THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
, in rising to call attention to the constitution of this House, and to move that a Committee be appointed to inquire thereon, 1549 said: My Lords, in rising to put before you the Motion of which I have given Notice, my first duty is to render my acknowledgment to my noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Dunraven), who, having given Notice of a Motion practically of the same character in ignorance of the Notice I had given publicly last Session, kindly withdrew it on being acquainted with that fact.
My Lords, it was my fate nearly four years ago to introduce a Motion to your Lordships of a character very similar to this, and I think the one that which submit to you to-day is in a measure consequential upon the former one. I should have renewed that Motion before now had it not been for circumstances beyond my control. The year after I had brought it forward I descended from that eminence of freedom, the Benches behind the Front Bench, and took part as a Member of the Government in the Session of 1885; in the Session of 1886 I was in the same position; and I think your Lordships will acknowledge that in the Session of 1887, when I was no longer in that position, the time was by no means favourable to the renewal of that Motion. In 1886 I should have had to ask for the attention of my Colleagues when they were absorbed in another and more pressing matter; and in 1887 it would have been rather difficult to attract the attention of the public to this subject. So I come to this year, which appears to me to offer an admirable opportunity for the discussion of this question. I shall endeavour to bring it before your Lordships in a manner as free as possible from all Party bias, though it is absolutely impossible to avoid all Party questions in a matter of this character.
On a former occasion I urged that all other institutions in this country had undergone renewal or reform, and that it was not premature to urge upon your Lordships' House the need of some such measure. In the second place, I recapitulated the names of a number of Peers then in the House to show that it contained materials for, perhaps, the best Second Chamber in the world. Thirdly, I indicated further details of our procedure which seemed to me to require reconsideration and revision. Fourthly, I detailed some of the deficiencies of our Constitution, and pointed 1550 out the various elements from which we might be strengthened and reinforced; and, fifthly, I pointed out generally the dangers to which our composition made-us liable. To-night I shall not require to go over any part of the same ground. It is necessary to strike deeper, because the question has taken a larger and a newer phase since then, and there is so much ground to go over that it would be difficult to accomplish such a discussion in the time.
Much has occurred since that occasion. Immediately afterwards there was a debate on the Franchise Bill, which was rejected by your Lordships' House; that was followed by a great agitation throughout the country—an agitation which, owing to that—to my mind—unfortunate circumstance, took a direction not so much in favour of the Franchise Bill as towards the reform, the mending, or the ending of your Lordships' House. I remember that two of my Colleagues in the Government of 1885 expressed themselves strongly in favour of ending this House; one in the Government of 1886 expressed himself to the same effect, and I was left almost alone in the Government on that side of the question, pleading to a somewhat listless country the advantages of a Second Chamber. That agitation died away, but loft serious results, because I think it left on the minds of most thinking men the impression that something must be done, and that this House could not remain as it was, more especially after the Franchise Bill had placed it side by side with a strong, powerful, and democratic Assembly.
Now I pass from that incident to another. In 1885, the year succeeding our debate upon this question, there was a great reform effected in the Upper House of Hungary, a House constructed substantially on the same principles as our own, but a mere infant in ago as compared with it, dating, I think, only from the beginning of the 17th century. That showed that the question of reform of Second Chambers was in the air. The Hungarian House consisted of some 750 Members, with some 206 families hereditarily represented in it. These families are now reduced to 91 by a property qualification, but 21 of these families command no less than 115 votes in that 1551 Assembly, two alone having 30 Representatives between them. The number of that House is about 400; there are 50 Life Peers, in the first place elected by the Chamber itself and subsequently nominated by the Crown. That shows that the Hungarian House were alive to the question of reform and the unwieldiness of their numbers. But we also, since 1884, have had some experience bearing upon the latter of these two questions.
Now it is always taken for granted in works of history and in speeches on this question that Mr. Pitt was a great sinner in respect to adding to the number of this House. It was usually supposed that Pitt, in his tenure of Office, recommended the addition of no fewer than 140 Peers; but I have gone over these figures somewhat carefully, and I think that Mr. Pitt in this case—as in some other instances—is unjustly maligned. Mr. Pitt, as far as I can make out from Beatson's Political Index, was the means of creating or further elevating some 122 Peers; exclusive of Peers of the Blood Royal—who are on a totally different footing—and Peeresses in their own right. But I do not think that this is a fair statement of the case with respect to Mr. Pitt, because of this number 40 were persons elevated to other ranks of the Peerage, already being Peers at the time; 36 were Scotch or Irish Peers, and I venture to think that this principle will recommend itself to your Lordships, that Irish and Scotch Peers are not in the same position as Commoners when raised to Peerages of the United Kingdom, but are rather in the nature of an amalgamation than of an extraneous addition to this House. Therefore, we are loft with the clear addition to your Lordships' House of 46 Peers in 17 years of office.
I do not take his second Administration, because, like the Hundred Days of Napoleon, it was very unlike his first tenure of power, and he left, then, no substantial addition to the House of Lords. I then compare Mr. Pitt with more modern Ministers. I take the period from April, 1880, to June, 1887, because I like to make Her Majesty's Jubilee an epoch. In that time 65 Peers were recommended by the Minister of the day. Taking from those, as I have done from Mr. Pitt's Peerages, the 1552 Scotch and Irish Peers, we have a total of 53, so that in seven years there have been created considerably more Peers than Mr. Pitt created in his 17 years of Office. I admit that one Peerage, that conferred on the late lamented Sir Thomas Erskine May, was extinct almost as soon as created, while three were in the nature of Life Peerages. However, I will not confine myself to the last seven years: I will take a period from June 26, 1885, to June 21, 1887, a period of less than two years. In that time there were 38 Peers created. Deduct six for the Scotch and Irish Peers on the same principle as I have done before, and you have 32 Peers created in two years, as against 46 created in 17 years by the great sinner, Mr. Pitt. I think that Mr. Pitt was hardly dealt with in this case; indeed, I am not blaming any Minister. It is probably due to the irresistible) tendencies of a democratic age that this House should be largely recruited by Gentlemen who are willing to form part of it.
But this is not merely an absolute disadvantage in the sense of swelling outnumbers—it is a growing and increasing disadvantage for the future. Merit in this country is not likely to decrease, and, therefore, the number of admissions to the Peerage is likely to increase as time goes on, and will gradually swell it to unmanageable proportions. But what is worse is this—that that increase raises a great Constitutional question. The sole method by which the two Houses can be brought into harmony when they differ upon measures which may be repugnant to your Lordships' House, but which are desired by the majority of the electoral body, is the creation of Peerages. But your Lordships' House will soon become, or rather has become, so large with reference to the small numerical minority which sits behind the Bench I occupy, that hardly a squadron or a regiment of Peers would be able to redress the balance in certain contingencies. Now, we have had, as I have said, the advantage of precept with reference to this question. I will read a remarkable passage which calls upon your Lordships to reform yourselves without further delay—Take another question of great national importance. We put in the forefront of our political creed the maintenance of the House of Lords as 1553 an independent and co-ordinate branch of the Legislature. We praise the eloquence of its debates, the businesslike character of its proceedings, the ability and knowledge of many of its Members. We look to it not merely to smooth down the rough excrescences of the legislation which is passed through the popular Assembly, but also, if the necessity should arise, to resist any attempt at grave changes in our Constitution by that popular Assembly until the will of the people is distinctly declared. But can any Conservative say that he is absolutely contented at present with the composition and working of the House of Lords? Can we not conceive it might be possible, by wise and careful change, to give that House greater popular authority and weight than it at present possesses? Cannot we learn something from the evident reluctance of the Radicals to reform that ancient Institution, and their jeers when they remark on the increasing rarity of its debates and the small proportionate attendance of its Members, and of anything in which they think they can find a proof of its declining power? And looking at that can we, as Conservatives, say that it is quite consistent with the safety of our Constitution that Parliamentary reforms should be confined to one branch of the Legislature alone? I am as anxious as anyone to maintain the hereditary principle in our Legislature. I would do nothing to impair the independence of the House of Lords; but something surely it would not be impossible for the House of Lords itself to do—something to purify itself from those black sheep who can now disgrace it with impunity. And surely it is worth consideration whether the entrance to that House of able laymen of moderate means might not be made easier by the extension of the Life Peerages which are now held by our Bishops and lawyers, and whether the principle of selection, which has existed ever since the Union, in the Scotch and Irish Peerages might not be extended to the Peerage of Great Britain.Those are not the words of any rash or headlong innovator, or of a Member of the Party to which I belong; they are the words of a man who led the House of Commons for the Government, though he was not in Office when he spoke them; they are the words of Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, who made the speech from which I have taken them in February, and who, I am glad to say, is able to resume his seat in the House of Commons as a Member of Her Majesty's Government. But it is not from Sir Michael Hicks-Beach alone that we had an expression of opinion on the subject. We had, the week before last, the question raised in the House of Commons of the reform of this House, and there were two remarkable incidents in connection with that debate. One was, that no Member of the House of Commons, on whatever side he sat, had one word to say for the 1554 existing constitution of this House. That is a remarkable circumstance, considering that the House of Commons, as at present constituted, gives an unbroken majority to Her Majesty's present Advisers. The second noteworthy incident to which I would refer is this. The House of Commons is led by a man of great weight, but of few words. Mr. W. H. Smith delivered oil that occasion the longest speech, I think, which he has made since he has led that House, and I venture to call your Lordships' attention to some of his remarks. He said—No Second Chamber can long remain deaf to the public opinion of this country, but must advance towards it if that public opinion is consistent with the interests of the country. The remark made by the hon. Member for Southport, that the reform of the House of Lords must come from the Conservative Party and from the House of Lords, I accept. The assertion has great value, and I earnestly trust will meet with a full consideration."—(See ante, 797.)I warmly support that remark. But we have further food for reflection in what occurred since 1884. The Franchise Bill of 1884 enormously strengthened the House of Commons. What I may call its propelling power, winch had been greatly increased in 1867, was immeasurably multiplied by the Act of 1884, which thus brought more glaringly into light the anomaly of two Houses nominally co-extensive and co-equal, but one representing the great mass of the democracy, the other representing interests important indeed, but still considered by the public at large as the interests mainly of a class. I cannot help fearing, on behalf of this House, that as time goes on that disproportion will be still more largely increased, and that the new piece of democracy sown on this old garment must only make the rent appear larger.
There is another point on which I must touch, but in no Party spirit. Your Lordships will remember the Home Rule policy which was inaugurated by Mr. Gladstone in 1886. At the Dissolution that measure received the support of some 1,100,000 or 1,200,000 electors—very nearly half the number that went to the poll. They only fell short by 86,000 of the opposing force. That minority is represented in the House of Commons by some 200 Members who follow my right hon. 1555 Friend, and they are assisted by 86 Irish Members who follow Mr. Parnell, but who concur in this policy. That represents a minority on a question of great and vital importance of 286, and how is that minority represented in this House? I have had no opportunity of computing, and I do not wish now to have an opportunity of testing it by a vote; but I believe there are some 30 out of 556, or about 5 per cent of the entire number, and there is not a single Irish Peer in this House that I know of who is a supporter of that policy.["Hear, hear!" from the Ministerial Benches.] Noble Lords may rejoice at that; but to those who endeavour to look further ahead it must afford matter for painful reflection.
I say, then, that what lawyers call incompatibility of temper between the two yoke-fellows, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, is daily increasing, and is not unlikely to increase. It is quite true that at this moment the majority in both Houses belongs to the same Party; but you have this disadvantage—that the minority in one House is almost absolutely unrepresented in the other; and if the minority in the House of Commons, by any strange or sinister chance, as you might say, were to become a majority, the fraction in this House that represents the minority in the other House would still remain a fraction. That anomaly is daily and hourly increasing, and threatens to become a gulf yawning and impassable. One Party in power enjoys a practical omnipotence; the other Party is never absolutely in power. Whether in or out of Office it is galled by a perpetual barrier, a constant stumbling-block, an endless disability. So the Divisions in this House represent rather the passions of a Party or a class than the deliberate reasoning of a Senate.
When we come to reckon up the forces of both Houses which may, at any moment, by a General Election, change sides, we are still more struck. the House of Commons rests on the votes of some 6,000,000. What we represent is not so easy to divine. But if there were to be a General Election which gave the majority of the 6,000,000 of electors to the present minority in the House of Commons, the disproportion would be of some gravity. No doubt, 1556 the present majority would have a large section of the electors. But in these great Constitutional questions, where the House of Lords is pitted against the House of Commons, the question very soon ceases to be the original question placed before the country, and the country takes up, not the question placed before it, but the problem of the reform of this House, and even those electors who approve the general policy of this House do not like to see the action of their Representatives set at naught. Is it not wise, then, at a moment of comparative calmness, to reckon up our strength and our weakness? Our strength lies in illustrious Members, in ancient tradition, in persons who represent in the country somewhat wealth, somewhat ancient descent, and some even what genius can give. It may be allowed to a political opponent to remark that the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury) appears to combine all three. But no Legislature in these days, placed as it is relatively to the other House, can rest either on tradition, descent, or even genius: what is required is the broad basis of popular interest and popular support.
In those things which I have mentioned is our strength. What are our weaknesses? They can be summed up in one comprehensive phrase. They lie, I think, in the indiscriminate and untempered application of the hereditary principle. There is no trace in this House of discrimination or selection, except in the case of the Scotch and Irish Peers. Every man in this House, to use Beaumarchais' famous phrase, can sit in this House who has given himself the trouble to be born; and I venture to think that this indiscriminate principle, even if it worked well, would still be indefensible in principle. Your Lordships will remember what Franklin said about hereditary legislators. He said of them that there would be more propriety, because less hazard of mischief, in hereditary Professors of Mathematics. I venture to think that a House based solely, or even mainly, on the hereditary principle is a House based upon the sand. It is by no means essential to your Lordships' House—it is not a modern innovation, but it is by no means an ancient incident. It was not until the time of the dissolution of the monas- 1557 teries that hereditary Members had even a majority in this House. It was not until 1539 that the hereditary clement in this House obtained a bare majority. We can well understand how this occurred. We trace the hereditary principle to the feudal system, which required a totally different test of fitness to that of legislative fitness. The feudal system required in the great vassals of the Crown only a teat of military fitness; and now, when we have abolished the feudal system, we still maintain the hereditary principle, which was established with a totally different object, to keep up the legislative functions of this House.
If the indiscriminate hereditary principle is not, as I think, defensible in theory, does it work well in practice? I know it is said that the House of Lords works well, and that you could not easily find a better; but I venture to think that that does not represent the state of the case. In the first place, the hereditary principle, as applied in this House, makes legislators of men who do not wish to be legislators, and Peers of men who do not wish to be Peers. I venture to say that many of your Lordships knew other Peers who have no wish to be legislators, who are unwillingly legislators, and would gladly be relieved of those functions; and I venture to say that others of your Lordships know Peers who were not willing to be Peers, who were anxious to escape being Peers, and who would gladly cease to be Peers. It may be said that that is the misfortune of the ordinary British citizen when he is called to serve upon a jury. But the ordinary British citizen, when called to serve upon a jury, views that as one of the rare and inevitable misfortunes of his life; but with the Peer it is a fortune or a misfortune which ceases only with death.
But it does not merely make unwilling legislators, it also makes unfit legislators. I have quoted to you what Sir Michael Hicks-Beach has said on the subject. It is not a particularly agreeable one to dwell upon; but I think we may say generally that 500 or 600 not unprolific families must always be accompanied by a proportion of black sheep. I do not think the percentage in this House is greater than in any other 500 or 600 families—I should rather 1558 be inclined to say less; but a percentage in a hereditary Chamber, be it large or small, is a thing you cannot admit. What you require in a hereditary Chamber, by the mere fact and principle of its existence, is an unblemished succession of hereditary virtue, hereditary wisdom, and hereditary discretion. It is quite true that the other House of Parliament is also capable of accommodating black sheep, and does accommodate them. But the case of the House of Commons is very widely different. In the case of the House of Commons the responsibility does not lie upon the House. It lies even less upon the individual himself. The wind of the electorate bloweth where it listeth. The electors choose whom they wish; and if they choose a knave or a fool, the responsibility is not so much on that knave or that fool, nor on the House which accepts him, but falls mainly and entirely on the people who sent him to that House. But the responsibility in our case falls on the very principle of our existence, and places that principle of existence at the mercy of any unhappy accident. If a Peer should happen to be a knave or a fool people outside do not greatly blame him, but at once begin to talk of the constitution of the hereditary Chamber in which he sits, and they say—"This man whom we consider unworthy is able at this moment to go down and give a vote equal to the vote of any noble Lordon the Ministerial Bench." the strength of your anchorage in this House is only as great as that of the weakest link in the chain, and someday a series of unfortunate accidents may bring about a condition of things with regard to this House which not 10, or 20, or 100 just persons may avail to counteract.
There are cases of hereditary vice and virtue, but you can predicate nothing. Lord Chatham left an illustrious son, but it was the wrong son he left to this House. All the three Earls of Harrowby have sat in the Cabinets of this country, and I think the noble Marquess opposite is the third of his family who has been Prime Minister. But these prodigies are not the rule; and if they were, the House cannot rest upon prodigies alone. As there is no 1559 rule you have to create one, and then you assume too much. When you are creating a hereditary Peer you are attempting far more than is possible. You are creating a man not merely for his fitness as a legislator, but you are defining the generations of which he may be the ancestor, and, outstepping all human faculty and human possibility you usurp the position of Providence, and make legislators of the unborn.
But there is another argument with regard to the application of the hereditary principle which, if it had any validity at all, is one which would have a great deal of weight. They say the Grown is hereditary, and therefore, when you attack the hereditary principle, you attack the Crown. As to that, I should venture to say that I do not attack the hereditary principle, and I do not think any man would be wise to attack it. All our lives are conducted on the hereditary principle; it pervades every family; it guides every fortune; it rejoices by the cradle of the new-born babe, and cheers the chamber of death. You cannot ignore it in its strict sense; but it may be applied or misapplied, and that which gives dignity and stability to the Throne may not give dignity and stability to the Legislature.
I would further remark with regard to the Crown that in that case it is not a case of pure and indiscriminating heredity. The Grown, as is well known, did not descend to the present family by mere hereditary descent; it rested on a broader and a more popular basis. In the next place, the principle of heredity in the Crown is guarded and fenced by every sort of precaution. The Grown has no legislative responsibility; the Grown has no Executive responsibility; and in respect of the former, at any rate, it differs largely from this House. Those responsibilities in the case of the Crown devolve upon others; in our case they remain on ourselves and on the hereditary principle.
There is a further difference, which, perhaps, involves the argument which has most weight with those who seek for the reform of this House. Both the Grown and the House of Lords have what, for the purposes of 1560 this argument, I may properly call a veto. The Grown, since the accession of the House of Hanover, has never exercised its veto. This House is always doing so. The last time the Crown exercised its veto was in 1707, in the reign of Queen Anne. This House long exercised its veto against Roman Catholics, against Dissenters, against Jews. If it had been able to maintain this veto the Premier Peer of England would not now have been sitting in this House. It has gone on interposing its veto in a manner which cannot but be called invidious, and which cannot but raise hostility against it among great bodies of the people.
Passing to another point, you will say that the veto of the Crown is an individual veto, and that the veto of this House is the veto of a Legislative Body. As regards that I may make this demur. The veto of the Crown is not an individual veto, inasmuch as it is protected by the responsibility of the Advisers of the Crown. But I will admit, for the purposes of this argument, it is an individual veto; but I would further say that the veto of this House is also an individual veto—the veto of this House is the veto of the noble Marquess opposite the Leader of the Conservative Party. And so it has been for the last 60 years. This House, which strains at a Liberal gnat, will swallow a Conservative camel. It accepted the Catholic Emancipation Bill at the hands of the Duke of Wellington, which it had always refused to accept at any Liberal hand. It accepted the repeal of the Corn Laws at the hands of Sir Robert Peel, when it refused to move in that direction at all at the bidding of the Liberal Party.
But I will take a much simpler illustration of the individual nature of that veto. There have been three great Reform Bills during the present century, in 1832, 1867, and 1884. Two of these Reform Bills were offered to this House by Liberal Governments; one, which was infinitely the most democratic of the three, was offered to this House by a Conservative Government. It was infinitely the most democratic of the three, because it laid down for the first time the principle of household suffrage for the towns, and it thus contained within it the germ 1561 of the Reform Bill of 1884. How did this House treat these Reform Bills? It threw out the Reform Bill of 1832 and the Reform Bill of 1884, which were passed through the House of Commons by Liberal Governments; but the Reform Bill of 1867, which was the most democratic of the three, it allowed to pass without a Division. Therefore, I may repeat that this House is willing, while straining at a Liberal gnat, to swallow a Conservative camel.
But, my Lards, this tremendous legislative power of life and death, if it is entrusted to an individual, should, at any rate, be entrusted to an individual of extraordinary discretion. The late Duke of Wellington led this House for a number of years. He led it with prudence and circumspection, and we read in the pages of Greville that many of his followers were most dissatisfied with his extreme reticence and caution. I hope that the noble Marquess opposite will excuse me if I say that he is a little impetuous in the exercise of the weapon committed to his charge. He never likes to keep his sword in its sheath. He is always trying its temper—if he is not hacking about and dealing destruction and death with it, he is always flourishing it and threatening with it. He is like a King of Hungary on his Coronation, who rides to an eminence and brandishes his sword to the four corners of the globe. I may refer, in proof of this, to the speech delivered by the noble Marquess at Oxford on the 23rd of November last, which has often been quoted. The noble Marquess said—I have no doubt that one effect of the amendment of the Rules of Procedure in the House of Commons will be to send from time to time, when there are bad Houses of Commons"—everyone knows what the noble Marquess means by a "bad House of Commons"—a considerable number of objectionable measures to the House of Lords"—everyone also knows what he means by "objectionable measures"—I hope the House of Lords will not shrink from action upon its conscientious convictions.Far am I from wishing the House of Lords not to act on its conscientious convictions; but if the House of Lords had acted on its conscientious convictions in 1562 1832 we should have had revolution instead of reform.
But the conversion of this House into a Party instrument has, to a great degree, weakened its influence and power. Up to 1832 the House of Lords was hardly a Party Assembly. It usually supported the Government of the day. It was Whig with Walpole, Tory with Pitt, and Tory again with Lord Liverpool; and as a result of this, and partly due to the indirect influence which Peers exercised over the other House, the House of Lords exercised great power and influence. The Governments of the last century were pillared on Peers. They formed by far the majority of each Cabinet. Mr. Pitt, when he formed his first Cabinet, was the only Commoner in the Cabinet. In his second Cabinet there was only one other Commoner. Such was the power of the House of Lords in those days that by its own independent action, though in concert with the Sovereign, it overthrew the Coalition Government which promised to be the strongest Government of the century. That was before the Reform Bill; but since then its power and influence have continually decreased. On the 7th of May, 1832, Lord Lyndhurst brought forward a Motion in this House which caused the resignation of the Government of the day. That was the last occasion on which a Motion passed in this House has had any such effect. It is easy to trace the gradual decline of the power which this House possessed. On the 3rd of June, 1833, the Duke of Wellington carried a Veto of Censure against the Government in regard to Portugal, and there was a great talk of the Government resigning, but they did not. Again, in 1833, Lord Roden carried by a small majority in this House a Motion for a Committee of Inquiry into the affairs of Ireland, and this had to be counteracted by a Vote of Confidence in the Government passed in the House of Commons. So again, in 850, when a Motion in regard to the Don Pacifico case was carried against the Government in this House, there was great talk of resignation; but it ended in a Vote of Confidence being brought forward in the House of Commons by Mr. Roebuck, and carried. Since 1563 that time all question of this House turning out the Government has de-departed. The control of this House over the measures of the Government still subsists; but the control of this House over the Government of the day has ceased to exist. You can easily test that. For at least 12 of the 20 years during which I have sat in this House, this House would gladly have turned out the Ministry of the day; but it took no steps to do so, knowing that it could not do so if it tried. The fact must be admitted then, though the reasons may not be those that I have stated, that virtue has gone out from this House. On the other hand, we cannot help seeing that the other House has greatly increased in power. It has lost no opportunity of strengthening itself, while we have sat with folded hands and watched the result.
You may think that the arguments that I have brought forward, if they lead to anything, lead to a Single Chamber. But I do not think so. It is not necessary for me to attempt to convince this House of the necessity of a Second Chamber. There are three arguments which I have always thought conclusive as showing the necessity of a Second Chamber, two of which are personal. When the ablest men that America ever knew, a century ago, framed their Constitution, though fettered by no rules and no traditions, and having a clean slate before them, they thought it necessary to construct the strongest Second Chamber the world has ever known. Then let us call to mind the opinion of one who was not an aristocrat by Party or profession—Cromwell—who abolished the House of Lords.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
But he found it necessary to restore the House of Commons, and, as a consequence, he also found it necessary to restore the House of Lords. The last words he addressed to Parliament were these—I did tell you that I would not undertake such a Government as this unless there might be some other persons that might interpose between me and the House of Commons who had the power to prevent tumultuary and popular spirits.Cromwell was not an aristocrat, and his Executive was not distinguished by weakness; and the fact that he found 1564 it necessary to restore a Second Chamber speaks volumes as to the necessity of a Second Chamber. The third reason in favour of a Second Chamber was given by a great philosopher, whom some of us remember among us—John Stuart Mill—who sums up the argument in a single sentence. He says—The same reasons that induced the Romans to have two Consuls make it desirable that there should be two Chambers, so that neither of them may be exposed to the corrupting influence of undisputed power, even for a single year.The recent changes in the procedure of the House of Commons also, I think, immeasurably strengthen the arguments for a Second Chamber.
I come now to the Amendment of my noble Friend on the Cross Benches (the Earl of Wemyss), which contains two propositions, with one of which I cordially agree. I agree entirely with the noble Earl that the proper way in which to introduce a measure for the reform of this House is by a measure introduced by Her Majesty's responsible Advisers; but I entirely disagree with the noble Earl when he says that it is not consistent with the dignity of this House to place the question of its constitution in the power of a Committee of your Lordships. There are only two Committees to which this House can with dignity entrust the question of its own constitution, the one being the Committee of this House which I propose, and the other being that Committee of the Privy Council, which is common known as the Cabinet. I should prefer greatly the latter of these two Committees; but, no choice being given to me, I am obliged to propose the former. If you cannot have the Cabinet as a Committee, to whom can you so suitably entrust the subject of the constitution of this House as to a Committee selected from your Lordships? Who can know the interior economy of this House as well as the Peers themselves? Who can so well discuss the desirability of changes? I am rather an advanced reformer, but I do not share the distrust of your Lordships expressed by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches.
But I turn from this proposal, and I come to the proposal of the noble Lord behind me (Lord Stratheden and Campbell). The noble Lord, who is 1565 generally independent of Parties in this House, has of late been working, in view of this Motion, with singular zeal at the question of the reform of this House, but, if I may say so, with a somewhat limited scope. I hope my noble Friend will not think me disrespectful if I say that his recent efforts have reminded me of a distressed mariner baling out a water-logged ship with a thimble or a spoon. But if my noble Friend on the Cross Benches rejects altogether the idea of a Committee as an inadequate and revolutionary proposal, what does he say to my noble Friend behind who recommends a Royal Commission? I do not know why my noble Friend behind me dislikes a Committee and prefers a Royal Commission—whether it is that he fears that a Committee would not consist of the mystical number of three, or that it might, perhaps, attain to the obnoxious number of five. But the noble Earl, who looks with distrust on a Committee of your Lordships, must view with actual horror the idea of a Royal Commission, not composed entirely or even mainly of Peers, but composed of all sorts and conditions of men, unaccustomed to the refined and rarefied atmosphere of this House, unaccustomed to our delicate traditions, who with rude and incautious hand might probe all the tender and susceptible places in the body politic of this House.
But I must leave the two noble Lords to settle their differences between themselves. I do not share in the distrust and suspicion of your Lordships' House in which they unite, and that is why I propose a Committee on this occasion. I have proposed a Committee as a sort of compromise between what I wish and what I do not wish. What I wish is that the Government should take up the matter; but what I deprecate, failing that, is that an individual should undertake the task, because I firmly believe that there is no individual in this House, out of an official position, of sufficient weight and authority to carry the matter to any satisfactory conclusion. We must also remember another circumstance. We have constantly to remind Members of the House of Commons, when they express wishes for the reform of this House, that any project of reform which 1566 does not partake of the character of a revolution must be cast in the form of a Bill passed through both Chambers. Now, I venture to think that no Bill brought in by an individual would go down to the other House with the weight and authority required to insure its success; but that a Bill based on the Report of a Committee of your Lordships—by which, by the way, you would not be bound-that a measure founded upon such a Report could not fail to have value both in the eyes of this House and in the eyes of the House of Commons, and must, at any rate, have valuable results.
The Committee would further have before it all the plans for reform now or about to be brought before the country, two or three of which I may mention. There is the plan of my noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Dunraven), which we fancied at one moment had been communicated to a News Agency, a rumour which he has disclaimed almost with passion, Then there is the project laid before the other House by a highly-respected Member, Mr. Rathbone. There is much to be said for his project; but it is open to some almost fatal criticism. He recommends that 114 Chairmen of County Boards should be admitted to sit in this House. Now I do not object to the principle, but I say that the Chairmen of County Boards would be much better employed in the Chairs of their Boards than here. The County Boards—which, by the way, are not yet in existence, but of which, I believe, Her Majesty's Government is at this moment in course of parturition "elsewhere"—the County Boards would choose their Chairmen on one of two principles. They would either choose them for their local knowledge and administrative capacity—in which case they would wish to have them in their Chairs—or they would choose them as delegates or representatives in this House, in which case they had much better not be Chairmen.
But, passing from that, I would call attention to a plan—or rather speech—attributed to a noble Friend of mine (the Earl of Pembroke). The plan attributed to him is simply that a sufficient number of Life Peers should be created and added to this House. Now, I venture to think that such a measure 1567 of reform as that would rather increase the evil than diminish it. If the number of the new Life Peers were small, they would not suffice to leaven this House; if, on the other hand, they were extremely numerous, they would increase what was already a very great evil—namely, the unwieldy bulk of the House. Then I should not like to put the temptation of a very large increase of Peers within reach of the noble Marquess opposite. He already scatters Peerage over a smiling; land, and reads his history in the smiles of a considerable number of supporters; and if he had the power to recommend to the Crown the immediate creation of a large number of Life Peerages, I am afraid that the result might he that we should have to adjourn for our deliberations to Westminster Hall or Trafalgar Square. Even if these Life Peers are to he persons eminent in literature, science, and art, the addition would not be an adequate measure. A mere zoological collection of abstract celebrities would not be sufficient for the reformers of this House. We admire greatly the wonders of science, art, and literature; but I venture to think that the men of genius who produce them would not suffice for the purpose of strengthening this House in the manner in which it ought to be strengthened. Nor would the mere addition of Life Peers, whatever the number, have the effect of accomplishing what is one of the principal objects of all reforms—namely, the exclusion of unworthy Members from your House. Therefore, I think you may summarize the results of this proposal thus—it might have been sufficient in 1856 or 1869, but it will not be sufficient in 1888. It will not content those who desire a large reform of your Lordships' House, nor will it please those other two sections: those who desire no reform at, all and those who desire the abolition of the House—two sections which, although starting from different points of view, seem to me to arrive at substantially the same goal. The mere addition of Life Peers will not be adequate for your purpose. I go even further, and say that it will do you injury rather than good. We must try to lay broader and deeper foundations; and I now coma to the main point for our consideration—namely, what are the real principles on 1568 which the reform of this House should proceed?
I may make one remark at once with regard to those principles, and say that we possess at this moment an ideal Second Chamber. We make no use of it, but we possess it. It is one of the splendid but deserted halls of the palace of the Constitution. I refer to the Privy Council, which has many of the attributes of the ancient Roman Senate, and which comprises in its lists almost every eminent politician in the country. Were you to take the Privy Council for your Second Chamber, you would have in it an enormous delegation from this House, for out of 211 Members no less than 109 are Peers. There is something curious about these figures. The attendances at the House of Lords during an average Session has been supplied to me. During the Session of 1885 the average attendance at this House was exactly 110. So if you took the Privy Council for a Second Chamber you would not merely have the Members of the two Houses within it, but yon would have almost exactly the same average attendance of Peers that you have now.
But I discard all idea of such a Second Chamber for two reasons. First, there is nothing to prevent the Privy Council being flooded to any extent; there is just the same objection to the Privy Council that there is to an unlimited addition of Life Peers. A Privy Councillor would be a Life Peer, neither more nor less; and the Privy Council would be in no degree guarded against unbounded incursions. There is the further objection that it would involve the abolition of this House. I discard any idea of utilizing the Privy Council in that way, because of these two reasons; and the second of the two conducts me to the first principle which should guide any great reform of this House. This is that it is a cardinal principle of English politics that you should respect old names and old traditions. The whole Bourse of the legislation of this country consists in pouring the newest wine into the oldest bottles. Although that has been said to be impossible, it has been attended in this country with excellent results. An illustration will show how wise and necessary it is to respect ancient names. In 1874 a great Conservative Lord Chancellor, Lord Cairns, abolished the appellate 1569 jurisdiction of this House, and transferred it to another tribunal. In 1874 and 1875 there were such marked proofs of discontent both in Scotland and Ireland—the countries mainly affected—that it was found necessary in 1876 to restore to this House, at least in name, its appellate jurisdiction. Was it done by simple restoration? Nothing of the land, It was done by adding to the House three Judges—three Life Peers—possibly the same three Judges before whom the same cases would have devolved under the former measure. The three Judges were to sit in this House, and were to assist the ex-Lord Chancellors in acting as an appellate tribunal. It was really little more than saying that a new Court should sit inside these walls; and in order to attain this result we accepted a principle we had hitherto rejected—the principle of Life Peers; and the country was entirely satisfied with that compromise. That guides me to the conclusion that any reform of the House of Lords should respect the name of the House of Lords, and that any reconstructed House of Lords should consist of some of the Peers, and that those Members who were not Peers should be called Lords of Parliament.
The next principles I come to are those of delegation and of election. I believe that these principles are necessary, first, in order to keep the House of a manageable size, and to give a sense of personal responsibility to its Members. Secondly, it is necessary to exclude Peers who prove themselves to be unfit or unworthy to be legislators. Thirdly, it is necessary to obtain a popular basis. And, fourthly, it is necessary to prevent stagnation by keeping free and unimpeded a constant succession of now Members, of Members having received now mandates, in this House.
How are we to apply these principles? First, it is perfectly clear that if they were thoroughly applied, in future none but Peers of the Blood Royal, who are in a wholly exceptional position, would sit in this House by the mere title of hereditary descent. Next, I venture to think that the less than 70 Irish Peers, and the less than 20 Scottish Peers, who have no seats in this House, although in other respects they have the privilege of the Peerage, should be added to the great body of the Peers in this House, which they would not 1570 largely swell; and that body so constituted should delegate a certain number of Members to sit for a limited period as Representative Peers in this House. Of course, in such a system we should need the minority vote, or else I and my noble Friends behind me would entirely disappear—a result I should greatly deplore.
But this would not give the House the external strength, the outward buttress, which, if I am right in my apprehensions, this House so greatly needs. To do that you must have a mandate from the nation, a representative element elected by the nation itself. Your Lordships may say now you represent the nation to a large extent; but I should wish a reformed House to have some clearer certificate of the fact. I think you would require to have in your reconstructed House a large infusion of elected Peers—elected either by the future County Boards or by the larger Municipalities, or even by the House of Commons, or by all three. I go into no details; but in that way you would have the elective principle introduced as gradually and as safely as you may choose, in what degree you choose, in what measure you may select; you would have a large basis for compromise and arrangement; you could control the number according to your wishes; you could obtain by election an infusion as large or as small as you please of the popular external element. In the last place, you would exclude, without invidiousness and without difficulty, unfit and unworthy Peers. It is not now a question of how much or how little, how many or how few. If it were the noble Marquess opposite who was addressing you it might be a question of how few or how many; but at this moment it is a question merely of framework; and I venture to think that on that framework you can raise as large or as small a superstructure as you please. Then there is the obvious principle of life and official Peerages, which I think in themselves alone are insufficient and objectionable, but which would naturally form a valuable element in a reformed House. The fifth principle I should lay down is that the proportions of these various elements should be fixed, or their numbers should be fixed, because, otherwise, you would 1571 not achieve an important part of the object of your reform.
One further element I should like to see included. I know the dislike of all practical politicians for what are termed fancy franchises; but I feel there would be great and important advantages in inviting the great self-governing Colonies to send their Agents General or Representatives delegated for that purposes to sit, under certain conditions, in your Lordships' House.
Such a scheme, such a principle, if earned out in practice, would involve the necessity of the Government of the day being able to nominate, for the duration of their existence, some official or representative, who should bear the task of representing them in this House, if they were not otherwise represented. These are the sound principles, in my opinion, on which such a reform should moment. But there are two general principles of a more negative character which seem to me of equally vital moment. The first is connected with the argument which the noble Marquess opposite brought forward with great force in his speech at Oxford. It was the argument that any increase of the power of the House of Lords must be at the expense of the power of the House of Commons, and that the House of Commons naturally would not be friendly to such an arrangement. That line of argument seems to me to imply two fallacies. It seems to me to lay down a principle, which I cannot admit, that there is only a limited amount of legislative and political strength in the country; and, in the next place, to make a certain confusion between power and efficiency. I can imagine the case of a State possessing a great feudal castle—such as Berkeley, or Bracciano, or Chateau Gaillard—suddenly throwing up earthworks around it and arming it with all the resources of modern artillery, and so causing uneasiness and mistrust to neighbours who cherished an interesting relic, but feared a menace of war. That is one case; but the other is that of the owner of such a Castle afraid to renew the roof of the walls, cowering under its decayed shelter, afraid to protect himself against the coming storm and the pitiless hurricane, and allowing his old tower to fall about his ears lest his comfort should 1572 excite jealousy among his neighbours. Well, my Lords, I venture to think that this exposes a distinction which I wish to draw between rendering the House efficient and able for its duties, and rendering it too powerful for the friendly companionship of the other House of Parliament.
But the noble Marquess's argument is perfectly true to this extent—that if this House acquired great powers, and at the same time acquired limited numbers and a tenure of fixed duration, it would become a much more difficult House to deal with than at present; it would, indeed, disturb the balance of the Constitution, and from being an almost unalterable Chamber would become a hard calculus in the body politic. We must further remember this—that in the words unalterable and fixed there lies a great Constitutional disarrangement; because, as I have already ventured to point out, the power by the Crown of creating as many Peers as the Crown may think fit is the sole method of bringing the two Houses to an accommodation on a question on which they are at issue. Therefore, if you had a new House, and limited the numbers of that House, you would have to find some other Constitutional arrangement to bring the two Houses into harmony.
My Lords, I believe we could do this by simply retracing our steps, and going back on the ancient lines of the Constitution. The real mother of Parliaments is the Magnum Concilium, the Great Council, which in the reigns of the Edwards divided itself into two and nearly into three, and became a House of Lords and a House of Commons; and I think that under certain guarantees it might be provided in any scheme of reform that the two Houses should meet together and form one body, and by certain fixed majorities carry or reject a measure which has been in dispute between them. This, of course, would be impossible with an unrestricted hereditary House; but it would be possible with a restricted Senate.
My Lords, there is another way of getting over the difficulty, which, I think, has been put forward by Mr. Bright; but I am not sure. It is that after a measure has been passed 1573 once or twice by the House of Commons and rejected once or twice by your Lordships, the House of Commons, shall be enabled, in the language of diplomacy, to passer outre, and proceed with the measure as if it had met with no opposition from your Lordships, and so override the ruling of this House. My objection to that is this—In the first place it would involve great waste of time, because if you passed your Bills by the ordinary Constitutional methods, the House of Commons would be constantly employed in discussing at great length measures which they knew by the very principle of the proposal the House of Lords would be obliged to reject; whereas if you abbreviate your proceedings, and allow the House of Commons to discharge its measures at you, after short intervals, like the chambers of a revolver, you would do away with the position of this House as a Second Chamber at all, and reduce it to a second-rate Court of Revision or a Debating Society.
My Lords, I pass from that topic, which is an important one, because it contains an obvious Constitutional objection to all possible reform. I pass to one large principle which is also vital to the House of Lords and its future reform—because I take reform to be inevitable, if not to-day if the House of Lords proceeds to reform, which includes the principle of delegation, what is to be done with the Peers who have been excluded? For it is well known to your Lordships that if, like the Roman Senate, we are Conscript Fathers, it is because we are brought together rather by the involuntary process of conscription than by the principle of voluntary action. Would those excluded Peers be like the Scottish Peer who are not elected, and who are by that fact disabled from all mixture in public life, or would they be like the Irish. Peers, who, although debarred from the constituencies of their native country, are at liberty to roam unrestricted through the boroughs and counties of this Island? Well, my Lords, I think a broad principle might be laid down—it seems to me that any person should be free to accept or refuse a writ of summons to this House, and that having either so refused or not having received a summons to this House, such a Peer should be as free to be elected to the other House of the Legislature as any 1574 other subject of the Queen. My Lords, there is one obvious exception to this, and that is that any person voluntarily accepting an hereditary patent of Peer-ago would by such a process be spontaneously excluding himself from that process by which the others, on the hypothesis I have mentioned, would be endeavouring to free themselves. My Lords, we have a very curious case which bears on this question of the necessity of Peers sitting in this House. There was a mysterious personage, Viscount Purbeck, a connection of the noble Earl, who defeated the Government in the House the other night; and I may here notice one of our minor disadvantages, which is that if we want to designate each other we are placed at the hopeless disadvantage of having to go back to biographical and geographical details of a singularly involved and prolix character. I say that this nobleman, a relative of the noble Earl, endeavoured at the time of the Restoration to disembarrass himself of his Peerage. He was found sitting for the borough of Malmesbury, and the eye of the Executive was at once fixed upon him, and he was summoned to this House. He fought a gallant fight, because even under the Republican rule of Cromwell he had been disabled from sitting in the House of Commons; but after that he managed to get back again, and after a very severe legal contest he was again excluded; and I believe there was a Resolution in his case, the Resolution of 1678, which re-affirmed that of 1640, which affirms the impossibility of a Peer divesting himself of his Peerage. The Resolution in the latter case is loss technical, and it was that no Peer of this Realm can drown or extinguish his honour, but that it descends unto his descendants, neither by surrender, grant, fine, nor any other conveyance; and what I venture to deduce from that gallant struggle closed by that Resolution is this—that what the House of Lords was competent on a former occasion to deny by such a Resolution, the House of Lords by a Resolution in this case is equally competent to affirm.
I thank you most warmly for the attention with which you have listened to me. I have detained you at great length, and I fear I have touched on subjects which must have been unpalatable. My Lords, I have 1575 only one last word to speak to you, but it is a golden one—it is the word "opportunity." This question is no Party question; at any rate I Lave most sincerely endeavoured, as far as was possible, to keep it outside Party lines. I have canvassed no Member of your Lordships' House; I have not asked a single Peer to give his vote in my support. Bat, indeed, it is not possible for me or any other Member of your Lordships' House to make it a Party question at this juncture, even if we so wished. It is not I or those who think with mo—it is not we alone, but it is the Conservative Party, both in the House of Commons and in the country, that are asking your Lordships to be up and doing. It is only your enemies that would have you be still. But the opportunity, my Lords of the Government, is with you; you have a chance which may not occur again in this generation; you Lave in the one House a majority of not less than 100; you have almost the unanimous support of the other; you have, besides, the supreme advantage of a political calm, for although reform is in the air there is no agitation in its behalf to which you might deem it undignified or pusillanimous to yield. Such a chance, my Lords, rarely occurs, and when it has passed by is not apt to occur again, Reject my Motion if you will, but, at any rate, act yourselves.Miss not the occasion; by the forelock takeThat subtle power, the never-halting Time,Lest a mere moment's putting off should makeMischance almost as heavy as a crime,My Lords, there is one argument which will be brought against me to-night, which is brought forward publicly and privately, and which, I confess, has great weight. They say it is not possible to introduce sudden reforms in an ancient country, and they follow that up by the analogy that if you roughly or rudely touch an ancient building, even for purposes of repair, it is apt to fall about your ears. My Lords, I venture to say in reply to that argument that no remodelling would come suddenly upon the country, and that no reform in this House, however radical it might be, would anticipate the just expectations of the people. And as for the analogy of the old building, I would venture to say this—that if the old building be sound it will safely stand repair; if the building be so unsound 1576 that it will not stand handling, in God's name let it be so certified and declared. In truth, my Lords, the frequent reconstructions of the House of Commons leave you no choice as to undertaking some measure of reform. Thrice n the last 60 years the House of Commons has dug new foundations for itself, and each time it has dug them broader and deeper, each time it has received an immeasurable accession of strength, and in the meantime we Lave remained practically as we were at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. My Lords, such a position as this is not wise; it is not politic; it is not secure; it is not even tenable; it is better frankly to admit to ourselves and the world that, both in principle and in practice, we need great reform and great reconstruction. Frankness, my Lords, indeed, on such an occasion is neither a merit nor a demerit in a person who thinks as I do; it is an absolute matter of duty, and reticence would be little better than a crime. I therefore implore you, my Lords, and chiefly your Lordships who are privileged to be in the Government, not to neglect this opportunity, so marvellous if we look at the past, so bountiful if we regard the immediate future—this opportunity, by wise and by timely legislation, to repair, renovate, and to reconstruct the authority and usefulness of this immemorial Chamber. I beg, my Lords, to move the Motion which stands in my name.
§ Moved, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the constitution of this House."—(The Earl of Rosebery.)
THE EARL OF WBMYSS
said he would ask the kind indulgence of their Lordships while he moved, as an Amendment to the noble Earl's Motion—That it is not a safe thing to place the constitution of this House in the power of a Committee, nor consistent with its dignity to discuss before a Committee the reason for its existence; and if any changes in the constitution of this House are wanted they should be debated and made by the House itself on the motion of the responsible Ministers of the Crown.For this Amendment he confidently looked to receive the support of both sides of their Lordships' House. This might naturally appear somewhat sanguine on his part; but when he explained the origin of his Motion, he thought their Lordships would be of the opinion that he was justified in his an- 1577 ticipation of receiving general support. Non meus hic sermo. The first part of the Amendment was taken absolutely verbatim from an admirable speech made by his noble Friend who sat on the Front Opposition Bench, and who, in the absence of the recognized Leader on that side, ably and effectively filled his place—bo meant the Earl of Kimberley; while the latter part was taken, verbatim also, from the speech, of oven a more distinguished Member of their Lordships' House, the present Prime Minister. Therefore it was not unreasonable to hope that he might receive the support of both side. In placing his Amendment before their Lordships, he could not hope to present it to their Lordships with the ability and eloquence with, which his noble Friend had brought his Resolution before them; and he further laboured under the disadvantage, as compared with the noble Earl who introduced the subject, that he had not been long a Member of the House. He came late into it, and rejoiced that it was so; but he was for something like 41 years a Member of the other House of Parliament, in which his noble Friend never had a seat, and in the consideration of great questions affecting the constitution of the two Houses of Parliament it was desirable to draw some comparison between the two as Deliberative and Legislative Chambers. Now, he was prepared to stand up and say, after a long experience of "another place," that in its deliberative and legislative capacity this House not unfavourably compared with the other House of Parliament. His noble Friend had brought forward his Motion in deference to what he considered to be the strong set of public opinion in favour of the reform of the House of Lords. His noble Friend's political attitude always reminded him of a picture he once saw in the Paris Salon. It represented a beautiful female form gracefully and buoyantly floating towards the admiring spectator on the surface of the advancing tide. It was called "the Wave;" and whoever had followed the political career of his noble Friend could not have failed to observe that he always buoyantly and gracefully floated on the crest of the advancing democratic wave; and not only so, but he kept his weather eye open and looked out for coming waves, which he hoped 1578 would in due course bring him safely into pert. Thus, last week, his noble Friend made a speech in the East End of London, in which he prophesied of Home Rule for Wales and for Scotland.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said, perhaps in his reply he would explain what he did mean, for certainly his words meant that or nothing at all. He also in that speech held out the hope to all leaseholders of London that by a beneficent Act of Parliament each householder was to be put in possession of his house in fee. When he read this passage in his noble Friend's speech, he could not help reflecting that the Governor General elect of India, when he, too, read it in Canada, must rejoice that his noble Friend, his late tenant, had migrated, or was about to migrate, from Lansdowne House to another part of Berkeley Square. But his noble Friend's tidal almanack was not always correct. Two years ago he thought he had taken the tide of Home Rule at the flood. He had found it at the ebb, and now he sat there high and dry on the shoal of Opposition. And now it was not too clear that his noble Friend was right in believing that there was a great tidal wave in favour of reform of their Lordships' House. At any rate, if there was, they must gauge its strength; and he ventured to say without hesitation that if there was any feeling anywhere in favour of reform of their Lordships' House, it should be gauged not by clever articles in reviews and newspapers, elaborating new constitutions for their Lordships' House, but by the views of the Radical section of the other House of Parliament, who did not look to reforming and strengthening the House of Lords, but practically to its abolition. The Radicals wished to see this House exist simply for correcting the drafting of the Bills that came up from the House of Commons, and as a Chamber in which to register the edicts of an uncontrolled democracy. In the recent debate on the House of Lords in "another place" this had been distinctly said. They really wanted to get rid of what was called a Second Chamber. Now, as to the question of a Second Chamber, he was not going to argue in the abstract in defence of the principle of a Second Chamber; he was content to let it rest on the dictum of the present 1579 Prime Minister, who, in the debate on the House of Lords four years ago, said that no one but a madman would be in favour of doing away with a Second Chamber. He also said that the House of Lords was the best Second Chamber in the world with the exception of the Senate of the United States. Of the American Senate and Constitution, he would only say that we, unhappily, in this country, found ourselves in this position—that we were lauded in democracy without the safeguard of a body such as the American Senate, and without the further safeguard of such a body as the Supreme Court, and one might be perfectly certain that the confiscation and the injustice that had been going on in this country for the last 18 years never could have taken place in the United States, in consequence of the security afforded by the Senate and the Supreme Court. But did the Members of the House of Commons who wanted the House of Lords reformed wish to establish anything like the American Senate or the Supreme Court? Nothing of the kind; that was the very last thing they desired. It was with them a question practically of getting rid of the House of Lords. He would then, leaving the abstract question of a Second Chamber, say a word as to the value of the House of Lords as a judicial, deliberative, and legislative Body, and as a check upon rash and ill-considered legislation. He was glad to hear his noble Friend refer to the restoration of the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords. Although it was an incidental matter, he thought it right to mention that this restoration was mainly due to the action of a dear friend of his, the late Right Hon. James Stuart-Wortley, who got a Committee together of men of all shades of politics, that met. at his house, and managed to focus the discontent and feeling aroused by the abolition of the appellate jurisdiction of the Lords, and thus, by showing the unanimity of feeling on the other side, he led the way to its restoration. He would not dwell upon the way in which their judicial functions were performed in that House; it would be mere impertinence to do so; he would rather say a few words upon their deliberative and legislative action. And here it would be well to draw a moral from the story of Samson, and remember 1580 how he sent foxes into the Philistines' corn. No defence was sound without attack, and he should venture, in speaking of their Lordships' House, to send a few foxes into the Philistines' corn in "another place." First, with regard to debating power, he was old enough to recollect such giants of debate as Lord Brougham, Lord Ellenborough, Lord Lyndhurst, and the late Lord Derby—those giants of the House of Lords compared, to say the least, not unfavourably with the speakers in "another place." With regard to the present time, it would, of course, be invidious to particularize; but he thought there were Members of their Lordships' House who were able to hold their own in debate against any old—or young—man eloquent in the House of Commons. But what struck one coming from "another place" was not so much the eloquence and debating power of their Lordships' House as their reticence. He heard complaints of Members of their Lordships' House who did not attend their debates, and who never spoke; but that was the great merit of that House—they did their work without talking. He did not believe that any Assembly in the world bestowed more careful consideration upon Bills, but they did not waste time in needless talk. As M. Taine had said of them—"They sat therein their chimney pot hats and did their Business—they were not makers of phrases." When they spoke they did not speak for their local newspapers or to constituents. It was their inner and not their outer man that spoke. But, whatever were the merits or demerits of their Lordships' House, they could, at least, say that by no abuse of language had that House had the gag applied to it, and by no abuse of its Forms of Procedure had it had to be put in irons, and he ventured to think that in their legislative and deliberative capacity they might favourably compare with the other House of Parliament. As to the question of how far their Lordships' House was a chock, the noble Earl had told them that they were apt to strain at a Liberal gnat, and swallow a Conservative camel; but what they actually did was to take their stand against Liberal gnats until they were certain that it was necessary and desirable that measures, at first, perhaps, unimportant, should be passed by the 1581 general consent of both Houses of Parliament. They exercised what he believed was a judicious check when it was uncertain whether public opinion was sufficiently formed upon a subject. If the proposals of the noble Earl were carried out, the case would be exactly the same, and the House would have to yield to public opinion when clearly manifested. But they were told that however excellent might be their Lordships' House, and however admirable their deliberative and legislative power, it required to be reformed, and many suggestions had been made upon the subject. The first class of reformers were those who talked of the mending or ending of that House; but there could be little doubt that ending was the end of all this so-called mending. That had been clearly shown not long ago in "another place," where a Motion had been brought forward for the abolition of the hereditary principle in the House of Lords. Then they had the system of delegation, as proposed by the noble Earl. But the noble Earl forgot, supposing under a system of delegation a fair proportion of Liberal Peers were to be chosen, what guarantee could be given that they would remain Liberals? His noble Friend complained of the relative inequality of the two sides of the House, but whose fault was it? It was simply because they brought in bad measures, such as Home Rule, for which their own Friends could not vote. He doubted whether it would be possible to set down a satisfactory system of delegation in black and white. The noble Earl had cited in favour of the delegate principle the election of Scotch Peers. But surely the noble Earl knew that if there was one thing that they heard more about than another in regard to this matter, it was that the (Scotch Peers were mainly Tories, and that they returned nothing but Tories, and that a Liberal Peer had not a chance. Then there was a proposal that the Chairmen of County Boards should have seats; but he agreed with the noble Earl that Chairmen of County Boards would be better employed in looking after their Boards than in legislating in that House, and no man could be in two places at once. There was also the question of Life Peers. For his own part, he would like to see the principle extended, and he thought that each political Party might choose an equal limited 1582 number. Of course, it would be impossible to prevent the Liberal Peers turning round; but it would, at all events, be a fair start. He should like to see commerce, trade, industry, arts, arms, and science represented, though he might add, with reference to a highly imaginative paragraph which had appeared in some newspapers as to his having recently attended a celebrated prize fight in France, that when he said he was in favour of the representation of science, he did not wish to give such a wide interpretation to the word "science" as to include professors of self defence. He agreed, also, that it was desirable that in their Lordships' House the Agents General of our Colonies, or something equivalent to the Agents General, should have seats. He thought, also, that the Dissenting Bodies should have Representatives in that House; and that, extending the principle of the exclusion of bankrupt Peers, those who had dishonoured their names should, if possible, also be debarred from voting and taking part in their deliberations. The question, however, before them was as to the mode of proceeding. His noble Friend would proceed by Committee, a course condemned by the two noble Lords whose words he had, as already explained, embodied in his Amendment. The only sound way of dealing with the question was that their Lordships should not lot it out of their own hands. Using words which appeared in the 999th lettor—he was not sure as to the exact number—which recently appeared in the papers from "an old Parliamentary hand," he would say to their Lordships—"Beware of traps;" beware of the trap of a Select Committee; beware of the trap of a Royal Commission; beware of the trap of a Bill drawn up by a private Member of their Lordships' House, a noble Friend of his, who, being of an active turn of mind, and having, like a frozen-out gardener, no work to do, had taken upon himself to frame a new constitution fur their Lordships' House. If they were to have a reform, let it be a reform well considered, well digested, and brought in on the responsibility of the responsible Government of the day. It was because he felt this very strongly that he had put down the Amendment which stood in his name, and he thought he should receive support from Members on both 1583 sides. But we lived in times of great, sudden, and unexpected changes. He would not enter into these changes—he did not wish to make himself disagreeable to his noble Friends on the Front Opposition Bench, because he looked to getting their support. But unquestionably there had been of late years great and sudden changes. No greater, no more Sudden change on the part of public men had taken place than the change upon this question in the House of Commons, made by the Liberal Putty raider the guidance of Sir William Harcourt. It was a change so sudden that Lord Hartington got up in his place and said he would not have risen but for the now and somewhat unexpected attitude taken up by the right hon. Member for Newcastle, and he assumed the right hon. Gentleman's statement to be the official utterance of the official Opposition. In consequence of that now departure they had had a great advance in the speech of his noble Friend upon the speech which he made four years ago, and now his noble Friends on his right might possibly follow the lead of that apostle of change, Sir William Harcourt, who now did things by halves, and was always as enthusiastic in any now part he adopted as the celebrated actor who, when he played "Othello," invariably blacked himself all over. Under the guidance of the right hon. Gentleman some of his noble Friends on the Opposition Benches might possibly turn their backs on themselves and on the views they had held four years ago. But, be that as it might, the course their Lordships should follow was clear—they should make what changes were reasonable, Constitutional, and consistent with the ancient character of their Lordships' House; and, having done so on the responsibility and advice of Her Majesty's Government, let them then boldly take their stand and wait calmly for what the future might bring forth. Let them do so strong in six centuries of prescriptive right, strong in the noble traditions of their ancient House, strong in the record of noble lives, strong in the good work they had done, strong, too, in the affection for the Constitution which was still a living principle in the heart of the British nation. And let them always remember that weak concessions never saved, and that, alike for institutions and for men, it was better, at 1584 the worst, to nobly die than ignobly live. The noble Earl concluded by moving the Amendment which stood in his name.
To leave out all the words after ("That") for the purpose of inserting the following Resolution—namely, ("it is not a safe thing to place the constitution of this House in the power of a Committee, nor consistent with its dignity to discuss before a Committee the reason for its existence; and if any changes in the constitution of this House are wanted they should he debated and made by the House itself on the motion of the responsible Ministers of the Crown.")—(The Earl of Wemyss.)
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
said, that on the general subject of the propositions shadowed forth by his noble Friend opposite he did not propose to enter at any great length, Those of their Lordships who were aware of his opinions on the subject, either from hearing him in that House or from reading what he had written in the Press at the beginning of the Session or in magazines some four or five years ago, would be aware that to a great deal of what his noble Friend (the Earl of Rosebery) said he could give a cordial approval. How far he could almost entirely agree with his noble Friend it was impossible for him to say, because from the remarkable speech which his noble Friend made he failed to gather a very clear and distinct idea of the scope and effect of his proposals. He did not gather how far they might interfere with the existing privileges or existing life interests of their Lordships. The noble Earl on the Cross Benches, proceeding by a process of elimination, referred to a scheme which was attributed to him by the Central News. If any or their Lordships had in mind any scheme by which the efficiency of Parliament could be increased and made more fit for dealing with the great complications of the social and political problems which might be submitted to their Lordships, he was of opinion that they could be scarcely better employed than by endeavouring to place it before the House in a comprehensive and distinct form. The noble Earl objected to the constitution of their Lordships' House being submitted to a Select Committee, and in that ha entirely agreed with him. It appeared to him that to submit such a far-reaching question as this to a Committee would be an improper way of dealing with the subject, and would be scarcely paying due 1585 deference to the dignity of the House or to the issues involved. If a Select Committee were appointed and did not report in favour of any of the propositions of the noble Earl, or did not report any distinct plan to the House, their Lordships would be in this position—namely, that they would have admitted that there was something wrong, but that there was no remedy. They would practically admit that the condition of the House was that of sickness unto death. The usual practice was to appoint a Committee to search out and ascertain the legal aspect of a case, and to report to the House as to the details involved in some great principle to which the House had given its general assent. But in this case the House would not have given its assent to any distinct principle. It would be referring matters to a Select Committee which, if placed before the House in a distinct form, might very probably be rejected. He thought that would be proceeding in a very unusual and unbusinesslike manner. In dealing with a great question such as this it was essential that a perfectly clear and distinct proposition should be laid before the House. It seemed to him duo to the dignity of that House to take that course. Parliament was, after all, a machine for conducting the Business of the United Kingdom and of the Empire. If it was considered that alterations in the machine were necessary, that modern improvements should be introduced to enable it to deal hotter with modern complexities and difficulties, surely it was necessary to draw up a distinct plan which Parliament could look at and examine carefully before committing itself to any abstract proposition as to the necessity of alteration or reform? That could be done either by a distinct Resolution or by means of a Bill. Resolutions had the advantage that they were a comparatively easy form of proceeding; and, moreover, there would be no great difficulty in drawing up a Resolution dealing, somewhat abstractedly perhaps, with the various alterations it was proposed to introduce in the constitution of the House. A Bill, on the other hand, was a much, more difficult matter, but nevertheless recommended itself to him as the best method whereby so great a question as this could be introduced to the attention of Parliament. The mere process of 1586 drafting a Bill had a very searching effect on the individual doing so. The great thing to aim at was to crystallize vague ideas, to bring abstract Resolutions within the four corners of a Bill, to produce distinct and clear propositions in writing, and to submit thorn to the still more searching criticism of print. he had listened with great attention to the speech of the noble Earl opposite—a speech of enormous value as well as from an historical point of view as from an academical aspect; but he did not gather himself—and he did not think the majority of their Lordships would have gathered—from that speech an idea sufficiently clear, concrete, and distinct of what the noble Earl proposed to justify the House in referring the matter to a Select Committee. What were the reforms to be? He could understand the distinct proposal to make the Agents General of the Colonies Lords of Parliament for a certain time. Such a proposal as that might be referred to a Select Committee with great advantage; but that was the only distinct and clear proposition placed before the House in the speech of the noble Earl. Therefore, he failed to see how it was possible to refer so vague a matter to a Select Committee. As to the second part of his noble Friend's Amendment, he could not agree with it. He thought it would be very injurious to preclude any Member of the House, not being a Cabinet Minister, from discussing this question of the reform of the constitution of the House. In fact, it appeared to him undesirable that the question should be brought forward by a Minister. It was certainly not advisable that Ministers should go ahead of public opinion, or place themselves in a position that might produce anything in the nature of a conflict between the two branches of the Legislature. He objected strongly to having their Lordships' mouths closed and completely gagged in this matter. There was one point in which he cordially agreed with his noble Friend who introduced the subject, and that was the opportuneness of the present moment. If it was right to consider the necessity of making alterations in the constitution of the House, it was essential that those alterations should be discussed impartially, and at a time when public opinion had not been fictitiously raised against the 1587 House of Lords. Their Lordships would bear in mind that events would shortly happen which would practically change the constitution of the other branch of the Legislature. The Government were that night introducing the Local Government Bill, by which a great deal of the Business which now occupied the House of Commons would devolve upon the counties. Probably in course of time the Irish Question in its present phase would disappear. In that case the House of Commons would be able to direct its attention to many great questions with which it was now precluded from dealing; and it was very essential, if Parliament was to be an official machine to conduct the Business of the country, and to carry out the wishes of the people, that some alterations should be made in the constitution of the House of Lords to enable it to keep touch with the other branch of the Legislature. His noble Friend opposite had pointed out that he (the Earl of Dunravon) had given a somewhat similar but more distinct Notice of Motion. He had intended to ask the House to declare that in its opinion alterations in its constitution were desirable and necessary. That Motion he withdrew; and on consideration with friends, and especially on refreshing his memory as to the debate that took place nearly four years ago, he came to the conclusion that the general view of the House would be that the proceeding by way of a Bill would bring forward distinct, clear, and crystallized propositions, and would be the method in which the House would prefer that the matter should be brought forward. He intended to introduce his Bill on Thursday next, and this would give their Lordships nil the Easter Recess to consider his proposals. Owing to the schemes with which he had been fathered by certain newspapers, he had been tempted to make a statement; but to have done so might have seemed discourteous to his noble Friend opposite; and, in the second place, he was unwilling to inflict two speeches on the same subject on their Lordships' House. He should be sorry to appear in the character both of judge and executioner. Believing, as he did, that to refer this matter to a Committee was not the best way of dealing with it, he could not vote for the Motion of his noble Friend; but he hoped that their Lordships would 1588 understand clearly that in not voting for the Motion he was by no means expressing disapproval of much that his noble Friend had said. He was in favour of the first half of the Noble Earl's Amendment, and he would suggest to him to divide it. For the first half he would be willing to vote; but for the second he could not. As it would be his privilege and duty, when asking their Lordships to give his Bill a second reading, to go largely into this subject, he would not enter into the general subject now.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
As my noble Friend on the Cross Benches has referred pointedly to some remarks of mine made some years ago, I should like to say a few words in explanation. I have not changed my mind as to the general proposition that to refer this matter to a Committee is not the most satisfactory method of proceeding. I see considerable objections to legislation of this kind being referred to a Committee; the best course would be to proceed by way of a Bill brought forward by the Government; but I shall, nevertheless, vote for the Motion of my noble Friend. The noble Earl on the Cross Benches must be well aware that since 1884 very large changes have taken place. The last Reform Bill had not then been passed, and everyone who attends to what takes place in this country must have seen that the desire for a reform of the House of Lords has greatly increased. After grave, reflection I am of opinion that we have now arrived at a point when the constitution of this House is such that it cannot long work harmoniously with the other House, and that, notwithstanding the magnitude of the task of reforming this House, it would be far more hazardous for us to do nothing and take our chance of what might occur hereafter. As an old Member of this House, I would not lightly support a Motion for inquiry into the constitution of this House; but I have come to the conclusion that the time has come for reconstructing the House on a new and different basis. The problem of a Second Chamber, I admit, is a most difficult one. It has, no doubt, been solved in the United States, but under conditions so different that we cannot draw any analogy. It has also been solved, to a certain extent, in Borne of our Colonies. But the difficulty is this 1589 —if you have an Assembly the Members of which are nominated for life, it has not strength enough. If, on the other hand, you have a really strong elected Assembly, you get a deadlock between the two Houses. No reform, I think, will work satisfactorily which does not provide for the settlement of differences that may arise. Different modes have been suggested, such as the requiring a measure to be sent up a second time in a subsequent Session; but I do not think that would be of any avail, for the Members of the Lower House would not, by the mere delay of a year, be induced to change their minds, or you might provide that the two Houses should vote together. I shall not enter into details; but this I will say—that I feel strongly that we cannot any longer rest on the old hereditary principle alone on which this House is based. This is a very grave conclusion, for that principle is so old and so interwoven with the Constitution of the State that to depart from it moans, to a great extent, the construction of a now House, and I am bound to admit that I think it would be most difficult to give to any now Chamber the prestige and authority which have so long belonged to this House. My noble Friend (the Earl of Wemyss) correctly described this Amendment as meaning that there must be a change in the hereditary character of this House, and in that sense I shall vote for it. I should welcome any intimation from the Government that they are prepared to consider the subject; and in this connection I wish to point out that I have been much influenced by the recent utterances of certain Conservative Members—by the opinion expressed by so distinguished a man as Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, and still more by what was said the other evening by the Leader of the House of Commons. It was an important statement for a person filling the position of Leader of the House of Commons to say that he should be glad to see the question taken up by the House of Lords itself. When I made the observations in 1884 which have been referred to, it must be borne in mind that I was one of the Ministers of the Crown, and that the Government of the day was already engaged upon the reform of the other House. I shall vote for the Motion, understanding it to mean that a large reconstruction of this House 1590 is desirable; but, whatever the fate of the Motion may be, I shall welcome any announcement of the noble Marquess that he, on the part of the Government, will undertake to deal with this most important question.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
No doubt the noble Earl who has just sat down is justified in speaking of this as a grave and important Motion, for what is proposed is nothing less than an entire reconstruction of one of the Houses of the Legislature—a reconstruction, too, of the fashion of which we have hitherto had no experience. The House of Commons has been reformed—reformed again and again; but it has always been reformed upon the basis of its ancient constitution, and upon the theory of that constitution. You are asked now to absolutely deny and cast aside the principles on which this House has always existed, and the basis on which, for 300 years, it has reposed. I listened with great attention to the remarkably able and eloquent speech of the noble Earl opposite. It was very courteous in its reference to myself, and it was not wanting in that fertility of illustration which we are accustomed to at his hands. But I confess it seemed to me to have been a speech which should have been justified by laying upon the Table the measure to which it referred. It was a speech not for an inquiry—it was a speech with a foregone conclusion—foregone conclusions of the widest character, and yet only dimly shadowed out, and left unexplained in that fulness which would enable us to criticize its exact proposals. Upon a question of this kind, do not imagine that you can ride away by saying you can settle details first and principles afterwards. Upon the working of the details depends the actual result of any measure which you may introduce. The noble Earl proposes to refer this question to a Committee; but what Order of Reference does he give to the Committee? They have absolutely none. They are to consider the constitution of this House much as a doctor might be asked to examine the body of some diseased patient carried to the hospital. The only Order of Reference which they could have is the speech of the noble Earl who introduced the 1591 Motion. They must study that speech, and they must find out, from the arguments that he used, and from the considerations on which he dwelt, what are the evils which this Committee is required to examine into, and what is the nature of the remedies which it is expected to recommend. Well, if you consider his speech in that point of view as an Order of Reference to the Committee that we are to appoint, the matter which appeared to me most prominent in his speech, the defect to which he referred the most frequently was that there was an overwhelming majority of this House against the Party to which he has the honour to belong. I do not pretend that one-sidedness in any House of Legislature may not he evil; but before you made that one-sidedness the ground for a fundamental alteration in the character and the structure of a House of Legislature, you should inquire whether it arises from permanent or from exceptional causes—whether it is a lasting or temporary phenomenon. Now, what is this preponderance of the Tory Party in the House of Lords? Is it a thing which has always existed, or is it duo to special causes having arisen is recent days? My Lords, my Parliamentary life extends somewhere back to the year 1853; and if I may limit my considerations to those times, I confess it seems to me that not only is this Tory preponderance not a thing necessarily belonging to this House, not an essential part of it, but that it has been confined to the life of one man, and the latter half of the life of that man. In 1853 a measure was brought forward which deeply affected many persons in this House, and influenced the opinions of a large body—namely, the Succession Duty. Lord Derby, the Leader of the Tory Party, opposed that measure, and was defeated; and the Government of the day—a Liberal Government—were successful. In 1854 there was a reform of the Universities, which included the admission of the Dissenters. It was very much opposed by the Tory Party at that time in the House of Commons and in this House. Lord Derby, who led the attack on that occasion, was utterly defeated; and the Government of the day—a Liberal Government—carried their principal measure. Passing on to the year 1857, I find that Lord 1592 Palmerston was in Office, and that a Vote of Censure was brought forward in this House on the conduct of the Chinese War, a similar Vote having been actually passed in the other House by the Tory Party, assisted by some deserters from the other side. The Motion was rejected in this House, rejected by the Liberal Government of the day, rejected against Lord Derby, the then Leader of the Tory Party. In 1864 Lord Palmerston's conduct of the Danish business attracted considerable censure, and there was a very angry controversy. Lord Palmerston was challenged in the other House of Parliament, and only avoided a Vote of Censure by a majority of 18. A Vote of Censure was moved in this House, and again the Liberal Party succeeded in obtaining a majority of the Peers present in this House, and the Tory Party were defeated. Up to that date, thon, is it not ridiculous to say that there was such a Tory majority in this House as to expose it to the charge of being a Tory Assembly? The charge utterly falls to the ground. No doubt, when Lord Palmerston passed away and another statesman took the helm, matters changed. When I canto to this House in 1868 there was a Tory majority—a very small one, but it grow year by year. It grew in spite of the numbers of Peers poured into the House by Mr. Gladstone—Peers who were almost to a man converted after their appearance here. It grew not by reason of any inherent Toryism in the House, not by reason of any one-sided character in the Assembly—it grew because the peculiar measures which Mr. Gladstone proposed were of a character to produce an entirely different dividing line of Parties. I wish to avoid language of Party controversy, and, therefore, I will not examine into the character of those measures more closely. But they were peculiar in that they drew a new dividing line between Parties, and, unfortunately, your Parties coincided with classes much more closely than had over been the case before. But it was due to a temporary circumstance, to the influence of a single statesman, to the career and growing predilections of a single man, undoubtedly by his ability and his great mastery over the convictions of his countrymen; but it was due to his action, his policy, and it was contermi- 1593 nous with his career as Prime Minister that this overwhelming majority which the noble Earl makes his chief point of indictment against the House of Lords, entirely as well as originally arose. In passing, I will say a word about the addition of Peers to this House. I must apologize to the noble Earl for having interrupted him, and not with absolute accuracy. I thought there was a considerable majority of Commoners in the Cabinet. There is not a majority of Peers, but to say there is far from a majority is not accurate. The noble Earl dwelt rather strongly upon the addition of Peers to this House. It is a large question of policy into which I am not prepared to enter fully; but he selected instances with considerable judgment and skill, and pointed practically the whole of his censure upon this and the last Tory Government, or, at all events, the greater part of his censure. His crushing instance was the last two years.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
You began with seven, but went on to two. What I want to point out is that the figures are rather interesting. What has been the addition to this House from the Liberal and Tory side during that period, when it is said that the House has become exclusively Tory? Putting aside, as he did, the Irish and Scotch Peers, who stand on a different footing, and treating merely of now Peers, there has been, since the accession of William IV., 129 new Liberal Peers and 65 new Conservative Peers. If during that period there has been a considerable increase in the Tory Party in this House, it has not been due to now creations. The whole of the noble Lard's argument against the authority of the House, in so far as he developed it, depended upon the fact that the House of Commons represented 6,000,000 people, and that we undoubtedly did not represent 6,000,000 people. But would the noble Lord's recommendations alter this state of things? Would he, by reducing the number of the House of Lords, by having the Members elected by one another, by introducing the Privy Council, the Chairmen of the Boards of Guardians and the Chairmen of the County Boards, and the Agents 1594 General of the Colonies—would he give any sound democratic basis to this House? Why, we should then be just as much a subject of complaint and of resentment; we should stink just as much in the nostrils of the orthodox Radicals of the day as before we undertook reform. Much the same may be said as to the requirement that this House should produce a majority in harmony with the other House of Parliament when there is a Liberal majority there. My Lords, I ask you to conceive how, even with the materials furnished by the noble Earl, you could possibly construct a House of Lords in which there should be a permanent Radical majority. I do not say that you could not get Radicals enough and in any number among that class of persons who wish to obtain seats in Parliament and whose minds are biassed by that overpowering desire; but in the present state of political opinion with regard to many matters that are subjects of controversy, a House of Lords with a Radical majority would be a very odd Assembly. Among the reasons which the noble Earl gave for reform he spoke of the existence of black sheep among us, I am entirely with the noble Earl upon that point, only I rather demur to its being supposed that the House of Lords is the only Assembly where there are black sheep. If the noble Earl will bring forward a measure which shall rigidly exclude his black sheep from both Houses of Parliament, he will have no warmer supporter than myself. It is a change much to be desired, but very difficult to effect; because the kind of evil charged against certain Members of the House is not always matter that is sworn to and proved in a Court of Justice, but depends upon other circumstances, and unless you have the courage to imitate the old Romans and elect every year two Censors and give them the powers which they did, you would have very considerable difficulty in carrying oat a measure of reform which I cannot but repeat is most extremely desirable. Do not lot it be imagined that the noble Earl's plan would get rid of the difficulty. He proposes that a certain number of your Lordships should be elected by the other fragment, elected, as I understand him, for life. But what, I ask, is to prevent an elected Peer from becoming a black sheep? You would, as it seems to me, 1595 be in exactly the same position under the noble Earl's scheme as you were in before. Then the noble Earl spoke about the subject of Life Peers. I was sorry to hear he was so discouraging. I hold the opinion, which I held 20 years ago and advocated in this House, that a certain number of Life Peers added to the House would increase its efficiency and its weight in the country. I think Life Peerages must be restricted, because there must be a limit to the power of making sudden additions to the House, to avoid a misuse of the Prerogative. If we are to have Life Peers, we may, perhaps, have a certain small number created every year, and that would prevent the sudden exercise of the power of creating them. There are two matters with respect to this question of Life Peers upon which I should like to make one observation. Since we discussed this matter 20 years ago, Life Peers have probably become less acceptable than they formerly were. It is not now, as it was then, so much thought necessary that an hereditary Peer should have a considerable amount of fortune. Formerly the charm of Life Peerages was that one could be given to a man who had not the fortune necessary to take a hereditary Peerage. I am afraid you would find that the people to whom you offered Life Peerages would be indignant and would say they preferred the other alternative. Then we have learned a good deal from experience with respect to appellate jurisdiction. We have had three noble and learned Lords introduced into this House as Life Peers connected with an Office, and the experiment has been exceptionally successful; they have added the greatest strength to the House; they have expressed opinions in debate which have been, much valued; and they have exercised an influence altogether out of proportion to their number. That experiment may well encourage us to proceed on the line of creating Life Peerages connected with Offices. I believe there is no sounder mode of doing it. I do not know whether it has struck the noble Earl, but when you are considering the question of adding to this House men who have made their mark in their professions, it occurs to me that the Peers who have been introduced on this account have been, much more silent than we could have hoped, and they have not taken the pains 1596 to give to the House to the extent that had been anticipated the benefit of their great experience and reputation. In fact, I should particularize more closely, and say that unless a Peer has been in the House of Commons—of course, I am not including the right rev. Bench—or unless he is a member of the Bar, he shrinks from taking part in the debates of the House of Lords. I believe, on the whole, it is the most terrible audience a man can address, and it certainly has the effect of entirely extinguishing those who have not got the rebur et œs triplex which is conferred by the Bar and the House of Commons. So far from adopting an attitude of non possumus, I am anxious to see any reasonable measure for the extension of Life Peerages which shall have a good chance of passing through the other House of Parliament. I hold strongly to the position laid down by the late Lord Cairns that we ought not to allow our constitution to be made an annual. If the other House of Parliament is willing to take it up and deal with it, I should be very willing to concur in a measure for the creation of Life Peerages; but I will not do it as long as the state of Business or the disposition of the leading men in the House leaves it doubtful that they will accept the propositions that may be made. The noble Earl has laid before us a shadowy but vast and gigantic scheme. It is very difficult to discuss details of which you know so little. When the noble Earl tells us he is going to put the Privy Council into this House, what is that but taking power for an unlimited creation of Life Peers?
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
was understood to say that he had only spoken of the Privy Council in the abstract.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
What between the noble Earl's Second Chambers in the abstract and those in the concrete, it is very difficult indeed to discuss the propositions he makes. At all events, he proposed that one fragment should elect another fragment; but the noble Earl was struck with the difficulty which must strike all—What is to be done with the Peers who are excluded? Can you impose on them disabilities, and forbid them to be elected to the House of Commons? I do not wish to say anything that may trench on the susceptibilities of any 1597 person in this House; but is it not just possible that this House would consist of all those Peers who could not get into the House of Commons? That would be a very humiliating conclusion. I do not wish to discuss in detail at this late hour the noble Earl's proposals—indeed, we have not got them—but I want to impress upon the House, when you are dealing with a subject of this vast importance and great magnitude, you should not throw a shadowy scheme before a Committee and trust to Providence that something may come out of it. Let us have proposals, whatever they are, laid before us in the shape of clauses on this Table, and let each man consider them for himself and state his opinions upon them. I am going to put forward an opinion which I fear may be thought paradoxical, but which I earnestly commend to the consideration of the House. It is not only that the hereditary principle ought not to be extirpated, nor that it ought to be largely diminished, but that no Second Chamber can answer with such a Government as we have got, that no Second Chamber is likely to answer in the long run, so well as a Second Chamber based on the hereditary principle. My reason for that opinion is this—it is because most of those who sit in this Chamber do not themselves select the profession of politics as a thing which they love, but come to it by the operation of external causes, that the result is we have a body that would be defective indeed for a First Chamber, where we require all the eagerness, devotion, and intense application you can get—we have a body that brings to the consideration of political matters a feeling which might be described by enemies as one of languor, but which I would describe as one of good nature and easy-going tolerance, which enables them to accommodate themselves to the difficult part of playing second to the House of Commons. If you could sot up another Chamber, with all the titles to power, according to existing ideas, that an electoral foundation could give, and consisting of men who had taken to politics because it was the profession they preferred, and to political subjects because they were those in which they took deepest interest, do you suppose, when you have got together a Chamber so constructed, that they will tolerate the 1598 position which this House occupies now with respect to the House of Commons? Will they consent to be excluded from the consideration of all financial measures in respect both of taxation and expenditure? Would they tolerate the House of Commons monopolizing the choice of Ministers of the Crown? Would they not insist on sharing equally all the powers of the House of Commons? They would have the power to do so; and they would exercise that power just as the Rouse of Commons did in its earliest days. They would decline to co-operate with the House of Commons unless what they considered their fair claims to a just share of power were satisfied. You do not have that difficulty now. You have a body of men who have other interests, other thoughts; only a small fraction of us are devoted politicians. We are overruled. I have been constantly overruled by the—what shall I say?—less zealous, less intense feeling of those who constitute the majority of the House; and, although on each individual occasion I might have complained that others had not felt so deeply as myself, looking at it as a whole, as bearing upon the power of this House to perform its duty as a Second Chamber, it seems to me that the temper which the hereditary principle, and that alone, confers on the Second Chamber is the only temper on which a Second Chamber can act so as to allow the Business of the country to go on so long as the power and position of the House of Commons remain what they are now. Depend upon it, if you over succeed in so altering the character of this House that it consist entirely of determined politicians who always attend all the debates and attach the same weight and importance that are attached to their own opinions by those who sit in the House of Commons, you will have pronounced the doom of our present system of government. The peculiar arrangement under which we live now must give place to the recognition of some other depositary of power. I believe, therefore, my Lords, that you are treading on very dangerous ground, you are touching weapons of a terribly keen edge, when you undertake to reconstruct the ancient Assemblage to which we belong. It may be possible—I do not say how far it is—to add elements to this House that shall strengthen it 1599 without producing these evils; but it would be very easy so to alter it that it will no longer be the same House of Lords, so that it may either lose its authority or activity altogether, or that it may take a place in the Constitution which will be fatal to the Constitution as it exists. The task on which we are entering is one of the extremest difficulty; you require to know before you take one step what is the next stop you are to be asked to take, and to have placed before you in all details the prepositions on which you are asked to pronounce a judgment. If Bills are brought forward by the noble Earl we will give them our most careful consideration. Opposing no non possumus, we will gladly consider any proposal for adding to the efficiency and usefulness of the House. But I, for one, cannot favour a proposal which means pledging the House in a vague and shadowy way to a large proposition, and which deals with the reform of one House of Parliament in a manner in which the subject has never been approached before in respect to either of thorn at any period of our history.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
My Lords, I desire shortly to explain the vote I propose to give. It has been for a very long lime said that Conservatism increases with old age. There are some exceptions to the rule, and the noble Marquess appears to be one of those exceptions, because I remember about four years ago he was the strongest possible Conservative; and some people have recently been heard to doubt whether that Conservatism had not disappeared. His speech to-night, however, will satisfy some of his supporters that he is still a Conservative; but I doubt whether it will please all noble Lords who sit here. I hope that old age has not made me more Conservative; but on the question of the reform of this House I must rejoice that I have seen reason to affirm and extend my adherence to the principles I have always professed. I should like to say a very few words as to that. For a great number of years I have hold that as long as the Crown retains the power of the creation of Peers in this House it is desirable that the selections by the Crown should not be confined to Representatives of great landed properties, distinguished Members of the House of Commons, of the 1600 Professions, and the Diplomatic Service, but that it should be extended to Representatives of trade, manufactures, industry, and art; that it should be extended to men of intellectual attainments, and also those who have rendered great services in social matters to the State. But I think it would much facilitate that arrangement if Life Peerages could be introduced. For more than 30 years of my life I have advocated this course, and believe that if the House of Lords adopted it when, some years ago, the proposal was made, that, while they would not have avoided all criticism or attack, they would, nevertheless, have taken the sting out of some of the principal attacks which have been made. It is impossible for anyone who has had the honour of a seat in this House for 44 years not to be aware of many faults of procedure and of composition, but I think that some of the complaints which have been made against us were not peculiarly applicable to this House. Take, for instance, the case which the noble Marquess and the noble Earl alluded to, and upon which they appeared to be agreed—that of disreputable Members of this House. I believe there is no Assembly without such Members; even in the House of Commons. I well remember many years ago a Member, who was habitually known to exceed the legitimate limits of conviviality, and when complaint was originally made about it, we were told that it would be set right when it came to the Election, and yet that Gentleman was elected to successive Parliaments. Then, again, on matters of immorality, it was notorious that Mr. Wilkes was a most immoral man, and yet he was elected, and enthusiastically re-elected, for his espousal of the popular cause. But it is, no doubt, desirable that the House should consider some means of dealing with this matter in a self-acting manner. A case had been mentioned whore an eccentric Earl had kept the Lord Chancellor two hours from his dinner; but that sort of offence is not confined to your Lordships' House. I remember an instance when a Member of a Committee in the House of Commons had declined to adjourn with the rest of the Committee, and had remained alone with the unfortunate witness and the still more unfortunate shorthand writer until midnight. With regard to 1601 the House of Lords, I do not believe in the perfect unpopularity of this Assembly. I think the influence of, and the respect for, this House have been very dangerously shaken, but I do not believe thorn to be extinct. I have been honoured with requests to address political meetings in various parts of the country, and I have no doubt other noble Lords on both sides have been the same; but whenever we have accepted the invitations we have been most kindly received, and I venture to think that it is not absolutely from our own personal merits that we have been so well received, as many of us undoubtedly are, but it is really because of our connection with this historical Institution which does appeal very much to the imagination of the country. Now, in saying this, and in pointing out what I think to be the character of some of the attacks upon us, I trust nobody will think I am an enemy of all reform of the House of Lords. All these arguments only tend to prove how necessary it is to take in time those measures for retaining whatever popularity we have left. My noble Friend (the Earl of Rosebery), four years ago, made a speech on this subject, and he advisedly abstained from limiting it by any details. On that occasion I thought it necessary to consult the Prime Minister of that day as to the course we should take with regard to it. We agreed that we could not, as a Government, support the Motion for a Committee, asked for entirely on the views which my noble Friend expressed, and I argued on those lines, and stated how important it was for a measure of this character that we should have the assistance of the great Conservative majority, on which entirely depended the success of our measure. I never was more surprised in my life than when I heard the noble Marquess argue just now that it had not been general to have a Conservative majority in this House. From the beginning of Lord Liverpool's Government the majority had been Conservative. The noble Marquess referred to the carrying of a Vote of Censure on Lord Palmerston—
§ EARL GRANVILLE
It was carried by proxies at a time when numbers of 1602 those who would have voted in person naturally voted by proxies. Why, I thought that the fact of a Conservative majority was one which no one could deny, and I believe that it is era that fact that much of the agitation of which we have heard depends. I believe that if four years ago the noble Marquess had adopted the advice then given, and had agreed to allow a Committee to inquire into this matter, we should not have heard much of the present Motion. My noble Friend on the Cross Benches thinks it a most wonderful change that we should vote now for the Motion of my noble Friend; but whether wonderful or not it is justified by the facts of the case—for example, the great change of circumstances, the great alteration in the feeling of the people on this subject, and the great change in the constitution of the other House, A further reason 13 that my noble Friend now brought forward a definite proposal, whereas when the Members of the Liberal Government voted against him he did nothing of the kind. The strong desire of the noble Marquess to give full effect to the conviction of this House is also an element in the question. I must say this, though I do not desire to make it a matter of reproach at this time, that if the noble Marquess, in giving effect to the convictions of this House, had been actuated by the same spirit as the Duke of Wellington, Lord Aberdeen, and of Lord Beaconsfield, the feeling in existence to-day would not have been at all commensurate with what it is. The noble Marquess—and I am sorry to think that the speech which he has just delivered will tend very much to confirm the feeling—has done much to shako the position of the House. The manner in which he plants down his foot, in a firm and apparently irrevocable manner—only, however, to take it up again after a Vote of the House of Commons or under pressure from his own followers—the manner in which he has announced that what be would like to see would be an American Senate—
§ EARL GRANVILLE
The noble Marquess really forgets what he says. He said he would be glad to see au American Senate established if he thought it were possible; and, of 1603 course, it is not possible. I cannot conceive anything that will shake the estimation of this House more than the advice, so often quoted, which he gave at Oxford. And that leads me to say that it was very unhappy, not only In regard to the general question, but also in regard to the chances of any moderate and reasonable reform which your Lordships yourselves might be inclined to make, that the House of Commons and the constituencies should be told that when bad Parliaments send up bad measures he hopes and trusts they will all be rejected by this House. I think those words have contributed more than anything else to the present feeling against the House of Lords.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
What I said was that I hoped the House of Lords would act on its conscientious convictions. I suppose the noble Earl wishes the House of Lords not to act on its conscientious convictions.
I do not, of course, object to the House acting on its conscientious convictions; but I suppose the noble Marquess will himself concede that such important matters as Catholic Emancipation, the Corn Laws, and Parliamentary Reforms, were in opposition to the conscientious convictions of the House of Lords. With reference to the details of any reform of this Assembly, they might with advantage be considered by a Committee, and I think it is most unfortunate that the noble Marquess should have answered the appeal of my noble Friend by a distinct non possumus.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I said I was willing to consider any proposition, but I wished to have it before me in a definite manner, in black and white.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I am bound to say, considering the declaration of Mr. Smith in "another place," on the subject, it is the merest bathos for the noble Marquess to say that he must first have a definite plan before him in order to pick it to pieces whenever it should be presented. I cannot conceive anything more unsatisfactory than that declaration, especially when I consider that there are certain Members of the Government, and notably Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, who think it most desirable that some reform should be ini- 1604 tiated. I at once admit that if the present Government were to attempt a reasonable reform of the House of Lords it would be in their power to pass such a measure through both Houses, whereas the thing would be utterly impossible for a Liberal Government. Before I sit down I wish to say that I am entirely opposed to the destruction of the hereditary principle. I believe there is a great feeling in the country in favour of the hereditary principle, although some of the abuses connected with it are strongly felt. Take the case of that great man the present Emperor of Germany—a hero not only in the field of battle, but in the more trying circumstances which now surround him. We know the affection which he has excited throughout the whole German nation; but I venture to say that, in addition to his personal qualities, there is also the feeling that he is the son of his father and belongs to a race whom the Germans think have contributed great and lasting benefit to the country. Therefore I for one would be very sorry to see the Government of this country carried on by only one Chamber, and from the Second Chamber the hereditary principle altogether eradicated. In my opinion that would be no advantage. It is because I wish to secure those objects that it seems to me desirable that the reforms should be made in the way suggested by the noble Lord—at all events, by the most Constitutional way—the House of Lords not relegating their power to a Committee, but using some of the most competent Members of your Lordships' Assembly to examine and report, and for you afterwards to consider and reject. While, however, I entirely endorse what my noble Friend said as to the desirability of the Government taking up this great question, the Government having given no indication whatever of undertaking to deal with it, there is only one course left, which is to vote for the Committee which has been moved by my noble Friend.
THE EARL OF MORLEY
said, he understood that their Lordships in no way pledged themselves to the particular proposals of the noble Earl in voting for the Motion. His own feeling was that the constitution of the House required change, and that it would be wiser and more politic to anticipate that change 1605 than to wait for it. That was the meaning of the vote he intended to give.
§ On Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Motion?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents 50; Not-Contents 97: Majority 47.1606
|St. Albans, D.
|Hamilton of Dalzell, L.
|Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)
|Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)
|Suffolk and Berkshire, E.
|Gordon, V. (E. Aberdeen)
|Monteagle of Brandon, L.
|Oxenbridge, V. [Teller.]
|Rosebery, L. (E. Rosebery.) [Teller.]
|Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)
|Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.
|de Vesci, L. (V. de Vesci.)
|Douglas, L. (E. Home.)
|Zouche of Haryngworth, L.
|Elgin, L. (E. Elign and Kincardine.)
|Halsbury, L. (L. Chancellor.)
|Cranbrook, V. (L. President.)
|De La Warr, E.
|Doncaster, E. (D. Bucclench and Queensbeery.)
|Cadogan, E. (L. Privy Seal.)
|Buckingham and Chandos, D.
|Innes, E. (D, Roxburghe.)
|Mount-Edgcumbe, E. (L. Steward.)
|Lathom, E. (L. Chamberlain.)
|Brooke and Warwick, E.
|Hartismere, L. (L. Henniker.)
|Chester, L. Bp.
|Hopetoun, L. (E. Hopetoun.)
|Kenlis, L. (M. Headfort.)
|Arundell of Wardour, L.
|Kenry, L. (E. Dunraven and Mount-Earl.)
|Ashford, L. (V. Bury.)
|Ker, L. (M. Lothian.)
|Balfour of Hurley, L.
|Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)[Teller.]
|Balinhard, L. (E. Southesk)
|Botreaux, L. (E. Loudoun.)
|Carysfort, L. (E. Carysfort.)
|Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)
|Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)
|Clanbrassill, L. (E. Roden.)
|Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.)
|Stanley of Alderley, L.
|Stanley of Preston, L.
|Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)
|De L'Isle and Dudley, L.
|Stratheden and Campbell, L.
|de Ros, L.
|Talbot de Malahide, L.
|Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)
|Foxford, L. (E. Limerick.) [Teller.]
|Wigan, L. (E. Crawford and Balcarres.)
§ Said Resolution here inserted, and a Question being stated thereupon,
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
said, I do not think that the Amendment of the noble Earl, though no doubt excellent rhetorically, would form a good precedent, or is quite suited for record on the Journals of the House. It is not precisely in the style used in the Journals, and I will therefore take what seems to me to be the Constitutional course, and move the Previous Question.
§ Previous Question put, Whether this Question shall be now put?
§ Resolved in the negative.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
asked, what happened to the Motion of the noble Lord behind him (Lord Stratheden and Campbell)?