HL Deb 25 February 1856 vol 140 cc1289-309

Committee for Privileges to examine and consider the Copy of the Letters Patent purporting to create the Right Honourable Sir James Parke, Knight, a Baron of the United Kingdom for Life (presented to the House on Monday the 4th Instant), and to report thereon to the House. Report made, "That the Committee have met, and considered the Matter to them referred, and have examined Witnesses thereon; and they report it as their Opinion, that neither the said Letters Patent nor the said Letters Patent with the usual Writ of Summons issued in pursuance thereof can entitle the Grantee therein named to sit and vote in Parliament.

LORD REDESDALE moved, to agree to the said Report.


My Lords, it may be convenient that I should state that, although Her Majesty's Government consider it absolutely necessary to dissent from the reception of the Report, yet it is not their intention to go to any division, as I have already intimated to some of my Friends, to attempt to reverse, in a comparatively thin House, a decision which, in a very full House, was carried by a very large majority. I believe I have authority to state also that Lord Wensleydale will put himself sufficiently in the hands of the Government, at all events, not to attempt to take his seat until time for due consideration of the whole of this subject has been given. I shall not now say a single word either in justification of the step taken by Her Majesty's Government in advising Her Majesty to such an exercise of her prerogative or in condemnation of the course which the House has adopted; but I think it must be quite evident to your Lordships there is considerable difficulty in the position in which we find ourselves. On the one hand, Her Majesty has been advised, and is advised, that she is perfectly competent to such an exercise of her prerogative; and on the other hand, your Lordships, by a large majority, following the advice of the majority of those noble Lords who are learned in the law, have declared that the Crown is not competent to that exercise of the prerogative. On the part of Her Majesty's Government, I can only say that, if time is given, they will be most anxious to approach the consideration of this subject free from any feelings of a personal or party nature; and I think I may say confidently, the spirit of the House will be of a corresponding character.


I have heard with the greatest satisfaction the statement of the noble Earl, and I am sure it will be responded to in the same spirit by your Lordships. I have been accused of a little pugnacity in this matter, but no one can be more eager for peace than I am myself, and no one will rejoice more at a satisfactory solution of the difficulty.


My Lords, I agree with the noble and learned Lord that the statement of the noble Earl the President of the Council that he will not resist the adoption of the Report is one which ought to be received with considerable satisfaction. It is quite clear there is, on the part of Members on all sides of the House, every disposition to meet the further discussion of this difficult subject in a spirit entirely free from anything like party feeling, and with a sincere desire to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion with regard to it. I do not wish to reopen the controversy; but I must say, that the House of Lords was placed in a position with regard to their own privileges which left them no alternative. The question was forced upon them for decision by what I must call the rather ill-considered act of Her Majesty's Government. [Earl GRANVILLE: Let bygones be bygones.] We were precluded from any other course, because, while I am quite ready to admit that the Amendment of the noble Earl opposite was couched in moderate terms, it affirmed the principle that the prerogative exercised by the Crown had been well exercised, and, if we had assented to those Resolutions, we should have been in the position of introducing restrictions, not as a right on the part of Parliament, but by grace and favour of the Crown. We were called upon to say whether we admitted the prerogative to be unrestricted and unlimited, and proposed subsequently to modify it, or whether we were prepared to affirm that the power did not exist, and that its existence or exercise hereafter must be a subject of consideration for this and the other House of Parliament. I say that, in that position, we had no neutral ground to occupy, but were compelled to declare, "Aye!" or "No!" did the prerogative exist to its full extent and to an unlimited degree? I think we had no alternative but to come to a decision one way or the other. The admission of Baron Wensleydale would have settled the right for ever, and, therefore, we were driven to choose between the rights of this House and the prerogative of the Crown. I am quite sure that nothing can be more painful to your Lordships than to have your Lordships' House for a single moment in even apparent collision with the Crown; but we did not take that position voluntarily—it was forced upon us. I will say frankly that, after the expression of the opinion of the House by a considerable majority, and after the expression of the opinion of many who voted in the minority, that, though strictly legal, it would be a highly unconstitutional, inconvenient, and even dangerous precedent, I should be better satisfied if Her Majesty's Government were to go one step further and so far deferred to the opinion expressed as to issue a new patent to Lord Wensleydale, giving the usual peerage to him and his heirs, and removing his name from further controversy. I cannot help thinking that, even with regard to the future consideration and discussion of this matter shadowed forth by the noble Earl, such a step would facilitate the progress of our discussion. We could then proceed without the slightest reference to its effect upon any individuals, and we should be free to canvass the principle on its merits, exclusive of any consideration and difficulty in consequence of this patent remaining still in abeyance. But, my Lords, in whatever manner this question may be brought forward, I can assure the noble Earl, on the part of myself and my friends, that we shall be ready to approach the discussion in the most temperate and impartial spirit. I quite admit, apart from the consideration of the validity of the late exercise of the prerogative of the Crown, the question of the infusion of life peerages in the constitution of this House is one of the greatest possible magnitude, and deserving the deepest and most careful consideration. I do not wish to pronounce any absolute or irrevocable opinion, but I may be permitted to say I see that some advantages, in certain cases and under certain modifications, may arise from peerages for life. On the other hand, so great is the danger from the precedent, however limited and defined, that I see the necessity of careful inquiry to ascertain what restrictions should accompany these peerages. I confess the feeling of my own mind is, that for any practical purpose there are other modes preferable to the creation of peerages for life. I do not wish to pronounce any absolute or positive opinion, but, though it may be considered somewhat premature, for the purpose rather of opening this question to the consideration of your Lordships, I should wish to ask of Her Majesty's Government—as we have never yet heard them stated—what are the objects for the attainment of which it is desirable to introduce a novel precedent for the exercise of the prerogative of the Crown? When we know the objects intended to be attained, then we shall see whether the means are properly adapted to those objects, or whether they can be accomplished in another and less objectionable manner. I am not quite sure whether this power is to be resorted to for the purpose of conferring honour on those to whom these peerages are to be granted, or for the more efficient conducting the business of this House. With regard to conferring honour, I cannot but think the Government have overrated the anxiety felt by any person to receive this nugatory distinction. I cannot help thinking it would be considered by persons on whom it was conferred as very like (to use the Chinese expression) a "second chop" Peer. And I also think that at the moment of conferring honour you would be inflicting a species of injury. I think a man, with sons to succeed him, would not add much to his dignity, or well discharge his duty to his family, if he should accept for his own personal advantage a seat in this House, and, with his own consent, debar his natural heirs from succeeding to those honours. It is said to be very desirable to confer these peerages on individuals who have not the means to bear the burden. of an hereditary peerage. If that be so, in the case of persons with large families and small means, by accepting the peerage they would entail upon themselves great expense, and lay out for their own personal advantage during their lifetime a considerable portion of the income which they ought properly to lay by for the benefit of their families who are to succeed them. The sacrifice of prospective increase of means in the case of a poor man, and the reluctance to deprive his successors of what might be considered their just rights in the case of a rich man, raise doubts in my mind whether, for the purpose of conferring honour, life peerage is of any very great advantage. Then, if we are to have any modifications or restrictions in point of numbers, that will be wholly insufficient to meet the case. If life peerages are in themselves objectionable, the making only twenty, or ten, or five of them will be a mere question of degree, which may diminish but cannot remove the objections. To restrict the number by enacting that only one or two such peerages shall be created within a certain time may be a still further restriction, and still would not be entirely satisfactory. Then I come to the question, what are the classes from whom you intend to select those persons upon whom, not being men of opulence sufficient to enable them to bear the burden of hereditary peerages, you intend to confer these life peerages? I assume, of course, that there is no desire to obtain for the Government of the day a temporary advantage by such creations. I assume also, that it is not intended to take, for example, such Members of the other House who have for a number of a years been faithful adherents of the Government, and remove them in their old age to the comparative ease and quiet of your Lordships' House, as you would transfer an old hunter from the field to the easier work of the farm, and keep him there till he is quite worn out, and then supply his place with another half-exhausted animal from the same stable. I cannot think that that is the class of persons intended to be introduced into your Lordships' House. I do not know whether it is intended to select these life peers from men eminent for their qualifications in literature or science. I do not at all deny there may be instances of such persons as would be ornaments to this House and whom it might be desirable to see here; but, as a rule, I confess, that whether looking to the honour to be conferred upon such persons, or the services they are likely to perform in this House, I do not think they form a class from which it is desirable to select Peers for life. I think men of literature or science are too much absorbed in those pursuits, and have not had their attention sufficiently directed to political affairs, to render them—although very valuable persons in their own spheres—likely to be very useful Members of this House. Of this I am sure, that to hold out as a bait to literary and scientific men a number of life peerages would have a tendency to corrupt and deprave the literature and science of the country, and to introduce among its professors the pernicious habit of looking not to their reputation with posterity, but to the favour of the Minister for the gratification of a present ambition. I can conceive nothing more fatal to the independence of literature than to hold out to its professors the prospect of temporary peerages conferable by favour of the Minister of the Crown. Then come the classes of the army and navy; and as to them I admit the case is more doubtful; but upon the grounds I have already mentioned, I think it exceedingly problematical whether any officer of the army or navy would not consider himself rather lowered by the bestowal of one of these second-class peerages, and whether he would not rather refuse it than accept it, clogged with a condition that his family should not enjoy the nobility to be bestowed upon himself: this, I am satisfied, would be the general opinion among officers of the army and navy. There are honours and rewards which may be conferred with a liberal, even a lavish hand; but then let those rewards and honours be well adapted to the circumstances of each case, and do not introduce into this House, on account of military merit, a person upon whom at the same time you cast a stigma by saying he is not competent to be the founder of a family to take a place among the hereditary Peers. I am quite certain that the officers of either service are equally undesirous of a seat in this House upon such terms. Well, then, I come to the class on whose account it is presumed this mode of dealing with the House was chiefly adopted—I mean the profession of the law. It is said that these peerages are intended for the profession of the law, not so much for the purpose of bestowing honour upon individuals, to whom I imagine such distinctions would be comparatively insignificant, as for the purpose of remedying the alleged defects in the constitution of this House, and to strengthen your judicial and not your legislative functions. That, I apprehend, is the main motive of the step which we have been discussing, and I think I am not doing injustice to the motives of the Government when I state them to be the infusion of legal talent into this House. I am not prepared to say—and I say it with great deference—that I am entirely satisfied with the working of the appellate jurisdiction of this House; but I am by no means sure that the only remedy for confessed imperfections in the judicial jurisdiction of this House is to be found in the creation of a number of life Peers to share in all the deliberations of this House. Nor do I think the proposed remedy would entail any very great advantage by introducing in all debates a number of lawyers, and especially retired lawyers, who, having nothing to do in the courts, possess no means of displaying their eloquence; and their introduction here I think would rather tend to the length than—I say so with great respect for that learned body—to the intelligence and importance of our debates. I cannot help thinking that, if you place the appellate jurisdiction of this House on a par with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, we shall be fearfully lawyer-ridden, and the worst anticipations of the noble Earl opposite (Earl Grey) confirmed, and that we shall find the remedy to be worse than the disease it is intended to cure. I am not myself impressed with the necessity of life peerages; I see great dangers and inconveniences likely to arise from them, but am not convinced of their necessity, although I readily admit there are points connected with the appellate jurisdiction of this House which cannot be defended. In the first place, I agree with my noble Friend on the cross-benches (Earl Stanhope) who the other night spoke for the first time in this House with great ability, and in a manner which assures us that he will be a considerable ornament to this House. I quite agree that nothing can defend a mere sham—the putting two or three of your Lordships to sit in rotation by the side of noble and learned Judges to hear arguments, taking no real part in the proceedings, but only keeping up a fiction. That is a sham, and no sham can be satisfactory or reflect credit upon this House. There is another point on which I think this House, as a court of appeal, is placed in an unpleasant position—I mean as to Scotch appeals. Although, by accident, there may be among your Lordships one or two conversant and skilled in the Scotch law, yet I think the reviewal of the decisions of the most eminent Scottish lawyers by an appellate tribunal composed of a small number of your Lordships, distinguished no doubt for learning, but not acquainted with Scottish law, constitutes a substantial grievance—more substantial than any of those pressed upon your Lordships' consideration last year by my noble Friend behind me (the Earl of Eglinton); and, had he included that among those he dwelt upon, I should have felt bound to afford him a more cordial support. I am not about to enter upon a detailed discussion of the existing condition of the House of Lords as a court of appellate jurisdiction, nor to propose any substitutes to remedy its defects as an alternative to the creation of a body of life peerages. I heard with great satisfaction from my noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst), that be contemplates bringing this question under your Lordships' notice, and I am quite sure that all who have heard my noble and learned Friend in the course of these debates must be aware that at no time was he more competent to deal successfully and powerfully with that subject than he is at present. I shall, therefore, reserve my observations upon that matter until it is brought under discussion by my noble and learned Friend. I had come down with a notice which, if my noble and learned Friend does not proceed, I shall venture to submit to the House—a notice of that which I think is a necessary and preparatory step towards the decision of this great question—that whether it is essential or desirable to create life Peers under any circumstances, it is advisable to institute a careful and accurate investigation into the present working of this House as a court of appellate jurisdiction, and to inquire into the best means of remedying any defects which may exist. I have sketched out the terms of a Motion which, if my noble and learned Friend does not persevere in his expressed intention, I shall venture to give notice of for Thursday, to move for A Select Committee to inquire whether or not it is expedient to make any, and, if so, what provisions or the more effectually securing an efficient exercise of the functions of this House as a court of appellate jurisdiction, and to report thereon. I think this a subject of the greatest importance, it being avowed by all that the main ground for supporting the introduction of life peerages, is the admitted imperfections of this House as a court of appeal; that the first thing to be done is, to ascertain whether those defects really exist; if so, to what extent; and then by what modes familiar to the constitution, or by what new mode, such alterations may be made to remedy the evils complained of. That question I will not now discuss. It may be necessary to do so when the subject comes again under your Lordships' notice. Until we have satisfied ourselves that that which is the main grievance—the want of an efficient appellate jurisdiction—cannot be remedied in any other or less convenient form than that of creating a life peerage, I will not enter into the discussion of that question. In throwing out the suggestion I have ventured to do, I shall be happy if we are spared the repetition of this contest, which I for one entered into most unwillingly. If your Lordships shall concur with me, I assure you I shall go into Committee with no feeling but that of wishing to arrive at such a practical solution of the difficulty as should be beneficial to the country, at least honourable and creditable to your Lordships' House, and free from the slightest taint or stain of political or party bias, one way or the other.


My Lords, in answering the noble Earl opposite who has put some questions to Her Majesty's Government, I shall, as I had not an opportunity of taking any part in the debates on this subject, take the opportunity of making a few observations; and I hope that, in saying a few words in explanation, I shall do so without giving expression to a single sentence that shall in the least detract from the pacific character of the conversation that is now going on. Should the tone in which the present discussion has been begun be maintained, there is nothing more likely to bring about a satisfactory and complete termination of the subject now engaging the attention of your Lordships. Although it was inevitable and inseparable from the discussion of this question, that very grave and delicate theoretical points should be touched upon, involving as they do the very frontier and debatable land between privilege and prerogative, yet in going into those theoretical questions the practical points at issue did not in my opinion involve, nor do they now appear to me to involve, consequences so strong as are generally supposed. For we find from what has fallen from the noble Earl opposite, and from the approbation with which his speech has been received, that a remedy for strengthening the appellate jurisdiction is, if not pressing, at least expedient, and is open to a full, fair, and candid consideration. Therefore, as noble Lords opposite are prepared to go so far on the one hand, I, on the other hand, can say, with every noble Lord who has supported the proposition which forms the subject of your Lordships' deliberations, that it never has entered into the head of any one of them, nor, I solemnly assure your Lordships, has it ever entered into mine, that by any possibility, as arising out of these discussions, any great additions to your Lordships' House by the creation of life Peers, so as in any great measure to detract from the hereditary character of this House, should be the result of the measure they have supported. I am the last man in this House to support such a step with such a view. I am as much as any of your Lordships a supporter of the institution of the peerage as an hereditary institution, and I never would have consented to be a party to the introduction of this measure in the assertion of this prerogative if I had not felt convinced that, for whatever purpose, or to whatever object it might be extended, whether to the legal or any other profession, the numbers would be few and fairly chosen. I candidly admit that, if we had been placed in the alternative of either foregoing the advantage, which was most desirable, of reinforcing the appellate jurisdiction of the House on the one hand, or of creating a great mass of life Peers on the other, I should, with great respect to my noble and learned Friends now happily Members of this House,—with the greatest respect for them when they agree with me, with the greatest respect when they disagree from me, and even with the greatest respect when they disagree from one another—I should, with such an influx as some seem to apprehend, rather never see one more lawyer enter this House. We are all agreed that there should be a limit to the number of life Peers, and the question is, how the object it is desirable to attain can be effected without infringing upon that important principle. All being agreed in theory that the evil existing should be remedied by an addition to the appellate jurisdiction, I think that the Crown is the only proper and safe depositary of the power by which that can be accomplished. If I am told that the Crown can exercise that power without any limit or check, and so expose this House to danger, I reply that I apprehend no danger, and that, though theoretically there may not be a limit, yet practically there is a limit. There is another prerogative growing and increasing in force every day, and not likely to be diminished—the prerogative of public opinion—which I believe would be sufficient to override the prerogative of the Crown and the privileges of this House in any instance in which that prerogative and those privileges were stretched to any inconvenient or unconstitutional extent. That is my deep conviction. I have no right to assume that noble Lords opposite should have the same conviction, or to deny that the apprehension of some of your Lordships regarding the creation of life Peers is natural, and that some precaution ought to be adopted. Speaking only for myself, I think something might be effected towards the accomplishment of the desired end by the mode in which the patent shall be issued—stating the peculiar circumstances, or the peculiar necessity for the creation, or the nature and merits of the services that give occasion to it; or perhaps nominating peculiar positions to which such peerages should belong; or for limiting them to one, two, or three a year; or the number of life Peers might be fixed or regulated by a certain rule. These are all questions on which it is not now necessary to decide. I admit that the great object of the Government in the present creation was the reinforcement of the House as an appellate tribunal out of the legal profession; but I am not prepared to say that that object having been accomplished, there are not other professions to which such creations ought not to be extended—and particularly the military profession. I cannot agree with the noble Earl that life peerages so conferred, and connected with merit and distinguished services, will inflict a sort of comparative stigma on the persons receiving those honours, nor can I agree with the language of the noble Earl when he described these peerages as "Second-chop" peerages. The very service itself which those persons have rendered to their country would save them from any such stigma. It would be invidious to select particular cases that distinguished one man from another as deserving of those honours; but I The would ask, supposing General Wolfe's life had been happily spared, after his triumphant operations upon the St. Lawrence and at Quebec, and, although possessing no means whatever, he had accepted a life peerage, would that distinction have been diminished from that circumstance? On the contrary, would not his merits have placed him on an equality with, if not in a position of superiority over, any other Member of your Lordships' House? I should hope that, whenever this honour should be conferred, it would never be so unless connected with merit, or as a reward of desert. The noble Earl has said that few men would be found to seek an honour to be conferred in this limited degree. My Lords, I can assure him that it consists with my own knowledge that many persons, not otherwise ambitious for these honours, have been at different times led to decline an hereditary peerage because they would not place their families in a position which, in their view, was neither respectable nor advantageous. I presume the same feeling has existed at all times. I am told that, in the time of Lord Cowper, it was doubted whether the Crown had not the power to compel a person to accept the peerage; and that it was held by Lord Mansfield that the Crown could not compel any one to accept a peerage, because the King ought not to have the power of ruining the families of any of his subjects. During the discussion which has been already alluded to—I mean that on what is called the peerage question in the reign of George II.—in one of the most eloquent speeches which I have always understood a great statesman ever delivered in the other House of Parliament, he concluded by saying that the ancients had placed the Temple of Virtue in front of the Temple of Fame, for the purpose of signifying that no person could reach the one without passing through the other; but, in order to accomplish that object, the passage from the one temple to another must be made very easy, and men must not be expected to sacrifice their families by placing them in a position not creditable to themselves or favourable to their future prospects. It is owing to the fact that this House has been made accessible in so many other ways than by descent that it has preserved—I was going to say its eternity, though that is not a human word—its long existence, in which it is distinguished from every other assembly of the kind in the world; because, far from repelling from its walls great talent, great genius, and great services, it has, on the contrary, under the sanction and prerogative of the Crown, been made to attract that genius, that talent, and those services, and thus from one generation to another to strengthen and fortify the high position which it now occupies, and which I trust it ever will occupy in the eyes of the world.


My Lords, I should not now address you were it not for an encouragement held out by the noble Lord opposite during the recent discussion, when he expressed a hope that the discussion would not be confined to the learned Lords who had discussed the legal question, but that some of the less learned Lords would take a share in it. I hope that your Lordships will not fear that I shall enter into the question which has been already so much discussed, and which will hereafter be renewed; but I can hardly allow the plausible and sanguine observations of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) to pass by without any remark. There is not one of your Lordships who does not feel convinced of the entire truth with which the noble Marquess asserted that in his hands the power of creating life peerages, supposing it to exist, would not be abused. But, my Lords, that is no security for the future—it is no security to posterity—and your Lordships have been accustomed not to overlook the future, and not to forget posterity, but to be jealous to provide all possible securities for time to come. The noble Marquess said that, from his own experience, he knew that the objections to an hereditary peerage which existed in the minds of some men, fairly ambitious of distinction, would not be entertained with regard to a life peerage; and, to illustrate his remark, he said that many were so conscientious on this point that they had declined the honour because they did not consider themselves sufficiently opulent. It had always been deemed laudable to consider the honour of the peerage rather with reference to the founding of a family and the perpetuation of a name than to one's own personal gratification. And the same feeling would lead a man who thought that he was not able, or that his son would not be able, to support the dignity of the peerage, to decline a peerage conferred with the exclusion of his heirs. That is equivalent to saying to the recipient, "Here is a name which you may bear, but which your son shall not bear after you;" and though the feelings of all men are not alike, I own that I should consider it as nearly an insult if I were told that I might have the honour of a peerage, but that it should not descend to my children. I am sure there are many officers in the army who would consider it a high honour to sit among your Lordships, but would not (if they had sons living, at all events) accept life peerages. Nor, my Lords, can I consider that these life Peers, if any should be appointed, would really be on a par with the rest of your Lordships. They would hardly deserve the name of Peers—if the real meaning of the word were adhered to as denoting that your Lordships' privileges are equal. Theirs would not then be equal, for the greatest privilege of all—that of an hereditary peerage—would be wanting to them. That life Peers could never be deemed on the same footing as hereditary Peers is certain, and in no other country in which such titles have been conferred have they been looked upon as conferring equal dignity. It is not out of the fair line of argument to observe that I believe no treatise or essay on constitutional government in general, or our constitution in particular, has ever been written which has not treated the constitution of the House of Lords as essentially hereditary. That has always been the general impression. So general has it been, that surprise was universally expressed when the idea of creating these life peerages was first mooted. At no period have life peerages been considered as conferring equal political privileges with dignities accompanied by succession. I think I could adduce a curious illustration of the principle from ancient times. Nor need I be ashamed to go back to those times, when Her Majesty's Government were not ashamed to go back for precedents in support of their scheme 400 years, passing over five different dynasties and fifteen successive monarchs. Your Lordships are aware that King Stephen was a king only for life. During his reign he granted certain privileges to the see of Lincoln. In the reign of Edward III. the Bishop of Lincoln was summoned to show by what right he exercised those privileges, and he put in in answer the charter granted by King Stephen. But the Crown lawyer of that day argued that King Stephen being king only for life, could not grant privileges in right of his Crown in perpetuity, and the Bishop was obliged to give way. This illustrates the distinction as to privileges between an hereditary dignity and one held only for life. There certainly would be an analogous distinction between life Peers and hereditary Peers. From the most remote times the distinction has been recognised. It has been recognised in all ages and in every nation. I may illustrate the argument by a passage from the history of France in the time of Louis XVIII., when he was restored to the throne of that country. My noble Friend (Earl Granville) quoted a passage from that attractive historian, Mr. Macaulay; and I may be permitted to cite one from Mr. Alison, referring to what then occurred, after the Restoration in 1815— A still more momentous change took place by an ordinance which appeared a few days after, on August 12, 1815, making the seat in the Peers hereditary, which was the subject of long and anxious discussion during four days in the Cabinet. Louis XVIII. argued strongly that in agreeing to this change he was stripping the Crown of one of its most important prerogatives, and of nearly all its influence in the Chamber of Peers. 'With the influence of ambition,' said he, 'all my influence over the peerage is at an end. When it becomes a family inheritance I have no power over it. I can no longer put a ring on the finger of one of my household.' Talleyrand insisted vehemently for the hereditary succession. 'We must have,' said he, 'stability; we must build for a long future.' My Lords, with this passage I close. Such was the opinion of the profound statesman Talleyrand as to the different nature of life peerages and hereditary peerages. It would not be proper to enter now further into the discussion. Suffice it to say, that it is a question to be dealt with most cautiously, and, so far as I may offer a humble opinion, I confess that I look upon the proposition of a life peerage with alarm.


said, he fully concurred in thinking that, guided by the advice of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne), this power of creating life peerages would be safely exercised; but the time might arrive when dangerous and reckless advisers might have the ear of the Monarch, and might make use of the power of creating life peerages for sinister purposes; and it was for such a contingency that their Lordships ought to provide. He feared, whatever limitations might be introduced, that to allow a Peer for life to sit and vote in their Lordships' House might be productive of consequences which, although not immediate, would prove ultimately of great danger. It was very easy to extend the exercise of the prerogative, when the principle was once allowed. He would remind their Lordships of the old proverb nulla vestigia retrorsum, and he must express his strong conviction that, the Rubicon once passed, most dangerous consequences would result. He believed that a peerage would be thought of little value if it were not transmissible, and in his opinion, the hope of founding a dynasty was an incentive to exertion stronger far than the hope of obtaining a peerage for life; he therefore most anxiously hoped that the subject would be approached with the greatest care and deliberation, and that the utmost caution would be employed to preserve those privileges which their Lordships had always maintained.

LORD BROUGHAM rose to express his satisfaction at the course which the Government proposed to adopt. He rejoiced that the controversy was now at an end, on every account—on account of the country, and on account of their Lordships' House, and on account of his noble Friend, Lord Wensleydale, who, he was sure, would not have taken any other course than that which his noble Friend had announced, and which was in accordance with what Lord Wensleydale had communicated to himself—that he should come and take his seat as soon as his health and the law allowed; and he rejoiced, also, that the question of the appellate jurisdiction of their Lordships had been entirely separated from the consideration of this subject, and he was glad to learn that, in all probability, an investigation into that question would shortly take place before a Select Committee of their Lordships. He would abstain from touching upon the difficulties of the task, but he would venture to express a strong hope that the decision to which their Lordships had come on a point of constitutional law would not lead to legislation with a view to avoiding that decision and creating life peerages. The constitution of a court of appellate jurisdiction was a problem most difficult of solution, as he well knew, both from the observations of other countries and from his own experience. Lord Eldon had deemed that some change in the existing system was necessary, and upon two occasions when he had thoroughly considered the subject he was overcome by the difficulty of the task. Upon the formation of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the subject of the construction of a court of appellate jurisdiction was again most carefully and anxiously considered, with the advice of both English and Scotch Judges; and again the great difficulties of the subject were made apparent, although, indeed, a tribunal had been established which had, he believed, given universal satisfaction, and which had been on various occasions a great assistance to their Lordships as a court of appellate jurisdiction. How much further that assistance might be made to extend was a subject which deserved consideration, but it ought to be dealt with most cautiously, so as to avoid in any way infringing upon what was one of the brightest flowers of their Lordships' privileges. He had not referred to the difficulty of a task which was to be undertaken with the view of dissuading their Lordships from the attempt; but, on the contrary, he most cheerfully promised to afford all the assistance which from his experience he might be able to afford in carrying it out.


said, he rose to protest against the presumption that the law of the case had been settled by the Resolution to which the Committee of Privileges had agreed.


said, the question had been settled—finally settled—by the decision of the Committee of Privileges—the proper tribunal for deciding it.


said, be did not understand that this was so; but that the further proceedings in the case had been suspended to afford an opportunity for seeing if other means could be adopted for meeting the object. At all events he entreated their Lordships to consider that there were two important elements in the constitution of their Lordships; the one their hereditary character, and the other the independence thence derived. But they should not forget that at the same time it was necessary to adapt themselves to the altered requirements of the age. Their Lordships, therefore, while looking to the advantages to be derived from the maintenance of the independent and hereditary elements in the constitution of the House, should take care that they did not shut the door against the rising talent of the country.


observed, that if the noble Earl who had last addressed the House really meant what he said, he was in duty bound to divide the House, and to endeavour to reverse the decision of the Committee of Privileges; for, after their Resolution had been confirmed, the matter would be settled as firmly as it could be by any legally-constituted tribunal, and it must be held that such a patent would give no power to sit and vote in their Lordships' House. Those were the irrevocable terms of the Resolution of the Committee, and if after that Resolution had been received and adopted by the House, Lord Wensleydale should appear and claim his seat, their Lordships would have to be under the disagreeable necessity of telling him that he must retire because he had no right there.


said, he could not refrain from expressing his satisfaction at hearing that Her Majesty's Government would approach the subject of the appellate jurisdiction of the House with candour, calmness, and moderation; and his gratification was still greater when the noble and learned Lord (Lord Lydhurst) announced his intention of moving a series of resolutions with reference to that jurisdiction. This subject had been somewhat mixed up with that which had formed the topic of debate the other evening, and after what they had heard he was sure that there was no one in their Lordships' House that would not rejoice to see this great constitutional tribunal put upon the most satisfactory footing. But in opposing the course which Her Majesty's Government had chosen to adopt, he drew a wide distinction between the principle and its limited application. While he acknowledged the possible benefit which might be derived from the step they had taken, when properly guarded and restricted, yet coming before them as it did, in its naked form, unlimited and uncontrolled, the House, as he conceived, had no alternative but to reject it; for, although he might admit that the appellate jurisdiction of the House was not perfectly satisfactory, the remedy, unaccompanied by those limitations, would be infinitely worse than the bane.


said, he did not concur in the opinion just expressed by his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chief Justice, that the decision arrived at by the Committee of Privileges settled the question irrevocably. He quite admitted that the Resolution to which they were about to agree would remain binding until their Lordships saw ground for recalling it; but he begged to express a strong opinion that before long they would see reason to do so, as an act totally beyond their constitutional powers and privileges. Those who dissented from the Resolution were by no means bound to divide the House, after the expression of opinion given on Friday last, when the subject was fully debated and the attendance of the Peers was very numerous. He should therefore say, "Not content" to the Motion for the adoption of that Resolution, and without troubling their Lordships to divide, should avail himself of the constitutional privilege of recording upon their Lordships' Journals the reasons which induced him to dissent from it.


explained that he did not mean, by using the word "irrevocable," to imply that their Lordships could not reverse the decision of the Committee; but that, until that Resolution was reversed, it was binding upon the House, and Lord Wensleydale could not sit and vote.


congratulated their Lordships upon the Resolution about to be adopted. It had been said by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) that life peerages afforded the means of fittingly rewarding men distinguished for their services to the State as Generals, Admirals, or politicians. He was sorry that he was obliged to differ from the noble Marquess. He had always thought that a peerage was the highest honour which the Crown could bestow; and it would be shorn of much of its brilliancy if it were limited in the way which had been proposed. Of what value would a life peerage be to a man who, having passed the best years of his life in a foreign country fighting the battles of his Sovereign—now frozen in Canada, now roasted in India—came when years and infirmities crept upon him, when his arm no longer boasted the strength or his limbs the activity which had rendered him the hero of a hundred fights, to spend the last few lingering years of his existence in his native land? Such a man might be poor—he would have been serving his country, not making money. Would their Lordships tell him, "You may sit here; but because you are poor your children shall not sit here?" What would the old man, standing upon the verge of the grave, care for a life peerage? He would say, "No, my Lords, my only hope was that my name might be perpetuated in your Lordships' House, and the remembrance of my deeds be renewed through a long line of descendants. That hope has failed, and a life peerage to me is valueless." He hoped that some way would be found of meeting any difficulty which arose from the want of judicial strength in the House, in order to sustain the weight cast upon it in the matter of its appellate jurisdiction. He candidly confessed that if, after great deliberation, no other mode could be adopted, he should be inclined to surrender his objections to some extent; but he trusted that their Lordships would never consent to any alteration in the hereditary constitution of the House, unless the exceptions were jealously guarded and admitted with the view of only making the House a more efficient appellate tribunal.


said, that as in the recent discussion the jurisdiction of the House had been seriously questioned, and as his position, as Chairman of the Committee, had prevented him from taking any part in the debate, he would take this opportunity of observing that the course which the House had thought proper to take in asserting its right to question whether a particular patent entitled its holder to sit and vote, was a proper one, and fully justified by one of the most ancient of their Standing Orders. Perhaps their Lordships were not aware that one of their oldest Standing Orders directs that— If there be any Difference in the Form or Stile of the Writs, from the antient, it is to be examined how it came to pass, When, therefore, a practice—which, if it was not now for the first time attempted to be established, was, at all events, now revived after the lapse of 400 years—it was the duty of the House, in accordance with that Standing Order, to examine, in the words of the Standing Order, into "how it came to pass." Surely no one could deny that it was their duty to keep a strict watch upon any attempt, on the part of the Crown, to alter the constitution of the House. The only reliable instance of any person having been summoned for life, was that of Sir John Cornewall. There was no record of the patent beyond a notice on the Journals of Parliament, and it was clear that it followed the introduction of Sir John into the House. From the earliest period the writ of summons was directed to "Sir John Cornewall, Chevalier," and not to Lord Faunhope, which was the title he bore. The words in his patent were rather remarkable, and did not appear in any other—tanquam baro indigena—which clearly implied that he was a foreigner. Dugdale said nothing of the patent, although Sir John Cornewall married into the Royal family, nor was it at all limited in its terms. Under these circumstances, he did not think it could be quoted as a precedent for a life peerage.


said, that although he was tempted to answer some of the arguments which had been urged that evening, and particularly to set right his noble and learned Friend with regard to the submissive acquiescence of Lord Wensleydale in the decision of the House, yet he thought he would be acting more in accordance with the spirit in which he had endeavoured to address their Lordships if he declined to discuss the subject further at present. He would content himself, therefore, with thanking their Lordships for their general approval of his suggestion that they should go into the consideration of this very grave question in a perfectly fair and impartial spirit. With reference to the notice given by the noble Earl opposite, although he should not like to pledge himself as to the course which the Government might adopt in regard to it, he might at once say that their proceedings would be determined, to a great extent, by the terms of the reference to the Committee. He hoped, however, that no inquiry of this sort would be allowed to occasion any unnecessary delay.

Motion agreed to; and Resolved and Adjudged accordingly.

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