Silence in the House

Lord Norton

My colleague, Lord Rowlands, a former Chairman of the History of Parliament Trust, has written a fascinating study of the House of Lords in the early eighteenth century.  It reveals some notable differences from the present House.  Then as now, debates could be lengthy.  However, so too could speeches, with a peer sometimes speaking for two or two-and-a-half hours.  Nowadays, we have time limits.  Even more remarkable was when members reflected on what they wished to say:

‘One extraordinary feature of a few of the early eighteenth century debates, which would seem unimaginable to present day members, was silence.  There, actually, were occasions when members would sit for a quarter/half an hour before anyone would rise.’

Those were the days!

3 comments for “Silence in the House

  1. Bedd Gelert
    26/10/2008 at 11:19 am

    As part of a considered effort to try and move the focus of my blog comments away from Lord Mandelson, and because it is a Sunday, I was thinking that as he is someone who would clearly have an alternative career as a ‘Bond villain’…

    Well, you can guess what is coming next – does the House of Lords have some ‘closet thespians’ on the benches ? Anything from a bit of am-dram to a charity panto appearance, or even some who have progressed from the world of the arts, or treading the boards, to the ‘corridors of power’ ?

    I am vaguely aware there is a ‘tap-dancing troupe’ in the other place featuring Hazel Blears and Harriet Harman, to name but two..

    Perhaps you have ‘tripped the light fantastic’ yourself, Lord Norton?

  2. howridiculous
    26/10/2008 at 12:19 pm

    Dear Lord Norton,

    What an interesting post! How marvellous to see that there was a time when some politicians not only thought about what they wanted to say but some of them clearly decided they did not have anything worthwhile to say. I wonder if there were similar periods of silence down the corridor in the eighteenth century?!

    On a not unrelated point, would the Hansard Society be able to investigate whether there was some way you could upload to this website papers such as the one you mention? I am sure some of the blog readers would be interested to read them.


  3. lordnorton
    26/10/2008 at 12:43 pm

    Bedd Gelert: The current House has members who have been actors or who are closely allied to the acting profession as well as amateur thespians who perform, for example, at the annual charity evening for Macmillan Cancer Relief. I fear I am neither a dancer nor an actor: never danced (never seen the point) and I can only act as myself (and possibly not very well!).

    Howridiculous: As far as I am aware, the publication in question is not available electronically. It is a short booklet – ‘”A Golden Age” – Peer Power in the Early 18th Century’ – published by Tydfil Books, part of Tydfil Training Consortium Ltd, and, according to Lord Rowland’s preface, published as part of a desktop training exercise. I will, though, make inquiries. In any event, I suspect I will be drawing on some of its fascinating material for later posts.

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