§ * LORD BURGHCLERE
My Lords, I rise to call attention to the Standing Orders of the House which relate to matters of Order in Debate; and to move to resolve, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the Standing Orders of the House which relate to Order in Debate, and to report what alterations, if any, are desirable in those Standing Orders." The Motion which I now have the honour of submitting to your Lordships has been on the Notice Paper for some considerable time, and I regret that I was unable to move it during last session owing to the stress of business, and I further apologise to the House that owing to unforeseen circumstances I was unable to bring it forward this session at the time appointed.
I must confess that, speaking from this side of the House and as a Member of the Party to which I have had the honour to belong for a great many years, I approach at the present moment and in the present political juncture any question referring to the House of Lords with very considerable diffidence. But I think it will be admitted that my Motion, though it may, no doubt, have many faults both in its purport and in its phraseology, at any rate does not err in the direction of being over-ambitious or revolutionary. It obviously has nothing whatever to do with those weighty considerations, the relations of the two Houses, which were referred to in the gracious Speech from the Throne; nor can it in any way soar to those constitutional heights to which I am glad to say my noble friend Lord Newton is going to ask your Lordships to ascend in the month of May. I hope I shall have the advantage of the support of my noble friend for this Motion on the present occasion.
The Motion standing in my name pledges no one who votes for it to any reform whatever. It merely pledges its supporters to set up a Committee which may examine and report with regard to those Standing Orders of your Lordships' House which affect the question of order in debate. I have frequently heard it 601 said since my Motion has been on the Notice Paper that I intended by it to cast some reflection upon the conduct of our debates during the Committee stage of the Education Bill last autumn, and to imply that some unnecessary disorder took place at that time. I say at once that nothing is further from my thoughts than to imply any censure on the conduct of those debates or of anyone who was responsible for their conduct. I certainly wish to reflect in no way upon my noble friend the Lord Chairman of Committees, or upon the three most distinguished Members of the House—the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Lord Chancellor—who during my experience have generally interfered, and rightly interfered, on matters of order with a view to counselling your Lordships when difficulties arose; and, least of all, if I may say so without presumption, do I wish to cast any reflection upon your Lordships as a body, for I must say I listened to those debates with the utmost admiration.
When we consider that day after day for an unprecedented period we were sitting here from half past four in the afternoon to nearly twelve o'clock at night; when we remember that in this crowded assembly there must have been many noble Lords who, from the well-known acoustic properties of this House, were unable to hear the conversation at this Table, and that other noble Lords, from the difficulty and technicality of the subject as well as the multiplicity of the Amendments, must have found equal difficulty in understanding what was said, I venture to think this House at that time showed a spectacle of dignity and decorum which was a shining example to other and more popular assembles on similar occasions. At the same time it is perfectly true, that, during those arduous and protracted debates, the unprecedented length of our discussions, the unprecedented number of Peers present, and the unprecedented number of Amendments which were showered upon the Table, naturally focussed the attention of Members on the question whether it would not be possible to improve, in some way, the ancient Standing Orders relating to order in debate. I think that that was a feeling which was not confined to any one quarter of the House, but was very nearly 602 general. I have said that I wish to cast no reflection upon the conduct of those debates nor upon those who were responsible. I may go further and say that since I have had the honour of a seat in your Lordships' House, now more than twelve years, I have felt that on ordinary occasions and at ordinary times the mode of our procedure, I will not call it the free-and-easy mode, but the elasticity of our procedure, is sometimes extremely beneficial; and I hope that if your Lordships consent to the setting up of a Committee to examine into our Rules of Order the question of elasticity in a House consituted as this is will not be overlooked.
Having said that I may be asked, Why cannot you leave it alone? Why bring forward this Motion at all? I say at once that I base my reasons for asking your Lordships to grant an inquiry into this subject on the changed and changing conditions of the political atmosphere and the possibilities of this House; on the increased attendance of Peers; on the increased length of our discussions; on the increased numbers of Amendments that were moved last Autumn to our Bills, and this, no doubt, will happen in the case of other Bills brought forward; and on the increased numbers of speakers taking part in our debates.
With regard to the increased number of Peers attending and the increased number of speeches, I think that is a subject upon which we may heartily congratulate ourselves, because the severest criticisms that I have ever heard passed on your Lordships' House have generally been founded on the scantiness of our attendance and the shortness of our debates; and though, as a Party man, I may have sometimes last autumn regretted the overflowing battalions which rallied behind the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition to defeat measures which I thought were for the good of the country, yet as a member of this assembly I do think on the whole that as long as your Lordships' House is constituted as it is, and as long as your Lordships have seats and voices and votes in it, it is far better that you should come and listen to and take part in the debates than flood the lobbies when divisions take place without having heard any of the arguments.
603 As to the increased number of speakers and the increased output of oratory, that is a somewhat delicate subject which I shall not pursue at any length, except to say that if it be true, as I think it is, that there are an increased number of speakers in this House as compared with former times it is not peculiar to your Lordships' Assembly, but is rather distinctive of the period in which we live. In old days the debates in both Houses of Parliament were left to two or three prominent members of one Party or the other, who represented the feelings of their followers; but in these days that has entirely changed, and, owing to the increased interest taken in these matters and the greater gift of oratory possessed generally, there are very few Members of either House who are not able to deliver a long and elaborate speech.
I know your Lordships do not care for statistics, but I should like to be allowed to justify what I have said with regard to the increased number of Peers attending our debates and the increased interest which is taken in the legislation submitted to this House. I could take any number of Bills during the last fifty years, but I prefer to take the three important Education Bills because they are some what germane. I will take the Education Bills of 1870, 1902, and 1906. The Education Bill of 1870 was, I need not remind your Lordships, a very important measure. It was what is called, in political slang, an epoch-making measure; and, in addition, the sectarian question, which, unfortunately, seems always bound up with our elementary schools, was very much to the front. Yet the Committee stage of that Bill only occupied one day in your Lordships' House. The Report stage also took one day, and there was only one division. In 1902 the Committee stage of the Education Bill lasted three days, and the Report stage one day, and there were nine divisions. Then we come to the Bill of last year. On that occasion we were in Committee sixteen full days, commencing at 4.30 p.m. and sitting, with one exception, till 11 p.m. and later. We discussed the Bill two days on Report, making eighteen days in all, and there were eighteen divisions. I think these statistics amply justify my contention that the House is taking—most rightly taking—an in- 604 creased and increasing interest in the affairs of the country.
Then I come to the number of Peers attending. In 1870 the largest number of Peers voting was 125; in 1902 the number rose to 207; but in 1906 the largest number of Peers voting was 312. It may be said, of course, that the Education Bill of last year was a very exceptional measure, that it was an isolated instance of general interest, and that such circumstances would never occur again. Does anyone here suppose for an instant that during the next four or five years, or it may be more than four or five years, other measures will not be submitted to your Lordships of equal or of surpassing importance, and that your Lordships will not find it to be necessary to devote an equal, if not a greater, amount of criticism, industry, and eloquence to those measures in the future than were devoted to the Education Bill of last autumn? If that be so, and I think he would be a very bold man who would say that my contention is not a right one, surely it is wise for your Lordships to set up a Committee at the present moment to inquire whether the Rules of Procedure could not be improved rather than wait till some more inopportune moment when you are under an even greater glare of criticism than now.
There are plenty of precedents for this Committee. I will not weary your Lordships by referring to more than the last one, which was appointed in 1888, and presided over by Lord Cadogan, who was then Lord Privy Seal in the Conservative Government of the day. That Committee was certainly a precedent for the Committee I am now asking your Lordships to appoint, and as it was a precedent for its constitution I hope it will also be a precedent for its outcome, for from that Committee came one of the most useful and businesslike bodies that I have ever had the honour of sitting in—I refer to the Standing Committee of your Lordships House, to which are automatically referred all measures which have passed the Second Reading stage. I shall not presume to say exactly what the improvement in your Rules ought to be. It may be that after inquiry by this Committee your Lordships may find that it is difficult or impossible to make any alteration at all. 605 But there are one or two difficulties which occur to me, and which I think ought to be mentioned in order to make good my case.
There is, of course, one vital question—the question of order. In your Lordships' House, as in all public assemblies originally, the question of order rests with the House as a body—that is to say, if it is necessary to determine whether a matter is in order or not, whether a Member is in order or not, it is for the House as a whole to determine that question. That was the case with all legislative assemblies originally, but it was found convenient in all those cases, in order to facilitate the progress of business, that the House should delegate to one person chosen by themselves the power which they themselves as a body possessed. As your Lordships know, in this House, when points of order arise, the inconvenience is some times great. It is necessary, if there is a dispute as to whether a certain matter is in order, and if it is pushed to a vote, that we should adopt the cumbrous and inconvenient process of going into the lobbies to determine the point.
So also with regard to the question of order of speakers. Everyone in this House naturally has a right to address his fellow Peers; but two noble Lords may rise at the same time, and the only way in which it can be determined whether one speaker or the other is to have the ear of the assembly, supposing it is disputed, is, as I have said, by the cumbrous process of dividing. Some of your Lordships must remember the historic occasion when that took place, and when at this Table there a rose the late Lord Granville and the late Lord Cairns. They were both anxious to speak at the same time, and it was not until noble Lords had divided that the question of who should have precedence was decided. That system has its disadvantages, and might very well be rectified.
Then it may be said that, although the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chairman have neither of them more right to interfere in questions of order than the most junior baron of your Lordships' House, they might take upon themselves to exercise a greater freedom with regard to imposing order on the assembly, and that in doing so they would receive the support of the majority of your Lordships' House. 606 Several noble Lords say "Hear, hear!" I venture to think that if any of your Lordships who say "Hear, hear" were Chairmen yourselves that is the last thing you would do, and I will tell you why. The Chairman being, as he is, a most prominent Member of your assembly, would naturally be more scrupulous than any private Member not to overstep in the slightest degree that limited amount of order invested in him, and therefore I venture to think that if noble Lords who say" Hear, hear" wish the Chairman to possess that power they must delegate it to him officially and by vote of the House.
Then it has been said that if you give the Lord Chairman these added powers you must also give them to the Lord Chancellor, otherwise it would be said that you were putting that high and dignified official in a position lower than the Lord Chairman. I agree that there is a great deal to be said in that direction. I also think that, when we take into consideration that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who is, as your Lordships remember, constituted the Speaker of this House, has a great deal more to do than the Speaker of the other House; when we remember that the Lord Chancellor may possibly spend his mornings in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, sometimes in the Court of Appeal, sometimes in presiding over the judicial business of this House, and then has to sit on the Woolsack during extended discussions on important Bills, it will be agreed that the House is imposing upon him duties almost too much for any one man to bear. There are such officials as Deputy-Speakers. You might give the Lord Chancellor the same powers as you give the Chairman of Committees, but you might also appoint a Deputy-Speaker and give to the Deputy-Speaker the same powers as he is given in other assemblies. That would enable the Lord Chancellor, when unable to be present, to have a deputy with full powers in this matter.
The question of Deputy-Speakers might well be entered into. At the present moment there are, I think, five Members of your Lordships' House who have a right to sit upon the Woolsack. There is the Lord Chancellor and the Chairman of Committees, who are, I believe appointed by Royal Commission. There are, in addition, by custom, the ex-Lord 607 Chancellor and the two Whips of the great Parties—in the present case Lord Waldegrave and Lord Ribblesdale. Those five noble Peers are the only Members of your Lordships' House who have a right to sit upon the Woolsack, but if the Chairman of Committees, who is senior to the other noble Lords, is present in the House, the other noble Lords are unable to sit upon the Woolsack. Therefore, in the absence of the Lord Chancellor it has come about that the Chairman of Committees has been standing at this Table reporting the decision of a Committee of the House to an empty Woolsack, and then, stepping quickly over the floor and taking a seat upon the Woolsack, he has himself received his own Report—a process which must remind your Lordships more of a celebrated character in comic opera than the staid procedure of your Lordships' House. I think that such a question as this, for instance, might well receive the attention of the Committee which I hope your Lordships will agree to constitute.
It may be that the Committee may find it inconvenient, perhaps impossible, to alter the Regulations at all; but if, as I thoroughly anticipate, they find they are able to combine elasticity with efficiency, then I think they will have done something to further the dignity and the authority of your Lordships' House. Before sitting down I will ask your Lordships to allow me to put myself entirely out of order, as an example of that elasticity in our Rules to which I have referred. I wish to allude to the next Question which stands in my name on the Paper—
To ask the Lord Privy Seal whether he can now state what course His Majesty's Government propose to adopt with regard to the question of Peers who have sat and voted without taking the oath.I hope your Lordships will allow me to allude to this notice before I sit down, because I think it will be for the convenience of the House that I should do so. I do not think it is necessary for me in any way to go into the circumstances which occurred last autumn.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I rise to order. I believe it is for the general advantage, not only of this assembly, but of all assemblies, that we should discuss only one thing at a time. I remember during the debates on the 608 Education Bill, which appear to have elicited such a large amount of admiration from my noble friend, that on one occasion a Member of the Episcopal Bench, after having delivered a very long speech, thought it would be a very good thing if he were then to proceed and enter upon an Amendment of his own. That led to considerable confusion, and at last he was called to order. I think when my noble friend is so anxious to preserve order he should not be the person to propose to depart from it, and therefore I beg to move—
§ * LORD BURGHCLERE
If the noble Earl had allowed me to proceed he would have found that it would have been for the convenience of the House that I should state what I had to say. But, as he takes exception, I certainly bow to such a champion of order as my noble friend.
§ Moved, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the Standing Orders of the House which relate to Order in debate, and to Report what alterations, if any, are desirable in those Standing Orders."—(Lord Burghclere.)
* THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has made several references to the position of the Chairman of Committees of your Lordships' House, and therefore perhaps I may be allowed to make a few observations upon the speech which the noble Lord has delivered. Not that I want in any way to oppose the appointment of the Committee which he suggests, though I confess I am somewhat at a loss to know what that Committee will report. I do not think that I can be accused of being a crusted Tory, who believes that "all that is is best," but I certainly feel proud of the dignity and gentlemanlike manner in which the business of this House is conducted upon almost every occasion. I think it was Lord Campbell who said that this House, though believed to be the most august Assembly in the world, was perhaps the most disorderly. The fact that that had never been discovered up to the speech of my noble friend, I think speaks well for the manner in which—
§ LORD BURGHCLERE
I beg my noble friend's pardon. I specially 609 guarded myself from saying that I thought the House had been disorderly.
* THE EARL OF ONSLOW
I said that what Lord Campbell had stated had never been discovered by anybody. How is the business of your Lordship's House conducted? It is conducted in accordance with a general sense of what is proper by the Members of the House. If anyone rises and makes a speech which, in the opinion of any Member, is out of order, that Member calls attention to the fact, and in nine cases out of ten—one example happened only a moment ago—the noble Lord who has been addressing the House resumes his seat at once. If that does not happen it is possible that a debate might arise, but that debate, in my experience at any rate, is usually confined to the leaders on both sides of the House. Both of them, probably, agree that the matter is one which is not entirely in order, whereupon the noble Lord, however much he may, in his own opinion, believe that what he has been doing has been in accordance with order, gives way.
Now, what is the remedy my noble friend proposes that the Committee should take into consideration? It is, as I understand him, that powers should be given to whoever presides over the Assembly to call noble Lords to order something in the same way as is done by the Speaker of the House of Commons, and by the Chairman of Ways and Means in that House. But I should like to point out to my noble friend, and I hope the Committee, if it is appointed, will consider it, that by Standing Order No. 19 the House has declared that the Lord Chancellor is not to adjourn the House or to do anything else as the mouth of the House "without the consent of the Lords first had, except the ordinary thing about Bills"—whatever that may mean—"wherein the Lords may likewise overrule." Therefore the Lord Chancellor has in every case to put anything which he may wish to submit to the House on a point of Order to the Question. He has not, like the Speaker of the House of Commons, to make any pronouncement from the Woolsack, but if he wishes to speak to anything in particular he has to go to his own place as a Peer. That Standing Order was designed, I imagine, after careful fore- 610 thought and in view of the tact that the Lord Chancellor is not appointed by this House but is a nominee of the Crown. Although when I am in the Chair I occupy a position to which I have been elected by your Lordships, when I sit on the Woolsack, in the absence of the Lord Chancellor, I sit there by virtue of a Royal Commission which is issued at the beginning of every Parliament to the effect that the Lord Chancellor shall be the Speaker of the House of Lords, and that in his absence the Deputy Speaker shall be myself by name, not as Chairman of Committees.
I think your Lordships will be very doubtful as to whether you should lightly interfere with that which has been the settled practice of this House for many years. This is a matter which is not new. It has been brought forward on many previous occasions. It was brought forward by the late Lord Salisbury in 1868 and negatived. It was recommended again in a debate in this House and was again negatived, and in 1888 it was formally moved in the Committee and resolved in the negative. I should be very much surprised, therefore, if your Lordships should see fit to take a different view from that which has been taken in the past. There are several reasons why that practice should not be interfered with. To begin with, the Lord Chancellor is a member of the Government. He may not even be a Peer. There have been occasions when the Lord Chancellor has sat on the Woolsack before his patent had been made out; and both he and I, as Chairman of Committees, exercise our right to vote and speak in this House in a manner totally different and distinct from that of the Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means in the House of Commons. I should be very sorry indeed if I were prevented from addressing your Lordships when I might wish to do so in debate, and I hope, therefore, that nothing will be done to alter the position of the Chairman of Committees.
Whenever any noble Lord has appealed to me—and some appeals were made during the progress of the education debate—I have always been most anxious and willing to give any expression of opinion and assistance in my power.
611 My noble friend himself on one occasion, when Lord Ridley had an Amendment on the Paper to which he was speaking, appealed to me to know what we were discussing, and I said that the House was discussing a question which I thought your Lordships had already determined, upon which Lord Ridley immediately sat down. During the whole of the thirty-three years I have had the honour of being a Member of your Lordships' House, the last three of them in the Chair of your Lordships' Committees, I have recollection of but two or three cases where an act that could seriously be called disorderly has taken place which was not immediately apologised for by the noble Lord concerned.
I remember one occasion when a noble Lord of somewhat eccentric habits was addressing the House and was called to order. He said—I may not, my Lords, be your equal in debate, but I am the equal of any one of you in my shirt sleeves.That was not an orderly remark. I remember that another noble Lord from Scotland was anxious to address the House on the subject of the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, but he missed his train and did not arrive till next day, when your Lordships were discussing the question of opening museums on Sunday. Yet he got off his speech on the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill all the same. Then there was the occasion to which my noble friend has already alluded, when there was an unfortunate conflict between Lord Granville and Lord Beaconsfield. I recollect quite well that after the death of Lord Beaconsfield Lord Granville expressed to the House his great regret that he stood between the House and Lord Beaconsfield, because he subsequently learned that Lord Beaconsfield had taken a drug which made it necessary for him either to address the House at that moment or not at all. Therefore, I may say that this House has invariably been guided in matters of this kind by personal courtesy. Only last session the noble Marquess who leads the House and who is unfortunately unable to be present to-night, rose to address the House at the same time as a Peer behind him whom he did not see, and some of my noble friends behind me cried "Divide." Lord Ripon said he thought he had a right to address your Lordships as 612 Leader of the House, and next day there was a meeting of some of my noble friends behind me, and they begged me to write a letter to Lord Ripon to explain to him that the cry "Divide" was not intended for him, for whom they all had the greatest admiration and respect, but for another noble Lord who had risen at the same time and whom he had not noticed.
As I said at the commencement of my remarks, I am not quite sure what is going to be the work of this Committee. The reference to it is confined entirely to questions of order in debate, and how far that may be regarded as covering the general business of the House I do not know. I daresay my noble friend did not make his reference wider because on previous occasions, notably in 1888, doubt arose whether a reference of this kind might not be held in some way to cover a reference in the nature of something dealing with the constitution of this House. We all know that Lord Newton has a Bill which will come on for consideration after Easter, and we should deprecate that that matter should be in any way prejudged or considered by any tribunal other than that of the House as a whole. But there are, I am willing to admit, some difficult points which arise and which I find in the position to which your Lordships have done me the honour to appoint me, more particularly the method of putting the Question. I should be very glad indeed if that could be taken into consideration.
As your Lordships are well aware, it is the rule of this House that when a question is put and the numbers are equal simper prœsumitur pro negate. In the whole House it seldom happens that the numbers are equal, but in Joint Committees—and Joint Committees are becoming every year more common—the numbers are not infrequently found to be equal and everything depends upon the way in which the Question is put. For instance, if the Motion were to put the word "not" before the word "expedient" and the numbers were equal, the word "not" would not be put in; but if, on the other hand, the Motion were to omit the word "expedient" for the purpose of inserting "inexpedient," the word "inexpedient" would not be put in, and the clause would read nonsense. I am not putting an hypothetical case, but a case that has 613 happened on more than one occasion. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh will recollect a very important measure, the London Water Board Bill. One question was intentionally put in such a way that the decision of the Committee was quite different from what it would have been if it had been put the other way. So well is that known that when your Lordships sit as a Court of Appeal the Question is not put, "That this House do affirm the decision of the Court below," but "That the decision of the Court below be reversed"; so that if the numbers on either side are equal the decision of the Court below is not reversed, but, of course, affirmed. I do not think it is right that it should depend on the ingenuity of the mover who might see a temporary advantage in making a Motion in such a manner that the decision in case of equality was not to leave matters in statu quo.
Then there is the question of the way in which Amendments appear on the Table of your Lordships' House. During the Education Bill debates they were marshalled every day, but upon ordinary occasions they are not so marshalled, and I was much surprised to find that it was not the practice hero to furnish the Chairman of Committees with a Bill interleaved and marked with the places where the Amendment came in, though when I had, in consequence of the regrettable absence of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, to take his place when the Bill came up on Report, I found that his Purse Bearer furnished him with a copy of the Bill interleaved, with the places where the Amendments came in marked. I hope that for the future that will be the recognised practice of the House.
Then I think great inconvenience has arisen from the fact that Amendments are put down at a very late stage. I noticed during the progress of the Education Bill that on several occasions noble Lords were not furnished with copies of the Amendments. I quite agree that it would be impossible to make any rule that Amendments should be deposited by a certain time, and it would be impossible to say that Amendments might not be moved at any moment; but I do think, seeing that there are other opportunities, such as Report and Third 614 Reading, in addition to the Committee Stage, it would be well if no Amendments were considered at the Committee Stage unless they had been circulated with the Votes at least on the morning when the Bill came under the consideration of your Lordships' House.
So far as I am personally concerned I cannot say that I have any complaint to make as to the order which your Lordships observe in debate. It is quite true that some Second Reading speeches are occasionally made in Committee, but you cannot prevent people who are deeply interested in a matter which they look upon as absolutely vital sometimes going a little further than the Amendment and raising questions that are more general. I think that was very marked during the discussions on the Education Bill, and, if I may be permitted to say so, I think principally from the right rev. Bench; but we all recognised that right rev. Prelates felt very strongly about that Bill and we were glad to give them the advantage of that elasticity which my noble friend who raised this question to-day welcomes in our debates. It was once said of an ancestor of mine—I am a descendant of three Speakers—by Mr. Burke in the House of Commons—I have not the honour, as the hon. Gentleman has, of being born with order running through my veins.I think every Member of this House has order running through his veins, and that every noble Lord endeavours to observe decency and order in debate. I think that the manner in which our debates have been conducted, notwithstanding the absence of any rules or of Chairman or Speaker to call noble Lords to order, is worthy of the great traditions of this House. It may be, as the French General said of the charge of Balaclava, that it is not war, but it is magnificent.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I note that the inquiry which is suggested by Lord Burghclere is regarded at any rate without disfavor by His Majesty's Government, and I do not think that we are called upon to raise any objection to it. At the same time I am bound to say that I do not think that the case made by the noble Lord who moved the Motion now before us was a very strong or a very convincing one. He made it clear to us that he had 615 no complaint to make of the manner in which the House has conducted its business, notably through the trying session of last autumn. Indeed, I think he went so far as to say that the manner in which our business was conducted on the whole commended itself very much to his judgment. Nor again was he very distinct as to the alterations which he himself had in view.
But, my Lords, while I take note of those points, I am bound to admit that these Standing Orders, with which perhaps some of us are not as familiar as we might be, are a good many of them of a somewhat archaic description. I do not say that by way of reproach, because I think some of the most ancient of them are those we may still regard with most admiration. Some of them, perhaps, are not quite enough borne in mind. How many of us, for example, are careful to observe that admirable Order, which is numbered twenty-four, in which it is laid down that if any Lord has occasion to speak with another Lord while the House is sitting they are to repair to the Princes Chamber and, in particular, that they are not to converse in the space behind the Woolsack, or else the Lord Speaker is to call them to order, and, if necessary, to stop the business in agitation. It has been my duty to attend your debates pretty constantly, and I am afraid I must admit that I have very often seen that sacred space occupied by Peers who were more bent upon attending to the particular business they had in agitation than to the business before the House at the moment. But no doubt there may be minor points covering our procedure which require reconsideration in view of the fact, and it is a fact, that the number of Peers who take part in our debates tends to increase and that the speeches tend to increase in length.
I am bound to say, as a result of a somewhat long experience of this House, that I have never myself known a case in which the House was not grateful for the guidance offered to it either by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack or by the noble Lord who sits at the Table. Whenever we have found ourselves in a position of any difficulty or embarrassment, a word of advice from either of those quarters has, in my ex- 616 perinence, always been accepted without any demur. There may, no doubt, be one or two historical episodes, such as that which has been referred to to-night when Lord Granville and Lord Beaconsfield rose together; but these really are exceptions which tend to prove the rule. On the whole, however, I rise without any idea of opposing the Motion. I am very glad that the noble mover has limited its terms. It is, I understand, restricted to the particular Orders which govern our procedure in debate—the Orders, namely, which are numbered from nineteen to thirty-six. If the Committee is so restricted I think it can certainly do no harm, and it maybe of some use in dealing with those points of detail to which reference has been made in the course of the discussion.
§ * THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Earl of Crewe)
My Lords, I think we must all agree that my noble friend who introduced this subject made a very interesting speech, and I must thank him for having postponed the consideration of the question from last session, when our time was so fully taken up and when we could not possibly have given it the consideration it deserves. At the same time I regret very greatly that my noble friend who leads the House, whose experience is so unrivalled, is not here, because I have no doubt he would have been able to say something very much to the point on this question.
As my noble friend stated, this is by no means a new matter. The House has been very often exercised before on this question of order. There have been a number of cases. There was a very considerable discussion in 1869 which arose, if I remember aright, out of the rather heated debates that took place on the Irish Church Bill of that year. Then there was the well-known Committee in 1888, over which Lord Cadogan presided; and I hope I may be permitted also to express regret at Lord Cadogan's absence and the reason for that absence. The proposal, I understand, which is favoured by my noble friend is that some definite powers in the direction of keeping order in your Lordships' House should be entrusted to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and also to the Lord Chairman of Committees. That is a proposal which has often been made, but 617 it is one to which so far the House has never seen fit to agree.
It was proposed, I think, in 1869 by Lord Stanhope, but he limited the powers of the Lord Chancellor to the general maintenance of order in the House and did not suggest that the noble and learned Lord should be allowed to call on particular speakers; for the obvious reason that it would place the Lord Chancellor in an extremely invidious position as a Party man, a member of the Government, if he had to call on particular speakers. In the course of the later debate Lord Granville also strongly opposed that change; and I notice that in the Committee Lord Cowper proposed that the Lord Chancellor should have these powers, but the proposal was negatived without any great degree of discussion. Some of your Lordships may remember a little occurrence of, I think, three years ago, when there was a slight misunderstanding between my noble friend Lord Ripon, who was then sitting on the Front Bench opposite, and the noble and learned Lord who then sat on the Woolsack. The then Lord Chancellor stated, with perfect truth, that he had the same right, neither more nor less, as any other Lord to call attention to any breach of order, and Lord Halsbury added—Unless the Lord Chancellor took notice of a breach, nobody else would.That, I think, was perhaps a little overstating the case, because, as a matter of fact, ever since I have been in the House there always has existed what I may call a breed of watch-dogs on the look-out for broaches of order, of whom I think my noble friend Lord Camperdown may now be considered to be the principal representative; and if, as I think likely, it is found exceedingly difficult to entrust any formal powers either to the Lord Chancellor or the Lord Chairman, I hope that that breed will be encouraged in every possible way; for this reason, for one thing, that the Front Benches are not able to help very much in this matter. When the noble Lord whose speech transgresses the rule of order is on the same side of politics, the Minister or the occupant of the Front Opposition Bench is naturally unwilling to quench the enthusiasm of a friend and supporter. If, on 618 the other hand, the speaker is an opponent, he is equally unwilling to interfere, because he is afraid that his interference may be set down rather to a dread of the cogency of the arguments which are being addressed to the House than to the prolixity or want of relevance of the speaker. And that leads me to say that, so far as my recollection of the House goes, our debates are distinctly less disputatious than they were when I first came here. But I have noticed—and I do not confine my observations to the Education Bill of last year—a very marked increase in the habit of irrelevant speaking during the last few years. I am not prepared to give any reason for what appears to me to be an incontestable fact, and if the effect of the appointment of this Committee is to encourage noble Lords in all parts of the House to rise in their places and draw attention to the very frequent cases, particularly in Committee, where a speech has very little reference to the actual subject-matter of the Amendment, I must say I think that great good will be done.
The noble Earl the Lord Chairman mentioned in particular the education debates of last year. I am very far indeed from joining in all such criticisms as were made, either in or out of the House, of the conduct of business during that discussion. On the other hand, there was, as the noble Earl has said, a considerable degree of irrelevance, and I think it is not overstating the case to say that one day, and possibly two days, of the Committee stage might have been spared to us if noble Lords in all parts of the House, not excluding, like the noble Earl, the right rev. Bench, had confined themselves to the actual matter under discussion. As I say, I do not look forward with any great degree of confidence to any marked change being recommended by the Committee in the practice of your Lordships' House. As a matter of fact, I quite agree with what the noble Marquess said just now. I believe that any intervention on the part either of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, or of the Lord Chairman when the House is sitting in Committee, would be welcomed by the House as a whole. They have, as Lord Halsbury said, the same rights as other Members of the House, and there is no reason why they should not exercise those rights oftener.
619 When I first came to the House Lord Redesdale was Chairman of Committees, and he kept us in very severe order indeed. I remember many years ago, when I was sitting on this Bench as a Member of the Household in charge of a Department, having an extremely bad ten minutes with the noble Lord over some point on which he thought I had transgressed; and consequently, if the only effect of the appointment of this Committee was, by the expression of a strong opinion, really to strengthen the hands of the Lord Chairman, because it is in Committee that the difficulty most arises, I should be in favour of its appointment.
But, in addition, there are two other matters which were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Onslow. He mentioned the obscurity which attached to the putting of the Question. He mentioned the case of the Water Board Committee. I was on that Committee, and I think my noble friend Lord Balfour, who acted as he technically had a perfect right to do, went through some searchings of heart before he put the Question in the form he did, in which form it had to be put if his view as to what was necessary as a Member of the Committee and of the Government of the day was to prevail. Consequently we do not oppose the appointment of this Committee, and although I cannot profess myself sanguine of any large practical result as regards serious changes in the form in which order is maintained, I think real good may come of it in a general discussion of the matter, and, as I say, by strengthening the hands of those who, from their position and experience, may be regarded, if not as official guardians of order, as its unofficial guardians.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, may I say one word in regard to the position I hold? I have no right at all to speak on questions of order, having been so short a time in this House; but I can speak in regard to the office I hold. I do most earnestly hope that nothing will be done to impose on the Keeper of the Great Seal the duty either of maintaining order in the House or of calling a particular Member of the House in debate. There is no analogy between the position of the Lord Chancellor and that of the 620 Speaker of the House of Commons. The Speaker in another place is a popularly elected official, chosen by the whole of the Members, and is debarred from taking any part in debate. He is looked up to as an absolutely impartial official. He forsakes Party when he enters the Chair, and is practically precluded even from addressing a political meeting in the country. The anomalies of the Lord Chancellor's position are sufficient already. There is no greater anomaly than the fact that he is called upon to sit judicially and at the same time to discharge Party duties as a Member of the Cabinet. There are many other anomalies. I hope, therefore, that to the existing anomalies will not be added the extremely anomalous duties of endeavouring to maintain order in the House and of showing in the slightest degree any preference to one Member of it over another with regard to speaking. I am quite sure that the Lord Chancellor ought to be kept clear of that.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.