§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, like others of your Lordships who have taken part in the discussion on the Motion moved by the noble Marquess, Lord Exeter, I have felt a great deal of sympathy with his object, though I doubt whether the object can be achieved by the means he proposes. The object he has in view would both remove from this House a reproach which is often exploited, and contribute to the efficiency of our own action. But there seem to me to be two difficulties in the way of adopting this proposal. The proposal is that we should make a Standing Order which prevents a Peer from voting in the House if he does not fulfil certain conditions depending on his past attendances. I ask myself the question: Would not such a Standing Order have the result of cutting down the rights granted to a Peer by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative? A Patent of Peerage confers on the recipient the right to vote as a legislative Peer, and the Writ of Summons calls on him to attend and discharge his duties as a Peer of Parliament. Subject to what the Lord Chancellor may tell us, I should have thought that a Standing Order which would restrict his right to vote would therefore be in conflict with the rights and the duties imposed upon him by the Crown. Of course, if that is so, then such a restriction could be imposed only by a Statute to the consideration of which the Crown had given its Royal permission.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
May I interrupt the noble Viscount? Of course, the Writ of Summons only summons a Peer to give his counsel. It says nothing about voting.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
That is true. Still, I should have thought that the traditions of the House were that the House gave its counsel collectively and, in case of a difference of opinion, by a vote. However, that is a matter upon which no doubt my noble and learned friend, the Lord Chancellor, will tell us his view. I am not in the least opposed to the idea behind the proposal, but I question whether it is one which can be reconciled with our constitutional rules.
Secondly, on the merits of the proposal itself, there is a second objection which is of a practical kind and which I would venture to mention. The difficulty that would arise is that, under this proposal, a Peer could qualify for the enjoyment of a future voting right by a merely nominal attendance—by coming into the House, being registered at the Table as present at a sitting for a few minutes and then, without giving any attention to what was going on, disappearing again. Some provision to meet that case would. I think, have to be contemplated. May I be permitted to mention an analogy? In the palmy days of the Parliamentary Bar, busy King's Counsel were often briefed to appear for or against a number of Private Bills which were being considered contemporaneously in various Committee rooms along the Committee Corridor. The rule used to be that a leading counsel was not entitled to what was called his "refresher"—that is to say, to a payment of ten guineas for any day after the first day in connection with a Bill in which he was engaged—unless on that day he actually appeared in the Committee room and took part. I recall that it used to be said that a particular practitioner, who was exceptionally occupied in the Committees, earned his refresher by merely turning up in the Committee room for a few minutes and intervening, and that his clerk then made good his claim to a refresher by pointing to his intervention in the shorthand notes of the proceedings—"My Lords, may we have the window open?", or whatever it might be. We certainly do not want to encourage the practical disregard of the object which the noble Marquess very 29 rightly aims at by a mere formal satisfaction of the rule laid down. I think that is a difficulty, and I do not at present see that it is met by this proposal. On the constitutional point we shall, of course, all want to hear what the Lord Chancellor has to say. But I see considerable difficulties in reconciling the proposed Standing Order with the Royal Prerogative which is the basis of a Patent of Peerage.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ LORD SCHUSTER
My Lords, it may very well be that your Lordships think that this subject has now been sufficiently debated and that it is not right that I should delay your further proceedings, whatever it is you wish to do—proceed to the Lobbies or otherwise. But I have crossed swords with my noble friend Lord Exeter in another room in this place on this subject so often that I feel I should be cowardly if I did not take up the gage which he has thrown on the Floor here this afternoon. The whole purport of my remarks amount really to an entreaty to him not to press this matter to a Division. To me, personally, such an action would be extremely embarrassing, for I have for so many years benefited by the knowledge, experience and wise counsel of the noble Marquess that it would be a grief to me to vote against any Motion which he laid before the House. I think it would be an embarrassment to us all.
May I again interpose a personal note to say that I am in favour of the object at which the noble Marquess aims? It is no doubt desirable that we should have something instead of this glass window at which other people can throw stones. I do not think it is possible that this Resolution can form the basis for our protection. It is, in the first place, open to criticism in its terms. It takes no account of the services rendered by those noble Lords who, though they may not be often in this Chamber, do serve elsewhere in this building on Private Bill Committees, on the House of Lords Offices Committee, on Joint Consolidation Committees, on Standing Orders Committee, and in many other ways. Secondly, it takes no account of those noble Lords who ought not to attend frequently. On occasion we have the great benefit of hearing the advice of great Service chiefs, who certainly ought 30 not to intervene in any way, either by speech or vote, when general political matters are under discussion. We have the advantage from lime to time of great lawyers, other than the Lord Chancellor, whose advice on law and order is desirable and helpful, but who ought not, in my view—and I think in the general view of your Lordships'House—to intervene except when such matters as that come before the House.
Beyond that—if I may venture in the presence of my noble and learned friend, Lord Simon, to say so—I take a strong view of the constitutional doctrine which has been laid down by both the noble Marquess and the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. I should like your Lordships to consider how it is that a Peer comes to sit here. He receives a Writ if he comes here as the object of a first creation, and takes it by right. If he claims on the death of his father or other relation, he applies for the Writ to be issued, and the Writ must be issued ex debito justitiœ. The Lord Chancellor once satisfied, the claim is justified and the Writ is issued. Thus many Lord Chancellors in succession have laid down.
He comes, therefore, on his Writ, and, having done so, he has certain privileges and duties which he has to exercise and discharge—summed up briefly in the words "seat, place and voice." Those are privileges conferred by the Prerogative of the Sovereign; and this House, of itself, cannot by Resolution deprive a person who has come here on such a Writ of the right to exercise the duties conferred on him by a Patent. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, appears to think—and I have heard it suggested before, though I cannot think it has been suggested seriously—that "voice" means the power to make the kind of noise which I am making at this moment. But it does not. It means the power to vote, and it is so accepted universally by all persons who have studied these subjects. We cannot, therefore, by any sort of complicated and special-pleading argument, take away the right to vote from the Peer who comes to sit here.
That is really all I want to say, except that I repeat again that I have tried to persuade the noble Marquess, Lord Exeter, before and have failed. Perhaps I have failed this afternoon; but I 31 again entreat him not to put us to this embarrassment and to remember that when proposals for the reform of this House or for other grave alterations in the Constitution of this country are to be brought before either House, they should be brought by the Government of the day, with full responsibility. They should be brought, not in the form of vague Resolutions to which some other Committee has to give effect, but in the form of proposals for legislation—in this case or in any cases which affect the Royal Prerogative, strengthened by a sense of governmental responsibility. They should, indeed, be watched over by governmental responsibility at every stage of their progress until at last they reach the Statute Book. We ought not to discuss these great matters in any other form. Certainly we ought not to try to make any great alteration in the constitutional position of this House and every Member of it, merely on what I must, with great respect, regard as a misconceived notion of the powers which this House has to discharge.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, when I came into the Chamber I had no intention of taking part in this debate, but now that I have listened to it there are one or two observations which I should like to make. It seems to me that almost every noble Lord who has taken part in this discussion has more or less taken the view that the objectives of the noble Marquess's Motion are very desirable but that unfortunately it is not practical politics. And I desire, therefore, to say that, unlike most noble Lords, I regard the noble Marquess's Motion with very grave misgivings. As I understand it, it is an attempt to introduce—rather as the noble Lord, Lord Schuster, has just suggested, by a by-path—an instalment of that rationalisation of your Lordships' Chamber which the present Government, like so many previous Governments, have attempted, but failed, to introduce.
Well, my Lords, I am one of that, I am afraid, diminishing number of British citizens and members of this House who passionately believe that, like many other British institutions, your Lordships' House, while totally indefensible in theory, works extraordinarily well in practice. In theory, I know, a horde of 32 "Backwoodsmen" might descend at some critical juncture and outvote the regular denizens of the Chamber. But we all know that in practice they will not. As the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury reminded us, they did not come in 1948. They were offered repeated temptations to come between 1945 and 1950, but they did not come. I suggest to your Lordships that, in a country so long denuded of forests, the outmoded expression "Backwoodsmen" is suggestive of the outmoded idea behind it.
I know that in theory, in the theory at least of all the demagogues who are throwing stones at the glass house of which we have heard so much to-day, this is an over-numerous, unwieldy, hereditary Chamber, many of whose Members are poorly qualified for the business of legislation. But we all know that, in practice, it is an extraordinarily efficient and distinguished working nucleus, capable, when needed, of calling into its counsels—and its voting Lobbies—persons of the highest authority and the widest experience. I have always believed that it was one of the merits of this Chamber that it did not, like another place, keep a large number of more or less professional politicians permanently penned in the airless, artificial atmosphere of politics and the Division Lobby; and that it owed its efficiency largely to the fact that it was potentially capable of calling in the authoritative expert, who is probably too busy attending to important matters elsewhere to register the routine attendance with which Lord Exeter wishes him to qualify to come and vote when the matter upon which he is an expert happens to be under discussion in this Chamber.
Would your Lordships wish a Bishop from a northern diocese to come here and "clock in" five or six times before he is qualified to vote on, say, unemployment in the North, should that subject come under discussion in your Lordships' House? For I do not agree with the suggestion in Lord Exeter's speech, and the speeches of other noble Lords this afternoon, that it is perfectly satisfactory to summon some Air-Marshal or Archbishop to give advice, like an expert witness who is not allowed to vote on the issue before the House. It seems to me that the position of an expert witness is very different from that of a Peer who is seeking to persuade your Lordships to 33 take a certain view, and then goes with you into the Lobby when the debate comes to an end.
Last autumn I had the honour of moving in your Lordships' House an inconspicuous Private Member's Motion to abolish gin-traps. There were then speaking and voting, on both sides of the argument, a considerable number of noble Lords who do not come here very often and who on that occasion came a considerable distance to speak and vote. And I suggest that they were entirely justified in so doing, for they were giving us the benefit of their lifelong experience on the subject. There was surely no reason why they should have previously "clocked in" six or seven times, to debates on subjects with which they were unfamiliar, and in which they were perhaps not interested, before they were qualified to take part in this particular debate. I hope very much, therefore, not only that the noble Marquess will not press his Motion this afternoon but that it will not commend itself too warmly to the majority of your Lordships.
§ 4.10 p.m.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD SIMONDS)
My Lords, may I first express my apologies to the noble Marquess who introduced this Motion in that I was not in my place when he introduced it. Only one thing would have kept me from being here and that thing did. Unlike many of your Lordships, when I read this Motion, I did not approach it with sympathy—and for this reason: that I wished to keep my mind quite unbiased, not in order that I might give your Lordships, to the best of my ability, my advice on whether it is desirable or expedient to alter the Standing Orders in the way that this proposal suggests, but to direct myself solely to the question, in as impartial a way as I could, whether it is competent for your Lordships to make an alteration—and, let there be no doubt about it, a great alteration—in the traditional rights and duties of a Lord of Parliament.
May I say at once that, though I should not wish to be didactic or dogmatic to this House upon so grave and difficult a matter, yet I cannot conceal from your Lordships that I was soon led to the conclusion that it was by no means within your competence, by an alteration of the Standing Orders of this House, to make so grave a constitutional change? 34 The position, as I see it, is this. The terms of the Writ of Summons which each of your Lordships receives is in the familiar terms by which the Sovereign, recites thatBy the advice and assent of Our Council for certain arduous and urgent affairs concerning Us the State and defence of Our United Kingdom and the Church, We have ordered a certain Parliament to be holdenand so on.and there to treat and have conference with the Prelates, great men and Peers of our Realm, and strictly enjoining, command you, upon the faith and allegiance by which you are bound to us that the weightiness of the said affairs and imminent perils, considered (waiving all excuses) you be at the said day and place personally present with us and with the said Prelates, Great Men and Peers to treat and give your counsel upon the affairs aforesaid.That is the peremptory language of the Writ of Summons imposing a duty, but imposing a duty in this sense: that now, for centuries, it has been considered the right of every Peer to receive such a Writ of Summons. Let there be no doubt about that: each Peer is entitled to receive a Writ of Summons and to receive a Writ of Summons in that traditional form. I think there can be no doubt about that. But it is a matter which has been considered very fully in recent years by the Committee for Privileges, in the case of Lady Rhondda's claim to a Writ of Summons.
Many of your Lordships, the older Members of this House, will remember that case very well. The fact is that every Peer, whether it be an ancient Peerage by Writ or a Peerage by Patent, is entitled, as of right, to a Writ in that form. Lord Birkenhead, the father of the present Peer, in Lord Rhondda's case said this:The doctrine that the King, having created a Peer, cannot direct that he shall not be summoned to Parliament, had become settled constitutional law in the course of the seventeenth century.Lord Birkenhead made special reference, in his Opinion in that case, to the case of Lord Bristol, which I think it worth while to recall to your Lordships. The Lord Bristol of the day had incurred the enmity of Charles I before that Monarch came to the Throne. Accordingly, Charles I directed that a Writ of Summons should not be issued to him. Thereupon Lord Bristol preferred a Petition to this House signifying that his Writ of Summons had been withheld from him 35 and desiring this House to mediate for him to His Majesty that he might have his Writ of Summons according to the privilege of a Peer of this Realm. That Petition was referred to the Committee for Privileges, and their Report, which is dated March 30, 1626, is in this form:After diligent search, no precedent being found that any Writ of Summons hath been detained from any Peer that is capable of sitting in the House of Parliament and considering withal how far it may trench into the right of every Member of this House whether sitting by ancient right of inheritance or by Patent, to have their Writs detained, the Lords' Committee are all of opinion that it will be necessary for this House humbly to beseech His Majesty that a Writ of Summons may be sent to this Petitioner and to such other Lords to whom no Writ of Summons bath been directed for this Parliament excepting such as are made incapable to sit in Parliament by judgment of Parliament or any other legal judgment.The Duke of Buckingham signified to the House that upon the Earl of Bristol's petition the King had sent him his Writ of Summons.
Lord Birkenhead also, in an exhaustive judgment dealing with this matter, with the whole of which I will not weary the House, refers to the work of that great lawyer, Sir Edward Coke, the Chief Justice, who in the Fouth Edition of the Institutes, in the year 1644, after refering to the Lords Spiritual, says of the Lords Temporal in their several degrees thatEvery one of them being of full age ought to have a Writ of Summons ex debito justitiœ"—that is, that he is entitled, as of right, to a Writ of Summons to this House to speak and to vote. As I have already observed, what is now regarded as a right and a privilege was, in olden times, regarded as a duty, as indeed the language of the Writ still imports; and many instances will be found in the books where attempts have been made to enforce the attendance of Peers in this House.
There have been attempts made by Resolution of the House, by the Sovereign himself and, indeed, by Act of Parliament. As long ago as the fifth year of Richard II—and that is a very long time ago—an Act of Parliament was passed enacting that every one who received a summons to Parliament and 36 absented himself unless he could reasonably and honourably excuse himself from the King shall be amerced or otherwise punished according to the ancient custom—it was already then an ancient custom. But never has it been attempted to punish a man for his absence by enforcing absence upon him. On the contrary, the attempt has always been made to enforce his presence by fine or other penalty. Never until this hour has it been suggested that you should punish a Peer who neglects his duty by making it impossible for him to perform it. That is, I fear, the proposal involved in the Resolution which the noble Marquess has brought before the House.
My Lords. I would go so far as to say this. The Patent of Peerage being in a traditional form which, so far as is relevant to the present purpose, cannot be varied, and the Writ being in a traditional form which I and my predecessors in the office of Lord Chancellor have by direction of the Sovereign issued these many centuries, it is quite impossible for this House, by Standing Order, to vary the rights or alter the duties of a Peer of the Realm. The noble Marquess, Lord Exeter, followed in this by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, suggested that somehow there may be a variation because, although we do not alter the language of the Writ of Summons, yet by our Standing Order we may qualify it in this way: that a Peer may attend, may speak, but may not vote. My Lords, I challenge that absolutely, on two grounds: first of all, the Writ following the Patent must be regarded and construed according to traditional usage; and if Peers have been accustomed by virtue of their Patent and their Writ to attend and speak and vote, that is what the Writ means. Secondly, if you had not such traditional usage to support you, I say that it is beyond controversy that, when you have a Writ "to treat and give your counsel," that means to give your counsel not only by speaking but by your vote, because counsel is given by means of a Resolution of the House and a Resolution of the House turns upon the vote of those who vote. Whether on the broad ground or on the narrow, the Writ of Summons cannot, according to the view which I humbly put before the House, be treated as if it authorises this House to say that a 37 Peer may come, may sit upon his seat, may speak, but may not vote. My Lords, with great respect I cannot advise your Lordships that it is competent for you to do anything of the kind.
One or two points have occurred to me, for this is not the first time that I have had the advantage of an expression of his views from the noble Marquess. I know that there is one point upon which reliance has been placed as showing that this House can make its own rules as to attendance. One point I remember that the noble Marquess made is this. He has said that it is by a Resolution of this House that infant Peers have been excluded from sitting. It is true that the House has passed a Resolution in that regard, I think more than once. The first that I have been able to find was in the year 1685, by which it was resolved that infants should not sit in this House. Accordingly, that is used as art argument for saying that the House can make its own arrangements and rules as to who shall sit. With great respect to the noble Marquess, I think that is wrong, for already, in 1644, Chief Justice Coke, whose words I have cited, had said that Peers being of full age were entitled to sit. If I may make a suggestion, I think probably the truth is that at Common Law Peers under age were not entitled to sit, hut possibly some precocious infant Peers had claimed to sit and had sat and the Resolution of the House was nothing more than declaratory of the Common Law, and asserted what the position was.
Then it is true that this House has made its own regulations as to voting by proxy. That is a matter upon which the noble Marquess has led me to make many researches. The result was to satisfy me that, though the House had from time to time made regulations as to voting by proxy—and you will still find some in Standing Orders—that is a long step from assuming the right to exclude Peers altogether from voting. From the earliest days (and I mean from the very earliest days) the King was accustomed to grant his licence to Peers to vote by proxy in this House; and in the ancient records you will see sometimes against the name of a Peer that he voted by proxy licentia Regis—by licence of the King. It is a complicated and difficult history, and I do not think I need go into it. But I venture to think that it will not lend 38 any support to the view that this House can, by an alteration of its Orders, exclude those Peer; who want to sit and who are under a duty to sit.
The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, made reference to certain cases where this House had purported to exclude certain Peers—he referred to the case of Lord Middlesex; he might also have referred to the cases of Francis Bacon (Lord St. Alban) and Lord Macclesfield. Upon those three examples he cannot found the proposition which he asserts. The position there is stated very simply in the authoritative work of Anson—I am reading from the first volume of the fifth edition, at page 228, where the learned author says:It is presumed that the House of Lords could not, any more than the House of Commons, by mere Resolution exclude a member of its own body permanently from taking a part in its proceedings. But it can disqualify by sentence, sitting as a Court of Justice, either upon an impeachment by the House of Commons or presumably upon trial of one of its own Members, in the full House if Parliament is sitting, if not in the Court of the Lord High Steward. And this sentence passed by Resoluion of the House is an actual disqualification, and not, as in the case of the expulsion of a member by the House of Commons, a punishment which may or may not be temporary, as the person expelled does or does not obtain re-election.Thus the sentence upon the Lord Middlesex, our High Treasurer of England, by the House of Commons, far bribery, extortion and other high crimes and misdemeanours, was settled by Resolution of the House before the Commons had demanded the sentence should be passed. Lord Middlesex was to be incapable of holding office, to pay a fine to the King and then came:—'The sixth question, Whether the Lord Treasurer could ever sit in Parliament hereafter on no?' Agreed 'that he shall never sit hereafter.'Sentence to this effect was passed on sentence being demanded by the Commons.There you have the exercise by this House of certain judicial powers which are part of its ancient tradition, and that is something very far from the sort of proposal which the noble Marquess makes for the exclusion, in a limited way, of members of this House.
Now we come to a piece of rather more recent history. In the year 1888 the then Marquess of Salisbury, the grandfather of the noble Marquess who leads the House to-day, introduced a Bill which was followed by another Bill in somewhat similar terms, introduced in the following year by the Lord Carnarvon of 39 the day, which was aimed at excluding Peers Who had been guilty of some crime. The interesting thing about that was this. Those noble Lords, with their great experience of law and practice and of the customs of this House, thought it necessary to introduce a Bill to exclude Peers, even Peers who had been guilty of misconduct, not merely those who had not attended this House. They were to be deprived of their privileges, but only by a Bill. That was necessary. And in the debate upon that matter, Lord Fitzgerald, a learned Lord of Appeal, expressed himself thus:I am not aware that any provision exists in the Constitution of this House under which any Peer can be deprived of his rights as a Peer, nor can he voluntarily renounce them.So your Lordships will realise that a Peer cannot be deprived of his right, he cannot be deprived of any part of it, nor can he voluntarily renounce it. And that is because it is not only a right, but a duty.
It is only fair to add that after Lord Fitzgerald had said that, Lord Herschell said that though he was not going to lay down the contrary, he was not satisfied of the truth of the proposition laid down by Lord Fitzgerald. The matter was not pursued further. It was suggested that there should be an inquiry there was no inquiry, and the Bill therefore dropped. That is the only bit of comparatively modern history I have been able to find which has any bearing on this matter. Summing it up, I venture to advise your Lordships that it is not for you to deprive a Peer of any part of his right as a Lord of Parliament, a right, let me say, in answer to Lord Black ford who asked a question upon this point, which is to be exercised after the Peer has taken the Oath. That is part of the constitutional usage of Parliament. He must take the Oath. Then he is entitled to sit and vote.
There has been some suggestion that it must be part of the rights of this Assembly, as of every other Assembly, to make rules which are necessary for order. I accept that entirely. The difficulty is always to determine where the line is to be drawn. What is a rule which is merely regulatory of order, and what is a rule which, if carried into effect, would deprive a man of his rights? Analogies are proverbially dangerous, yet I will venture to 40 offer your Lordships one. All the Queen's subjects have the right to use the highway. That is what a highway, in law, means. All have a right to use it. Their rights are not infringed if you have a rule of the road, under which a passenger may be directed or compelled to go to the right or to the left. But if you said to one of the Queen's subjects: "You cannot use the highway unless you went to Church last Sunday", that would not be regulatory of the use of the highway, but would be a gross infringement of the rights of Her Majesty's subjects. In this House, we make our rules. We have a Standing Order to which the noble Marquess, Lord Exeter, has once, at least, referred, about "sharp and taxing speeches." We have a practice under which we move that a noble Lord" be no longer heard"—a practice that I have heard of but have never yet experienced. But these are rules for the preservation of order. They are not rules which affect the rights and duties of a Lord of Parliament.
Perhaps it is difficult, when one has spent a great deal of time in research and come to a very definite conclusion, not to appear dogmatic. All I can say is, that I humbly advise your Lordships that, however expedient, however desirable it may be that the result at which the noble Marquess's proposal aims should be attained, it is not competent for your Lordships to attain it in the way which is proposed. I will add one last word. It has been suggested by the noble Marquess who leads the House that the question might, in certain circumstances, be referred to the Committee for Privileges. The difficulty about that, I think, is this. I have made such researches as I could, and made inquiries from the Table—who have been most helpful to me in this matter—and I understand that a general question of this kind has not been referred since 1750. I think there is very good reason why such a general question should not be referred. Where you have a Peer whose particular rights are, as he thinks, infringed, and the question of his rights is referred to the Committee for Privileges, you may be very sure that the question will be thoroughly investigated and explored. Counsel will probably be engaged to assist the Committee, and there will be no stone unturned. It is really somewhat other- 41 wise, I think, if the matter comes in a general way before the Committee for Privileges, with no one there whose duty it is to explore these matters—except it he the Lord Chancellor, who has already done his best.
So, with great respect, I doubt whether any advantage will be gained by referring the matter to the Committee for Privileges. But I entirely endorse—I would not dream of doing otherwise—what the noble Marquess who leads the House has said—namely, that if the noble Marquess, Lord Exeter, thinks fit to ask that it should be done, certainly Her Majesty's Government would not put any obstacle in the way. Perhaps that is a matter which the noble Marquess will consider. It is not necessary for him to return an answer now. He will perhaps consider it and let us know at a later date whether he wishes that matter to be referred to the Committee. I fear that I have taken up far too much of your Lordships' time, but this is a troublesome matter and one affecting very gravely this House and the rights of every one of your Lordships. Therefore, I have thought it right to give the matter all the consideration I could.
§ 4.39 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF EXETER
My Lords, I am put in rather a difficult position by the very careful analysis of my suggestion which has been made by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor. As he knows full well, I am not a lawyer, I am a husbandman, as my forefathers were. But when I put my hand to the plough, I like to see the furrow finished. I am not quite satisfied that the furrow is completed. I am grateful to my noble kinsman for what he said with regard to the possibility of referring this Resolution to the Committee for Privileges. As the Lord Chancellor has been kind enough to say that I need not answer here and now, but that I may go away and think about it, that is what I will do. He will probably think that that is quite safe, and that I shall not get very far with it. However, that is a matter for the future. But I do feel it is an astonishing thing that this House should be the only assembly in the country where there is not some control over the attendance of members. Every assembly usually has it laid down in its Standing Orders that if a member does not attend for six months, he shall be 42 asked why he did not do so, and he has to produce a valid excuse or he is told that his services are not required. As I say, it seems strange that, in the case of a House of this antiquity, nothing of this sort has ever been suggested until your humble servant produced this Resolution to-day. I apologise for doing it, but I feel it has produced a most interesting debate. We have had all sorts of views about it and I cannot help thinking that the Hansard report will go down in future as a matter of great inerest. It may be that on some other occasion it will be useful when some other Peer may want to do something of the same sort. Then he will be shown this debate and told it is quite impossible. I am not satisfied that something of this sort cannot be achieved by the House. What I most strongly object to, and I am sure a great many noble Lords object to it also, is that we should be told from outside how to reform our House. I think there is the opportunity and sufficient ability here to make proper arrangements for the carrying on of the House of Lords.
I have been a Member of your Lordships' House now for a great many years and I remember those who were called the "Backwoodsmen." I did not join the band of brothers myself, because at Budget time I was at Berkhamsted Downs with a battery of artillery, doing an exercise, and I could not be here. Therefore, I cannot call myself a "Backwoodsman." But if your Lordships remember what happened then, I am sure you will think it would be desirable that there should be some control over the Members of this House and that they should not be able to come up in a gang and defeat the settled opinion of those who do the work here. Unfortunately, I am not one of these. It is not like the old days, and, like many other noble Lords, I find it impossible to come here. But that has not altered my opinion that some form of Standing Order should be produced to prevent even a suggestion of the arrival of the "Backwoodsmen." I hardly know what to do, because I strongly dislike withdrawing my Resolution. But if it is understood that I may go further into this matter and see whether I can produce anything more satisfactory to your Lordships (though I do not suppose I can), I shall be prepared to withdraw the Resolution.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.