LORD DE MAULEY
, in rising to move—That a Peer giving notice of his intention to offer his services to a constituency to represent them in the House of Commons, shall be excused attendance in the House of Lords during the existence of that Parliament,said: My Lords, the object of this Motion is to facilitate the transfer of superabundant talent from the one House to the other—
§ THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
I rise to order. I beg to submit that the Motion of which the noble Lord has given notice is out of order. It involves 538 a large and important constitutional change, which can only be carried out by an Act of Parliament. At present it is entirely incompetent for any Peer, as I conceive, to give notice of his intention to offer his services for the purpose of representing a constituency in the House of Commons; and therefore I think it is contrary to the honour and dignity of this House that we should discuss a Motion which is contrary to the order of the House and to the Rules of Parliament.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not wish to express any opinion either for or against the Motion of the noble Lord until I have heard what he has to say. I confess I do not see in what way the Motion can be considered to be out of order. It is a Motion, as the noble Lord (the Earl of Feversham) says, of a character which, in its ultimate results, would involve a large constitutional change; but I never heard that it was unusual, either in the other House or in this House, to preface Bills for large constitutional changes by Resolutions. It seems to me, therefore, that the noble Lord is only following the ordinary course in respect of the very considerable change which he desires to introduce.
LORD DE MAULEY
My Lords, no one venerates this ancient House more than I do, but we all know that ancient buildings carry within themselves the elements of destruction. I am aware how delicate a subject that is which deals with the customs and privileges of your Lordships' House. Measures have been submitted to us which have been rejected because they were too drastic. The suggestion on the Notice Paper is more modest. It is to transfer superabundant talent from one House to the other. It is not reform which is wanted, but a redistribution of the powers of Parliament. The danger which threatens us is that the constant increase of our numbers will weigh us down, and sooner or later will affect the stability of the House. Every successive Government is bound to accede to claims, irresistible upon a Minister, either as rewards for political services or the recognition of social distinction. The result is that our increasing numbers will soon rival those of the Representatives of the people. The great advance of science, the spread of 539 political knowledge, has driven men to the front who deserve a large amount of respect and every mark of political recognition. No doubt every appointment to this House is excellent, but the result is the same—an increase of numbers which soon will rival as I have said those of the Representatives of the people. With every fresh addition another man of note is removed from direct contact with the constituencies of the country. It cannot be sound policy that, in a nation of representative institutions, its executive should attract to itself the essence of political talent, and remove it so far from the influence of popular control and popular opinion. But if the policy in a constitutional point of view is doubtful, it falls with severity upon the individual. He may be in the full enjoyment of mental and physical vigour, yet an once, by no voluntary act of his own, but by the accident of birth, he is removed from the scene of his labours to be locked up in this House for life, without the possibility of egress. He may have taken the initiative in measures of great political importance, his name may be associated with the moral and social problems of the day. There is an end to that. At once his active career is closed, and the tenour of his political life is altogether changed. He may act on the lines which gave him celebrity, but the spur to exertion is blunted. He is no longer the representative of the opinions of a section of his fellow countrymen, but a general overlooker of the politics of the kingdom, and the earnestness of zeal is changed for the lukewarmness of duty. Besides, there must exist in every man's heart a feeling of gratitude towards that body of electors who first gave him a start in political life. He may wish to renew that connection, and the link between him and his former constituency ought not to be severed by an impolitic and inexorable law. But if the custom falls with severity upon the older Members of the House, it also affects its younger ones, and indirectly the country. Many a man enters your Lordships' House full of the aspirations which new duties evoke, and determined to take an active part in the business of his country, only to find his enthusiasm damped by the sedative decorum of the House, and his political activity checked by the monopoly 540 of its Select Committees. I know I may be met with the argument—if so, I admit its validity—that there are some who have never occupied a seat in the House of Commons who yet illumine your Lordships' debates by their eloquence, and display the practical qualities of statecraft. But those are the very qualities that would have recommended them to the electors of the country for a representative position which would have been an honour to the recipient, an honour to the constituency which conferred it. All men have not the good fortune to blaze into notoriety. There is a vast amount of practical talent submerged in your Lordships' House which might be drawn out by the greater activity of the other House—activity which is subdued here by a dead-weight, but which would find its vent in the more heated atmosphere of the House of Commons. Few measures originate in your Lordships' House to call out the latent powers of debate. Measures are sent here after having been threshed out by interminable discussion in the other House, the skeletons picked dry by the criticism of one Assembly served up for the hyper-criticism of the other. The constituencies expect that their Parliament, individually and collectively, shall be occupied with the affairs of the nation; and as long as talent lies undeveloped, or in abeyance, it cannot be said to fructify for the benefit of the public. But, after all, it is not on the floor of this House that the business of the country is conducted; it is in the Committee Rooms upstairs; and that Court of Appeal from the decisions of the other House should be comprised of Members skilled in the science of legislation, men of practical experience and adepts in political science; and nowhere can that education be learnt better than in the rough-and-ready training which the House of Commons affords. Everybody with experience of Committees knows how crude are the Bills often sent up to your Lordships' House to be moulded into shape by the refined experience of the Chairmen of Committees; but those Members are learning their business, and even they have their limits. Every one who has served on Committees must have perceived how often the labours of a Chairman have been thwarted by the inexperience of a 541 political novice, which would not have occurred had his political training begun before he became a Member of this House. I hope I may be excused if in illustration of my argument I cite a personal allusion, one case out of many that might be cited. The Chairmen of Committees in this House, or, at all events, the majority of them, learnt their business in the House of Commons. No business Assembly in the world could have displayed more talent in unravelling the tangled skein of Parliamentary business than has been exhibited by those experienced Chairmen. There is a noble Lord in this House who is simply excellent as a Chairman of Committees. I remember the noble Lord's predecessor—admirable, too, in that position; and, if report can be credited, there is a son of the noble Lord who is now endeavouring conscientiously to obtain an insight into the business of the country. Lord Redesdale told me that at one period of the Session it was utterly impossible to pass the Bills which were showered into this House from the House of Commons; and, at his request, Committee after Committee was appointed and the business was cleared. If it had not been for the practical experience and talents of the Chairmen of those Committees the work of the country would have been at a standstill. There is a noble Lord who has never enjoyed the benefit of a seat in the House of Commons, who has never made Parliamentary duties his study, though his natural abilities are unquestioned, but that noble Lord's name is absent from the Committees; why, I cannot imagine, unless it be referred to that clique in this House who arrogate to themselves the power of selection, and leave in the shade the invaluable knowledge of other Members. But I pass from the question of the legislative knowledge of your Lordships. It is a trite observation that in a country of representative institutions legislation which has not been stamped with the verdict of popular approval is an anomaly, and I cannot understand how it can be derogatory to any man's dignity to seek the highest honour which a constitutional country can offer, namely, the honour of being entrusted with the interests and opinions of his fellow-countrymen. He might enter or 542 re-enter this House with the satisfaction of feeling that to his merits, and not to an accident, he owed his position in the Legislature of his country. The standard of education rising in the electoral body has created a spirit of criticism which tests the soundness of legislation and the forces which move it. It will become more and more difficult to prove that a custom, however successful in practice, which is not based upon popular support is not an anomaly, and is not consonant to the dictates of reason or the principles of common-sense. Tour Lordships' wise prudence has always listened to the voice of public opinion. In deference to that voice, you abolished voting by proxy, and have recognised the advantages of measures for the public benefit. You have one more anomaly to discourage. The legislation of individuals does not receive the stamp of public approval. The most effective method of stifling objections, and of lending a popular character to the discussions in this House, would be to open your doors to the ebb and flow of political services from one House to the other. If this House relies upon its antiquity, it is based upon sand. The passage of political services from one House to the other should be permitted, and when the constituencies perceive the public spirit of its Members in seeking a wider range for the exercise of their duties, this House will grow in the affections, the esteem, and the respect of the country.
Moved to resolve,
That a Peer giving notice of his intention to offer his services to a constituency to represent them in the House of Commons, shall be excused attendance in the House of Lords during the existence of that Parliament."—(The Lord de Mauley.)
§ THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
My Lords, I do not know whether I am in order, but I wish to make an Amendment that the Motion be not put, because I cannot conceive that it can be according to the practice of Parliament that any Motion should be put to the House that is ineffective or contrary to law; and surely it cannot be in accordance with the dignity of this House.
§ Moved, "That the Question be not now put."—(The Earl of Feversham.)543
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I have tried to find out from the declared Legal Authorities in this House to what extent it is competent for us to debate this Motion. I had hoped that the noble Lord opposite would have given us some light upon this subject; but I am told that if "shall" were read "should," the Motion would be perfectly legitimate, and that if the word "excused" does not mean "prohibited" then that the Motion would also be legitimate. I think in the present case the wisest course for this House to adopt will be to accede to the Motion of my noble Friend behind me (the Earl of Feversham), and move the Previous Question; for though the Motion relates to a constitutional matter of very considerable importance, and if your Lordships think so, worthy, no doubt, of very grave deliberation, I do not think it would be suitable that we should approach it in this very indirect manner. I believe myself that, in fact, the Motion is wholly unnecessary. I imagine that if the noble Lord is himself inclined to offer his services to any constituency, there is no danger of this House inflicting upon him any penalty for absenting himself from the deliberations of this House during the period that he is doing so; and, therefore, a Motion of this kind is unnecessary to enable any noble Lord, who is inclined to do so, to offer his services to a constituency. I do not venture to express any opinion as to what the result of such an offer might be; but, under these circumstances, I think we had better assent to the Motion of my noble Friend who has moved "the Previous Question."
Previous Question put, whether the said Question shall be now put? Resolved in the negative.