HL Deb 06 March 1888 vol 323 cc325-8

said, their Lordships would, recollect that in the early part of this Session a Notice was put on the Paper by the noble Earl (the Earl of Dunraven) to the effect that he would move— That, in the opinion of this House, it has become desirable to alter and improve the constitution of the House; and that a Committee be appointed to report and inquire thereon. That Notice was set down for Tuesday, the 6th of March. On Thursday last the noble Earl gave Notice that he withdrew that Motion, but that he would lay on the Table a Bill containing his propositions. Their Lordships were, of course, naturally anxious to see what those propositions were, as the subject was one of great interest and of great importance. On Saturday last his attention was called to a notice in The Daily News couched in very remarkable terms, and which no doubt attracted a great deal of attention. The notice was as follows:— Lord Dunraven's House of Lords Reform Bill.—The Central News understands that the Bill for the reform of the House of Lords, of which the Earl of Dunraven gave Notice last evening, will propose to limit the number of Peers, the number fixed upon to be elected in equal proportion by the existing Peers, the new County Boards, and the Crown and the Prince of Wales, and the Law Lords to sit by virtue of their office. The measure will also provide that Members of the Upper House guilty of misconduct shall be dealt with by a properly-constituted tribunal, that the sons of Life Peers shall not enjoy courtesy titles, that Cabinet Ministers may speak in either House, and that Peers not elected to the Upper Chamber may be eligible for election to the House of Commons. He confessed he was somewhat startled, perhaps he should rather say astounded, at this notice. Their Lordships would see that, according to the paragraph, the Bill embraced first the entire disestablishment of that House and sending it altogether away, and that it settled the number of the new House of Lords. They would assume for the moment that the number should be settled at 300; distribution of that number might be taken to be 75 to be chosen by the Crown, 75 by the Prince of Wales, 75 by the new County Boards, and that to their Lordships would be left 75—but from what sources?—including the creation of a tribunal to deal with Members guilty of any misconduct. Excluding for misconduct might embrace everything from murder down to the most trivial offences. He had no desire whatever to intrude himself into this question, in which he had only an individual interest as one of the public at large. But it seemed to him to be so important as to warrant him in departing from ordinary precedent by putting a Question to a private Member of that House, especially as that private Member had laid the foundation of the question by withdrawing the Notice he had given and substituting another—namely, that he would present to their Lordships a Bill containing his propositions on the subject. It had struck him that there might be something authentic in the paragraph, and therefore he thought it desirable that some inquiry should be made about it. He did not seek at the present moment to initiate any discussion upon the question or to enter upon any controversial matter. He simply sought for an Answer to the Question of which he had given the noble Earl private Notice. He had given him Notice of two Questions, but the one which he now intended to ask was whether the notice which he had read from The Daily News of Saturday last contained and expressed the substance or an approximation to the substance of the measure which the noble Earl had given Notice that he would lay on the Table of the House. He sincerely hoped that their Lordships might be able to get an answer to this Question, and that the answer would be in the negative.


, in reply, said, that he had looked at the paragraph which the noble and learned Lord had quoted, and that he shared in the astonishment with which the noble and learned Lord had regarded it. The noble and learned Lord asked him whether the statement made in The Daily News on the authority of The Central News, approached approximately to his ideas on the subject of what might be necessary for the reform of the constitution of that House. It was somewhat difficult to say whether a proposition rather wide did or did not approach approximately to propositions which might he held to be sound and legitimate; but so far as regarded the statement all he had say about it was this, that, as far as he was concerned, it was an entirely unauthorized programme. The impossibility of it was patent on the face of the propositions themselves, because he was made to say that he intended to do things which, in the nature of them, appeared to him to be absolutely impossible. He was made in that paragraph to desire to interfere with rights which were inherent in the Crown, and to interfere with the law of the land by constituting some special tribunal. He did not know what might happen to a man in the present day who attempted anything of that kind; but, at any rate, he had no desire whatever to run the risk of losing his liberty in a lunatic asylum or his head on Tower Hill. It was also said that he desired that the sons of Life Peers should not enjoy courtesy titles. He rather fancied that the sons of Law Lords did not get courtesy titles at all, and to take away from a man that which he did not possess would surpass the transcendent power of Parliament itself. He would therefore answer the Question of the noble and learned Lord with a distinct negative. The propositions their Lordships had hoard did not represent his views on this great subject. It was impossible for him to say when it was probable that he would lay his Bill on the Table. Their Lordships would understand the great difficulty of drafting a Bill of this complicated nature, and all he could say was that he should use his best endeavours to lay it on the Table as soon as was practicable.