HL Deb 27 April 1869 vol 195 cc1648-77

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl Russell.)


My Lords, having made no remarks on the introduction of this Bill, and having paid considerable attention to the subject for a number of years, I am desirous of stating how far I am able to concur in the principle of the measure, and how far I am obliged to dissent from its main provisions. The noble Earl (Earl Russell), in introducing the Bill, stated very correctly the great difference which exists between this question and that which engaged your Lordships' attention in 1856. The question then was whether there existed in the Crown the Prerogative of creating, without the sanction of the House, an indefinite number of life peerages, conferring the right of sitting and voting in Parliament. It was raised as a matter of principle, and not as a question affecting an individual, for the occasion taken was to raise to the peerage, for the purpose of strengthening the appellate jurisdiction of the House, an eminent lawyer who was well qualified for a seat in this House and to assist in our ap- pellate jurisdiction; and it was ingenuously admitted by Lord Chancellor Cranworth that, Lord Wensleydale being at that time far advanced in life, and with no reasonable probability of leaving a male heir, it was a fair and fitting opportunity for trying the question of principle. The question then raised was—has the Crown, by the mere exercise of its Prerogative, the power of creating an indefinite number of Peers for life, entitled to sit and vote in Parliament? My most learned Friend the late Lord Lyndhurst brought forward a Resolution in opposition to that assertion of Prerogative on the part of the Crown, in a speech which, for the knowledge it displayed of Parliamentary, legal, and constitutional history, would have been remarkable in the mouth of any man, and which was the more remarkable on account of his very advanced age. He was followed by my noble Friend the present Secretary for the Colonies (Earl Granville), who then held the Office of President of the Council; but I must be allowed to say that if the noble Earl was impar congressus Achilli, he undoubtedly displayed an ability in the manner in which he argued the case fully justifying the courage he had shown in presenting himself in opposition to so formidable an antagonist as Lord Lyndhurst. The discussion was conducted with great ability and learning on both sides; and, by a very considerable majority, your Lordships decided to refer the whole case to a Committee of Privileges, which should search for precedents and report their opinion to the House. That Committee sat for a considerable time, investigated various historical documents, and finally came to a conclusion adverse to the Prerogative of the Crown in respect of the power of granting life peerages, carrying with them the right to sit and vote in Parliament. Lord Lyndhurst accordingly moved a Resolution affirming— 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."—[See 3 Hansard, cxl. 1170.] To this the noble Earl on the cross-Benches (Earl Grey) moved an Amendment declaring that— The House of Lords would not be justified in assuming the Illegality of the Patent creating the Right Hon. Sir James Parke Baron Wensleydale for Life, and in refusing upon that Assumption to permit him to take his seat as a Peer."—[Ibid., 1179.] It was not denied that 400 years ago, when the Crown possessed the Prerogative of giving representatives to certain boroughs in one Parliament and depriving them of that representation in another, some letters patent for life peerages had been issued; but even in those days only one or two instances could be found in which such letters patent had been granted to persons who had not previously been entitled to sit and vote in Parliament under another title. It was not denied, too, that the Crown bad a perfect right to confer on any person the dignity of a Peer or Peeress of the United Kingdom; but the question was, whether in conferring that dignity the Crown was enabled to confer likewise the right of sitting and voting in Parliament. On a division Lord Lyndhurst's Resolution was carried by 92 to 57, the majority being 35. I should mention that the noble Earl (Earl Grey) had given notice of his intention, in ease his Amendment was carried, of moving Resolutions which were of great importance, and in the spirit of which, had the Amendment been adopted, I should have entirely concurred. Those Resolutions admitted, in the first place, that no precedent had been found within the last 400 years for the admission of a commoner to this House by the grant of a peerage for life, and they proceeded to affirm that the Crown ought not to be advised, without the consent of Parliament, to exercise the Prerogative. While declining, under the particular circumstances, to express disapproval of the conduct of the Ministry in granting to Lord Wensleydale a life peerage, the third Resolution went on to say,— That the Grant of Peerages for Life might in some Cases he of Advantage both to the House of Lords and to the Public; but that the Practice of granting such Peerages would be peculiarly liable to Abuse unless guarded by some precautionary Regulations."—[Ibid., 1180.] And the fourth Resolution was— That it will require further and mature Consideration to determine what Step it will be proper for the House to adopt in order to prevent the Patent granted to Lord Wensleydale from being drawn into a Precedent in favour of creating Peerages for Life, and in order to establish adequate Securities against Abuse if such Creations are hereafter to take place."—[Ibid.] After the passing of Lord Lyndhurst's Resolution the Crown admitted the cor- rectness of the view taken by your Lordships in a practical form, inasmuch as a new patent was granted to Lord Wensleydale, conferring a peerage in the usual terms on him and the heirs male of his body. Now, the noble Earl (Earl Russell) has admitted, both by his speech and the Preamble to his Bill, the principle then laid down; so that we start from this position—that the Crown has not the power of creating peerages for life, carrying with them the right to sit and vote in Parliament; and that, if in certain cases the creation of life peerages ought to be sanctioned by the House, it would properly be as an addition to, and not as a restriction on, the existing Prerogative of the Crown, and would require to be limited by the strictest possible conditions. Starting from that position, we shall have little difficulty in considering the main provisions of the Bill. I may, however, first mention, in order to complete the narrative of the proceedings of 1856, that, shortly after the adoption of the Resolution, I proposed the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the whole question of the appellate jurisdiction of the House, and that your Lordships, being pleased to accede to that Motion, the subject was carefully considered;—the result being that, in order to carry out the avowed object of Lord Wensleydale's peerage, the Committee recommended the creation of not more than four life peerages, to be held by men possessed of legal qualifications, and fit to discharge the duties of the appellate jurisdiction. A Bill embodying that recommendation was introduced by Lord Chancellor Cranworth, and passed through this House without any material alteration. Being sent down to the House of Commons, it was accepted by the Government of the day, of which Lord Palmerston was the head, and was officially supported by the then Attorney General (Sir Alexander Cockburn), who now holds a very high position, and whose opinion is entitled to the greatest respect. I must say, however, that, while nominally supporting the measure, his speech was rather one damning it with faint praise, for it certainly threw a considerable quantity of cold water on the scheme. It was supported by the Government, and was assented to by those who represented the Opposition, and passed the second reading. It was then, however, proposed that it should be referred to a Select Committee, and that proposal was supported by very high authorities, including my right hon. Friend the present Speaker of the House of Commons, the present Secretary of State for War, the present Prime Minister, and Sir James Graham. The result was that on the 10th of July the Bill was referred to a Select Committee; and I need hardly say what the effect and indeed the avowed object of that Amendment was—the Bill was never heard of again. The measure, I may remark, was opposed in the House of Commons for the most contradictory reasons. It was opposed, on the one hand, because it confirmed and secured to this House that which some persons wished to take away, its appellate jurisdiction; and, on the other hand, there was much opposition to it because it proposed that the legal life Peers should sit and decide questions during adjournments, and notwithstanding prorogations, without even an ostensible reference to the House at large. Another objection, too, was that it would be derogatory to the position of Members of this House to accept a salary for services rendered qua Members. Well, as I have said, the Bill was referred to a Select Committee, and was never heard of again. From that time the question of life peerages has remained in abeyance until it has been revived by the proposal now before the House. The noble Earl (Earl Russell) goes much farther in his principles, and still more in his details, than the proposition of 1856. He sets out by saying—and I do not dispute it—that there may be cases in which the Crown would be desirous of conferring a peerage on a person whose services and talents entitled him to the honour, but whose private means did not permit of his entailing on his family the burden of an hereditary peerage. That is, no doubt, a possible case, and I admit that your Lordships may properly consider the propriety of meeting it by sanctioning the creation of life peerages; but I beg that you will not come to a conclusion either way without bearing in mind certain considerations. In the first place, you are proposing to give an addition to the Prerogative of the Crown, and in these days an addition to the Prerogative of the Crown means an addition to the power of the Minister of the day, and an addition to the power of the Minister, who depends for his position upon the votes of the House of Commons, means an addition to the power of the House of Commons. Now, I am not jealous of the privileges and powers of that House over the other branches of the Constitution; but your Lordships should consider how far you would be justified, at this moment and in the present state of the Constitution, in investing the House of Commons with any greater influence than they now possess over the constitution and action of this House. I need go into no argument to show that the influence of the Crown has greatly decreased, and that the balance of the Constitution between Crown, Lords, and Commons is in more danger than is often anticipated of being disturbed by the preponderance of one of these three powers. You have to consider, therefore, whether you will of your own motion and accord in trust practically the House of Commons with a larger power than they already possess of influencing the constitution of the House. I am very far from denying the great advantage we derive from the frequency with which persons who are heirs to hereditary peerages obtain seats in the House of Commons—they thereby gain a political training and education, and become imbued with the spirit and conditions of the House of Commons, so that when, in the course of nature, they succeed to seats in this House, they bring with them those feelings and conditions to modify the exclusive feeling which possibly might otherwise exist in this House. It is an advantage, indeed, to both Houses; for it is an advantage to the House of Commons to have among its Members men who, after an education and training within its walls, will succeed to this House, and will thereby exercise an influence here in favour of popular rights and privileges. Nor do I at all disparage the very great advantage which your Lordships derive from the creation of Peers taken from other classes. An infusion of fresh blood into this House is one of the mainstays of our Constitution, for it gives strength and influence to the House, and tends to maintain that balance which, according to the noble Earl (Earl Russell), and to everyone who knows the value of our Constitution, ought to a certain extent to be maintained between the different Estates of the realm. But let me im- press upon your Lordships that you are about to increase the power of the Crown, and, through it, of the Ministry and the House of Commons, and to establish a peerage the like of which has never existed from the foundation of the Constitution. The noble Earl, speaking of the number of life peerages, instanced the cases of the Scotch and Irish peerages and also of the right rev. Bench. Now, I altogether deny that in the sense contemplated by the Bill those can be regarded as life peerages. I read, with some astonishment, an article in a journal which professes to guide public opinion—and which certainly is a very observant follower of public opinion—arguing that, in point of fact, every peerage, whether hereditary or not, is virtually a succession of life peerages, granted once for all to the several descendants. Now it does not require the wisdom of The Times to know that not one of your Lordships can enjoy his peerage for a longer term than his own life; but to attempt to draw any analogy between life peerages and those descending to the heirs of those on whom they were originally conferred, is an argument, I must say, with all due respect, worthy of those valuable institutions to which a large portion of the property of the Church in Ireland is proposed to be transferred. The case of the Scotch and Irish peerages, or of the right rev. Bench, is not at all analogous to the principle sought to be introduced by this Bill. As to the Scotch and Irish peerages, it is quite true that the individual holds his seat either for life or for the duration of the Parliament; but he holds it as the representative of a permanent succession of a body of men whose numbers the Crown has no power of increasing or diminishing—at all events without the sanction of Parliament. Is that, in the slightest degree, analogous to a proposal which gives to the Crown the power of creating at its pleasure a number of Peers, limited if you please, but without any succession, without any right of keeping up that title except by another creation on the part of the Crown? The case of the right rev. Bench is not quite so strong a ease, because they owe their seats in this House to the favour of the Crown, which has the right of appointing their successors. The office of a Bishop, however, is an hereditary one, and the offices are held in right of baronies, the Crown being unable to take away from or add to those baronies. I dare say noble Lords opposite wish the Crown had the same influence over the Scotch and Irish Peers as over the right rev. Bench; but the position of the latter is very different from that proposed by the Bill. And, while on this subject, I wish to call the attention of the noble Earl the Secretary for the Colonies to a passage in the admirable speech which he delivered in 1856. He then said— I remember that some quarter-of-a-century ago a foolish and absurd cry was raised in the country for the removal of the Lords Spiritual from this House. I am satisfied that at the present moment no such feeling exists; and I believe it would be considered both in this House and by the country to be a serious blow if the number of the Lords Spiritual were to be diminished even by one."—[3 Hansard, cxl. 280.] I hope the noble Earl adheres, and will adhere during the present Session, to the principle he then laid down—that it would be a serious misfortune if the number of Spiritual Peers were to be diminished even by one.

I now come to consider the provisions of the Bill; and having in view the vast change which will be made in the constitution of this House—in its principle, I mean, if not in its composition—it is not unreasonable to express a hope that you will confine these peerages strictly within the limits of proved or probable necessity. The noble Earl (Earl Russell) proposes to limit the number to twenty-eight, and that not more than four should be created in any one year. Now, it seems to me that that number is far in excess of the necessities of the case. I do not know whether the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) is present; but I regret to say I cannot concur in the view he expressed—namely, that one great object ought to be to produce greater harmony of feeling and uniformity than may under present circumstances exist between the two Houses. If I could concur in that, it is clear—as I think he admitted—that the Bill ought to go much further than it does, for it would practically do nothing to produce such uniformity. It will no doubt give an additional power to the Minister for the time being of introducing a certain number of persons into this House who will vote for him, without incurring the risk of unnecessarily increasing the permanent number of the House; that number, however, being in seven years permanently increased by twenty-eight. The noble Earl urged that the influence of any particular Minister in creating these Peers would be thus limited; but he himself was in Office five or six years, and Lord Palmerston for about the same period. The present Minister, moreover, has succeeded to the position by a majority of 100 or 120, and I see no sort of reason why, unless he commits some strange blunder—which, of course, he may do—he should not retain his majority for the whole period of the present Parliament. If he retains it for five years, he would have the opportunity of creating twenty Peers, his devoted followers, and thus of exercising no inconsiderable influence over this House. [The Marquess of SALISBURY explained that he had not supported the Bill with the object of bringing the two Houses into greater conformity of sentiment, but because he wished this House to have more of a representative character.] But why of a more representative character? The great merit of the balance of the Constitution consists in this—that the Minister of the day, be he who he may, is compelled, or at least it is his duty, so to form his measures as to conciliate or secure the approval and consent of both Houses, representing distinct and different classes, however much in particular cases they may be combined. If this House is to be representative, you had better go further and say it should be elective. That may be a fit subject for argument; but it would be the destruction of the Constitution as at present existing, and the utter overthrow of the balance pointed out by the noble Earl. With regard to the number twenty-eight, I am sorry to have to refer again to the noble Earl the Secretary for the Colonies, but having referred to the discussion of 1856, I find he made this remark— The chief objection was that it introduced a principle capable of almost indefinite extension; that Her Majesty might be advised to create not one but twenty life Peers, and that there was no security against the House being swamped by such creations. He need not say that, as far as the Government were concerned, that objection was entirely unfounded. What they wanted was to strengthen a little the number of law Peers in the House by means of life instead of hereditary peerages. The noble Earl admitted that the creation of twenty life peerages might inflict a serious injury on the constitution of this House, and assured the House that the Government contemplated the creation of only one or two, for the purpose of strengthening the appellate jurisdiction of the House. Now, setting aside the question of giving the House a representative character, what are the motives alleged for the introduction of this Bill? The first is that there may be admitted persons of great eminence—more especially of the legal profession—capable of affording valuable assistance in our debates; and next that there are persons who have performed eminent services to the Crown, entitling them to the honour of the hereditary peerage, but who are prevented from accepting it by the narrowness of their pecuniary means. Now, I think your Lordships will be of opinion that it is important that this House should be composed mainly of persons of large hereditary possessions. It is not desirable for the independence of the House that there should be a number of Peers unable to sustain the dignity of their position. I do not, of course, deny, that there might be Peers of that class possessed of as much integrity and independence as the wealthiest members of the House, and exercising their own judgment with as complete a sense of responsibility and without reference to pecuniary interests; but, as a rule, this House rests upon the foundation of property, and of sure and settled property, and it would be a great misfortune if any large portion of it consisted of members unable to live up to the position they occupied. The noble Earl has had a Parliamentary experience of about fifty years at least, being a few years older than I am—[Earl RUSSELL: Fifty-five years.]—and he has had an official experience commencing more than forty-seven years ago. Now, I put it to him whether, in the course of those fifty-five years, he could have found in every year four persons, or two, or even one, on whom the Grown would have been desirous of conferring the dignity of a peerage, in consideration of their eminent merits, but who were prevented from accepting it in consequence of the want of pecuniary means? Now, he proposes the creation of four such Peers annually for seven years, replacing them of course at death; and his reason is that, in a single year, there might be several such cases, and that it would be hard if they could not be admitted by reason of there being no vacancies. That, however, is really an argument for reducing the annual number; for after the lapse of seven years, the twenty-eight having been all placed in this House, he would be obliged to fall back on the vacancies which might occur. In view of that contingency, it would surely be more desirable if the number were extended over a longer period, and a smaller number created each year.

I now tome to the qualifications provided in the Bill, and I regret to detain your Lordships at so much length; but I may not have another opportunity of offering an opinion on the subject—which, moreover, is one clearly out of the range of political or party consideration, though one of great constitutional importance. The Bill provides that six classes of persons shall be eligible—first, Peers of Scotland or Ireland; next, persons who have sat in the House of Commons for upwards of ten years; thirdly, officers of the Army and Navy; fourthly, certain high legal and judicial officers; fifthly, persons distinguished for their attainments in science, literature, and art; and, sixthly, persons who have rendered service to the Crown in any public office for not less than five years with a fidelity and ability entitling them to some mark of special favour. Now, it should be considered whether these Peers may not be placed in a position of some inferiority to the other Peers; and nothing, I think, ought to be more carefully guarded than this, that Peers should all be on precisely an equal footing, as far as Parliamentary status is concerned. Now, during the reign of Her present Majesty all these classes have been representatives in this House, with the exception of that noble profession, the Navy—["Lord Lyons?"]—I apprehend that Lord Lyons was not admitted a Member of this House on account of his naval services, so much as on account of his diplomatic services. As for my noble and learned Friend behind me (Lord Chelmsford), the honour of a peerage was not conferred upon him for his services in early life in Her Majesty's Navy, but for his legal attainments. With regard to officers of the Army, there have been a number of such persons raised to the position of British hereditary Peers, the last being Lord Napier of Magdala. I need not refer to the various legal and judicial officers who have likewise obtained hereditary peerages. As for men distinguished for their attainments in science, literature, or art, I have always regretted that there existed no peculiar mode of distinction which it was in the power of the Crown to bestow upon them. It is a want that the country feels, and when I had the honour and responsibility of Office it was a matter I seriously considered; but the difficulties attending the creation of any such honours were such that I was compelled to abandon the idea. I am not entitled to refer, as a case of a peerage conferred for literary eminence, to a noble Earl behind me (Earl Stanhope), since he was already heir to an hereditary peerage when he acquired literary eminence; but I may take Lord Macaulay, and also Lord Lytton, whom I regret that we so seldom see or hear anything of in this House. There is likewise another noble Baron whom I must class with the literary Peers, formerly Member for Pontefract (Lord Houghton), against whom I certainly cannot make any such complaint. As to science, I will only recall the late Lord Wrottesley, Lord Rosse, and a noble Earl distinguished for his mechanical abilities (Lord Caithness), the representative of an ancient Scottish Peerage, who has been lately created a Peer of the United Kingdom. Much as I desire to do honour to literature, science, and art, even if the difficulty of selection were not so great, I should not regard a seat in this House as the appropriate reward for them. I do not believe a life peerage would be attractive to the great majority of really eminent men in those departments; and I was much struck with an observation recently addressed to the noble Baron opposite (Lord Houghton) by an eminent author who has attained a very distinguished position (Mr. Charles Dickens), on this very question of ennobling literary men. He said he had from the first determined that, whether he succeeded or failed, literature should be his sole profession, and that he would try to be master of one craft, and not "a Jack of all trades and master of none." I believe that feeling is one which prevails among literary men. They feel that the eminence they possess and the position they hold are wholly of a different kind from that exercised by the privilege of sitting here; and I do not believe they would value that admission, provided it were limited to their own lives, thereby placing them in a comparatively subordinate position to that of other Members of the House. With regard to Scotch and Irish Peers, the principle of the Bill is surely inapplicable to them, inasmuch as they are already capable of supporting the position of hereditary Peers; and in the case of eminent services in the Army, the grant of a peerage is usually accompanied by substantial pecuniary income. By eminent services I do not mean political or partizan services. I do not mean men who have sat for ten years in the House of Commons, and have studiously voted on every occasion in favour of the Government, though they have never opened their mouths or done anything besides voting; but I can conceive a case in which a man may have sat for ten or twenty years in Parliament, without having exhibited any qualities entitling him to the peerage, and yet I can imagine a Minister saying to him—"I am quite ready to offer you a seat for life in the House of Lords. You have done us good service; you have voted very steadily with us; you hold a seat perfectly safe, which I should like to have for somebody else. You are probably fatigued by the labours of the House of Commons, and may like to have such a recognition of your services as is involved in being sent to the House of Lords, where you can enjoy your otium cum dignitate, and at the same time I hope it will be fully understood that you will continue your steady and consistent support of Her Majesty's Government." The mere fact of having sat for ten years in the House of Commons is no qualification justifying the infliction of the discredit of a peerage limited to a man's life. There are other classes which I have not enumerated—such as the great mercantile class, representatives of which have been raised to the peerage during the present reign. There is the diplomatic class, for example, ably represented by a noble Lord on the cross-Benches. These classes are already represented under the existing system; and, though I do not object to the principle of the Bill, I think the cases to which it would be applicable are few and far between, and that the number proposed is unnecessarily largo for the exigencies of the case. Nor do I think that the machinery proposed is the best mode for carrying out the principle of introducing men of singular eminence, who have not the means of supporting hereditary peerages. I should recommend the noble Earl to strike out the classification altogether. Let the Crown create a limited number of fit persons; but the classification proposed might exclude some most meritorious men, while letting in others who have no sort of claim. To secure the eminence of the individual and the reality of the service, I would suggest that the letters patent should in each case recite something to this effect— Whereas, in recognition of the signal services rendered by A. B. in the office of—, Her Majesty was desirous of conferring on him the honour of a peerage; but whereas A. B. has humbly represented to Her Majesty that the state of his pecuniary affairs did not justify him in entailing on his successors the burden of supporting such a peerage, Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to confer on him a peerage limited to his own life, under the terms of the Act of Parliament. I propose that the services be distinctly specified, so as to exclude unworthy persons, and that the sense of inferiority be removed by the offer of an hereditary peerage, leaving it to the person to decline it and to prefer a life peerage. Some noble Lords opposite manifested some astonishment at the proposed recital that the person's means were not adequate to the support of an hereditary peerage; but it is strictly analagous to the course pursued in the House of Commons. There are a certain number of pensions appropriated to persons who, for a certain length of time, have held high Office under the Crown; and the person receiving such a pension must make a declaration that the state of his private fortune does not enable him to uphold the position to which the high Office he has held entitles him. There are at the present time four recipients of those pensions; and I cannot see any reason why any one of those four gentlemen, whom I will suppose to be entitled to the honour of a seat in this House, should the Ministry think fit to appoint him, should not assert that his pecuniary means prevented him accepting an hereditary peerage.

It had not been my intention to address your Lordships at such great length, but I must say, in conclusion, that, while it is not my purpose to offer any opposition to the second reading of the Bill, I agree with the noble Earl on the cross-Benches that the measure requires to be carefully examined. I could wish your Lordships to adopt the suggestion I have made, but I reserve to myself the entire right, after the Bill shall have passed through Committee, of judging whether I shall be able to give it my support on the third reading.


My Lords, I cannot but express the feeling of gratification with which I, in common with the rest of your Lordships, have listened to the clear and able statement of the noble Earl. I think the noble Earl was perfectly correct, with one exception, in the historical account he gave of what passed when the question of life peerages was before the House in 1856. I think that it was then clearly admitted—and by Lord Lyndhurst himself if I am not mistaken—that the power to make life peerages had been exercised by the Crown and allowed by the House of Lords, but at a period so remote that Lord Lyndhurst considered the precedents as not bearing on the present state of the case and on the Constitution as settled at the time of the Revolution. The noble Earl mentioned the large majority by which Lord Lyndhurst's Resolutions were carried; but I have always regretted the decision the House came to on that occasion. I do not venture now to dispute that your Lordships may have correctly interpreted the law; but there certainly was such a large amount of opinion out-of-doors on the other side, represented by persons both on the Bench and at the Bar, that it must be admitted that there existed some doubt on the point, and I think it is to be regretted that we did not adopt that interpretation of the law which would have allowed life Peers to sit in this House. However, the decision formerly come to by the House can now only be remedied by a Bill, which, at some inconvenience, will raise a discussion in the House of Commons, when the Bill is taken down there, upon the whole position of your Lordships' House, which will be hostilely attacked on one side and defended on the other without any of your Lordships being present to plead your own cause. On the former occasion the authority of the Law Lords was to a great extent opposed to the proposi- tion to create life Peers; but I think that any person who was in your Lordships' House at the time, and who remembers the speeches and private conversation of those Law Lords, cannot resist the impression that they were actuated by an esprit de corps with respect to their profession, and were afraid that the proposal, if adopted, would tend to diminish the honours which in future might be given to men eminent in the law. And it has happened within the present year that a noble Friend has informed me that there was another reason which influenced many in voting in favour of Lord Lyndhurst's Resolution, and against the creation of life Peers—the idea that the late Prince Consort entertained the plan of swamping the House of Peers with men having some smattering of science and literature. I had some knowledge of the Prince Consort, and I know that there could not be a greater fallacy than to suppose that, in the interest of the Crown, he desired to diminish the position and influence of the aristocracy. At the time of the repeal of the Corn Laws, he took in that, and also in some other cases, a different view from many of your Lordships; but I never heard of any case in which he did not appear most anxious to strengthen and maintain the House of Lords. The late Prince thought it desirable that the House of Lords should not represent a caste, but should be kept in harmony of feeling with the other House, and he believed that by an infusion into this House—though not in so large a degree as to swamp the House or to make it a representative assembly—of certain persons not belonging exclusively to the landed interest or to aristocratic families, harmony of feeling would be produced with the other House of Parliament, which represents all classes in the State; but to any large increase of the hereditary peerage he had, perhaps, a stronger objection than any of your Lordships, believing that nothing would be more injurious to your Lordships' House than the exhibition of a pauper aristocracy before the eyes of the public. The Prince thought that, as the means which formerly existed in the hands of the Sovereign of enriching Peers created for their merits had ceased to exist, it was a great disadvantage that persons distinguished by their merits should be excluded from the House of Lords merely on account of their poverty; and he was of opinion that if a change were made in this matter it was desirable that it should not be delayed until it was pressed on the House by a hostile force. In all those opinions I entirely concur. With respect to the Bill under discussion, I feel the force of the objection that it is undesirable to introduce the precedent of interference with the Prerogative of the Crown. I concur in much that has been said by the noble Earl (Earl Russell), but I think there would arise this inconvenience from his proposal as to the categories from which the life Peers ought to be selected—that, on the one hand, whenever the number of life Peers was not filled up, there would be a pressure on the Prime Minister to select an individual from one of the categories, though there might be no person properly deserving the honour; and, on the other, if the proposition for forming these categories were rejected, its refusal might give occasion for an injurious tirade in the House of Commons, where it might be said that the life peerage is given to eminent soldiers who happen to have the good fortune to be in chief command at a particular moment, while it is denied to men who, like Newton, Macaulay, and Sir James Mackintosh, would be a distinction and honour to the House of Lords. For these reasons I think that there is some practical difficulty in dealing with the categories. The proposal of the noble Earl seems to possess no advantage in itself, and to have some peculiar disadvantages. The noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) argued that these life Peers would be inferior to the hereditary Members of this House. Now, I think if we pass any Bill on this subject, we ought to drop this language completely. I believe that the most rev. and right rev. Prelates are, technically, not life Peers; but supposing they were, would their position be in the slightest degree affected in the estimation of your Lordships? In the same way I may venture upon a personal illustration in the case of the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Cairns). I am sure there was not one noble Lord on this side of the House who, when he was made a Peer for his services, did not believe, quite independently of any party considerations, that he was a great accession to this House, though a troublesome one to us. Since that time he has been made the Leader of the party opposite—I fear the great majority of your Lordships. The noble and learned Lord, in the course of his most successful career at the Bar, has accumulated a larger fortune than that of many of us hereditary Peers. But, supposing he had not acquired a fortune, and had chosen under this Bill to become a Peer for life rather than an hereditary Peer, should we have regarded him with less respect and consideration than we do now, or would he have been rejected for the Leadership of the great party opposite merely because his peerage would not have continued to his descendants?


Nobody can doubt that the acceptance of a life peerage by my noble and learned Friend would have been hailed with satisfaction by every Member of this House; but the question is whether, if a life peerage only had been offered to him, except by his own wish and desire, he would not have felt that he was placed in rather an inferior position, compared with the rest of your Lordships? That is the only point I wished to raise. My suggestion, if adopted, would allow the choice of an hereditary or life peerage to rest with the person ennobled; so that, if through want of means he accepted a life peerage, he would, in the view of the public and of the Sovereign, be in precisely the same position as any of your Lordships.


I confess that I do not quite see the force of the argument, and I think it would be disagreeable to many persons to be called on to make a public and formal declaration in this way—that they were not possessed of means adequate to the support of the hereditary dignity. If, moreover, there is no public advantage in the suggestion, it has the disadvantage of limiting to a certain extent the Prerogative of the Crown; and such a restriction, unless there is great reason for it, ought not, I think, to be introduced. With regard to the number, that is a different thing, and I own I should prefer the Bill without the limit which it proposes. The noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) quoted an opinion of mine expressed in a speech made some time ago—and though the other night it was thought that there was some reason against answering a speech made a week ago, I presume it was not thought improper to answer a speech of mine made thirteen years ago. Now, I do not remember my exact words, but I presume that my meaning was this—that to make twenty life Peers all at once would be an improper exercise of the Royal Prerogative, just in the same way as I think it would be an improper exercise of Prerogative to create, without adequate reason, twenty hereditary peerages. I own, therefore, that I could not follow the argument of the noble Earl about this great addition to the power of the Crown. He said very truly that the power rested mainly—though certainly not entirely—in the hands of the Prime Minister; but suppose that an ill-judging Prime Minister was, without some absolute necessity, to advise the Crown to make a very large number of hereditary Peers, what is there to stop him from doing so now? Absolutely nothing but the personal opinion of the Sovereign and the public opinion of the country. I know of no other check than that. Now in what possible manner are these two checks not applicable to the exercise of the same Prerogative in the case of life peerages? However, looking at the fears which some of your Lordships seem to entertain on this point, I am willing to concur with my noble Friend in fixing some limit to the number of life peerages. In conclusion, while we shall have another opportunity of discussing the details of the Bill, I am glad to see that there seems hardly any opposition to the passing of the second reading.


My Lords, it is not my intention to oppose the second reading of this Bill, although I confess that if I had been present when it was first introduced into your Lordships' House I should have been an exception to the unanimity with which it seems to have been received. Lot your Lordships consider what you are about to do in agreeing to the principle of this measure. From what I have heard and read of the last debate I think that the importance of this measure has hardly been appreciated by your Lordships, and that in assenting to it you may, perhaps, be doing more than you are aware of. The noble Earl who has introduced the Bill (Earl Russell) is no doubt one of our greatest reformers. He has also written upon the Constitution—a subject which no man is supposed to understand better than himself. But in all his reforms, important as they have been—in his reform of the House of Commons in 1832; in his proposed reforms of the House of Commons afterwards, which he did not carry into effect; and in the reforms of the House of Commons which he assisted the late Government to carry—the noble Earl has always kept strictly within the lines of the Constitution. In altering the House of Commons, he proposed nothing which could be called innovation—he extended the lines of the Constitution, but kept strictly within them. Now, in the present measure, the noble Earl has proposed a great innovation—he has gone altogether beyond the lines of the Constitution, and is not only proposing to alter the principles upon which the House of Lords has always existed, but he is altering the Constitution at the same time. I am very much mistaken if it is not one of the first principles of the Constitution that a peerage should be hereditary; that, indeed, is the very essence of a peerage. Now, the Bill at once sweeps away that principle. The term "life Peer" is a singular blunder, as it appears to me; for the life Peers contemplated by the Bill will not really be Peers, because they will not be pares of those who will be their colleagues in this House. The meaning of that word, as we have always understood it, is that here all are equal in social position, in political rights, and in that great privilege of handing down our names and titles to posterity. Now, the life Peers will not be equal to ourselves in respect of this most important privilege—they will be unable to transmit to their sons the titles and dignities given to them by the Crown. Nor, again, if we look upon ourselves as the nobility of the country, will they be noble, because the very essence of nobility is the transmission of that distinction to the son of the recipient. A peerage, as it exists in this country, is a very modern institution when compared with that of nobility. Nobility is one of the oldest institutions in the world. In the Roman Empire from the earliest ages there were patrician families, showing that the nobility was handed down from generation to generation. In the feudal ages, also, nobility was always considered hereditary; and to such an extent was this carried that, though the Crown could create, it could not withdraw a title ex- cept by reason of felony, treason to the Crown, or cowardice in the field proved against a person in the ranks of the nobility. No doubt the monarchs of those days, were often reckless of all principles whatever, but they adhered still for form's sake to the one I have mentioned, when they wished to get rid of certain nobles organized conspiracies against them, and got up sham accusations and sham trials; but they were always obliged to prove acts of felony before they could deprive these nobles of the titles which the Crown had conferred upon them. Your Lordships are therefore, I think, about to go a step further than you really intend, because you will, by the creation of these life peerages, be making a very great innovation, not only among your own nobility, which has the privilege of being also an Estate of Parliament, but infringing on the first principles of nobility as it has existed for fourteen or fifteen centuries throughout Europe, and which existed several centuries before the establishment of English Peerages. I am, moreover, afraid, notwithstanding that some members of your Lordships' House, who have spoken on this question, have made rather too light of the apprehension that those Peers who, being created only for life, will be unable to hand down their titles and honours to their descendants, will be regarded as not being equal to those whose peerage is placed upon a different footing. If I know something of human nature, I cannot help being of opinion that there will be a feeling, so far as they are concerned, not certainly of the slightest disrespect, but that they are not of a grade quite on a level with the rest of your Lordships. I may add that I have always observed that the greatest pleasure which a man derives from having the honour of the peerage conferred upon him by the Crown arises from the fact that he is enabled to transmit it to his son and successors. I have even known instances of men who being childless declined the honour of a peerage, saying it was of no value to them, but that if they had sons they should be glad to accept it. Now, that is a feeling it appears to me to be a noble feeling and one which ought to be respected, and I should be very sorry that the nobility of this country should not look upon it as the highest privilege which they could possess to be able to transmit their title and distinctions to their posterity. I very much doubt whether many persons will be found to seek for the honour of a life peerage—for it seems to me that it would amount—I will not say to an insult, but to a very humiliating slight, to offer a gentleman a peerage, and at the same time to tell him that the title and dignity conferred upon him shall not descend to his son, supposing him to have one. To a man who happens to have no son, indeed, it may be of less consequence whether his peerage is for life or not; but then no good reason can be urged against making a man in that position, a Peer after the old fashion if it is deemed desirable that the peerage should be conferred upon him at all. You object to giving a man a peerage which shall be hereditary because he does not possess the means which you deem to be necessary to support the honour of the next generation; but how do you know that his son, if he had one, might not by marriage or some other honourable means acquire a fortune sufficient for the support of the dignity? But, my Lords, I for one protest against the justice of the statement that it is necessary a Peer should be rich in order to maintain in this country the respect which belongs to his position. It might have been very well to use such an argument as that seventy or eighty years ago, when public opinion obliged every Peer to live ostentatiously, when he could not drive out without having four horses to his carriage and being attended by outriders, and when he wore his stars and ribbands morning and night. There is, however, no sort of resemblance between the state of things which existed in those days and that which exists at present. A Peer now comes up to town by railway, in the company of every person who chooses to travel in that way; he moves about as unostentatiously as any other class of persons. There are, in fact, no such distinctions in many respects as formerly prevailed between a Peer and other members of the community, and there is therefore, I contend, no necessity whatever why they should require to have large fortunes to maintain what is called their dignity in this country. They are respected according, not to their riches, but their usefulness as members of the Legislature and their usefulness in their several localities. It seems to me, then, that the arguments founded on poverty, when urged in favour of the institution of life Peers, fall altogether to the ground. And let me suppose that poverty furnishes a good reason why we should resort to the creation of life Peers—would not such a state of things be calculated to throw a dangerous power into the hands of the Minister of the Crown, who is to decide upon the persons who are to receive such peerages—would not Peers so made be very much under the command of the Minister by whom they happened to be created? Again, a life Peer falls into bad health, and the Minister will have twenty applications to supply his place. Now, that being so, I should like to know from the noble Earl who has brought this Bill forward, and who has said it will not have any effect on the state of parties, how he arrives at that conclusion? Let your Lordships consider the probabilities of the future by the experience of the past. The noble Earl is aware that his party has been in Office twenty-nine out of the last forty years, and if that be true, is it not fair to calculate that they would have had the appointment of at least three-fourths of those twenty-eight life Peers in that time, enough to decide in the course of seven years the result of a division in your Lordships' House—for when I divided the House on a question relating to the Danish "War, the party majority in a full House was, I believe, only 9. These, my Lords, are some; of the objections which. I entertain to this proposal. It would, however, seem that you are about to give a second reading to the Bill, and I would simply observe, in conclusion, that I cannot help thinking you may hereafter have cause to repent what you will have done if you assent to the creation of life peerages, when on the occasion of great divisions much discontent will be expressed, and it will be said by the public—"Such and such a Bill was only carried by the votes of life Peers."


I think, perhaps, my Lords, it would be well that I should now state to your Lordships the views with which I have made this proposition—especially as a noble and learned Lord whom I see opposite is of opinion that when I introduced the Bill I was not sufficiently explicit. At the outset I think I ought to state distinctly my view as to the hereditary character of this House—I have no wish that the hereditary character of this House should be altered. In my view the hereditary character is essential to the House of Lords and essential to the Constitution, and I, for one, see no good reason for desiring to alter it. It is plain that the analogy attempted to be drawn from the Bishops and the Irish and Scotch Peers is only partially applicable to this Bill. The Bill does not deal with the creation of Peers, but with the right to a seat in this House. An Irish or a Scotch Peer is at the present moment perfectly aware that his son will not succeed to his seat in the House of Lords, and that there must be another act of election before he can sit in this assembly. The right rev. Prelates are also well aware that their sons will not succeed to a seat in the House of Lords, and that they will be succeeded by other Prelates appointed by the Grown. Therefore, I maintain that, in proposing to add to the number of Peers who now sit in this House not by hereditary right, I am not altering the general character of the House of Lords. In reply to a question put to me by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Cairns) when this subject was last under consideration, I may state that I have no desire to interfere with the character of this House with respect to its appellate jurisdiction, with which I am perfectly satisfied. On this point I will call your Lordships' attention to what Lord Cranworth said on introducing his Bill on the 30th of May, 1856. There had been a large Committee appointed, and his Lordship said— That Committee—which was a very full one—consisting of between twenty and thirty members, examined a great number of persons connected with the administration of justice in your Lordships' House, the most eminent practitioners at the Bar, two distinguished Judges from Scotland, and other witnesses. The object of their inquiry was to ascertain how far the conduct of judicial business in your Lordships' House, as the ultimate court of appeal, was or was not satisfactory to the suitors and to the bulk of Her Majesty's subjects. Now, my Lords, I think I am entitled to say, as the result of that investigation, that the general—I might almost say the universal—feeling was that, although there were matters which avowedly required emendation, yet the administration of justice by your Lordships was an administration by a tribunal for which no substitute would, in the eyes of the public, be equally satisfactory."—[3 Hansard, cxlii. 781.] Now I perfectly concur in that statement; but I shall, of course, listen with respect to any proposal which may be made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack with reference to the appellate jurisdiction. The noble Earl who first addressed the House (the Earl of Derby), while raising many objections to the measure, admitted that there might be cases in which, owing to peculiar circumstances, persons would not wish to accept hereditary peerages, although they might be perfectly qualified in other respects to occupy a seat in this House. It was also admitted by the noble Earl that persons had already been elevated to the peerage by the Crown from every one of the classes which I named in reference to life peerages on introducing the measure. I wish for no further admission from the noble Earl than that. I have paid very great attention to what has been said as to a person objecting to being appointed an hereditary Peer, and yet being willing to accept a life peerage. It may be that a man possesses only personal property, which he wishes to divide equally among all his children; or he may think it desirable that his eldest son should assume some profession for which he would be most probably disqualified if he became a Peer. These and other reasons may lead men to decline an hereditary peerage. It has been alleged that no sufficient reasons have been shown for making the proposed innovation; but the truth is that, in recent times, circumstances have changed with regard to the honours and rewards bestowed by the Crown. In former times, the Sovereign had the power to grant considerable landed estates out of the Crown domains; but this power no longer exists. The House of Commons has also changed; indeed, it is totally different from what it was when I first entered it. At that time there were many persons, Members of the House of Commons, who could not stand the excessive wear and tear of the present day. They represented small boroughs—these seats no longer exist. It has been stated in the public prints that I propose to give peerages to superannuated Members of the Lower House. Now a man may be elected—as I was myself—to a seat in the House of Commons at the age of twenty-one, and it can hardly be said that after ten years' service, that is at the age of thirty-one, he could be properly termed superannuated. There are many men who are not equal to the excessive labour of the House of Commons at the present day. A man, whom we all regretted to lose—the late Sir William Follett, who was very eminent at the Bar—would, if he could have accepted a life peerage, have been a valuable accession to this House. Referring to the classes of men the most eminent of whom might be advantageously created Peers for life, I mentioned on a former occasion persons distinguished in science and literature. Now, I suppose no one will contend that men like Mr. Hallam or Sir William Blackstone would not be fit persons to sit in the House of Lords. But the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) remarks that we already received into the House Lord Macaulay and two Barons who are at present Members of the House who have attained great eminence in literature. That is quite true; but why should you require that men of this class should only be created Peers if they have large landed estates to maintain their dignity, or if they are unmarried, and consequently unlikely to have any descendants on whom the dignity would devolve? For my own part, I do not see why an eminent literary or scientific man with a number of children and no landed estates should be precluded from accepting a life peerage. In considering this part of the question, I cannot help thinking that there have been men in former times—I wish to mention none in our own times—who would not only have added strength to the House of Lords by their great knowledge and distinguished character, but would have been of great use in its deliberations. For instance, a question which was much discussed at the end of the 17th century was the debasement of the currency; and I do not think that if Sir Isaac Newton (afterwards Master of the Mint) and John Locke had been Members of this House they would have been incapable of adding to the information of this assembly. Another man, whom a late editor has represented to have been entirely removed from practical business, was John Milton; yet he was Latin Secretary—in fact, the equivalent of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—to the Protector Cromwell, and in that capacity displayed a remarkably good judgment. During the time he held that office there occurred the terrible massacre of the Protestants at Piedmont. John Milton naturally felt strong indignation; but his prudence induced him to write a private letter to Cardinal Mazarin, asking for the intervention of the French Court in the matter; by that means an end was put to the massacre which was then going on. I do not believe that even my noble Friend the present Foreign Secretary—who could not, I think have written Paradise Lost—could have shown in such a case greater business aptitude or more practical prudence than did the author of that great poem. I should, for my part, be very glad to see men of that class in the House. With regard to the suggestion which has been made to me, I need only say that my object is attained by having indicated the several classes from which I think that life Peers ought to be selected. I shall be quite ready to leave the matter entirely to the discretion of the Crown, and to omit in Committee the whole of that part of the Bill; only trusting, as I hope I may do, that there is not one of those classes or categories which would be excluded from a fair consideration. Seeing that the times have so much changed—seeing that the Crown has no longer the power which it formerly possessed of granting estates or pensions, except by Act of Parliament, to distinguished generals or admirals—seeing that there are now many persons capable of taking part in public affairs who, from ill health or other reasons, would not venture to go into the House of Commons, because there is such a severe censorship kept over the Members of that House that a man hardly dares to be absent from any division of importance—I cannot but think it would be both a great advantage to this House and a satisfaction to themselves that they should participate in the deliberations of Parliament, although they would scarcely feel equal, physically, to the labours of the House of Commons. These then are the grounds upon which I ask your Lordships to read this Bill a second time. I do not propose in any way to interfere with this House as a court of appeal. That is a separate question which will, no doubt, be brought before your Lordships by authorities vastly more competent to deal with it than I can be. I propose the Bill only as a political measure—as a measure that will not impair the hereditary character of this House, which I wish to see maintained. I hold that this House is fully competent to perform all the duties which devolve upon it. When noble Lords talk of adding to the power of the Crown, I must really remind them that there is a power in the Crown now, which can be exerted, of adding hereditary Peers to this House in sufficient numbers to secure a majority for the Government of the day. We all know that when there was a question between the Ministers of the Crown and this House whether the Peace of Utrecht should be made, or whether the country should continue the Succession "War, twelve Peers were added to this House, an addition which at once changed the majority. Swift in one of his letters wrote that, happily, the Queen had given a majority to the Ministers in the House of Lords; and Lord Bolingbroke said that if one dozen new Peers should not be sufficient, there would be another dozen made, and thus a majority would be obtained. We know also—it is in our own memory—that at the time when the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) and I sat together in the Cabinet, the Cabinet, with the sole exception of the Duke of Richmond, proposed to the Crown that a number of Peers should be made; and it appears by letters published on the authority of my noble Friend on the cross-Benches (Earl Grey) that on that occasion Lord Grey proposed to recommend William IV. to make fifty Peers in order to carry that Bill. Well, those must all have been hereditary Peers, and, therefore, it is idle to tell me that I am now seeking to add to the power of the Crown. We know that in the reign of William IV. those who proposed that large creation of Peers, being supported by public opinion out-of-doors, and having the nation with them, were successful in obtaining the object they sought. The fifty Peers, it is true, were not made; the Peers chose to take another course, which, it appears to me, was less dignified—they absented themselves from the House. That was the only reason why the fifty peerages were not created; for if the Peers who resisted,the Bill had attended, Lord Grey had the promise of the King, and would have proposed, with success, that fifty, sixty, or seventy Peers should be made. I now propose, therefore, to your Lord- ships not to add in any way to the power of the Crown, but to supply a want that the change of time and circumstances has produced; and in my opinion the measure would, tend to increase the strength and uphold the character of this House.


I certainly had intended to ask your Lordships' attention for a few moments on this occasion, but we have other business still before us to-night, and inasmuch as there appears to be on all sides of the House a strongly manifested disposition that this Bill should pass a second reading, I think I shall best consult your convenience by postponing, until a later stage of the measure, the remarks which I should wish to make upon it. I think, upon further consideration, that this Bill will be found to be one mainly depending upon its details. If those details are arranged in a manner which shall be safe and satisfactory, your Lordships may possibly be willing to see it pass into law. But I desire for myself and for many of those around me to keep ourselves entirely unpledged as to the course we shall take on the third reading of the Bill, supposing that after it emerges from Committee it should not appear to be satisfactory to your Lordships. I undertake before we go into Committee to lay on the table the Amendment that I would suggest in the Bill; and I think the more convenient time to explain that Amendment and to state my reasons for proposing it will be when we are going into Committee.


felt strongly that the measure was wrong in principle. A Member who had been in the House of Commons ten years might, bike a certain distinguished person in Dublin, have lost his election, and might thereupon be appointed to a life peerage under this Bill. He hoped that all who had the Constitution of this country at heart would join with him when he should move, as he did now, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and insert ("this day six months.")—(Lord Denman.)


said, he entertained so strong an opinion with respect to the impolicy of this measure, that he felt bound to reserve to himself the right on any future occasion to take such a course with respect to it as his judgment might dictate. There was no doubt that by this measure their Lordships were asked to change some of the most important principles which were inherent in the Constitution of this country. Though it was proposed at present to carry out the principle of the Bill to a very small extent, when they had once established that principle what security was there that it might not be extended, or that it might not be made use of for the purpose of creating Ministerial majorities? Considering the very slight advantages which would be produced by carrying this measure, was it worth while to break through a great constitutional principle? He could not think so. Neither could he agree with the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury), who wished to give their Lordships' House a representative character. If they made the House representative in any sense, they would destroy its character altogether. It was by a system of balances—it was by creating a variety of interests—that they would best carry out the idea of the Constitution, not by assimilating all its parts, and bringing everything down to one uniform level.

On Question, That ("now") stand part of the Motion? Resolved in the Affirmative. Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday the 11th of May next.