have been cases during recent months and weeks where the Opposition have asked most strenuously for the exposition of a Bill, whatever it may be, by a responsible spokesman of Her Majesty's Government in the early stages of a debate. What we have tried to do, in order to meet this difficult situation, is to arrange that the main speech from the Government Bench is made in the earlier stages, so that the House has material to debate; and the debate is then replied to at the end by an Under-Secretary. I do not think there has been a case where there has been only one speech for the Government and no Government reply at the end—I speak subject to correction. We have done that, if the noble Lord will believe me, in order to help the Opposition, in order that they should have an exposition of the Bill or White Paper in the earlier stages. I warn the noble Lord that I am proposing to do that in our debate on Central African Federation on Tuesday next.


The noble Marquess can intervene as much as he likes. I always give way to him and he always gives way to me. What happens to the critical qualities of this House? What happens to the value of criticism and of cross-examining Ministers, which is part of Parliament, as the noble Viscount has said? That is the point which the noble Marquess the Leader of the House completely missed in the speech of my noble friend.


My Lords, will the noble Lord be good enough to run his memory back to the number of cases when he, as a Member of another place, complained of having to carry on a debate in the absence of any information from the Minister. What is the answer?


That was usually on a Supply day, which is a very different situation. I wish that we had something like the Committee of Supply in this House, without control of Supply, of course. That is one of the suggestions I am going to make. In another place, a member of the same Department can reply at the end of a debate. Take the Admiralty, for example. The noble Earl will bear me out that often the First Lord will give a reply to the Opposition speaker who raises the first question on Supply. Then the Civil Lord or the Financial Secretary will reply at the end. In this particular case, when no departmental question was raised, I think for once the noble Marquess has treated the House with less than his usual consideration, in not listening first to the contribution of the noble and learned Earl, who had something of weight and importance to say. The noble Marquess is at present the guardian of the House. He prides himself on his own cherishing and safeguarding of the House and our privileges and rights—and we all admit he does—but on this occasion I think he might have listened to some of the other speeches before making his own.

I have two practical suggestions to make. I think there is a great deal to be said for the present system of arranging lists of speakers. I believe that it is for the convenience of the House and that it meets our peculiar conditions. In Committee we do not have that and there we have some of the cut-and-thrust of debate which, I agree with my noble friend, is the very life-blood of Parliament. But why cannot we make more use of the Adjournment? It is possible to raise a question on the Motion, That the House do now adjourn. I have used that; I think my noble friend has, and other noble Lords have. However, it is not customary in this House, as it is in the other place. When there is a matter of urgency which has exercised the other place, and possibly the whole country and the whole world, it might be advisable to raise that matter in your Lordships' House. Under our programme system it is difficult to do that But by giving notice—and, after all, it does not take long to get the information from the. Government Department concerned—perhaps on the next day, if not on the same day, it would be possible for us to have a quick debate on the Adjournment Motion. In that sort of debate I should not have an arranged list of speakers, and any noble Lord should be able to rise and make a speech. We have a mutual arrangement, which works very well, by which we give way to each other, and that could be done. We could have a debate which would be short, and noble Lords could bring up questions of vital and urgent importance.

We are living in troubled times. We must all be disturbed and exercised, not by the deterioration of the speeches in your Lordships' House but by the deterioration in the world political and economic situation; and maters of emergency which affect the future of this country and our people should be raised. We may well be neglecting our duty, and be oblivious of our privileges, if we fail to raise matters of that urgency, as soon as possible, in this House as well as in the other place. That is a suggestion which I think might well be considered: of raising these matters, not frequently but when necessary, on the Adjournment Motion, with perhaps an agreed time of, say, forty minutes, or something of that sort, which would necessarily mean that the speeches would be short. With regard to the question of the length of speeches, I am glad that this matter has been raised again. Some speeches are never too long: my noble friend himself spoke for thirty-five minutes to-day, but I am sure that your Lordships all wish it had been longer. But, generally speaking, in a long debate, with many Peers wishing to speak, the long speech is an abuse of the procedure of this House. I can only suggest that the Whips should do what they can to bring their influence to bear.

On the question of reading speeches, I have a great deal of sympathy with noble Lords who read their speeches. I should probably make far better speeches myself if I got somebody else to write them for me. I have known noble Lords of great eminence and worth, and occupying high posts as Ministers in your Lordships' House, who could not be trusted to make speeches without a brief. They were probably either incapable, or could not be trusted with the responsibility, of making any considered statement unless they read every word meticulously from the official brief. Such noble Lords are admirable people in other respects, and I have great sympathy with them. But I wish noble Lords who are going to read their speeches would rehearse them the night before in front of their wives and that their wives would time them. The written speech is usually too long.

This matter will come before the Committee on Procedure, and I think there has emerged from this debate material which is well worthy of attention. I hope that the attitude, when the findings of the Committee come before your Lordships, will not be that nothing must be altered in your Lordships' House. That, if I may say so, would be a mistake. I believe that there is a great deal—if I may say so, with great respect, to a man who has had more experience in the other House than I have—in what my noble friend Lord Stansgate has said, and I am disappointed that the noble Marquess missed the point of his remarks.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I rise only to put one point that I think has been lost sight of by those noble Lords who have said that we ought to have an alternative to the Adjournment Motion. After all, we have the possibility of using something which is extraordinarily like it. It is quite true that a Member in the other place may have the chance of taking a subject on the adjournment the same night. I do not mean the case of moving the adjournment of the House to call attention to a matter of urgent and public importance—how we could have the equivalent of that here I do not know, because if there is no Speaker, there is nobody to rule whether a matter is of urgent and public importance.


We could do it by arrangement.


Perhaps I may be allowed to say what I have in mind. That is not a new procedure at all. In this House, if it has been decided to debate a matter urgently, it has always been done by arrangement between the two Front Benches, either, as we have done on several occasions recently, by sitting on a Monday to debate it, or, by mutual arrangement between both sides, arranging that a Motion on the Paper which would have taken precedence should be postponed in order that the other subject should be discussed. I think the noble Lord is rather underrating how flexible and convenient is the access through the usual channels. I think it can generally be arranged.

There is the procedure which we have, and the other place have not, of putting down an unstarred Question—I do not mean a Question for a Written Answer, but an unstarred Question. The noble Lord who puts the Question down explains in a short speech—and the tradition of the House is that the speech should be short on these occasions—the matter he wants to raise. Then any other noble Lord who desires can speak, and the responsible Minister answers. That is a convenient procedure. It comes at the end of other business, of course, but it seems to me to meet the case where an urgent matter has arisen to which some noble Lord wishes to draw attention. If the Question it is desired to put is handed in before the House rises, or even after the House has risen, it appears on the Order Paper the next day; and, therefore, with twelve hours' notice, a matter can be raised, a short debate can take place and an answer can be given. I thought it useful to remind the House of that, because I think that that procedure, which is not new but which has been used a good deal in this House during the time I have been here, meets a dual purpose: it is the equivalent of an Adjournment Motion, and it enables a noble Lord to question a responsible Minister at short notice on a matter which is urgent or is of topical interest.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, it is unnecessary for me to say much more. First of all, I should like to take up the question of the powers of this House. If the noble Marquess means that the House of Lords is in a huff and will not exercise its critical qualities until it gets back the ball, my answer is that it will not get the ball back. My purpose was to examine what could be done through the limited powers which the House of Lords has, and within limits which we intend to maintain if we can. Otherwise, I am grateful to the noble Marquess for the spirit in which he spoke, for the willingness he showed and for the suggestions he made. I am also grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, for what he said. I have thought of the unstarred Question. I thought it might be awkward because it comes at the end of the day, and people do not know how long it will last. But I am grateful for the spirit in which he made the suggestion, and, if the Motion I propose to substitute is carried, it will, of course, be duly considered.

Generally speaking, as regards our freedom here, one of my purposes was to get the noble Marquess to give a sort of cover or warrant to these technical adventures. I myself have made little adventures in the proceedings of this House, but I have felt like Bluebeard's wife: I have wandered about and every door appears to have been opened. But you never know when the fatal door will face you. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, is not here at the moment, because he will remember something happening in 1926 which was pretty rigid. It was on the Closure, when the Lord Chancellor declared that it was not a debatable Motion. Lord Russell raised the question a fortnight later and there was a very interesting debate. It was in 1926. Lord Arnold, Lord Russell and Lord Haldane, who was leading the Labour Party, spoke, and the Lord Chancellor made a speech. What was very interesting was a speech by Lord Ullswater, a man of unique experience, but unfortunately tainted by having been Speaker of the House of Commons. He objected to the course which the Government were taking, but he was overruled. I mention this only because behind the charm of the noble Marquess exists some pretty severe powers for offenders. I am only anxious to know what is the legitimate way in which a right-minded person should behave. If I may, I should like to amend the Motion I have moved in some such way as this: That the Record of this debate be referred to the Select Committee on the Procedure of the House. I think that is what the noble Marquess agreed. As regards the temper of the debate, I am sorry but I did my very best to behave. I came here intending to be Little Lord Fauntleroy and the noble Marquess calls me Jack Cade. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Moved, That the Record of the debate of this day be referred to the Select Committee on the Procedure of the House.—(Viscount Stansgate.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.