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The Breach Of Privilege

Volume 41: debated on Monday 16 August 1920

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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.