THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I rise to ask your indulgence while I lay before you the reasons which induced me to place the Motion on the Paper which stands in my name. That Motion is—That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the best means of promoting the efficiency of this House.In putting this Motion on the Paper, I have been desirous of bringing forward not merely an academical discussion, but a practical proposition. I am quite aware that the Motion itself and the form of the Motion are unusual; but I can hardly think that there is anything to be said against an unusual Motion, in the days in which we live, when nothing is sure to happen but the unexpected. But I will go a little further, and say that not merely is this Motion unusual, but it is unprecedented; and it is on that very ground that I would urge your Lordships to accept it to-night. The House of Lords has never, so far as I know, in the whole of its history, appointed a Committee to inquire into its own general condition. It has at times appointed Committees to inquire into branches of the subject. It has appointed Committees to inquire into its own judicial jurisdiction, into the state of the Representative Peerage of Ireland and Scotland, into the system of Joint Committees, and into various branches of this very large subject. But I am not aware that at any time it has ever thought it necessary to appoint a Committee to inquire into its own condition as a whole. The House of Lords has existed, I think, about six centuries. I do not suppose that any Institution has existed so long as that without reform. Of course, it may be said that that is due to its inherent and original perfection; but I do not believe that there is any Institution that can afford to remain motionless, and seal itself against the varying influences of time. Are there any Institutions of that antiquity which have been able to remain without amendment or modification? What Institutions are they? Is it Monarchy? Is it the Church? Is it the House of Commons? Is it the Municipalities of this country? Every one of 938 those Institutions has undergone frequent and large reconstruction in the course of the six centuries to which I have alluded. Is it something in the form of this House itself that makes it an exception? Why, this House has undergone considerable modification. Who were the Peers who originally composed it? They were mainly Ecclesiastics, with a minority of the great feudal vassals of the Crown. Then came a change, when this House lost its predominance over the other House. Then they lost their feudal power; then they lost their mitred abbots, and ceased to be an Ecclesiastical Assembly, and became mainly a temporal Assembly; then their existence was suspended under Cromwell; then they admitted Parliamentary Representatives from Scotland; then they admitted Life Representatives from Ireland; as well as—if I may so call them—rotatory Ecclesiastical Representatives from Ireland — Ecclesiastics who came in turn from that country to represent the Church in this House; and then came, in my opinion, the greatest change of all, when the House was swamped under George III. and Mr. Pitt. The extent of that great revolution, is easily shown by the bare figures I am about to quote. At the Accession of George III. there were 174 Peers altogether, of whom 13 were minors, and 12 Roman Catholics, leaving 149 sitting Peers. George III. in the course of his long reign created 388 Peers, of which number Mr. Pitt was responsible for 140. These figures show how completely changed this House was by these creations; but there is a very curious proof, beyond these figures, of the change which it has undergone. At the first reading of the first Reform Bill in this House, of the Peers who were created before 1790, 104 supported the Bill, and only 4 voted against it, and the Bill was thrown out mainly by the Peers created by Mr. Pitt. The next change was that the House of Lords, which was a great Assembly of borough-owners, lost its direct representation in the House of Commons on the passing of the first Reform Bill. The next change was in the method of voting, when they suspended the use of proxies in 1868. They lost their Irish Ecclesiastical Representatives in 1869; they suspended their bankrupt Members in 1871; and last, and not least, 939 they admitted three judicial Life Peers in 1876. You may well ask, and I have no doubt some of your Lordships are asking yourselves, why, after this long recital of modifications, I have any right to say this House is in need of reform. I do it on this ground—that all these modifications were indirect and inconsequential, and that not one of them, except the change in the method of voting and the suspension of proxies, was carried out by the House itself, for the deliberate purpose of reforming its own constitution. I might say, in another sense, that, while its status has been indirectly modified, the proceedings leading thereto have never been recognized by the House itself. Not only has the House of Lords been considerably modified in the great lapse of time, but all has changed around. Many of the institutions that were coeval with it have disappeared, and all that existed at the same time have been reformed. There is a great change which has taken place in the enormous power of the House of Commons, and the enormous increase, under the various reductions of the franchise, of the constituencies which elect the House of Commons. There is also a vast increase in the population of these Islands; and last, but not least, there are—what did not exist at the time of the inception of the House of Lords—a Newspaper Press, and a Colonial Empire. I would ask your Lordships to think of these two facts alone, without referring to any other great changes, and to consider what differences it must have made in this Institution, when a Newspaper Press and a Colonial Empire have come into existence since it commenced itself. But this House has never considered its position, as a whole, since the time before the Newspaper Press and the Colonial Empire were in existence; and these two facts, I think, would go far to support me in my Motion tonight. I am not, at this hour, going into the differences between the Middle Ages and the 19th century; but I think it is not unfair, in an argument of this sort, to indicate the changes going on around us, simply for the purpose of strengthening my Motion. I think I have shown, in the remarks I have already made, a primâ facie case why an Institution of antiquity should require, if not reconstruction, if not new machiney, at least a slight readjustment, and some repair; 940 and I venture to say that my modest proposition is little more than a request for a coat of new paint. I believe that an Institution of this antiquity, however efficient and however popular it may be, cannot exist without some small occasional modification. But I have to raise the question—Is this House efficient, and is it popular? Now, my Lords, the question of efficiency is a very delicate one, because it affects us all; but I think one may say, without risk of contradiction, that no human institution is perfect, and that it would be a very bad compliment to this House to suppose it was as efficient as it might be made. Your Lordships will admit that the Institutions of the 13th century are not likely to have been minutely calculated for the requirements of the 19th century. But, putting these general considerations aside, I think it is only fair to say that all admit the brilliancy of some of our Members and some of our debates. I believe that those lawyers who practise before the Private Bill Committees of this House think that our Committees are at least not inferior, and possibly superior, to those of the other House. What is the conclusion I draw from these two circumstances? It is that we possess an Assembly containing men of great ability, great business capacity, and great common sense. What further conclusion do I draw? It is, that neither the House nor the country derives the full benefit of this. We can put this to a very simple test, and it is this—Do our decisions command the respect and carry the weight that they deserve? I think this may be very easily tested, and very easily ascertained. Anybody who analyzes the list of the House of Lords will see that it contains a nucleus of men of the very highest distinction; and a few figures which I will lay before you, as compendiously as possible, will show that I am not rash in making this assertion. We have in this House 27 Bishops, every one of whom must have won his way to his position in this House by sheer merit, and by hard work. It is perfectly impossible to say that these 27 eminent individuals are not, by reason of their past career, an ornament to any Assembly. We have 24 Cabinet Ministers, or Peers who have been Cabinet Ministers; we have 21 Ambassadors, or Peers who have been Ambassadors; we 941 have six Governors General, or Governors Principal; we have two Peers who presided with great distinction over the Assembly of the House of Commons; we have eight very eminent Judges, besides the two Chancellors who sit in the House; we have two Field Marshals, exclusive of the blood Royal; and I have, therefore, made up a list of 73 individuals in these categories who may all be called men of the highest distinction in the country. Besides these, there are no less than 40 Admirals, Generals, and Ministers of rank inferior to Cabinet rank, past or present. That makes 113 men of high distinction. Then there is the Poet Laureate, whom we all are proud to welcome to this House, and no one can say that anything but distinction has been conferred on the House of Lords by the admission of Lord Tennyson. There is, at least, one Senior Wrangler; and there is my noble Friend on the Cross Benches (Lord Houghton), who has written some verses that will last as long as the language will. [A laugh.] I am sorry my reference to my noble Friend has caused a smile; but I am quite certain it is undeserved. Well, in that list I have designated 116 individuals who would be gladly included in any Second Chamber in the world. Let us compare this Assembly, with these 116 persons, with the most powerful and efficient Second Chamber that exists in the world. I do not suppose anybody conversant with the two Assemblies denies that, in point of weight of power and of authority, the Senate of the United States is the first Second Chamber in the world. Why is it that the Senate should exercise more power than the House of Lords? Why is it that it has greater power entrusted to it? Why is it that its decisions are decisions from which there is practically no appeal? I do not think it is from the individuals who compose it. I venture to say that the Senate of the United States does not comprise as many distinguished individuals as the House I am now addressing, and I will state why that is so. In the first place, the Cabinet Ministers of the United States have no seats in Congress. In the second place, there is a constant drain on the public men of that country to fill Governorships, and various State Offices; and, in the next place, as there are only two Representatives for each State, the 942 difficulty of getting into the Senate is very great. Why is it, then, that this Body in the United States exercises so much more power than your Lordships? It is not because they are an Elective Body—at least, I do not believe it is, because we have had great experience of Elective Second Chambers, and we know that, as a rule, Elective Second Chambers are not very valuable Institutions. I am not now going into the relative difference between the House of Lords and the Senate of the United States. I am not going to compare these two great Bodies. It would lead me very much beyond the scope of my Motion and my time; but I have only indicated the comparative difference between the two in order to show that there is some cause for inquiry from that point of view. In considering the weight of the decisions of the House of Lords, there are one or two points of practical importance to which I wish to direct your attention. The first is a point of some importance—I mean our quorum. The quorum of the House of Lords, as your Lordships are aware, is three. We have some opportunity of comparing that somewhat antiquated quorum with the quorums of other Assemblies. It is quite true that a quorum of the House of Commons is 40; but the House of Commons is a much more numerous Body, consisting of about 150 more Members. That, however, does not really bear on the argument; because when the House of Commons only contained as many Members as the House of Lords—before the Union with Scotland—its quorum was as great as it is now. I can give some experiences of the quorum of the House of Lords; but I would select two which throw some light on the subject. One occurred within my own recollection, and the other is somewhat legendary. I remember, since I have been a Member of this House, a noble Earl (the Earl of Leitrim), who afterwards met with a tragical end, addressing a quorum of your Lordships, consisting besides himself of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and the Minister who had to answer him, for four mortal hours by the clock—when this vast Hall in which we are seated contained only these three individuals.
I beg the noble Earl's pardon. I remember the 943 occasion, and I was present part of the time.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
The noble Lord's attendance, I understand, was only partial, and not for the whole time, so I may say three and a-half persons were present. Striking an average, I think that will be a satisfactory figure. One cannot but feel that that was a great waste of the time of the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack, whoever he might have been, and that the obvious remedy would have been found in the practice of the House of Commons. A more legendary instance to which I will allude is one attributed to the period when the late Lord Lyndhurst was on the Woolsack. There was then a noble and learned Lord addressing the House on a question, apparently of no great public interest, and addressing it at some length. Lord Lyndhurst was naturally anxious to attend a dinner to which he was invited, and as the clock got nearer to 8, that learned person grew more and more impatient. He made every sign; he took out his watch; he interrupted; he might have feigned sleep for all I know; but this produced no effect on the noble and learned Lord who was addressing the House. At last the Lord Chancellor said—"This is too bad—can't you stop?" There was no stop. At last Lord Lyndhurst rose, in the full grandeur of despair at the situation, and said—"By Jove, so and so, I will count you out;" and it was well within the province of the late Lord Lyndhurst, because he and the learned Lord who was addressing the House were the only Peers present. I think the Select Committee might find some matter for consideration in the quorum of your Lordships' House. I will pass now to another fact; but I will not dwell on it, because I know the speech that my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will make about it if I alluded to it at length. But I allude to that stock complaint of the barren six months, followed by a fruitful fortnight, which comprises our ordinary Session. Sir Walter Scott, in the course of some very stirring verses, has said—One crowded hour of glorious lifeIs worth an age without a name.And if that is so, the House of Lords is in that fortunate position, because it passed an age without a name, followed 944 by an hour crowded with life at the end of the Session. But, my Lords, I do not think this is a desirable position for your Lordships' House. I believe that some remedy might be found for it, and I am quite sure that a Select Committee would do no harm in considering it. Well, my Lords, we know that a great part of our legislative functions are conducted in a somewhat fruitless manner at this season of the year. We have no Bills introduced into this House except Bills of such a lofty morality that they cannot be presented point blank to the coarser palate of the House of Commons. I am sometimes reminded, when I think, of these things, of an anecdote which is told of the Emperor Napoleon III. It is said that when he was a child his favourite amusement was watering his garden; but that the nurse, to take care that he should suffer no danger, always put warm water in the watering pot. I am always reminded of that anecdote when I think of the artificial atmosphere in which we are compelled to pass our measures. Then there is the question of Joint Committees. I believe that a system of Joint Committees would, to a large extent, relieve the congestion in one House and the inanition in the other by an amicable consideration of Bills. I do not know whether it would really be so; but I venture to point it out as a subject of inquiry. As to private legislation, surely a great deal might be done by Joint Committees on Private Bills. I do not think your Lordships always know the enormous expense and trouble of persons coming to Parliament for private legislation. I believe I am not misinformed when I state that one abortive project last year, which did not succeed in passing the Committee of this House, cost no less than £60,000. It was passed this year; but I venture to think that even if it were only in regard to the question of Joint Committees, it would be worth while to appoint a Committee of this House to inquire. There is another point which I only wish to allude to in passing; but it does affect the weight of the decision of this House—I mean the character of our Divisions. It does, no doubt, lessen the effect of our Divisions when the habitual attendants of the House on great occasions are swamped by a sudden influx of regular absentees. Now, my Lords, I do 945 not believe that the system can permanently continue without serious detriment to your Lordships' House. I do not wish to dwell upon it, because I am guarding myself to-night most scrupulously from indicating any plan or scheme of my own; but I believe the appointment of a Committee would do much towards strengthening of our position. I ventured to ask whether this House was efficient. I have endeavoured to lay before your Lordships the reasons, on both sides, which makes one feel that its efficiency is not so great as it ought to be. Let me now say a word about the popularity of this House, and when I say the popularity, I mean popularity in its largest and in its widest sense. My Lords, as regards the popularity of this House, I should be inclined to say this—that it is neither so popular as its friends assert, nor so unpopular as its enemies make out. I believe that there are a certain number of our Members who have great contact with the people at large—great touch of the population of this country; but they have not, and they cannot have, the constant compulsory connection with the nation that adds so much to the strength of the House of Commons. Now, that is perfectly true; but I think that in spite of all this we may represent some vital principle more powerful than popularity, and which may take the place of popularity, and I think that is a subject which is very well worth considering. We have a great variety of very complex interests which might be represented in this House. There are the various portions of our vast Empire—our commerce, our professions, our Churches. All these might very well be represented in this House. Now, my Lords, how far are they represented? Take the Churches. We have a considerable number of Bishops, and I think the Episcopal Church of this country is well represented in this House. We have a considerable number of Roman Catholic Peers, which I regard as a great advantage, and as redressing the want of Roman Catholic representation from England and Scotland in the House of Commons. We have some Presbyterians here, but we have hardly any Dissenting Peers, and I believe that the Dissenting interest is one which is well worthy of being represented in this House. There is, 946 therefore, an immense preponderance of the representation of the Church of England. I make no complaint of this; I only notice the fact. But let us take the professions that might be represented in this House. The Army is well represented; the Navy is tolerably well represented; the law is well represented; but the profession of medicine is, so far as I know, not represented at all. My Lords, it is very easy to say that the profession of medicine is not wanted in this House. But I remember very well a distinguished Leader who has gone from us, but whose name will never be mentioned in this House without respect, who said that his policy was entirely a sanitary policy, and he summed it up in the motto, sanitas sanitatum omnia sanitas. But surely it cannot be maintained that when sanitary questions are put in the forefront of the policy of the Government, this House would be any worse off for having some assistance from the great Faculty of Medicine. Well, we have men of science. I see the noble Lord opposite (Lord Rayleigh) who was Senior Wrangler, and whom we are proud to see a Member of this House. The late Lord Crawford was also a Member of this House; but, considering the nature of this Chamber, men of science might be better represented than they are. Then there is literature, which might very well be more largely represented, and which has, I believe, been more largely represented than it is now. We have some great literary men. I will not name them for fear of provoking any expression of jealousy or discontent. But literature might very well be more largely represented than it is, because this is a House in which men of letters might very well encounter the troubles and the storms of polities, without all the hard work that requires to be undergone in the other House of Parliament. Then there are the commercial and mercantile interests of the community. We have four or five noble Lords connected with the banking and railway interests. I view those Representatives as persons of great importance in our debates; but I do not feel, I confess, that the great commercial interests of this country are so adequately represented in this House as they should be; and when we consider how enormously they are represented in the other House, we must feel 947 that we have a certain inferiority in this respect. As regards that branch of my subject, I think it may be summed up in a sentence, by saying that there is too much receiving of rent in this House and too little paying of rent. We represent too much one class; we see one side of the shield too much. I see a Lord from Ireland shakes his head. I know what he means; but he must know that we are all in the same boat. Then there is the question of the Arts. This House prides itself greatly on its knowledge of the Arts. There are no questions which are so fiercely debated in this House as questions of taste, and there is no question which has caused so much Party excitement in the House of Lords in recent years as the question of the removal of the Duke of Wellington's Statue, and yet we have no artists amongst us. I cannot doubt, however, that these debates would be greatly improved by the infusion of some of the artistic element. India is fairly represented, for we have two Governors General (the Earl of Northbrook and the Earl of Lytton) and two Governors Principal (the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Napier and Ettrick) who have had contact with India; but the Colonies I regard as very inadequately represented in this House, considering the many millions whose interests we have to regard. I do not think that five Representatives are enough for this, when we recollect that one of those five Representatives is at his post in Canada, that another is at his post at Constantinople, another has not yet returned to his post, and we are thus reduced to two Peers in this House who have practical contact with the Colonies. I venture to say that that is not sufficient. Well, my Lords, there is another class which is absolutely not represented in this House, and I suppose it is absolutely necessary that it should be unrepresented. That is the labouring class. I dare say it is absolutely impossible that the labouring class should be represented in this House; but I would ask your Lordships to think of the numbers and the power of the working classes of this country. Do you not feel that it is a great deficiency in this House that that enormous power should be absolutely unrepresented. ["No!"] I hear a noble Lord say "No." I wish I could agree with him. I believe one reason of our rela- 948 tive weakness, when compared with, the House of Commons, is that we have no representation of the labouring classes. I only mention this as part of the case with which we have to deal. I shall sum up this part of my subject by saying that we want, if possible, new elements—an infusion of the ideas of other classes—new representatives, new sources of information. I believe that if we could obtain this without a radical reconstruction of the House, the House would be very largely the gainer. But this is only an indication. I do not regard my authority as of the slightest value in a case of this sort; but I will read words which are of the very highest authority. These are words spoken by the noble Marquess opposite the Leader of the Conservative Party in 1869—It appears to me, however, that the deficiency which may be recognised in the constitution of the House of Lords has been imprinted on it by the lapse of time, and does not belong to its original constitution. That deficiency consists in this—that we want a larger infusion from those largo classes among whom is to be found so much of the wealth and power of the country. We belong too much to one class, and the consequence is that, with respect to a large number of questions, we are all too much of one mind. Now, that is a fact which appears to me to be injurious to the character of the House as a political Assembly in two ways: The House of Lords, though not an elective, is strictly a representative, Assembly, and it does, in point of fact, represent very large classes in the country. But if you wish this representation to be effective, you must take care that it is sufficiently wide; and it is undoubtedly true that, for one reason or another, those classes whose wealth and power depend on commerce and mercantile industry do not find their representation in this House so large or so adequate as do those whose wealth and power depend upon the agricultural interest and landed property. We have, indeed, a certain number of mercantile Representatives in this House. They are admirable in every way, and I confess that if it were possible to increase their number the House would be a large gainer by the change. And it would be a gainer also in another way. We want, if possible, more representation of diverse views, and more antagonism. On certain subjects, it is true, we have antagonism enough—on Church subjects, for instance, and on the interesting question as to who should occupy the Benches opposite. But there arc a vast number of social questions deeply interesting to the people of this country, especially questions with reference to the health and moral condition of the people—and on which many Members of your Lordships' House are capable of throwing great light, and yet these subjects are not closely investigated here, because the fighting power is wanting, and the debates cannot be sustained. Now, if it were 949 possible that the machinery proposed by the noble Earl could be to any extent effective to correct this evil, the advantage to the deliberations of your Lordships' House would be very great indeed; and it was in that sense that I said I should like to see the proposition of the noble Earl carried further."—(3 Hansard,  463–4.)I regard that as a very weighty testimony in support of my argument. That speech was delivered in a discussion of a favourite remedy which has often been proposed to this House—the remedy of Life Peers. That is far too large a question to deal with at present; but I since the debate took place, by a sort of side wind, three official Life Peers have been introduced into this House, and I venture to submit to the better judgment of your Lordships' House whether it would not be a fair question on the part of this Committee to consider whether the principle might not with advantage be extended. My Lords, I do not know if it would be possible, in regard to the representation of classes, to adopt at all the principle which, in judging matters, is called the principle of assessors, and in the Congress of the United States is called the principle of delegates—I mean consultative and temporary Representatives, persons who may be summoned to "deliberate and advise," instead of to "deliberate and determine," in the old form of the Rules of the Judges of this country. But what representative elements does that House include? It is difficult to see more than three—the Church, the hereditary principle, and landed property. There is no need to discuss these on this occasion. I am not considering the points on which this House is strongest; I am endeavouring to point out some of the weaknesses and deficiencies in this House; but I should like to make a remark as to the position of the Church in this House. We have 26 Bishops and seven Peers. The Church is represented in this House, therefore, by the favour of the Crown, largely tempered by the chances of survival. I remember pointing out in 1878 the great disadvantages which would accrue to this House when the seven Bishoprics then in contemplation were all filled up, because the junior Bishop of the seven would have to wait for six vacancies on the Episcopal Bench before he could enter your Lordships' House. I will give you one illustration 950 of what the disadvantage of that may be. The most brilliant speech I have probably ever heard in this House was the speech of the Bishop of Peterborough on the Irish Church Act of 1869. If these seven Bishoprics had not been in existence at the time the Bishop of Peterborough had been made a Bishop, he would not have been in the House until the year 1878; and we would have lost one of the principal ornaments of this House until that time. The creation of Bishoprics is very largely increasing, rather in deference to the spiritual wants of localities—and very properly so—than to the increased efficiency of this House; and I venture to point out that if these Bishoprics go on being numerically extended, it will be absolutely necessary, if we do not wish Bishops to enter this House when they are too old to adapt themselves to the forms and methods of the House, and if we wish them to enter before they are superannuated, it will be absolutely necessary to adopt the principle of delegation. With regard to property, the House of Lords represents a great deal of land; but there is even a change with regard to that. When the House of Lords consisted largely of a territorial aristocracy, the land was the main source and sign of wealth in this country. That has long ceased to be so. The great fortunes made in commerce exceed all the landed income by a very great deal, except such of your Lordships as are fortunate enough to possess urban property. Not merely has land decreased in its relative value, but in the last few years it has decreased in absolute value. That seems to me to affect largely the relations of this House, as being the mainstay and representation of property. I will take another point worthy of consideration. When this House was the House of territorial aristocracies, it was composed of Members who had properties which were, practically, inalienable; but that has long ceased to be the case. The legislation passed by the noble and learned Earl opposite (Earl Cairns), and the legislation for Scotland, in which I had some hand, has made it possible for any Member of this House to alienate his estates. That that alienation of land is going on at a rapid rate cannot be doubted by anyone who watches the course of events. The other day The Times published the largest num- 951 ber it has ever 'published; and why? Because it had six pages of advertisements of land for sale. No one can shut his eves to the fact that this must make a great change in this House. It is quite true that, as men become wealthy, they are very liable to be made Peers; but it cannot be disguised that the connection of the present Peerage with property in land may be, to a very large extent, affected by the causes to which I have alluded. But I will take this comfort to myself—that if this House had contained all the wealthiest men in the country, it would be so much the worse for this House. I confess that, in these days, when the taxes on property become more frequent, I think there would be considerable danger to the existence and security of this House if it contained all the men of the largest property. The Emperor Nero is supposed to have wished that all his enemies had but one neck, that he might, with one blow of his sword, put an end to them all; and a body, mainly composed of all the great owners of property, more especially of landed property, becomes a mere target for attack, and concentrates upon itself the hostility and rapacity of all other classes. Only to give one instance, to show how dangerous it may be to an Institution to become overloaded, I will take the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. That Church, at the time of the Reformation, is said to have possessed—I am speaking from memory—at least three-fifths of the land of Scotland. What was the result? That Church was found to be extremely powerful, yet its Disestablishment only took a single day to accomplish. That was the result of having too much property. I should be glad to see this House strengthened by a greater accession of men who have wealth in land; but I should be sorry to see it become the most contemptible Assembly in the world — an Assembly of plutocrats. Having discussed the actual state of this House, and having ventured to point out some deficiencies in this House, which, I think, are matters not unworthy of your Lordships' attention, I venture to say in this century in which we live there is especial necessity to notice this subject. We are living in the full blaze of the 19th century. Every Institution is canvassed and examined; there is no hope that we can escape in- 952 quiry, and I do not believe we wish to escape inquiry. As it is, we do not escape inquiry. There are voices both from within and from without calling for some such inquiry as that which I have advocated. The voices from without demand both revision and improvement. I need hardly say I should never think of asking your Lordships to accord this Committee from any fear of reform. If no higher motive would induce your Lordships to consider the matter, I should say that reform has come too late. Bodies that begin to reform themselves when the hand of the destroyer is upon them do not live to complete the task. It was too late for the Senate to deliberate when the Gaul was in their midst; it was too late for the House of Commons to discuss abstract questions when Cromwell was at the Table. It will be too late to move for any Select Committee when the voice which calls for radical reform or abolition becomes loud and universal. I would not ask any high-minded Body to deliberate under a menace. But what is heard now is not a demand for abolition. It is a calm discussion of the position and utility of this House; inquiries as to the possibility of propping up this ancient structure; schemes for improvement, not plans for destruction; and I firmly believe what the people of England want is no abolition and no violent reform of this House, but simply to have as efficient a Second Chamber as can be furnished. Now, my Lords, this public opinion makes itself heard in every speech that is delivered on the subject. It makes itself heard in every magazine that is published; it makes itself heard in all the newspapers. If your Lordships wished to shut your ears you could not but hear, and if you wished not to see you could not but see; but I believe it is your Lordships' anxiety both to hear and to see; and it is for that reason I am bringing forward this proposition to-night. I am strengthened in this belief by many circumstances both public and private, but mainly by the fact that, besides the voices from without that call for amendment or reconstruction, there are also voices from within. My noble Friend on the Cross Benches has written an article in which, though vindicating the general position of your Lordships' House, he called for some revision of its Business arrange- 953 ments. My noble Friend (the Earl of Dunraven) has lately contributed an article in which he makes some stringent suggestions as to the alteration of the procedure of this House; and an hon. Member who sits in the other House—the eldest son of a Peer who sits in this House—I mean Mr. Brodrick, a Member of the Conservative Party—has published in a Conservative review an article calling for some revision or some remodelling of the constitution of this House. He discussed plans; but it is not my business to discuss plans in connection with my Motion. That is a matter for the Committee. I welcome any practical suggestion, more especially from those who have sat in this House, who know the work of it, and who are convinced that something may be done in the way of reform. I am not in love with paper Constitutions and paper Second Chambers. The Abbé de Sieves would have constructed a dozen such Chambers in a week; but none of them would have lasted longer than that period. I have given my reasons why I believe some measure of inquiry is requisite. Let me now say briefly why I have adopted the method of a Select Committee. A Select Committee with regard to a measure of importance may be one of two things. It may either be a hatching machine or a sepulchre; it may either be the grave or the vivifying principle of any measure which is submitted to it. I am anxious for this Committee to be a hatching machine. I am anxious that those who have practical and substantial suggestions for the reform of this House may bring them to this Committee, and may, if they are substantial, receive strength and endorsement from the proceedings of this Committee. If, however, the schemes which may be brought before the Committee are addled, I am anxious that they should remain so. I would have the Committee as large as you like, or as small as you like. In my humble opinion, the larger it might be made the better it would be; but what I would ask would be that it should be as largely and broadly representative of the different sections and interests in this House as possible; that it should fully and fairly, and with unprejudiced mind, inquire whether the status, the basis, and the scope of your Lordships' House can be improved. It may be as slow 954 and gradual as it chooses, as long as it gives an exhaustive consideration to the subject. If it found that the procedure or position of this House can be amended, it would then be its duty to report a scheme. If it came to the conclusion that the position of this House was absolutely perfect, it would then be its duty to give its reasons for this conclusion. But, it may be asked, why, instead of the uncertain medium of a Select Committee, do you not bring a substantial proposition before the House? I think there is a very good reason for that. I should not care to proceed summarily in a matter of such vital importance, even if I had the power of doing it. I do not believe that any individual in your Lordships' House—not even the noble Marquess who leads the other side, or the noble Earl who leads this side—would have the slightest chance of carrying any substantial proposition by his own unaided authority in this House. I may be wrong, but that is the strong conclusion to which I have come; and I need hardly say, if they have no chance, my chances would be small indeed. But I am inclined to believe that your Lordships might not be unwilling to listen to any well-considered proposition proceeding from a well-chosen Committee of this House; and it is for that reason, mainly, I have adopted that proceeding on this occasion. I know it is urged—a sort of metaphorical argument—that this House is so ancient a structure that it is better not to touch it, lest it fall about our ears; but if I pursue that argument to its logical conclusion, I should say it is a somewhat dangerous one to urge, because if the House is in such a condition that it will not bear to be touched, it does not need much foresight to see that it will soon become an unsafe structure. I do not believe that the argument is used by anybody in this House. I believe it is used by the false friends of this House, or, if I may borrow a phrase from Sir Stafford North-cote, by the "bonnets" of this House; and I do not think it is one of which further notice may be taken, except to point out that, if it has any validity at all, it has a painful validity upon this Assembly. I believe the House and the nation will not take this view of the House of Lords, and that it would view with the greatest satisfaction the spectacle of this House, without outward 955 pressure of any kind, endeavouring to reform itself and examine its own construction. I believe such a proceeding would have a most salutary effect on public opinion; and, my Lords, as we have no constituencies, it is on public opinion that this House must rest for its true strength. I have to thank your Lordships for the patience with which you have listened to me, and have to apologize sincerely for the length of my observations. I do not think it would have been respectful to introduce so large a subject without some statement of the reasons which have induced me to do so. But before I lay my Motion on the Table, I would ask one favour at the hands of your Lordships. It is that in considering this proposition you should consider it without any prepossession as to the quarter from which it comes. No one knows better than myself the insignificance of the individual who now addresses you. I can assure you, from the bottom of my heart, that I would gladly have waited and stepped into the background if anybody of more importance had taken up the question. But we who are the friends of Reform have waited long enough. "Rusticus expectat dum de fluit amnis" which may be freely translated by "One may die of thirst while the river runs away." I feel that every day of the postponement of this question does harm. Every day that passes over this House, and that confirms the outside public in the belief that this House is very unwilling or afraid to investigate its own position, does harm. As to the Party side of the question, apart from the individual aspect of my Motion, I have simply to say that there is no Party side, because it is a matter of general and universal interest. But I will say this—that no more Conservative Motion, in the highest and best sense of the word, has ever, in my time, been submitted to this House. I have no doubt that noble Lords opposite will not consider me the most suitable exponent of the Conservative creed; but I think they will allow that Conservatism is not petrefaction, or blindness, or deafness, or a folding of the hands in sleep; but that the truest Conservatism consists in seasonable, moderate, and timely reform. After six centuries of unchanged existence, no one can consider it a premature proposition that a Committee for 956 the investigation of the system, of this House should be proposed on this occasion. But that is all that this proposition pledges your Lordships to do. It has no larger meaning and no larger scope than that. It may surely be called a moderate and a Conservative proposition. I have used the word Conservative in its highest and best sense; but, in its mere Party sense, I venture to say it is an advantageous proposition from a Conservative point of view. It can be no secret to your Lordships that the more ardent spirits of the Party to which I belong do not wish for the reform of the House of Lords. They wish for its abolition. They wish, with the view of uprooting it, to point it out both as unreforming and as unreformed. They wish to point it out as a mediaeval barque, stranded, by some strange chance or irony of time, across the teeming harbour of the 19th century, and acting only as an obstacle to more active and useful shipping. When you wish to disestablish an Institution, you do not permit it to reform itself; you shut it out from air and light. You prevent any refreshing and beneficent influence from reaching it, and gradually you put in progress that decay to which it is your intention to appeal as the prognostic of approaching dissolution. I hope your Lordships will not play the game of your enemies on this occasion, but entertain a moderate proposition for inquiry and reform. More especially do I urge it at this moment, when the House of Commons, for the third time in less than 60 years, is broadening and strengthening and increasing its own foundations, and when, within the last two years, the House of Commons has devoted an entire Session to the amelioration of its own procedure. I think the rejection of inquiry at such a moment as this would present not merely a bad appearance, but would indicate a real defect. If these considerations are not sufficient to induce your Lordships to grant my proposition, let me bring forward the most practical consideration within my power. It is this—It is our mysterious destiny to sit within this House. I think, under these circumstances, it is our obvious duty, as well as it is our obvious interest, to make this House as powerful and as respectable as possible. The doors of this House only open inwards. I dare say if they opened outward as well 957 —if there were any chance of their being thrown open—that some of your Lordships who wished for the enlargement of the scope of this House would be willing to relapse into an attitude of expectancy. But there is no such prospect. The sole chance of political usefulness that lies to your Lordships lies within the walls of this House; the sole chance of increasing your opportunities of political usefulness lies in developing, in increasing1, and in strengthening the power of this House. I venture to think that any such strengthening must be preceded by inquiry, and it is for that reason that I venture to ask your endorsement of the slight, the gradual, and the moderate proposition for an inquiry which I lay before you on this occasion. If I might Bum up in one simple phrase what I believe the best friends of the House of Lords wish for, it would be this—As regards the individual, greater responsibility; as regards the body, the broadening of its foundations, and the enlargement of the scope of its opportunities. I believe that any measure you could adopt will have that object, and will make this House worthy to be remembered among all the illustrious generations of Peers which have preceded you. I would ask you in this connection to remember the eloquent words which were uttered by Mr. Burke, a name ever to be honoured in either House of Parliament. He said—We have a great hereditary heritage hero, those who have their own honour, and the honour of their ancestors, and of their posterity to guard.I think it is impossible to have a nobler conception of a hereditary Chamber, because it presents the aspect of a triple responsibility — a responsibility that governs the present, that has a finger to the future, and a finger to the past. I claim that the Peers who now inhabit this House are at least not inferior to the Peers who sat in judgment upon Warren Hastings; but I firmly believe that you will best fulfil that sublime function of guarding the honour of generations both living and dead, and of generations yet unborn, by embracing vigilantly every opportunity of testing the soundness of the structure of this House by examining its foundations, and by adding, as far as may be done, dignity, efficiency, strength, and power to that ancient In- 958 stitution of which you are the existing trustees.Moved, "That a Select Committee he appointed to consider the best means of promoting the efficiency of this House."—(The Earl Rosebery.)
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
said, that their Lordships would concur with him in congratulating the noble Earl opposite on the eloquence and the moderation, as well as the courage, with which he had introduced the subject. There was need for consideration of the motive power which actuated their Lordships' House. Not long ago a measure was on the second reading carried by seven votes; but in a subsequent Division it was negatived by three votes. There were 516 Peers, of whom eight were minors and six permanently employed abroad. Of those, 132, or upwards of one-quarter, were more than 70 years of age. Some of those noble Lords might be supposed to be unequal to the duties of their position. But they had no power to divest themselves of their functions; once a Peer always a Peer. In the other House a Member was at liberty to resign his seat; and the question was whether some such power ought not to be possessed by their Lordships. During the last Parliament, out of the 516 noble Lords only 332 spoke or voted. In 1876 the number was 330; in 1877, 369; in 1878, 303, and the maximum was reached in 1879, when the country was much interested in foreign affairs, and the number was 394. The average during the whole period was 345. That seemed to show that it would be none the worse if some of their Lordships resigned their legislative powers. There was among their Lordships a representative element in the Scotch and Irish Peers, of whom the former were elected for each Parliament and the latter for life. In a recent great Division only one Scotch Peer was absent, and that Peer held an official position, and did not wish to take part in the question. On the Division on the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, at which 336 Peers were present, only three Scotch Representative Peers were absent. Thus, if the proposed Committee entered upon the question of Representative Members of that House, they would only be increasing an element which already existed. Their Lordships had done away with proxies; but by the repeal of the Standing Order 959 they could be revived. It was undoubtedly true that the constitution of the House did not command so great respect as was desirable. The noble Earl had referred to the undoubted j talents of the Episcopal Bench and of the Lords of Appeal. There was no reason why the principle of Life Peerages should be confined to those two classes. The nation was not confined to the Three Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland; and he could not help thinking that if they could see their way to introducing into the House, either as Life Peers or as assessors, Representatives of the Colonies, some of those who had done good service in India, and who understood what were the opinions and feelings of the various races over whom we held sway, they would add to the weight and influence which they possessed in the country. There were, too, distinguished Generals and Admirals, who shrank from accepting hereditary Peerages from want of adequate fortune, who might make serviceable Members of that Assembly. It might be said that a handle would thereby be given to unscrupulous Ministers for Party purposes. But such methods had already been employed, and in 1711 and again in 1832 Peers had been created for the special purpose of carrying particular measures. There was no danger of that House losing its independent character. On the Compensation for Disturbance Bill no fewer than 15 Peers who had held Office in a Liberal Administration had voted against their Party. He would not enter into other reforms of the House, such as the absence of any appeal to a Speaker on points of Order, and of any authority to control irrelevance. He entirely agreed with what the noble Earl opposite had said. His proposal would no doubt stir up mixed feelings on this side of the House; but it was in truth and reality a most Conservative proposal. If they resisted reform they would only play into the hands of their opponents. Nothing would more effectually stem the tide of democracy than a satisfactory reform of their constitution and procedure. The electorate of this country was extremely fickle, as was shown by the General Elections of 1874 and 1880. Unless there were an efficient Second Chamber, political life would become nothing better than a scramble for place, 960 power, and profit; and in order to make their Lordships' House such a Chamber he would cordially support the Motion of the noble Earl.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
My Lords, I quite agree with my noble Friend who has made this Motion that this is not a Party question. It is one that concerns the whole House and the Conservative Party in it as much as the Liberal Party. It is a matter upon which the whole House should have an opinion, and not one upon which the Government need take the initiative in directing their followers. The noble Earl stated that he had never had a seat in the other House of Parliament. Many years ago I was a Member of that House, and I look back to those days with the greatest interest and pleasure. But I cannot forget that for the last 38 years my political, official, and Parliamentary life has been really centred in this House. Though holding those Liberal opinions which as a young man I adopted, still it is impossible for anyone so long connected with the House of Lords as I have been not to have a sort of Conservative feeling with regard to it. I have this feeling all the stronger owing to the kindness of my noble Friends in this House, and of the great indulgence that I have met with from noble Lords opposite. My noble Friend has brought forward a very important question in a most remarkably able speech—a speech characterized by more than his usual ability, by a variety and incisiveness and a sympathy which I am sure your Lordships heartily appreciate. My noble Friend says that we can hardly pretend that no reform is necessary when he instances the great advantages conferred on another Assembly by the reforms which have taken place with regard to it. The principal fault I have to find with the speech of my noble Friend is on account of the statement, two or three times repeated, that he himself proposed nothing to your Lordships. A great deal turns on that. If we adopt the words of his Motion, we shall be asserting and implying that there is inefficiency in this House. And I am very much afraid that if we made any such admission without seeing pretty clearly our way to the result of the Committee which the noble Earl desires to have appointed, we should be weakening and not strengthening this Assembly. The attributes of this House are judicial, 961 deliberative, and legislative. Thirty-eight years ago, when I entered the House, there were in it remarkable men, eminent statesmen, eloquent Prelates, great lawyers. I must say that I do not see the slightest degeneration in this respect at the present time. In regard to the judicial functions of the House, I am not sure that they are quite logical; but I believe that, with the assistance which it receives from its traditions, the legal decisions of this House have given the highest satisfaction to suitors and the public. With regard to the deliberative functions of the House, I do not believe that the power of debate is diminishing in this House; and in the speech of my noble Friend to-night we have had an illustration of this, and an indication that that power of debate is likely to be continued. With regard to legislation, I entirely agree with the opinion of my noble Friend that there is something of a scandal which does harm to this House in the fact that on ordinary occasions the attendance of noble Lords is not large, while upon the occasions of Party Divisions the Benches are absolutely crowded by those who do not seem to attend to politics at all. I own that that is a great grievance. I think the noble Earl would have done some good if he had pointed out how this could be prevented. If he had done so, I should have been more inclined to vote for his Motion. The question of the quorum, to which the noble Earl also alluded, is, I think, only a small one. There is no doubt that it is a grievance that Bills should be crowded into this House at the end of the Session; but what particular recommendation could the Committee make on that point? The noble Earl did not give us any indication.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I suggested that a Joint Committee of both Houses, by some amicable arrangement, should consider that matter.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I agree with the noble Earl that the system of Private Bills requires great revision. I think that the time and money that are spent is a scandal. But this is not a matter that the House of Lords by itself can deal with. It appears to me that it is a matter for a Joint Committee of both Houses, and that such a Committee might lead to very valuable results indeed. The noble Lord mentioned a 962 point of great importance—that there is a disadvantage in the fact that this House, with one exception, only represents one form and one section of religious belief. I agree with him on that point. I also quite agree that it is most desirable that rich men representing commerce and trade should become Members of this House; but I am afraid that in many cases their sons might become bankrupts in the next generation, or they might purchase an enormously valuable estate and become just as good landowners as the present Peers. I should also be glad to see an addition of literary, artistic, and scientific men to this House. No one rejoiced more than I did when Lord Macaulay entered the House, and when my noble Friend on the Cross Benches (Lord Houghton) was raised to the Peerage on account of his literary and also his political services. The recent accession of the Poet Laureate I regarded as a distinction to this House. I greatly regretted that your Lordships decided in the case of Lord Wensleydale that the Royal Prerogative should not be used for the creation of Life Peers. I believe that would have been of great use. As I understand my noble Friend, he, while guarding himself from any definite proposal, made special reference to the Senate of the United States. If the suggested Committee was to meet and proposed that the House of Lords was to have all the powers of that Senate in regard to international relations and other cognate subjects, I am afraid there would not be the slightest chance of any practical result arising from that recommendation. I cannot conceive anything more unlikely than that the House of Commons, which is now grown so powerful, would consent to confer on the House of Lords new and unprecedented privileges. In regard to the Life Peerages, that is a very different thing. My fear is, that if this Motion was now granted, we should have a mere fishing Committee from which we do not know what would issue. I am afraid that would not strengthen the House of Lords. But if on this point of Life Peerages there were an intimation from the opposite Benches that the. House would be likely to reconsider its opinion, I should be most anxious that a Committee should inquire into that subject. If there is no indication of that change of opinion, 963 and if we are merely to appoint a Committee which is almost certain to arrive at no satisfactory result, and which would not be supported by the House at large, I should be unwilling to vote for the Motion. I have not yet made up my mind what vote I shall give, and it will depend on the language of noble Lords opposite.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I venture to think that the last sentence of the noble Earl is scarcely consistent with his assertion that this is not a Party question. If it is not a Party question, it cannot matter two straws to the noble Earl what noble Lords on this side of the House think or say. My own feeling with respect to the Motion is, that, without for a moment laying down the doctrine that no change in this House is possible or desirable — a proposition which I would not lay down in regard to any institution—yet that we cannot vote for change in the abstract until we know the nature of the change which is to be made. To appoint a Select Committee such as that proposed by the noble Earl the Mover of this Motion, hardly seems to me the right method of proceeding, according to the precedents which we have to guide us. The noble Earl (the Earl of Rosebery), in the speech with which he introduced his Motion—and I may hero state that I fully concur in the eulogy passed by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs upon that speech, as one of the greatest eloquence and ability — in that speech the noble Earl referred especially to the precedent of the House of Commons as one that would guide us in attempting to reform this House. Well, the House of Commons was reformed, because it was alleged that it did not in its composition answer the Constitutional theory upon which it was based. I do not know that anybody has advanced such a doctrine with respect to this House; but, be that as it may, it is certain that the House of Commons was never reformed by referring its constitution to a Select Committee. When public opinion arrived at such a point that it was thought it was good to reform the House of Commons, and when that opinion was shared by the House of Commons itself, the mode of procedure was that the Government ascertained what was the measure that it was their duty to propose to Parlia- 964 ment, and, without shifting their responsibility to a Select Committee, they brought down that measure and laid it before Parliament. If there ever were any considerable reform desired in this House, and eventually carried out, I venture to say it will not be done by the previous appointment of a Select Committee. It will be done by some proposal coming from the Ministers of the Crown, as in the House of Commons. Then, again, I do not think sufficient ground has been shown for taking any action, either in the indication of the evils to be remedied, or the remedies to be applied. Take the question of numbers to which the noble Earl referred. He says it is a great evil that the ordinary attendances should be so small, and the attendances so large on an occasion of importance. I was surprised to hear that argument, until I remembered that the noble Earl has not passed much time in the House of Commons, because in the House of Commons it is the most ordinary phenomenon in the world. A question is debated there by very few persons for the greater part of the evening, and when the evening draws to a close and the Division Bell rings, numbers of Gentlemen who have been employing themselves quite as profitably elsewhere rush in. I do not believe a deliberative Assembly exists in which the ordinary attendances at common-place and routine work bear in any way a proportion to those which are to be found upon the occasions of critical and Party Divisions. Then there is another point which, no doubt, is a matter that requires great consideration, and that is the character of those who form the Members of this House; and I agree with the noble Earl that it is a misfortune that we have not persons of a faith different from that of the Church of England and Roman Catholics, and that it is a still greater misfortune that we have not representatives of the industry and commerce of this country in very much larger numbers. There are, no doubt, many subjects with which we cannot deal as thoroughly and efficiently as we could desire, and the presence of such representatives would greatly assist our deliberations. Such men have been raised to Peerages from time to time, and among them we may remember men like Lord Overstone and Lord Ashburton, and others; but they have 965 always been exposed to the difficulty—that in the second generation, if they remained in trade, the stability of their position was open to some doubt, and if they left trade, in the next generation they ceased to represent the industry on account of which they were created. The noble Earl said he would assent to this Committee if a certain intimation came from the other side; but I demur to that statement, as wholly inconsistent with, his doctrine that this is not a Party question. In what I am now going to say, I represent no one but myself. I undoubtedly have always held that the appointment of Life Peerages, if strictly limited so as to prevent the House from being swamped by the Prerogative of Ministers of the day, would increase the facility of the House for performing its proper Business, and strengthen both its reputation and ability. If the Crown possessed the power of creating an unlimited number of Life Peerages, the independence of this House would pass away; but there is no reason why they should not be limited either to an absolute number, or to a number to be created every year, which will effect the same object, and will, I believe, be a very large contribution to the power of this House to discharge its proper duties. But, my Lords, what is the real evil? Why is it that my noble Friend applies his matchless eloquence at this moment to the constitution of the House of Lords? There is one reason, but I cannot imagine that it would have any effect on his impartial mind, and that is because the majority in the House of Lords happens to be Conservative. But that, of course, is a phenomenon which is probably temporary, at all events in its present degree; and the circumstance that the majority in the House of Commons is large in the other direction, and that, to a certain extent, jealousy is aroused between the two Houses by the observance of that distinction, that is obviously the result of the peculiar circumstances of our own day, which will probably last a very few years, and on which it would be very unwise to base any legislation. But there is, no doubt, another reason—that everybody says that Parliament does not work, and that the machine is not going. Is that the fault of the House of Lords? I should say the real truth of the case is this. Parliament does not work; and 966 the other House, owing to circumstances peculiar to itself, is able to cover its inactivity by a profusion of words which gives the appearance of extreme energy and work, while we, unfortunately, have a tendency to taciturnity in this House which exposes the nakedness of our programme. If we only talked as much as the House of Commons, everybody would think we were just as active as they in effecting legislation. I will only say that if that is really the motive of my noble Friend, then the taciturnity of this House has become a great public evil, and I would earnestly ask my noble Friend to employ his oratory in trying to persuade noble Lords who sit here to take a more active part in the debates of this House than they do now. At the bottom of the question lies the essential difficulty of settling what is to be a Second Chamber in these days. Every sane man knows you must have a Second Chamber. It is generally admitted that, with one exception, this is the most efficient Second Chamber in the world, and that one exception, the Senate of the United States, is produced by circumstances and possesses power, and is the result of a condition of things wholly unlike anything which ever existed, or can possibly exist, in this country. Therefore, you are in the face of this position—that you must have a Second Chamber, and you have not anywhere an example of a better one than that of the House of Lords. I heartily concur in all the noble Lord has said as to the public interest involved in giving to this House all the strength and all the ability that can be obtained. I equally join him. in that pathetic reference to the mysterious destiny which has placed us inside a building where the doors only open in one direction; but I do not see that any advantage will be obtained by appointing a merely fishing Committee with no definite mission, with no clear Order of Reference to guide it. I should be very willing to consider any special proposals which the noble Earl, or anyone else, has to make; but if I may use language of the same kind as the noble Earl, I should say our Institutions were at this moment in the course of a somewhat rapid evolution; that changes are taking place not, perhaps, in their form, but in their substance, their relations, and their essential power; that these changes are affecting 967 the House of Commons far more powerfully than they are us, and that after a few years have passed very considerable differences will exist in the position and power and character of Parliament in this country; and unless some pressing need, unless some clear evil is shown, we should not take the present time of rapid transition to undertake gratuitous changes, the end of which no man can foresee.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
My Lords, I argued against the Motion of my noble Friend, in the form in which it stands, solely on the ground that I did not like to appoint a Committee without any specific view as to what was to come out of it, and I wished to know what sort of encouragement would be given from the opposite Benches as to any result coming from it. The noble Marquess argued very strongly against a general fishing Committee; but he has given a very strong opinion in favour of some limited creation of Life Peers. Now, that is a very important question, indeed, and one most worthy the attention of the Committee. I do not propose any definite plan with respect to it; but if my noble Friend (the Earl of Rosebery) would mark in his Motion that this is one of the objects with which the Committee is to act, I should most cordially vote with him.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
thanked the noble Lords who had spoken for the complimentary references made by them to the speech with which he had introduced the debate. He was inclined to think that behind the opposition in words which the noble Marquess opposite thought it to be his duty to show, there was a but thinly-disguised sentiment in favour of the proposal before the House. He fully appreciated the difficulties of the noble Marquess, who led a Party which was not supposed to be so much in favour of change as the Liberal Party. He must confess, however, that he was very much disappointed with the reply made by his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, From what had fallen from the noble Earl, it was only too clear that in this matter the Government had no fixed policy, and were content to hand over the guidance of the House to Her Majesty's Opposition. He made this remark in no carping spirit. He was a plain and humble individual, and he 968 took the language of the noble Earl to have a plain meaning. The noble Earl had, however, done one thing—he had robbed the proposal before the House of any Party character. The Committee which he proposed had been condemned as a "fishing" Committee, whatever that might mean, and because no indication was given of the objects which the Committee was to carry out. He thought, however, he had made it clear that it would be the duty of the Committee to suggest the best means of promoting the efficiency of the House; but he did not think that it was any part of his business to anticipate the resolutions that such a Committee might arrive at. He could not believe that there was any serious danger to the Constitution to be apprehended from such an inquiry, because he believed that that House was as safe in the hands of a Committee of its own Members as it would be in those of the House itself. The criticism which his proposal had provoked might have induced the belief that the Select Committee was not to be appointed by their Lordships, but, by those gentlemen who were good enough to spend their time in scattering explosives about the country. He reminded their Lordships, moreover, that if his Motion were agreed to, the Committee would not be nominated by him, but by some of their Lordships who were more experienced in these matters; and it was known how careful their Lordships were to select the proper Members. The noble Earl argued that his proposal for the appointment of a Committee to promote the efficiency of their Lordships' House indicated the existence of inefficiency, and was, therefore, a slight upon the House. That was an extraordinary interpretation to put upon his language. Now, he (the Earl of Rosebery) did not profess to be a master of English; but if he had wanted to say that there was any inefficiency in their Lordships' House he thought that he would have been able to say so. All that he said was, that however efficient their Lordships' House was it might be made still more efficient. The noble Earl had referred to Private Bill Legislation, and had expressed his willingness for a Committee to be appointed to consider that subject, and he had also said that he was willing to appoint a Committee to consider the question of Life Peerages. Both these 969 subjects would be considered by the Committee which he proposed to appoint, and, therefore, he did not see the ground there was for complaint that had been made against it. The noble Earl also said he was somewhat of a Conservative as regarded this House, and had become so by long residence. But at this moment the Ministry of which the noble Earl was a most distinguished ornament was bringing in one of the most drastic measures of Reform bearing upon the other House of Parliament, yet the noble Earl was not prepared to bring one-hundreth part of the reforming zeal evinced in that measure to bear upon their Lordships' House. The noble Earl had said that the question of the Quorum was a very small question; but that observation reminded him of the plea which was made in regard to the illegitimate child—that it was a very small one, and might very well be overlooked. He should feel it his duty to divide the House, and he should do so with the remark that the Division would show who were earnest, and zealous, and true in the cause of reform, and who were not.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I feel it to be absolutely necessary for me to say a few words after the second speech of the noble Earl. I do not think the noble Earl quite understands the position taken up by my noble Friend (Earl Granville). I may mention that the question of Life Peerages was fully and most ably discussed some years ago, when a very considerable majority of your Lordships decided against the system. Now, this House is not like the House of Commons, in whose composition there is from time to time a great change. The composition of this House remains practically the same, and in the absence of proof that a large majority in this House desire to change its composition, it would be idle to inquire into the subject of the institution of Life Peerages. I have always felt very doubtful about the expediency of Life Peerages myself; but if it is thought that by some such system you could introduce into the House some well-known men in commerce and trade, I should be very glad that the question should be considered. It is not by any means a safe thing to place the whole constitution of this House into the power of a Committee. I do not think it dignified for this House to discuss the reasons for its existence before a Committee, espe- 970 cially when nothing may come of an inquiry except a ridiculus mus. To throw such questions as that of the Quorum and that of Life Peerages—questions which affect in a great degree the reputation of the House—to throw them before a Select Committee, without any indication of the general feeling of the House, would be the worst step that could be taken. It is not fair to impute a want of reforming zeal to the Government, just because they cannot see their way to accept so wide and comprehensive an investigation as the noble Earl wants to embark upon. It would not be, I will not say Constitutional, but certainly not dignified for the House to engage in an inquiry so vague, and, at the same time, so little calculated to lead to practical results. I feel so strong a sympathy with my noble Friend in his main objects, that I entreat him not to place us in a position in which we shall be forced to vote against his proposal, and be made to appear hostile to all reform in the constitution of the House.
§ EARL CAIRNS
Some years ago the question of Life Peerages was brought before the House, and no one then, thought it necessary to have a Select Committee. A Bill on the subject was brought in by Lord Russell, and was read a second time on the understanding that the character of the checks to be established should be fully considered in Committee. Some Amendments were accordingly inserted in Committee; but subsequently the House changed its mind, and rejected the Bill at the stage of Third Reading by a considerable majority.
§ THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
suggested that his noble Friend (the Earl of Rosebury) should make Life Peerages a leading point in the Reference to the Committee. If that was done, it might be accepted by the Government, and might relieve Peers on that side from the embarrassment of dividing against the Leader of the House. He sincerely hoped it was still possible to find a modus vivendi.
also appealed to the noble Earl not to divide the House after the course which the debate had taken, inasmuch as a Division would be the cause of some considerable practical inconvenience. Many noble Lords sympathized largely with the speech of the noble Earl; and those who did not 971 sympathize with it must have admired it; but they did not like the form in which the subject of inquiry by the proposed Committee stood on the Paper. Even the noble Earl himself must admit that the terms of his Motion were extremely wide, and that a Committee might go on inquiring for a very long time without exhausting the scope of the Reference.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, a greater amount of sympathy with the Motion existed on the Government Benches than the noble Earl seemed to think. What his noble Friend objected to was a general, absolute, and unlimited inquiry, without any Reference to indicate the particular object to which it was to be directed. He was, however, authorized to say that if his noble Friend would put into his Motion a special reference to Life Peerages, so that it should appear that that was the subject which the proposed Committee was particularly to inquire into, the Government would support him.
§ THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
said, he did not think that the constitution of their Lordships' House ought to be referred to a Committee; but if such a proposal was made, it ought to be on the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. If the noble Earl did not say, he implied that that House did not conduct its Business well. On the contrary, he maintained that the Business of their Lordships' House was well done; and if anything was wanting in that respect, it was owing to the late period at which important measures were brought before the House. If Her Majesty's Government would bring measures before the House at an earlier period, the case would be different. He was entirely opposed to the Motion.
§ LORD TRURO
urged that his noble Friend should give a specific Reference to the Committee by saying that it was to inquire into the expediency of creating Life Peerages. Some years ago the question was whether the Crown had the power to create them; but now the question would be different. He was of opinion, however, that after the speeches of the Foreign Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition, it would be both impolitic and inexpedient to agree to the Motion.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
said, he thought whenever that House had to consider the question of Life Peerages 972 it should have two things—first, the proposition should be made on the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government; and, secondly, more than five minutes' Notice should be given of it. He should vote against the present proposal of the Government, not because he objected to Life Peerages, but because it was an extravagant violation of the ordinary practice of the House to throw it on the Table at such short Notice. It was evidently not part of the settled plan of the Government, and was only adopted by them when, after the debate, they had succeeded in finding out that some of their opponents were in favour of it.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
said, that, after the appeal of the Government, he had no objection to his Motion being so amended as to read—That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the best means, by Life Peerages or otherwise, of promoting the efficiency of this House.That seemed to him to cover the ground.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
said, he had determined not to vote at all; but after what had been stated by the noble Earl, he should feel it his duty distinctly to vote against the Motion.
§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
was understood to say that he had intented to go into the Lobby with the noble Earl, because he thought the inquiry might have elicited a good deal of information; but after the change which was now proposed to be made, he could not vote with his noble Friend.
§ LORD BRABOURNE
said, he thought that as an unjust outcry had been raised against their Lordships' House, they would do wisely to consent to the Motion, in order to see whether there were any means by which the efficiency of the House might be increased. Even if the proposed words were inserted, it would be open to the Committee to inquire into the whole subject opened by the noble Earl.
§ EARL CAIRNS
did not think the noble Earl could amend his Motion without the permission of the House.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
said, he was entirely in the hands of their Lordships. He, however, preferred his original Motion.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, he was quite ready to move the Amendment which, had been suggested, if the noble 973 Earl thought it more regular for him to do so.
§ Amendment moved, to insert after ("promoting") the words ("by life peerages or otherwise".)—(The Earl Granville.)
§ On Question? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 44; Not-Contents 86: Majority 42.974
|Selborne, E. (L. Chancellor.)||Carlingford, L.|
|Grafton, D.||Hopetoun, L. (E. Hopetoun.)|
|Saint Albans, D.|
|Northampton, M.||Houghton, L.|
|Cowper, E.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Derby, E.||Loftus, L. (M. Ely.)|
|Fortescue, E.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Kimberley, E.||Monson, L. [Teller.]|
|Minto, E.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Mount-Temple, L.|
|Sydney, E.||Ramsay, L. (E. Dalhousie.)|
|Gordon, V. (E. Aberdeen.)||Reay, L.|
|Rosebery, L. (E. Rosebery.)|
|Sherbrooke, V.||Skene, L. (E. Fife.)|
|Belper, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.) [Teller.]||Ventry, L.|
|Bramwell, L.||Wrottesley, L.|
|Breadalbane, L. (E. Breadalbane.)||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
|Abercorn, M. (D. Abercorn.)||Milltown, E.|
|Salisbury, M.||Mount Edgcumbe, E.|
|Annesley, E.||Ravensworth, E.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Redesdale, E.|
|Bradford, E.||Romney, E.|
|Brownlow, E.||Rosse, E.|
|Cadogan, E.||Selkirk, E.|
|Cairns, E.||Strathmore and Kinghorn, E.|
|Coventry, E.||Wharncliffe, E.|
|De La Warr, E.||Zetland, E.|
|Feversham, E.||Bolingbroke and St. John, V.|
|Hardwicke, E.||Clancarty, V. (E. Clancarty.)|
|Lathom, E. [Teller.]||Gough, V.|
|Leven and Melville, E.||Hardinge, V.|
|Lovelace, E.||Hawarden, V. [Teller.]|
|Lucan, E.||Hood, V.|
|Manvers, E.||Melville, V.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Strathallan, V.|
|Templetown, V.||Mostyn, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Oranmore and Browne, L|
|Ashford, L. (V. Bury.)|
|Bagot, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Balfour, L.||Poltimore, L.|
|Brabourne, L.||Rayleigh, L.|
|Carysfort, L. (E. Carysfort.)||Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)|
|Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Saltoun, L.|
|Shute, L. (V. Barrington.)|
|Colville of Culross, L.||Silchester, L. (E. Longford.)|
|de Ros, L.|
|Digby, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Dinevor, L.||Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)|
|Egerton, L.||Stratheden and Campbell, L.|
|Foxford, L. (E. Limerick.)||Strathnairn, L.|
|Gerard, L.||Truro, L.|
|Harlech, L.||Walsingham, L.|
|Hay, L. (E. Kinnoul.)||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Kenlis, L. (M. Headfort.)|
|Ker, L. (M. Lothian.)||Winmarleigh, L.|
|Lyveden, L.||Wynford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative.
§ LORD STRATHNAIRN
explained that he voted in the wrong Lobby; he intended to have voted against the Amendment.
§ On Question, "That the original Motion be agreed to?" Their Lordships divided:—Contents 38; Not-Contents 77: Majority 39.975
|Grafton, D.||Hopetoun, L. (E. Hopetoun.)|
|Saint Albans, D.|
|Brownlow, E.||Houghton, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Inchiquin, L.|
|Hardwicke, E.||Loftus, L. (M. Ely.)|
|Minto, E.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Onslow, E. [Teller.]||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|Wharncliffe, E.||Ramsay, L. (E. Dalhousie.)|
|Gordon, V. (E. Aberdeen.)||Reay, L.|
|Rosebery, L. (E. Rosebery.) [Teller.]|
|Skene, L. (E. Fife.)|
|Belper, L.||Stratheden and Campbell, L.|
|Bramwell, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Calthorpe, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Walsingham, L.|
|Egerton, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
|Abereorn, M. (D. Abercorn.)||Salisbury, M.|
|Northampton, M.||Annesley, E.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.)|
|Cairns, E.||Carysfort, L. (E. Carysfort.)|
|Coventry, E.||Cloncurry, L.|
|Cowper, E.||de Ros, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Digby, L.|
|Devon, E.||Dinevor, L.|
|Feversham, E.||Donington, L.|
|Haddington, E.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Jersey, E.||Foxford, L. (E. Limerick.)|
|Lathom, E.||Gerard, L.|
|Leven and Melville, E.||Harlech, L.|
|Lovelace, E.||Hay, L. (E. Kinnoul.)|
|Lucan, E.||Hylton, L.|
|Manvers, E.||Kenlis, L. (M. Headfort.)|
|Mar and Kellie, E.|
|Milltown, E. [Teller.]||Lyveden, L.|
|Morton, E.||Mostyn, L.|
|Powis, E.||Mount-Temple, L.|
|Redesdale, E. [Teller.]||North, L.|
|Romney, E.||Oranmore and Browne, L.|
|Selkirk, E.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Zetland, E.||Poltimore, L.|
|Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)|
|Bolingbroke and St. John, V.|
|Clancarty, V. (E. Clancarthy.)||Shute, L. (V. Barrington.)|
|Gough, V.||Silchester, L. (E. Longford.)|
|Hawarden, V.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Melville, V.||Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)|
|Strathallan, V.||Tollemache, L.|
|Templetown, V.||Ventry, L.|
|Wemyas, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Ashford, L. (V. Bury.)||Windsor, L.|
|Bagot, L.||Winmarleigh, L.|
|Balfour of Burley, L.||Wynford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative.