HL Deb 28 January 1954 vol 185 cc527-49

3.17 p.m.

Order of the Day read for the consideration of the Report from the Select Committee (made to the House on July 21 last).


My Lords, may I begin by saying that the noble Viscount the Leader of the Liberal Party in the House, has asked me to say how sorry he is not to be able to be here to-day. He is particularly sorry because the noble Lord, Lord Layton, is engaged on public duties elsewhere, and Lord Rea, who was a member of the Select Committee which considered these Orders, is, of course, abroad. The Report which is before us to-day is that of the Select Committee which was appointed in November, 1952, to examine our existing Standing Orders, some of which are more than 300 years old. I understand that it has been agreed through the usual channels that our discussion to-day should be in the nature of a Second Reading debate, and that the Report should then go to the Procedure Committee. At a later date, of course, it will come back to the House, and it is suggested that the House should then go into Committee, when any Member of the House will be able to put for ward any Amendments that he desires. Finally, I imagine that we shall have a Report stage on which the Standing Orders, as they are finally amended, will be approved.

If your Lordships will now look at the Report, you will observe that on each left-hand page we have put the Standing Order in the form recommended by the Committee, and there is a note in italics after each Order showing broadly how it differs from the existing Orders, which will be found opposite on the right-hand side of the page. Perhaps I may mention two small points, in order to get them out of the way. First, your Lordships will notice that the Committee suggest that in future the Orders should be identified, not by the Roman numerals by which they have been identified hitherto but by the numbers which we use every day. Another small point is the suggestion that your Lordships' House should be referred to in the Orders hroughout as "the House" and not as "this House" or "the House" indiscriminately, as in the existing Orders. I am conscious that even in the revised Orders the term "this House" crops up occasionally, but that can be put right, if you approve our recommendation, when the Orders are reprinted. These are of course very small points.

The real aim of the Committee was to revise and rearrange the existing, Orders, so as to modernise them without attempting to revise clauses which express exactly what is usual in language which can hardly be improved. Such a clause is the Order about "Asperity of speech," which is No. 25 on page 18 of the Report. That is an Order for which we have, I think, some general affection. Another example is No. 17 on page 16 of the Report which says that if noble Lords are conversing in the space behind the Woolsack the Lord Speaker is to call them to order, and, if necessary, to stop the business in agitation. The word "agitation," of course, refers to the business and not to the Lord Speaker. If we were writing that clause to-day no doubt we should say something like "business in progress" or "business before the House." But the Committee suggest that the word "agitation" should be kept as a pleasant example of the way in which, during the course of a few centuries, even common words change their meaning.

The Report also suggests the inclusion of certain existing customs which have not hitherto been Standing Orders. One such is the introduction of Bishops—Order No. 7. The introduction of Bishops is a custom which it is rather surprising to find dates only from 1891. Then there is the rule as to not passing between the Woolsack and the Table—Order No. 16. That is one of our best-known customs, but it has not hitherto been an Order. There is, further, an Order about Secret Sittings—that is Order No. 13. Then there has been rearrangement of the Order Paper, which is covered by Orders Nos. 31 to 34, and Questions to which Answers in writing are desired—Order No. 35. There is also an Order that no vote is to be counted in a Division unless the Peer giving it was present in the House when the Question was finally put. Order No. 66 concerns Peerages in abeyance. Order No. 67 deals with the withdrawal of privilege and immunity from Lords of Parliament who may be held on criminal charges, and with the duty of the courts to notify the House of the arrest a Member. There is one new procedural proposal to which I should draw your Lordships' attention. The Committee suggest that Starred Questions should be permitted on Thursdays, as well as on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and they have embodied this proposal in Standing Order No. 28. That Order begins: Questions to which a star is attached, indicating that they are asked for information only, may be placed on the Order Paper on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Those last few words should read: may be placed on the Order Paper for Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. An Amendment to that effect will be moved later. The number of Questions which may be asked on any one day will remain three, in accordance with a Resolution of the House passed in February, 1947.

I should say a word about tie Appendices. In spite of the few Orders that we have added, the Standing Orders have been reduced by the Committee's proposals from 105, as they are now, to 72. In Appendix I the Committee have set out those Orders which, though they are no longer applicable, seem to be worthy of preservation. We have put them into this Appendix as a sort of museum. In Appendix III we have placed a number of Standing Orders which have been dropped as obsolete or unnecessary and which do not seem to be worthy of being placed in Appendix I. Appendix II contains an Order which is largely obsolete but which still determines the precedence in this House, on State occasions, of the great Officers of State. It was ordered to be added to the Book of Standing Orders by way of Appendix in February, 1825; it is so long that it seems that it should stand by itself.

When the House eventually goes into Committee on this Report I will, with your Lordships' permission, ask one of my noble friends to take the Chair, so that I may be free to suggest various Amendments. I think that all members of the Select Committee would wish to express our gratitude to the Table, that storehouse of knowledge and wisdom from which we all seek guidance, and also to all other officials of the House who have been of such help to us. I beg to move that this Report be referred to the Procedure Committee.

Moved, That the Report be referred to the Procedure Committee.—(The Earl of Drogheda.)

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, this is an unusual and important and, to me at any rate, and I suppose to most of your Lordships, an intensely interesting subject of debate. I know that we are all keenly looking forward to our future discussions on the subject. The Standing Orders of this Assembly, or, to use the old phrase, "Remembrances for order and decency to be kept in the Upper House," are our own rules, made by us, for us, and for the proper conduct of our affairs. No one can alter them but ourselves. As we read them I think we must all be struck by the way they have inspired and informed the whole atmosphere of this place. They are simple; they are robust; they are eminently sensible, and therefore, I believe, to some considerable degree, responsible for the broad spirit of tolerance which characterises our debates.

Many of these Orders, as the Lord Chairman has already pointed out, date back for many centuries, though others have been added from time to time to meet the changing needs of the day. I think it is clear that the time had come for another re-examination of these Orders. There had been, I understand, no revision made since 1889—which is upwards of seventy years ago, and even that was a very incomplete one. And there had been no radical review for over 120 years, and possibly for much longer than that. Even a body so steeped in tradition as your Lordships' House might naturally require that the Orders should be re-examined after so long a period, so that dead wood might be cut out and new Standing Orders added to conform to our present-day practice. It was, of course, for that purpose that the Select Committee was appointed, under the Chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, whose Report we are considering this afternoon. I think we can all congratulate both the noble Earl and his colleagues most warmly on a first-rate piece of work. They were, I think, in an evident dilemma between the Scylla of allowing their conservative instincts—and may I say to Lord Stansgate that "conservative" here is spelt with a small "c"?—too much rein, and therefore making few, if any, alterations, and the Charybdis of sweeping ruthlessly away everything that was not absolutely up to date, and producing something which would be, no doubt, coherent and possibly convenient, but absolutely lacking in the traditions and the dignity of this House.

It seems to me, if I may say so, with all deference, that the Lord Chairman has guided his crew triumphantly between those two dangers. Not only is the Report itself a model of clearness and conciseness, but the revised Standing Orders which are now being recommended to the House retain much, if not all, of the flavour of the old Standing Orders that preceded them, and yet obvious absurdities and anachronisms have been cut out. That is a remarkable performance. In particular, I suggest, it is especially valuable that the order of the Orders—if I may use such a phrase—has been rearranged so as to make them more comprehensible and convenient for those who wish to use them.

I do not say that I have no criticisms of this Report. In particular, I am frankly doubtful about the Appendices. I realise why the Committee decided to retain them. That historic sense which exists in us all no doubt recoiled from the idea that those Orders which are so interesting, and in many cases so splendid, should be wholly relegated to the limbo of the past and altogether lost to view. One can well understand that. But, after all, the Standing Orders of the House of Lords are practical rules and regulations for the conduct of our day-to-day affairs, and it is made clear by the Committee themselves that those Standing Orders which they have incorporated in Appendices I and at any rate, are no longer of any value for that purpose. They are either "not applicable," which I think is the phrase used with regard to Appendix I, or, to quote the yet more definite words of Appendix III, they are "obsolete or unnecessary." Then why keep them in this book, which should be concerned wholly with the operative rules of the House? I should have thought that was likely to lead only to misunderstanding and uncertainty. This, I admit frankly, is a purely preliminary view, and I am quite open to conviction, but my present impression is that the Appendices are likely to lead only to confusion and would better have been included in a different volume with other Standing Orders which have already been discarded. I can visualise an exteremly interesting volume giving all the Standing Orders which have existed at one time or another for the use of this House and which, after their usefulness has been exhausted, have been discarded.

I have also, as no doubt have other noble Lords, other points of greater detail with regard to discarded Orders which perhaps might have been reprieved and new Orders which might have been included. I was a little sad about the second Order in Appendix I about the prevention of quarrelling among Peers—an Order which dates back to 1641 and which I think might yet prove useful. I should have thought there might have (been a Standing Order directing that noble Lords should not read their speeches. That is an Order which I think would be widely approved. I believe there is more than one recommendation of the House to that effect. There was one dated June 7, 1641, in which it is Ordered and Declared that reading of formal Speeches and Answers out of Papers in this House is no Parliamentary way. Then, I think with extraordinary and exemplary patience, the House waited for nearly another 300 years, and on June 17, 1936, approved a Resolution: That in the opinion of this House the growing practice of reading speeches is to be deprecated as alien to the custom of this House and injurious to the traditional conduct of its debates. Those recommendations were made, but they were never included in Standing Orders and, I am sorry to say, they are sometimes more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

That is a matter which I think might be considered, though we must entirely recognise the very real practical difficulties. For instance, Ministers often have to make statements of Government policy where the exact wording is of great importance. There are also cases of noble Lords, perhaps elderly, who find it difficult to speak without voluminous notes, though I am afraid that that applies even to some of our younger Members, and it would be a pity if such Members should be completely gagged by making a Standing Order of this kind. But I think it is a matter to consider, and I quote it just as an example of the type of new Standing Order which we may still consider. No doubt other noble Lords have suggestions which they, too, would like to make.

On the question of how this matter should be handled by the House, your Lordships have heard from the Lord Chairman what he proposes. I entirely agree with him. The procedure which was originally contemplated was, I believe, that the Report should be immediately submitted to a Committee of the Whole House. That is the procedure which was adopted in 1889, and there is a great deal to be said for it but there is an alternative proposal which is: Incorporated in the Motion of the Lord Chairman, which is now before your Lordships, and I must say that I like that better. As the Lord Chairman has already explained, it is that, as a first step, the Report should be submitted to the Procedure Committee. After all, the Procedure Committee exists to consider just such matters as this. Moreover, it contains the leaders of the main Parties in this House. None of the Party Leaders was on the Select Committee and evidently their views are of importance in a matter of this kind. The submission of the new Standing Orders to the Procedure Committee would enable them to discuss them in a small body together with their colleagues of the Committee and report back to the House. Then, on their second examination the House would have before them not only the Report of the Select Committee but also the comment thereon of the Procedure Committee. I believe that that would enable noble Lords in all Parties, better than any other way, to have the best chance of arriving at correct decisions. I would add that of course the fact that the Procedure Committee have considered the Report will not preclude in any way other noble Lords from suggesting or putting forward any Amendments they wish when the report of the Procedure Committee comes to be discussed in the Committee of the Whole House. I submit that suggestion, as the Lord Chairman has already done, with all deference to the House, and hope, with him, that it will be found acceptable.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all of us on this side of the House will join with the noble Marquess in his congratulations to the Lord Chairman and the members of the Select Committee who have produced this excellent Report. I am not at all sure how it is that such a Radical colleague as my noble friend Lord Stanseate is to be found agreeing to the Appendices to which the noble Marquess has referred. No doubt he will tell the House later why this formula for dealing with old Standing Orders has been adopted. Having read the Report, I must say that I feel that it constitutes a real step forward in the development of the rules governing this House, and makes it much more possible for us to agree and get on with our work. On this side of the House we appreciate the extension of Starred Questions to Thursday, as well as to the other two days of the week. That will give a much better opportunity of raising matters which are not intended for lengthy discussion, but only to obtain information.

I am a very young member of the House in time of service, and I do not pretend to be expert on the rules of procedure in your Lordships' House. Therefore, I am not going to address your Lordships at any length. We are indebted to the noble Marquess for his speech, which has added to the information we have in the Report itself. I should say, from what I have heard in answer to questions asked in private, that the last really radical overhaul of our Standing Orders must have been made nearly 200 years ago. Therefore, we are now making a little history, whatever the future of a Second Chamber may prove to be.

On behalf of noble Lords on this side of the House, I should like to thank the Lord Chairman and, as he has done, the staff of the House who have contributed to the production of this Report. I would express our thanks, also, to our noble colleagues—even those with the small "c," which has been applied to them by the noble Marquess—and to my noble friend Lord Milner, who brought his administrative experience of the other place to the work of the Committee. I agree entirely with the procedure which is proposed in the Motion of the Lord Chairman. I believe, although he did not actually say so, that it has been agreed through the usual channels that we should depart from the original intention, and take the matter from the debate to-day through the Procedure Committee. I am sure that when we come to consider the Orders in Committee of the Whole House that will lead to a shortening of the debates which might otherwise have been necessary.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, I hope it will not be considered presurmption if an unofficial Member from this Front Bench says a word or two. My only excuse for doing so is the deep interest I feel in the subject, and the pleasure I have had in serving under the Lord Chairman in this Committee. As he has said, we had all the riches of the learning of the Clerk of the Parliaments, the Clerk Assistant, and all the other Officers of the House at our disposal. We had, also, the skill and charm of the Lord Chairman himself—and I do not think a better Chairman could possibly be conceived for a Committee of this kind. I feel sure that we all enjoyed it. For my part, I have never enjoyed sitting on a Committee so much in all my life. I propose for a few minutes to make one or two comments on the Report; not critical, because it was a unanimous Report, but as a Member of the House interested in the job.

I should like to refer to three points. The first is that practically no recommendation for changes exists in this Report; other than the addition to the Questions, there are practically no suggestions of that kind. There were two new matters which might have been raised, one of which was raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Exeter, which came to nothing. I want to say a word about that, and then to say a word of heated defence of the Appendices which the revolutionary mind of the noble Marquess wished to sweep away. The truth is that in this Committee all the work of hacking away and destroying what was old and good was done by responsible Conservatives—if that is not a contradiction in terms—and all the defence of the archaic was done by well-known "Reds" like Lord Milner and me. Of the two things that might have been done, one was to provide some means by which matters could be raised quickly and timeously. That, I feel, is a lack in our Standing Orders. For instance, take the occasion to-day when my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough raised the question of the speech by the Minister of Defence; there is no way in which a brief debate could take place on that at once. You can put down a Motion, but it is a long affair and you have to wait a long time; and it is a pompous and wordy business when it comes. If there were some way in which at a few days' notice people could, whether the authorities like it or not—and that is an important point—raise a matter and have a brief discussion, that would be a great advantage. It has often been discussed by the authorities, but never has it been done. Perhaps that is an addition that will come as a result of what the noble Marquess has said.

The second thing is the effort made by the noble Marquess, Lord Exeter, by the Amendment of the Standing Order dealing with leave of absence, to get a real reform of this House from inside. As we know, there are over 800 Members of this House, but the majority of them, no doubt for very good reasons, do not attend our debates. The noble Marquess, Lord Exeter, proposed that they should not be allowed to vote under Standing Orders if they did not make a certain number of attendances. That is rather a promising suggestion: it is reform from inside, and is worthy of further consideration. But it was annihilated by the view of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, who said that it could not be done, and that you could not take away from Members of the House the right to vote. He went so far as to say—and this is a most interesting point—that there is no Standing Order or Resolution of the House which precludes a Peer from sitting, speaking or voting on the hearing of an appeal. Although he said that there is the statutory requirement that there should be present at least three Lords of Appeal, as defined in the relevant Act, there is no restriction on other Peers except that which custom imposes. That is an interesting example of how loose—and rightly so—the organisation of this House is. But the noble and learned Lord disposed too summarily of the suggestion made by the noble Marquess, Lord Exeter, for the restriction of the work of this House to those who really come and attend to it.

In order to put myself in order, I should say that the Appendices are referred to in the Report itself. They are "of particular interest," and I should like to say a word or two about them. I have been very diffident about making this speech, because the noble Marquess might quite easily say: "Who is this amateur antiquarian who comes along with a lot of views? And, in any case, what on earth has it got to do with the Standing Orders of the House of Lords?" That is a point that I want to emphasise. If I may say so with diffidence, I do not agree with the noble Marquess when he says that these Appendices have nothing to do with the House. In the other place there are many decisions given by the Chair, and there is an immense corpus of decisions and practice. But nothing of the kind exists here. There is, of course, Erskine May: but if we want to know how we have behaved and how we ought to behave, all we can do is to go to the old Standing Orders and the old relevant Papers—and I shall say a word or two about that later.

We have a Record Office, which the other place has not. The Papers of the House of Commons were burnt in the fire of 1834, but ours were not and now, important House of Commons Papers are in our Record Office. I did not know about this fully before; I had heard a little about it, but not much. When f heard about it, I took pains to go to the Record Office—and I recommend any of your Lordships who are interested to go and examine the Record Office which is in the Victoria Tower: there is no lift, but there is an excellent staircase which will take you right to the: op of the Tower. There you will find Mr. Bond with his hundreds of yards of rolls—I never knew how well the "Master of the Rolls" earned his salary until I had seen these hundreds of rolls of Parliamentary documents. I think, therefore, it is in order, when you are considering the Standing Orders of this House to ask "What is this House?" or "What do we intend the House to do?": and when you have decided that, then you can decide what type of rules should exist.

There are several schools of thought about this. Mostly I have found in my lifetime that new excuses are brought forward from time to time for the continued existence of the House of Lords. The first is that it is a revising Chamber. Well, yes. But a panel of Chairmen of Committees could put in the commas and semicolons and rearrange the work just as well as this House. In point of fact the so-called revising function of this House is largely an excuse for laziness on the part of the other place. During the time of the Labour Government masses of stuff were shot up here in an ill-digested form. Little Amendments were distributed to noble Lords who formed the Opposition, and they were moved, and accepted, and everyone said what a glorious non-Party Assembly it was that took in hand the revision of the Bills from the Lower House. That is all right if you have not got a proper legislative machine. But to call this House, in a legislative way, an expert revising Chamber is going too far.


The noble Viscount may collect his Amendments in that way, but I should not like it to pass that that is the general way in which Amendments are originated, discussed and passed.


I would relieve the noble Viscount on this point. I have not any critical remarks to make about the Conservative Government in this speech.


I only rose to defend a Conservative Opposition which was able to make—I speak from memory—about 6,000 Amendments to the Labour Government legislation, with the full consent of both Houses.


I do not distinguish in this Rouse between the Conservative Opposition and the Conservative Government, because wherever the Conservatives sit is the Government side.

Then you come to the second reason advanced, and that is the Great Debates. I was sorry that the noble Lord spoke so slightingly about the reading of speeches, because without reading you never could have the Great Debates. You must have notice and you must have manuscripts—those are the two essentials. You want to give plenty of notice, and the professors, the pundits and the medicine men come down and erect their reading desks and prayer wheels and you have what is called "the House of Lords at its best." That is a reputation depending largely on the authority of The Times. I listen, too, of course, and I always feel intellectually outclassed. But they go on, and they are considered to be a reason for the maintenance of this House in its present form. I do not think the reasons are adequate, although I say that with great respect to the persons who are engaged in these magnificent efforts.

The real reason why the House of Lords must exist is because it is a reserve of Conservative strength. I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, is not able to be here, because in the old Liberal days, during which I had the honour to serve with him, he always said—I am reading from one of our own official documents— The Tories"— I apologise for the language, but it is that of the Liberal Party— are resolved to live up to the ideal set before them by Mr. Balfour "— I think he was the noble Marquess's uncle— in 1906; that of controlling the destinies of this Empire, whether in office or in Opposition. That, of course, is the reason for insistence on the "reserve." The reserve would have been done away with if the noble Marquess, Lord Exeter, had had his way. But that is not to be. But I will say this: The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, with a statecraft which has been cultivated in his family for centuries, handles his reserve with exquisite skill. He is not like Hubert de Burgh (he is up there in the Gallery) who said: Look thou. Stand within the arras and when I strike my foot upon the bosom of the ground, rush forth. As an example take the television debate. What was the problem before the Government? The problem was how to get some sort of Parliamentary approval to a scheme which they dare not offer to the House of Commons. Therefore, what did they do? They did not issue a Three Line Whip; that would have been "striking my foot upon the bosom of the ground." They issued a Two Line Whip, but they made sure that enough Government men turned up in order to get a vote in favour of something which they were afraid to present to the elected Members of the House of Commons. To put the thing in sporting parlance, the House of Lords is required because it is the constitutional longstop of the Conservative Party.

There is one other thing I should like to say. I have felt gratitude to this House, as we all must have, for the courtesy and comradeship which we receive here. But I have the greatest admiration for it, because it is the last place where a man may speak his mind. That is not true of the House of Commons. They have a caucus system and paid members. The result is that a man has to think twice. The caucus system was introduced by the Conservative Party. Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Schnadhorst started the caucus in the 80s in this country.


Mr. Chamberlain was not a member of the Conservative Party with Mr. Schnadhorst at the time it was introduced.


That is quite true. Mr. Chamberlain was a Conservative at heart but not by Party allegiance at that time.


He was of the same Party as the noble Viscount.


That is before my time, but that is so. All I was saying was that he brought the caucus with him. I am speaking about the caucus but it is not very relevant. I do not want to get diverted from my main point. If necessary, I will concede everything the noble Marquess and the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, want conceded. Let us take that as read. But it is a fact that in this House a man may speak his mind. I remember the late Duke of Bedford making speeches, utterly sincere but of the kind with which almost every noble Lord in this House disagreed, but he was not interrupted. I have asked the authorities, and I understand that though there is, of course, a way of closure by moving "That the noble Lord be no longer heard," it has never been employed to suppress opinion in this House. If it has been employed it has been for totally different reasons. That is a wonderful thing. I often think that if the Pilgrim Fathers still have the same love of liberty of conscience and of freedom of speech which took them to America 300 years ago, it would perhaps not be a bad idea if they returned home to find it in practice.

Now I come to the noble Marquess's speech about the Appendices. This House is sometimes called a ceremonial House, and so it is. It is a very good thing, of course. It is part of the Court here. It is the Council of the King. But behind every ceremony you will find a record of some historical struggle, and that is why we should be sorry to see the Appendices go. I should like to see them embodied in a book, as the noble Marquess suggested. There was a little book published by the Hansard Society a short time ago. It had wonderful articles by the Clerk of the Parliaments, the Clerk Assistant, Mr. Perceval and Lord Campion. If such a hook as that suggested could be published, describing not only what the House of Lords is but why it is and why these things occur, I believe it would add enormously to the Constitutional education of this country.

The House of Lords, of course, has not any heart for a fight now. I remember when it had. I stood at the Bar and heard the Parliament Act discussed in 1911, but now it has no heart for a fight. The last kick it showed was about 1948 when the Statutory Orders Act was passed, and we were required, or asked, to change our Standing Orders in order to make it possible to pretend that a paper pushed under the door had been laid on the Table of the House. The Commons did alter their Standing Orders, but for some time we refused. That showed just a little measure of vitality, but not much. A few years ago there was a wonderful effort—I rather fancy that the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, was at the back of it—for the House to assert its right to meet independently of the House of Commons. The noble Viscount remembers very well the occasion—it was in the Robing Room. It was only considerations of deep Party loyalty, which always prevail in my case, which prevented my saying publicly that he was right. I think he was right. But see how he was treated. Does the noble Viscount remember how he was treated? Lord Hall came along and said: "I am here," but no more. It might be said that Lord Hall was "mute of malice." He would not say a word, and to everything the Conservatives put forward he replied, "No doubt." They did not even put the cushions the right way up in the Royal Gailery—they were all upside down. Not, only that, but I went outside in the street and saw that they had not even hauled up the Union Jack on the flagpole in honour of the noble Viscount's efforts.

But to return to the records. I suppose they were discouraged, and nothing more was done. I wish somehow we could get more in touch with Mr. Maurice Bond's documents in the Record Office. There we should find many poignant stories. It is an inspiration—not to support the House of Lords; I should never support the House of Lords—but to those who love our national history. Take one or two examples. This Roll which is on the Table every day is supposed to derive from the Test Act and on it people signed. One hundred and fifty years ago you had to sign a declaration against Transubstantiation and you had to sign another declaration against the descendants of the person who pretended to be Prince of Wales curing the life of the late King James the Second. Now when Lord Nelson was introduced in 1805 he came to the table and signed himself "Nelson and Bronté." The Reading Clerk said to him, I suppose, "We don't have any of the Bronte business here; we recognise only British titles." Whereupon Nelson, with a trembling hand, took the pen, scratched out "and Bronté," and in doing so implanted a large ink blot on the Test Roll.

Or take again the case of the Royal Assent. The Royal Assent is given by Commission: it is a long time since a Monarch has been present in person to give the Royal Assent. In a paper I saw of Mr. Bond's it is explained clearly in this way: that when the Act of Parliament for the execution of Katherine Howard had to be passed, it was too much even for Henry the Eighth, and he found it desirable to set up a Commission to give the Royal Assent; and. therefore, for the first time, he created a precedent which has now become almost the common practice. These are personal examples, but they represent the real relations between this House and the Crown. Your Lordships will forgive me as a mere amateur referring to these matters, but they are of intense concern. Henry VIII got on much better with Parliament than did the Stuarts. This we can find clearly shown in the old Standing Order relating to the Earl of Banbury, Henry VIII had fixed the Order of Precedence of old. Charles I in 1627 gave superior precedence to the Earl of Banbury, and the Standing Order shows that this House, though it accepted it on the one occasion, re-asserted itself against the encroachments of the Crown. To take another example, there was the case of Lord Cromwell. He was appointed by Henry VIII to keep the Church in order in this House. He was to sit on the Bishop's Bench above the Archbishop of Canterbury in order to preserve the land from abuses and heresies. It would be a pity if we forgot this example of the struggle between the Crown and the Church.

The noble Marquess referred to Standing Order 28 concerning "asperity of speech."


The noble Viscount is mistaken. I referred to the second Standing Order in the Appendix I about quarrelling. It went beyond asperity of speech.


The noble Marquess is right. I beg pardon. If he proposed to put in something about quarrelling I should certainly support him. I was thinking about what the Chairman of Committees said about asperity of speech. I like that Standing Order and asked the Clerk of the Parliaments whether he could produce the actual old roll. This is the second roll. The interesting thing is that, so far from the House of Lords being the respectable and stately affair that it is to-day, when nobody speaks above a whisper lest he should disturb the repose of the others, it was very rowdy; and this Order about asperity of speech was a very necessary thing. And so the Clerk was often required to read the Order about asperity of speech. The whole document, therefore, was made worse by the amount of fingering it received.

Or take another case—the struggle between the French Seigneurs and the Saxons—you might say the Settlers and the Mau Mau. The language question was a vital one and in the fourteenth century it was forbidden in the Commons to speak in any language but English. I remember Mr. Speaker Lowther calling to order an enthusiastic Irish Nationalist when he was proposing to speak in Gaelic. But it would be perfectly in order for any of your Lordships to address this House in French. The Clerk of the Parliaments, who is appointed under a Royal Patent, has certainly never given up the use of French. When he and the Clerk of the House of Commons communicate, they constantly use French—and a very out of date French. They say of Bills: "Soit baili é aux Commons." Well, the word "baili é" has been out of use for centuries. To this the Clerk of the Commons replies, "A ceste Mile les Commons sont assentus." It is the wrong past participle altogether. But what it shows is that this House was on the side of the Seigneurs while the Commons were on the side of the peasants.

On one occasion, when I was in a minority of one in this House someone said, "You can make a protest." No one had previously told me that you could make a protest after being defeated. I was just one on the one side—everybody else was on the other side. I felt that to make a protest was rather a bold thing to do.


In English?


I looked at the Protest Book and I read another protest, which had been made against the Second Reading of the Reform Bill on April 13, 1832. The protest referred to: The violence done by this Bill to the great principle of prescription …and the exorbitant increase of the democratic element of the British Constitution. That protest was signed, first, by the Duke of Wellington and, second, by two Royal Dukes—"Ernest" and "William Frederick": one the Duke of Cumberland and the other the Duke of Gloucester. So when I signed that Protest Book I felt, in the words of a hymn well known to my noble friend, the acting Leader of my Party: Brothers, we are treading Where the saints have trod. Then, finally, the living, present time. I am addressing myself to the noble Marquess's proposal that a book should be published containing the Appendices. I hope he will persevere with that idea. Take the Parliament Act. I was a Whip in former days, forty years ago, and I used to count the Members present as they came into the House. I saw the struggle over the Parliament Act of 1911; and your Lordships know what happened. Only two Bills have been effectively passed under the Parliament Act; and, of course, not one was a Finance Bill. The Welsh Church Act and the second Parliament Act were passed. Your Lordships can imagine how thrilled I was to see the actual, original enactment. The clause, as prepared, read: Be it enacted by the King's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the consent and advice of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons … This Bill was rejected. It was returned, but this time the Clerk of the House of Commons, Sir Courtenay Ilbert, had taken a pen and scratched out the reference to your Lordships; and so the form became: Be it enacted by the King's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the Consent of the Commons … The Royal Assent was given by Royal Commission in your Lordships' House, and you were entirely excluded because Sir Courtenay Ilbert erased the words in pursuance of the Parliament Act. I co not know whether your Lordships think this is just foolish exaltation.

I tink the Standing Orders and practices of the House of Lords are worth studying. I hate the word "bicameral." The truth is this country has never had a bicameral Government. It has been governed by Parliament, which is this House. It happens that the House of Commons had to come, because we wanted money from them; but if in the end they rule the roost and this place is nothing but a ceremonial vestige, that does not affect the fact that none of the schemes, blueprints and senates is applicable to this problem. Our form of Constitution has been the result of battles between people who have had the democratic Parliamentary instinct. That is the value, as I think, of the perpetuation and the study of these records, and that is why speak- ing as a most humble member of your Lordships' House, have pride in being acquainted with them.

Parliament is our trade, and, after all, we should know our trade and the tools of our trade. I do not want your Lordships to think that this in any way—I hope the noble Marquess will not say that it does—shows signs of repentance or conversion on my part, because it does not. This battered, constitutional monument might be compared with Westminster Abbey. As Westminster Abbey has been the centre of the public religious life, so the Parliament Chamber—because this is the Parliament Chamber—has been the centre of the constitutional struggle. The other day I read about a good Methodist woman, one who was a fervent revivalist. She went round Westminster Abbey. The guide said to her, "There is a relief showing the Marquess of Beth who was murdered by highwaymen; and there is a statue of David Garrick, the man who wrote plays." She said, "Young man, one moment: has anyone been saved lately in this building?" If the question were put in the House of Lords, the answer would he bound to be in the negative.

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, I cannot hope to follow my noble friend, with his great historical and constitutional knowledge, his experience, and. his deep belief in the processes of democracy. I have, however, had the privilege of sitting on the Select Committee, and I should first like to pay tribute to the Lord Chairman who presided over our sittings with the utmost courtesy and consideration and who has given to-day a short but comprehensive review of the scope of the various Amendments which are proposed, so that -there is but little to add for the information of your Lordships. I would, however, say that, while some of us did understand the proposed Standing Orders were go direct to a Committee of this House, I entirely approve the suggestion that has been made and the Motion of the Lord Chairman, that there should be a preliminary reference, as I understand it to be, to the Procedure Committee of this House. The more minds that are brought to bear on these Standing Orders after such a lengthy time the better.

I would venture to make one or two observations. May I say, first of all, that there are a great many Amendments which some of us, and certainly those of us who served in another place, would have wished to make to your Lordships' Standing Orders, but it was the constant endeavour of all of us sitting on the Committee to retain, so far as possible, the traditional character of your Lordships' procedure and not to burden it with a number of detailed Standing Orders which would only complicate the procedure without adding to its real effectiveness. We hope that that course may commend itself to your Lordships. Then your Lordships will observe that there is now a new title to the Standing Orders, and a new table of Standing Orders which is in accord with modern practice and which, it is thought, will lead to greater ease of reference. I assume that in addition there will be, in due course, an index at the end of the Standing Orders giving their various numbers and enabling still more ready reference to be made.

Something has been said about the Appendices. Whilst I am in general agreement with the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, I had assumed that those Appendices were really printed for the information of your Lordships, and that it was not intended that for all time they would form part of the Standing Orders. That is what I assumed—I may be wrong—but I feel that the proposal that they should be published in a separate booklet would be greatly to our advantage.

Then your Lordships will observe quite a number of new Standing Orders. I do not propose to call attention to all of them but your Lordships will see that Standing Orders Nos. 10, 11, 12 and 13, relating to admission to your Lordships' House, exemplify the process of simplification and clarification which the Committee have endeavoured to bring about. I should also like to make special reference to Standing Order No. 16 and to obtain your Lordships' view thereon. Standing Order No. 16 provides that when your Lordships must needs go across the House"— I am reading only the relevant portion— from one side to the other they are to make obeisance to the Cloth of Estate. I submit that if it is desirable, as I think it is, and as I hope your Lordships will agree, to preserve that courteous practice of bowing when crossing from one side of the Chamber to the other—a practice which is obviously designed to add to the dignity and respect in which the House is held—it may be thought at least as desirable that Members of your Lordships' House should each similarly bow on entering and leaving the House. This was, I believe, the ancient practice, but for some reason the provision was omitted in the revision which took place in 1888. I hope that if I venture to move an Amendment to insert the words enter or leave or after the words but when they in the fifth line of Standing Order No. 16, your Lordships may think fit to support that change.

In Standing Order No. 28, provision is made, as we have heard, for Starred Questions to be asked on Thursdays, as well as on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I should have thought that such Questions might be admitted on any days on which the House sits for other than purely formal Business—that is to say, that there should be every opportunity on all Sitting Days to ask Questions. I am aware that your Lordships sit very occasionally on a Monday and on a Friday, but it seems to me that, if those are, in fact, Sitting Days, in the ordinary sense of the word, and not merely Sittings called for the purpose of carrying through formal Business, then Starred Questions might properly be asked on those days. Then your Lordships will see that there is a new Standing Order, Standing Order No. 35, relating to Questions to which a Written Answer is desired. It is a curious thing that apparently hitherto there has been no Standing Order relating to Questions, and therefore I would commend to your Lordships the two Standing Orders in which provision is made for both Oral and Written Questions. In Standing Order No. 42, your Lordships will observe at the end an addition, to which the Lord Chairman made reference, which may or may not commend itself to your Lordships. The addition is: No votes shall be counted unless the Lord giving the same was in the House when the Question was finally put. I do not know whether that addition will or will not commend itself to your Lordships. There are other matters to which I should have liked to refer, but this matter will come up again and will come before the Procedure Committee in detail and there will be opportunities at a later stage to move Amendments. May I therefore content myself by making a personal reference. I played a small part in the revision of the Standing Orders relating to both Public and Private Business in another place some of which had not been amended for over 70 years, and I am grateful to your Lordships for permitting me to serve on the Select Committee to consider the revision of your Lordships' Standing Orders, which I now commend to your Lordships' favourable consideration.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.