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Lords Chamber

Volume 41: debated on Monday 16 August 1920

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House Of Lords

Monday, 16th August, 1920.

The House met at a quarter past four of the clock, The LORD CHANCELLOR 011 the Woolsack.

The Breach Of Privilege

My Lords, it will be within the recollection of your Lordships that on Tuesday of last week the noble Marquess the Lord Great Chamberlain drew attention to an incident which had happened in this House on the preceding day, when an apparently disorderly interruption had been made in the course of a debate here by an Irish Privy Councillor, the Right Hon. Mr. Carlisle, from the steps of the Throne. 1 was then authorised by your Lordships to address a letter to that right hon. gentleman inviting an explanation from him. The correspondence has been published—by his action, not by mine—in the columns of the newspapers, but nevertheless it would seem to be only right that it should appear in the records of your Lordships' House. This was the letter that I wrote to him on August 11—

Sir,—As you will observe from the Official Report of the proceedings of the House of Lords yesterday (a copy of which 1 enclose) the attention of the House was drawn by the Marquess of Lincolnshire, Lord Great Chamberlain, to an incident for which you wore responsible that had occurred on Monday afternoon. It appears from the report of the proceedings (for 1 was not myself present) that, taking advantage of the privilege accorded to you as a Privy Councillor of admission to the steps of the Throne, you indulged during an Irish debate in an interruption which was not only without precedent, but was regarded by the House in general as a grave abuse of the privilege which you were enjoying at the moment and as a serious affront to the dignity of their Lordships' House.
Before taking further notice of the matter, the House of Lords agreed unanimously yesterday afternoon that as Leader of the House I should in the first place address a letter to you calling your attention to the gravity of the offence and inviting you to make to the House such explanation of this unfortunate episode as you may think it proper to furnish.
In these circumstances I am now carrying out the instructions of the House, and I shall be obliged if you can favour me with an immediate reply in order that the matter may be disposed of before the end of this part of the session.
In the course of the twenty-four hours following upon this communication to Mr. Carlisle I received two irrelevant and unintelligible telegrams from him. They were followed on August 12 by the following letter, which I will ask your Lordships' permission to read—
My Lord,—I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your Lordship's communication of yesterday referring to my interruption of the debate in the House of Lords on August 9.
At the outset I desire to make it plain that if, in view of my position as a Privy Councillor, my action be regarded as derogatory to His Majesty the King, then, as a loyal and dutiful subject of His Majesty, I am prepared to make a sincere and humble apology.
If, however, my action be regarded solely as an affront to the dignity of the House of Lords, then I submit that the case is different. In normal circumstances I would willingly pay due deference to all established rules and customs. But, my Lord, the circumstances in the present instance were far from normal. Their Lordships were about to pass a measure which had for its object the wanton destriction of the constitutional liberties of my countrymen. Under such conditions as these the petty restraints of procedure may justly give place to the righteous indignation, not merely of an honest patriot, but all true lovers of freedom.
It was not my interruption that was the most serious affront to the dignity of their Lordships' House. The most serious affront to the dignity of that historic House was and is that the descendants of those who won at Runnymede the Charter of all British liberties should have proved themselves unworthy of their sires.
P.S.—My speech was thirteen words, and I had no paper in my hand, as is reported:—"My Lords, if yon pass this Bill you may kill England, not Ireland."
It is obvious from this reply that the action of the right hon. gentleman on that occasion was deliberate, that he has offered no sort of apology for it, and indeed that the terms of the letter which I have just read to your Lordships' House aggravate rather than diminish the affront which he offered both to the decorum of our proceedings and to the dignity of your Lordships' House. In these circumstances it appears impossible to pass over the matter in silence, and I would ask your Lordships' consent to the Resolution which I am about to move.

Moved, That the Right Hon. Alexander Montgomery Carlisle, having abused his privilege of being admitted to the steps of the Throne by disorderly conduct on August 9, 1920, should be debarred from the exercise of that privilege in the future.— (Earl Curzon of Kedleston.)

My Lords, I venture to think, on behalf of the independent members of your Lordships' House, that the course proposed by my noble friend opposite is the one we ought to pursue. Happily it is not an experience which is common in the House of Lords—I doubt whether it has ever happened before—that our proceedings are interrupted by the intervention of a disorderly remark from a stranger. If the stranger were of less position probably it would be better to have passed it by without too much attention, merely giving the necessary directions to the doorkeepers as to what was to be done if the stranger presented himself in future. But in this case it is no less a person than a Privy Councillor who has taken upon himself to interrupt the proceedings of your Lordships' House. He has adopted a method worthy of a schoolboy or of a suffragette, and I am sure that when he comes to think about it afterwards he will himself feel ashamed that he has adopted such a course. But we, of course, should not pass it over in silence, and the Resolution which my noble friend has proposed seems to me thoroughly suitable to meet the occasion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The Russo-Polish Situation

My Lords, I had hoped before we separated this afternoon to have been in a position to make some definite statement to your Lordships either about the progress of hostilities in the Eastern parts of Europe or about the negotiations which have been started between Poland and Russia at Minsk. But I am incapacitated from doing so for the reason that the information possessed by the Government is in no respect in excess of that which has already appeared and is appearing from hour to hour in the columns of the Press. It is clear that fierce fighting is going on in that part of the world between the two parties. We hear of towns being taken and retaken, and evidently the Poles are putting up a strenuous fight for their capital. On the other hand it would appear that the Red Armies are closing in upon Warsaw, and I cannot conceal from your Lordships my impression that that city is in very grave danger. I might mention that the Allied Legations and Missions have retired from the town and are now safely established at Posen.

As regards the negotiations, the delegates of the two parties have already after long delay—which it is rather difficult to explain and the responsibility for which is thrown by the one party upon the other—at length met at Minsk, and the negotiations are no doubt now proceeding. In those circumstances it appeared to His Majesty's Government that it would hardly be fair to keep Parliament sitting from day to day at this period of the year in the hope of receiving information which may or may not come and which may in any case be delayed for a few days longer. I therefore propose, in this House, to ask your Lordships' assent to a repetition of the Resolution which you have passed on two occasions during the past six years. The first was at the opening of the war in August, 1914, when, upon the adjournment, it was thought very desirable to provide an opportunity, if necessary, for the re-summoning of this House in order to hear any important Ministerial statements that might have to be made. There was an interesting discussion upon that occasion, to which reference has since been made. The second occasion was in April of the present year when, being about to separate for a holiday rather longer than that which was to be taken by the House of Commons and it appearing to be not unlikely that a Ministerial statement might have to be made in both Houses Of Parliament upon there-assembling of the House of Commons, your Lordships again passed a Resolution admitting of the summoning of this House in those circumstances. In the discussion that took place it was, I think, laid down by the noble Lord who is opposite me, and was accepted by myself speaking for the Government, that it would only be in the event of a national emergency of considerable importance that such a step would be taken by us.

Accordingly the terms of the Motion which I will make, identical with that winch we have discussed previously, are as follows—

That this House on its adjournment do adjourn to October 19, except that if it appears to the satisfaction of the Lord Chancellor that the public interest requires that the House should meet at any earlier time during such adjournment, the Lord Chancellor may give notice to Peers that he is so satisfied, and thereupon the House shall meet at the time stated in such Notice and shall transact its business as if it had been duly adjourned to that time.

I may here mention also that it was agreed on the last occasion that in the event of such a situation arising, of which, of course, the Leader of the House as a member of the Government would be the best judge, he should put himself into communication with the Lord Chancellor after ascertaining the views of noble Lords who sit opposite, and that that should be the way in which this procedure should be set in motion. I may add that, following the useful example which we have thus set on two occasions, the House of Commons is, I believe, this afternoon for the first time in its history going to pass a similar Resolution; so that, my Lords, we have the advantage of having inaugurated a procedure which, although it ought to be carefully safeguarded, is, I think, very useful for any emergency of the character that I have described.

I may add that of course we should not ask Parliament to meet again merely to hear news that you can gain from other and non-official sources. The only condition so far as I can see in which it would be thought desirable to summon Parliament during the recess would be if, contrary to the hopes that we entertain, events which are happening at Minsk involve any direct infringement of the independence of Poland and of the maintenance of her ethnographic frontiers which we, along with our Allies, are pledged to maintain. That obligation, my Lords, is laid upon all of us by the Treaty of Versailles, by the Covenant of the League of Nations, and by the pronouncements and declarations which we have all of us made from time to time.

Our policy—here I am referring more particularly to the policy of the British Government—has been the same throughout in respect of Poland. It has never wavered one iota. It is the policy that was pronounced along with that of our Allies at the Conferences of Boulogne, of Spa, and of Hythe. It was stated in another place only last week in a speech of considerable fulness by the Prime Minister, and that policy I submit to your Lordships has been endorsed by the unanimous public approval of the country. What are our objects, my Lords? They can be stated in a couple of sentences. The first I have already indicated—it is to secure the independence of Poland within her legitimate frontiers, not, I may say, an aggressive or imperialistic Poland which might be a menace to her neighbours, but the Poland with which we are familiar in history, a Poland that shall be able to maintain her national existence as a bulwark of civilisa- tion and a bar against anarchy in that part of Europe. Our second object, and even a wider one, is the peace of Europe. We want, so far as it rests with us, to bring peace to a distracted world. This country no more than any country that I know is in a mood for fresh wars, least of all wars that are dictated or suggested by impossible aims. We in this country neither have the available forces nor have we the available treasure to indulge in any more such adventures, and I think I may add, too, that the country has not the spirit or the stomach for any such further undertakings. Public opinion here and everywhere is bent upon securing, if that be possible, a just and an honourable peace; and since the beginning of the war, when the nation flamed forth in a spirit of unbroken unity in support of the then Government, I can recall no occasion when the public sentiment of this country was more united in this respect than it is at the present time.

My Lords, that is the advice which we have given to the Polish Government, and I may add incidentally that only this morning we had a telegram from our Italian Allies to say that that advice, which has been challenged in some quarters, met with their complete and enthusiastic support. I hope that circumstances will not arise that will demand the meeting of Parliament under the Resolution which will be moved later, but no action by His Majesty's Government in excess of or in opposition to the policy which I have laid down will be taken without giving an opportunity to Parliament under this Resolution of expressing an opinion upon it.

Alloa Water Order Confirmation Bill

Read 3a (according to Order), and passed.

Ready Money Football Betting Bill

Returned from the Commons, with the Amendments agreed to.

Mining Industry Bill

Returned from the Commons, with certain of the Amendments made by the Lords agreed to, with certain other Amendments made by the Lords agreed to with Amendments, and with consequential Amendments made to the Bill.

Moved, That the Commons Amendments be now considered.— (The Earl of Crawford.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Before moving that your Lordships agree to the Commons Amendments to the Amendments inserted by this House I should like to say in a few words what is the purport of the action of the Commons in relation to your Lordships' Amendments.

The House will remember that on three main points the Bill as introduced by the Government was modified. The Ministry of Mines became a Department of Mines. In the second place the payment of the expenses of the various committees, as proposed by the Government, was materially changed; and, finally, Amendments were made in this House relating to the decentralisation of the betterment fund. On all these three points the House of Commons has accepted your Lordships' views. There are, however, certain Amendments that are purely consequential and are designed in order to make the Act of Parliament more clear. One Amendment reappears six or seven times; it is that the word "mineral" is omitted and the words "mining industry" inserted. It is looked upon as a point of some importance by the expert draftsman.

With regard to the payment of the expenses of the committees your Lordships, at the instance of Lord Selborne, excluded certain words limiting the obligation of the owners to pay towards the cost of these committees. But having done that Lord Selborne did not move to omit the latter part of Clause 15, which provides for the payment of the other sections, by the owners, of these committees and boards. The House of Commons, having accepted your Lordships' view that the pit committees should be paid for their attendance by the owners, have excluded the latter words of the clause which they look upon as tautological. If nothing is said about payment the assumption is that each party will pay its own expenses. It is in the nature of a consequential Amendment. With regard to the last point—the decentralisation of the betterment fund—the Amendments proposed by your Lordships have been accepted.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendments.— (The Earl of Crawford.)

I think your Lordships are under a great debt of obligation to the House of Commons for the courteous way in which they have received the Amendments that we inserted in the Bill. I gather from the statement of the noble Earl that there is no very material difference in the Amendments which the Commons have now introduced.

May I interrupt the noble Marquess? I forgot to say that, as this is to be a Department and not a Ministry, the House of Commons has reduced the salary from £2,000 to £1,500.

On that point your Lordships, remembering their place in the Constitution, did not venture to express an opinion. We simply omitted the figure and left it to the House of Commons to insert whatever amount they thought fit. Broadly speaking, there has been no material change in the Bill since it left your Lordships' House. Certain Amendments to the Lords Amendments have been inserted, but though they are somewhat more than of a drafting nature they are really designed to and do carry out the intentions with which your Lordships inserted the Amendments when the Bill was before you. The two Houses are practically in complete agreement on the Bill, and I think it is a very satisfactory issue.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Ministry Of Health Provisional Order (New Windsor Extension) Bill Hl

Commons Amendments considered and agreed to.

Inverness Water And Gas Provisional Order Bill

Brought from the Commons; read la ; and (pursuant to the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1899, Section 7), deemed to have been read 2a (Lord Stanmore), and reported from the Committee.

Coatbridge Burgh Order Confirmation Bill Hl

Returned from the Commons, agreed to.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.

Royal Commission

The following Bills received the Royal Assent—

  • Consolidated Fund (Appropriation).
  • Maintenance Orders (Facilities for Enforcement).
  • Duplicands of Feu-duties (Scotland).
  • Representation of the People (No. 2).
  • Pensions (Increase).
  • Telegraph (Money).
  • Resident Magistrates (Ireland).
  • Merchant Shipping (Scottish Fishing Boats).
  • Post Office and Telegraph.
  • Census.
  • Census (Ireland).
  • Firearms.
  • Fertilisers (Temporary Control of Export).
  • Public Libraries (Scotland).
  • Dangerous Drugs.
  • Ministry of Food (Continuance).
  • Indemnity.
  • Blind Persons.
  • Mining Industry.
  • Duchy of Lancaster.
  • Ready Money Football Betting.
  • Jurors (Enrolment of Women) (Scotland).
  • Seeds.
  • Mayor's and City of London Court.
  • Ministry of Health Provisional Order (New Windsor Extension).
  • Ministry of Health Provisional Order (Widnes Extension).
  • Alloa Water Order Confirmation.
  • Coatbridge Burgh Provisional Order Confirmation.
  • Royal Bank of Scotland.
  • Wear Navigation and Sunderland Dock (Finance).
  • Merthyr Tydfil Corporation.
  • Cardiff Corporation.
  • Llanelly Corporation Water.
  • Dublin Port and Docks.
  • Huddersfield Corporation (General Powers).
  • Yeovil Corporation.
  • London County Council (Money).
  • Salford Corporation.
  • Manchester Ship Canal.
  • Workington Harbour and Dock.
  • London Electric Railway Companies (Fares, etc.).
  • Bristol Corporation.
  • Southend-on-Sea Gas.
  • Londonderry Corporation.
  • Erith Improvement.
  • Osborne's Divorce.
  • Shekleton's Divorce.

The Autumn Adjournment

Provision For Emergency Meeting During Recess

My Lords, I beg to make the Motion which was read to your Lordships earlier this afternoon by the Leader of the House.

Moved, That the House on its adjournment to-day do adjourn to October 19, except that if it appears to the satisfaction of the Lord Chancellor that the public interest requires that the House should meet at any earlier time during such adjournment, the Lord Chancellor may give notice to the Peers that he is so satisfied, and thereupon the House shall meet at the time stated in such Notice and shall transact its business as if it had been duly adjourned to that time.— (The Earl of Crawford.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at six o'clock until Tuesday, 19th October.