HC Deb 21 March 1890 vol 342 cc1519-47

on rising to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is contrary to the true principles of representative Government, and injurious to their efficiency, that any person should sit and vote in Parliament by right of birth; it is therefore desirable to put an end to any such existing rights, said: I may remind the House that I have brought this question before the House on four occasions. On the first occasion I was counted out. In 1885, I brought it forward again, and on that occasion the Motion was adopted by a considerable number of Members on my side of the House, but the leaders of the Liberal Party held aloof from it, and, if I remember rightly, voted against it. I again brought it forward in 1888, when I was more fortunate, for not only was the Motion adopted by the entire Liberal Party, but it was voted for by our official leaders in this House. In 1889 I again brought it forward, and the Resolution was ratified by the adherence of the Liberal Party and its leaders. Of course, I can hardly think that the leaders would vote for a Resolution in Opposition which they would not support when they hold the responsibility of office. I therefore take it that this incubus will disappear with the disappearance of the Tory majority which now restrains all legitimate and proper Liberal action in this House. I have been told that my Resolution is not within the area of practical politics, and that the discussions to which it gives rise are academic. Considering the progress the Motion has made, I do not think it can be called academic, nor can it be said that the question is beyond the area of practical politics. In reply to the question why, being so sure, do I continue year after year to slay the slain, and that it might be as well to wait until we have a majority, knowing that the majority would then know how to deal with the question, I say first that, although I have the greatest confidence in my leaders, I think in a matter like this it is just as well to keep their memory green, and in the second place, I wish to convey to the constituencies the tidings of great joy that in voting for a Liberal Party they are voting against the House of Lords. This, I think, will stimulate their zeal and increase the majority at the next General Election. I have always thought that our programme has not been sufficiently thorough, and I have endeavoured as far as I could to accentuate the differences politically between ourselves and the Party opposite. I have been greatly struck with the poverty of the arguments against my Resolution. Some Gentlemen have held that hereditary legislators make so perfect a second branch of the Legislature that it is impossible to conceive anything better in this fallible world. The arguments are of that fetish kind only worthy of an African savage defending his false gods. I found on the last occasion Members of the Government taking this view of the matter. The Chief Secretary for Ireland said that he objected to the Motion not merely on its merits—he objected altogether to the abolition of the hereditary principle. Why? Because, he said, the English people had received this inestimable treasure from their ancestors, and they would not be guilty of the midsummer madness of destroying it. Petitiones principii. The right hon. Gentleman is not only an eminent politician, he is an eminent philosopher. He has got only one follower as a philosopher, and I am that follower. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Cranborne), the son of an eminent Prime Minister, and the descendant of one of the most eminent of Elizabethan statesmen, went even further in his fetish-like admiration of the House of Lords than the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He said that society is constituted on the elementary principle of a man being the son of his father. The noble Lord declared this in consequence of the doctrine that political society ought to be constituted on the principle of a legislator being the son of a legislator—a principle which he much preferred to the elective system. The noble Lord did not like the elective system, under which he said that candidates give pledges which they do not understand, and vote for measures in which they do not believe. Nobody has a better right than the noble Lord to speak for the Conservative Party, and it is interesting to learn the Conservative view of the elective theory. This accounts for a good deal of what is said and voted on the other side. Another proposal is to qualify the hereditary principle by restricting the number of Peers sitting in virtue of that principle to those who are elected by their own order. A hereditary right to legislate is absurd, but a hereditary right to choose legislators is still more absurd. The property qualification has been done away with in the House of Commons, and I do not believe the country will have a hereditary qualification for the other House. It is argued that if Peers are deprived of the power of legislation they ought to have a quid pro quo. That suggestion reminds me of the proposal to compensate the owners of rotten boroughs in a former generation on their abolition. To these hereditary Peers it is proposed to add a number of nominated Peers. My view is that a system of nomination would be as pernicious as the hereditary principle itself. It is as absurd as it would be for a plaintiff or defendant to nominate his own jury. It would also lead to the undesirable result referred to by the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Curzon) of having two classes in one Chamber, especially if, as has been suggested, the nominated members were to be dissenters and labourers. Then it is proposed that representatives of the colonies should be added. Well, I have never discovered that any colony wants to be represented in the Upper Chamber; they prefer their own autonomy, to which such representation would be inimical. I cannot see what good would come of a Marquis of the Cape of Good Hope or an Earl of New Zealand. The most notable suggestion comes from Lord Dunraven, who has proposed a sort of moral censorship, excluding the black sheep. This idea will be familiar to Scotch Members in connection with the kirk. For myself, I have never attached much force to the black sheep argument, though it is rather ridiculous that a man who has been warned off a racecourse and expelled from the Jockey Club, should come down here to legislate for the people of England by hereditary descent. I have always thought, however, that the private moral character of the Peers is a matter that concerns themselves, and that we are only concerned with the political functions they exercise. There are black sheep in every assembly, and the consideration of a man's private character is irrelevant. It may seem to be a paradox, but it is, nevertheless, true that a most dissipated disreputable hereditary scamp who votes right does less mischief than a model of domestic virtue and moral excellence who votes wrong. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley), the author of that excellent phrase, "We must end or mend the House of Lords," has come forward as a reformer of the House of Lords, and advocates the giving to a man the option to appear in which House he should sit. My right hon. Friend clearly thinks that all the capable Peers would choose the Lower House, and he aims, no doubt, at making the House of Lords the House of Fools, so ridiculous that it would fall to pieces of itself. This plan is too much of the "Dilly, dilly, come and be killed" character, and the Peers would never assent to it. I should oppose any such scheme on the ground that it would give too great an advantage to Peers. My right hon. Friend will remember that Mirabeau, who was a Peer of France, gained his immense influence in the early period of the French Revolution by electing to represent the Third Estate. He gained an immense reputation from the mere fact that, having been a nobleman, he preferred and was ready to come forward as the representative of the Third Estate. No, Sir, I maintain that the right to sit here must involve the absence of a right to sit in the House of Lords. The non possumus argument is frequently urged against my proposal. It is urged that the House of Lords would not consent to the mutilation of its own privileges, and to sign its own death warrant. The course threatened at the time of the first Reform Bill, namely, that of creating fresh Peers, would, however, he quite sufficient to overcome this difficulty; and the threat, without its performance, would probably, as then, be quite adequate to its purpose. It is absurd to suppose that the House of Lords would be able to hold its own against the clearly-declared will of the people. Hereditary legislators are an absurdity. It is, of course, said that the system works well. In my opinion it works exceedingly ill. Is there a single reform, and I speak of those reforms which have been passed and which are now admitted to be useful, is there a single one of them which the House of Lords has not opposed? The House of Lords has opposed every single measure which is considered useful to the country at the present moment. The House of Lords always acts unfairly in its functions as regards the two Parties in the State. I think it will be admitted that the main function of the Upper House is to bring about an appeal to the people if the Lower House exceeds its mandate, violates its pledges, or loses the confidence of the nation. If the Upper House were to fulfil that function fairly and impartially, there would be certain advantages in its existence. But I believe it would be beyond the wit of man to find a number of men who would perfectly fulfil such a duty, and I am certain they have not been found in the House of Lords. Suppose a Tory Government loses the confidence of the nation. As far as the Lords are concerned it can do so with absolute impunity. When the Tories are in Power that peculiar function of the Lords is absolutely in abeyance, and it is necessarily in abeyance because the permanent majority there is of the same colour as the temporary majority here. Then let us suppose a General Election, with the Tories anxious to get in, and a proposal being made on the part of the Liberal Government for a Land Purchase Scheme with an Imperial guarantee. The Tories, let us say, have pledged themselves absolutely against such a scheme, but the election having gone in their favour, they at once propose a Land Purchase Bill with an Imperial guarantee. Will hon. Gentlemen say that the House of Lords would throw out such a Bill? Not at all. Again, let us suppose a Liberal Government anxious to abandon coercion and to pass a Home Rule Bill, and the Tories equally opposed to coercion and saying that they would not grant Home Rule. If the Tories succeeded to power, and brought in a Home Rule Bill in this House, would the House of Lords throw it out? Hon. Members know the Lords would do no such thing. I will put on a third supposition. Let us suppose a Tory Ministry has been in power three years, that they have associated themselves with disreputable persons in circulating forgeries, and when these documents have been proved to be forgeries have refused to denounce their associates; let us suppose that all the bye-elections have gone against them and that the people of England are anxious to get rid of the Government; under such circumstances would the House of Lords say they would do their best to promote an appeal to the people? We know perfectly well that the House of Lords would do no such thing. Any hon. Gentleman who doubts it has only to go into the House of Lords at the present moment, and there he will find a Prime Minister engaged in bringing forward a Resolution which his Colleagues in this House have already passed against the protests of the Liberal Party. Let us suppose again a great Liberal measure has been put before the people, that it has been discussed ad nauseam in the Press for seven long years, that an election has taken place, that the Liberals have got a majority, and then brought in a Bill to give effect to their promises. Would the Lords pass the Bill if carried in this House? So far as one can see they would at once throw it out in order to force a second election, in the despairing hope that they would weary out the feeling of the entire country in favour of the measure. A Government requires freedom of action, and ought to have it so long as the country is with it, but the Peers will not allow it. The Government said that compensation for disturbance was necessary to maintain law and order, but the House of Lords would not have it, and the Government was obliged to fall back on coercion. The Liberal leaders are twitted with having had recourse to coercion, but that is the case only when the measures they project are interfered with by the House of Lords. That interference is not confined to throwing out Bills; it is perpetual and persistent. In fact, the policy of a Liberal Government has to be a species of compromise. When a Bill goes before a Liberal Cabinet, and it is suggested that it should be made stronger, the Lord Chancellor will at once say, "Oh, no; for if you do we cannot get it through the House of Lords." Whenever an Amendment is suggested in the House of Commons the answer of the Government is—"Oh, pray do not urge it; no doubt the Bill would be the better for it, but if you carry it we shall not be able to get it through the House of Lords." Then there is a double watering down. The Bill goes up to the House of Lords, which inserts some clauses and omits others. A sort of bargain is therefore made. Some of the Amendments are accepted by the Commons, and the Bill is passed in such a shape that it can hardly be called a Liberal Bill at all. If the Lords were actuated by patriotic motives one could not complain, but they are actuated by personal and class motives. I know it is frequently said that an Upper House should be Conservative in the true sense of the word. That I fully admit, but I complain that the House of Lords is a Conservative House, thoroughly and essentially, in the Party sense of the word. The leaders in the House of Lords are partisans, and when they find their opponents in power, they seek to put them out—for the good of the nation they say, and they probably think so, but they also desire to put themselves in their opponent's places. They are personally interested, as also are the rank and file. There are many political salaries divided among Members of the House of Lords, and there are also social salaries. One noble Lord gets a salary for galloping after Her Majesty's dogs, another receives £2,000 a year for walking about with a stick. There are six or seven noble Lords paid for these things, and they fight for the places in a wonderful manner. Some of them have places connected with the Bed Chamber. I think there are a number of these offices which are given far Party fidelity. If you examine into the matter you will find that these Gentlemen. have done nothing exceptional for their Party; they have voted straight, and probably given considerable sums for Party organisation, and yet they have spread themselves over the Civil List—and I have always thought that Ministers should not encourage the idea that the Monarch expends all the money granted for the Civil List, but should give the public to understand that a large amount of it goes to noble Lords in this way. Last year it was proposed to give a large sum for the maintenance of the children of the Prince of Wales, and it was then suggested that that should be done by abolishing some of these places—by taking away salaries given to noble Lords for doing nothing, and devoting them to the purposes for which they were then intended. The Government opposed it. They knew the value of their hereditary proposition, and they knew they would hardly be able to carry on the business of the country unless they were able to pay these Gentlemen for doing perfunctory duties. Then there are a great many incidental advantages, accruing to Members of the House of Lords. There are three Orders of Knighthood—the Garter, St. Patrick, and the Thistle; these are distributed largely among noble Lords, not for any merit, but for Party support. Beyond this, there are Lord Lieutenancies, and all sorts of jobs for the benefit of friends and relations of noble Lords. Look at that [the Ministerial] Bench. I do not wish to make any invidious observations as to this Gentleman or that Gentleman, but Members below the Gangway on the other side will agree with me that there are Gentlemen on the Front Ministerial Bench who are there solely because they are relatives of great Magnates in the other House—Gentlemen receiving, perhaps, £5,000 per annum, who, in any other walk of life, would find it difficult to earn £500. But this is not all. Concessions are granted to noble Lords. A concession in South Africa was recently granted, the market value of which is about £3,000,000, and it is a remarkable fact that the two most prominent persons among those on whom it was conferred, were a Liberal Unionist Duke and a Tory Duke. Does anyone suppose that if the Liberal Party had been in power, these Gentlemen would have got this concession? It would have been given—but they would not have got it. When the Tories are in power, if a member of a Peer's family is suspected of crime, the Lord Chancellor, the Prime Minister, and the Attorney General put their heads together to get him out of the country in order that he may not be punished. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Yes, hon. Gentlemen opposite meet charges in that way. They meet them with a direct denial. And when a Member of the Upper House makes a denial on the subject, we in this House are not permitted to question that denial. The fact is the House of Lords play with loaded dice against the Liberal Party. When the Liberal Party are in office they practically have to share power with a Committee of the Carlton Club, and it is to those gentlemen that we have to submit our measures. What would hon. Gentlemen opposite think if, when the Conservative Party is in office, it should have to submit its measures to the approval of a Committee of the National Liberal Club? Yet one thing is not more outrageous than the other. The Chief Secretary for Ireland recently described the House of Lords as "a most inestimable treasure." No doubt it is a most inestimable Tory treasure. That is why I am opposed to it. We are very foolish if we accept this tutelage on the part of the Carlton Club. Why have we done so for so long? It has always been a matter of wonderment to me, but I suppose the reason is that the democracy has only of recent years made real progress, and that formerly both Parties in the House to a great extent consisted of rival bands of aristocrats fighting for power. Both sought profit and power from the House of Lords. In those times there were Gentlemen in this House who called themselves Liberals who were actually anxious to become Members of the House of Lords. Of course that will never occur again. No hon. Gentleman now sitting on the Front Opposititon Bench will ever dream of making one of that body. All hon. Members on this side have assented to the principle embodied in this Resolution, and are agreed that the hereditary principle is injurious in its effects. At the present moment democracy has become a power. The people claim to rule, having acquired the right to do so, and they have no idea of allowing 600 persons to interfere with their will, still less 600 hereditary Gentlemen belonging to one class, actuated by strong personal interests, and many of them receiving large salaries. The House of Lords in its essence is antagonistic to the principles of democracy. Its existence is incompatible with the democracy, because the corner stone of the democracy is the principle that the laws should be made by the representatives of the people who have to obey them. In order to see how nuch the House of Lords is out of touch with the country, let us consider what would take place if the Liberal Party was returned in a majority to this House and proceeded to deal with the question of Home Rule? How many Members of the House of Lords are in favour of Home Rule? ["Hear, hear "from the Ministerialists.] "Hear, hear," say hon. Gentlemen opposite. Some 10 or 20, and I am afraid they would require to have the prospect of large salaries to be in favour of it, so that the result would be that practically one entire branch of the Legislature would be intriguing against and refusing to legislate in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the House of Commons and of the country. Take another plank of the Radical platform. How many Peers are in favour of Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Church of England? Very few I should think. Take, again, the question of an Amendment of the Land Laws. How many Peers are in favour of that? Uncommonly few; and as years pass the antagonism between the House of Lords and the House of Commons is becoming more and more accentuated, for the one remains unchanged and the other progresses. Perhaps some hon. Gentlemen, even on the Liberal side of the House, do not appreciate the strength of the movement against hereditary legislators. There is not a Liberal Association throughout the country that is not ready to pass a resolution in favour of such a Motion as this. There is not a public meeting of the Liberal Party at which a suggestion to sweep away the hereditary principle is not received with acclamation, and there is not a constituency in which a man would be accepted as a Liberal candidate if he refused to pledge himself to the abolition of that principle. ["No, no" from Captain VERNEY.] The hon. Member did not pledge himself. If I have my eyes off one of my hon. Friends, see what follows. I am Chairman of the Liberal Association at Olney. Everyone in that Association is in favour of this Resolution, and yet because I trusted the hon. Member and regarded him as a good Liberal, and did not look after him at the election in North Buckingham, he has deluded the Association of which I am Chairman. I hope the hon. Member will amend at the next election, and express himself in accordance with the views of his own constituents, of whose Association I have the honour to be Chairman. Hon. Members opposite will no doubt enjoy their "inestimable treasure" so long as they remain in office, but they cannot hope always to bask in the sun of power, and that we shall always be in the shade of Opposition. The Liberal Party is pledged against this hereditary power of legislation, and upon their return to office will certainly proceed to deal with the question. I beg to move the Amendment of which I have given notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is contrary to the true principles of Representative Government, and injurious to their efficiency, that any person should sit and vote in Parliament by right of birth; it is therefore desirable to put an end to any such existing rights,"—(Mr. Labouchere,) —instead thereof.

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

(4.57.) MR. ATHERLEY-JONES (Durham, N. W.)

I am afraid the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has left very little for me to add in support of his Motion. I would remind hon. Members opposite that the Motion does not aim at the abolition of the House of Lords, but at its modification by amplifying the system of life peerages which, with the cousent of both parties, was an innovation introduced some years ago. Up to 1832 the two Houses were, no doubt, in harmony, owing to the composition of the House of Commons being more or less aristocratic, like the Upper House, but all that has been changed. Since the Reform Act of 1832 the democratic elements have entered more and more into its composition and have become the preponderating elements on both sides of the House of Commons. I cannot do better to show the change which has come over the relations between this House and the House of Lords than to quote the words of a very distinguished writer on Constitutional history, who says:— Since the Reform Bill of 1832 the House of Peers has ceased to be the House of latent directors of our policy, and has become one of typical objectors and palpable alterers. It might be argued by those who view this question from an opposite point of view to myself—by the hon. Member for Southport, for instance, from whom I trust we shall have the advantage of hearing an address of equal value to that we had from him on a previous occasion—that the House of Commons possesses full and complete power over the House of Lords. That has become an established Constitutional usage, and if this House chooses to insist upon the passage of a measure, that measure, although it may be delayed, will be ultimately passed. But that is not all, as my hon. Friend pointed out, for if the House of Lords should determine to resist—as they very nearly did on the occasion of the Reform Bill of 1832—if they determine to resist to the bitter end the passage of a particular measure, then there is power in the Crown to appoint a sufficient number of Peers to secure the passage of the measure. But I submit that the mere act of the House of Lords eventually giving way in such cases is not a sufficient answer, because that House often delays measures of importance, and has delayed them to an extent which is fraught with serious consequences. I know the House is not fond of quotations, but I have here a few lines written by a great Constitutional lawyer, pointing out that, in the discharge of its onerous and important duties (to wit, the resistance of useful legislation), the House of Lords had maintained its independence and vindicated its responsible position as a branch of the Legislature by successful defence of the revenues of the Irish church, and its Amendment of the Municipal Corporations Bill, and its protected and spirited opposition to the repeal of the Paper Duty. A more conclusive indictment against the House of Lords for delaying measures of the first importance could not be quoted, and these words might well have been written in a spirit of irony instead of in a spirit of praise. Moreover, the House of Lords not only delays, but frequently mutilates measures, and has so mutilated many Bills passed by the House of Commons as to destroy their aim and most valuable characteristics. I may mention as instances of this the Municipal Reform Bill and the Merchant Shipping Bill, the Lords insisting on the retention in the latter measure of provisions which are a source of great danger to the seafaring population. But my case does not rest here; we have further to complain that they reject valuable measures, which, however, are not of such importance as to cause an outcry in the country. A valuable measure which has been sometime before the country would, I believe, have been long since passed into law but for the Bishops in the House of Lords—the Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister Bill. This is one of the most notable instances of a small measure being destroyed by the House of Lords' action. What are the arguments urged in favour of the House of Lords? It is said that that House is a revising body—that they are able to give that care and attention to detail which the House of Commons, with the great legislative pressure upon it, cannot devote to a measure, and that they thus prevent hasty and immaturely considered legislation. But I would, point out that, admirably as this function is performed by many able men in the House of Lords, this duty may be done with equal facility and with equally good results by a small Committee of specialists appointed by the House of Commons. It is urged that the Peers stop hasty legislation. I challenge hon. Members to mention one case in which a measure, hastily passed by this House, has been rejected by the House of Lords, and in which rejection they have been ultimately sustained by the House of Commons. There is no such case; there is not an instance in which they have prevented ill-considered measures being passed into law. Then, how do the House of Lords at present discharge their duties? I believe only three Peers are required to form a quorum, while the average attendance is from 10 to 15 only, and very often they will dispose of questions of vital importance, such as the Queen's Speech, in a great epoch of Constitutional history, by a debate of a few hours. The only subjects to which they appear to give much attention are those in which their own class and personal interests are involved. Undoubtedly the standard of most of the Members of the House of Lords, individually, is as high as that of Members of the House of Commons; yet it is a disgrace that men are permitted to remain in the House of Lords who would be drummed out from any other Legislative Assembly. I also ask hon. Members to consider the Motion from the point of view that in no other civilised country is there a purely Hereditary Upper Chamber. I admit that there is an hereditary element in the Upper Chambers of other countries, but in all of them there is an official and elective element as well. This Resolution does not go further than to propose that there should be some attempt to place the House of Lords in conformity with the Upper Houses of other countries. It is not a Motion which aims, at the abolition of the House of Lords; it merely aims at a modification of the present conditions under which that House exists. The noble Lord the Member for Rossendale, whose absence we must all deplore, said, in a speech which he made in 1884, that those who supported this Motion had not come forward with any proposals of a practical character as to the body that should take the place of the House of Lords if it were abolished. My answer to that is that it is quite reasonable for us to condemn the present condition of that Legislative Chamber, and that it will be time enough, when we have obtained a vote of this House declaring that the Hereditary Assembly does not fulfil the conditions required of it, to address ourselves to the consideration of what body should be substituted for it. It is not necessary for us to make any suggestion of that kind. It is true there are means which have been availed of in other countries, and notably in the constitution of the American Senate, which, if applied to the House of Lords, would better enable it to perform its functions to the satisfaction of the country. Undoubtedly this question has been treated from an academical point of view. It has not been treated with the seriousness that it ought to have been by the Liberal Front Bench, and I deplore the way in which it has been shelved. But I would remind hon. Members opposite that the most serious point they have to consider in the matter is that there is a great cleavage between the two Houses. The personnel of the House of Commons is no longer of the same character as it was before the Reform Bill of 1832; the House is no longer composed for the most part of Members of the aristocracy. This observation applies to both sides of the House, and not alone to the Back Benches, but also to the Front Benches. Whig landed proprietors and representatives of Peers, who used to govern the destinies of the country, no longer sit on the Liberal Front Bench, and a similar change has been in progress on the Conservative side of the House. Before long this House will have to deal with some very important questions, including the reform of the land laws, and, in all probability, measures of a very drastic and democratic character will be passed, and it is more than likely that such measures will be treated in a spirit of hostility and opposition by the House of Lords. It is, then, with the view of avoiding a great shock and of evading very serious difficulties that may arise in the future that the moderate proposal of my hon. Friend has been placed before the House; and in the hope that, by accepting and endeavouring to apply the principle of the Motion, we may be saved from results of a serious character—results that might lead to something which, as a noble Lord suggested the other day, would involve the sending of a Cromwell into the House of Lords to carry out the behests of this House—a Cromwell in the form of a body of newly created Peers—that I trust that both sides of the House will extend a favourable consideration to the Resolution of my hon. Friend.

(5.16.) MR. C. W. R. COOKE (Newington, W.)

I think it would have been better if the hon. and learned Member who seconded the Motion had consulted with his leader before ho spoke, as he has supported it on different grounds from those advanced by the hon. Member for Northampton, who said nothing about mending, but a great deal about ending, the House of Lords. The hon. and learned Member, on the other hand, has commended the Motion to the House on the ground that it is a moderate one, and does not commit the House to the abolition of the House of Lords. If the two hon. Members could manage to persuade their leaders on that point I am sure they would be glad of the instruction. The hon. Member for Northampton delivered an admirable speech on this subject on the last occasion he brought it before the House, and to-day he has expressed satisfaction at the result of the debate which then took place. But while he was speaking on this important subject to-day I noticed only 15 Members behind him and 30 opposite him, while during the speech of the hon. and learned Member who followed him the attendance of Members was still smaller. If the hon. Member for Northampton is satisfied with that condition of the House, I must say that he is thankful for very small mercies indeed. The object of the hon. Member in continually bringing this Motion before the House cannot be to strengthen his cause; and I think that if he will consult his own political friends they will tell him that while they are desirous of effecting reforms in the House of Lords his conduct weakens the object which he professes to have in view. What is that object? The hon. Member is a very much misunderstood man: he certainly disappointed the House to-night. He was absent from the House yesterday, when he might have rendered Ids Party valuable service by carrying out his views on the question of obstruction; and we might have expected that he would have devoted himself in his absence to a study of Joe Miller, in order to furbish up one or two jokes for the benefit of the House. But he does not seem to have taken that trouble. What, then, is his object? My opinion is that there is no stronger supporter of the House of Lords than the hon. Member, who, as we all know, is the proprietor of a publication which is chiefly concerned with the doings of the aristocracy, and if the House of Lords is ended the income from that paper would probably be considerably reduced. Why, then, has he come down to make such an extremely dull speech to 15 of his friends? I think it was a remarkable piece of self-denial on his part, and that his real object was to make out the Motion to be so ridiculous and absurd as to have the effect of strengthening the Chamber which he professes to condemn. Last year young Members of the aristocracy took up the time of this House in order to say that they preferred to stop in this Chamber; but if it is desired to strengthen the Upper Chamber I would willingly allow those young Members to go to that House. If there is anybody about to speak on this subject, I hope, considering the circumstances in which this grave question has been brought before the House, that no one will take the question seriously; up to the present time it has hardly been taken seriously even by the hon. Member for Northampton himself.

*(5.25.) MR. B. COLERIDGE (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I had expected to hear from the hon. Member opposite some argumentative defence of his opposition to this proposal; but all we have heard is that some hon. Gentleman in the Lobby told him that the bringing of a subject annually before the House has a tendency to weaken it. But it seems to me that all subjects which interest the House are brought forward annually, and that the Division Lists have shown that the interest taken by the House in this question is increasing, and will increase. The hon. Member has appealed to us to treat this question seriously. I propose to do so as far as I can. With regard to the position of the House of Lords, it used to be a council of advice to the Sovereign, a very important function, which has long been usurped by the Privy Council, and which the House of Lords no longer enjoys. Secondly, in theory it is the supreme Court of Appeal, a most important function for it to perform. But whatever may be the theory, in practice we know that the House of Lords has abandoned that position; and I believe that it was the opinion of the late Lord Cairns and other lawyers of repute that, the House of Lords now having allowed its rights to fall into desuetude as a Court of final legal appeal, it would not be permitted now for Lords who are not Law Lords to take part in any Division upon an appeal which had come before that Body. Therefore we may say, so far as the House of Lords is concerned, that the Privy Council and the Court of Appeal will go on perfectly well without the existence of that House. Thirdly, there is its existence as a branch of the Legislature. Before the Reform Bill of 1832 the House of Lords was practically the dispensing power in this country; not only was it a branch of the Legislature in itself, but it practically returned, directly or indirectly, a majority of the Representatives in this House. Now, I ask the House what the House of Lords has done since 1832? It has been said that the House of Commons is blocked with business, and has actually lost its originating power. But has the House of Lords taken advantage since 1832 of the block of business in this House to become in any sense an originating power? The only thing they originated was an Act to make void marriages with; a deceased wife's sister, and ever since that was passed the House of Commons has by consistent and repeated majorities, desired that it should no longer be the law of the land. Therefore, that was no great legislative feat. The other thing which the House of Lords had originated was the instituting into our municipal life a sort of poor imitation of their own body in the Aldermen of Municipal Corporations. I think we are all on this side of the House desirous, as we showed in the debates on the County Councils, to do away with that foolish anachronism, namely, the segregation of superior persons aloof the Representatives of the people. Of course, it may be said that it is useful to have a Body like the House of Lords to check hasty legislation; but I ask what legislation that is hasty has the House of Lords checked? Looking over the last 40 years I see one piece of legislation which indubitably bears the mark of haste. I allude, of course, to the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, which was passed at a time of religious bigotry, when people were greatly excited, and which was passed rapidly and hastily. And when the one occasion rose in which there might have been some sense in a controlling Second Chamber to prevent the passing of hasty legislation, what did the House of Lords do? Why it passed the Act almost without discussion. That being so, what is the object of the House of Lords? Everybody, I suppose, believes in the theory that political institu- tions in this country have for their object the carrying into effect of the will, matured if you like, of the people Surely the best way to effect that object is to make this House as representative as possible, and, in order to obtain the latest information as to the views of the people, to make the elections frequent. If we made this House thoroughly representative, and repeatedly appealed to the people for confirmation of its powers, what botter representation could we have of the mature reflections of the people at large? I ask myself on what basis we would reform our place, the Second Chamber? It has been suggested that the Peers themselves should elect certain of their own Body by the process of weeding out the less acceptable Members. Well, all I can say of that suggestion is, that the Liberal Peers in the House of Lords are few enough already, and by that process they would be weeded out altogether, and they will be in the position now occupied by the Scotch Liberal Peers, who have not the good luck to be elected by their own order to serve in the House of Peers. They will be out of it entirely. It is also said we could make a Second Chamber, based upon the same suffrage as the House of Commons; but they might have a more prolonged tenure, and, therefore, this might be in some sense a controlling Chamber on the action of the House of Commons. If we do that it seems to me we create two Chambers of co-ordinate powers, based upon the same suffrage, and we pit the two Chambers one against the other. I cannot conceive why, if we had one Chamber elected by the people at large, the same people should elect a Second Chamber to revise the decisions of the Chamber they had so elected. But it has also been suggested that we should place the suffrage of the Second Chamber on a higher basis, and allow the suffrage to be in the hands of a higher and more wealthy and prosperous class. Well, as a Liberal, I protest against this, for it seems to me it would emphasise still more strongly the distinctions between property and numbers, which it is the earnest desire of every Liberal to destroy. In that case we might have a very attractive Chamber. We might have a Chamber which would attract men of good social standing, men of position, men of intellect; but I protest, as a Member of this House, against taking the best men from it and placing them in another Chamber. If we are to conduct the business of this great Empire in the way in which it ought to be conducted we want all the best men which our race can produce in this House. We do not want mere political adventurers; we want energy as well as caution, and we want enthusiasm as well as disciplined experience. But assuming for a moment that we have got our Second Chamber, what is it to do? If it is nerveless, if it takes no action, if it is a mere registering Chamber of the decrees of this House, a mere lit de justice, there is no object in its creation and no reason for its existence. If we want, as has been said, a Second Chamber to revise and correct, apart from all political prejudices, the decisions and the proceedings of this House, then I ask how we are going to construct such a Chamber. It has been said of one great man that he was aloof from all the sordid occurrences of this life and unsullied by their intercourse; and if we are to have a Second Chamber entirely apart from political prejudices, of completely and absolutely wise men, then first of all I ask where are the men to be found? No process known to me can ever produce such men. We cannot trust Parties to nominate them. Of course, Parties will nominate them according to Party views and Party prejudices, and no system of election ever can be framed that can possibly produce them. I daresay we could get by a process of filtrated election, or by a suffrage confined to wealthy people, a Second Chamber of which I may call superior persons. We could no doubt have a Second Chamber of persons of the style, shall I say, of Professor Tyndall. We might have persons of that kind, but I say for either lack of political instinct and utter blindness of political vision and for undiluted political rancour commend me to the superior person. Surely it will be admitted at once that we live in a democratic country. Then is it not right and proper that we should manfully and fearlessly recognise the result of what we have done in giving the people at large the conduct of their own affairs? Surely it is better we should act up to the professions we make, and that we should brush aside all these fantastic Second Chambers which are the creation of ingenious brains, and that we should recognise at once that all these Second Chambers which have been suggested are, in reality, but creations for the purpose of thwarting and hindering the carrying into effect of the expression of the will of the people at large of this country.

*(5.40.) MR. CURZON (Lancashire, S.W., Southport)

Mr. Speaker, there is an air of unreality about this annual debate on the House of Lords. There has been a hollowness of declamation in the speeches to which the House has so far listened, and there has been a listless-ness of tone in the House itself, which do not betray very great interest in the question. If the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) meant his Motion seriously, I think he would give us a little more wisdom and a little less wit in his speeches; and if hon. Members opposite took this Motion seriously, I doubt whether they would have selected the hon. Member for Northampton as the leader of their crusade. Then we have had one speech from this side of the House, and I am bound to say that speech did not convince me that the Motion was taken any more seriously by the hon. Member (MR. Radcliffe Cooke) who made it. The hon. Member seemed most anxious to disassociate himself from all aristocratic connections, and he has no doubt himself been contributed to this House by the untitled democracy of Newington. Well, no one knows better than the hon. Member for Northampton that this Motion is a mere brutum fulmen. It is not by Resolution of this House, but by revolution that the House of Lords, if it falls at all, will fall. [Opposition cheers.] That point of view, I am glad to see, is endorsed by the cheers of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I conceive that were the Motion of the hon. Member to be carried to-night by as large a majority as that by which it is certain to be rejected, the House of Lords would not necessarily be one day nearer its destruction. I confess, Sir, that there is to me something of impertinence in the spectacle of this House, which is so sensitive of its own prerogatives, presuming to sit in annual judgment upon another Chamber which in most of the attributes of a deliberative and legislative Chamber is incompar ably its superior. And I think, too—and I make this reference only because the hon. Member for Northampton has anticipated me in doing so—that there is something comic, if not worse than comic, in the spectacle of an hon. Member who has lately been suspended from the service of one House of Parliament coolly getting up and proposing by a stroke of the pen, and for no offence, to suspend four-fifths of the Members of another. The hon. Member for Northampton has invited us this evening to condemn the hereditary principle. It is easy enough to make fun of the hereditary principle. That is a cheap rhetorical triumph which the pettiest provincial Cleon can attain. It is easy enough, too, to extol the representative principle, more particularly in an Assembly in which we owe our seats to the operation of that principle. We are naturally disposed to think that we are the best House of Commons in the world, and that the principle upon which we are returned is the best principle. As regards the hereditary principle, no one on these Benches, so far as I know, has ever attempted to defend that principle on the ground of abstract theory. I do not do so for one moment. No one has ever attempted to argue that the doctrine of hereditarily transmitted ability is a scientific induction sufficiently sound to supply us with a basis if we were constructing a new Legislative Chamber. I say that no one has ever said that, and no one presumes to say so now. But Houses of Parliament are not made by theories any more than they are destroyed by Resolutions. We have to face this fact—that the hereditary principle, however unsound it may be in theory, has gradually but surely established itself in this country as an automatic mode of selection, not only for the; Members of the Upper House of Parliament, but also for regulating the succession to the Throne—under the sanction, I admit, of the House of Commons—and also for the determination of the laws and customs of inheritance in every-day life. And, Sir, we have further to face the fact which the hon. Member for Northampton conveniently ignores, that this hereditary principle which it is so easy to deride is not only a popular principle with the country, but one which becomes in- creasingly popular from year to year, and that it is one to which democratic peoples, democratic Governments, and democratic constituencies, lose no opportunity of evincing their attachment. Sir, I see on the Front Opposition Bench my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds (Mr. H. Gladstone). I am sure he will not think it due to any impoliteness on my part if I say that he originally owed to the operation of the very principle which the hon. Member for Northampton derides that seat in this House which he has since justified by his own ability. There sits next to him upon that Bench another right hon. Gentleman. I can remember the day when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt), who will presumably follow his leader the Member for Northampton into the Lobby to-night—I can remember when the right hon. Gentleman brought to a pitch, of intense enthusiasm a popular audience by assuring them that he, too, was a scion of the Royal stock. I am sorry to see the right hon. Gentleman deny by shaking his head that which I have always regarded as one of the few redeeming features of his career. Then, Sir, in a neighbouring country, professedly the most democratic in Europe, we have the spectacle of a statesman elected to the Presidency of the French Republic on the ground—which must be most abhorrent to the hon. Member for Northampton—not that he was the son of his father, but the grandson of his grandfather. Finally, Sir, I have always heard that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton himself supplies an illustration of the operation of the same principle pushed to a yet more remote degree, and that he first secured a seat in Parliament and an entry into that public life which he has since adorned, because he was not merely the son of his father but the nephew of his uncle, and that unclea Member of the House of Lords. Sir, I merely make these observations to show that the hereditary principle in legislation, however vulnerable and assailable in theory, is a some what different thing in practice. The hon. Member talked to-night in his speech about slaying the slain. I venture to think that when in a position of less freedom and greater responsibility upon that Bench he sets himself to the task of destroying the hereditary element in the House of Lords he will find it a more difficult undertaking than he has yet any idea of. The Motion of the hon. Gentleman can only have one of two legitimate corollaries. Either those who vote for it are prepared to dispense with a Second Chamber altogether or they must be ready to construct a House of Lords in which the hereditary principle plays no part. As regards the first alternative, I believe the feeling in favour of Single Chamber Government is one that has few supporters in this House. [Cries of "Oh!"] It has very few, if any, supporters in this House. It is not recommended to us by the fact that the only country in Europe to practise it is Greece, and the example of Greece is not rendered more respectable by the fact that the only country in the world to follow Greece is Costa Rica. Last year the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen (MR. Bryce), who knows more about other countries' Constitutions than any other man does about his own, made a speech from that Bench presumably on behalf of the Official Members of his Party; and in clear and unequivocal terms he threw over Single Chamber Government, and declared that it was incompatible with the equilibrium of Government in this country; and, if I remember aright, the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Cuninghame Graham) was the only man on that occasion who raised a despairing cry in favour of the Single Chamber heresy. If we may regard the hon. Member for Aberdeen as a more typical and a fairer representative of the Party opposite than the Member for Lanarkshire, we may conclude that the feeling in favour of Government by a Single Chamber is one that has no support in this House, and which we may dismiss from consideration. Well, Sir, I come to the second alternative. Hon. Members opposite, if they are not prepared to dispense with a Second Chamber altogether, must clearly contemplate a House of Lords from which the hereditary element has been excluded. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Durham (Mr. Atherley-Jones) said that you might pass this Motion, and that you would not, therefore, as a consequence, abolish the existing House of Lords. I think, Sir, he is strangely unaware of the composition of the House of Lords. The only elements in the House of Lords other than its hereditary Members are the Bishops, the Law Lords, the Irish and Scotch Peers, who are, to some extent, representative, and the Peers who have been ennobled themselves. But I do not imagine for one moment that the hon. Member for Northampton would tolerate a House of Lords composed of this residuum; and it is therefore clear that this Motion, by extinguishing the hereditary element in the House of Lords, would extinguish the House of Lords along with it, and I have no doubt this is what the hon. Member for Northampton has in view. [Cries of "Yes."] I am glad I have the hon. Member's approval, because it brings me to my point, which is this—that if you propose by this Motion to abolish the House of Lords, it is quite clear that you contemplate in the near future an entire re-construction of that Chamber; and the first thing you ought to do is to present to us the alternative House of Lords which you propose to set up in its place. Have we had the slightest indication of this now House of Lords which will be required? Are there two men on that side of the House who are in agreement either as to the elements of which it should be composed or as to the principles which should regulate its construction? Last year the Member for Northampton was so conscious of the ridiculous position in which he was placed that he came to this House with the details of a scheme.


I have always been in favour of one Chamber. Last year I did submit a plan for a sort of Chamber for weaker brethren. They did not accept my proposal.


I am sorry to hear his admission that his proposal of last year was not more serious in its character. I had given the hon. Gentleman credit for being something more than a Nihilist, and had thought that occasional flashes of constructive ingenuity dawned upon his mind. Now, it appears that his imaginary House of Lords which, if I remember aright, was to be elected by the County Councils, to be, in fact, a sort of glorified Bumbledom—it now appears that this House of Lords was but a mere momentary creation—a jeu d'esprit tossed off by the hon. Member, not for the purpose of giving information to the House of Commons, but to afford some sustenance to a few recreant spirits on his own side of the House. I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman has since disowned his own offspring, for it will show the House of Commons this evening that they are invited to pass a Resolution for abolishing the House of Lords without the glimmering of an idea as to anything by which it is to be replaced. I feel tempted to ask a further question. Have we not got quite enough Constitution-mongering on our hands already? There is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, who has a scheme, or is supposed to have a scheme,—no one seems to know much about it—a scheme for the construction of two new Legislative Chambers for Ireland. Then we have had faint prophetic adumbrations of two other new Legislative Chambers for Scotland and for Wales. That means four ships already on the stocks, and now the hon. Member for Northampton comes here and proposes a Motion which, if carried, would involve, as a logical corollary, the setting up of the timbers of a fifth. It is preposterous that at this period of the nineteenth century, in this House, where there is more work pressing upon us than the House can possibly get through, when great social problems, whose dimensions we scarcely at present realise, are appearing above the horizon, that at such a time the hon. Member should come down and propose to toss the whole Constitution into the melting pot, simply because it does not conform to some abstract idea of uniformity which he has formed in his own mind? I am one of those who think it would be wiser to take things somewhat as they are, to admit imperfections, and do our best to remedy them. We must remember that we are not starting, and that we cannot start, with a clean slate. We cannot wipe our sponge over the history of the past. We have a House of Lords which, in my humble judgment, has played a great and distinguished part in the history of this country, which has certain merits which it would be difficult to find elsewhere, and, perhaps, still more difficult to create. But that House is disfigured by imperfections and drawbacks which impair its efficacy for good. I have on previous occasions trespassed upon the indulgence of the House by stating what I believe those objections to be, and I will not on the present occasion do more than recapitulate them in a few sentences. The existing House of Lords is too exclusively hereditary in its character. There are large groups of interests and sections of opinion which are entirely unrepresented in that House. The working bees in the House of Lords are too few and the drones are too many. As long as a Peer, after accepting his patent of creation, can only become a hereditary Peer, you restrict entry into that House, and you render it impossible for there to be that stream of constant re-invigoration from the people which is necessary to keep the House of Lords, or any Chamber, in harmonious touch with the country at large. These are obvious and conspicuous defects in the existing House of Lords. But there are others which are less commonly noticed, and which are submitted to with a patience that, to my mind, is perfectly amazing. Hon. Members opposite are in the habit of speaking of the House of Lords as if it were a nest of privileges and exemptions. To my mind membership of the House of Lords entails disabilities more cruel and severe than those which are imposed on any other body of public men. You compel a man who is the son of a Peer, and who succeeds to the Peerage, to enter the House of Lords, whether he will or not. You compel him to remain there; you debar him from resigning. You give him no facilities for quitting that House. It is as impossible to get out of the House of Lords when once you are in as it is to jump out of your own skin. Members of the House of Lords are debarred from playing the part of active citizens in this House. They are not even allowed the privilege of voting at the polls—and yet, while you consent to impose these disabilities upon this body of men, you have hon. Members, like the hon. Member for Northampton, coolly coming down here and protesting that these legislators, who cannot help being' legislators, are incompetent, and unworthy men, and do not suit the theory of Government he has in his own mind. It would be a much more reasonable thing if, instead of proposing this Motion, the hon. Member had devised some machinery by which the individuals of whom he speaks might in this House become legislators, worthy and competent legislators, which they have not always the chance of becoming in the House of Lords. I know that my views upon the subject of the House of Lords are not acceptable to all sections of my own Party. I know there are some who are disposed to argue that to touch the House of Lords is to shatter it. To them I reply that if the House of Lords is not strong enough to stand handling of any description, it is not strong enough to form an integral part of our Constitution. There are others—perhaps they are the bulk—on this side of the House who are disposed to say "Why not leave well alone." I deny altogether that it is well. It may be well enough while we have a Conservative Government, and while the House of Lords has simply to register decrees that are sent up by the Conservative majority in the House of Commons. But I invite hon. Members on my side to look a little ahead. I think the time may come, I think it is coming, when it is quite possible that the House of Lords may be brought into more acute and violent conflict with the House of Commons than it ever yet has been. When that time comes I do not want the conflict to be represented, or, if you like, misrepresented, as a conflict between the representatives of land on the one side, and the representatives of the people on the other, between the hereditary principle and the representative principle, or even between the two social orders of the Peers and the people. I am not suggesting for a moment that the House of Lords should embark upon a career of petty and perpetual friction with the House of Commons. Nothing could be more disastrous, nothing more foreign to the purposes of our Constitution; but when the House of Lords is forced into position of direct antagonism to the House of Commons, I want it to be convinced not only that it has right on its side but that it has behind it the support and the affection of the democracy at large. The Motion which the hon. Member for Northampton has submitted to the House this evening docs not carry us one inch nearer the attainment of that ideal. I would gladly, if I could, vote for a Motion that had in view a reform of the House of Lords such as I have sketched, or I would gladly vote for any Motion I that had in view a temperate and reason- able reform of the House of Lords, whatever it might be. But no such Motion is before us. It is useless putting it upon the Paper of this House, because according to the rules of our discussion I am prohibited from moving it. In my inability to move any Motion for reform of that description or to vote for it, I have no hesitation whatever in recording my vote against the Motion of the hon. Member for Northampton, which I conceive to be animated by no other motive than heedless vandalism without the faintest hope or hint of re-construction beyond.

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

(6.10.) The House divided:—Ayes 201; Noes 139.—(Div. List, No. 34.)

Main Question again proposed.

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