*THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT, Derby) rose to move:—
That a Select Committee be appointed to Inquire and Report whether the Honourable William Waldegrave Palmer, commonly called Viscount Wolmer, has, since his election to this House, succeeded to the Earldom of Selborne in the Peerage of the United Kingdom.
He said,—I rise to make the Motion of which I gave notice yesterday. The Motion is in the form which was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—that is to say, for the appointment of a small Committee for the purpose of ascertaining whether Viscount Wolmer has, since his election to this House, succeeded to a Peerage. I have no particular preference for one Committee over another, but in cases of this kind I regard myself merely as the organ of the general feeling of the House; and I should desire that in the discussion on a question of this far and wide reaching character the feeling of the House should quite prevail irrespective of any difference of Party. Now, Sir, the point which I apprehend would have to be ascertained by the Committee would simply be the point which usually in such a case is ascertained by the Lord Chancellor—not by the House of Lords, not by the Committee of Privileges, but, as I understand, by the Lord Chancellor acting on behalf of the Crown—namely, whether a person claiming a seat in the House of Lords is in fact entitled to such seat. That plan not being available in ordinary course in the House of Lords, it is understood that the House should take the matter into its own hands and make an investigation and decide the point for itself. The right hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney) wishes the matter to be referred to the Select Committee now sitting in the House of Commons on the Vacation of Seats. That was my original proposition, but deferring to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite—I think it was the only point on which we differed yesterday—and admitting its superior convenience, I agree
to adopt it. It is a very short question that is to be referred, and I should hope that a Committee would not take 11 months to decide the point and report to the House. There is no doubt one personal advantage of the larger Committee I should feel. Probably I should feel it my duty to serve on the smaller Committee. I am not a member of the larger Committee, and therefore I shall not be able to take any part in its deliberations. The right hon. Gentleman has that advantage with regard to the larger Committee; but, on the whole, I think the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman is the best and most convenient, and therefore I put down the Motion in that form. There is one thing I should say: Whether it is referred to the smaller Committee or to the larger one, it must be distinctly understood that no Committee of the House of Commons can decide the question; it can only be decided by the House itself. It is not like some question of a claim to a particular seat being referred to a Committee, as it used to be, and as it may be in certain circumstances now. It is not the question of the seat of a particular individual Member of this House. The issue raised is a great constitutional question, and although, of course, we shall be extremely glad of any information or instruction that any Committee can afford us on the subject, I desire it to be distinctly understood—I am sure that will be the feeling of the whole House—that, on the question of the moving for a Writ, the House of Commons as a whole, and only the House of Commons as a whole, can decide a question of this character. That, I think, is quite clear; and in these circumstances I move the Motion I have put down.
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that his original intention was to refer the question to the Committee appointed last Session and reappointed this Session on the Vacation of Seats, but he has agreed to accept the smaller Committee; and the whole question to be determined is this—whether this Committee will be able to furnish the information the House should have before taking further action, or whether we shall have to await the result of the deliberations of the larger Committee 1176 All must agree that no Committee, however authoritative, can decide the question. The matter now under consideration must be decided either by the House at large, or, if a legal question should arise, by a Court of Law. Obviously, in no circumstances can it be decided by a Committee of this House. But a Committee may examine precedents, decide as to the pertinence or relevance, and may come to conclusions which may give great assistance to this House in further proceedings. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer will tell us that—the simple question of a fact being referred to this smaller Committee—he will not proceed to move the House further in the matter until the larger Committee on the Vacation of Seats has reported, I do not think there would be any strong objection to the preliminary question being referred to the limited Committee. It is a simple question of fact, which will be examined with great facility and probably with dispatch, and a question of fact about which there may be no dispute may be reported to the House. But my right hon. Friend, as he suggested yesterday, wished to take action immediately on the determinanation of the question of fact, without letting the House consider what might have been brought before the Committee on the Vacation of Seats, and what were the resolutions of that Committee on the matters brought before it. If it be proposed to take action at once we are confronted with a serious difficulty, on which we should take our stand.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I will say at once that I am perfectly willing to await the result of that Committee, but I only hope that its Report will be produced with a certain dispatch.
§ MR. COURTNEY
I am not a Member of that Committee, and I cannot accelerate its proceedings; but the declaration now made relieves me from any further difficulty. I do not care to which Committee this simple matter of fact may be referred, if it is understood, as we now understand, that a constitutional question which must be considered at no distant date by this House, will not be submitted to this House until it has had the advantage of the assistance which may be given it by the deliberations of the Committee. I can only say 1177 now, as I did yesterday, that I demur to the positions laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as being exhaustive or accurate. Even to-day he has suggested that this Committee will be appointed to discharge a duty which the Lord Chancellor discharges as a Minister of the Crown when a person who claims to succeed to the Peerage applies for a new Writ of Summons to be issued to him. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: "Not always."] Has there been no case in which, without application, a Writ of Summons has been issued? Such cases may be brought before the Committee, and may illustrate the advantage which may proceed from its investigations. As to the cases brought before the Committee, I will only say that throughout, in every succession to the Peerage, there has been an action of volition of the person who wished to be summoned, and no act of volition is found in the case before us. In my judgment it is a perfectly new question which is not embarrassed by any precedent upon which there is any decision to bind us, with respect to which there are dicta indeed, such as the dictum of Mr. Speaker Manners Sutton quoted yesterday, which was not acted upon, and which is a mere obiter dictum, which had no effect whatever. We are, therefore, in the presence of a question which may have to be illustrated by late experience, by precedents of the past, by action taken in different circumstances by different parties. The question as a whole must be decided, as I believe, as a matter of expediency. I accept the view of my right hon. Friend opposite that it is not to be settled by precedent; it is to be settled as a matter of expediency. If that is once accepted we see what large issues are opened. On the question of expediency we find the two Front Benches agreed, which is pronounced to be a dangerous state of affairs, and we find their concurrence fortified by the admission of the hon. Member for Northampton. All there have apparently come to the same conclusion on the same line of argument. In the circumstances I do not proceed with the Amendment of which I have given notice, and I do not desire to detain the House further.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
As the right hon. Gentleman has 1178 told us, it is at my suggestion that he moves for a Second Committee to deal with this subject. I will venture to state why I think that the most convenient course, and when the proper time comes I will show that the presumption, against the union of both Front Benches and the Benches opposite below the Gangway is rebutted successfully by considerations which I think will meet with the approval of the House and of the country. I will leave; other questions which will wait until we come to discuss the Writ which will ultimately be moved for to fill the seat for West Edinburgh, and on which there must be a great constitutional Debate, which will probably for ever settle the vexed question raised by my noble Friend Lord Selborne. These large questions will not come up until the Committee now sitting has reported; and I think we may gather from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it is an understanding that that Committee shall set to work and really finish its business. We have not had a single meeting in the course of the present Session; and I think it is now time we brought our protracted investigation to a close. I hope, without moving any formal Instruction to the Committee, it may be distinctly understood that it will set its shoulder to the wheel, and carry through the work entrusted to it by the House. The question submitted to the new Committee will be a small one, and it will not take long to discuss; but there is an Amendment on the paper which, if carried, will materially increase the labours of the Committee. If we want a rapid Report on this question, we ought not to overload the Committee by asking it also to investigate questions of fact connected with Peerages held by other persons who are or claim to be at present Members of this House. The Home Secretary is Chairman of the Select Committee appointed to deal with the subject, and it would add to his colossal labours and overburdened shoulders, capable as they may be, if the Committee had to pursue a further investigation. For these reasons I hope the House will defer to the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and appoint the Committee.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
The statement made by the 1179 Chancellor of the Exchequer removes the first of the objections I ventured to take to the reference proposed yesterday. It is evident now that, while the new Committee to be appointed will have to deal only with the question of vacating seats, no decision will be asked from this House on the general question until it has before it the decision of the other Committee on the matter of principle. That is the whole point I wished to lay before the House. I quite agree with what has been said as to the inconvenience of overloading the Committee on the Vacation of Seats, and I see no objection to the proposal in its present form and with its present understanding, I now have another Amendment to propose. My object is to extend the inquiry of this Committee, and to make it co-extensive with all cases of heirs to Peerages or reputed heirs to Peerages who may be sitting in this House. There will be no objection to the Committee reporting first on the case of my noble Friend, the Member for West Edinburgh, leaving more complicated matters for a subsequent report. The hon. Baronet, the Member for St. Rollox, is not in England, but I may say I have only used his name to illustrate the point I want to bring forward, and I have not the slightest desire to force him or anybody else to be a Peer against his will. The case of the hon. Baronet is not the only case within our experience. I am told that Mr. Cuninghame Graham, who was a Member of the last Parliament, is reputed heir to a dormant Scotch Peerage, and if the question is to be raised at all, as the evident consequence of the new precedent which the Government are making, we must consider not only the case of my noble Friend, but other cases may, with equal propriety, be brought under the purview of the House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave very interesting evidence before the Committee on the Vacating of Seats, and disputed altogether the dictum attributed to Speaker Onslow as to the vacation of seats that the seat was not vacated on the death of the ancestor, but had only been vacated in the practice of Parliament on proof of succession, followed by a Writ of Summons addressed to his successor. The Chancellor of the Exchequer clearly laid it down that up to the present time the universal practice of Parliament had been to wait for the 1180 Writ of Summons, and on the only occasion on which Parliament proceeded to act without a Writ of Summons and issued a Writ, without the information that afforded, that Writ had afterwards to be superseded. So that is a precedent we should not be anxious to follow. Now, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer says a case has been made which justifies a new precedent, and justifies the House in doing what has hitherto been done by the House of Peers. We are going to create a Peer-finding Committee, or, as was done in the Middle Ages, we are going to prick the Peers. That is open to grave objection. If you prick in one case, you must prick in all, and wherever a case of suspicion—for that is it—of Peerdom attaches to any Member of the House you must appoint a Committee to inquire into his case. That is the logical conclusion. I object to the appointment of the Committee altogether. I think the House is taking upon itself a duty not incumbent upon it, which it has never undertaken, and by undertaking which we may be landed in considerable embarrassment. It is proposed to appoint this Committee to find out whether Lord Wolmer has become Lord Selborne. Suppose Lord Wolmer refuses to appear, can you force him to appear? According to you he is a Peer, and you cannot force a Peer to appear before a Committee. But supposing Lord Wolmer, assuming himself to be still a Member of the House of Commons, goes before the Committee, you cannot force him to give the evidence you require, and, if you cannot force him, are you quite certain you can get it in any other way? It does not seem so simple a matter as the Chancellor of the Exchequer imagines, because you are dealing with a reluctant witness. You cannot send him to another place without proof of his succession, and I am doubtful whether you can get proof without his good will; and I am pretty certain you will not get his good will. What is your theory with regard to the case of Lord Wolmer? The theory is he becomes incapable of sitting in this House from the moment you have proof that he has succeeded to a Peerage, and, further, that if that proof is not voluntarily afforded to you, then you are to seek it for yourselves. Then, I 1181 point to the case of another hon. Member who is under a similar suspicion of being a Peer, and I call upon you to inquire into his case also. How do you know that my noble Friend has become a Peer? You know it either because attention was called to the fact by the hon. Member for Northampton, or because you say it is a matter of public notoriety. Then I say the case is the same with regard to the hon. Baronet the Member for St. Rollox. I have looked into Debrett's "House of Commons," and I find a long account given of the hon. Member for St. Rollox, and the useful arid important offices he has occupied. The account concludes with these words:—He claims the dormant Scotch Earldom of Hyndford and the Barony of Carmichael.In turning to "Dod" I find the same remark. Therefore it is a matter of public notoriety that the hon. Gentleman claims this Peerage. It is a matter of common knowledge that the contents of these publications are revised by those to whom they refer. I venture to assume that that has been done in the case of the hon. Baronet, and that it is, at all events, with his sanction that he is represented in this work of reference as claiming this dormant Scotch Peerage. Under these circumstances, on what ground do you deny to him the inquiry you are prepared to force on my noble Friend? They are both reputed heirs to Peerages, and have hitherto neglected, one to claim his Peerage and the other his Writ of Summons. If they were anxious to become Peers, both Gentlemen could have taken the usual course, and, after necessary inquiry had been made, it would have been a matter of absolute certainty whether they were Peers of the Realm or not. The same difficulty arises in both cases—namely, that of the Peer himself being unwilling to take the necessary steps to have the Writ of Summons issued. There are some who consider it necessary to purge the House of Commons of the presence of a Peer—why a Peer may be a Peer unawares! I say that if we are bound to clear ourselves of the presence of a Peer, we are bound, when public attention is called to the facts that I have laid before the House, to deal with 1182 all such cases on exactly the same principle. There are certain distinctions that may be drawn between the two cases, but I do not think they are distinctions which affect in the slightest degree the principle. The first distinction is this—that in the one case, that of my noble Friend, there is no doubt as to the succession. My noble Friend, when appealed to by you, Sir, admitted that he was a Peer of the Realm, although he drew the distinction that he was not a Lord of Parliament. As to the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Rollox, I am afraid you cannot interrogate him. But no doubt we may assume so much in his absence—that his claim is not proved, that it is a doubtful claim, and that probably it would be disputed. But that does not affect the case. My point is not that he is a Peer, but that he may be a Peer, and that it is your business to find out whether he is or is not a Peer. You have no right to assume in the case of my noble Friend, although he has felt himself bound to answer the question which you, Sir, have put to him, that he is a Peer any more than that the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Rollox is a Peer. But then it may be said that proof in the one case is much more difficult than in the other. I admit that. But what is the position? This House of Commons is called upon to erect itself into a Court of Justice for the purpose of deciding this important legal question. But is it tolerable that we are to refuse to take into consideration one case because it is a difficult one, and that we are to take into consideration another case because it is easy? No Court of Justice could sit for a day if it transacted its business upon a principle of that kind. The second distinction is, that the Peerage which is in question in the case of the hon. Member for St. Rollox is a Scotch Peerage. I mentioned yesterday, on incorrect information which I had received, that it was an English Peerage. I find that that is a mistake. It is a Scotch Peerage, and I believe that no English Peerage is attached to it. But that makes the case all the stronger, and that makes it all the more urgent; and, let me add, it makes the position of the hon. Baronet the Member for St. Rollox more critical. The case of my hon. Friend the Member for West Edinburgh is, that he can sit and 1183 vote in this House without incurring any statutory penalties. The only question for this House to decide is, whether he shall or shall not sit. If the House decide that he can sit the matter could not be tried in a Court of Law. But it is quite different in the case of the hon. Member for St. Rollox. Under the Act of Union, if he be proved to be a Scotch Peer he cannot sit in this House, and he cannot vote in this House without suffering the possibility of penalties. In the case of a Scotch Peer it has always been held by this House that the House does not require to wait for a Writ of Summons. In the case of an English Peerage it is necessary that there should be a Writ of Summons or alternative proof before the House can act. But in the case of a Scotch Peer the moment succession is proved all the obligations of the Peerage are entailed, together with the disability of sitting in this House. Therefore, if there be any distinction to be made at all, it is in favour of the urgency of the case which I am now bringing before the House. For the reasons I have already given, the House will see that I am opposed to the appointment of the Committee to make this investigation, and if a Division be taken I shall certainly vote against the appointment of the Committee at all. But, if it is to be appointed, I hope the House will admit the claim I make that this other case shall be submitted to it. If the House do not admit it now, as sure as fate similar cases will be admitted hereafter. There will be other cases brought forward from time to time, and we shall be involved in investigations of an extremely complicated and delicate character, with which we have no business at all. In my opinion the House will only be doing common justice if, having to deal with two cases, both of which are before us at the same time, we mete out to the constituency of West Edinburgh precisely the same justice and no more that we mete out to the constituency of St. Rollox. I should like to go one step farther. I have recognised from the first that against the main contention of my noble Friend there is the strongest possible feeling on the part of the majority of this House on both sides, and I think I am right in saying that the reason for it was admirably stated by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when 1184 he said that no man should be allowed to occupy this kind of intermediate position, in which it would be a sort of conundrum whether he was or was not a peer, and in which it should be left to him to determine whether he was to sit in this House as long as he liked, and then to give up his seat here in order to go to the House of Lords. I am bound to say that I, for my part, agree in that view, and I share the feeling which, I believe, is common to the majority of the House; but I do beg the House not to allow the question which I am raising now to be prejudiced by their opinion on the main issue. That is a totally different thing. We have to decide two separate questions. In the first place, what is the practice and the law of Parliament? Because there is no statutory law with regard to these cases. With regard to the propositions which I am going to lay down, I shall have the high support for two of them of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The first point is that it has been the practice and the law of Parliament to insist upon evidence before proceeding to declare a seat vacant. The second point is that the only evidence which we have hitherto accepted as sufficient has been the issue of the writ of summons in the case of an English Peerage. Then I take the third point, with which I am not certain that the Chancellor of the Exchequer agrees, although he gave a doubtful answer before the Committee on the subject, and declared it to be a debate-able question which he would rather was decided by the Committee. My point is—and I think that it has been proved by recent experience—that until some evidence has been before us that a person who is the heir to a Peerage he may sit and vote in this House. The position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was that such was the case.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
My memory does not serve me exactly who it was that made the statement, but it was laid down before the Committee that such a gentleman was in the position of being a Member of the House of Commons, but was disqualified from voting. For that I see no reason whatever, whether he is a member or he is not. That is to say, either his seat is vacated at the very 1185 moment of the death of his ancestor, or else, if it is not vacated until the Writ of Summons on evidence of succession has been given, he is not only a Member of the House of Commons, but he is a Member with all the powers, and he is entitled to sit and vote. I believe that that is proved by our recent experience. I refer to the case which brought about the appointment of the Committee—that of Lord Coleridge. What is Lord Coleridge's position? His father had died, but the Writ of Summons had not been issued, and there was likely to be some delay which it was thought might be a wrong to the constituents. Thereupon Lord Coleridge applied for the Chiltern Hundreds, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave him the Chiltern Hundreds. To that I think the House can see no possible objection. Even if Lord Coleridge was a Peer, I imagine that there is no rule whatever why the Chiltern Hundreds should not be given to a Peer or any other subject of Her Majesty. Therefore the Chancellor of the Exchequer was perfectly right in granting him the Chiltern Hundreds. But the new writ for the purpose of filling the vacancy in the representation was moved for in this House on the ground that "the Hon. B. Coleridge"—not "Lord Coleridge"—had accepted the Chiltern Hundreds. Is it not the direct inference from that that the "Hon. B. Coleridge" was a Member of this House until he accepted the Chiltern Hundreds? He so remained, it may be said, for only a short time after the death of his father; but if he so remained for a day or a week after the death of his father, why should he not have so remained a Member of this House for a month or a year? Therefore I say that our practice has been to permit a Member of this House who has succeeded to a Peerage to remain a Member until proof is given of the succession, and to allow him to sit and vote as such. I will take another case, which is a very striking, one, although it is not one involving the position of a Member of the House of Commons. That is the case of Lord Iddesleigh. Lord Iddesleigh, on the death of his father, of course succeeded to the Peerage, but he definitely and avowedly refused to make a claim to the Writ of Summons, and did not, in fact, 1186 make it for six years afterwards, in order that he might retain his position, a high office in the Inland Revenue Department, which cannot be held by a Peer. Surely the fact that he was allowed to do that without opposition, without any question being raised, is, at all events inferentially, an argument in favour of the position taken up by my noble Friend, that a man may be a peer of the realm, and yet, by not applying for the necessary writ, may avoid the disability which now attaches to the position of a Lord of Parliament. I say that my noble Friend's position is that of a man who, at the present moment, is entitled to sit and vote in this House until adequate proof has been given of his having succeeded to the Peerage. But then there would arise the question whether it is expedient in the interests of the House of Commons, and having regard to other great political interests, that people should be allowed to have this sort of double option; whether they should be allowed to sit and vote in this House, and yet, at any moment, upon their own mere volition, be permitted to leave it, and to take their seat in another place. I have said that in my humble judgment there is a proposition to which the House will not be willing to give its assent. But do not let our feeling on that point prejudice our judgment on a question of fact. Let us first decide whether a Member is is in this position or not. If we decide that he is in this position, then let us deal with it. My own feeling has always been that it is a real hardship in many cases that a man should be forced against his will to take up a Peerage which he has done nothing whatever to obtain. I confess it seems to me a self-evident proposition, and I could give, if it were worth while, many illustrations of that hardship. I dare say there are many people here who know perfectly well that a title is not always an advantage. In the case of a poor man, for instance, it is a distinct disadvantage. If the heir to a Peerage becomes, owing to circumstances, a man of no fortune, there probably may be many cases in which such a person would gladly be relieved of the obligation to take up a Peerage descended to him from his ancestors. I cannot see myself what harm can accrue either to the House of 1187 Lords, or to the country, or to the general political situation, if such a man wore given an option, once for all, and were allowed to say whether or not he would take up his hereditary title, with all its obligations, or whether he would be content to return to the ranks of the commoners. That would be a common-sense conclusion of the matter, and I only want to guard myself, in pressing upon the House the extension of the reference to the Committee which I now urge, against being supposed to be a supporter of the proposition that a man can, as it were sit in two places at once, or at all events, that he can of his own option choose which of the two dignified offices he will fulfil. That, I think, is a totally separate question, and nobody who votes either for my Amendment, or against this Committee altogether, can be held to be in the slightest degree committing himself or pledging himself upon the larger question of whether it is desirable that this hybrid kind of Peerage should be allowed to exist. I move the Amendment of which I have given notice.
§ MR. E. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
seconded the Amendment.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I have the misfortune, whatever I do, never to be able to please the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. When the late Chief Justice Coleridge died and his eldest son was the successor to his Peerage, there arose the difficulty to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. The delay between the death of the Chief Justice and the Writ of Summons to his son having been found inconvenient, I granted, at his request, the Chiltern Hundreds. For that I was most severely censured in this House by the right hon. Gentleman, who attributed to me and the Government to which I belong the most sinister motives for that conduct. He then said I was wrong in doing that because the seat was already vacant, for a seat was always vacant instantly upon the death of the Peer. The right hon. Gentleman's censure upon me, and the origin of this Committee, was because he had made up his mind—he always does make up his mind upon every question—and upon this, without investigation, without a Committee, he pronounced ex cathedrâ upon this subject; and this is 1188 what he said—this was the ground of his condemnation of my conduct—I think the House will see that in all these cases there is one consistent logical plain rule— namely, that the seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant on the death of the predecessor.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I only wish to say that the evidence given by the right hon. Gentleman himself and others to the Committee has changed my opinion.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Then the prisoner at the bar stands acquitted by his accuser. This Committee was appointed to indict me and my conduct in that case as unconstitutional. The seriousness of the charges makes me all the more glad that I should be acquitted of them, because the head and front of my offending was this—That this Government, which is committed to mending or ending the House of Peers, have really hit upon a means of granting the Peers a new and exceptional privilege, the privilege of exhausting all the delights of the House of Commons, and then in their old ago retiring to the House of Lords.That is the charge of which, I am happy to say, I am now acquitted. The right hon. Gentleman went on—What has been suggested to me is that, after all, this may be an invidious way of ending the House of Peers, because every successor to a peerage who has enterprise, energy, and ambition—he must have been anticipating the action of Lord Selborne and his friends—will probably choose the House of Commons during his period of juvenility and will only seek the House of Lords when he reaches the stage of decrepitude.These were the base and sinister motives—first, to injure the House of Commons and then to swamp the House of Lords with used-up Commoners—that I was supposed to have contemplated when I gave the Chiltern Hundreds to the present Lord Coleridge. I am happy to say that the right hon. Gentleman has acquitted me, and he thinks upon my own evidence. But I took very good care not to give any evidence upon this point before the Committee. As I am on my own defence now against the right hon. Gentleman, as I was on June 28th 1894, permit me 1189 to clear myself of having given a different opinion on that occasion from that which I have offered to this House now. One reason why I gave no opinion is because at that time—as I continue to he now—I was more or less responsible to this House for advice in this matter, and therefore I thought it more prudent to reserve my opinion till after the question has been investigated by the Committee, though I confess I never regarded the matter as one on which there could be any serious doubt. But I said on that occasion:—The question of the intermediate condition of the man who is supposed to be a peer and is not proved to be a peer is a very intricate question. It might well exercise the ingenuity of the schoolmen, I think. I do not know what to call him. Is he a ghost? It is certain, if that view is taken, that he cannot sit and vote in the House of Commons. It is equally certain that he cannot sit and vote in the House of Lords, and during that interval he is a dummy peer, because he has no power in either capacity. That is a possible view of his situation. Or there is another view of his situation that may be taken. The House of Commons caterpillar, before he becomes a fully-fledged butterfly, may pass through the pupa or larva stage. He may spin for himself a cocoon of silk and ultimately reach that condition where he will neither toil nor spin. That is a view which may be taken of his intermediate condition. Those are deep political and natural mysteries which I do not myself pretend to fathom. I must allow myself to be considered as an Agnostic on that subject, and to leave it as a question of philosophic doubt what is this intermediate condition in which this unproved peer is in regard to his political status.Well, Sir, I adhered strictly to that and resisted every attempt to compel me to offer an opinion upon that subject; I gave no opinion, and, therefore, the converter of the right hon. Gentleman must have been somebody else than myself. I confess that the situation is just the reverse. I cannot say I was converted because I offered no opinion; but I do hold the opinion which the right hon. Gentleman expressed to this House when he said that the seat really is vacated upon the death of the predecessor. That is the only true view of the case. But, then, this House must obtain evidence that the person sitting in this House is the true successor of the man who has died. That is a very simple proposition. One of the real reasons why I was not prepared to give an opinion then was because I found it was a matter which, in the opinion of some people, required investigation. Whether right or wrong, that is 1190 the conclusion I have arrived at on this matter. It is quite true that in the report of that evidence I am reported to have made the distinction between, a Peer of the realm and a Peer of Parliament. If I used that expression I used it inaccurately, and I should have said, "a Peer entitled to sit and vote in the House of Lords." That would make the true distinction. But, as I said, I did not undertake to give any opinion upon that subject, because, in point of fact, I had not made up my mind what was the accurate view of the situation. With reference to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, we have two things before us. We have, first, the case of a Member of the House of Commons who has declared to us that he is a Peer of the Realm. That is the fact we have to deal with. He is the successor of a nobleman, who, up to the time of his death, was a Member of the House of Lords—which was, of course a fact well known to everybody. The right hon. Gentleman says he knows, or thinks he knows, there is in this House a claimant to a dormant Peerage. Well, anybody may be a claimant to a dormant peerage. The 670 Members might be claimants to dormant Peerages. There are a great many persons who interest themselves, some with success and some with want of success, as claimants to dormant Peerages. But they are not in the situation of the present Earl of Selborne. We are supposed to have in this House a claimant to a dormant Peerage. I do not know exactly the date of this dormant Peerage, but I believe it was some two centuries ago. [Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: "1817."] Well that is very nearly two centuries ago. [Laughter.] I thought the date given was 1717. At all events, it is some time ago. I know it was before I was born, therefore, I am sure it was a long time ago. But the claimant to a peerage is not a Peer. The whole difference is that the Earl of Selborne is a Peer, and states himself so to be a Peer. There is hardly anybody in the House, I think, who does not remember the admirable satirical sketch by Mr. Disraeli in "Sybil," of the visit of Sir Vavasour Firebrace to the famous Mr. Hatton, who was a manufacturer of dormant Peerages, or, rather, manufactured Peers out of dormant Peerages. It is described there how 1191 Sir Vavasour Firebrace, not being content with being a Baronet, goes to this gentleman in a back chamber in the Temple. He had a Persian cat on the table, and he would make anybody a Peer who paid the requisite price. The writer says he had made more Peers than the Sovereign by a process—I do not think it is stated in the book, but I have heard it surmised, that for a consideration he manufactured the documents, that time was given for the moss to grow on the tombstone, and so the pedigree was established. That is a process which takes a long time and is very expensive. The famous Mr. Hatton tells Sir Vavasour Firebrace that if he spends £30,000 he thinks he can make him something like premier Earl of this country. To pretend a similarity between the present case and that of a claimant to a dormant Peerage is to bring the whole thing into even more ridicule than attaches to it already. I must say I was never able to treat this claim on the part of Lord Selborne and his friends really as a serious claim until the noble Earl actually appeared in his place. I thought it was a farce, and I think so still. I hope that, whenever the House of Commons has to determine this question it will be determined by an overwhelming majority that a man who is a Peer is not capable of sitting in the House of Commons. That is a very plain and simple issue. I believe it is Parliamentary law and always has been Parliamentary law in this country. The only question now is to ascertain whether the man is a Peer. We undertake to ascertain the facts, and the facts are very simple. In the case of Lord Selborne it will be the production of the Patent, the register of his birth and the marriage of his parents, and that practically establishes the fact that he is the person to whom the Patent refers. That is all. But if you are going to refer to the Committee to inquire whether a man who is a claimant to a dormant Peerage is or is not a Peer, you send to them a thing that no Committee of this House can determine. It is only in the Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords that a man who is the claimant to a dormant Peerage can establish his right to be a Peer, and therefore you are referring to this Committee a thing which the Committee could not ascertain. It might take 1192 years, as it has done in some famous cases where there was the most elaborate and expensive investigation. We are not to be guided by the gossip of the Lobby or the legends of "Debrett," but must have something like substantial grounds on which to go, and surely with such admissions as we have had from Lord Selborne himself to compare his case with that of a claimant to a dormant Peerage is incongruous and absurd. That being so, if the House of Commons does not intend to treat the whole thing as a farce, as they might do perhaps, and if they mean to deal with this matter seriously, let us, at all events, confine the investigation to that which can be investigated—that is, the question whether the man is now a Peer or not. Do not let us raise these by-issues about investigating claims to dormant Peerages which no Committee of the House of Commons can undertake. For these reasons I could not agree to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. ATHERLEY JONES (Durham, N.W.)
said, there was absolutely no similarity between the case of the hon. Member for Glasgow and the case of Lord Selborne. A precedent as regarded a claimant to a dormant Peerage, was afforded by the case of General Burleigh. In that case a Writ for the re-election of a Member in the place of General Burleigh had been moved for and granted. But subsequently it was pointed out that General Burleigh was merely a claimant to a Peerage, and that 160 years' investigation of title would be necessary in order to enable him to establish before a Committee of Privileges whether or not he was entitled to succeed to a Peerage. Thereupon the then Speaker of the House of Commons stated that they were accustomed to act on notoriously known facts, and, said he:—When the Writ was moved I regarded it as a notoriously known fact that General Burleigh had succeeded to a Peerage. Now it appears that he is merely a claimant to a Peerage, therefore, in that case, the Writ must be cancelled, and General Burleigh must continue to act as a Member of the House of Commons.The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would no doubt remember that, until the Registration Acts were passed, it was the practice for an inquisition to be held and upon the return to that inquisition, without any 1193 application by the heir, the Crown sent to him his Writ of Summons. The Registration Acts had thrown upon the heir the duty of sending in his own evidence. Now Lord Selborne, having deliberately chosen to prevent the due execution of these formalities altogether, and having refused to give the information, the Crown was unable, without certainly further inquiry, which he believed to be within the prerogative of the Crown to exercise, to send the Writ of Summons. What was the position of the House of Commons? The position of the House of Commons was this—that they were thereupon compelled to do that which Lord Selborne contumaciously declined to do, and they were obliged to find the simple evidence, aye or no, whether he was or was not a Peer of Parliament. It had been argued that there was a distinction between a Peer of the realm and a Lord of Parliament. There was no such distinction historically or constitutionally. Prior to the Acts of Union between England and Scotland and England and Ireland there was no such phrase known as Lord of Parliament, but inasmuch as they had certain elective Lords on the Scotch Peerage, and certain Lords of the Scotch Peerage who were not elective, therefore a Peer of the realm of Scotland who was sent to represent the Peers of Scotland in England was described as a Lord of Parliament. And so, in the same way, a Peer of Ireland who was sent to represent the Peers of Ireland was rightly described as a Lord of Parliament. But there was no Lord of Parliament in England. A Peer of the realm of England was a Lord of Parliament, and there was no distinction, between a Lord of Parliament in England and a Peer of the realm; therefore, he ventured to say that the distinction which was sought to be established was a distinction which was absolutely non-existent. If they looked through the most ancient treatises with regard to the description of Peers, and with regard to precedents, it would be found there was no reference whatever to a Lord of Parliament until the Acts of Union between the two countries, and he could not help thinking that that practically concluded this question. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that Lord Iddesleigh was incapacitated from sitting and voting in the 1194 House of Peers by reason of his holding an office under Government.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
No; it is the other way about. Lord Iddesleigh would have been incapacitated from holding the office he did if he had taken up his position as a Member of the Upper House.
§ MR. ATHERLEY JONES
That is practically the same thing in substance. He ventured to say that there was no authority, statutory or otherwise, which the right hon. Gentleman was able to quote to show that the office which Lord Iddesleigh held in the Civil Service in the smallest degree interfered with his position and functions as a Peer. The statute of Anne, indeed, imposed various disqualifications and disabilities, but they were confined to the House of Commons, and did not extend to the House of Peers. The vital issue in the case was this—he maintained that, so soon as the late Lord Selborne died, so soon did the present Lord Selborne become a Peer of the Realm, and therefore a Lord of Parliament, because, he contended, no distinction existed between the two cases; that thereupon, inasmuch as the machinery ascertaining whether he had become a Peer of the realm or not, had not been placed at the disposal of the House of Commons by Lord Selborne, it was the plain duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to move for a Committee particularly directed to that object—namely, to ascertain whether or not he had succeeded to the Earldom of Selborne. If the noble Lord wished to be a Member of the House of Commons, the proper course was to bring in a Bill disqualifying and degrading him from the position of a Peer. There was a precedent for such a course in the case of the Earl of Bedford. Following that precedent, the Bill might recite, mutatis mutandis, that inasmuch as Lord Solborne is desirous of remaining an elected representative of the people to serve in the House of Commons, be it enacted that henceforth he and his heirs for ever shall cease to enjoy the honour of being Peers of the United Kingdom.
§ MR. GEORGE CURZON (Lanes, S. W., Southport)
said, the noble Lord (Lord Selborne) now sitting below the Bar, and those who were acting with him in this 1195 matter, believed they had a case which was capable of being submitted with seriousness and respect to the House of Commons; but at the same time they realised that a better opportunity for discussing the main aspects of the case would occur when a Motion was made, not improbably later on, for the issue of a new writ. The last speaker informed the House that the distinction between a Peerage of the Realm and a Lordship of Parliament was a distinction in the Peerage for which there was no authority in precedent, in tradition, or in law. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in his evidence before the Committee last year clearly admitted the existence of such a distinction, now endeavoured to qualify the unmistakeable words he, then used when, referring to Speaker Onslow's dictum, he said, "He may be a Peer of the realm, but he is certainly not a Peer of Parliament."
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
That is exactly the phrase I took the trouble to look up this morning, and I observe it is so reported. All I can say is, the words are entirely inconsistent with any view I held or expressed to the Committee. What I intended to say was a "Peer entitled to sit and vote in the House of Lords." I never intended to say a Peer of the realm is not also a Peer of Parliament. I believe he is.
§ *MR. CURZON
would confront the right hon. Gentleman with an opinion, the value of which he would himself recognise. More than 70 years ago there was a special Committee of the House of Lords appointed to discuss and report upon the "Dignity of the Peerage," and that Committee, having sat for 9 or 10 years, presented a report in four great tomes. In that Report the distinction between a Peerage of the realm and a Lordship of Parliament was most clearly admitted and laid down; and with reference to the notion that this distinction only existed in consequence of the Acts of Union, first with Scotland and afterwards with Ireland, the Lords' Report said—But such a distinction previously existed in the case of minors and of women claiming' to lie Peeresses in their own right.And these were the words which he 1196 commended to the attention of the House—And with respect also to such persons who, being Peers of the realm by right, might not think fit to qualify themselves to sit and vote as Lords of Parliament.The right hon. Gentleman would at once admit, then, that there was very considerable authority for the constitutional view which his noble Friend, and those associated with him, took. He heard with surprise the Chancellor of the Exchequer say that he was doubtful whether the attitude of his noble Friend, and those associated with him in this matter, ought not to be regarded as a farce and not intended seriously. In reply to that he would like to say that it was mainly upon the evidence given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself before the Committee upstairs that they realised the strength of their case, and that they had a legal and constitutional right to bring it before the Bar of the House of Commons. And if the personal opinion or ipse dixit of anyone was of value, he might mention what his noble Friend (Lord Selborne) had given him authority to say—namely, that having on many occasions discussed this matter with his late father, than whom, it would be admitted, there was no higher legal and constitutional authority, nor one less likely to take a revolutionary view of the constitution of either this or the other House of Parliament, he never received anything but encouragement from the late Lord Selborne in the step he proposed to take, and the possibility of taking it he more than once discussed with the late Lord Selborne. It was only fair to mention that, with a view of relieving his noble Friend from the charge of having acted in a spirit of unbecoming levity in this matter. A point had been made of the anomaly of the supposed position—namely, that a Peer should have the option of choosing in which House he would serve. He declined to admit that they had ever taken up that position. But when the Leader of the Opposition yesterday was descanting upon the inexpediency and outrage of such a proceeding, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman must have forgotten that there had been actual cases in which hon. Members in that House had exercised precisely such an option. Only two years ago there was in that 1197 House an hon. Member (Mr. J. W. Plunkett) who was the heir to an Irish Peerage. In 1889 he succeeded his father and became Lord Dunsany, but being an Irish Peer he did not cease to sit in that House, and remained in it until 1892. In that year he found that he could be elected by his fellow Peers a Representative Peer for Ireland, and accordingly he took up his Peerage, and did not stand again for a seat in the House of Commons. Therefore, Lord Dunsany exercised precisely that option which his right hon. Friend had so derided. He did not propose to go further into the matter now, as he recognised that this was not the right occasion for arguing the larger issues of the question. In conclusion, he merely desired to say on behalf of his noble Friend and himself, that they had raised this question, which they believed to be a serious constitutional one, in a spirit of becoming deference to the dignity and feelings of the House of Commons, and that their desire was that a solution of it should be arrived at on fair, constitutional grounds.
§ MR. R. B. HALDANE (Haddingtonshire)
said, he rose to surest that the discussion need not be prolonged. What was the position when it began? It was that the noble Lord (Lord Wolmer) desired to raise a great point of constitutional law in that House. That point had been raised, and now by the agreement of everybody it was to be discussed by the Committee which was already sitting upstairs. Important as might be the decision of that Committee, the question was so large that it was sure to be re-discussed on the floor of the House. That being the state of things, he thought the object of the noble Lord, which was to have this question fairly considered and tried, would be accomplished. The noble Lord did not desire, he understood, to take his stand upon the technical question whether there was evidence that he had succeeded to the Peerage of Selborne. If that were so, why should they refer the question of the noble Lord's static to a special Committee? It was a most unusual course.
*THK CHANCKLLOR OF THIS EXCHEQUER
said, that they could not accept a man's own statement that he was a Peer as conclusive evidence. The man might be mistaken. Therefore, 1198 whatever confidence they had in Lord Selborne himself, his own mere statement as to his status was not evidence upon which the House of Commons could Act.
§ MR. HALDANE
said, that of course they would not accept the statements of the noble Lord as conclusive in regard to the question of status, but that question could easily be settled in the ordinary way elsewhere. Why then appoint a special Committee to settle it? He should view with regret any course that would establish a new precedent for cases of this kind. It would be far better to leave the question of status to the Committee on Privileges of the other House. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham proposed to enlarge the scope of the inquiry entrusted to the small Committee for which the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked. Such an enlargement was unnecessary, for machinery was already provided for testing the validity of the return of a Member who was alleged to be a Scotch Peer. The validity of the return could be challenged in the Scotch Courts. The inquiry, if enlarged in the way proposed by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, might be most protracted and might involve very great expenditure.
§ *SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)
There is a point which has hardly been considered at all in this discussion, and that is the question of the rights of the electors of the country. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer had persevered with the Motion which he, perhaps somewhat hastily, made yesterday I should have been happy to support him. I am sorry that he found it necessary, in consequence of remonstrances that were made in one quarter of the House to depart from that proposal. I do not say this in order to cast any blame upon him; but it does seem to me that when the noble Lord (Lord Selborne) got up and told us what was a matter of common notoriety—namely, that he was a Peer of the Realm as successor to his lather—it does seen to me that that was sufficient evidence upon which this House could have acted, and that it might forthwith have ordered I the issue of a Writ. My right hon. Friend near me and the right hon. Gentleman opposite have thought differently, and as a result we have this Motion for the 1199 appointment of a Special Committee. I do not wish to oppose that Motion, but I suggest that it is really unnecessary. I do not believe that a more preposterous claim was ever made by anyone in this country than the claim of Lord Selborne to be allowed to sit in this House after succeeding to a Peerage of the Realm. My hon. Friend near me (Mr. Curzon) has stated that he has a very strong belief that that claim is well founded on constitutional grounds, and that he bases that belief upon the evidence given before the Committee which was appointed last year by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If that is so it is very strange that a Bill should have been introduced in the present Session which bears upon its back the names of my two hon. Friends (Mr. Curzon and Mr. Brodrick) and Lord Wolmer, and the Preamble of which says—,"Whereas it is expedint to remove certain disqualifications attaching to persons succeeding to a Peerage, and to make provision for enabling them to serve as Members of Parliament in the House of Commons.Then the enacting clause of this Bill says—From and after the passing of this Act any person succeeding to a Peerage shall not thereby be disqualified from being elected to serve after any election, if he shall so think fit, or from serving or continuing to serve, if he shall so think tit, for any county or borough of the United Kingdom in the House of Commons.If there be any reality, which I deny, in this wonderful constitutional claim, why did my hon. Friend introduce such a Bill as that? I agree in what has been already said that the whole tiling is a farce. I object altogether to depriving the electors of West Edinburgh, or any other constituency of the rights which they possess of representation in the House of Commons, while such a claim is considered. It is proposed to refer this question to the Committee upstairs, of which the Home Secretary is Chairman. That Committee transacts its business in so leisurely a fashion that it has not even met since last year, and it may be many weeks before it meets again. When it does meet it might think it necessary, if this question were referred to it, to call evidence on one side and the other, with the result that many weeks would be taken up, and 1200 during the whole of that time West Edinburgh would not be represented. I do hope, therefore, that when this small Committee, of which the right hon. Gentleman has moved the appointment, has reported, he will act upon the opinions which he has expressed, and will support a Motion for the immediate issue of a Writ for the election of a Member for West Edinburgh.
§ *MR. H. J. ROBY (Lancashire, S. E., Eccles)
said, that the appointment of this Committee might in itself be a comparatively small matter, but he feared that it would establish a precedent which would lead to much inconvenience. He did not dispute the competency of that House to inquire into anything it chose, but when dealing with matters in which the other House was specially concerned, when dealing with what might be called the mysterious status of the Peerage, it was desirable that they should leave the question in the hands of the Peers and avoid coming into conflict with them. The facts as to the Selborne Peerage he admitted might be easily disposed of, but the next case that arose might be complicated, and a Committee of that House was not the proper body to inquire into the question whether a person had become a Peer or not. There was, in his opinion, no reason why this question should be referred to a Committee. The safest course in the present case was to wait, as the House had always waited, for the Writ of Summons, even if the issue of that Writ be delayed. And for his part he saw no harm whatever in the presence of a Peer in that House provided that he had been elected by a constituency. And in reply to the right hon. Gentleman's (Sir M. Hicks-Beach) remarks of the hardship to a constituency he might remind the House that not many years since the House was in conflict with a constituency which elected Mr. Bradlaugh over and over again. He objected to this Reference to a Committee, and he thought it would be better to leave the matter to the tribunal which had always acted hitherto.
§ MR. VICARY GIBBS (Hertfordshire, St. Albans)
said, he would like to point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the danger and difficulty in which the House might find itself involved if it should take the course suggested. It was a matter of common knowledge that 1201 Lord Wolmer was now a Peer, but it was equally true that other claims might be set up which were not so clear. In the case of the Berkeley Peerage, there was a man who called himself Lord Dursley and heir to the Earldom of Berkeley. The case turned upon the question of whether the entry in the register of marriages was a forgery or not. It was proved to be a forgery, and this man did not secure the Earldom. Suppose the claimant in such a case as that, being a member of the House of Commons, came before the Committee, and the Committee came to the conclusion that the claim to the Peerage was a good one, that man would be prevented from sitting in the House of Commons because he was an Earl, though the Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords might find, on investigation, that he was not. That would place the House of Commons in a ridiculous position. He trusted the House would consider that point before it went to a Vote.
§ MR. BRODRICK (Surrey, Guildford)
said, that the point of the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was that the House would incur a grave liability by undertaking the investigation of questions with regard to the succession to Peerages. So far he agreed with his hon. Friend. This very case of Viscount Dursley was exactly the kind of case that would arise. A Member would only have to stand up in his place and say that he was a Peer and his seat would be vacated. Thus, any number of seats might be vacated. He wished to answer a question addressed to him personally by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol. The right hon. Gentleman asked why those who supported the position taken up by Lord Wolmer introduced a Bill if they believed they had a constitutional right to sit in the House of Commons. Their Bill was introduced before the Committee of last Session was appointed. That Committee was very deliberate in its labours, and therefore the Bill was introduced again this Session for the purpose of raising a discussion on the question. They had no desire to test the matter as it was proposed to test it. The final Court of Appeal must in this case be the House itself, and to that Court of Appeal they were quite ready to submit their appeal in due course. But it was desirable that judgment 1202 should be given on a full knowledge of the facts, and it was proposed that the duty of ascertaining the facts should be carried out by a Committee.
§ MR. HENRY LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, that this Motion had been brought about by a number of gentlemen whom he would call "Peerikins" instead of Peers. The notion seemed to be that the country would not be able to geton if they were not Members of the House of Commons. He was not at all sorry that the discussion had arisen, for anything that did away with the fetishism, as regarded the wisdom of Peers, was to him very desirable. He had always admired the argumentative ability of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham; but when he heard his speech he could not help thinking that it was utter nonsense, if he would excuse him for saving so. He came to the conclusion that a gentleman with so acute a mind must be perfectly aware that he was talking nonsense. However, it was a gentleman who was one of the right hon. Gentleman's Whips who had caused this Motion to be made, and he supposed the right hon. Gentleman felt bound in honour to support him though it was contrary to common-sense. The right hon. Gentleman said it would be useless to have a Committee, because the Committee could not call the Earl of Selborne before them; and that being so that it would be impossible to prove that he was the son of his father. The right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that the Committee could get the marriage certificate of the Earl's late respected father. They could get his own birth certificate, and, if necessary, there were the family Bible and the family butler. But the right hon. Gentleman was even more astounding when he told the House that the two cases of the Earl of Selborne and his hon. Friend the Member for the St Rollox Division of Glasgow were on all fours, that both were under the suspicion of a Peerage. But the Earl of Selborne was not under the suspicion of a Peerage. Was there any Member in the House who doubted for a moment that he was the Earl of Selborne? He had stated it himself! It seemed to him somewhat hard on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham to throw doubt on a question of this kind. He differed from the Earl of Selborne in 1203 politics, but he believed he was an honourable man, and would be one of the very last men to vamp up some pretence of being a Peer. What was the case of the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division? The right hon. Gentleman told the House that the hon. Gentleman was under suspicion of a Peerage, because he was referred to in "Debrett," and because "Debrett" said he had a claim. They all knew how absurd these genealogies were, but the right hon. Gentleman told the House that they were to be accepted as authorities because they had been submitted to the Peers, who had given them their imprimatur. The Speaker had himself asked the Earl of Selborne the question: "Are you a Peer of the Realm or not?" and he admitted that he was. It was impossible to ask that question of the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division, because he did not happen to be in England. If the right hon. Gentleman wished to have the matter settled he ought at least to wait until the hon. Member returned to the House, when the same question might be put to him. Otherwise the House might be placed in a ridiculous position, for the hon. Member might return and tell them that he never in his life dreamt of making any claim. He had had the pleasure of knowing a great many Scotchmen, and he had very seldom found himself long with a Scotchman without his confiding to him that he was a dormant Marquess. It was the same thing with hon. Members opposite from Ireland, for they had often confided to him in secrecy that they were dormant Monarchs; and only a little while ago he received a letter, apparently a circular letter, from some person in London who said that if he would send him ten guineas he would prove him a member of the Royal Family. He made this confession to the House that he could be proved to be a member of the Royal Family. Had he a right, then, to sit in the House of Commons? The fact was, that the whole thing, from beginning to end, was absurd. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol for the very sound and excellent speech he had made. For his part he would have been glad if the Writ had simply been moved It did seem absurd that they were to have a separate Committee in order simply to look into 1204 facts they all knew perfectly well. They all knew perfectly well that the Earl of Selborne was the Earl of Selborne, and, as he himself said, a Peer of the Realm. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told them that the existing Committee had met this Session to elect a Chairman, and they had done nothing more. There appeared to be the gestation of an elephant, and there was no indication when it would cease. If they were to wait for the Report of that Committee perhaps the Home Secretary could tell them when it might be expected. If it were a mere question of a week, and some right hon. Gentlemen were anxious to wait for it, let the House by all means wait; but if there were to be a delay of months, while fresh evidence was taken and long discussions were held, and West Edinburgh were left without a Member, as they knew well what would be the decision of the House by a large majority, the sooner the Writ was moved for the better.
§ MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, it seemed to him that the effect of these two Committees sitting would be that the House would be deprived of a Member for the rest of the Session. The hon. Member for Manchester looked upon that as a blessing, and the view was intelligible, because the vote belonged to the Opposition, who would lose it. There was really no question at all; everybody knew what the facts were. It seemed to him it was useless to appoint a Committee to inquire into the facts, which the Registrar General could state in five minutes. As to the question whether the vacation of a seat in this House depended upon the arrival of a Writ of Summons from the other House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer might cause it to be delayed. He recognised the hardship of the position of the two Gentlemen on the front Opposition Bench, who had a laudable ambition to arrive in time at the Leadership of this House, and if they wished to put off the taint of the Peerage there was an easy way in which they could do it. All that each had to do was to introduce a Bill of Attainder, to attaint his own blood and that of all his descendants, and that would make it impossible for him to sit in the House of Peers. That would meet the case, and there would be no opposition to the Bills.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I gather from indications in different quarters of the House that I should not have a majority for this Amendment. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The House divided on the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, after putting the Question for the last time,
§ *MR. SPEAKER
said: Tellers for the Ayes, Mr. Thomas Ellis and Mr. McArthur; tellers for the Noes—
§ DR. TANNER
Mr. Chamberlain and Dr. Tanner. [Great laughter.]
§ The tellers for the Noes were Mr. Harry Foster and Mr. V. Gibbs.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 330; Noes, 143.—(Division List, No. 77.)