THE EARL OF CARNARVON
, in rising to ask whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to submit to Parliament any measure for restraining; unworthy Members of their Lordships' House from voting or taking part in its proceedings, said: My Lords, it will be in the recollection of your Lordships that the noble and learned Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government last year introduced two Bills dealing with this subject. The first Bill was mainly concerned in giving the Crown a power to appoint Life Peers. It would be a stretch of imagination to say that that Bill met with any very enthusiastic welcome from your Lordships; and, though my noble Friend introduced the Bill, I doubt whether he was himself a very keen supporter of it. However, that Bill has passed away, and I do not propose on this occasion to disturb its rest. There was a second Bill, and, in my opinion, a more valuable one which accompanied it, which I might briefly express by saying that it was a measure intended for the purification of this House. My Lords, the object of that Bill, I think, was a very valuable one. My noble Friend will do me the justice to remember that for years past I have always desired to see some such Bill introduced, and though I am not quite clear that the machinery proposed by that Bill was all that could have been desired, yet the object of it was one upon which I think there was no difference of opinion expressed in this House, and one in which I certainly fully and entirely concur. Your Lordships will remember that it was late in the Session: that we had a considerable debate in this House, and many important speeches were made, and the Bill. I think, passed through the second reading, and was sent to Committee, and the expectations about it were sanguine. At that moment my noble Friend got up and announced that my right honourable Friend Mr. Smith in another place had, in accomplishing that which is euphemistically called "the massacre of the innocents," consigned these two Bills to destruction. My Lords, the House broke up, there was a dissolving view, and the Bills 552 themselves absolutely vanished from sight. The question that I have to ask my noble Friend is this: whether he is prepared either to revise the second of those two Bills for the purification of this House, or to introduce something similar? I earnestly hope that my noble Friend will be able to give an affirmative answer to my Question. My Lords, it is impossible not to feel that some such measure is necessary. There are, unfortunately, cases which I need not specify, because most of them are notorious. There are cases in which old and honoured names have been dragged through the mud, and in which it has been openly stated out of doors that the holders of those names and titles were unworthy to sit here. My Lords, there may be, and there often is, in these cases a good deal of exaggeration. The numbers are comparatively few. It is not wonderful that there should be, out of so large a number as those who fill this House—nearly 600—some who are untrue to the traditions of their family, or to the names that they bear, but it is not the less fatally injurious, because the statements concerning them are taken up, repeated and exaggerated, and the effect which is produced all through the country is one which re-acts not only upon this House, but all the great institutions of the land. And, my Lords, in a certain sense, that is an opinion which I hold to be entirely right. I believe that there is no one of your Lordships whom I am now addressing who does not agree with me in the necessity of purging this House from such unworthy Members. I am quite certain that there is not one dissentient out of doors. Your Lordships will remember that we are charged with legislative functions. It is absolutely inconceivable that men whose characters are tainted should, by hereditary right, be empowered to make laws and determine the policy of the country. There are certain cases in this world where public and private character are so bound up with each other that it is impossible to separate them, and I venture to say that in the case of this House the private character of individual Members becomes to all intents and purposes public property. My Lords, it is on this foundation that this House really stands. Take that away and it 553 is nothing but a baseless fabric. We are perfectly right in discussing as we did the other night what should be the quorum, what the attendance, what the best rules for the despatch of public business: all these things are, doubtless, of great public utility. But, after all, the real stay and pillar of this House is the character of its individual Members, and those who legislate and those who are empowered here to pronounce authoritatively upon public policy should, like Cæsar's wife, be above all cavil and suspicion. Therefore, I say that your Lordships would be perfectly right in framing, so far as we are concerned, the severest possible rules by which we may both hold our seats and take part in public proceedings. My Lords, it may be perfectly well said that there are Gentlemen of a very questionable character in the other House of Parliament. It is perfectly true; but, at the same time, you must remember that the House of Commons is an elective body, and that creates a very great distinction, and we must leave the House and the constituents who send up an unworthy Member to settle the matter between themselves. They have had to do this before now, and they may have to do it again. It is probably necessary, I apprehend, to adopt the course which the Government thought fit to adopt last year, and to introduce a Bill upon the subject. It would be a matter of high Constitutional law whether we could meet the difficulty by our own powers; I assume that it is necessary to introduce a Bill. Statutory power is probably needed either to remove or to suspend from his functions in this House an unworthy Peer; but, anyhow, it would be necessary for your Lordships to supplement such a measure by machinery within the House. The Bill of last year, as far as I remember, did not provide that machinery, but I assume that the Government would have made some recommendations upon that subject had the Bill passed. Now I have heard it also said, sometimes, that there should be precedent for this. My Lords, I hold that where a great evil exists, as undoubtedly does exist here, an evil not to be measured by the mere numbers of the delinquents, it would be desirable to make a precedent if no precedent existed; and it does seem to 554 me strange that there should not be some such power of censorship or of suspension inherent in any great body like this when we have seen it exercised from time immemorial—from the time of the Roman Senate down to the constitution of a London West End club. But, as a matter of fact, there is a precedent, so far as it goes, in this respect: that, by the recent Bankruptcy Act, anyone who is adjudged bankrupt is disqualified from sitting or voting in this House. It has also been said that it will be very difficult to specify with sufficient clearness the particular offences for which it is desired to invoke this power of removal or suspension. I confess I do not follow that objection at all. I see no reason whatever why you should define and specify the offence so closely. The Bill of last year did not do so. It very wisely avoided that mistake. After all, it is for your Lordships to remember that in the Army and in the Navy conduct unbefitting a gentleman and an officer is thought ample, and more than ample, to bring down punishment on the offender's head. I venture to think that that which serves the Army and Navy may serve us in this case. My Lords, I do not desire on this occasion to argue this matter any further. What I have said has been with a view of impressing upon my noble Friend at the head of Her Majesty's Government the extreme importance which I, and I believe many of your Lordships, attach, and which certainly is attached out of doors, to the purifying of this House from those few, but still notorious, offenders who detract from its weight and authority as a public institution. I am confident that it can be accomplished, and that it can be accomplished with justice to the individual, with satisfaction to the public, and with credit also to this House.
§ EARL COWPER
My Lords, I do not know whether I shall be considered very singular when I ask your Lordships clearly to say whether you think that it is necessary to legislate on this particular point at all. No one has complained with regard to our black sheep that they are common at all, that they put themselves very much forward, that they bleat very loudly, or that they really make themselves objectionable in any way in this House. That being the case and it being our invariable custom in this country not 555 to legislate for imaginary evils, but only to take action when there is a real grievance to remedy, I would ask whether sufficient case has been made out for legislation upon this matter or for proceeding by a Resolution? This House is not a new institution. It has existed for many hundreds of years, and I think we have got on very well until now without anything of this sort being done. I think that we may perhaps be aided rather by history. Two or three generations ago there were at least as many disreputable characters belonging to this House as there are now, but it was never thought necessary to take means for preventing them taking their seats. A great many charges have been made by the public against this House, but I do not think want of respectability is one of them. We have been very unjustly found fault with in many respects. Our wisdom, our energy, our freedom from prejudice, and our power of adapting ourselves to the spirit of the age—all these qualities have been, I think, very unjustly impugned at different times; but I do not think our respectability has ever been questioned. For these reasons, I venture to think, it is quite unnecessary to legislate in this matter. Then, my Lords, consider the practical difficulty. It is not at all easy to make out who ought to be excluded. My noble Friend alluded to bankrupts. Well, there are very often cases in which the bankruptcy is more the misfortune than the fault of the unfortunate bankrupt. If you look back to former days you will find that some of the greatest historical men—some of the greatest statesmen, like Pitt, and Fox, and Sheridan, and others—were always on the verge of bankruptcy, and were only saved from it by the munificence of their friends. Again, I suppose the noble Earl would exclude Peers from this House who had been the subject of an adverse verdict in a Court of Justice. Now, will the noble Earl consider the Jockey Club a Court of Justice for that purpose? Remember that many men have been before the Courts and been convicted for no very great fault, and for something that does not necessarily stigmatize them for the rest of their lives, and in the same way many men who have never been before the Courts at all are great scoundrels and unworthy to sit in 556 any respectable assembly. If you take Courts of Justice as a criterion, will you apply the principle to spiritual Lords as well as temporal? For instance, if a Bishop is convicted of a ritualistic offence, will he be debarred for ever from sitting in this House? I do not think my noble Friend who brought forward this question will quite approve of that. My Lords, the more I consider this matter the more I cannot help thinking that it will be much better to leave it where it is.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
My Lords, if the question before your Lordships' House was the effect upon this House of those few Members of it whom the noble Lord described as "black sheep," I should say that the remarks of the noble Earl who has just sat down were very pertinent, but as the question before your Lordships is, as pointed out by my noble Friend below (Lord Carnarvon), the effect upon the public generally of the fact that some Members of this House might be called unworthy Members of the Legislature, I cannot see that the arguments of the noble Lord are very much to the point. I cannot at all agree with the noble Earl that the objections which are sometimes raised in the country to this House, among them the fact that this House contains these unworthy Members, be they few or many, are of no importance. The objections that are made to this House in the country generally consist of two. First of all, that great divisions are often taken by Members of this House who very seldom participate in the debates, and who very seldom attend the House. The second is that there are some Members of this House, who may possibly influence by their votes the whole destinies of the people, who are certainly not persons who would be elected to this or to any other Legislative Assembly. I sincerely trust that the noble Marquess the Prime Minister will re-introduce the Bill of last Session, or introduce some Bill of a similar kind. I frankly admit that the question is full of difficulty. Difficulties have been pointed out by noble Lords opposite. The noble Earl who spoke last pointed out for instance the matter of bankruptcy; and I quite agree with him that that would be a difficult matter to deal with, although 557 I am happy to think that the acquaintance of the noble Earl with bankruptcy appears to be a very limited one, because the noble Earl, apparently, saw no difference between being on the verge of bankruptcy, and being a bankrupt; but I should think that the difference to the individual concerned would be very great indeed. If the Crown has power given it to cancel a writ, or not to issue a writ, I presume that power would only be set in motion by a Resolution of the House or by some means of that kind, and that some tribunal would be appointed by the House in order to advise the House in the matter. I do not think it would be very difficult to purge the House of these unworthy Members by any statutory measure that may be brought in. Last Session I had the honour of introducing a Bill dealing with the Reform of the Constitution of this House by your Lordships, a Bill that I am bound to say, for, flatter myself as I may, met with very little approbation from any quarter of this House. At the same time without arrogance, I think, I may say that I believe that time will somewhat soften your Lordships' views towards that Bill, because I do believe that people in this country are very much in favour of real and large reforms of this House, and I believe that when your Lordships have made up your minds that such is the case, this House will undertake its own reform; and I venture to think that when this House seriously entertains such matters, the measure which will be introduced will be found to proceed very much on the lines of the Bill which I had the honour to introduce. I can only say that it would be difficult to deal with this subject in any other way than that which I suggested last Session, namely—by delegation or selection. It would be impossible to put upon any Committee of this House, or any individual Member of the House, the disagreeable and invidious task of saying that certain Peers were unworthy to take part in the proceedings of the House. It seems to me the only way in which the difficulty can be got over is by the House appointing a certain number of its members to deal with the matter. But be that as it may, as there is no likelihood whatever of anything of the kind that I have mentioned 558 being accepted by the House. I sincerely trust that Her Majesty's Government will not undervalue the evil that now exists, and that some measure will be introduced dealing with the subject.
LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
My Lords, there is an offence which has not been mentioned by the noble Earl who spoke last but one (Earl Cowper)that is, when a man joins a political party, or a Government, and then, for popularity-hunting or self-seeking, abandons it and causes it great embarrassment; in short, how many times may a man rat and not be an unworthy Member of the House?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
From what was said by the noble Earl who opened this debate, one might imagine that this House is in a very much more serious condition morally than it actually is. The noble Earl spoke of a great evil, and of the necessity of correcting it, and he used words of solemn warning, which rather reminded me of the attempts of Cromwell to purge his Legislative Assemblies, or of the kind of denunciation the leaders of the Mountain were accustomed to address to their followers. I do not think this House is so largely composed of reprobate members as the noble Lord seems to think.
THE EARL OF CARNARVON
I beg my noble Friend's pardon; but I particularly stated that the evil was not to be measured by the number of individuals who were charged.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Still I suppose there is some relation between the denunciations and the extent of the evil. I think if we discuss the existence of black sheep at all, it would be desirable that some bold person should move that a sort of list should be laid on the Table, and if a return were moved of Peers who have committed any legal offence within the last five years, my impression is that the return would be nil. If it is not legal offences that are contemplated, what other offences would you put in? I am not averse to giving a censorial power to the House, such as was proposed by the measure of last year; but I do most earnestly protest against its being concluded from the proposal of such legislation that there is anything that can be called a material grievance or that the House contains 559 any large number of persons of whose companionship and co-operation we ought to be ashamed. I may be wrong; but if anyone thinks there are these black sheep, I only ask that he will be good enough to name them. Having entered my protest against what I consider to be the highly-coloured statement of my noble Friend, I would say I think it would be well if this House were armed with the particular power possessed by the House of Commons and which is not possessed by your Lordships. I think this is an anomaly; and I should like to see this House vested with some power analogous to the power of expulsion possessed by the other House. As to the question whether we are prepared to make a change by legislation, there are considerations applying of a practical and material character. I do not think it is desirable we should pass a measure through this House unless there is some probability of its being placed upon the Statute Book. My noble Friend referred to the fate of the Bills of last year. There was a slight imperfection in the historical statement that he gave us. No doubt the Bills were abandoned by my right hon. Friend in the other House with considerable precipitation; but the noble Earl did not mention the terrible prospect before which my right hon. Friend's nerves gave way. Mr. Gladstone was pleased to do what is not very commonly done—namely, to discuss beforehand Bills which were not before the House of Commons at the time he was speaking. He divided the Bills for the reform of the House of Lords into two categories; they might either be so small as to be frivolous, and therefore unworthy of the attention of the House of Commons; or they might be so large as to require the virgin energies of that House at a period of the year when its virgin energies were still unexhausted. With that dilemma before him, and after the intimation of the way in which Mr. Gladstone's powers would be used, I was not surprised that my right hon. Friend said that these Bills would not be proceeded with. That announcement of the Leader of the Opposition in the other House makes me disinclined to think that the present is an opportune moment for proceeding with Bills of that kind. As far as I can judge from the mode in which matters are proceeding and are 560 likely to proceed in the other House of Parliament, there is already before Parliament, foreshadowed by the Queen's Speech, as much work as it is likely to get through; and I fear that if we encumbered the Order Book with additional measures over and above those which perhaps are called for by the necessities of the moment, or which we have been pledged to by repeatedly bringing forward before, we should only find at the end of the Session that it would be impossible to proceed with such a Bill and that it would have to be put aside again. As I have ventured to lay before the House, and as used to be very much insisted upon by my lamented Friend, Lord Cairns, it is almost a condition precedent of any legislation for the constitution of the House that there should be a fair prospect of its passing into law in the same year in which it is introduced. The constitution of this House ought not to be the subject of Bills accepted here and put aside from year to year by the other House of Parliament. I can only say that if the appearance of matters should be changed, if business should go through with unexpected rapidity, if there should appear to be such a desire for this legislation as to render it likely that the measure would succeed, I shall be ready to introduce not only one but both of the Bills (I do not suppose my noble Friend will be very pleased with the promise as regards one of them) which were introduced last year; but at present I do not see any prospect which would induce the Government to undertake the proposal of such legislation. At the same time, if my noble Friend is disposed to introduce a Bill himself, I can only say that the Government, and I am sure all your Lordships, will give it the most careful and anxious, consideration, because we are very anxious to remove even the shadow of such a stigma as that which is thought by the noble Lord to rest upon the House. But I earnestly hope that it will not be concluded from this debate that we admit that there is any such special failure or fault in this House as would justify the alarming language used by my noble Friend.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, it is with some disappointment that I have heard the statement of the 561 noble Marquess. I concur with him in thinking that the number of black sheep in this House may very easily be overestimated. The point is not exactly as he has put it. It is not the point of how many Members of this House have committed offences which have rendered them amenable to the law in the last five years. It is rather a question of how many Members of the House have committed such offences as render them unworthy to legislate in this House. My noble Friend the noble Earl who sits at the Table (Earl Cowper) made a very amusing speech in opposition to the whole proposition. He said that a number of our great statesmen had been on the verge of bankruptcy, and he said that one hundred years ago we had quite as many disreputable Peers in this House as we have at present. Well, as regards the instances of Pitt and Fox, they are not entirely applicable. We had the brothers of Pitt and Fox in this House, and they were both men, if not of stupendous wealth, at any rate of perfect solvency. But as regards the question of how many Peers there are in this House who would be liable to be included in the Return suggested by the noble Marquess, that strikes me as being beside the point. The force of public opinion beats more fiercely on this House than it did in those days. Not merely that, but we have to recollect that in those days many Members of this House practically owned as their property a considerable number of seats in the other House. All that is very greatly changed. Owing to the action of both Parties in the State, we have formed the Constitution, or enlarged the Constitution, on a basis which is essentially Democratic. Under the circumstances, I think we might very well take steps to guard against the possibility of unworthy Peers (if there be any such) being enabled to come and sit in this House and legislate on equal terms with other noble Lords. That I take to be the meaning of the noble Earl opposite. My Lords, under these circumstances I regret that the head of a powerful Government does not see his way to legislate in this direction, I can hardly believe that the Bills which the noble Marquess introduced in the middle of June last year, with a sanguine hope of being able to pass them through 562 both Houses of Parliament, he is unable with any expectation of success to get through Parliament if introduced in the month of March. It is quite true that the noble Marquess throws the blame of that, as he does of some other things, on my honoured Leader in the other House of Parliament; but I do not think that the objections raised by Mr. Gladstone were fatal to the Bills of the noble Marquess. Mr. Gladstone said that if the Bills were of a long character they would require the virgin attention of Parliament, and if they were of a very slight character he did not intimate his desire to meet them with any determined opposition.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I am quite sure that Mr. Gladstone would not entertain anything frivolous. But Mr. Gladstone is not the supreme arbiter of the House of Commons. The Gentleman who does represent the supreme power in the House of Commons holds very sanguine views in the matter. In the speech with which the noble Marquess introduced this Bill he assured us that Mr. Smith, who I am sure would also be incapable of entertaining any frivolous views, had declared that he was sanguine of being able to carry these measures through the House of Commons. My Lords, it is quite true that the parricidal hand of Mr. Smith was afterwards applied to these measures when they came on for discussion, but I cannot think that it is a position worthy of the noble Marquess, or of the Government over which he so ably presides, to say that he is unable to get through the House of Commons a Bill of which the purpose must be absolutely unexceptionable, because of the implied or threatened opposition of the Leader of a minority. Well, my Lords, I regret it. I do not know whether the noble Earl will accept the invitation and frame a measure of his own; but I would like before I sit down to shed one tear over the measure for the creation of life peerages, and to ask, are we never to hear of that measure again? There was a flickering expression of opinion from the noble Marquess that if a Bill excluding the black sheep were introduced into this House by any private person, it might 563 receive his countenance and support; but, as to the Life Peers Bill—that Bill which was to effect the introduction into this House of men who would enrich the House and would strengthen it in such a manner that it would he in accord with democratic principles—of that Bill we hear no more. I confess that I felt no very great enthusiasm for it; but let me act the part of a very sincere mourner over the fate of that Bill.
THE MARQUESS OF BATH
My Lords, I do not think the general feeling of the House would be against some cautious measure which should ensure the exclusion from the House of all those whose presence in any way tends to derogate from its character and dignity. If the noble Marquess would introduce a short Bill to declare that any Peer who had been convicted on the evidence of two reliable witnesses before either a Police Magistrate or at any Sessions of having been twice in one year at a race meeting or of having been the owner of race horses should be incapacitated from setting in the House of Lords, I think the object my noble Friends have in view would be accomplished.
THE EARL OF CARNARVON
My Lords, I am sorry that my noble Friend feels that there are difficulties in the way of his introduction of this measure. At the same time, he says that he will not oppose any Bill introduced by me. I do not think that any individual Member on such a question as this, stands upon a footing of equal advantage with the Government. It is a matter mainly, if not essentially, for a Government to undertake; but looking, as I do, upon this as a very serious evil, an evil, as I said before, not to be measured by the mere number of the individuals against whom complaint may be made, I think I should be wrong if I did not accept the invitation which he has given me, and if I did not at all events satisfy my conscience by laying a very short measure upon your Lordships' table. I shall endeavour to do so; and your Lordships may depend upon it that it will be of the very briefest character, for I believe the evil, such as it is, can be met by very brief legislation; and I rely with absolute confidence upon the support which 564 my noble Friend has promised me in carrying that Bill through.