§ * LORD R. CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I rise for the purpose of asking the Clerk at the Table to read the third of the Election Sessional Orders passed at the beginning of the Session.
The Clerk at the Table read the Sessional Order as follows:—
That it is a high infringement of the liberties and privileges of the Commons of the United Kingdom for any Lord of Parliament, or other Peer, or Prelate, not being a Peer of Ireland at the time elected, and not having declined to serve for any county, city, or borough of Great Britain, to concern himself in the Election of Members to serve for the Commons in Parliament, except only any Peer of Ireland, at such Elections in Great Britain respectively where such Peer shall appear as a Candidate, or by himself, or any others be proposed to be elected; or for any Lord Lieutenant or Governor of any county to avail himself of any authority derived from his Commission, to influence the Election of any Member to serve for the Commons in Parliament.
§ * LORD R. CHURCHILL
Then, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on that Order I propose to submit to the House the following Motion:—That this House resolves that the Earl of Rosebery—[Ministerial laughter]—a Peer of Parliament, First Lord of the Treasury, President of the Council, Lord Lieutenant of the County of Midlothian, has by his speech on the 17th March in Edinburgh, infringed the liberties and privileges of the Commons of the United Kingdom by concerning himself in the election of a Member to serve for the Borough of Leith for the Commons in Parliament.My Motion was greeted with a Ministerial laugh. As I have great concern 589 for the dignity of the Ministerial Bench J would advise that the laugh be deferred. I fear not that in bringing forward this Motion I am not doing a perfectly Parliamentary act—an act that is within the rights of Parliament—and in bringing it forward? am putting to the House the question: "Is this Sessional Order a reality or a sham?" I do not mean to put the matter so far on this occasion as to assert or argue that the House of Commons could act practically or definitely on any Breach of Privilege proved against Peers, but I do not ask the House to agree that it can and will enter a protest, and a protest with effect, against the interference of Peers in elections. Now I ask whether this Sessional Order operates or not? I adduce from that that it is the operation of this Rule which brings about that wholesome and regular practice which prevents the interference of Peers at General Elections, and which makes that Rule, which Peers have invariably adhered to, that they must have nothing to do with an election after a Writ has been issued. I ask also, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will answer this question and say whether there was any interference by Lord Rosebery in the Leith election. First of all, I would ask what was the absolute necessity of fixing the meeting in Edinburgh on the 17th of March? Could it not have been delayed till after the Leith election? Then I would ask, as a second question, Can any reasonable man suppose that Lord Rosebery could make a strong Party speech in Edinburgh which would not influence Leith? Remember, Leith is the port of Edinburgh, and is situated in the County of Midlothian, of which county Lord Rosebery is Lord Lieutenant, and it is impossible that a speech of that Party character could be delivered in Edinburgh which would not affect the Parliamentary constituency of Leith. I will digress for a moment to notice an allegation made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in answering a question last week. He said that Lord Beaconsfield had taken some action during an election in the County of Buckingham. Now, I have been to the trouble of ascertaining the facts of what really took place from authentic records, and I find that Lord Beaconsfield certainly did speak the day before the Bucks election, and that he 590 spoke at Aylesbury—that was, I think, in the beginning of the month of August, and the election was not until the 20th of September. The speech was delivered at an agricultural dinner, which, it is well known, Lord Beaconsfield constantly attended. His speech on that occasion consisted largely of reminiscences of the County of Bucks; but be also went into the Eastern Question, and I do not think it could be argued that the farmers of Bucks would be very much impressed by the details of the Eastern Question as it was at that time. At that time there were three Members for Bucks, which then enjoyed the distinction which I am glad no longer exists of a minority Member. So far as I can see from the records, Lord Beaconsfield made no allusion to the coming election. Parliament was not sitting when that speech was made, nor, so far as I can learn, did Ministers think it necessary when Parliament met to bring forward the question but their not having done so is, I submit, not a reason which can damage this Motion. I now pass on from these facts of history to the Edinburgh speech. Lord Rosebery has many distinctions—he is a Peer of Parliament, First Minister of the Crown, President of the Council, and also Lord Lieutenant of Midlothian, where his influence is admittedly greater than in any other place. Can anyone reasonably suppose that if Lord Salisbury, who is Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, were to go down into any one of the four divisions of that county and make a strong Party speech, if an election were pending, such a speech would have no influence at all upon the coming election? Or do you suppose that if the Duke of Devonshire were to go down to Derbyshire and make a speech in that county, if an election were going on in any other part of the county, the same could not be said? There is, fortunately, no precedent in modern times of any Peer interfering in election matters or assisting their Party by making speeches in the neighbourhood of boroughs where elections are pending or actually going on. What would have been said by the present majority of the House of Commons if any Unionist, Peer had done what Lord Rosebery did on Saturday last? I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian himself would have spoken in 591 Midlothian if an election had been going on in one of the other divisions. He would have known too well that it was not the custom for Ministers to interfere in bye-elections. Lord Rosebery arrogates this right to himself alone among the Peers. He takes upon himself the right to go down to an election and make a strong Party speech in Edinburgh, which is not only near to Leith, but to Berwickshire, and where the influence of his speech must have extended also to the Border Burghs. I will read you what Lord Rosebery said to excuse himself. He said as follows:—I see it also reported that I have come here on an illegal visit, for the purpose of influencing the election for the Leith Burghs. I have a very great respect for the Leith Burghs, and I have a very great respect for their Representative, but I am bound to say that this visit to Edinburgh was planned before I knew that there would be an election for the Leith Burghs, and before I knew that their Representative would do me the honour of forming part of the present Government. I believe that I am strictly within the limits of my right in speaking within the City and County of Edinburgh at any time that I may think lit when there is no election for the city and county in progress. What are the disabilities of a Peer to be? I am denounced as being a lonely oligarch in an inaccessible House; but I begin to ask myself if I am not a sort of State prisoner, whose movements are watched, and who before he takes a ticket for any particular place must consider within himself whether an election for the House of Commons is being held within a certain radius of the railway station. All that is nonsense, and the Unionists know it to be nonsense.So you see Lord Rosebery said, "But this is all nonsense, and the Unionists know it to be nonsense." But he ought to have known when he went down to Edinburgh that the election was pending. The Writ was moved for on the first day that Parliament met—namely, on March 12. And do you mean to say that Lord Rosebery did not know that his Friend Mr. Munro-Ferguson had been appointed to a post under his own Government? At any rate, the Cabinet was formed on March 9, and it is reasonable to suppose that the course of affairs was known two or three days before that date. I cannot believe such ignorance on the part of the noble Lord, and I make this proposition—this Sessional Order has been passed for many years regularly. Some of you say that it is obsolete, and the necessity for it passed away with the old days. This Sessional Order has been passed 592 this Session with the assent of Her Majesty's Government, and therefore I bold that they are responsible for it, and I hold, further, that it lies with them not to be a party to turn that Order into ridicule. In order to show how close is the connection between Edinburgh County and Leith Burghs, I must refer for a moment to what passed in connection with the Fishery Bill for Scotland. For the purposes of that Bill the Secretary for Scotland treated Edinburgh as part of the County of Midlothian, and the Solicitor General for Scotland stated, in answer to a question by the hon. Member for West Edinburgh, that for the purposes of this Bill the City of Edinburgh was included in the County of Midlothian. The progress of the connection between Leith and Edinburgh, therefore, seems to have become a great deal closer; and if a Parliamentary Division like Leith is joined on to the County of Edinburgh for the purpose of rating under this Bill I say that there is a very strong connection between them. I pass now from that question, and I ask the House to consider what will be the result if it abolishes this Rule; and I particularly address my observations with great respect to those who are stronger Liberals than those who sit on the Front Bench. This Rule is the only foundation, the only barrier for the exclusion of Peers' influence from Parliamentary elections. If you abolish it the Peers might take part in any Parliamentary election, and in all the details of it. At a General Election they might be put on the committees of candidates, and they might also make their agents canvass for any candidate. They might attend any public meeting, or show themselves on the platform of any public meeting. They might take the most complete and most perfect part, as great a part as any Member of this House, in an election of Parliamentary candidates if this Order is made a dead letter, abolished, or treated as you are now treating it—with contempt. You may say that you will abolish the House of Lords, but that would not be the work of a day or of a year. I desire also to ask that if a Dissolution takes place on the question of the House of Lords having thrown out a Bill by their own opposition what will be the result? The whole force of the Peers, with all their speaking resources 593 —which are by no means to be despised—and all their other resources, will sweep over the country and argue their own case; and 3'ou will find, considering the enormous disproportion between Unionist Peers and Radical Peers, that it will make an enormous addition to the Unionist forces. You may contradict it, but I defy you to show that there is any law of any kind, if this Rule is abrogated, to prevent them; and I do not think that you could pass any such law. After abrogating your own powers you could not turn right round and say that the powers should again be instituted by law. I have been speaking seriously on this subject, and it is not, I submit, a subject for laughter, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to think at the beginning. It is a very serious matter, which the House of Commons must decide—that is to say, whether they will treat this Rule as an obsolete Order or whether they will treat it as an Older operating with great benefit to the privileges of the Members of the House of Commons. It is certain that it it disappears from the Order Book at the beginning of a Session, your Parliament will be exposed to new election influences which you have never had experience of for generations. I submit, therefore, that though Lord Rosebery cannot be summoned to the Bar of the House, I insist upon the Constitutional and electoral value and importance of this Sessional Order; and with these remarks I move the Motion which J have submitted.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House resolves that the Earl of Rosebery, a Lord of Parliament, First Lord of the Treasury, President of the Council, Lord Lieutenant of the County of Midlothian, has by his speech on the 17th March in Edinburgh, infringed the liberties and privileges of the Commons of the United Kingdom by concerning himself in the election of a Member to serve for the burgh of Leith for the Commons in Parliament."—(Lord R. Churchill.)
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I must congratulate the Unionist Party upon the field they have chosen for their first attack in force upon Her Majesty's Government. This, apparently, is the ground which they are prepared to take, and I am not sorry that it should have assumed the particular form of an attack on the 594 House of Lords. The noble Lord has said that this particular Peer who has committed this high crime and misdemeanour is not to be summoned to the Bar of this House. I thought that that was the particular form of collision between the House of Commons and the House of Lords which the Unionist Party desired to bring about; but the noble Lord having stated that he is not going to take that course, I should like to know what course the House of Commons is about to take when they have declared that a Prime Minister being a Peer has infringed the liberties of the House of Commons?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
But a protest which comes to nothing is not only insignificant, but undignified; and for the House of Commons to make a declaration of that kind would be about the most contemptible position to take up that could be imagined and to ask the sanction of the House to be given to. I have no interest, and the Party on this side of the House have no interest, in maintaining the right of Peers to interfere in elections. Quite the contrary. At present there are about 500 Peers, who are constantly every week and every day interfering in elections.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
In every way. On our side we have not one-tenth of the number of Peers who could interfere, and I do not think their resources are in proportion to those 500 who take such a large interest in election proceedings. I do not know; whether the noble Lord has ever beard of an institution called the Primrose League? I say that our interest is quite in the direction of fettering if we could the interference of Peers in elections. But let us see what is this Standing Order on which the noble Lord rests his case. First of all, it says, "No Peer or Prelate." I am glad to see that the Prelates are among them, because they should be careful on other days than week days, on which they might have influence upon any possible elections. I have known Prelates make addresses which certainly were intended to have, and probably had, a good deal of influence on elections on particular ques- 595 tions which were at issue. What is forbidden to a Peer?—To concern himself in an election of Members to serve for the Commons House of Parliament.What does "concern himself in an election" for any Member of Parliament mean? The noble Lord has said that there has been no recent example of such an interference, and that the House of Commons would certainly, if there had been, have interfered in consequence. There was a Motion made against the interference of Peers in Parliamentary elections on July 11, 1887; and that Motion was founded on this statement, which appeared in The Times—There seems to be a plentiful supply of carriages on either side, though the Conservatives have the preponderance;and among them it was stated that there were several lent to Mr. Aird by Lord Salisbury, Lord Randolph Churchill——
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The noble Lord is acquitted, and he shall not be charged with infringing the liberties of this House. But Lord Salisbury, Lord Rothschild, and other noblemen and gentlemen connected with the Conservative and Unionist Party were mentioned; and on that statement a Motion was founded calling attention to the fact that Peers were concerning themselves with an election. I am not quite sure that the lending of carriages might not have a more potent effect on an election than speeches. I have known many people carried to the poll by carriages, but very few have been carried there by speeches. That Motion was very properly treated by Mr. W. II. Smith, the then Leader of the House, as a matter which the House ought to recognise as immaterial and as absurd, and the Member for Paddington, whose constituency was as near to that one as Leith is to Edinl urgh——
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Do not be in a hurry. The noble Lord treated the Motion as a proposition which was absurd, and laid down an interpretation of the Sessional Order which was, I think, very reasonable. He said— 596It was not for interference of this kind; it was for the action of Peers in forcing their nominees on the House of Commons, and, be-fore the days of the ballot, in using their territorial influence to force people dependent on them to support their nominees. That was the action of the Peers against which the House of Commons had always protested, and I feel confident that the hon. Members for Northampton and Cockermouth will not seriously argue for a moment that for all legitimate electoral purposes, such as taking an interest in Parliamentary elections, and in supporting within reasonable bounds one side or the other, Peers ought to be prohibited from showing such public interest.There is the reading of the Sessional Order by the noble Lord.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
It almost passes the bounds of the ridiculous when we come to the question of the Lord Lieutenant. The Lord Lieutenant may make a speech in the county on election matters. There are some Lord Lieutenants who are scrupulous on that matter; but the particular instance which the noble Lord gave was a very unfortunate one, because the Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire came to make a speech against the unfortunate representative of the City of Derby, and, in order to promote the bringing forward of the candidate who was intended, but did not succeed, in turning him out. I will give the noble Lord such an example as will, I think, overthrow his theory as to the reading of the Sessional Order. Lord Lieutenants canvass their own counties in their own interest, and sit as Members of those counties. We have known many of them in this House.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The Sessional Order says nothing about the Lord Lieutenant being a Peer. It is the Lord Lieutenant qua Lord Lieutenant; and I say it is the commonest thing in the world for a man who is Lord Lieutenant, and who is told that he is not to use the authority derived from his commission to influence the election of any Member, yet to use that authority in order to get himself elected. We remember Sir Robert Anstruther in this House, we remember Lord Kensington, we remember Mr. Biddulph, all of whom were Lord Lieutenants of the counties for which they sat. Therefore, this point is 597 absurd, and if it were necessary to add anything to its absurdity it would be to state that Lord Rosebery is not Lord Lieutenant in the place where he spoke. I am not going to argue upon technical points. We are arguing this question upon very much broader grounds. The noble Lord challenged me on the subject of Lord Beaconsfield's speech at Aylesbury.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
What did it signify what the dinner was? It was in the principal town in the county, where the poll was to take place on the next day, and the noble Lord said the Eastern Question was immaterial, and that it was one in which the farmers would not take an interest. It was, however, the whole question of that election. It was immediately after the agitation had commenced, which was called the "Bulgarian atrocities." I well remember the last speech which that distinguished man made in this House. It was in answer to a speech which I had made, and he disappeared that night from the House of Commons and went to the House of Lords. It was on the 11th of August: and in September, when the Bulgarian atrocity agitation, as it was called, was at its full height, and when the whole country was in a state of ferment about it—that election turned on that question, and on no other—Lord Beaconsfield went to Aylesbury and made a very powerful and an effective speech, which I have not the slightest doubt greatly influenced, and probably decided, that election. Let us, therefore, have no cant in this matter.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
It would be very extraordinary, and I should be extremely surprised, if the Leader of the Opposition is going back to Edinburgh to say that he endeavoured to persuade his Party to move a Vote of Censure upon Lord Rosebery going last Saturday to Edinburgh, and I should like to know whether he expects that that will advance the Conservative cause in Scotland? I say, Sir, that this is a trumpery proceeding—a proceeding petty and contemptible. I am only delighted if the Unionist Party are going to adopt tactics of this description. I propose myself to 598 meet that Motion as it was met by Mr. W. H. Smith when it was made on the subject of Lord Salisbury sending his carriages to carry voters to the poll. The noble Lord has said that Leith is so near to Edinburgh, and it is said that a Peer cannot make a speech in St. George's, Hanover Square, when there is an election going on at Greenwich, because Greenwich is in the neighbourhood of London. Is that the doctrine laid down? We shall, as I say, treat this matter as Mr. W. HI. Smith did, and I move to omit all the words after the word "that," in order to add "this House do now proceed to the Orders of the Day," so that we may transact some business which will be worthy of the House of Commons.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That," to end of the Question, in order to add the words "This House do now proceed to the Orders of the Day."—(The Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Mr. Deputy Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman began his speech by congratulating himself and his Party that we had chosen this subject for our first attack in force upon the Government of which he is a Member. It is perfectly true that we have not hitherto been occupied in attacking the Government. Our function hitherto has been in supporting them; and, so far as my recollection carries me back through the week since my right hon. Friend took Office, it appears to me that it is upon us, and upon us almost alone, that he has had to rely in the critical Parliamentary moments through which he has had to pass. It is a most ungrateful return for the services which we have rendered that he should make this sort of retort upon the Constitutional address of my noble Friend, and that he should make a speech which, though it began jocosely, ended in a storm of fiery indignation, the cause of which I could not very easily fathom. I think my noble Friend has been extremely well advised in bringing before the House of Commons a crucial and critical example by which we may for ever test the doctrine whether a 599 Peer may or may not take part in Parliamentary elections. If we decide to-night that the action of Lord Rose-bery in speaking at Edinburgh during the Leith election was not an action which comes within the fair meaning of the Sessional Order, well and good. Let it henceforth be known that every Peer may do everything he likes, may speak where he likes and when he likes, in regard to any election whatsoever, and that the Sessional Order which we still go through the form of passing at the beginning of each and every Session is not worth the paper upon which it is printed. That doctrine, which will be the result of the decision to which the right hon. Gentleman wants to bring us to-night, may be a good or a bad doctrine, but I maintain that at all events it is a new doctrine. The right hon. Gentleman has taken the trouble to bring forward two precedents on his own side. I will examine those precedents, and bring precedents from the other side. The first and most important precedent to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was the precedent of Lord Beaconsfield in 1876, when be had been raised to the House of Lords, and when, in consequence of his accession to the Peerage, a vacancy was created in his county. Lord Beaconsfield did no doubt go down to speak at an agricultural dinner, as was his wont, while the election consequent upon the vacancy was going on; but was that speech a Party speech? Was it an attempt to interfere with or to influence the election which was going on? The right hon. Gentleman says it was such an interference.
§ MR.A. J. BALFOUR
He bases that statement upon the fact that the Bulgarian atrocity agitation was, as he says, at its height, and that no man could speak upon that question without trenching upon Party politics, and without influencing those who had to determine the issue of the election. The right hon. Gentleman's history is at fault. In 1876 the Bulgarian agitation was not at its height. It had begun, but it was not then a question which divided the two great Parties in the State. On the contrary, though the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian had no doubt 600 even at that date taken a very strong line upon the subject, he was not the Leader of the Party, and those who were the Leaders of the Party had not at that time identified themselves with the right hon. Gentleman's views on foreign policy. I am not sure that if we examined the speeches the right hon. Gentleman made at that time we should find he had finally given in his adhesion to the movement which was afterwards headed, with such successful electoral results, by the late Prime Minister. I have not been able to personally verify the fact that I am now going to state to the House, but it has been given to me by a friend in whose accuracy I have perfect confidence. He informs me that at this very meeting the Liberal M.P. for Bucks was in the chair, and that Lord Carrington was present and spoke. "Hear, hear," says the right hon. Gentleman. Why, he knew it! The right hon. Gentleman knew this. [Sir W. HARCOURT: Both candidates were there.] I am sure if the House had known that the right hon. Gentleman knew that——
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Perhaps the light hon. Gentleman will allow me to say that Lord Beaconsfield alluded to the candidates and said, "I hope the best man will win."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If the right hon. Gentleman never makes a greater Party speech than that when he takes, part in a contested election, I am sure we shall be very well satisfied. It is perfectly evident from the facts I have given, from the people who were there, from the character of the speeches, and from the character of those who spoke, that the dinner was really what it professed to be —an agricultural dinner, not a Party meeting, and not one that could by any possibility he said to have been started in connection with Party politics. The next precedent the right hon. Gentleman alluded to was, that in 1886 some carriages of Peers were used at an election in the East of London. Whether it he right or not that carriages should be used in that way, at all events no objection has ever been raised that I know to that course. "But," says the right hon. Gentleman, "if yon don't object to carriages, why should you object to speeches? Surely, to carry voters to the poll in a couple of broughams would have 601 more effect on the result of the election than all the speeches of all the Prime Ministers in the world." I do not know what estimate is formed by gentlemen opposite of Lord Rosebery's oratory. I feel it is not my business to put any electoral valuation upon it. It would be quite out of place, quite out of order, to make any comments upon Saturday's speech—a very interesting attempt to explain the unexplainable, and possibly one which the right hon. Gentleman is right in thinking could not have influenced a vote. Whether his estimate of the actual speech of Lord Rosebery be a sound estimate or not, my objection is not to the particular speech or the particular man, but it is to a man who is a Lord of Parliament, and not merely a Lord of Parliament, but the most important Lord of Parliament now living, inasmuch as he is the First Minister of the Crown, going down to make a speech in a town which the right hon. Gentleman has not attempted to deny cannot be, for electoral purposes, regarded as unconnected with the burgh in which a contest was going on at the time. The right hon. Gentleman has given his precedents and I have dealt with them. I will now give him a precedent on the other side. I am informed that the late Mr. Wardle, Member for Derbyshire, died on February 16, 1892. The present Duke of Devonshire had recently succeeded to the Peerage, and, long previous to Mr. Wardle's death, had fixed a date, that fell during the course of the contest for the vacant seat, as one on which he would receive an address in Derby. The receipt of an address in Derby did not necessarily carry with it a controversial speech, but so anxious was the Duke of Devonshire not to infringe what, until the right hon. Gentleman spoke to-night, we had been in the habit of supposing were our rights—the rights of the House of Commons—that he put off his meeting until a date when the election was over, and when no suspicion could possibly be entertained that he was using his special advantages for making a speech within the county of which he was lord lieutenant at a time when an election was proceeding. If you ask me whether I personally and individually attach very great value to, or am inclined to fight an arduous contest fur, these privileges which the right hon. 602 Gentleman wants to give up, I say it does not appear to me to be a matter of transcendent importance. I confess I watch with astonishment the action of the gentlemen who wish to extend the privileges of the Peerage. I have always supposed up to this time that hon. Gentlemen opposite desired to curtail, not to extend, the privileges of Peers, but I now gather that is not so. I learn from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that he desires to see the whole House of Lords taking an active part in the contests in the various parts of the country with which they are connected. If the right hon. Gentleman desires that, it is not for us to object. The Peers are by their character and position men, in the majority of cases, who naturally have considerable interest in the places where they live. He has told us the majority of the Leers would be desirous of exercising their influence rather on our side than on his. If he wishes to make it easier for them to exercise their influence why should we interfere? This, I think, I ought to add. Lord Rosebery has now convinced us finally that the Sessional Order we pass every time we assemble must be acknowledged to be a farce. Many of us have long suspected it would not hold water; now the thing is conclusively demonstrated. I invite the right hon. Gentleman, as Leader of the House, to put a Motion on the Paper rescinding it, and if he does I shall consider that, at all events, he has acted a consistent and logical part—a part which, whether it be or be not for the dignity of the House, is for our interest as a Party. If there be a general consensus of opinion that it is desirable to increase the privileges of the House of Lords, and that we must withdraw from the position we have occupied—namely, that Peers must refrain from interfering in elections, we must abandon that doctrine, and henceforth it will be the right, and if the right then, undoubtedly, the duty, of every Lord of Parliament to do what he can to return to this House that candidate who happens to agree with him in general politics.
* SIR H.JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
I do not propose to enter upon the grounds on which this Motion has been made, but rather to discuss it in the spirit displayed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposi- 603 tion, and to ask the House whether there are not some very broad Constitutional grounds upon which we ought to come to the conclusion that this Sessional Order is obsolete, is unfounded, and should not be put forward as a claim of a privilege we do not possess. This House, no doubt, has some inherent privileges which can control all our actions within the House; it has also some privileges which can control persons out of it. We are a High Court of Parliament. We object to be libelled, and we have inherent power to punish the offenders who are guilty of contempt towards us. But we have no inherent privilege by which Ave can punish persons by mere Resolution of the House. The right and privilege with regard to contempt does not depend upon Resolution. No Resolution of the House enables us to summon anyone here unless we have a legal right and a right which will be sanctioned by a Court of Law. If we summon the editor of the paper who has libelled this House to the Bar, we can compel him to appear; and if he is brought to the Bar, a Court of Law would say we were justified in our action, because it was alleged he had been guilty of contempt. But such a Resolution as that we are dealing with now is simply inoperative, and there is no power of enforcing it. It is an empty Resolution. If a Member of the House of Peers refuses to come here we cannot bring him here. The old practice was that if we thought a Peer had offended we communicated with the Peers; we made complaint to the Peers to deal with their Member because he had infringed our rights. But it is simply a mere idle form we go through when we declare there has been a Breach of Privilege and yet not be able to enforce any punishment.
§ * SIR H. JAMES
With groat respect to the noble Lord, let me say you cannot summon Lord Rosebery to the Bar or anywhere else. We have no remedy. All we can say is that, in our opinion, our Privileges have been broken. I think the House will see there is no substantial ground for saying that the interference of a Peer in an election constitutes a Breach of the Privileges of this House. 604 In olden times there was a statutory enactment that no great man or other should interfere with the freedom of election. Men with feudal power came to the Court-houses and terrorised their retainers. Against that interference Parliament protested. Then in later times, in 1631, when the Peers of Parliament held boroughs in their hands and wrote letters commanding the return of certain persons, came that protest upon which the Resolution of 1802 was founded, that Peers should not interfere in elections —that is, to the extent of dominating electors so as to prevent the due exercise of their power. Then Peers had such power; now they have not. Interference in elections is either due or undue interference or it is not. If there is undue interference you find your remedy under the law. A Prelate of the Roman Catholic Church lately unduly interfered in an election and the law set him right. The Resolution we pass every year is an obsolete and a meaningless Resolution, and the time will come—next Session, I hope—when the House of Commons will have to say whether the period has not arrived when we should cease altogether to go through this form of protesting without foundation and without having the power to give any effect to our protests. The Resolution does not add to the dignity of the House or to the protection of its Members.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, that nothing gave him greater pleasure than to come forward in order to defend the natural and proper rights of Peers, and particularly those of Lord Rosebery. The noble Lord opposite had asked whether this Sessional Order was a reality or a sham. He thought that the noble Lord had realised that not only the Leader of the Opposition, but every other Member in that House, was convinced that the thing was an utter sham. There were many absurdities connected with the House of Commons which he should be glad to see swept away. For instance, at the opening of a Session the Beefeaters were seen walking about the Palace of Westminster with their lanterns, and people were told that under some ancient Order of the House which had not been repealed—because no one had taken the trouble of repealing it—they were looking to see if Guy 605 Fawkes was to be found upon the premises. The Order which was now under discussion was precisely as absurd and ridiculous as that directing the search for Guy Fawkes. Any Order of the House was absurd when they had no sort of power to give effect to it. The noble Lord had drawn a terrible picture of Peers sweeping through the country and carrying Conservative Members at every election by their resistless eloquence. He was not afraid of this sacred band of 500 Peers appearing on public platforms. What be was afraid of was of Peers using surreptitious influence. If the Peers came out into the open he should be delighted to see them on election platforms: but it was absurd for the noble Lord to contend that when a Peer appeared on a public platform everyone would fall down and worship him, and vote for his candidate.
§ LORD R. CHURCHILL
That proposition is, that Peers may appear on platforms if the Resolution is done away with.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that he, for one, had not the slightest objection to the Peers appearing on every public platform in the country. He went further than that. Three Members of the Conservative Party bad brought in this Session Bills to enable Peers to sit in the House of Commons, and he himself had brought in a similar measure last year. He was in favour of Peers being allowed to sit in the Representative House provided they did not seek to pop out of one House into the other whenever it stated them, but undertook during their lives to give up their right to sit in the other House and to abide their chances of being elected to the Commons at the poll. He did not wish to impose fresh disqualifications upon the Peers, but merely to remove those which at present surrounded them. He wanted them to have the fullest rights that every other citizen of the country possessed—no less and no more.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer always reminded him of the Psalmist because of the vigour with which he attacked a man, turned 606 his way upside down, and broke him to pieces like a potter's vessel. These qualities bad been strikingly exhibited in his reply to the noble Lord. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the Motion was contemptible—a Motion, be it observed, which affirmed one of the most solemn of the Sessional Orders passed at the beginning of each Session of the House. The right hon. Gentleman bad also said that sending carriages to elections was of more importance than Lord Rosebery's speech—in other words, that one Rosebery was not worth more than one or two broughams. He wondered what the admirers of the Prime Minister would say to that. The only explanation or defence that had been put forward for the appearance of Lord Rosebery at Edinburgh was that the meeting had been planned long before the election was expected. In that case the plan ought to have been altered, and Lord Rosebery ought to have pursued the same honourable course that the Duke of Devonshire had done, who, finding that an election was coming on at the time fixed for him to address a meeting, excused himself from attending the meeting on that ground. It was now said that the Sessional Order had no validity and ought not to exist. The Conservatives had heard that with pleasure. If the Sessional Order forbidding Peers to interfere at elections were dropped the Conservatives would gain ton to one by the change, for there were 10 Conservative Peers to one Liberal. Therefore, when the next Session arrived, the question would arise whether they should any longer continue this Sessional Order, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had described as nothing less than a sham.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, that his right hon. Friends the Leader of the Opposition and the Member for Bury had treated the matter as being of really no great importance, and in that he agreed with them. He, however, should wish to guard himself against going the lengths of the doctrine that bad been laid down by the right hon. Gentlemen. In former times, no doubt, there had existed a jealousy on the part of the House of Commons of Peers interfering in Parliamentary elections; and although Peers could not be summoned at the Bar of the House, and although a 607 Message to the House of Lords complaining of the conduct of their Members might be illusory, the House of Commons in days gone by had complete control of the matter in their own hands, because they determined, through their Election Committees, whether an election was a good or a bad one. There might be a question whether an Election Petition could not even now be presented against an election, in case of a Peer having exercised direct influence over an election. He regarded Lord Rosebery's speech at Edinburgh as perfectly immaterial; but if the noble Earl had gone into the Leith Burghs and had appeared upon the platform side by side with Mr. Munro-Ferguson during the election, and had made a speech, that would have been an interference with the election which, in the event of Mr. Munro-Ferguson being returned,a Committee of the House of Commons in the old days might have held justified them in setting aside the election. In these circumstances, the House ought not too hastily to give up the power which they possessed in this matter, for the Courts of Law, following the old Common Law doctrine of the ineligibility of Peers to interfere in elections, might void an election so affected.
§ LORD R. CHURCHILL
said, he hailed with pleasure the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin, that there was a protection in the Common Law against the interference of Peers in elections. He did not intend to press his Motion.
§ * MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)
said, that mention had been made of the historic occasion on which Lord Beaconsfield addressed the Agricultural Association of Bucks. He happened to have been present at the dinner, and he would tell the House what occurred there. It was perfectly correct to say that the Member for the county, Mr. Lambert, was in the chair; but in his opening remarks he said it was the practice to exclude political matters on such occasions, and he hoped that that practice would be observed on that occasion. Lord Carrington replied to the toast of the House of Lords, and adhered most strictly to the rule excluding politics from the dirners of the Agricultural Society. Later on the toast of the Prime Minister was given, and Lord Beaconsfield replied. He said he would certainly not break the 608 rule by introducing politics, and he was sure the company did not wish him to break it. At that there was much cheering, and Lord Beaconsfield asked, did the cheering indicate that the company desired him to talk about politics, which was replied to by still louder cheering. Lord Beaconsfield then proceeded to deal with political topics; and if Lord Carrington's features were any evidence of his feelings, he certainly regarded Lord Beaconsfield's action as a breach of the ruling of the chairman.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
If the House passes to the Orders of the Day, that expresses the opinion of the House on the matter.
§ Resolved, That this House do now proceed with the Orders of the Day.