HC Deb 21 November 1884 vol 294 cc141-65

in rising to move— That, in view of the fact that the Conservative Party is able, and has for many years been able, through its permanent majority in the House of Lords, to alter, defeat, or delay legislation, although that legislation has been recommended by the responsible advisers of the Crown, and approved of by the Nation through its elected representatives, it is desirable to make such alterations in the relations of the two Houses of Parliament as will effect a remedy to this state of things, said, that he was one of those who thought that speeches in that House could not be too brief. He, however, was in this difficulty. About two years ago the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) had brought forward a Resolution in favour of the abolition of the House of Lords which he himself had seconded, and neither of them occupied more than five minutes in making their speeches. But when the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War rose he gave as one of his reasons—not, perhaps, the only one—for opposing the Resolution that their speeches had been exceedingly brief. Therefore, any time that he might now occupy beyond five minutes the noble Marquess, and not himself, would be responsible for. It was somewhat fortunate that he had obtained that place for his Motion that evening, for at that moment the Leaders of the House of Commons were engaged with the Leaders of the House of Lords in discussing privately the reform of the constitution of the Lower House; and it seemed to him meet and proper that they should reciprocate the compliment, and discuss not privately, but in an open manner, the constitution of the House of Lords, and the more so because recent events had shown that the House of Lords possessed far more power and influence, not only in Conservative circles, but also in Liberal circles, than he and many other Members of the House had anticipated. He thought that many Liberals would admit the Preamble of the Resolution he had proposed, and if they admitted the Preamble they ought to admit its conclusion. He was himself a Single Chamber man, and he was in favour of the abolition of the House of Lords. He was, however, perfectly aware that matters progressed slowly in that House, and that if he had proposed a Resolution in favour of the abolition of the House of Lords, although that Resolution might meet the approval of millions outside of the House, it would have found but few to support it within the House. He had, therefore, made his Resolution an exceedingly mild and temperate one, in order that it might obtain the vote of those hon. Members who would not go as far as he should wish them to do, because he believed that if they once took the first step in this matter the others would soon follow. The strongest advocate of an Upper Chamber would admit that such a Chamber should contain men of superior wisdom as compared with the other inhabitants of the country; that they should be experienced, well versed in politics, and independent; and that there should be nothing of haphazard in the mode in which they became legislators. But could that be said of the House of Lords? He could understand hon. Members being in favour of two Chambers if the Upper House was constituted in the way he had indicated. He was not about to enter into the vexed question of the hereditary principle; but everybody knew that the element of haphazard entered very largely into that principle. The fact that a man was very clever or very foolish did not depend upon the accident of his birth, but on other circumstances. They did not have hereditary Royal Academicians. It was true that recently a Poet Laureate had been made a Member of the Upper Chamber; but no one had ever thought of making hereditary Poets Laureate. It was said that the intellectual elite of the nation was sent up into the House of Lords, which was a proposition that he could not assent to. No doubt there were a great many exceedingly able men in the House of Lords; but that was a matter of haphazard. He was sorry to be personal in the matter; but he would ask hon. Members to recollect the character of the Gentlemen who had been sent up to the House of Lords during the last 20 or 30 years, and to say whether, in their opinion, those Gentlemen represented the intellect of the nation. Some of them had been sent up there because they had been Ministers—some able Ministers, no doubt—and some had been sent up there because they were not able Ministers. The rule was that a man selected to be made a Peer should be a man of large acres, faithful to his Party, who had not spoken very much in that House, but who had cheered the Leaders of his Party, and who had been ready, before the Corrupt Practices Act was passed, to spend a deal of money upon his election. It was those qualifications which were regarded as giving their possessor a claim to be made an hereditary legislator for this country. He believed that, as a matter of fact, those who had studied the subject of heredity had come to the conclusion that a man inherited his intellectual qualities from his mother, and not from his father. He had known the cleverest men having the stupidest sons; and he believed the intelligence of the father had nothing to do with the intelligence of the children. He did not want to be personal; but he would take a case. He would take the sons of Lord Chancellors. Lord Chancellors were probably the most intellectual and able among the men who were sent up to the House of Lords. But did their sons, as a rule, distinguish themselves in any way? Were they remarkable for their intelligence? Speaking generally, he did not think they could take as the cream of the intelligence of the country the sons of Lord Chancellors. Another objection he had was, that instead of all classes—and he was not talking of the artizans particularly—instead of all classes being represented, they had only one particular class in the House of Lords—that was the landed class—no doubt a very important section of the community; but there were other classes, even taking the question of wealth, who were as important as the landed aristocracy. He found, on looking at the Returns, that the House of Lords, as a Body, possessed 14,000,000 acres of land, from which they derived a revenue of £9,000,000 sterling annually. That proved that the House of Lords was based upon the territorial aristocracy of England. Then, were they independent men! They were rich, it was true; but they were the reverse of independent. He found that in salaries and annuities they received among them no less a sum than £639,900 annually; 83 of them were Privy Councillors, and 60 had orders and decorations of some kind, so that one in every four had to be rewarded for his services. Of course, those were honorary distinctions, and they did not amount to much; but when they had to be so profusely distributed to keep the Peers up to their duties, the latter could hardly be regarded as independent. He found it stated in The Financial Reform Almanack, a very excellent publication, one of whose specialities was its absolute correctness, that, since 1850, the families of the Dukes, Marquesses, and Earls in the House of Lords had received from the Public Exchequer rather more than £60,000,000. If they extended the inquiry to the other Members of that House, it would probably be found that they and their families had, in the whole, received upwards of £200,000,000 since that period; and he was not surprised at that. The House of Lords was the home of entail; and when the land descended in this way to the eldest son, the other sons had to come upon the Exchequer, particularly where a great many gentlemen thought trade was a contemptible thing, and that it was better to bring up their children in idleness, and turn them loose on the Public Exchequer, than to bring them up to business. The right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) had said, on one occasion, that the aristocracy of England was a gigantic system of outdoor relief, and he entirely agreed with him. Surely in an Upper Chamber they would desire that its Members should be arbitrators between Parties, and not be partizans. Was that the case in the House of Lords? They knew it was not, because the Leaders of that House were active politicians. They knew that the permanent majority of the House of Lords was Conservative, and they knew that the Leader of the Opposition had that majority entirely in his hands. During the last Session of Parliament, when the Franchise Bill came on, a great Whip was made; and the rural Thanes, who were unknown out of their own districts, and had never taken any active part in public life, came up to London, and by their means the Conservative Leader was able to throw out the Bill. It might, however, be said that there were a large number of Liberal Peers in the House of Lords. He, however, did not think much of those Liberal Peers. Some of them, no doubt, were excellent Liberals; but when class interests were touched they entirely forgot their Liberalism. How many of them voted for the Compensation for Disturbance Bill?—51 only; and that was the consequence of having the Members of a House derived from a particular class. He could not conceive a House more absurdly composed as a Legislative Assembly than the House of Peers. It was often said that some institutions might be absurd theoretically, but that they worked well in practice; but that could not be said of the House of Lords. It had been said that the object of the Upper House was to restrain hasty and impulsive legislation, and to give time for reflection. He would have thought, considering the length of debates in that House, that further time for reflection was not required. But, in any case, there was not a single instance in which, the country had agreed to their decision. If they were to take the vox populi as the vox Dei, the House of Lords had always been proved to be in the wrong. He would not go through the history of what the Lords had done. They all knew perfectly well that it had opposed the removal of the civil disabilities of the Dissenters, Catholics, and Jews; that it had opposed education, land reform, municipal reform, and Parliamentary reform. In fact, if the legislation of the past 50 years had been sound, they must hold that the views of the House of Lords had been thoroughly and absolutely unsound. But the Lords were too wise ordinarily to throw out Bills. They proceeded more insidiously by means of Amendments. They emasculated a Bill, and then sent it back to this House, where it was passed; and in a subsequent Session another Bill had to be brought in to again amend the law. When the Conservatives were in power the House of Lords was absolutely useless, for it was a mere echo of the views entertained by Members of Conservative persuasion in this House. When the Liberals were in power the House of Lords was pernicious. The Ministers were responsible for the government of this country; but they were unable to pass their measures as they would wish to do owing to the action of the Lords. Power resided in one place and responsibility in "another place." A Liberal Ministry had to consider not only whether a Bill would probably find favour in the House of Commons, but also whether it was likely to pass the House of Lords, and it was toned down for that purpose. While it was in that House hon. Gentlemen were frequently told that they must not bring forward a particular Amendment, because it would imperil the measure in the House of Lords. Amendments were introduced in the Lords, and then negotiations took place. Consequently, in the framing and carrying of every Liberal measure, no matter how large the majority of the Prime Minister might be in the House of Commons, the Conservatives, though they were not responsible, had a hand in it, owing to the permanent power they possessed in the other House. What would hon. Gentlemen opposite say if the position were reversed, and if there were a Radical Second Chamber with 500 Members, to whom all measures must be submitted? [An hon. MEMBER: You could not find so many.] If there were a House of 500 shoemakers of Northampton and the Conservatives when in power had to submit everything to these excellent Radicals, hon. Gentlemen would say the system was monstrous. The present system, in his view as a Liberal, was, mutatis mutandis, equally monstrous. When the present Ministers came into Office, one of the most difficult questions was the state of Ireland. That country was on the verge of revolution; evictions were taking place everywhere; and it had been stated from the Treasury Bench that an eviction was equivalent to a sentence of death. Accordingly the Ministry, who were responsible for the government of Ireland, introduced the Compensation for Disturbance Bill; but it was thrown out by the House of Lords. What followed? Assassinations and outrages followed. He did not wonder at it after the House of Commons had said that a stop should be put to evictions as almost tantamount to sentence of death, and Ministers were prevented from putting a stop to them by the House of Lords. Again, a Bill to amend the system of registration in Ireland was brought in last year; but hon. Gentlemen opposite and the House of Lords thought the measure would work badly for the Conservative Party, and it was thrown out in the other House. When the Burials Bill was before the House, the Liberals were told that they must not press this and that Amendment, because it would endanger the Bill in the Lords; and even when that Bill was sent up Amendments essentially Conservative in their nature were inserted by the Lords. They could have no better exemplification of the power of the House of Lords than the position in which they found themselves at the present time. At the last General Election a very large Liberal majority were returned. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was placed in power, and he did not think that for many a year a more powerful Minister had held Office in England, or one who enjoyed more the confidence of those who placed him in power, or was more respected and honoured by them. The Franchise Bill was introduced last year in accordance with the spirit of the elections, and was passed through that House by a large majority. The Prime Minister said he did not bring in the Franchise Bill and the Seats Bill at the same time, because to do so would be mistaken tactics, which might endanger the Franchise Bill. The right hon. Gentleman proposed, therefore, to first pass the Franchise Bill, and when that was perfectly safe to pass a Redistribution Bill. The Franchise Bill was passed through that House by a large majority. When the explanation was given why the Redistribution Bill was not brought in, a meeting of the Tory Leaders was held, and the result was soon seen. The Lords determined not to pass the Franchise Bill. They would not pass it, because they said they insisted on knowing what the Redistribution Bill was to be. The difference was a question of procedure rather than one of principle. It was a question whether the Prime Minister himself, as the Leader of the House of Commons, was to decide how he was to proceed in passing, not one Bill, but the two Bills; or whether the Conservative minority in this House were to force their view upon the majority and upon the Prime Minister. The country was appealed to through meetings. If he remembered rightly, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords himself accepted that appeal, and said he would meet meeting with meeting. At all the meetings of Liberals and Radicals the action of the Prime Minister was confirmed; and resolutions were passed calling on the Prime Minister not to give way to the arrogant and intolerable claims of the House of Lords. On Parliament meeting again what had happened? The Prime Minister had to make terms with the House of Lords. It might be called a guarantee, a surrender, or what they liked. The right hon. Gentleman had to retreat. It was a strategical retreat if they liked. He had to retreat from the position he occupied, and assume another position at the dictation of the Lords. The terms, so far as he understood them, were these. The Prime Minister had to meet, or had met, the Leader of the Tory Opposition in the House of Lords. The Leader of the Tory Opposition was to be told what the Redistribution Bill was to be. If he generally approved of this he was then to say that he would promise that the Franchise Bill should be passed. He was then to be shown the Redistribution Bill, and in consideration of the pledge that he had given he was to be allowed to make a considerable number of alterations in this Redistribution Bill; and then this Bill, as amended by the Leader of the Conservatives in the House of Lords, was to be brought into this House with a pledge from the Government that, whether a considerable number of their followers objected to any particular concession made to the Leader of the Opposition or not, Ministers were to insist upon their followers swallowing those alterations. They had here two patent facts. One was that the procedure had been altered in deference to the power exercised by the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords. In the second place, a new system of Government had been introduced. As far as he understood it, that House might consider itself utterly extinguished. He did not think any former case could be shown in which a Prime Minister, leading a majority in that House, had come to a private arrangement with regard to concessions with the Leader of the House of Lords, and his followers had been told they must accept them. What would be the use of discussion in the House of Commons? It was assumed that people were influenced by speeches; but they might talk like angels, and prove their case; but the Prime Minister would have to get up and say—"I think you are right; I have always thought so; but I have pledged myself and all the Members of the Government to vote against you, and I and the Conservatives opposite are going to crush out your votes." He gave that as an exemplification of a very remarkable state of things. The House of Commons had given up a great deal, and the House of Lords had shown the enormous powers it wielded. It was perfectly true that they got the Fran- chise Bill by this arrangement; but at what a price? They had to pass a Redistribution Bill which was first to receive the assent of the Marquess of Salisbury, and their votes had no chance of counting in that House. The present Prime Minister was exceedingly powerful; but they might have Ministers less powerful and more yielding, and then they should have to yield on every occasion that the Lords objected to the course the Commons was pursuing. There was a pleasing and comfortable theory that the Lords were dummies, and had powers but did not act on them; and that was adduced as an excellent reason for maintaining the present system. He denied that the Lords were dummies. Not only had they power by the Constitution, but they used it far too frequently, and they were using it at the present time in a manner most humiliating to the country and to the House of Commons. If the House was ready to submit to it, he doubted whether the country would be. The system of these Houses worked exceedingly well so long as the Government was an aristocratic Government, because the landed interest was represented by a majority in that House as well as in the House of Lords. He was thankful to say, however, that at each successive Election the House of Commons had been becoming more and more Democratic. The Members represented more and more the feelings of the masses; and he took it that the masses hated all these shams, and wished to know why, if the House of Commons represented the opinion of the country, there should be 400 or 500 hereditary Gentlemen who set at nought that opinion? As time went on, they would find that the House would become more and more Democratic, because the country was becoming more Democratic. When he had a Resolution for abolishing the House of Lords a Member told him he should vote against him. That same Member had told him since that if he brought the Resolution on again he should vote in favour of it. He asked the hon. Member if he was now convinced, and the reply was—"My constituents are convinced." He (Mr. Labouchere) suspected there were many others on the Liberal side of the House who would either be convinced by their constituents on this question, or would cease to retain the support of the electors they represented. The subject was a wide one, of which he had only touched the fringe, and he now hoped he had not elaborated it too much; but he was convinced that a Resolution such as he now submitted to the House would one day be carried. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.


in seconding the Resolution, said, he remembered a few years ago his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton giving Notice of a Motion somewhat similar to this; and he asked his hon. Friend whether he thought a House would be made for it; and the answer was—"No; I do not think there will be, for all the Radicals want to be made Peers." On that occasion his hon. Friend was a true prophet, for he could not get 40 Members to come down. He (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) was glad that they had now a clear issue, and that no one would prevent them from taking a Division and seeing who was who on this matter. It might be said that his hon. Friend did not point out any definite course to be taken with the House of Lords. He thought that was so; but it was not exactly the business of private Members to point out how things were to be done. Their business was simply to point out what they wanted done. In fact, he adopted the words of the President of the Local Government Board, who said that it was the duty of Radicals to permeate the Government. The Government, after all, was nothing more than the servant of the House; and when the House said they wanted a thing done it was for the Government to devise the means and to do it. The general principle of the Amendment was that a hereditary Legislative Chamber was absurd, un-Constitutional, and injurious to the public interests. They were told that they must have a House of Lords to check hasty legislation. Surely it was difficult enough to legislate at all. He did not know why they should want any checks at all. It was almost impossible for any private Member to carry a measure through that House. Checks on legislation! Why, his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) was a living and moving check on legislation. They rather wanted something to accelerate legislation. If a check were wanted the House of Lords did not supply it, for it was a grotesque Body, wholly un-suited to the purpose. What was the use of a hereditary Body? He did not suppose that the descendants of the hon. and learned Member for Bridport would be able to check legislation in that House in the same way in which the hon. and learned Member did. A General Election was the only means of getting at the opinion of the majority of the people; and what a deal of talk there was before they could get a House of Commons returned. It cost about £1,000,000. [An hon. MEMBER: £2,000,000.] Well, £2,000,000; he always understated his case. Then, when elected, it took them three or four months to pass the measure they wanted; and after all that labour a few hundred gentlemen—to use the elegant phrase of his right hon. Friend the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther)—"chucked" it out. It was like the recipe for making salad which he had once heard—so much vinegar, so much cream, so many lettuces, and then chuck it out of the window. It was said that the House of Lords always gave way when public opinion was clearly defined. That meant, then, that the Lords were to be the judges of what was public opinion. He objected decidedly to that, and said that the people's Representatives were the only persons to judge of what was public opinion, and that the most wholesome check was the fear of their constituents. But no such fear was present to the minds of noble Lords. The bulk of the House of Lords were hereditary. He did not want to take away their titles, or their crosses, or their ribbons, which were so dear to them. He did not wish to diminish the worship that was entertained for the Peers in this country. Everyone knew that the Peerage was the Englishman's Bible. He remembered a speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester in which his hon. Friend said that every Englishman either thought that he belonged to the aristocracy, or wished to belong to them, or pretended to belong to them. He did not want to disturb any old notions. In the North of England it used to be the case that whenever they saw it stated in the obituary of the newspapers that a person had died greatly respected they knew that such a person had died of drink. He did not want to interfere with the respect paid to the aristocracy. All he objected to was that men who were born and brought up in that way should be allowed to legislate for a free people. The right hon. Member for Birmingham had described these Peers as persons who entered through the sepulchres of their dead ancestors; and that was true of many of them. Somebody had sent him an interesting Paper the other day, which showed that since 1830 there had been 249 new Peerages made. How many of them did the House think the Conservatives had made? Why, 68; while the Liberals had made 181. He said that every Peer the Liberals made was an outrage upon Liberalism, and they went to the other House to maintain the fabric of privilege and injustice. It might be said they were Liberals when they went up there; but they did not remain Liberals very long; and just as certainly as a Radical Member going up from that Bench below the Gangway to the Bench above it became more useless than he was before, so certain was it that when they sent up a sound, stalwart, healthy Liberal to the House of Lords, he soon became, through the influence of the atmosphere of pride, privilege, and prejudice, as emaciated and enervated as the other Members of that Assembly. Why were men sent up there? Were they sent up for superior virtue or superior wisdom? No; the bulk of them were sent up either because they were millionaires, or good electioneerers, or big brewers, or successful soldiers. They had either made much money, or bribed many voters, or brewed a great deal of beer, or killed largo numbers of people. That was their House of Lords; but those were not the only reasons. There was another reason why they were sent up, and that was because they were of no use anywhere else. Was there any Member of the House of Commons who would trust his private affairs to such heterogeneous men as these?—not one. He challenged anyone to say that he had unfairly described the' House of Lords. But what he objected to was that those persons should have a veto over the legislation brought forward by the people's Representatives. He did not want to be hard upon them, or to injure them; but he wished to stop their veto upon the procedure of the Repre- sentative Chamber. He would let them, bring in as many Bills as they liked, and the Representatives of the people would deal with them. Let them pass any number of Resolutions. They were always carrying Motions condemning the policy of the Government and in favour of war. Last Session they came down in great force to discuss a matter of the greatest importance—namely, whether the Wellington Statue should remain at Hyde Park Corner or not—and they decided by a good majority that it should remain there. What followed? The First Commissioner of Works cut the Duke's head off and sent it away. Nobody cared two straws for their fancies or follies in such things. But let them not veto the legislation of that House. If the House of Lords would let them alone, that House would let them alone. He said that it was not only absurd, but also un-Constitutional. No doubt that assertion would be controverted, because few seemed exactly to know what the word Constitutional meant; but he meant by it that which was an abuse—that which was kept up without even the sanction of ancient precedent. Their Constitution was representative, and Parliamentary institutions, if they meant anything, meant representative institutions. In old times that House used to send up to the Crown Petitions, which were now called Bills; The Sovereign made them Acts of Parliament, and they became laws of the land. The Lords in those days were not a Legislative Body at all; but they assembled merely to advise the Crown, and the Crown took their advice or it did not. They filled to some extent the part which the Privy Council now filled. Gradually the Lords encroached on the Constitution, and interfered with the Bills themselves. That was an un-Constitutional state of things, because the government of this country ought to be, and was supposed to be, by a majority of the House of Commons and the Ministers of the Crown; and any interference with that power was revolutionary, un-Constitutional, and ought to be put down. The current of political life in this country for the last 50 years had flowed in favour of civil and religious liberty. That current had been steadily opposed by the House of Lords. The Irish Members knew that the great curse of their country had been the con- duct of the House of Lords towards it during the last half-century. Last year that House had passed a certain Bill by a majority of 130; but the other House "chucked" it out. It had been passed again by a majority of 140, and yet it was not out of the wood. The House of Lords had compelled the Prime Minister, supported by the vast majority of the House and the people out-of-doors, to make a compromise. He did not give his opinion on that compromise, because when he talked to his friends he received so many different opinions. The first Radical he met had a black look on his face and called it "a surrender;" the second declared that the Prime Minister had given up nothing; and the third affirmed that they might depend upon it the Prime Minister had done the Lords. He would not say which of those opinions was his own; he was not sure that he had got an opinion. He did not say whether the Prime Minister had taken the right course or the wrong. He was sure the right hon. Gentleman intended to take the right course; but it was a humiliating thing that any communication should have to be made with the bitterest foes to progress, and with the views of an Assembly who ought to have nothing whatever to do with deciding who should represent the Members of the country in that House. That was humiliating; but though he was humiliated, he was not disheartened. His hon. Friend said the House of Lords was strengthened by that. They might look a little stronger; but it was only momentary. He himself went about the country a good deal, addressing meetings of all sorts; and he could say that nothing was so popular in any great popular assembly as any assertion that the House of Lords ought to be done away with. An hon. Member representing one of the Divisions of Yorkshire told him the other day he had a letter from a leading constituency asking him to come down and make an "end them" speech about the House, of Lords, and he need not trouble himself to say a word about vaccination and similar subjects. Why was the hon. Member for Hackney elected on Wednesday? He told the people he was for the abolition of an hereditary House of Lords, and he was returned by a majority of 6,000. There was only one man who stood at that moment be- tween the House of Lords and its destruction, and that man was the Prime Minister. He wished he could say any word that would persuade the right hon. Gentleman to stand out of the way. Never mind; he had saved them this once; but it was only a reprieve. The right hon. Gentleman had the country at his back; he had a righteous cause; and if he had gone boldly at those hereditary legislators, and had done away with them, he might have made himself an everlasting name. Perhaps he would do it yet. But even if the Prime Minister did not do it there were some of them sitting in that part of the House who would take the job in hand. That night they had fired their first shot at the citadel of obstruction. They would see when they went into the Lobby who was for a faction and who was for the people. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had once defined Radicals as only Liberals in earnest. The Prime Minister had got some Radicals in his Cabinet, and he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) was going to make an appeal to them. The first he would appeal to was the "Permeator"—the President of the Local Government Board. He claimed his vote, for he had voted with his right hon. Friend in the days when they called him "Citizen Dilke." He saw another valued Friend of his, the late Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Trevelyan), with whose name he trusted this great Reform would ever be associated, and he would ask him to be with them that night. Again, he would ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) to indorse in Parliament the words he had used on the platform. He would tell him that it was no use going about the country making epigrams against the House of Lords unless he voted with his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton that evening. He asked all those right hon. Gentlemen to join them in their attack on that great obstacle which stood in the way of political progress, and the most ghastly object which defaced and deformed their political system.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in view of the fact that the Conservative party-is able, and has for many years been able, through its permanent majority in the House of Lords, to alter, defeat, or delay legislation, although that legislation has been recommended by the responsible advisers of the Crown, and approved of by the Nation through its elected representatives, it is desirable to make such alterations in the relations of the two Houses of Parliament as will effect a remedy to this state of things,"—[Mr. Labouchere,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


I think it will be generally felt, whatever may be the opinion entertained by individuals or portions of the House as to the nature of this Motion, that it has been moved and seconded with great ability; and I may congratulate my hon. Friends that although they have drawn a most doleful picture of the woe, misery, and dishonour which the country and its institutions suffer under the stigma and opprobrium of having a House of Lords, yet their impressions about the character of that institution have not in the slightest degree lessened either their sarcasm, or humour, or the fun which they have been able to introduce into this debate, and by which they have contributed so much to the entertainment of the House. I am very glad that this is the case. But they are sensible that, apart from exaggeration, a very serious and great question is raised—great in its beginnings, but greater still if you contemplate it in the many stages through which it will have to pass before even the most sanguine man can hope to arrive at a practical issue of the controversy. Now, Sir, I will refer first of all to that part of the question upon which I am almost stricken dumb; and that is the arguments of the Mover of this Motion upon what he terms the extinction of the House of Commons, in consequence of communications that have been instituted between persons not ordinarily acting together in political matters. My hon. Friend has said that, in his opinion, the House of Commons is as good as extinguished; and even my hon. Friend the Seconder of the Re-solution, though he carefully abstained from giving any opinion upon it, says that the House of Commons is humiliated, and that he is humiliated. I own it seems very difficult not to give an opinion in regard to transactions which have the effect of either extinguishing or humiliating the House of Commons. I hope myself never to be a party to any proceeding by which the House of Commons can be either extinguished or humiliated. If I shared in the slightest degree the sentiments that there is humiliation, much less extinction, attached to anything that has been done, or is likely to be done, most certainly I should not be one of those who would be found to enter upon, or to continue, such communications as may be referred to. My first duty as regards this part of the subject is—as that communication has been instituted, and, as I think, with very general approval—my first duty is perfectly clear, and it is to say nothing upon that point which could possibly interfere with any beneficial result to be anticipated from those communications. I would remind my hon. Friend the Mover of this Motion that at no period of this controversy has it been said by the Government that we refused to introduce a Redistribution Bill before the Franchise Bill became law.


The Home Secretary, explaining the words of the right hon. Gentleman, said that the Bill would not be introduced into this House until the Franchise Bill had become law.


Pardon me. I rather think the statement was that our first work was the Franchise Bill, and that no other work would be allowed to interfere with it. That is the engagement upon which we have taken our stand from first to last. Well, my hon. Friend has said that there is no instance of an arrangement with the Opposition in regard to a measure of great importance. I do not think that he is accurate in that statement. [Mr. NEW-DEGATE: Hear, hear!] On the contrary, I venture distinctly to say he is inaccurate. I will not absolutely say I am aware of any case of a measure of very great importance in which it has been attempted to make an arrangement with what is termed the Opposition before the introduction of the Bill. But then, Sir, I must also point out the very great peculiarity of the case. Generally, when a great measure is introduced into this House, within the circle of Party politics you have reason to believe beforehand that there is considerable difference of opinion between the two sides of the House on the sub- ject-matter of debate. Take the Irish Church Bill, or, indeed, either of the Irish Land Bills. In all these cases you have had reason to suppose that on the subject-matter of the measure there was a great difference of opinion. But here a distinction is to be drawn of a most solid and important character. This proceeding is inseparably associated with—I will not say our positive belief—but our belief that there is no sensible difference of opinion, and with our serious doubts whether there was such difference of opinion. It had been done in consequence entirely, not of communications underground, but in consequence of declarations made in this House; and proceedings perfectly and absolutely public, and within the cognizance of everyone who hears me, have been the ground on which what has recently been done has been done. But although it is true, or may be true, that such communications have not taken place, or have rarely taken place, in regard to great measures before their introduction, yet it is exactly the same thing which frequently—I may almost say habitually—occurs; and that is that when the differences between Parties have been argued out, and the mode of their adjustment has been arranged between the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Government, and with the full cognizance and approval of this House. The transactions are clear in my memory, as if they had been yesterday, both with regard to the Irish Church Bill and both Irish Land Bills; and in those cases this House was absolutely and perfectly aware that arrangements were made, to which it was invited to accede, as a means of passing those measures into law. That is precisely what is now in contemplation. I do not say whether it will be clone, for I cannot tell whether it will be done or not; but I say that if it is done, just as in the case of the Irish Land Bills and the Irish Church Bills, the House was invited to accede to certain provisions for the sake of passing them, so it will happen in this case. The very worst is that a similar invitation will be given in this case; but with this difference—that in those cases there were sharp differences of principle which separated the two Parties; whereas, at the present moment, I have no knowledge of any sharp differences of principle which should separate us. But these are im- portant questions bearing upon the large issue. Beyond that I will not go. I will not enter into the question of who has surrendered, or whether anyone has surrendered. Those are matters entirely beyond the purview of my present speech; but I will come to what is directly and properly the subject of debate at the present moment. Now, Sir, I will not enter at large into the observations made in the speech of the senior Member for Northampton with regard to the hereditary principle. I am by no means an idolater of the hereditary principle; in a long course of Office as a Member and as the Head of a Liberal Government I have often suffered considerably from it. But, at the same time, I am not prepared to treat the hereditary principle with the unqualified condemnation which has been passed upon it by the Mover and Seconder of this Motion. My hon. Friend seems to think that the transmission of talent, capacity, and certain habits of mind is hardly ever associated with hereditary descent. He quoted the case of Lord Chancellors in particular, as men illustrious for their intellectual distinction; but he might have recollected in the history of the country, not going back very far distant beyond a recent period, that a father and son were both Lord Chancellors, and I suppose that the second Lord Chancellor derived something from his male progenitor. Then there is the case of Lord. Chatham and Mr Pitt, by common assumption two of the most powerful men who have ever directed the affairs of this country.


I referred to the eldest son of Lord Chatham.


The hon. Member is shifting his ground. He did not say that he confined his observations to eldest sons; but I understood him to pass his sweeping condemnation on all sons alike. I understand him now to limit that proposition, and to say that no clever and distinguished man ever has an eldest son equal to himself. At the same time, I have in my mind many instances to the contrary. Take the case of the present Earl Grey. I can fairly take him, because he is a nobleman who never agrees with me; but who will doubt that the present Earl Grey, as the son of an able and distinguished man, is not an exceptionally able and distinguished man himself? Take, again, a Colleague of my own. The present Earl of Derby is the son of a late most distinguished and brilliant Prime Minister. I think there is a strange exaggeration in the manner in which these questions are brought forward. But I will also say, in the face of the Mover and Seconder of this Motion, what I shall never cease to say before any audience, that the hereditary principle is a thing to be judged not merely by its absolute, but by its relative merits. It is to be judged by the considerations, not only of what it is in itself, but what is its power and influence in checking the domination of other principles which, if it were entirely removed, would come in in its place. Why, Sir, there is the principle of wealth. In a country where wealth is made on so large a scale and by so many persons, and where its influence is so enormous, if it were not for some counterbalance, its domination would become too great. If I were attempting to argue this question on its merits, I should say that you cannot consider the entire case of the House of Lords without taking into view the extensive and powerful local influence—the enormous influence—of these men. I should further point out that English society—I am by no means certain, notwithstanding what has been said—that the people of this country, that the mass of the people of the country, are prepared altogether to part with it. Of this I am convinced—that if we had arrived at the happy consummation desired by my hon. Eriend—namely, of having only one House of Parliament—we should then have a state of things in which all Members of the House of Lords would be like other people, qualified to be elected as Members of it. My proposition is that, in these circumstances, you would find that a proportion of them would be elected infinitely larger than would be represented by their numerical strength, having regard to the general body of the people. They would be elected upon principles of absolute freedom, and elected for their worth; and if it be true, as it is admitted, that large numbers would come into this House upon their own personal merits, then it would mitigate and qualify the extreme condemnation passed upon them by my hon. Friend. These are the opinions which I conscientiously entertain; but, without entering into any broad pro- position upon the subject, I would only say I do not think that the hereditary principle is entirely disposed of by censures of the kind which have been delivered upon it to-night. That is a consideration in the discussion of a general character which has nothing to do with the question whether this Motion ought to be entertained from a practical point of view. Now, Sir, the Motion made will have to be encountered by various sections of men, who entertain opinions very distinct from one another, but who will probably concur in voting against the Motion which has been made to-night. First of all, of course, there are a large body of men, a minority in this House, no doubt, but a considerable minority, who at times have represented the majority in it. All the Gentlemen who sit opposite will, no doubt, be prepared to oppose the Preamble of the Motion of the hon. Member for Northampton; but there is a second class who will be disposed to hold that the House of Lords for very many years has been able, through its permanent majority, to deal with, the legislation intrusted, to it, and that it has done so in a manner beneficial to the best interests of the country. Another class of the opponents of the Motion will be those—and with these I am myself more nearly allied—who think that there is a great deal to object to in the legislative action of the House of Lords during the last 50 years, who are not prepared to commit themselves on that account to alter the Constitution of the country, and to enter into a difficult, long, and arduous controversy at a time when we have a great deal else to do. We, who are the Liberal Party, are inclined to complain a great deal of very much that has been done by the House of Lords. With that I fully agree. I go a considerable length in that direction. Yet I must, as a candid man, looking at this question for a practical purpose, consider this—that, notwithstanding all this action of the House of Lords of which we are inclined to complain, we have had a period of 50 years such as has never been known in the entire history of the country—I may almost say in the entire history of the modern world—for the vast amount of practical legislation which it has introduced upon the Statute Book of this land, and from which we are from day to day reaping the benefit. I must endeavour to weigh what we have reaped, and what has been achieved under the actual Constitution of the country, before I commit myself entirely to the changes for which I admit there is a great deal to be said; but which, at the same time, seem to me to require a great deal of consideration indeed before we take any single step in the adoption of their principles and aims. I would finally say that besides these considerations there is another. There is a phrase which has come, in connection with ecclesiastical affairs abroad, into use of late years—the phrase as to opportunity and the character of the opportunist. Is the Motion of the hon. Member for Northampton an opportune Motion? I pass by now those who oppose the Motion on principle. I pass by those who feel it to be their duty to pause, hesitate, and consider much before they commit themselves to a controversy of such broad issues; and I must say, on the simple ground of opportunity, that if I entertained the general political opinion of the Mover and Seconder I would not make this Motion to-night. We have in view what is certainly a great occasion. We have invited the House of Lords to do a great act of justice, honesty, and policy, and, as we think, Liberal wisdom, by passing the Franchise Bill. That is what we have invited them to do; and it is in improving legitimate and honourable means our invitation, and strengthening that invitation, that we are at the present moment particularly employed. Is that a happy moment for bringing up this case and flinging in the face of the House of Lords all that we can, of disinterring from history all that we can disinter of the history of the last half-century to show how far, in our judgment, they have fallen short of what we think they might have done? No two Gentlemen are more earnestly desirous than the Mover and Seconder for the passing of the Franchise Bill; and if that is the object of their desire, I own it appears to me, even from their own point of departure, an error to press upon the House a Motion of this kind at a time when we are inviting the House of Lords to do what we are firmly convinced is an act of wisdom, but which we must all feel would be an act of grace. In these circumstances I do hope that they will not expect the House to receive this Motion with very great favour. I am sorry that, under the circumstances of the moment, it should be pressed on the House even by its extremest friends; and I say boldly for my own part, if I went the whole length with the Mover and Seconder in the opinions they entertain on the general question, I would not at this moment, with the issues before us, ask the House to give a vote in that spirit.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 145; Noes 71: Majority 74.

Acland, rt. hn. Sir T.D. Fitzmaurice, Lord E.
Alexander, Major-Gen. Fletcher, Sir H.
Allen, H. G. Giles, A.
Amherst, W. A. T. Gladstone, rt.hn. W.E.
Ashmead-Bartlett, E. Gladstone, H. J.
Aylmer, J. E. F. Goldney, Sir G.
Balfour, A. J. Gordon, Sir A.
Barttelot, Sir W. B. Gorst, J. E.
Beresford, G. De la P. Grant, A.
Biddulph, M. Greer, T.
Blackburne, Col. J. I. Harcourt,rt.hn. Sir W. G. V. V.
Blennerhassett, Sir R.
Bourke, right hon. R. Harris, W. J.
Brand, hon. H. R. Hartington, Marq. of
Brassey, Sir T. Hastings, G. W.
Brodrick, hon. W. St. J. F. Hay, Rt. Hon. Admiral Sir J. C. D.
Bruce, rt. hon. Lord C. Hayter, Sir A. D.
Bruce, Sir H. H. Henry, M.
Cameron, D. Herschell, Sir F.
Campbell, Lord C. Hibbert, J. T.
Campbell, J. A. Hicks, E.
Campbell-Bannerman, right hon. H. Hill, T. R.
Holden, I.
Carden, Sir R. W. Home, Lt.-Col. D. M.
Cartwright, W. C. Hope, right hon. A. J. B. B.
Childers, rt. hn. H. C. E.
Churchill, Lord R. Houldsworth, W. H.
Clarke, E. Hubbard, right hon. J. G.
Clarke, J. C.
Clive, Col. hon. G. W. James, Sir H.
Coope, O. E. Jenkins, D. J.
Corbett, J. Kennard, C. J.
Cotes, C. C. Kennaway, Sir J. H.
Cotton, W. J. R. Kinnear, J.
Courtauld, G. Lawrence, W.
Courtney, L. H. Leatham, W. H.
Cowper, hon. H. F. Lechmere, Sir E. A. H.
Crichton, Viscount Lefevre, rt. hn. G. J. S.
Cross, J. K. Leigh, R.
Cubitt, right hon. G. Lennox, right hn. Lord H. G. C. G.
Dalrymple, C.
Davenport, H. T. Lloyd, S. S.
De Worms, Baron H. Lowther, rt. hon. J.
Digby, Colonel hon. E. Lowther, J. W.
Ebrington, Viscount Lubbock, Sir J.
Egerton, hon. A. de T. Macartney, J. W. E.
Egerton, hon. A. F. Mackie, R. B.
Elton, C. I. M'Clure, Sir T.
Ferguson, R. M'Coan, J. C.
Findlater, W. M'Garel-Hogg, Sir J.
M'Lagan, P. Smith, A.
Makins, Colonel W. T. Stanhope, hon. E.
Manners, rt. hon. Lord J. J. R. Stanley, E. J.
Talbot, J. G.
Marriott, W. T. Thornhill, T.
Mills, Sir C. H. Tollemache, hon. W. F.
Mundella, rt. hn. A. J. Tomlinson, W. E. M.
Newdegate, C. N. Torrens, W. T. M.
Northcote, rt. hon. Sir S. H. Tottenham, A. L.
Tracy, hon. F. S. A Hanbury-
Northcote, H. S.
Norwood, C. M. Tremayne, J.
O'Brien, Sir P. Trevelyan, rt. hn. G.O.
Onslow, D. R. Tyler, Sir H. W.
Otway, Sir A. J. Verney, Sir H.
Parker, C. S. Walker, S.
Peel, rt. hon. Sir R. Wallace, Sir R.
Percy, Lord A. M. Warton, C. N.
Phipps, P. Watkin, Sir E. W.
Raikes, rt. hon. H. C. Watney, J.
Ramsay, J. Wilmot, Sir J. E.
Richardson, T. Wilson, Sir M.
Ross, A. H. Wodehouse, E. R.
Round, J. Wortley, C. B. Stuart
St. Aubyn, W. M.
Scott, M. D. Grosvenor, right hon. Lord R.
Sellar, A. C.
Smith, rt. hon. W. H. Kensington, rt. hn. Lord
Anderson, G. Mackintosh, C. F.
Armitage, B. M'Carthy, J.
Arnold, A. M'Carthy, J. H.
Barclay, J. W. M'Minnies, J. G.
Barran, J. Mason, H.
Biggar, J. G. Morley, J.
Bolton, J. C. O'Brien, W.
Borlase, W. C. O'Connor, A.
Brett, R. B. O'Connor, T. P.
Briggs, W. E. O'Kelly, J.
Broadhurst, H. Peddie, J. D.
Bruce, hon. R. P. Picton, J. A.
Bryce, J. Powell, W. R. H.
Burt, T. Power, J. O'C.
Cameron, C. Power, P. J.
Campbell, Sir G. Pulley, J.
Collings, J. Redmond, W. H. K.
Corbet, W. J. Reid, R. T.
Cowen, J. Richard, H.
Deasy, J. Roberts, J.
Edwards, P. Roe, T.
Elliot, hon. A. R. D. Russell, C.
Farquharson, Dr. R. Ruston, J.
Ferguson, R. C. Munro- Rylands, P.
Firth, J. F. B. Sexton, T.
Flower, C. Shaw, T.
Gourley, E. T. Sheridan, H. B.
Gray, E. D. Storey, S.
Grey, A. H. G. Stuart, J.
Hollond, J. R. Summers, W.
Ince, H. B. Webster, J.
James, C. West, H. W.
Jenkins, Sir J. J. Williamson, S.
Johnson, E. Woodall, W.
Leamy, E. TELLERS.
Lee, H. Labouchere, H.
Macfarlane, D. H. Lawson, Sir W.

Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," again proposed.