HL Deb 19 August 1871 vol 208 cc1870-82

said, that a good many remarks had lately been made as to the conduct of the business of that and the other House of Parliament, and therefore he proposed to move for A Return of all the Bills commenced in this House which have been sent down to the House of Commons, with the date of their being so sent; and of all Bills commenced in the House of Commons and sent up to this House, except Bills of Supply, Hybrid Bills, and Bills continuing Provisional Orders, with the date of their being so sent; with the last proceeding on such Bills in each House respectively, with the dates thereof. Last evening he looked through the list of the Bills sent up by the other House of Parliament to their Lordships, and those sent down by their Lordships to the Commons, and he found that their Lordships had sent down about 35, which might fairly be called Public Bills, and the Commons had sent up to them about 67. Of those which had been sent to the Commons five—owing to the hurried manner in which it had been necessary to wind up the Session—had not been returned to them, though some of them were not unimportant Bills. Four of them were the Betting Bill, the Burial Grounds Bill, the Friendly Societies' Commission Bill, and the Pharmacy Bill. Of the Bills which had been sent to their Lordships only four had not received their assent—and two of them had been dropped apparently for very good reasons. Both these were Government measures—one of them, the Bills of Exchange and Promissory Notes Bill—introduced in the other House by Mr. Baxter—having been taken no notice of in their Lordships' House, was finally removed from their Minutes on the 7th instant. The other, the Corrupt Practices Act Amendment Bill, was sent to them upon the 13th June, and read a second time on the 22nd June, and Notice was given of the Committee; but it never was considered in Committee, and after some adjournments no further proceedings were taken. The other two Bills were the Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister and the Elections (Parliamentary and Municipal) Bill, and they were not assented to by their Lordships' House. As to the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, the opposition to which was rested by many on religious grounds, and by others on the ground—which he believed to be a just one—that the measure was not desired by the community at large, and that by the women of this country it was not at all wished for. As to the Ballot Bill, it came to them at so late a period of the Session that, considering the length of the Bill and the important matters contained in it, it was thought that the House ought not to enter upon its consideration this Session. He himself did not rest his opposition to it on that ground, because if it had been proceeded with he must have voted against it, being strongly opposed to the principle of the Ballot. He thought the Bill would have been more properly entitled "a Bill to enable people to lie without being found out." Telling one lie often tempts a man to tell another, and lying may by degrees become a habit. The effect must be most demoralizing, and he could not think that where a man was returned to Parliament against the apparent strength of the opposite party, according to the promises given them, it would be satisfactory to him to know that he was returned by a hundred liars. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had urged that persons who did not vote for the candidate whom they deemed the best man acted a lie. But this was a very different thing. If persons were induced by others who had influence over them to vote openly in a particular way there was at least no moral wrong; and, indeed, it was what was done every day in Parliament when Gentlemen voted in order to support their party—he was not sure, for instance, that the minority in last night's division on the Vaccination Bill were altogether satisfied with the clause for which they voted. Under this Bill the matter, however, would bear a very different aspect, for, in his opinion, nothing would be more calculated to promote lying than the impossibility of being found out. With regard to the Ballot Bill, which had been rejected by their Lordships, if it was to be introduced next Session, he hoped it would be introduced in the shape of two Bills—the one relating solely to the subject of the Ballot, and the mode in which elections under it were to be carried on, and the other relating to the improvement of elections generally. It was desirable that any propositions of the latter sort should, be considered separately and carefully, and there was no Member of their Lordships' House but would give them due consideration. He would just say, in reference to another important Bill on which their Lordships had expressed a different opinion from the other House — namely, the Army Bill—that all must regret the manner in which the abolition of purchase was ultimately carried; but he confessed that if the Government had been determined to proceed by Royal Warrant in the first instance, and had announced to the other House that they desired to get rid of the system of purchase, but that at the same time they could not advise Her Majesty to abolish it unless provision were made to satisfy the just rights arising out of the system, and if the House of Commons had expressed their desire to grant the necessary funds to enable Her Majesty to deal fairly with the officers, he thought that would have been the best way of proceeding. While, therefore, he condemned the manner in which the Royal Prerogative had been exercised, he was glad that purchase had been abolished by Royal Warrant, and not by Act of Parliament. The result was that purchase could be resumed to-morrow in the same manner as it was first established; and if it was proved—as he thought would very likely be the case—that there was no good or sufficient system of retirement devised by the Government, or that what they proposed was found too costly to be properly maintained, it was not impossible that there would be a recurrence to the system of purchase under new regulations, and that efficiency with regard to the age of regimental officers which had been secured so admirably to this country under the system of purchase would be preserved. As regards the Ballot Bill, a great number of remarks had been made as to the impropriety of this House resisting the wish of the other House of Parliament. If such a doctrine was acted upon as was implied in that objection, the occupation and usefulness of this House would be gone. The noble Earl who presided over our Foreign Affairs (Earl Granville), and who was Leader of that House, had very often cautioned their Lordships to act with the same discretion as the Duke of Wellington had done when he was in opposition to the majority of the other House. The expressions the noble Earl had used would lead to the belief that the policy advocated by the Duke of Wellington was one of concession to that House, whereas it was one of resistance to that House, and that for a very long period. Very few were aware of the course pursued during that very important period, from 1832, when the Reform Bill was passed, down to 1841, when the change of Government took place. In the first place, there was the Appropriation Bill, which was rejected, and ultimately abandoned, and the Irish Tithe Bill, which was amended and passed. A General Election took place before Sir Robert Peel's Government met Parliament in 1835, and the Opposition came in by a majority and turned him out, and the first measure proposed was the Municipal Corporations (England) Bill. That Bill was introduced into the other House in June, 1835, and came up late to their Lordships; but the lateness was occasioned by the business of the Session not beginning till May, and being the only measure of the Session Parliament sat till very late—till the middle of September—and there were a great many communications between the Houses, and the question was finally settled far more by concessions of the House of Commons than by concessions on the part of their Lordships. In the next Session, of 1836, there was a Bill brought in amending that Bill, which was rejected by this House; and in the same Session was also introduced the Irish Corporations Amendment Bill, and was rejected by their Lordships. In the year 1837 the English Corporations Amendment Act was passed, after the differences between the two Houses had been settled. The Irish Corporations Bill was again rejected. In the Session of 1838, in which a new Parliament assembled, the Irish Corporations Bill was sent up, and this House again rejected it. The same occurred in 1839; and it was not until after two Parliaments had dealt with the Bill that the House of Commons yielded to the objections of the House of Lords, and the Irish Corporations Bill was passed. He thought that state of resistance on the part of their Lordships was generally not known or recollected at the present period, and so far from the action of their Lordships being unconstitutional, it was ratified after five years' discussion by the good sense of the country returning a large majority in support of the party who resisted, and all matters in dispute were at last settled in accordance with their Lordships' views. During that period he did not think there was the same disposition on the part of the Government to—he would not use the word threaten — but to warn the House of Lords to be very cautious as to what they did, and to avoid creating a prejudice against themselves. At all events, whatever was done in that direction was ineffective, because it then became customary at public meetings and dinners to exclaim—"Thank God, we have a House of Lords;" and it was felt of great advantage to Parliament that there was a House which would give time to the country to consider important changes maturely before they became law. In regard to that policy of the Duke of Wellington, it should also be remembered that it was carried on in perfect concert with Sir Robert Peel, and certainly there was no Minister who ever existed in this country who had a stronger feeling in favour of the privileges of the other House of Parliament than Sir Robert Peel, or one who was more disposed to maintain them. Now, the objection raised against their Lordships' House this year was that their Lordships had not agreed to the Ballot Bill, a question which had been 40 years before the country, during which period every House of Commons but the present had rejected it. The present House had shown more regard than almost any House he remembered to the Minister of the day — with little regard in some cases, as to the Budget for instance, to the interests of their constituents. He believed that had Mr. Gladstone adhered to his old opinion against the Ballot, and had he urged that opinion with all his usual eloquence and reasoning, the House of Commons would not have adopted it. It affected the morality of the country, and it ought not to receive the assent of Parliament unless the wisest and best minds in the country approved it. This House had only performed its constitutional duty in refusing to entertain the question at a period of the Session when it could not be properly considered, and in giving the country time to mature its opinion upon it.

Moved, That there be laid before this House— Return of all the Bills commenced in this House which have been sent down to the House of Commons, with the date of their being so sent; and of all Bills commenced in the House of Commons and sent up to this House, except Bills of Supply, Hybrid Bills, and Bills confirming Provisional Orders, with the date of their being so sent; with the last proceeding on such Bills in each House respectively, with the dates thereof.—(The Lord Redesdale.)


, on behalf of the Government, said he had no objection to the Motion, though he doubted whether the House would be much wiser with the Return than it was already after the speech of the noble Lord. At the same time, he must say that the noble Lord's Notice had not prepared him for a review, not only of the past Session, but of the proceedings of the last 30 or 40 years, or for a renewal of the discussion on the Ballot. As to the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, their Lordships were obviously entitled to exercise an independent judgment upon it; but with regard to the Ballot Bill—although he would not go into the question of that measure—he could not think it complimentary to the other House, or much to the credit of this, that we should have refused to devote a week or ten days to a measure on which the Commons had spent six or eight weeks, and which the great majority of that House had supported in repeated divisions. If after a full and elaborate discussion the House of Lords had decided against the Bill, they would have been perfectly justified in rejecting it; but he did not think it was quite becoming for this House to dismiss the measure so summarily. As to the Army Regulation Bill, he differed entirely from the opinion expressed by the noble Lord, because he thought it was most desirable that purchase should have been abolished by Act of Parliament. The Government knew from the first that this could be done by Royal Warrant. For various reasons they determined, however, to proceed by Act of Parliament, which was not open to what he deemed an objection, but what the noble Lord thought an advantage—that it would leave the purchase system liable to be revived at a future time by the same Royal authority which had abolished it. As to whether this was at all probable he would not say; but there was no doubt that its abolition was much more imperfect as it stood than if it had been effected by Act of Parliament. A Royal Commission having brought to light the illegality of over-regulation prices, and having reported that it was impossible to prevent these as long as regulation prices were allowed, the Government had to consider how the illegality should be put an end to, and he would rather have put an end to it even at the expense of incurring the censure of this House than have allowed it to continue. With regard to his noble Friend's (Earl Granville's) advice to their Lordships, all he could say was that good advice was seldom palatable, and this particular advice seemed quite as unpalatable as that once offered by a distinguished statesman to the Episcopal bench, when he recommended them to set their House in order. It was an inevitable consequence of the passage of measures like the Reform Acts of 1832 and 1867, that there should be a large and sweeping revision of the institutions of the country. After the passing of the Reform Act of 1832, with the full concurrence of both Houses and of the country, the system of the Poor Law, of tithes, the Bank Charter, and many other of our old institutions were placed on an improved basis. The late Reform Act was passed by the Conservative party, who must be aware that its inevitable result was a similar revision and improvement of our institutions, and that they ought to accept this result in a fair spirit—as, indeed, they had on the whole so far done. During the period referred to by the noble Lord, from 1835 to 1841, he would remind him that the House of Commons was nearly equally divided, and he remembered that the Government felt exceedingly proud of a working majority of 2. Nevertheless, the House of Lords at that time concurred generally in the measures sent up from the Commons. At the present time a majority in round numbers of 100 might reasonably claim a little more courtesy and deference than could be expected at a time when parties were so closely balanced.


denied that the Reform Act of 1867 necessarily led—as had been asserted by the noble Viscount (Viscount Halifax)—to the adoption of the Ballot, as one of the institutions of the country. If the Ballot Bill were passed, every voter who declared his political opinions would make the concealment of the voter who wished for protection more difficult; people would not know who their friends were, and it was important that, as very bad feeling was excited by clap-trap measures, that Ministers should, next Session, bring in only such measures as they could reasonably hope to carry, and know what was really the opinion of the country. Ministers unsettled everything and settled nothing. Even the Irish Church Bill must be submitted again to Parliament before anything could be done with the surplus, and they had scarcely advanced so far as the Appropriation Clause of 1835. On the Irish Church question, he had been jeered by a majority of their Lordships' House, and he took this opportunity of saying that on the Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, he had made a most important quotation from the memoirs of Bishop Blomfield, as follows:— In the Session of 1841, the question of removing the restrictions from marriages of affinity was mooted in the House of Lords by Lord Wharncliffe. Bishop Blomfield spoke strongly against any alteration in the law of marriage, maintaining that marriage with a wife's sister, which was the object really in view, was contrary to Scripture, to the ancient laws of the Catholic Church, and to the feelings of the nation at large, and that the question best be left as it was settled by Lord Lyndhurst's Act in 1835. On this subject the Bishop never changed his opinion; indeed, in 1851, he stated that his objection to such marriages on the scriptural ground was even more decided than it had been in 1841."—[Bishop Blomfield's Memoirs, vol. i. pp. 301–2.] The name of the Bishop had been wilfully suppressed, and the opinion had been given as his own—his own opinion not being comparatively worth a farthing on theological matters. He thought the Constitution was really in danger when the noble Viscount (Viscount Halifax) said that they should pay deference to the House of Commons, because it had passed a Bill by a large majority, which at any time might be altered to a minority. He trusted that the party which had been led by the late Earl of Derby, which promised little and performed much, and which had carried the Abyssinian War to a successful issue, might soon be called to the Councils of the Sovereign.


said, he had expected, from the noble Lord's Notice, that he was about to express his dissatisfaction—a dissatisfaction which the noble Lord had often intimated, and sometimes not unreasonably—at the late period at which Bills were sent up to this House; but he had not expected that he would have delivered a criticism on the proceedings of the Session such as they used to hear from Lord Lyndhurst. The noble Lord had certainly succeeded in reminding the country how their Lordships' House had effectually arrested important legislation — though that could scarcely have been his object. Their Lordships had had an opportunity of dealing with the Army Bill, and how they dealt with it was well known. They had also had the Ballot Bill before them, and had they bestowed upon it the time devoted to the Municipal Corporations Bill, when they sat till September, they would, without unduly lengthening the Session, have had ample time to consider it. He thought the noble Lord would scarcely feel himself justified, on reflection, in describing a measure supported in 70 divisions in the other House by a majority of 80 or 90, and adopted, after 40 years' discussion, on valid grounds, as a Bill to enable people to lie without being found out. He (the Lord Chancellor) repeated that nothing could be baser than the acted lie of the man who voted against the dictates of his conscience—except, indeed, the conduct of the man who forced him to take that unworthy course. If anything was base and dishonourable it was intimidation in the exercise of a right to which the elector had as good a claim as any of their Lordships had to their estates, and anybody who asked—"What are you going to do with your vote?" was as impertinent as if the voter turned round and said—"What does your Lordship mean to do with your property?" The noble Lord (Lord Redesdale) saw nothing immoral in coercion and intimidation, and in turning a man out of house and home for daring to exercise a lawful privilege. As to the non-existence of intimidation it was established to the satisfaction of a Committee of the House of Commons, consisting of as many Conservatives as Liberals, in an inquiry which he had obtained, that, owing to the ejectments and the proceedings of a noble Lord at two previous elections, the electors, one-third of whom petitioned for disfranchisement to escape the tyranny, had voted under undue bias and constraint. A widow whose husband had always voted "right" was ejected on account of her son, who occupied another property, having voted "wrong"—that was to say, against the landlord. This was grossly immoral. There were nice degrees of immorality, as to how an impertinent question should be answered—whether, for instance, you had blackballed your interrogator at a club—it was difficult to say. Sir Walter Scott, when asked the impertinent question whether he was the author of Waverley, took the course of saying he was not. He (the Lord Chancellor) did not justify that in point of morals, nor did he advise that it should be followed; for he preferred a bold and straightforward course; but the poor voter had, at all events, authority to show for a similar course; and was a man to sacrifice the bread of his family and face utter ruin by disclosing how he had voted? The Ballot was wanted for their Lordships' own sake — for the sake of the landlords of England—in order that they might be under no temptation to impose this horrible tyranny on persons whose right to the free exercise of the franchise was as good as that of any person to his estates. The noble Lord (Lord Redesdale) did not like the Ballot Bill because it had been adopted by a House of Commons which appeared to displease him more than any previous House. Now, he (the Lord Chancellor) gave honour where honour was due. The last Reform Act was the work of Mr. Disraeli and the Conservative party—assisted, undoubtedly, by those who had carried the previous Act and desired its extension. The noble Lord did not like the result, but he himself liked it very much; believing that there had never been a House of Commons which more faithfully represented the sense of the country. It was an unworthy taunt to say, as the noble Lord had done, as also a noble and learned Lord (Lord Cairns) on a previous occasion had said, that had Mr. Gladstone persisted in his honest opposition to the Ballot he would have led the House of Commons with him. It was in one sense, indeed, a compliment, and he imagined that Mr. Gladstone would be pleased could be find it so easy on all occasions to influence the House; but, with regard to his honesty, it required no defender, and he should not condescend to defend it. A more noble, honourable, high-minded man he knew not, and he cared not who said the contrary.


explained that he had said that had Mr. Gladstone persisted in his "former" opposition to the Ballot, it would have been rejected.


Then as to the Army Bill, the object of which was to waive once and for ever the Royal Prerogative, that Prerogative being the continuance of purchase, not its abolition. The Act of 1809 stamped purchase as illegal, except as far as it was sanctioned by Prerogative, and had the Crown abstained from exercising the Prerogative by fixing any price, it would have remained illegal. The Prerogative consisted in dispensing with an Act of Parliament, though on the authority of the Act itself. The Crown was anxious to surrender this Prerogative and to discontinue its exercise; but it could not without an Act of Parliament shield the violators of the law from the penalties attaching to them, or compensate those who had bought commissions. Even after their Lordships' censure he should have given the same advice as before to the Crown—for let who would censure the Warrant, nothing was so censurable as the continuance of an illegal course when means existed of at once putting a stop to it.


remarked that the discourtesy towards the House of Commons imputed to their Lordships in refusing to consider the Ballot Bill did not rest with one side of the House merely, since—in spite, no doubt, of the usual means of securing the attendance of Liberal Peers, they mustered only 48, nearly half of whom were Members of the Government. For himself he had voted against proceeding with the Bill solely on the ground that such a measure could not be properly considered at that time of the Session, and if it again came up at a reasonable time and backed by a large majority, he would not say whether he might not think it advisable to pay great attention to the opinion of the other House.


disclaimed having said there was no harm in intimidation. If persons were influenced by others, and voted in a way they were not quite certain was the best, they committed no moral offence, any more than persons who voted in Parliament for measures with which they were not altogether satisfied, out of confidence in the Government or the promoters of the measures. The Ballot would prevent the discovery of a man who promised one thing and did another, and this must have a demoralizing effect. It was admitted by the other side that the kind of intimidation referred to by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had materially diminished, and under the pressure of public opinion hardly existed, and it had become necessary for the advocates of the Ballot to cite intimidation of another kind, that of trade unions over poor workmen. Secrecy in such cases must have a bad effect. As to the consequences of the last Reform Act, it must not be expected that every House of Commons returned under the same system would be of the same complexion. Everybody knew what was the character of the first House elected after the Act of 1832, and how remarkably different was that of its successor elected two or three years afterwards. All he had said was that it would be dangerous to defer to the opinion of a single House of Commons on such a question.

Motion agreed to. (No. 332.)

House adjourned at Twelve o'clock, to Monday next, half past One o'clock.