§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ * LORD NEWTON
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill it will readily be believed that I do so under a feeling of considerable trepidation, being conscious, for one thing, of the ridicule which invariably attaches to amateur constitution-makers, and, in the second place, of the painful fact that there are a certain number of my friends, whose opinion I 1204 respect, who do not consider the present moment opportune for the introduction of a measure of this description. Apparently that is a view which is shared by the Government, judging by the Notice which appears on the Paper. All I have to say is that if I am told that this Bill would have been more opportune several years ago I am in entire agreement with that opinion; but, on the other hand, I am unable to see that the Bill would be more opportune a month or possibly even a year hence than it is at the present moment. And perhaps I may be forgiven for expressing the belief that many of those who find my action in-opportune at the present moment might find it equally inopportune at any subsequent period.
I am further given to understand that there are a certain number of noble Lords who resent the idea of my bringing in a measure of this description because they do not consider that my title is a sufficiently antique one to justify my holding any opinion whatever on this matter. If this remarkable doctrine were to prevail it is quite evident that many Peers of recent creation would be precluded from delivering any opinion upon such questions as the constitution of this House. But perhaps I may mollify some of my critics if I point out that I am not in reality proposing anything new or revolutionary. I do not set up as being a constructive genius. I do not lay even a small claim to any kind of originality. All I have done is to adopt ideas which have been frequently put forward. These ideas I have endeavoured to embody in the Bill, and in support of this view I would refer the House to those projects of reforms which have been put forward within comparatively recent rimes. In 1884 the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, Lord Rosebery, in a speech which has become historical, moved for a Committee to consider the best means of promoting the efficiency of this House. That Motion was defeated by seventy-seven to thirty-eight votes. Again, in 1888, the noble Earl, no doubt invigorated by a period of office, moved for a Committee to inquire into the constitution of the House, and that Motion was again defeated by ninety-seven to forty-seven votes. In the same year another noble Earl, Lord Dunraven, introduced a highly 1205 ingenious and complicated measure of reform, which was withdrawn on the assurance of the late Lord Salisbury: that he was prepared to deal with the question himself. In the same session, the late Lord Salisbury accordingly introduced two Bills, one for the creation of life Peers, and the other—usually described as "the black sheep Bill"—providing for the discontinuance of writs. The Second Reading of both of these Bills was taken unopposed, but the Bills were immediately withdrawn, because it was threatened that there would be considerable opposition to them in another place. In March, 1889, the late Lord Carnarvon introduced another "black sheep Bill," which was defeated by seventy-three to fourteen votes; and since that day nothing whatever has been attempted. Anybody who reads those debates cannot, I think, help being struck with certain features in them, the admirable nature of the speeches which wore delivered, the short duration of the debates, and the scanty numbers of Peers who voted on those occasions; and I think it would be difficult to find a better argument than that in favour of the reduction of our numbers. But what is of more importance than that, from my point of view, is that nearly every speech which was made contains justification for the Bill to which I am now asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading.
My action is not based upon the opinions of the noble Earl Lord Rosebery, or upon those of the noble Earl Lord Dunraven. If you look at speeches made by men of such divergent political opinions as the late Lord Salisbury, the late Lord Granville, the late Mr. W. H. Smith, the late Lord Kimberley, the present Lord Curzon, the late Lord Derby, and even my noble friend Lord Wemyss, who is not usually regarded as an apostle of progress, you will find either a justification for what I am doing or admittance of certain defects and proposals for remedying those defects. I will go further. I will undertake to say there is hardly a speaker who, even in the glow of after-dinner oratory, when defending this House, does not I begin his remarks by saying that there are certain changes which he would like to see introduced. I will quote a 1206 highly significant passage from a speech by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, a man who is not prone to make rash utterances. The noble Marquess in the early part of the year, on the occasion, I think, on which he became a grocer, made use of these words—I am quite ready to admit that the hereditary principle, which is already very greatly modified, might be further modified by a more liberal reinforcement from the outside.And the noble Marques; continued—I see no reason why the House of Lords should not delegate to what I may call the working bees of the hive a larger share of the responsibility for, at any rate, some part of the business which we conduct. Changes of this kind are changes which, I believe, you will find the House of Lords always ready to discuss with an open mind and with a sincere desire that no effort may be spared to render it as efficient as possible for the purpose of the great task which falls to its lot under the Constitution.I hope this spirit will be apparent in the course of the debate.
Now, what are the principal, indeed the only, criticisms worth considering which are levelled at this House? I think I may summarise them under three heads—undue numbers and scanty attendance, absence of representatives of important classes, and the excessive predominance of one political Party.
I will now turn to the Bill. Clauses 1 and 2 form an attempt to deal with the difficulty of excessive size by a process of selection, by a modification of the hereditary principle. The suggestion is that writs should only be issued to Peers who under the Bill are "qualified." Here I feel that I ought to apologise for the somewhat alarming provision that appears in the Bill—namely, that this is to come into operation on the termination of the present session. As a matter of fact, I only put this in in order to show my anxiety, having noticed that the Government had frequently taken the opportunity of asserting that they meant to remain a long time in office, that this matter should be dealt with without delay. The definition of a qualified Peer will be found in the Schedule; and I am quite aware of the fact that all Schedules of this kind bear an invidious, I might almost say, a ridiculous character. I can well understand, in regard to this particular 1207 Schedule, for instance, that an ex-Viceroy might deem it somewhat derogatory to be classed with a mere Undersecretary, and, on the other hand, I can well believe that an ex-Cabinet Minister, or a present Cabinet Minister, as far as that goes, might think it somewhat undignified to be classed with an ordinary obscure Peer whose only qualification is that he had been returned twice to the House of Commons. But inconsistencies of this kind are, I am afraid, unavoidable. The ideal Second Chamber, no doubt, would consist solely of most distinguished personages—ex-Viceroys, ex-Ambassadors, Judges, and so forth, reinforced, perhaps, by, if I may venture so to term them, versatile and accomplished sages of the type of Lord Courtney and Lord Avebury.
This Schedule is, I venture to think, framed on a comprehensive scale. It retains not only the classes I have enumerated, but it also retains as qualified Peers, Irish Peers, and created Peers—that is to say the first made Peers. But I am told that it is not comprehensive enough. I have been told, for instance, that it ought to include Privy Councillors. It appears to me that there is obvious objection to that course. The Privy Council is an office which should be maintained at the highest possible level, and there would obviously be a tendency to flood it in order to add to the numbers of the House of Lords. But I have another reason, and it is that if you study the list of the Privy Council you will find that there are certain members of that body who have extremely little political experience, whatever their other qualifications may be; and the object that, at all events, I am striving at is to retain in this House those persons who hive had as much political experience as possible.
Then, again, I am told there is no sense in qualifying a Peer because he happened to have teen returned twice to the House of Commons, and that once ought to be sufficient. That is an argument the validity of which I am not prepared to admit. To begin with, there are a very large number of Peers who have been Members of Parliament only once. They amount to something like 1208 170. But it stands to reason that a man might be returned to the House of Commons by something almost approaching an accident. He might float into Parliament upon a khaki or Chinese labour wave, and his term might be a very short one. On the other hand, a man who has been returned twice to Parliament has, in every probability, fought other contests, and he is bound to have acquired a certain amount of experience which ought to be valuable to him in after-life.
Now I pass from qualified Peers to Clause 3, which deals with those persons who are somewhat unpolitely described as unqualified Peers. The principle adopted in this clause is that the unqualified Peers should elect one-fourth of their number at the beginning of each Parliament, on the same principle as that which prevails in regard to Scottish Peers. This principle of delegation is one which has been constantly urged, and it appears to me to meet in the least objectionable manner the difficulty of selection and also the difficulty of dealing with unfit Peers—if there are such persons—and absentee Peers. As we are likely to hear, and already do hear, a good deal about the question of absentee, and as it is not the slightest use to suppress these figures, I will just shortly put before the House the leading facts. This House consists of, roughly speaking, 600 Members. Of these over eighty—eighty-two, I think—have never taken the Oath. Last session the largest number attending was on 29th October, when there were 312 Peers who voted. On the next day there were 293, and the numbers continued to oscillate with a slightly diminishing tendency until, in the critical division on December 19th, there were 190 present. I should like to add that the Private Bill Committee work of this House is performed by less than 100 Members. It is evident from these figures that there is a large balance of what I may term redundant Peers, who might disappear without any very great harm being done. I do not mean to imply anything offensive with regard to these noble Lords, but I think their absence would hardly be noticed. In fact, I would venture to say they never would be missed so far as the division lists are concerned. You may divide the Members of this 1209 House into three classes—the regular attendants, the irregular attendants, and those who do not attend at all. I do not claim any sort of merit for those Peers who attend regularly. They attend regularly because they are officials and are paid, or else because they like it. There is no compulsion. On the other hand, it is quite plain that there are a number of Peers who do not care about political life, and who show their want of affection for it by keeping away from this House. Here you have an example of the weakness of the hereditary principle. My noble friend Lord Rosebery once remarked with great truth that—The hereditary principle makes legislators of men who do not wish to be legislators, and Peers of men who do not wish to be Peers.The position of a reluctant or unwilling Peer is really one of the most remarkable positions in the world. Once a Peer always a Peer. Monarchs can abdicate and have done so; directors of companies, if they do not attend, are forced to retire; Members of Parliament, if they do not put in an appearance, are probably brought to book by their constituents. The only analogous position that I can think of at the present moment to that of reluctant Peers is the position of a High Sheriff. But, after all, the High Sheriff, though he has office deliberately thrust upon him, is only obliged to assume that office for a year, and he can get out of that on the payment of a fine.
There is no doubt an immense amount of rubbish and nonsense talked on platforms—on Radical platforms, of course—about the privileged classes; but if there is one undoubted privilege it is that of being born with the right to legislate for one's fellow-countrymen; and if persons born with this right do not choose to exercise it, I do not really see that they have any cause of complaint if it is taken from them, more especially if it is taken from them in the extremely painless and unobjectionable manner which I propose in this Bill. Proposals have been introduced into this House for the expulsion of undesirable Peers. Under this Bill, however, it would be unnecessary to perform such an invidious action at all. Any Peer who did not attend or might be considered unsuitable would not be elected 1210 or, if elected and proved unsuitable, would not be re-elected.
This principle of delegation has been met with two objections. I am told for instance, that the principle, if adopted, will make this House more Tory than ever. I recognise as clearly as anybody else the impossibility of turning this House into a Liberal assembly. I believe that if four or five hundred trades people, stockbrokers, or anybody you could think of, selected at haphazard, were put in our places they would arrive at very much the same decision in the long run as we ourselves do. I go further and say that if you took four or five hundred Gentlemen from the Government side in the House of Commons and put them here you would find a most extraordinary change in their opinions. The task of keeping Liberalism even alive in this Chamber is difficult enough, and I notice that even those sturdy democrats who are introduced into our midst are apt to show signs of wear and tear and deterioration rather like those exotics which are brought at vast expense by collectors to this country, and which gradually lose their brilliant hues amidst their new and more dingy surroundings.
But in order to prove how unfounded is the charge that I wish to make this House more Tory than it already is, I would like to point out that, on the contrary, this Bill shows a most marked solicitude for the Liberal Party. I have gone into the figures as closely as I am able, and, making every allowance for doubtfuls, I cannot bring the number of Liberal Peers to more than seventy—that is to say, barely one-eighth of the entire House. Of these twenty-five are created Peers and twenty-five are Peers who have been connected with the Government in some way or other, and the re-fore both these classes of Peers would be included amongst the qualified Peers. That only leaves about twenty other Peers in whom, if I may use the expression, the pure flame of Liberalism burns unfanned by official recognition in any shape or form. Anybody who studies the Bill will observe that I have made most careful provision, for these Liberal Peers. Their retention in this Assembly is secured under a 1211 system of minority voting. Upon this question of minority voting I had recourse to my noble friend opposite, Lord Courtney, whom I asked to propound for me a satisfactory way of ensuring this minority representation. My noble friend was kind enough to point out that it was the simplest thing in the world, that it could be done by some process by which Peers were to be divided into groups of threes or fours and so elect their representatives. But, admirable as this plan no doubt is, I did not feel myself competent to present it in the best light to the House, and I have therefore relied upon the simpler plan of the cumulative vote. Under the cumulative vote it is perfectly obvious that all the Liberal Peers can be retained without any difficulty, and if anybody chooses to find fault with the cumulative vote I shall be only too pleased, in the somewhat doubtful contingency of this portion of the Bill ever being reached, to hand it over to my noble friend opposite, who, with the collaboration of Lord Avebury on this side of the House, may evolve some more suitable method of retaining the Liberal Peers now in the House. Under a system of life Peerages and ordinary created Peerages I calculate that if they were given five years they would reach a total of at least 150, and therefore their position would be infinitely better proportionately than it is at this moment. I have roughly estimated the number of qualified Peers at about 230, and of representative Peers at anything between ninety and 100.
The other objection which has been taken to this provision is that all capable and enterprising Peers who are able to do so will offer themselves as candidates for the House of Commons. Personally I feel extremely little apprehension on that score. It always appears to me that those aspirations and regrets which we occasionally hear indulged in by noble Lords that they are not sitting in another place bear an after-dinner ring. I know that there is a widespread belief that this House is full of what I may term caged eagles, some young and some middle-aged, who are only too anxious to escape from their gilded prison. I 1212 very much doubt the existence of these persons. Looking, for instance, at the two Front Benches it does not occur to me at this moment that there is any noble Lord who would exchange the dignity of his present position for the rough and tumble of election to another place. But I do see one noble friend of mine who I believe would be ready to undergo this trouble. I remember my noble friend Lord Londonderry once expressing in my hearing a wish that he might die a Member of the House of Commons. I hope he will not be offended if I describe him as one of the middle-aged caged eagles. But my noble friend is a qualified—doubly qualified—Peer under the Bill, and he is precisely the kind of Peer I am anxious to retain in this House Speaking from my own point of view—and I have had experience of both Houses, having sat for a number of years in the House of Commons—I can candidly and truthfully say that I have never experienced the slightest desire to return to that Assembly, and I believe this to be a feeling which largely prevails here. My opinion is that for a person of an active disposition there is rather more to be done here, either in a beneficent or an unbeneficent sense, than there is in another place. In any case, the principle of the Bill is that all Peers of experience should be retained, if possible, in this Assembly.
Now I pass from the Temporal to the Spiritual Peers, who are dealt with under Clause 4. Having asked the Temporal Peers to accept a reduction in their numbers, on the principle of equality of sacrifice the Lords Spiritual may also, I think, be invited to accept the same reduction. It will be observed by those who have read the Bill that not only will every right rev. Prelate in this House have a voice in deckling upon his representatives, but all those Bishops who are not in this House will also vote, and they will be entitled to minority representation like Temporal Peers. And may I here express the hope that the right rev. Prelate who appears always to represent 'the permanent Opposition on the Episcopal Benches will find a seat in the new and reconstituted Assembly? 1213 With regard to life Peers, the late Lord Salisbury said, as long ago as 1869—We belong too much to one class, and the consequence is that with respect to a number of questions we are too much of one mind.That, I think, puts the case in the proverbial nutshell. The proposals in this Bill follow almost exactly the lines of Lord Salisbury's Bill, but with this difference, that Lord Salisbury in his measure laid down categories of life Peers. They were to be selected from judges, admirals, generals, ambassadors—the usual sort of person we are all acquainted with; but objection was taken to this proposal on several grounds. One ground was that many of these distinguished persons would be too old to be of much use when they came here; but I take it that the real difficulty and the real objection to what I may term categorical life Peers is that if you are going to lay down categories or various classes who are to be represented you at once open the door to the difficulty of the great unrepresented. Take, for instance, the case of Nonconformists. It has been constantly urged that Nonconformists should be represented in this House. But I wonder if many people realise that there are something like 250 different denominations in this country. If you select one of the principal Nonconformist denominations, why should not, for instance, the Salvation Army claim representation? And if you are going to lay down a regulation that there are to be representatives of arts, sciences, and so forth, you at once open the door for an agitation for representation of the drama; in fact, it would not surprise me if the claims of those two great communities represented by "the muddied oaf and flannelled fool "were seriously urged in many quarters as worthy of representation. It is far more practical to leave the decision of who are to be life peers to the Government of the day. The responsibility must attach to the Government, and for my part I should never have any fear that any Government would appoint improper persons.
There is only one other point to which I need draw attention. I refer to Clause 7, which enables Peers who are not returned as representative Peers to stand for the House of Commons. This is an alternative which has been constantly 1214 urged, and everybody I think has seen the unjust position in which the unrepresentative Scottish Peers are placed. The unrepresentative Scottish Peer is a sort of political derelict. He is classed with paupers, lunatics, criminals and those persons who are not allowed representation at all, and his position is manifestly unfair and unjust. I am told that the proposal which I make in this Bill is unjust too, because it is stipulated that a Peer who decides to stand for the House of Commons must so decide definitely and once for all. This may appear somewhat harsh, but at the same time, being of an essentially fair disposition myself, I was very unwilling to appear to place Peers in an advantageous position as compared with anybody else, and it seemed to me that it would be resented as distinctly unfair if a Peer were allowed to sit in the House of Commons and then when he had had enough of it retire to this House. In the only case of hardship which I can think of—namely, that of a young Peer who rose to distinction, accepted office, and so forth—the difficulty could well be met by bestowing a new peerage upon, him. Qualified Peers would not be allowed to stand for the House of Commons. I frankly admit once more that I am extremely anxious to keep all the best men, if possible, here, and I do not entertain much fear that the attractions of entering the House of Commons will overmaster all these possible candidates; because though, no doubt, considerable pressure might be put upon a young and active Peer to stand for a constituency, yet, on the other hand, considerable pressure would doubtless be placed upon him in the opposite direction. I have gone through the Bill, and if I have not been so lengthy and explicit as the importance of the occasion might seem to warrant it has been because I have no desire to weary the House with well-worn arguments, and I think it just as well to spare you all unnecessary and obvious moralisings on the subject of reform. I will merely very respectfully urge upon the House the advisability of giving this Bill a Second Reading, and of referring it, together with any other proposals that may be brought forward, to a Committee as is proposed in the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Heneage. There is 1215 another Amendment on the Paper which I am hardly prepared to discuss or to treat in a serious spirit, namely, the Amendment which is put forward by the Government. That Amendment merely amounts to a blank and a barefaced refusal to deal with questions which noble Lords opposite have been asserting for many years ought to be dealt with as soon as possible. The course proposed by my noble friend Lord Heneage is preferable to that proposed by the noble Earl Lord Cawdor, although I recognise that his is not intended in a hostile sense. On previous occasions I have noticed that when anybody moved for a Committee he was told that he ought to put his ideas into the shape of a Bill, and that a Committee, if 't had to consider a Bill, at all events had some definite subject to investigate. If the proposal on the Paper in the name of Lord Cawdor is adopted I am afraid it may not result in anything very definite being decided upon for a considerable time to come.
All I have to say in conclusion is this. Those who have paid me the compliment of following what I have said have noticed that I have carefully abstained from touching upon those differences which unfortunately prevail at the present moment, or did prevail a short time ago, between the two Houses. I have purposely avoided that subject, because it seems to me that the composition of this House and the relations between this House and the other House are separate questions, and I see no reason myself why they should be treated in any Party spirit. If I may sum up what I have said, I would like to point out that this Bill proposes absolutely no increase either in the powers or in the privileges of this House. It leaves those powers and privileges exactly as they are. All that it does is to propose that they should be exercised only by those who have shown evidence of their capacity and inclination for public life, or who have been honored by their fellow Peers with the duty of representing them in Parliament, and whilst I harbour absolutely no illusions with regard to the merit of this scheme, or as to my own incapacity to discharge this task in a satisfactory manner, yet I confess that I do entertain a faint hope that this Bill may possibly contain a basis 1216 of settlement which may eventually commend itself to moderate men of both Parties.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Newton.)
§ EARL CAWDOR
rose to move, "That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the suggestions which have from time to time been made for increasing the efficiency of the House of Lords in matters affecting legislation, and to report as to the desirability of adopting them either in their original or in some modified form."
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am sure that no one who has listened to the noble Lord will for a moment have the feeling that it was unwise or improper that he should have introduced this subject, but the method by which the noble Lord has brought it before your Lordships—namely, in the shape of a Bill—may be open to criticism. One is very much tempted, in dealing with this question, to harp perhaps too much upon the many attacks that have been made upon your Lordships' House and the many harsh and unjust things that have been said of it. But I venture to submit that we have not so much to consider these statements and attacks, which have been made by both irresponsible and responsible statesmen, and what I may almost call the petulant denunciation of Ministers against this House because we are not always able to accept their legislative proposals—we have to consider the position of this House in the Constitution of this great country. We have to consider our responsibilities to our fellow citizens and to the Crown. I suggest to your Lordships that in dealing with any question relating to the reform of this House we must proceed with the utmost caution, and we should be most careful that any measure we adopt is a measure not of destruction but of reform.
The noble Lord who has just sat down has asked your Lordships to read his Bill a second time. I am aware, of course, that if that step were taken it would be possible very largely to modify the provisions of the Bill in Committee. I 1217 may be told that if we read this Bill a second time we shall do no more than simply affirm the principle that some reform of your Lordships' House is necessary. I am not able to accept that view. I cannot believe that your Lordships could properly accept the Second Reading of this Bill and not feel yourselves bound at all events by its main provisions. You cannot divorce a Bill of this kind from its prominent contents. I ask your Lordships to consider some of them. In the forefront of the Bill there is the provision for what the noble Lord describes as the discontinuance of writs of summons. No writ, after the passing of this Bill, would be issued to a temporal Peer unless he were a representative or a qualified hereditary Peer within the meaning of this Bill, and no writ would be issued to any spiritual Peer unless he were a representative Lord spiritual within the meaning of the Bill. Under this provision three-fourths of the hereditary temporal Peers, other than those who are qualified hereditary Peers, would disappear, unless they were qualified under the first scheddule of the Bill; and under Clause 4 three-fourths of the spiritual Peers would disappear altogether.
Under Clause 6, which my noble friend seems to think quite a small part of his Bill, the Act of Union with Scotland, and the Union with Ireland Act as to representation in your Lordships' House would cease to have effect. It appears to me to be rather a strong measure to deal with a matter of that kind in one clause of this Bill. As to whether these sweeping proposals are or are not in the right direction, I am not at the moment going to express an opinion. But surely they are very wide and far-reaching changes which strike very deep into the constitution of this House; and they require very close examination before it is possible to give a Second Reading to this Bill. We are sometimes told that we are not a representative body. I deny entirely the truth of that statement. The noble Earl opposite smiles. I deny it again; the noble Earl must use some more convincing argument than that. There are, I submit, many interests and individuals represented in this House who, but for 1218 your Lordships' House, would have no representation in the government of the country. Under the noble Lord's Bill, such distinguished men as Lord Kelvin and Lord Lister—
§ EARL CAWDOR
I am aware of that. I am speaking of Peers who are in the House at present, but who might not be in the House under the noble Lord's Bill. Under the Bill neither of those noble Lords nor many others equally distinguished would find a place in your Lordships' House unless they chanced to be elected representative Peers.
§ LORD NEWTON
All created Peers are qualified Peers. The two noble Lords mentioned are created Peers.
§ EARL CAWDOR
The noble Lord will have an opportunity of explaining his Bill further if he desires to do so. I suggest that there are no means in this Bill by which in the future Peers of this high character would be secured a place in your Lordships' House.
§ EARL CAWDOR
I am not suggesting that the noble Lords would be removed from the House; I am suggesting that in future noble Lords of that high character might not, and probably would not, find a place in your Lordships' House. When Parliament began there would be an election of Peers in your Lordships' House. Is it so certain that Peers of that class would pass through that ordeal and would be elected? We should all agree that they should be elected, but does any one believe that an election such as that would not take place under Party conditions? Is it not a perfect certainty that there would be a rush to secure at the outset a certain number of Party adherents; and, if that be so, Parties would be driven to seek for those upon whom they could rely for Party support and for regular attendance; and it is very likely, indeed, that men of distinction of the class to which I have referred 1219 would be squeezed out owing to the exigencies of Party warfare.
It seems to me that, under the provisions of the Bill relating to qualified hereditary Peers, those Peers who succeeded to their peerages in early life would to a large extent disappear. Let me take two examples. The noble Marquess who leads the Opposition und the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, Lord Rosebery, both succeeded to their peerages at a very early age. Neither of them would have been qualified representative Peers under this Bill. They might have been elected, but they might not; and I suggest to your Lordships that under this Bill untried men are' clearly not intended to be elected representative Peers. Both those noble Lords, as soon as they had taken their seats in this House, showed very clearly the metal of which they were made; they made their mark in your Lordships' House from the first, and they have made their mark upon the annals of their country. But under the noble Lord's Bill they would have had no place in this House.
§ EARL CAWDOR
The noble Marquess may be right. If so I had overlooked that fact; but assuming that the noble Earl is an English Peer, as I thought he was, in that case my point is correct. Both of those noble Lords might, and possibly they would, have taken refuge in another place. But, if they had done so, this House would not have known them, for Clause 7, sub-section 2, provides that—No hereditary Peer who, after succeeding to his peerage, has with his consent been nominated as a candidate for election to the House of Commons shall be capable of being elected a representative hereditary Peer under this Act or of sitting in the House of Lords as a qualified hereditary Peer.I think that is a very serious position considered as affecting those Peers, what- 1220 ever their ability may be, who succeed to your Lordships' House at a very early age. There is, however, a qualification by which any one who has been elected to serve in the House of Commons on not less than two occasions before succeeding to his peerage becomes qualified as an hereditary Peer, But this qualification would have been of no avail in the case of either of the two noble Lords I have mentioned. Neither the noble Marquess nor the noble Earl would have been qualified under those terms; but I do find that the effect of this qualification—the reason for which I sought at first in vain—is that the services of the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill would have been saved to your Lordships' House.
§ EARL CAWDOR
Then the noble Lord was more than qualified. No one doubts the noble Lord's ability, and his fitness for the peerage, and there is no one whom we would miss more from the debates in your Lordships' House, which he does so much to enliven and to brighten. But I ask your Lordships to look at the contradictions on this point. In the one instance, election twice to the House of Commons, irrespective of what service may be done in the House, is to be a qualification for membership of your Lordships' House; but, on the other hand, if a Peer desiring to show his ability for work, his capacity for office, and his fitness for your Lordships' House, passes into the other House in the meantime, he is for ever debarred by Statute from taking his seat in your Lordships' House. That surely is a contradiction which is rather a flagrant one, and which again points to the desirability of not passing this Bill hastily even as far as the Second Reading. We have in this House under the nomination of the Crown many men of the highest worldwide reputation. Under the qualifications laid down in this Bill it would be very difficult to secure their services, and in the future, so far as I can gather, there would be no means by which their services could be secured to the Crown unless they were merely appointed as life Peers.
1221 We are told sometimes that this House should, Parliament by Parliament, and year by year, be made more the reflex of another place, that the evil of this House is that it does not change with the fluctuations of another place. I trust that that view will not hastily be taken by your Lordships, for if anything were done which would tend to ensure the same fluctuations of opinion in your Lordships' House as occur in another place that stability which is of its essence would absolutely disappear. We may be told that there is much to be said in respect of the past action of your Lordships' House in regard to various Bills. Our Action last session may be criticised. I do not think we need be afraid of being able to justify that action; nor do I think we need have the slightest fear of what the verdict of history will be as to the course taken by the majority of your Lordships' House. I would remind noble Lords of that memorable case some years back when your Lordships reversed the decision of the other House with regard to the great question of Home Rule. By that action your Lordships' House saved this country from the grave disaster of having carried into effect a measure contrary to the wish of the nation and in defiance of their voice. It is, perhaps, worth noting the extreme care that was taken during the last election by those who are now in office to keep away from the minds of the electors any decision upon that vital question.
I said at the outset of my observation that there are many charges made against your Lordships' House. There are many ignorant, bitter partisans whose utterances we may treat with the contempt which they deserve. But I confess to having read with grave concern some observations made by the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council some months ago, when he used these words—Though Englishmen were not greatly affected by anomalies, they were greatly affected by fair play, and when people sat down to a game they did not like to see one party play with marked cards and loaded dice.And then the noble Earl went on to say that when he spoke of marked cards and loaded dice he meant that they did not get fair play for both sides in the House of Lords. Without commenting 1222 further upon these remarks, I confess my astonishment that the noble Earl, usually a model of courtesy in your Lordships' House to all his opponents, should have used such words— words which he would resent himself most bitterly if applied to him; and never from that time to this has the noble Earl said anything to diminish the venom of those words or their injustice to his opponents in this House.
I ask your Lordships, then, not to accord a Second Beading to this Bill. I suggest, on the other hand, that it would would be wise to inquire by Committee into any suggestions—including, of course, the suggestions made by the noble Lord's Bill, and the Bill itself—that have been made from time to time for the reform of your Lordships' House. The noble Marquess who leads the House has told us that he is in favour of a Second Chamber, but he is also in favour of the reform of that Second Chamber, If so, may I suggest that the noble Marquess is in favour of a strengthened Second Chamber, for, if not, he must be in favour of a weakened one.
§ EARL CAWDOR
I will read from Hansard the exact words of the noble Marquess. At the opening of this session the noble Marquess said in this House—What I do say is this, this House does require reform. You do not deny it, you have declared it to-night, and…you are ready to consider proposals for its reform. My noble friend Lord Newton, I understand, intends to raise that question. [Lord NEWTON: Yes] Then I reserve anything I may have to say upon it until my noble friend brings forward his proposal.I think I am justified, after those words, in saying that the noble Marquess is strongly in favour of reform. The noble Marquess now leaves us in this position, that the Government are in favour of a Second Chamber, and in favour of its being reformed, but that they have not made up their minds whether they wish to strengthen it or to weaken it. We shall listen with interest to what the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council will say to us to-night; but I had thought, after the statement to which I have referred, that 1223 I would have been able to claim the noble Marquess's vote to-night until I saw a day or two ago the Amendment on the Paper in the name of the noble Earl.
If this House is to continue as a Second Chamber, amend it if you will, reform, improve, and strengthen it if you can; but do it temperately and after due inquiry. I beg your Lordships not to cast away the much that you have that is of value to the State for the shadowy possibility of what you may put in its place. Before I sit down may I quote a few words of one of the greatest Leaders of your Lordships' House—the late Lord Salisbury? Lord Salisbury introduced into this House two Bills mentioned by tic noble Lord in his speech in moving the Second Reading of this Bill to-night—the Life Peers Bill and the Discontinuance of Writs Bill. Describing those two Bills the noble Marquess said—They are simply designed for the purpose of strengthening the House of Lords, giving it a power of removing that which is objectionable and of adding to itself that which is powerful and strong, and of doing its duty better before the country. These Bills are not designed for the purpose of introducing any new principle into the Constitution, or of heralding any revolutionary changes in a body which has lasted so long and has done so much service to the State.In moving the Amendment which stands in my name I would venture to commend those thoughtful and weighty words to the earnest attention of your Lordships.
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the suggestions which have from t me to time been made for increasing the efficiency of the House of Lords in matters affecting legislation, and to report as to the desirability of adopting them either in their original or in some modified form."—(Earl Cawdor.)
§ * THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Earl of CREWE),
who had the following Amendment on the Paper—To move, as an Amendment to Earl Cawdor's Amendment, to leave out all the words after 'That' and to insert the words ' in the opinion of this House it is not expedient to proceed with the discussion of various proposals for reforming the constitution of this House until provision has been made for an effective method of settling differences which may arise between this House and the other House of Parliament,said: My Lords, the House may have observed that I have placed an Amend- 1224 ment on the Paper following that which has been moved by the noble Lord who has just sat down. Under ordinary circumstances it would not be usual to discuss that Amendment until a decision had been reached as between the noble Earl and the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill. But I think it will be to the general convenience if we have only one debate instead of two, and therefore I venture to intervene at this moment, and to say what I have to say. The fact is that the reasons which actuate us in not supporting either the Second Reading of the Bill or the Amendment of the noble Earl are precisely the same reasons as those which induced us to put down this Amendment. Consequently when the time comes when I cm move it I shall not have to trouble your Lordships, I hope, with any further remarks.
The noble Lord who asked your Lordships to read this Bill a second time said with great truth that this is no new subject. Your Lordships have often devoted your attention and energies to the task of reforming yourselves. So long ago as the year 1719 an attempt was made to reform the House in a singular way by limiting it to the Peers—then 178 in number—who sat in the House, only permitting the Crown to create six more. That was done partly to resist the influence of the Crown in the creation of Peers, partly to consolidate, no doubt, the power of the then ruling families.
Again in 1780 the then Duke of Richmond, who was a very much more advanced politician than my noble friend who now enjoys that title, introduced a measure which, though nominally a Reform Bill, proposing to introduce manhood suffrage and equal electoral districts, also would have largely affected the powers of your Lordships' House by proposing the institution of annual Parliaments. Those are all old stories, and the two noble Lords who have already spoken have dealt with more recent attempts which have been made by my noble friend on the Cross Benches and by Lord Dunraven and others to reform your Lordships' House. They have not, I think, mentioned the remarkable debate that took place in, I think, the year 1856 on the question of the power 1225 of the Crown to create life Pears; nor have they alluded to the fact that in 1876 life Peers were added to your Lordships' House in the persons of the Lords of Appeal, and to the further fact that in 1887 their possession of a seat with full privileges of this House was not confined to the period during which they exercised their judicial functions.
I think I need not say anything of the various important and complicated proposals which produced some of the most interesting debates that have arisen within recent years, at all events in your Lordships' House, which distinguished the years 1888 and 1889. The Bill of the noble Lord is avowedly founded on some of those suggestions. But I am bound to say there are tome two reasons why, in spite of the incisive manner in which he introduced the subject in a speech which had all the qualities of vivid description and dry humour which we are accustomed to associate with his appearances in this House, I could not help feeling that he might almost be dealing with the revision of the Constitution in some shadowy land of the imagination, some Barataria, or Crim Tartary, rather than with an existing Chamber in this country. There are two reasons why this debate seems to me to be unreal. The first is that the late Government, during its ten years of unchallenged supremacy, did not make the slightest effort to deal with this question. All the circumstances were absolutely favourable; but, as a matter of fact, except for that rather strange measure of 1893, known as "The Eldest Son's Protest," called, I think, the Removal of Disabilities Bill, no attempt has been made on that side of the House, and none whatever by the Conservative Government, to introduce any kind of reform of your Lordships' House. We may hear, later on in the debate, some explanation of that fact.
But what far more than this makes this debate seem to me somewhat unreal is the fact that everybody knows that the question which interests the country at this moment is not the reform of your Lordships' House, useful or important though that may be, but the question of the respective powers of, the relations that exist between, the two 1226 Houses of Parliament. Consequently, I do not propose this evening to discuss in any detail whatever the proposals of Lord Newton. I will merely say this in passing, that I should be very sorry if any measure introduced by me were subjected to such scathing and, to my mind, damaging and unanswerable criticism as that which has been levelled against some of its provisions by the noble Earl who has just sat down.
I pass to the Amendment of the noble Earl, which, I think, without any extravagant flight of fancy, I may venture to assume is the one which your Lordships' House will think fit to adopt. The noble Earl desires that a Committee should be appointed to consider the suggestions which have from time to time been made for increasing the efficiency of the House of Lords in matters affecting legislation. It seems to me a somewhat singular circumstance that a suggestion of, at any rate, a qualified inefficiency of your Lordships' House should come from the benches opposite. I am very glad that the suggestion that your Lordships are not as efficient as you might be has not come from this side of the House. So many charges are brought against us that I am glad to think that we are, at any rate, free in this matter. We have not suggested, and we not now suggest, that your Lordships' House is in any degree inefficient. What ground is there for making that charge? I looked up the word ''efficient'' in that storehouse of universal knowledge, the Oxford Dictionary, and I find under it, ''Efficient—productive of effects"—nobody can say that your Lordships' House is not productive of effects; ''adequately operative ''—some of us think almost too adequately operative;" of persons, adequately skilled "—I should be very sorry indeed to suggest that the Members of your Lordships' House are anything but adequately skilled.
The noble Lord spoke of the private business of the House. I think there is general agreement that private business, one of the subjects which, I imagine, might fall under the notice of the noble Earl's Committee, though not conducted, I dare say, by as many noble Lords as might be desirable, is 1227 conducted, as I believe, with the highest degree of efficiency. And as regards the public business of the House, whatever charge may be brought against your Lordships, either in this House or on platforms or elsewhere outside, I for one shall never support a charge of anything approaching inefficiency against the conduct of business in your Lordships' House.
There is another interesting fact to be noticed in connection with the noble Earl's Amendment. No proposals are to be considered by this Committee except what may be called the voices of the past. No new suggestion, apparently, of any kind for the improvement of your Lordships' House can come before this Committee. A black line is drawn at a point beyond the Bill of the noble Lord which, I suppose, would come before the Committee, and, further than that, no suggestion can be entertained.
§ EARL CAWDOR
Will the noble Earl read the end of my Amendment?''And to report as to the desirability of adopting them either in their original or in some modified form.
§ * THE EARL OF CREWE
But it does not seem to me to include a new suggestion. That may be all very well, but I maintain, and the Government maintains, that the real, the urgent, question in relation to this House is not its efficiency, but its Party character. It is not the hereditary character of the House. It is not its, possibly, undue size, but it is the perpetual and overwhelming preponderance of one single Party in the State in your Lordships' House. This House is a Conservative House. On February 28th last, in reply to a Question put to me by my noble friend Lord Camper-down, in regard to the introduction of more Bills into your Lordships' House, I pointed out that it was very probable that time would not necessarily be saved by the introduction of Government Bills, because your Lordships would be likely 1228 to alter their shape to a great extent, and that, if they were altered again in the House of Commons, the whole process would take as long as if the Bills were originally introduced in another place and then brought up here. In reply to that the noble Marquess opposite, the Marquess of Lansdowne, said—I object altogether to the assumption that this House is not to be trusted to discuss in an impartial spirit any measure which the Government of the day may desire to bring forward.The noble Marquess, as becomes one who has presided over the Foreign Office, is singularly careful in his choice of words, but, on this occasion, I think it must be admitted that he used an epithet for which no warrant can be brought forward. It is inconceivable to me that the word "impartial" can be applied with any degree of propriety to the action of your Lordships' House. We do not ask for it. We do not expect impartial, judicial consideration for our Party Bills in this House, and we certainly attach no blame to noble Lords opposite if they do not give it. They are themselves among the brightest luminaries of one great Party in the State, and to imagine that, when our measures are brought here, they can regard them otherwise than as Party men is surely to suggest a character for your Lordships' House which, so far as I know, is not claimed; and, if it were claimed, I confess I cannot conceive that that claim could be maintained. There is nothing to be ashamed of in that. Under our Party system, as we know very well, the highest patriotism is involved in the belief that the triumph of a man's own Party is the best thing for the country; and it is far from my mind, therefore, to suggest the slightest imputation on noble Lords I because, being Party men, they act as Party men when they come to this House.
We sometimes hear of the independence of this House, and I am not sure that the phrase was not used by the noble Earl who spoke last. I am bound to say, with some experience of this House, that if by independence is meant independence of Party, it is, in the case of the vast majority of the Members of this House, a complete myth. How often have your Lordships, as a House, shown yourselves independent of Party? I will take the last twenty 1229 years. I can only recall three occasions upon which the Conservative Leader of the House was not supported in his action, and one of these was hardly a case at all. It was the case of the appointment of the Chairman of Committees in 1889. Two noble Lords, both most admirably qualified, were brought forward. Lord Salisbury's opinion of the claims of one was not the same as the opinion of the majority, who thought the claims of the other noble Lord stronger, and in that case Lord Salisbury was not followed.
The second case, in the same year, was more serious. It was the case of the Land Transfer Bill. There were certain clauses in that Bill which dealt with succession to landed property in cases of intestacy and otherwise. Some noble Lords objected to those clauses, which they thought trenched on the custom of primogeniture, and, when the matter was put to the vote, Lord Salisbury was defeated, and he withdrew the Bill. But, in that case, it simply meant that the House was more Conservative than the Conservative Leader and the Conservative Lord Chancellor. The only other instance was that, in 1896, of the Irish Land Bill, which was known among Irish landlords as the "Save us from our friends' Bill. "On that occasion the Government was defeated several times on clauses in Committee, but, as a matter of fact, the clauses were reinserted in another place, and I think the Irish landlords ultimately accepted them. Those are the only three occasions I can recall when the House can be said to have shown independence. If there are others I am inclined to think, at any rate, that the total number can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
It is not too much to say that at this moment your Lordships' House is the Opposition. Suppose the noble Marquess opposite and his friends on the Front Bench were displaced by Mr. Balfour, Mr. Long, Mr. Wyndham, and other Members from the Opposition Benches in the House of Commons, we should deeply regret the loss of the agreeable society of the noble Lords; but, from a political point of view, it would make no difference in the world. Suppose Sir Alexander Acland-Hood were to take the place of 1230 my noble friend Lord Waldegrave, the only difference would be that your Lordships might receive the usual summons for attendance on particular occasions couched in somewhat more vivid and picturesque language than I imagine is employed by the noble Earl. There are, I think, 158 Conservative and Liberal-Unionist Members in the House of Commons, and if those Gentlemen were brought here and an equal number of your Lordships removed elsewhere, again we should have to regret great personal loss, but the conduct of business and the fate of Bills in this House would be precisely as now.
What is the position of the Government and those who oppose them in relation to the conduct of affairs? I recall the communications that passed between some of my friends, myself, and some noble Lords opposite and their friends during the last days of our discussion upon the Education Bill last year, and I can only say that our position was comparable to that of the French statesmen who in February, 1871, at the close of the Resistance of Paris, went out to Versailles to interview Prince Bismarck. In the case of the Siege of Paris, if I remember rightly, certain proposals were made and the French plenipotentiaries were told that unless they were agreed to in a certain time the guns would again open on the city. In our case we were not able to assent to the terms proposed, and the bombardment took place. This is not a question of the amour propre of any set of Ministers, for that is a matter of no importance whatever. I need hardly say that the communications were conducted throughout with a consideration and courtesy that would have prevented the most thin-skinned politician from entertaining any suspicion of offence, but the point is that we who represent the Government of the day are on such occasions relegated to a subordinate position.
Now I think the noble Earl somewhat played with the word "representatives," for as generally used in political parlance it means and can only mean those who are appointed to political positions through the process of popular election. Lord Salisbury in 1888 argued that, after all, a Conservative predominance need not 1231 necessarily be permanent. He had, I think, to go back to the days of Lord Palmerston and the then Lord Derby to find instances in support of his contention. But Lord Salisbury spoke nearly twenty years ago, and I am certain now that no noble Lord will rise in his place and say that he anticipates anything but a permanent Conservative majority in your Lordships' House.
The noble Earl who spoke last said that a second Chamber must necessarily be of a Conservative type, and I do not quarrel with the statement, though I do not go the whole length with the noble Earl in his instances. It is reasonable to say that, however you constitute a second Chamber, it is likely that it will be more Conservative in character than an elected House; that but is a very different thing from saying that the Conservatism of the House, as it stands, is a desirable or possible thing to maintain in a constitutional country and in the present state of political opinion.
§ EARL CAWDOR
I do not think I said that the House must necessarily be Conservative. I said it should not fluctuate in opinion in the same way as the other House, and that its stability was of its essence.
§ * THE EARL OF CREWE
I think the noble Earl mentioned instances to show that persons created Peers would—
§ * The EARL OF CREWE
I apologise. It was my mistake. We are told it is necessary to have a Second Chamber to operate as a check upon hasty legislation; but what is the nature of this check and how is it applied? Once more let me remind your Lordships of the great alterations in the aims and methods of the Tory Party in the last fifty years. Only the other day—in February last—Mr. Balfour, at Hull, speaking of his Party, said—We are not a Party who never face new things in a new manner.Now, if one Party faces new things in a new manner without legislative check of any kind, owing to the composition of your Lordships' House, why is it neces- 1232 sary to have this continuous and overpowering check for the other Party when it in turn attempts to face new things in a new manner? I do not stop to deal with that puerile answer that one Party is always right, the other always wrong. But it was an argument used more in the Press by supporters of the Opposition than it is used in this House which was present to my mind on the occasion when I used that expression which has caused so much pain to the noble Earl opposite, the expression in which I used the old-fashioned comparison of the "loaded dice." Certainly I would not say anything outside that I would not be prepared to say in the House, and I therefore maintain that in this connection the comparison was justified, though I allow that noble Lords are not responsible. The constitution has loaded the dice for them; they turn up a number which is always a winning number for the Party opposite.
§ * THE EARL OF CREWE
It does not seem to me a fair argument to say, "Oh, after all you can always advise His Majesty to dissolve Parliament, and therefore matters are equalised in that sense between the two Parties. "I say nothing of the disadvantage to which a Party is necessarily put by placing the country in the inconvenient position of frequent general elections; but I should like to know what guarantee is there that a particular measure which has been rejected or modified by your Lordships will be passed in the form desired after a dissolution of Parliament? I have always found it maintained that the particular subject discussed was not that upon which the country decided. I will venture to say that, whether free trade, education, or Chinese Labour in South Africa is under discussion, it is maintained that it was upon the other subjects the elections were decided.
Now, assume that we, after our defeat on the Education Bill, had advised His Majesty to dissolve Parliament, and assume also—not a large assumption—that we were returned by a fully adequate majority on that occasion. I am perfectly certain that since last December 1233 your Lordships have been endeavouring to forget the circumstances connected with the Education Bill, and therefore I must apologise for reminding you of the three main points upon which we failed to agree. One of them had to do with the transfer of schools; another was in connexion with giving denominational teaching in certain council schools; and the third dealt with the question of giving religious instruction in transferred schools by certain teachers. Now, assuming that we were returned after a dissolution, what guarantee have we that all or any of these particular points would be decided in our favour by your Lordships' House? The most rev. Primate might urge that the return of our majority was largely due to fear of Lord Ridley and his tariff-reformers, and that it was hard that the interest of Church schools should suffer in the cause of free trade. We should have no guarantee, and therefore I say arguments are often used in this connection which are most unfair.
The question before the country rests upon the fact that the Opposition is perpetually in office. Still, noble Lords opposite might say—"All that you say of the existing House of Lords may be true; but it might not be truly applied to some renewed and regenerated House, after: this Committee has sat." Our case is that any possible modification in the constitution of this House which can: be made under the restrictions named in the Amendment would be subject to precisely the same criticism on account of its overwhelmingly partisan character. Of course if this Committee recommended the abolition of the House of Lords and the substitution for it of an elected Senate my observation might not apply. But I assume that that will not be the case, partly because it would not come within the terms of reference to the Committee, and partly because it would also involve the abolition of the House of Commons as we now know it.
But can this Committee devise a less partisan House of Lords than this House is at present? I believe not. How are you to set about it? You may begin by getting rid of what are known as "black sheep," either by the process of direct 1234 elimination or by some process of selection which would spare their feelings and yet leave them outside. I do not know that we have ever found our black sheep—so far as they exist—a serious trouble or nuisance in this House. They are not numerous. There may be others slightly dashed with grey; but the fleeces of the vast majority of noble Lords are of the most snowy white. It is not the colour of the sheep that we object to, it is their gregarious habits. Observers of rural life will often have noticed that a flock of sheep, animated apparently by a single uncontrollable impulse, not always of a rational character, follow one of their number where-ever he may choose to lead them; and it is rather in that connection than in the matter of colour that we are disposed to desire some alteration in the character of the flock.
Then, my Lords, are you going to alter the partisan character of the House by introducing a certain number of life Peers into it? There is much to be said for that course, and I certainly am not going to adduce any argument against it; but I am bound to say, so far as regards an alteration in the partisan nature of the House, it would be entirely ineffective. Are you going on the principle: of having distinguished men, somewhat lumped together by Lord Newton as major - generals, rear-admirals, distinguished colonial governors, and others? You will not, I think, alter the partisan character of the House by any introduction of that kind. We have already several distinguished members of such classes in the House. Some are politicians, and some are not; and I think you will agree with me that those who are not generally exhibit their impartial character by taking little or no part in the general business of the House. Or you may try to collect a goodly fellowship of eminent butterfly hunters, landscape painters, numismatics, and sanitary engineers, and crowd your benches with such novel elements. But these people will not, as a rule, be politicians; and you will not, consequently, by an addition of that kind, seriously affect the composition of the House.
I am bound to say that if it is the desire and intention of the country that 1235 Liberal policy and Liberal measures should be perpetually submitted, not merely to the revision, but—if they choose it—to the rejection of a Conservative Committee, I would very much sooner remain in the hands of noble Lords opposite, who are skilled, experienced, and politically minded, and who from time to time support their contentions by arguments. The belief that there exists somewhere in the country a sort of reservoir of eminent men who are not partisans and who might profitably be added to the House, and who would be able to take so distinguished a part in its deliberations that the other House and the country, would bow before their decisions, is, in my judgment, a pure fallacy.
So far as I know there are only two kinds of politicians. One kind are those who have undergone what Lord Newton called the rough-and-tumble of the House of Commons by popular election. The other kind may, if you like, be divided into two classes, both of which are adequately represented in this House. The first class consists of those who, like my noble friend behind me, and the noble Marquess opposite, have been trained from their earliest years in the business of politics, and are professional politicians in the very best sense of the word. There are also those who have won admittance here by distinguished official careers, although, as I said before, they unfortunately do not take that part which their abilities entitle them to in the general business of the House. As I say, I believe that the existence of this potential addition to a new Second Chamber or to an improved House of Lords is a myth. At the time of the Bourbon restoration, as your Lordships may remember, there was a Chamber of Peers. It was a singularly distinguished body, and contained a great many of the most eminent men of the time in France. But its political influence, as history teaches, was of the most insignificant character; and I fear that a similar fate would await a Chamber constituted in this country in a similar way.
I have given the reasons why, in our judgment, if such a Committee as is proposed were appointed, it would be 1236 useless for us to take any part in its deliberations. I can assure the noble Earl and the House that we reach that conclusion from no lack of respect either to him or to noble Lords opposite. The issue before the country being what I have stated it to be, we feel that we should be utterly confusing that issue if we were to sit down at this moment and attempt to engage in a re-organisation of the constitution of the House, knowing very well that if we did so we should undoubtedly be giving colour to what I have attempted to show is the erroneous expectation or belief that something which this Committee might do might tend to modify the proposals which we will have to present in due time in regard to the relations between the two Houses.
I regret myself that these proposals have not yet been laid before the country. It is simply a question of the order of business in another place. Your Lordships will, I think, appreciate the fact that when these proposals are submitted to the other House your Lordships' friends in that House will undoubtedly ask, and ask with reason, for some days for their discussion; and noble Lords will, therefore, appreciate the fact that the precise date of the introduction of these proposals must depend upon the state of business in the House of Commons, and the progress that is made with other measures. I, therefore, regret co say that owing to that circumstance, and that circumstance alone, the Prime Minister will not, I am informed, be able to make his statement before Whitsun-side. When these proposals reach this House, I hope that they will receive lot merely the serious, but the not unfriendly consideration of noble Lords opposite. They will deserve that reception at any rate, because they will not be made in a spirit of hostility to this House. On the contrary, we believe that if these proposals are adopted, here will remain a wide field of usefulness or your Lordships' House.
Nobody can have had the honour of a eat in this House for far fewer years than I have, without recognising the great qualities of many Members of your Lordships' House. We recognise, not merely what is vaguely spoken of 1237 as the ability of many Members, but their great faculty for business, their remarkable powers of work, their varied and wide experience, and the high public spirit which is conspicuous through all our Party warfare. My Lords, these things are the possession of the country and they certainly ought not to be lost to the country; but I believe that they can be employed, and will be employed, in accord with the desire of the country, in view of the changed condition of things which, to some extent, exists to-day. I believe there will remain for this House no insignificant part to play, and a part in which no Member of the House present or future, however eminent, need be ashamed to take a share. We shall be able, I hope for many years to come, by our deliberations to assist the representative House in shaping and maturing measures of many kinds which will be of benefit to all classes of His Majesty's subjects.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
My Lords, I confess that when the noble Earl who has just sat down rose to his feet I was inclined very much to regret that he was going to mix up two totally different subjects in this debate, for the relations of one House with the other have absolutely nothing to do with the organisation of this House itself. But as the noble Earl proceeded I found his speech intensely interesting, and I was, as I think your Lordship must all have been, vary much touched at his kindness in assuring us that, even if His Majesty's Government carried out their proposals in regard to this House, we would still have something to do of which we need not be ashamed. But, my Lords, the noble Earl rather watered down that kind assurance by a previous utterance, for it was perfectly plain that in his opinion nothing could make this House an impartial Assembly unless it were elective from top to toe. I do not know whether that was letting the cat out of the bag, and whether that is the proposal which is going to be laid before your Lordships; but, if it is not, then any other proposition which the noble Earl lays down stands at once self-condemned by his own assertion that he cannot conceive any other constitution of this House which could make it impartial.
1238 We all know how well-read in history the noble Earl is, and I really wondered at the moment whether his memory had entirely failed him when he cited in stances of the impartiality of this House. The House of Lords, with all its faults, is not a creation of yesterday. It has existed and done good work for the constitution for very many years. This dreadful blot of partiality has not, at any rate, deprived it of the power of serving the nation in the past, and I should like to know from the noble Earl or one of his colleagues what there is in the present state of the country which makes it impossible for the House of Lords to do as good service in the future. What was it that rendered this House somewhat partial of late years and un equally balanced, if such is the case? It was the Liberal Party which loaded the dice when they brought forward the Home Rule Bill. It is marvellous that the noble Earl should have forgotten the impartiality of this House on that occasion. On the spur of the moment I can mention two other instances. There was the action of this House in regard to the Compensation for Disturbances Bill.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I was speaking of cases in which the Conservative Peers had voted against their own Party.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
Perhaps the noble Earl may remember that when it was proposed to give women. seats on the borough councils of London, which were instituted by the late Government, the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, expressed himself strongly in favour of that proposal, which was rejected n this House.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
Surely that is hardly a worthy answer. We are talking of the impartiality of the House. We all know that neither House of Parliament is apt to vote against its own Ministers. But that noble Lords do not exercise their impartial opinions independently of what the wishes of 1239 their leaders may be, when they have an opinion of their own, and they very often have, is, I think, an absolutely unfounded statement.
I pass now to what is really the subject of discussion to-night—namely, the Bill introduced by Lord Newton and the Amendment moved by my noble friend Earl Cawdor. I wish to support, in the strongest way I can, the general propositions embodied in Lord Newton's Bill. I do not say that I am prepared to support every sentence of the Bill; there may be some blots in it, but, if so, they are matters of detail for consideration in Committee. I was sorry to hear the attack on the Bill by the noble Earl, Lord Cawdor, who, I think, has misunderstood some of its provisions. For instance, the Bill will not exclude such men as Lord Kelvin and Lord Lister who, as created Peers, would have a seat. There is nothing in the Bill to affect the prerogative of the Crown to create Peers, and all such Peers will sit. I think my noble friend deserves the gratitude of the House for having introduced this measure. The truth of the matter is that it is not so much any failure of this House in the performance of its functions which has to be considered as changes which have affected another Chamber and the country outside.
This is a very difficult subject to speak upon. Neither House appears so undignified and to such disadvantage as when criticising the other, but I shall endeavour to avoid anything which could be called disrespectful to the other Chamber while I point out to your Lordships one or two remarkable and important facts. Before I proceed may I be allowed to say that I am not making an attack on any Party. What I am going to say would have been quite as true when the last Government were in power as it is now. The character of the Lower House has entirely changed with in the last forty years. Forty years ago the independent private Member in the House of Commons was a great power. Resolutions were constantly brought forward by private Members, which, having been fully discussed, formed the basis of legislation, with the result that then we did not get such crude, ill-considered, and ill-drawn measures as are 1240 often thrown on the Table of the House. In addition, private Members were then sometimes able, without the assistance of Ministers, to pass important Bills, and we all know that there are measures on the Statute Book which go by the name of the private Members who introduced them and carried them through.
But all that is changed, and everyone knows that as a matter of fact no met sure now has a chance of passing the Lower House unless the Ministry of the day give facilities for it and carry it forward. I admit that last year His Majesty's Government did help on in one way private Members' legislation by adopting the ideas and drafting of a private measure and taking the credit to themselves. But the novel and, I hope, not to be universally copied system is a bad compensation for the considered legislation of old days, carried out by private Members as well as by the Government. The Prime Minister, with a large majority at his back in the House Commons, is, so far as legislation is concerned, practically an autocrat. It is an old saying that—Democracies always end with one man rule.and that—Revolutions always bring forth a Napoleon.In this country we carry out revolution by very slow and quiet means, but it really looks as if in one form the same result was coming about. Except for what check he may receive from his colleagues in the Cabinet, the Prime Minister has practically an autocratic rule over the legislative destinies of the country. So much is this the case that in certain circumstances he coerces the Upper House as well as the Lower. I can remember, in 1901, a Bill of 104 clauses for factory legislation was brought up from the House of Commons on August 14th, and on the 15th it was passed through all its stages and became law. I was present on the occasion. It was within the power of any one of your Lordships to have prevented that Bill from passing. It did not require any particular genius or talent; it only required a little courage. Yet there was not a Peer present who had the courage to stand up and oppose that 1241 course. I cannot help saying that that was one of the most monstrous evasions of the privileges of this House that I have ever known.
Noble Lords opposite may say that a Unionist Prime Minister could do that, but not a Liberal. But that does not alter the Constitutional question. What we want is to strengthen this House, which I affirm is the only thing at the present day which stands between the Prime Minister and the liberties of the people, because it really seems that it is within the power of the Prime Minister—a Unionist Prime Minister, if you will—to disregard the wishes of the Lower House, of this House, and of the people during his tenure of office. When a Government has lost the confidence of the country the House of Lords is the only safeguard the people have against rash legislation, and legislation which is not in accordance with their wishes. To my mind that is a real argument in favour of something being done in the direction of my noble friend's Bill.
I ask, is this such a revolutionary measure? Noble Lords speak sometimes as if the House of Lords had never reformed itself. What was the creation of life Peers when the Lords of Appeal were constituted? What was the further step when lay Lords deprived themselves of the right of voting on legal questions? What, again, was it when this House deprived itself of the right of using proxies? All these have been reforms of the House of Lords, marching with the times and the necessities of the day. My noble friend Lord Newton now says that the time has come when the House has arrived at such a size, and the business before it is so heavy and so important, that it would be a good thing to strengthen it in the eyes of the country, that some qualifications should be imposed, not before an hereditary Peer has the right to sit, but before he has an opportunity of exercising the functions which appertain to that right. That really is at the bottom of the whole matter.
If you do not approve of the particular qualifications which the noble Lord proposes in his Bill, well and good. I myself would like, I admit, to extend them. But the qualifications in the Bill 1242 are well worth considering. Your Lordships mix with all classes of men as much as your fellow-countrymen, and I would ask you if you have not as often heard the House of Lords spoken of with respect and esteem as you have heard it spoken of in any other way. During the last six or seven years there has been a strong and growing feeling throughout the country that the House of Lords is a very valuable body, and the people would be glad to see it strengthened. The noble Earl, Lord Cawdor, made an appeal to the Front Bench opposite to know whether they wanted to strengthen the House of Lords or to weaken it, but I did not hear any answer to that question. I did hear, however, that the House of Lords would be a hopeless body unless it were elective.
§ * THE EARL OF CREWE
I said nothing approaching that statement. I am afraid the noble Duke did not hear what I said.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
I believe the noble Earl said that it was hopeless to expect that this House could act impartially unless it were an elective body.
§ * THE EARL OF CREWE
No. What I said was that unless the proposition was to alter the character of the House by making it a purely elective body—which I remarked was out of the question—I did not see how it was likely to lose its partisan character.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
That is very much the same. I do not see the difference. The House of Lords must remain a partisan Assembly unless something is done which nobody suggests should be done. Therefore, is His Majesty's Government going to strengthen this partisan House or to weaken it? We must wait till the cat comes out of the bag, but in the meantime I trust that your Lordships will assent to the Amendment of Lord Cawdor referring the subject to a Committee. I earnestly hope that this reference to a Committee will not be allowed to be a shelving of the question, and that we shall not permit red herrings about the differences between the two Houses, and so forth, to divert our 1243 attention from the strengthening and reforming of this House.
I should like to say, in conclusion, that this is no new idea on the part of the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill. I have had the honour of a seat in this House for nearly twenty years, and when I first came here the air was full of reform of the House of Lords. I was extremely interested in the matter myself, but, of course, as a young Peer it would not have been seemly for me to have asked your Lordships to consider proposals for reform. But somehow or other the useful interest which was then taken in the question died out. I hope this House will now stick to the work. I should like to appeal to my noble friend on the Cross Benches, Lord Rosebery, who has shown so much interest in the past in this question, again to take an interest in it and bring forward the suggestions which he is so well able lo bring forward. I should like to see the whole intelligence of this House, which is so great, brought to bear on this question. I am confident that a wise and sound conclusion will be come to for which the country will be extremely grateful, and one which will place us under a great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord who has brought forward this Bill to-night.
* LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I venture to hope that the House will not think I am taking too much upon myself in intruding at this early period in the debate. I shall not detain the House at any undue length. But I think there is one thing that must be present to the minds of many of us—namely, a profound sense of disappointment with the attitude which the Government have taken up in regard to the matter, as evidenced both by the Amendment which they have placed on the Paper and by the speech of the noble Earl. The noble Earl gives as one of the reasons for not agreeing to the proposal that the Party character of this House shows such a perpetually overwhelming preponderance in favour of one of the political Parties that he cannot assent to the suggestion that it should be reformed. I venture to think that is one of the very reasons 1244 why we should endeavour to undertake the reform, to see whether we cannot do something at any rate to cure what is one of of the most constant complaints of noble Lords opposite and their supporters in regard to this House.
Then the noble Earl said that perhaps it was an accident of the situation that a Second Chamber must always be more Conservative than the other, and he was good enough to say that it was not our fault, that the dice had been loaded for us by the Constitution, and that we were, therefore, not to blame; and in the latter part of his speech he talked of us with sympathy and almost, I think, with feelings akin to love. Yet, after all that, he will not help us to cure the defects which he and his political friends from time to time in the country are certainly not backward in setting forth.
Just think for a moment of the position in which we are placed. I am not one of those who blame the noble Lord on the bench behind me for bringing forward this question. He was entirely within his rights. I think it is fortunate that he did so, and I am sure the great majority of your Lordships are glad that he has taken up the question. But I prefer, in all the circumstances, the Amendment of the noble Earl on the front Opposition Bench, and for this reason. Much as there is good, much as there is to be supported in the Bill of the noble Lord, I for one could not accept it as it stands. It was criticised somewhat hardly by the noble Earl on the front Opposition Bench on one or two points, and no doubt the Bill might be amended in regard to those matters in Committee. But my objection to giving a Second Reading to this Bill is that we might be held to be unduly committed to the particular line of action foreshadowed in it. On the other hand, if we reject the measure without any promise of consideration our action will be represented as proclaiming our belief that the constitution of this House is perfect, or that it is incapable of wise change. I do not desire to take up that attitude, and the Motion of the noble Earl on the Front Bench seems to me to provide exactly that middle course which I respectfully venture to hope the House will adopt.
1245 I feel, as I have said, profound disappointment with the attitude which the Government have taken up in regard to this matter. What is it that they ask us to declare? They ask us to say that—it is not expedient to proceed with the discussion of various proposals for reforming the constitution of this House until provision has been made for an effective method of settling differences which may arise between this House and the other House of Parliament.If they have a method to put before the House and the country I do not see anything inconsistent with the Motion for a Committee to consider the constitution of this House. Even if their proposals were accepted, some of the defects which those of us who sit on this side of the House feel to exist regarding the constitution of the House would still remain; and it does not seem to me that, because the Government have proposals of their own to bring forward, there is any reason why we should not proceed to consider the constitution of this House, and see whether we cannot improve it.
The noble Earl was very strong on the point that in his opinion the country does not care so much about the constitution of this House as about the proposals which the Government are going to bring forward for settling differences between the two Houses. If those proposals are of such vital importance to the country, surely it would be fair to the country, to Parliament, and, above all, to your Lordships that we should see than at the earliest possible date. Various suggestions have been made, into which I shall not attempt to go. There have been some more or less veiled threats of what is described as a revolution by one of the Law Officers of the Crown, and certainly one, if not more, of the colleagues of the noble Lord opposite has gone about to various meetings and has not spoken in exactly the same tone of sympathy and friendship for this House that the noble Earl has adopted to-night.
It is difficult to know how to deal with attacks couched in the sort of language to which we have been accustomed out of doors. For my part, I feel myself in the position of one who has paid what a cabman thinks is on insufficient 1246 fare, and is assailed by a volley of abuse. You cannot answer in kind, because you are sure to be beaten, and the only thing to do is to disregard it and walk away with as much dignity as you can maintain in the circumstances. What I am afraid of is, and the fear has been greatly magnified by the speech of the noble Earl, that there is a root difference between noble Lords on that side of the House and us as to what is the real function of the House of Lords, or, indeed, of any Second Chamber in the Constitution of this or any country.
I am not entitled to speak for anyone but myself, but if I were asked to define what is the function of a Second Chamber, I should be inclined to say that its duty is to secure that no policy shall be irrevocably adopted which is not in accordance with the settled will of the people. A Second Chamber, whatever its constitution, whatever may be its powers, cannot fulfil that function efficiently unless it has some power in the last resort to compel an appeal to the country, which alone can demonstrate what is the real will of the people. It does not follow that we claim to have a dissolution upon every subject. I recognise the force of much that the noble Earl said on that point, but if the Government propose to deprive the Second Chamber of the power of making sure of the real will of the people to the extent which I have indicated, they are entering upon a course which self-respect and absolute duty will compel us to resist to the uttermost.
It may be said that the larger the majority in the representative House the greater the force with which their proposals come to us. To a great extent that may be true, but it is not the whole truth. It depends largely on the conditions under which that majority may have been obtained. It also depends very largely upon such questions as whether the majority in the other House really is a reflex of the votes of those who returned them to power. I venture to say that the difficulties of any Second Chamber in such a Constitution as ours are greatly increased from two causes. They are increased because since 1832 the House of Commons, which then became for the first time a 1247 really democratic body, has been gradually growing more and more democratic in its constitution, while this House has not been so affected. But there is a second reason why the responsibility of the Second Chamber and the difficulty of its position are greater now than ever before—namely, on account of what is perhaps inevitable in all democracies, the more strict nature and growth of Party discipline. One of the great difficulties of our position at the present time is that owing to the strictness of Party discipline we do not get the play of independence in voting in the other House which used to be the case some quarter of a century or longer ago.
To a great extent we here are between two fires. If we refuse to pass a Bill we are said to be thwarting the will of the people; if we do pass it we are told that we are too cowardly to give, effect to our own opinions. I do not think that is right or fair. I for one say that there is no treason to our proper functions if we pass a Bill which we may not altogether like if we are satisfied that it is really in accordance with the settled wishes and desires of the people. But it is a very different thing when you go on to argue that the House of Commons is, as it were, a sovereign power, that it is never to be thwarted. What is the object of the change which the noble Earl opposite indicates in his Amendment? Is it to secure that the Houses are never to differ, or, if they do differ, that the elective Assembly is always to prevail? That is practically the abolition of the Second Chamber altogether.
The most hateful and insulting scheme which could be produced for the reform of any Second Chamber, and most of all a Second Chamber with a history and traditions like ours, is to keep us in name, but to abolish our powers altogether. I would sooner see this House abolished than thus reduced to impotence, and in that I am sure I speak the views of the enormous majority who sit in this House. We are trustees under the Constitution against the uncontrolled will of the elected Chamber, and that is why I deeply regret that the Government have met us with an absolute non possumus. I think the attitude of the Government in refusing to assist any reform, and at the 1248 same time waiting all this time before producing their own scheme, is one not worthy of themselves, not fair to Parliament, and not just in the interests of the country. I shall certainly support the Amendment of the noble Earl on the Front Opposition Bench, if he goes to a division.
§ LORD HENEAGE
My Lords, I wish to state my entire agreement with the speech of my noble friend the Duke of Northumberland. I will not reiterate his arguments, but will call your Lordships' attention to a curious feature of this debate. The noble Earl on the Front Opposition Bench moved his Amendment, but never said one single word in favour of it. The whole of his speech from beginning to end was a denunciation of the Bill, and I cannot understand why, if he has such a strong feeling against the Bill, he did not place an Amendment on the Paper for its rejection. Then we had the speech of the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council, who ignored the Bill altogether, and added that if the Committee moved for by Lord Cawdor were appointed the Government would have nothing to do with it. Therefore it comes to this, that if your Lordships agree to Lord Cawdor's Amendment without passing the Second Reading of the Bill, you will only set up a dummy Committee, of which noble Lords opposite would form no part whatever, and which, I think, could be satisfactory neither to your Lordships nor to the country.
It is said that if we agree to the Second Reading of Lord Newton's Bill we shall be giving our approval to everything that is contained in it. I entirely disagree with that proposition. The Bill, if it is read a second time, will be in the hands of the Select Committee to do whatever they like with. I have sat on at least two Select Committee s of your Lordships' House, and I was also on a good many more in the House of Commons, but I must say I never saw two Bills so thoroughly ill-treated as were the two referred to the Select Committees of your Lordships' House on which I sat. Every clause in one of the Bills was altered, and in the other case we reported to the House that, while we recommended that legislation should take place on the 1249 principle of the Bill, we rejected the Bill itself. We suggested another Bill which we had seen and which had been drafted by an eminent counsel at the Parliamentary Bar.
What will be the position if you pass the Amendment of my noble friend on the Front Opposition Bench? You will simply shelve the Bill altogether. It will have no sanction from this House; it will not even have the force that would attach to an abstract Resolution of the House. The proposal on the Paper in the name of the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council appears at first sight a far more logical proposition than that of Lord Cawdor, and if Ministers had held their tongues since the King's Speech it might have been a very fair proposition for them to make; but, unfortunately, they have not done so, and, although the President of the Council told us very little in his speech of what the proposals of the Government are, still we know from the various speeches that have been made by Ministers that their sole object is to put aside the functions of this House during the remainder of the term of office of the present Government. I am quite prepared to vote for the Bill and against the Amendments of both the Front Benches.
In voting for the Bill I simply give my vote in favour of the practical reform of this House, leaving the settlement of details to a strong Select Committee. Whether the proposals put forward in this Bill are the beat or not, at any rate at present they hold the field. I do not desire at this moment to detain your Lordships by reiterating arguments which you have already heard, but I should like to call attention to one of the allegations made against this House. It is that this House is not in touch with the people. I venture to say that anyone, who was present, as I was, all through the education debates in this House last autumn must clearly have realised that those who took part in the debates were in very close touch with the country.
Why are we to hand over for the present Parliament the legislation of this country entirely to Ministers in the other House? Are they representatives? I think the fact that the present Parliament is not representative was clearly shown by the 1250 speeches of Lord Courtney on the Plural Voting Bill last year and on the Municipal Representation Bill this year. The noble Lord showed that if the representation of the country had been given in a proportionate manner there would have been a majority in the House of Commons of only forty on the Ministerial side. In the county in which I live 92,000 voters went to the poll at the last general election, 47,000 of whom voted in favour of Ministerial candidates and 45,000 in favour of Unionist; yet of the eleven Members returned only two are Unionists. That is the case all over the country, and therefore the present Government cannot claim that there is any particular reason why at the present moment complete power should be given to the House of Commons.
Then there is the allegation that when I a Conservative Government are in office this House passes bad Bills without adequate discussion. That is a much more substantial allegation than that we do not give a fair discussion to Bills when a Liberal Government are in office. There were bad Bills passed with very little discussion during the late Government. There was the Education Act of 1902, out of which all our trouble arose, and there was the Vaccination Act passed with hardly any discussion at all. But what is the great Bill we are said to have damaged so much in its progress through this House? The Education Bill of last year. Well, if the Government believe the country is with them, let them go to the country; they will very soon find out they are wrong. I do not think there is any ground for the complaint in regard to the Education Bill. I think the Bill of Lord Newton is a good and reasonable basis on which to go to Committee, and I shall vote for the Second Reading. If that Motion is carried I shall then move the Amendment which stands in my name on the Paper, viz.—That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee of not less than thirty Members, with an instruction to consider the Bill, together with any other suggestions or Amendments which may be submitted to the Committee by any Member of the House, and to report as to the desirability of passing the Bill in its present or an amended form.
§ * LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
My Lords, when this Bill was first placed 1251 in my hands I, in common with a great many others, anxiously scanned the schedule to see whether there was the slightest probability of my being considered a fit and proper person to take any further part in the debates of your Lordships' House, and I was very much astonished to find that masters of hounds were not included in Lord Newton's list. I then turned to the reference to the House of Commons, and found to my chagrin and and disappointment that I had only been elected once, and, unlike Lord Newton, who had been elected twice, I should not be able to join him in the reconstituted House of Lords. The only other Peer besides Lord Newton whom I have heard this evening express unqualified approval of this measure, is Lord Heneage, who, by a curious coincidence, also conies within the category of those who would be able to sit in the newly-constituted House.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
That is the point I was trying to make. Besides Lord Newton, Lord Heneage is the only Peer I have heard advocating the adoption of these proposals in full, and he happens by a coincidence to be also qualified to sit in the newly-constituted House. I will not weary your Lordships by taking the provisions of the Bill seriatim. They have already beer dealt with by Lord Cawdor in a manner which gained my entire approval. I do not think that a more telling indictment of the measure could have been framed than that which Lord Cawdor brought forward. I, however, am one of those who almost wish that his Lordship had gone a little further and invited the House to throw out the measure forthwith, without even referring it to a Committee, though it is perhaps presumption on my part to bring forward such an opinion in the face of the expert speeches that we have heard on this matter.
I wish with your Lordships' permission to say one or two words on the witty, amusing, and clever speech in which Lord Newton moved the Second Reading of his Bill. I understood him to say that his three main objections to the 1252 House of Lords as at present constituted were based upon the sparse attendance of Peers, the undue preponderance of the hereditary element, and the predominant character of the Conservative element. I do not think that the argument of the sparse attendance in your Lordships' debates really deserves the serious attention which Lord Newton proposes to give it by this Bill. It is quite true that during the debates last autumn on many occasions only about one-half, and sometimes even less, of your Lordships' House attended; but I respectfully maintain that the attendance generally on important questions has been quite sufficient to disarm the ancient criticism which used to be levelled against this House, and which I find in the works of Mr. Walter Bagehot, who used to say that the best cure for admiring the House of Lords was to go and look at it. With regard to the preponderance of the hereditary element, I think I am well within my rights when I say that the hereditary element has stood the test of many hundred years. Although the argument of the lapse of time may savour of antiquated Toryism, I respectfully urge that it may be adduced in support of the hereditary element in the House of Lords. It may, perhaps, be urged with some force that the hereditary element tends to exclude those whose presence in this House would be of great value to our debates. It used to Te said that the House of Lords closed its doors upon genius which could not found a family and upon ability which had not £5,000 a year. I do not wish to examine the bank bock of any Member of your Lordships' House or his ability to found a family, but still I think that during recent years the tendency on the part of the Crown has been to include in your Lordships' House those who for any reason have shown sufficient ability or distinction to deserve the dignity of a seat in this House.
With regard to the Conservative element, to the predominance of which Lord Newton objects so much, I venture to think that that is exactly what we all, or at least a great many of us, want. If you went out of doors and said you wanted to whittle away the Conservative element in the House of Peers, I do not 1253 think you would find a very large audience to listen to and endorse your views. A Liberal House of Peers is an impossibility; it is a truism to say that it is really a contradiction in terms. I do not think the charge of our proceedings being unduly tainted with old time prejudice can possibly be levelled against a House of Lords which passed the Trade Disputes Bill and a certain clause in the Land Tenure Bill.
I venture to submit with great respect that there is nothing to be gained by adopting the drastic and complicated measure which Lord Newton has put before us. I urge with the greatest diffidence and respect in the presence of such great authorities that if you begin to interfere with the House of Lords on the scale suggested you will be tending towards a written Constitution. Our Constitution, which has grown up by degrees, and especially the hereditary element in it, is the one thing that other nations in forming Constitutions have endeavoured to copy, but without success. Further, I think the present juncture is a singularly ill-timed one for the Conservative Party to try their hand on the Constitution of the country. We have noble Lords opposite from whom nothing appears to be safe. I do not wish to make a rabid party speech, but it is admitted that they on the other side have tried their hand upon a great many questions since they came into office. Even Mr. Gilbert's comedy, "The Mikado," the wittiest and prettiest comedy in the English language, is not safe from the noble Viscount opposite.
With regard to the general issue of referring the question of the reform of the House of Lords to a Committee, it may be a great relief to Lord Cawdor to know that I for one shall not oppose that course being taken; but I cannot help thinking that it would have been much more interesting if we had waited to see what the Radical Party were going to do before saying what we would do ourselves. We have been waiting for some considerable time to hear how they were going to carry into effect the first item mentioned in the gracious Speech from the Throne at the beginning of the session. But anxious as I believe many of us are to maintain the House of Lords upon 1254 practically its present constitution, I do not think we need be afraid of referring the general question to a Committee, not because we hope that that Committee will shelve the question, but because I believe it will be exceedingly difficult for a Committee to introduce any scheme which would have any effect upon the House of Lords, or do that which the united wisdom of the Liberal Party has tried to do in vain. Although the reform of the House of Lords will probably be sent to a Committee upstairs, I hope I shall not be accused of attempting to lecture your Lordships' House if I express the wish that the question had been left in the category to which a great statesman once alluded of the things which had much better have been left alone. I beg to thank your Lordships for the very kind hearing which you have given me.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, this is a question on which I cannot give a silent vote. One reason for that is that I am under a personal pledge to my noble friend Lord Newton to support his Bill, and another is that the question is one on which I feel strongly and to which I have given considerable thought. I do not say that it was clear thinking, and I have no intention whatever of inflicting the whole of the fruits of my thoughts on your Lordships. My noble friend seems to be in some need of that support which I most readily promised to give him, because he has thus far received but small encouragement and cold expressions of sympathy. Indeed the noble Earl the Lord President went so far as to say that he would be very sorry if any Bill which he had brought in had been exposed to such scathing and unanswerable criticism. But the memory of the noble Earl must be very short, for it is only a short time ago that he was actually in charge of a Bill which was exposed to scathing and unanswerable criticism—I mean the Education Bill.
The criticism to which the noble Earl referred was that which proceeded from Earl Cawdor. Personally I could see in that criticism nothing that was either scathing or unanswerable. The noble Earl found fault with several details of the Bill, but, as has been 1255 pointed out, the details of any measure can be altered without necessarily vitiating its principle or disproving its expediency or necessity. The noble Earl said that certain Peers who are among the highest ornaments of this House would be excluded if the Bill became law. I think the noble Earl was under a misapprehension when he made that statement. There are three little words in the first clause of the Bill which must have escaped his attention, for it is there stated that the provisions in regard to qualified Peers shall apply only to those entitled by descent to sit in the House. The words '' entitled by descent '' safeguard the position of noble Lords like Lord Avebury and Lord Kelvin to whom the noble Earl referred. Another criticism of the noble Earl was that a Peer who as a young man was elected to the House of Commons would be for ever after precluded from taking his seat in this House as a hereditary Peer. But my noble friend in introducing the Bill explained very carefully that there was an easy and obvious way of meeting that difficulty—that all that was required was to confer a new title on the noble Lord in question. As cases of that kind would not be very numerous, and as the addition of a second title would not make any serious encroachment on the general fund of such privileges of noble Lords, I cannot see that any objection could be urged against that method of meeting the difficulty.
I deplore the course of action which has been taken by the noble Earl on the Front Bench. I do not believe there is any Member of this House who can honestly say that the object of this Amendment is otherwise than dilatory. It is not as though the question of House of Lords reform was a new question. It has been a question of current politics—I might say a classical question—for over a generation, and in recent years perhaps no question has been more fully or more generally discussed. Every Member of this House who takes any part in its affairs must be fully familiar with every suggestion that has ever been made for the reform of the House of Lords, and if they were not so we have nostrums and theories of every sort and kind which writers and speakers thrust upon our attention in 1256 the daily Press. I cannot see that a Committee, however constituted, can possibly add to the general knowledge which the House already possesses on this subject. Moreover, it has been affirmed on previous occasions that the constitution of this House is too grave a matter to consign to the consideration of any Committee other than a Committee of the Whole House. Even if that were not so, I would urge the further consideration that any discussion of a question affecting the Constitution of the country should not be discussed in any other manner than coram publico, and that can only be done by a Committee of the Whole House.
What is the reason for this dilatory Motion? I think the noble Lord who spoke last rather indicated the feelings of those who are in favour of delay. They think that the time is inopportune—an argument which was most ably anticipated by my noble friend. Others in private discussion have gone further and said that the Bill is a confession of weakness—that it is an admission that the House of Lords needs reform. My own opinion is that the time is peculiarly opportune, in spite of the fact that the Liberal Party is in power and that the Unionist Party has not the majority to control the course of legislation. The reason I think the time is opportune, is that there is without doubt, and has been for a long time, a popular—I will not say overwhelming—but a widespread and popular demand for some alterations with regard to the House of Lords. As for the Bill being a confession of weakness, I do not think any Member of your Lordships' House would seriously contend that the House of Lords is perfect and incapable of reform. The mere fact that Members of the House of the calibre of the noble Earl who sits on the Cross Benches (the Earl of Rosebery) and the late Lord Salisbury, men who attained the highest position which any Englishman can attain, namely, that of Prime Minister—that two such Members of different ways of thinking politically should have initiated schemes of reform and pressed them upon this House is in itself sufficient proof and argument that reform is desirable and necessary. In recognising the existence of a popular 1257 demand for some reform of the House of Lords I maintain that, so far from showing weakness, we shall be proving, by no means for the first time, that we are capable of recognising, and do recognise the national will, and that we do not withstand it; we shall be displaying strength not weakness; we shall be disproving the assertion that we are incapable of moving with the times; we shall be proving that we yield to a popular mandate even though it runs counter to our own prejudices and predilections; we shall be showing emphatically that we represent the nation and not a political Party.
I have said that there is a popular mandate for the reform of the House of Lords, and that it is a mandate of long standing, and not the result of any sudden gust of popular passion or prejudice. I need not labour that point, for it has been amply shown to-night that House of Lords reform has been before this House and before the country for quite a generation past. I think, therefore, that your Lordships, whatever may be your views on the particular question before the House, must concede that there is a mandate for some reform. The question—and I admit that it is a difficult question—is what form of alteration is demanded. To ascertain that we must first of all look to the utterances of those to whom the electors of the country gave a majority at the last general election. The protagonist of the Liberal Party in this matter was the President of the Board of Trade, who, in very forcible language, advocated the abolition of the House of Lords. I will not quote his actual words; it would not be appropriate to do so in this House. Nor shall I quote the speeches of other Leaders of the Liberal Party, for nowadays it seems that nobody attaches much importance to the ipssima verba of any statement. No sooner is any importance attached to words which at the time of their utterance seemed full of meaning than it is explained that they have been misunderstood. We have had a conspicuous instance of that this evening. The important fact is that the opinions of the Leaders of the Liberal Party have undergone a striking change since that Party have had the responsibility of carrying on the government of the 1258 country. Before the general election they were for ending; next they were for ending or mending; still later on, after considering, as they were obliged to do, the difficulties, they inclined to mending only; and now, so far as we can judge—but of that there is no certainty—the talk among them is only of "readjusting the relations between the two Houses." But I think we may take it nevertheless that there is a mandate for some alteration in the Constitution of this House.
I next look to the gracious Speech from the Throne, and I find that this was the statement—Serious questions affecting the working of our Parliamentary system have arisen from unfortunate differences between the two Houses. My Ministers have this important subject under consideration with a view to a solution of the difficulty.I hold, and I think that my noble friend conclusively proved, that an effective readjustment of the relations between the two Houses is not possible without some internal change in this House—that is to say, such a readjustment as will not interfere with the vital principles upon which the House of Lords is founded. The Prime Minister has not yet revealed his plan, but we have had this evening a very striking and remarkable utterance from the Lord President; I might almost call it a warning—a warning which in its contemptuous terms of reassurance was almost insulting to your Lordships' House. We are to be left some work of which no Member of this House need be ashamed. That might be the work of a parish council, for I could name some of the most eminent Members of your Lordships' House who are not ashamed to take part in the work of their parish councils. But whatever meaning may be attached to the warning of the Lord President, I for one am not convinced that he foreshadowed the intentions of the Government. I think your Lordships will recognise that there may be some necessity or expediency for throwing dust in the eyes of those who are anxiously waiting to hear what actually is to be done. I prefer to think that the noble Earl was throwing dust in our eyes. Anyhow, the Prime Minister, speaking on the Address on 12th February, 1259 gave a very definite explanation of the attitude of His Majesty's Government. That attitude was one to which we can take no exception. It amounted to this—that it is proper and right for the House of Commons to take the initiative in the matter of the readjustment of the relations between the two Houses, but that it would not be right for that House to take the initiative in altering our constitution, and that is why that essentially and necessary part of any scheme of readjustment is left to this House. That the two processes should be simultaneous seems to me both appropriate and necessary. The words of the Prime Minister to which I have referred were as follows—We must have such a readjustment of the relations of the two Houses as will enable us to carry out with reasonable harmony the wishes of the people. There are all sorts of schemes afloat for reconstituting the second Chamber of the Legislature—by introducing new elements, by the expurgation of evil elements, and by the alteration and revision of the terms of tenure, and so on. All such questions we set aside. What we are concerned with is that the relations between the House of Commons and the other Chamber, however composed, should be improved, and it is this to which in due time the attention of the House will be directed.The Bill of my noble friend is designed not only to facilitate any readjustment which may be advised, but also to effect certain improvements in the Constitution of this House which have long been considered desirable and even necessary, and particularly in the direction of making this House less of a partisan Assembly. That is a point which the Lord President ignored. He maintained, but I do not think he established his argument, that my noble friend's Bill would not have the effect of making this House less partisan. May I endeavour to explain in a different way how it seems to me this Bill will have that effect? In the first place, the Bill proposes to establish a class of qualified hereditary Peers; that is to say, of Peers who owe their seats in the House to certain official qualifications. Is it not fair to expect that such Peers will feel a sense of responsibility which does not now exist and which will oblige them to look more than they do at present beyond Party to national interest, a spirit which would be something akin to that which animates the Civil Service? All who have had anything 1260 to do with public office know the admirable spirit which pervades the officials of the Civil Service. Neither by word nor by deed do they, except in the rarest instances, betray any partisan feeling, but they loyally do their best for whichever Party in the State may have the responsibility of the conduct of government. I feel strongly that the qualified hereditary Peers could not fail to be animated by something of that spirit. This in itself would minimise to a great extent the inevitable preponderance of one Party in this House.
The hereditary Peers are also to be subjected to a similar influence, for they are in effect to delegate their functions to a fourth or a certain proportion—for I imagine my noble friend does not adhere rigidly to that particular fraction—of their number. It is important to recollect that this is not really a departure from the principles which have obtained in this House for many centuries past. It would be in fact a resuscitation in a modern form—a form which is being adopted more and more by the other House—of the ancient right of voting by proxy. At the same time it is equally I necessary to insist on the fact that the hereditary principle is preserved in full I force, and I am glad to see that the only member of the Government who has spoken to-night did not attack or impugn the hereditary principle. Indeed the maintenance of the hereditary principle is absolutely essential unless we are to revolutionise the whole Constitution of this country and abolish as an Estate of the Realm the aristocracy who have held that position since the dawn of our history and throughout the whole period of our national progress. I am not one of those who say lightly that the hereditary principle is indefensible. On the contrary, I hold that those who make that admission are either too lazy or too cowardly to argue the question. The hereditary principle is one which obtains throughout the whole system of the universe. It holds sway in every single relation of our social life. If you condemn the hereditary principle you must ipso facto condemn the very principle on which the Monarchy is founded.
Those who speak on public platforms on the question of House of Lords reform 1261 invariably omit to mention how very much the hereditary principle is already qualified in this House. They omit to explain what, is the vital and absolutely exceptional feature of our Constitution—that the aristocracy is not an exclusive class like the nobility of foreign nations. Our aristocracy is constantly being recruited from the ranks of democracy, thus being infused with new blood, new life, and new spirit in accordance with the spirit of the age. The total number of Members of this House is 615, of whom no fewer than 104 are Peers by creation, that is to say, the first of their title. Those who sit by hereditary right number 434, of whom only 275 are more than third in succession, a fact which disposes of the common argument or representation—misrepresentation I should rather say—that the titles in this House have been handed down from remote antiquity. Of the Peers who sit by hereditary right alone, no less than 250 have rendered public service of a kind which would ordinarily be held to render them fit for a seat either in the House of Commons or in this House. The number who have been in the House of Commons or in political office is 100, so far as I have been able to make out. In high rank in the Army or Navy, there have been 102, and we count among our Members forty-eight who have been either diplomatists or Governors of Dependencies or Colonies.
The effect of the Bill of my noble friend, so far as I can judge, would practically be to reduce the Membership of this House to those who actually do take part in its work—to those who have the opportunity, inclination, and qualifications for doing so. It would, in effect, be the strengthening of this House by a process of pruning. It would, incidentally be the means of avoiding that unedifying spectacle which has so often caused justifiable and reasonable irritation I amongst members of the Party which; is in a minority of this House—that is to, say, a certain large influx, on some particular great occasion, of noble Lords who never take any part in the ordinary business of the House. My noble friend has pointed out that not one single member of the Party which is in a minority in this House would necessarily 1262 lose his place under the system of cumulative voting which he proposes.
I urge your Lordships to give a favourable consideration to the Bill in order that a bone of contention may be removed from the strife of Parties, and with an equally sincere desire to see fair play afforded to the Liberal Party. As an Englishman, I dislike a one-sided contest or game, and it would be a sincere satisfaction to me to see the balance of Parties more even in this House. I sympathise with those Members of the Liberal Party who are vexed with the preponderance of their opponents in this House; that is to say, I sympathise with them when their complaint is made in temperate, thoughtful, and reasonable language; but my sympathy turns to resentment when the complaint is made as some noble Lords opposite have seen fit to make it. Allusion has already been made to the notable speech of the Lord President, who was not ashamed to accuse his brother Peers of unfair dealing. There was another noble Lord who, in addressing a meeting of electors during the county council election, said that any vote given to the Moderate Party was a vote given to the House of Lords, and that no more scathing indictment could be brought against a man than that he should vote for the maintenance of the House of Lords. Another noble Lord who holds impartial sway over the Gentlemen-at-Arms, in addressing our Colonial guests the other night, said that no Colony would tolerate for a single day such an Assembly as this. I noticed that his remark met with no responsive cheer, and although I would not presume to pit my knowledge of the Colonies against his, I am certain that our fellow-citizens in the Colonies share with the majority of the people of this country a deep reverence for the past, and a great admiration for all those institutions in this country, which are due to long continued growth, and could not possibly be created by any political effort. It would seem as though these noble Lords were unacquainted with the history of their own country, and of the Assembly to which they ought to be proud to belong. Do they not know that this House has lived the life of the nation and has grown with the nation's 1263 growth? Do they not know that it has had its lot and part in everything good and great that the nation has done, and that those whom the nation from time to time have considered to be the noblest and the best have been constantly added to its membership; that it has been the means of linking the present with the past, and of reflecting, as someone has said, if not the fleeting moods, certainly the matured decisions and accomplished deeds of the nation? I do not believe the country can be stirred to hatred and contempt of a vital part of its organism by the denunciation by any body of politicians. I would remind noble Lords of a homely saying which I think would reflect the opinion of everything that is sober and temperate and reasonable in this country, namely, that it is an evil bird that fouls its own nest.
Either reform is desirable or it is not. If it is, there is no time like the present. If it is not, then let us say so boldly, instead of making a pretence of considering that with which we do not intend to proceed. In my judgment this will afford us an opportunity of vindicating for all time the claim of this House to represent the nation at large, of proving that no personal or Party prejudices will cause us to oppose that which in the due course of progress and development the nation clearly desires, and that no fear of misrepresentation, no dread of change, can deter us from acting unhesitatingly when a right opportunity suggests itself.
* LORD ROBERTSON
My Lords, I paused before rising because I felt certain that at this stage of the debate someone would rise from the benches opposite to support the Lord President in the important statement which he has made. We are given to understand that the Liberal Party is effervescing with enthusiasm and also with a still more irrepressible instinct, namely, indignation, and yet they are mute. The events of to-night are so important that the instincts of an English politician naturally lead him to express his opinion, and that firmly. I am no orator as my noble friend who has just sat down, and I propose to confine myself to two or three salient points in this most important; debate. First of all, I must own—I am 1264 sure my noble friend Lord Cawdor will not take this amiss—that when I read his Amendment I could not repress a doubt as to whether it did not too much take an initiative upon this important subject. In what I am going to say now I am not at all expressing a remonstrance against my noble friend, with whom I am going to vote; but in order to appreciate the position in which we are met it is necessary to remember what is the claim of the House of Lords to influence the legislation of the country in modern times. I do not intend to inflict upon the House any historical discussion or even resumé of the salient instances in which this question has been canvassed. I will refer to two only which are within the memory of living men of my own age. I take the case of the Irish Church Bill of 1869, and of the Irish Home Rule Bill of 1893. It is a curious thing that that one country has supplied the two crucial instances for ascertaining the Constitution of England. In 1869, as your Lordships remember, the Houses of Parliament were fresh from a dissolution. That dissolution had been taken at the instance of Mr. Disraeli upon the plain issue whether the Irish Church should be disestablished or not. When the Irish Church Resolutions were carried in the House of Commons he announced the dissolution, and the dissolution went forward on that question. A Parliament was returned overwhelmingly in favour of the Liberal Party. They brought in their Bill, and in a memorable speech which ought never to be forgotten by political s of the present day, Lord Salisbury laid down the relations of the House of Lords to a Parliament so elected. It is worth while remembering his words. He said that where there was a clear and well ascertained decision of the constituencies upon any one issue the House of Lords accepted their decision although it retained its own opinion. I turn to the case of 1893. Then the country had not been consulted up on the question of Home Rule, and the Bill proposed by the Government had not the sanction of any General Election decided upon it. There, although the country was agitated to its depths, and amid the threats of the Prime Minister, the House of Lords threw out the Bill and the country indorsed its action. 1265 Allow me to ask the House this question. Are we right in discussing a subject of this kind as if we were at the beginning of things; as if we were for the first time considering the House of Lords, or as if we were doing so after a Revolution? I say that the conditions are entirely other, and I, for one, am averse to following my noble friend below me into all the details of his fine-spun schemes for representing everybody and getting every gradation of intellect reproduced in this House. I, for my part, think we had better tread the old paths. For one thing I greatly doubt the wisdom and even the constitutionality of this particular proposal. The theory under which every hereditary Peer sits here is that he has an office delegated to him by the Crown upon his personal responsibility. He must exercise it according to his own judgment and responsibility, and I find no authority in the Constitution for converting the 500 or 600 Members of this House into a constituency having power merely to elect some hundred men to act for them. I cannot help thinking that that proposal is open to the greatest objection as being constitutionally unsound and also monstrously unpopular. What would you find in the newspapers the morning after the results of the election were made known? You would find that the constituency of the House of Commons, numbering several millions of electors had gone one way, and that the other constituency, consisting of several hundreds, forsooth, had gone another. I confess to thinking that that would be invidious and justly unpopular. I go further and say it would be unconstitutional in the sense of being out of harmony with the essential and original theory of the House of Lords. But may I add this? My noble friend has exerted and exhausted his ingenuity in finding all sorts and conditions of people to put into the House of Lords. Is it certain that from a calm view of the situation, especially on an appeal to the House of Commons, that all these quick wits brought in from other pursuits are exactly the people who are best fitted to decide; would not the common people of the country say they would rather have Lord so-and-so who was sound on the bench or who was a good landlord; that they did not mind if sometimes, when he 1266 was not quite clear about a thing, he stayed away? I greatly doubt whether my noble friend's spick and span House of Lords would stand the strain of a tussle with the House of Commons as well as the present one does.
Now, my Lords, I have dwelt on this merely because I did not want to abstain from discussing what is the primary subject of this debate, and also because I admire the moderation and good humour with which Lord Newton introduced the Bill and the way in which he used the pretty wit which he knows how to apply. But I want to pass to a much more important subject. The noble Earl, the Lord President, has made a declaration to-night which I regard of the most momentous importance. He has publicly announced that this Government and, I suppose, his Party despair of finding a House of Lords which will suit his views. All the other speakers, including Lord Cawdor, have been as liberal as possible in their offers. You are in search, I suppose, of mature intellect and experience, and my noble friends have said, "Invoke the four winds of Heaven; search all the regions of science, literature, art, the Army, the Navy, anything you like; name it to our Committee, and we will see and consider it. "But the Lord President of the Council will not have it, and the reason is this—because he has avowed it—that any House of Lords would be too Conservative to live with his Government. That is the real truth. Now I want to speak a little plain English on this question. As I have said, he has been offered the choice of all the various regions of intellect, and this attitude on his part is a proclamation that the Liberal policy is now so out of sympathy with any kind of trained intellect that it will not even make an experiment in that direction. I remember some years ago that Matthew Arnold, writing in one of the magazines, spoke to the politicians of both sides, and said, "If you want to succeed, make friends of the mind of the country." Well, here is a public denunciation of all attempt to do so. It is a declaration that the ways have separated—that the Liberal Party will now make no attempt to gain over those influences which would affect the mind of a body recruited from all the various branches of intellect, and that it will set 1267 it at defiance, and merely try to clip its wings. And accordingly, in the present discussion, we are entitled to assume that when Lord Cawdor has got this Committee, and when they have produced, with infinite thought and pains, a House of Lords which would represent every shade of opinion, every kind of politics, every sort of intellect—we are entitled to assume that after discussing the question with the noble Lord the Lord President of the Council he will not have it at any price, and that his position is this: "Cease all your efforts: we quite admit that any Second Chamber that you choose to rig up, will fight with us and be irreconcilable with us, and we must therefore pare down its authority and diminish its powers." As I have said, that is a most momentous declaration from a British Minister. I hope for my part that the British public will take note of it as the final separation of the two ways—the way of educated opinion, and the way of the Liberal Party—may 1 say further the way of good sense and the Liberal Party. I do not believe that anything of that kind will assist demagogues in the pursuit of their trade. I do not believe that the people of this country have any objection to have the best mind of the country applied to any public question, even where it may differ from their own first impression, and accordingly, as I have said, I hope the country will take note of this, and I hope t he Party led by the noble Marquess on the Front Bench will take note of it that we shall never let them get away from this final declaration as to what is really the relative position of the two Parties. Any sharp conflict like this necessarily brings alarm to those who are inexperienced in the ways of politics, but I cannot help thinking that there is very small ground for alarm on the present occasion. The Government plan must have the characteristic which the noble Lord has now finally affixed to it, but it seems to have other characteristics which recede with the horizon. I am not quite sure what they will turn out to be, although I can make a guess. I say frankly that in my opinion the Government plan is predestined to failure; but I am quite certain of this, that it will not last for a day in competition with the trained wisdom of this House, if we keep our heads. The great thing is, in a con- 1268 troversy of this kind, to keep in the right; and I am very sure of this—and I say it with the most perfect loyalty— that with the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) at the head of affairs I have every confidence that that will be done. I certainly have thought this Committee was unnecessary—I have thought that the declarations of Leaders of the Conservative Party as to the position of the House of Lords had sufficed to render nugatory all the suggestions which might be made against it. But if it is thought well to thresh out these proposals and exhibit their plausibility in all their full exuberance, well, let it be so. At the same time the noble Lord opposite (the Earl of Crewe) must remember that he cannot free himself of the responsibility of allowing a subject like this to go to a Committee which is necessarily lopsided, and, therefore, if there were any suggestion, by the instigation of the Party opposite, that the Committee had hardly come up to expectation, he must bear in mind that ho at least is a partner in the blame. But, my Lords, as regards the main issue, as I have said, I have a firm belief in the good sense and fairness of the English people. I do not think that faint hearts are much to the fore at the present day when this question is mentioned. I have no doubt whatever that this will act m the direction of re-instating in the minds of some who had doubted a feeling of confidence in the House of Lords, and that it will be found that no Second Chamber can be composed which will compete with it. Of tins I am quite certain —that it would be a very low form of courage which would shrink from a combat with the present Prime Minister when we have defeated Mr. Gladstone. Contempsi Catilince gladios; non pertimescam tuos.
THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Lord TWEEMOUTH)
My Lords, I think my noble friend Lord Newton has great reason to congratulate himself on the debate that he has raised this evening, and not least upon the extraordinary way in which he filled the House. At the beginning of his speech he had some little sharp remarks to make on the absence of Peers from this House, and I hope that the spur that he has given them will induce them to attend more frequently in the future. I hope 1269 also that the noble Lord himself will more often address the House, and so bring such considerable audience as he has brought down here to-day to listen to his speech and to his proposals. During this debate several allusions have been made to what are sometimes called the "black sheep," and to the views held by some of the Members of this House which are excessive and governed by Party feeling. I desire at the very outset to dissociate myself entirely from any such views whatever. I desire most cordially and most sincerely to say that I make no charge against individual Members of the House. I acknowledge that it is full of men of great capacity for public affairs, and I believe that they do their work with a desire to do what they think is right for the nation. The noble Lord (Lord Robertson) charges us with being effervescent with enthusiasm, and with a desire to interfere with this House. I do not think that that is the case. We do think that there is great need for some reform in this House; we do think that there is a necessity for such an adjustment of the relations between the two Houses as will lead to the general I advantage of the nation at large. The noble Lord (Lord Robertson) instanced two cases which he thought very strong ones, namely, the action of the House of Lords with regard to the Irish Church Bill of 1869, which was carried through the House of Commons by very large majorities, and the action of the House of Lords in 1893, with regard to the Home Rule Bill of that year, which was only carried through the House of Commons by a comparatively small majority. 1 think that he has rather overstated his case, and that the argument which he brings forward is one that can very easily be turned against himself. I think that his argument carries with it. this conclusion—that when the House of Commons by a very large majority carries a Bill, then the House of Lords, even in the past, has been in the habit of giving way to the opinion shown in the House of Commons, and of accepting such a Bill.
* LORD ROBERTSON
Perhaps the noble Marquess will allow me to say that I carefully pointed out that the text of my observation was what Lord Salisbury had said, that when the 1270 action of the House of Commons could be traced to a clear, unmistakable declaration of the country, then the House of Lords would defer to it.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
Well, my Lords, the noble Lord makes himself sole judge of what is the view of the country. What I believe to be the best test of the opinion of the country is the majority that exists in the House of Commons. I do not think it will be denied that the House of Commons is elected by the majority of the people of the country, and that when you find a large majority one way or the other (because I will give them the full advantage of that argument on their side when they get their own big majority), then I say that this House ought to bow to the mandate of the electors, and endeavour to meet their views as much as possible. I quite agree that that argument does not held good with regard to the Home Rule Bill of 1893. It was carried through the House—nobedy knows it better than I do—by a small majority, dependent upon the Nationalist vote in the House of Commons. If the House of Lords thought it, right then to recognise that that majority did not represent the views of the mass of the people of this country, I admit that they were perfectly justified in what they did, although I did not agree with them myself. But, my Lords, when in 1869 they voted for the Irish Church Bill, they did thoroughly admit that principle. As a matter of fact, the Irish Church Bill was carried on Second Reading in the House of Commons by 118, and on Third Reading by 114. The Second Heading of the Home Rule Bill was carried by forty-three in the House of Commons, arid the Third Reading by thirty-four, so I am quite ready to admit that there was something to be said with regard to the action of the House of Lords on the Home Rule Bill which does not apply at all to the earlier Bill, and my argument from that would be that even in the past the House of Lords has assented to the proposition that when there was a large majority and a strong expression of opinion evident in the House of Commons, then the House of Lords should endeavour, if possible, to meet the views of the House of Commons and give way to it. 1271 I should like just for a moment to refer to what has been the past history of the House of Lords, be cause I quite admit with the noble Duke, the Duke of Northumberland, that it is a very old institution—one whose existence has been entwined with the British Constitution, and which has done a great service in the past for our country. But there has been a perpetual change in the constitution of the House of Lords. What was the original position of the House of Lords? Its first origin was that it was a council of advice to the Sovereign. There were summoned to it no doubt the Peers, but the Sovereign had the right to summon, and did summon, to it the great men—anybody that he might think it desirable to summon. It was not merely the Peers that he summoned—some of the Peers he did not summon—but it was the great men, and those who he thought were his proper counsellors in matters of State. That sort of position has long ago entirely dropped away. First it became the privilege of the Privy Council, and secondly it became the work of the Cabinet, to be the counsellors of the Sovereign in matters of State. Then the House of Lords was regarded as the first Appeal Court in judicial affairs; but there again those functions are no longer performed by the House of Lords as the House of Lords. As time has gone on, the Appeal work of the House of Lords has fallen entirely into the hands of the Judges, and the lay Peers now take no part in it whatever. Then there is the further fact that the House of Lords was a branch of: the Legislature—it had equal powers with the House of Commons—and there again the House of Lords has given up great rights, for it has given up all power of altering a money Bill. It keeps still the right to reject it, but that is a right which is never exercised, and so far as all questions with regard to money are concerned the House of Lords has altogether abrogated its charge of them or its power to alter them. Therefore I maintain that the position of the House of Lords itself has been gradually changed, and at this moment it is very different from what it was in the old days.
The fact of the matter is that it is only since the Reform Bill in 1832 that 1272 there have arisen the difficulties between the two Houses. Before the Reform Bill of 1832 the House of Commons was-really the tool of the House of Lords, for before 1832 I find that there were no less than 306 Members of the House of Commons returned by the influence of Peers. In England there were 218 Members of Parliament returned by eighty-seven Peers; in Scotland there were forty-five Members returned by twenty-one Peers; in Ireland there were fifty-one returned by thirty-six Peers. That gave to the House of Lords-a dominant influence over the House of Commons; they were able to influence them, and it was not till after the year 1832 that the House of Commons became free of your Lordships' House, and that these differences have arisen. In the words of Mr. Bagehot—The House of Lords has ceased to be one of the latent directors, and has become one of the temporary rejectors and palpable alterers.I am willing to take the view of the late Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, Lord Salisbury. He, in speaking upon a Motion made by my noble friend Lord Rosebery, in June, 1884, said—If there are any considerable reforms desired in this House and eventually carried out, I venture to say that it will not be done by previous appointment of a Select Committee; it will be done by a proposal coming from the Ministers of the Crown as in the House of Commons.That I believe to be a thoroughly sound principle, and one to which we can all adhere. That is the policy adopted by His Majesty's Government. My noble friend the Lord President has already told you that in the House of Commons, at an early date, the Prime Minister will state what is the exact plan that he has, and which the Government have decided upon. That proposition, I think I may say, will not be aimed at the destruction of the House of Lords at all. I think that when it is put forward it will be found to be one that will maintain the rights and privileges which the House of Lords has, and all, the same time be the means of adjusting the relations between the two Houses in a way that will be for the good of the whole country.
§ EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, I am afraid your Lordships have not 1273 exhibited die amount of gratitude which the announcement just made might be supposed to command. We are here engaged in a discussion of the intention to reform the House of Lords. I confess 1 feel some hesitation in addressing your Lordships upon the subject—partly because I fear I am not in absolute sympathy with any speech that I have heard delivered. In the first place, with the greatest respect to my noble friend Lord Newton, I do not think—much as I admire his wit—that a discussion of this sort, dealing with such subjects as it does, is quite a fit matter for jocoseness. I think that the Constitution of this country, which has Listed with advantage to the country for some centuries, is not to be lightly altered—.as, it seems to me, it was sought to be altered by the observations which were made by him. Your Lordships were informed that the mode in which you were to be reformed was that three-fourths of your Members were to be deprived of the rights which you possess, and that was to be justified by the sort of observations we heard. I think that the Constitution of a country is not a matter to be treated in that—with all respects to my noble friend—some what frivolous fashion. It is a question which dives deep into the interests and happiness of a nation, and, for my own part, unless some particular thing was discovered which was wrong, and some particular mode of putting it right was suggested, I should have thought a discussion of this sort was peculiarly inappropriate at the present time. What is the occasion for it? Can anybody doubt that the meaning of it is that the conduct of this House during the last session is the subject which is in the minds of everybody when they hear of the reform of the House of Lords? Indeed, the noble Lord who has just spoken has given us the key to what in his view is the reason for this subject being before us. I am bound to say the noble Lord the President of the Council spoke with the frankness with which he always speaks, and he said the real thing to be remedied—that which he regards from his point of view as the great error of the House of Lords—is that it contains too many Conservatives. Is that a reason for altering the Constitution? I remember Mr. Bright once saying, 1274 when it was said that you must have minorities represented—If you want to represent minorities, what you have got to do is not to take any representation for them, but to argue until yon make your minority the majority.I am not quite certain that noble Lords would take that view of this House, and that they would be content to wait until they had made their minority a majority here.
But, my Lords, what appears to me to be the serious objection to this is that every time there is a distinction between the views—I will call them so—of the other House and of this House, straightway we have got to alter the Constitution. To what extent is that to go? We have not always been in such a minority in the other House of Parliament as we are at the present moment; and would it be appropriate for us to have claimed the right to alter the Constitution because the other House of Parliament were in an enormous majority—overwholming, I think, was the phrase used by the noble Lord the President of the Council? He said that an overwhelming majority was against us in that House. It appears to me that a principle of the sort which is implied in what the noble Lord said is inconsistent with the existence of a Second Chamber as a check at all. If there is never to be any difference between the Houses without the alteration of the Constitution of one or other House where is your check? Where have you got a check on rash and inconsiderate legislation? And has there never been rash and inconsiderate legislation? I do not know quite, speaking frankly, what the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty meant by his speech. He gave us a somewhat imperfect, and if he will forgive me for saying so, a not absolutely accurate account of the early history of this House, and then something or another is supposed to follow from it, but what I have not yet ascertained, except that the Prime Minister at some date in the House of Commons—an early date, I think he said—is going to explain what he is going to do, not by way of reforming this House—at least, so I understood him—but by way of getting rid of the difficulties which exist when the two Houses differ. That is no doubt 1275 an interesting question, but it is not the question which is before your Lordships to-night; and what I want to know is, I what is the particular thing which it is sought to remedy? What is the objection to the mode in which your Lordships carry on business? I have heard, indeed, of some rather exaggerated statements made in speeches on platforms to the effect that some of your Lordships do not attend, and the numbers are given of those who attend, and of those who do not. I wonder if either of the noble Lords who have made those observations have occasionally strayed into the gallery appropriated to them in the other House of Parliament during a debate, and whether they have noticed the number of Members taking part in that deliberation; because if the Members of the House are in the smoking-room, or in the refreshment room, or in other places near and about the House of Commons, I do not think it makes much difference, if they are not aiding and assisting the debates, hut are engaged in other pursuits, whether they do or do not attend for the purpose of what I will call the united deliberations of the wisdom of the country.
I am also unable to follow my noble friend the Duke of Northumberland. I heard him with great interest, and with the earlier part of his speech I certainly heartily agreed. I think he pointed out with regard to that somewhat inappropriate figure of the loaded dice and the marked cards, that if the analogy were applicable at all it was one which certainly did not reflect on this side of the House. But as to the other part of his speech I am totally at a loss to understand why this House should be punished for the misconduct of the various Prime Ministers who have conducted its proceedings. The noble Duke said, with a degree of force and truth that I cannot for a moment question, that from time to time Bills are brought up into this House and forced through in this sense—that they come in the month of August, and you must take the alternative of rejecting a Bill altogether or allowing it to pass without comment. That is a most true and just criticism. But although I perhaps may be considered to be to some extent one of the guilty parties, as being partly responsible for the acts of the Govern- 1276 ment of which I was a member, the thing which puzzles me, and which the noble Duke did not explain, is why this House is to be punished for the misconduct of the Administration for the time being. It certainly is something new to say that whatever the Prime Minister for the time being does is to be visited upon this House, and because this House has not been given sufficient time and opportunity to consider the justice and propriety of a particular measure, therefore—what? The House is to be deprived of its opportunity altogether. That seems to me a most lame and impotent conclusion. What I should have thought to be the logical inference is that you ought to abolish the Prime Minister, and not that you ought to abolish the House of Lords. But there is no doubt that one of the great functions of this House is one which may be pointed to as being, as I think, of peculiar and supreme importance in these days. What happens from time to time? It is impossible not to know that from time to time Bills of the greatest importance come before the House of Commons. They are up to a certain point debated. Then comes the closure, and Bills come up to this House in which the greater part certainly—very often the most important part—has not been debated at all. And now you propose to control the power of this House, which is the only House in which free speech is permitted without the closure.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
I do not think I said anything about controlling the power of the House, did I? On the contrary, I wish to increase the power of the House.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
Then I should like very much to know what is the intention of those who recommend what they are pleased to call "reform. "Is it to control and to put down the controlling power of this House—or is it to increase that power? I wish those who are desirous of reform had told us which it is they mean—because of course observations which may be very appropriate from one point of view become quite inappropriate from another. I should have thought that the power of this House to prevent rash and hasty legislation involved the power of doing that which 1277 the House of Commons—aye, and for the moment, the popular cry—would resent. I wonder whether anybody will have the courage to say which they mean? It is a little difficult to argue either that the House is to be made stronger or weaker unless you know which is the object to be attained.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
I beg the noble Lord's pardon for interrupting him, but this is a direct challenge. He asks whether we propose to increase the power of the House or to diminish it. I have no hesitation in saying—and I believe my noble friend Lord Newton means the same—that my I desire is to increase the power of the House.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
To increase the power of the House, we are to take away three-fourths of it at once. That is increasing the power—to take away three-fourths of its Members. I observe the Spiritual Peers are to be diminished "in proportion," whatever that is. I remember one distinguished Liberal—Lord Granville—saying that "foolish people are desirous of diminishing the Spiritual Peers in this House, "and he added, "for my own part I believe it would be a great calamity to this House if the Spiritual Peers were diminished by a single Peer." I quote from memory Lord Granville's words, but I think it will be found that I am accurate. But in what way is the power of this House to be increased? I will argue upon that hypothesis. I think the power of this House is such that with the limitations which our great statesmen have from time to time put before the House—I need not mention any other than Lord Salisbury himself—that power is not too great. No one has over, I believe,. been wild enough to say otherwise than that if the opinion of the nation is once deliberately ascertained to be in a particular direction, this House, like the other House, must acquiesce in it. The whole question which we are debating is the means by which the deliberate will of the nation is to be ascertained, and I confess I am still a little puzzled to know what projects that have been suggested now are to increase the power of the House. My impression is, if the noble Duke will forgive me for saying so, that if he and some of the 1278 Members I see opposite were to put their heads together to find out what was the proper course to pursue, the initial difficulty might be to find out whether they both agreed as to the object to be attained, and that it would be found that the object sought to be attained by one was to diminish the power of this House, while the noble Duke's idea is to increase it.
I shall vote for my noble friend Lord Cawdor's Motion. I will vote for it upon this ground—that I think the terms are wide enough to include the question of whether there is any reason for attempting to alter the procedure of this House by way of improving it. I myself refuse to admit what one noble Lord stated to-night, that there is a recognised demand in the country for a reform of this House. I deny it. I do not believe any such proposition is to be maintained. There is no doubt that on many platforms and in many places it has been said, and I have no doubt a great many people will be found to support that proposition; but I believe there is no Second Chamber in any Constitutional Government which works so smoothly as does the House of Lords with the House of Commons. Perhaps what Lord Tweedmouth remarked may be true as one reason for it—that the House of Lords and the House of Commons for centuries have been wonderfully harmonious in their relations to each other, and I should hesitate very much to admit that there was any reason why that harmonious condition should not continue. We are not always engaged in a violent political controversy. I deny that the measures of a Liberal Government are not received in this House with perfect impartiality. If you once touch the political question between the two Parties, you will not expect that people will vote against their own political views, but speaking of legislation that does not touch the political question between them, I absolutely deny that what are called Liberal measures—that is to say, measures brought in and promoted by the Liberal Party—are not received in this House with perfect impartiality. Of course, I do not deny that where you do touch the political question you will have people voting according to their political convictions. And now, what is the 1279 proposition which is sought to be enforced? You must not have your political convictions. One would suppose that there had been some not altogether proper proceeding. I quite recognise that what the President of the Council said in that somewhat inappropriate phrase which he used (I think inadvertently), involving an imputation of swindling, and fraud, and bad conduct of that character, was not intended to be taken literally. I am quite sure of that.
§ * THE EARL OF CREWE
I think I ought to say that it was not my intention to make any imputation of fraud against any individual or against the opposite Party in this House.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
I was quite sure that the noble Lord would say so. But he will forgive me also for saying that, although in this House we are accustomed to his courtesy and candour, I am not quite so sure that when he is addressing a public audience those who attack the House of Lords would quite recognise his analogies as being free from the imputation of misconduct. Supposing I were to say that the noble Lord was one of those persons who, when the game had gone against him, upset the table, and that I made that my particular figure for attempting to alter the constitution, because at a particular moment he had pursued a certain course.
§ * THE EARL OF CREWE
I think perhaps I might be allowed to say that the noble Duke brought a direct tu quoque against us in identical terms, and that therefore the matter appears to me to be equally balanced on both sides.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
The noble Lord denied that there was any imputation on moral character in his simile; and, as he had done that, I thought I was justified in taking up his simile and returning it upon him.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
I will not interfere further in this very interesting question. All I will say is, that there is a certain amount of responsibility upon us. I will not deny that it rests on my own side also, and that when we are discussing the House of Lords elsewhere we must remember that audiences outside are not 1280 perhaps quite as familiar as we are here with the course of the procedure of this House.
Now what is to be the result of this debate? I have no doubt in the world that my noble friend Lord Cawdor will carry his Resolution; and then, what is to happen? Who is going to be the Constitution-maker, and, what is to be the Constitution? It is all very well to criticise, and to talk a little vaguely about the functions of the two Houses of Parliament; but I should like to know, before we begin this interesting Constitution-mongering, are we agreed upon what is to be the principle What are we to know about it, and what model are we to take? Are we to begin from the beginning of things? I confess that it is my own opinion, as I have said, that that which gives life to this discussion is the question of what we did last session. That is the real interest of this matter to everybody. One reason why I object, and object very much and very strongly, to the appropriateness of this occasion is that I deny that we are responsible to the House of Commons for what we did last session. We exercised our rights, and I believe we were right in what we did; and I believe it will be considered in the country, if some alteration in the constitution of the House of Lords is agreed to, that we are penitent—that we are sorry for what we did. I am quite sure, if I may refer to the right reverend Bench, that they are not penitent for what they did; and for my own part I may say that if the question were to occur again to-morrow in the same form, I should vote as I voted before; and I believe the great majority of your Lordships would do the same. Then why, on this occasion, when you have got an enormous majority in the House of Commons, do you raise the question? Is it appropriate for the reason that you think you will terrify this House into doing what it does not believe it ought to do? I confess I am very sorry indeed that the question is raised. All I can say for myself is that if I thought I were a Member of a House which had not the courage of its own opinions, and that, knowing and believing, as it did, that the religious instruction of the children of the country was at stake, because a measure had been passed which 1281 in our judgment and belief was calculated to injure that education, and that we were bound to protest against that and, so far as we could, to prevent it—I say if I were supposed to belong to a House that could yield to the threat that it should be abolished to-morrow because it had done that thing, I should be ashamed to belong to it for one single hour. I am myself very much against any attempt at "reform," as it is called; I am against tampering with that which has been our security for centuries, and the security of the religion and the liberty of the country.
* THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord has asked a distinct question, I think I may take it upon myself to say that the object of my noble friend Lord Newton, and of those who agree with him as to the necessity of some reform in this House, is not to strengthen this House in the direction of altering its position in reference to the other branch of the Legislature, and not particularly to strengthen it either in making it a more competent body—for it is in my opinion as it now exists a most competent body—but distinctly to strengthen it by relieving it of some disabilities which, in our opinion, tend to affect it prejudicially in the eyes of the people and to render it more difficult for it to exercise those functions and duties which it has to perform. The noble Lord (Lord Halsbury) objects very strongly to this measure being undertaken at the present moment. He thinks the moment very inopportune, and he asks why it is undertaken now. One reason why it is undertaken now is that it has not been undertaken before. It is not a new question; it has been before the House many, many times; and it is a matter of infinite regret to me, as I am sure it is to my noble friend Lord Newton and to others, that this matter has not been taken in hand long ago by the Conservative Party during their long tenure of office. As to supposing that this Bill has been introduced by Lord Newton now in any way in deference to any sort of agitation that may be going on in the country against any action the House of Lords took in its undoubted rights against the Education Bill or any other Bill, I am perfectly certain that no such 1282 imputation as that is to be attributed to my noble friend.
I suppose we may take it for granted that the Amendment of the Lord President of the Council will not be pressed. I cannot conceive how that Amendment can in any degree be considered relevant to the matter in hand. The Bill is directed entirely to making some alterations—reforms as we think they would be—in the constitution of this House. The Amendment of the Lord President of the Council is I directed to a totally different subject, that is to say the relations between this and the other House. And, if the noble and learned Lord will excuse me, I think that in his speech he rather mixed up the two things. They are absolutely separate. And the Amendment of my noble friend, Lord Crowe, is really absolutely irrelevant to the question before the House. I admit at once that I do not think I have anything new to say to your Lordships on this question. I agree with every word which fell from the noble Duke the Duke of Northumberland except his last sentence, in which he expressed a hope that the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Cawdor would be accepted. There I disagree with him, and sincerely hope your Lordships will give a Second Beading to this Bill. In the first place, in view of the fact that His Majesty's Government have announced that they will take no hand whatever in, and will have nothing to do with it, a special Committee and an inquiry, as is suggested by my noble friend, would be useless. I do not see how, under those circumstances, such an inquiry can take place with any prospect of any good result whatever ensuing; it would be absolutely one-sided; it would have to be composed entirely of one Party in the House; and the discussions and Resolutions, if they came to any, of such a Committee would have absolutely no impartial weight whatever. I do not suppose for a moment that my noble friend put this Amendment on the Paper with the intention of its being merely a dilatory Amendment; but I am perfectly certain that that will be its effect; it opens up an immense field of inquiry. It will be perfectly competent at any rate for the Committee to inquire into the constitution of every Second Chamber that exists, and into every kind of suggestion that has 1283 been made for their improvement and modification, and into every suggestion as to any possible modification of the constitution and procedure of this House. It is quite obvious that such an inquiry might go on for sessions and for years. I am strongly of opinion that if your Lordships really, to use a common expression, mean business in this matter, and if you really think that either the procedure or the constitution of this House can be in any way amended or improved, the matter should be taken in hand. We have had enough of dilatoriness.
My noble friend who moved the Second Reading of the Bill has narrated to the House the various efforts that have been made from time to time. The noble Lord on the Cross-Benches, Lord Rosebery, in 1884, in a most eloquent and convincing speech, moved for a Select Committee but it all came to nothing. Again, he moved for another Select Committee in 1888, with the same result. I myself, with an extreme temerity which I certainly do not possess now, proposed a Bill on the subject, somewhat on the same lines as the Bill of my noble friend. It was more cautious in some respects, and very much more ambitious in others. That Bill, with the usual result, came to nothing; the Bill was withdrawn on the undertaking of the Prime Minister to bring in a Bill himself dealing with the subject of Life Peerages. That was accepted by Lord Granville, the Leader of the Opposition as, at any rate, an instalment of reform. Bills were introduced on the subject, and dropped—they all came to nothing. That is the history of this movement: there were Motions for Select Committees, Bills were introduced and promises were made; but nothing more happened. I am afraid—nay I am sure—that if your Lordships agree to the Amendment of Lord Cawdor and appoint a Committee to inquire into this whole subject, the result will be the usual one and practically nothing will be done. For these reasons, I most sincerely hope your Lordships will give a Second Reading to the Bill.
I do not see the same objections to the Amendment which is down on the Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Heneage. In the first place, it is not open to the first objection—that is to say, that His Majesty's Government will 1284 abstain from having anything to do with it. The Bill will have been read a second time. If His Majesty's Government consider the principles of the Bill so objectionable that they will have nothing to say to the Bill, either in Committee of the Whole House or when referred to a Select Committee, of course, that is their affair; but that is quite a different thing from their saying that if this Bill is not read a second time, they will have nothing to do with an inquiry into the whole subject. That is quite a different and a much more important matter. Moreover, the scope of my noble-friend's (Lord Heneage) Amendment, is very much more limited than that of my noble friend Lord Cawdor. I do not know, of course, what action Lord Newton intends to take in the matter; but, if he presses the Second Reading to a division, I shall certainly vote with him. And if, as I sincerely hope will be the case, the Bill gets a Second Reading, I trust he will accept the Amendment of my noble friend, Lord Heneage, and allow it to go before a Committee such as he suggests.
Then, as to the competence of this House, I do not think it is necessary for me to say anything. Any man who has taken the trouble to investigate the constituent parts of this House on any great occasion, such, for instance, as the discussions on the Education Bill, must admit that as far as its personnel is concerned, it would be very difficult, perhaps quite impossible, to find a more competent body by means of election, nomination, or otherwise. All the same, I am gratified to hear my noble friend the Lord President of the Council give his testimony in favour of the efficiency of this House. I am glad the House has found so doughty a champion in its favour, and more particularly so, because I fear that my noble friend's appreciation of the efficiency of the House is not altogether shared by all his colleagues. It was only the other day that one of the most eminent of his colleagues described this House as the most upside down, topsy turvey, muddle-headed Assembly he had ever seen. I do not suppose for a moment that the Lord President of the Council, in testifying to the efficiency of this House, meant to say that it was only efficient in making muddles; and I am 1285 sure the House will be glad to find that he takes n very different view from that of the Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant. As to the present moment being inopportune to investigate this question of reform I think, on the contrary, that this is particularly opportune.
It must al ways be a difficult matter for any Second Chamber to determine accurately what the real well-considered will of the people is. But that becomes a matter of extraordinary difficulty when, as in the present case, the lines dividing Parties are not clearly and accurately defined. It would the idle to deny, and I am sure nobody would deny, that the differences existing between sections of the Liberal Party are somewhat acute—so acute, that unquestionably, not only some individuals, but sections of that Party are in some repects much more in accord with sections of the Conservative Party than they are with the great majority of their own Party. And to a certain extent, it is just the same with the Conservative Party. On the greatest possible question of all questions, the fiscal question, there is a minority of the Conservative Party who certainly arc more in accord with their opponents in the Liberal Party than they are with the great majority of their own Party. That is a condition of things which, no doubt, will pass away; the lines of cleavage between the Parties will become more distinct, but it is a state of things which is likely to last some time; and as long as it does last it is particularly difficult—and it must be specially difficult for this House—to ascertain what is really the will of the people. I defy any human being to judge from the last General Election on what particular points the people of this country had definitely made up their minds. That being the case, it appears to me to be, a very opportune moment for this House to do the utmost it can to add to its efficiency, and to enable it to exercise its very difficult duties in such a manner as to justify itself to the utmost before the people of this country.
I am convinced that the vast majority of the people of this country are entirely in favour of a Second Chamber. I believe they recognise the undoubted fact that any Second Chamber must be of a generally Conservative tendency; because, if it is 1286 not, it does not fulfil the functions of a Second Chamber. The functions of a Second Chamber are to revise, to prevent legislation being conducted in too great a hurry, and, if necessary, to hold over legislation until the will of the people can be ascertained. Those are all Conservative tendencies. The whole duty and function of a Second Chamber is to act like the governor of a machine, and to prevent the machine racing, and going too fast. I do not believe that the people of this country object to the House of Lords. What I do think they feel very strongly upon is the idea—possibly a delusion—that the action of this House is largely influenced or dictated by the necessities, the convenience, or the tactics, of a particular Party outside this House. I do not believe the people have any distrust or fear of the mature, independent judgment of the House of Lords qua House of Lords, but I do think they have an idea—and that they resent it—that this House is more or less dictated to by the Party Leaders in another place, and that consequently one of the two great Parties of the State, the Conservative Party, is, to all intents and purposes, practically always in power—in power positively when it is in a majority in the House of Commons, because it can then carry any legislation it pleases, and in power negatively when it is in a minority in the House of Commons, because it can then prevent and stop any legislation it pleases.
One of the great difficulties we have to deal with is the fact—and to my mind it is a most regrettable fact—that one Party in the State is always in an enormous majority in this House: but I am bound to say that it is beyond me to imagine hew that is to be remedied. As fast as you make Liberal Peers they become Conservatives. What are you to do about it? If you could imagine an absolutely impartial person from some other planet investigating our political affairs, I am not at all clear upon which of the two Houses that person would put the blame—how far he would say this House errs in lagging too far behind the steady advance of public opinion, or hew far he would say the other House is, at times, very much in advance of the steady march of public opinion. There is one thing which is a very small thing in itself, but which, 1287 I think, has had a very bad effect upon the way in which this House is viewed by the country. I sometimes think your Lordships do not pay sufficient attention to the appearances of things, and to the way in which matters in this House appear to the people of the country. The small matter to which I refer is a very simply thing, namely, that there is in this House no authority to order the conduct of debate, nobody who exercises the functions of the Speaker in the House of Commons, nobody who decides who is to speak when several of your Lordships rise together. That has, I think, a very bad effect upon debates: in the first place, it is exceedingly unfair to any of your Lordships who has a diffidence due to the infusion of Irish blood in his veins, and it gives an enormous advantage to the purely Scottish and English Peers—I think, perhaps, to the former rather than to the latter. But the real result of it is that, as your Lordships know very well, debates, and most important debates, are very apt in this House to fall very speedily into the hands of the two Front Benches. We hear over and over again most excellent and eloquent speeches from the mover and seconder of the Address, and we hear most eloquent speeches from the Leaders of the Government and of the Opposition, expressing the most ardent desire that the voices of those two noble Lords shall be constantly heard in the debates in this House. What does that all amount to? Merely a polite and pious expression of opinion. It is practically impossible for any independent Peer to get an opportunity of speaking. And how does that present itself to the country? The question is debated purely by Cabinet Ministers and ex-Cabinet Ministers, and then, when it comes to a division, a vast number of Peers are brought down to the House who take comparatively little interest in the business of the House ordinarily, and who vote and decide in a matter of great importance to the country. I do not mean to say at all that that is a true picture, but it is a picture that presents itself to the people, and it has to be considered. As a matter of fact, divisions can be swamped by a number of Peers who as a rule do not devote themselves at all to politics. I think that evil is exaggerated, but at the same time I am bound to admit that I think it is a scandal, and a scandal that 1288 ought to be removed. There are a number—perhaps not a great number, but a certain number—of Members of this House who (and it is no blame to them whatever) have no inclination to politics. They do not take to them kindly, and they do not interest themselves in the business of the House at all; and yet they do occasionally, on great occasions, come down and vote, and they might possibly turn a division on a very critical question.
And then there is really the very small question of what have been called "black sheep "—or what I should prefer to call undesirables." because I think it is a more polite term. Well, I do not know whether there are any. I am sure if there are any they are very few, but there may be some who may properly be considered undesirables. The Bill of my noble friend appears to me to contain indications of means for the solutions of these difficulties. It introduces the principle of delegation in the English Peerage, much in the same way as it already exists in the case of the peerages of Ireland and of Scotland. I can see no objection to that, except that I should much prefer it in the way in which I introduced it in my Bill of twenty years ago; because according to my noble friend you would have to deprive a certain number of Peers of rights which are theirs, and to which they were born, whereas I only proposed in my Bill that it should be brought about gradually, and should come into effect on succession. As a matter of fact, through the lapse of time, the result which my noble friend desires would have been brought about under my Bill without depriving any man of any rights which he has. However, let that pass. I cannot see the strength of the argument against it which was used by my noble friend Lord Cawdor. He presented to the House a somewhat harrowing picture of the calamity it would be to the Empire, and to the country, and to this House, if, under such an arrangement, my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition and my noble friend on the Cross-Benches, Lord Rosebery, had never had a seat in this House. It is theoretically possible that under a system of delegation they might not have got a seat in this House. It is possible that there may be many "mute, 1289 inglorious Miltons" concealed in the recesses of the Irish and Scottish Peerages who are not sitting in this House. But I ask your Lordships, as men of common sense, if you think it likely that my noble friend Lord Lansdowne or my noble friend Lord Rosebery would have failed, under a system such as is introduced in this Bill, of being elected in this House. Of course, they would have been elected.
I venture to urge upon your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill. In the broadest sense the House would be committing itself merely to the principle that some improvement in the Constitution and in the procedure of the House is possible and desirable. In another sense you would commit yourselves to two broad principles, and to two only—first of all, the principle which has been accepted by, among others, the late Lord Salisbury—that a larger creation of life peerages is desirable; and secondly, that it is desirable to do away with the undesirables, and to diminish the difficulties which may be created by the influx of Peers who, as a rule, take no part in politics or in the proceedings of the House. The rest of the Bill consists merely of details which may be altered to any extent by the Committee which my noble friend proposes to have, or by a Committee of the Whole House. The two principal points are, first, the creation of life peerages, and, secondly, in order to prevent the House being of an unwieldy size, the application to the peerage of England of the principle which exists in the Irish and Scottish peerage. If your Lordships do not consider that this House is in a state of absolute perfection, if your Lordships consider that anything which is advisable should be done, and that every step should be taken that can legitimately be taken to strengthen this House, and if your Lordships do not object in the main to those two large principles, I cannot see why you should not give a Second Reading to this Bill. And I hope, if you do give it a Second Reading, that the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Heneage will be accepted. The reform of an ancient institution such as this House is a matter not to be undertaken lightly. I myself can quite understand the theory which I think was held by the noble and learned Lord Halsbury, and I think by 1290 my noble friend Lord Cawdor, that it is a dangerous thing to touch in any way so ancient a fabric as this House; but I do not agree with that theory. I think, on the contrary, that However ancient and venerable the House may be, However hallowed by tradition and by history, if it is to continue to fulfil the duties for which it is created, if it is to be useful and to be of service, it is necessary that it should from time to time be adapted to the change of circumstances and to the requirements of modern times.
* THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
No, but at the same time my noble friend objected to anything in the Bill of the nature of reform.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
At any rate, if your Lordships are of opinion that there is room for improvement—and that is a matter which your Lordships can hardly deny—I beg you not to agree to an Amendment which, whatever its intention, is and must be of a dilatory character, but to show that you do intend to take the matter in hand, and to deal with it in some way or another, by giving, as an earnest of your intention, a Second Reading to the Bill, and by also consenting to the appointment of the Committee which my noble friend Lord Heneage proposes.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
At this late stage of the sitting I will not detain your Lordships long, but there are one or two remarks which I should like to be allowed to make, as a junior Member of this House, on the ground that possibly the front benches have got into the state of duelling mentioned by the last speaker, and that may be there are those on the back benches who might advantageously be heard upon the subject. It has struck me very much, in listening to this debate, that we are living here in a world of our own, and that we are hardly in touch with the great mass of public opinion outside. All the virtues of this House are well known to those who are familiar with its proceedings, but it 1291 seems to me that what we want to do is to cast out any parts of its procedure or methods which are likely to come into conflict with public opinion. I do not mean public opinion as represented in a transient House of Commons, but the good sense of the nation as a whole. What we have got to look at is not so much the past as the future, it seems to me that we are beginning a time of storm and stress with the people of this country, and that we are likely to be brought into conflict with them, or at least their Parliamentary representatives, more and more as time goes on. When this House consisted of representatives, more or less equally divided, of the two great Parties in the State, there could be no cry from any particular Party for its abolition. But it is evident that now one Party in the State is—for reasons which I think are sufficiently obvious—more or less pledged—at least a great many of its members are pledged—against a Second Chamber, or at all events are pledged to the mutilation of the powers of this Chamber. That is a very dangerous state of things, and although I thoroughly agree with what Lord Cawdor has said as to the necessity of approaching this subject very carefully, at the same time I think we may take a parallel from the ease of old buildings, or even from, I was going to say, science in regard to life of all kinds, inasmuch as if you do not repair decay, and do not cast out that which is bad, the whole fabric in the long run is likely to come to pieces. If yon come to think of it, there are some points about the procedure of this House, and about some of the Members who compose it, which it is very difficult to defend. I say, for instance, that a Peer who has never taken his seat here, and who has never taken part in debates, cannot claim to be hardly treated if he is debarred from doing so in the future; and I certainly think that for all practical purposes, the House will have to do something in the, nature of extending its powers, either by appointing Committees, or by means of some other tribunal, to deal with pressing public business, or else in the direction of reforming its procedure, and to a certain extent its Constitution. After all, it is not so much, to my mind, a question of the House of Lords resisting any particular reform; because in other countries, wherever you look—the United 1292 States, France, or the Colonies themselves—you see the Legislative Council, as it is called in the Colonies, or the Senate, as it is called in the United States, very often coming into collision with the representatives in the Lower Chamber. Therefore I think it is not so much a question of the Conservative character of this House which we are reforming, because, as has been said, a Chamber of this kind must be in its tendencies Conservative; but I do think there are points in this House, and points in its Constitution, which need reform, and which are courageously attacked—although I do not agree with every word of it—by the Bill which Lord Newton has introduced.
I think the principle of that Bill is good, and I am certainly inclined to vote for its Second Reading. If we take, for instance, the question of Peers who have never taken their seats, and who have never been in the House of Commons, it is difficult to defend their retention in this House. Supposing you had a debate of immense national significance in this House—say, on a Home Rule Bill—and it happened that the particular measure brought forward was defeated by only a narrow majority, a majority so small as to make the analysis of every Member of the House who had voted upon it a particularly acute one. If that was so, it might be said that the vote had been carried by a majority of Peers who had hardly ever voted before, and who perhaps had only just qualified to vote in that particular division. I do not think that would be a good argument for this House. I think we should take note of our weaknessess, and take the measures which are necessary to remedy them. As to the differences between the two Houses, I do not think they are intended to be touched upon by the Bill. That matter might be dealt with by some form of referendum, and would probably lie dealt with better in that way than in any other. That would only be following the precedent of many other countries. But the Bill as it stands does attempt—perhaps in too drastic a form—to remove the weak spot to which I referred. And as regards the added Members, surely, as the whole Constitution of the House of Lords is based on—shall I say—the principle of heredity tempered by selection, 1293 there can be no real objection to that, because His Majesty's Government selects a certain number of distinguished, or comparatively distinguished, people, and adds them to this House, and those additions are made by every successive Government; that is the form of creation by which Members are being added to this House. All that Lord Newton proposes is rather to enlarge and widen that power of selection, to give to the Government of the day the power of adding to the number of life Peers, and in that way to extend a principle which we accept to-day without demur. There are sometimes added to your Lordships' House—certainly on the Opposition side of the House—those who have legislative experience; but taken as a whole, those who are added are added for public services of some kind or other; and if that has worked well in the past, I do not see why it should not work well in the future. It seems to me that the principle is perfectly logical and not contrary to the real principle of the House of Lords.
It has been said that this House is not representative and not responsible. Personally I should deny both those accusations. 1 think it is highly representative in the true sense of the word, inasmuch as you cannot look round this House without seeing on both sides almost every kind of interest in the State represented by someone of authority. In that sense it is representative, although of course it is not in any way elective It is also responsible, because it seems to me we are always responsible ultimately to the wish of the nation as expressed at an election. That is a perfectly well understood thing, and the responsibility is not only the responsibility of the referendum—because it is a kind of referendum—but it is a responsibility, as we know well, to the general public wish of the nation, which expresses itself in those days in many ways, and I am perfectly certain that the House of Lords will never set itself up against the nation to its own extinction. But, my Lords, it is responsible in another sense. It is responsible in the sense that we wish our order to continue. We wish this House to endure, and I feel certain that the responsibility which touches on our duty to the nation is not inferior to the sense that we 1294 have of the other duty which we have to discharge, because it is to posterity that we owe a duty as well us to the nation as it exists to-day. I feel certain that oven if the Second Reading of Lord Newton's Bill is not carried—even if the Committee suggested by himself or Lord Cawdor comes to nothing—still there is the germ of reform in this Bill—a germ sufficiently good to make it acceptable, and it will be acceptable, I believe, in time to come. I feel certain that something must be done, and although it would be better done when this side of the House was represented in the Government of the other House, because it would be easier to carry it through, still I do think that the non possumus of the Government—the attitude of negation—is a somewhat weak one, for there must be men on the Government side of both Houses who desire to see the presence of a Second Chamber, and who, in their hearts, do not wish that the Second Chamber should be inefficient and bad. Therefore it seems to be that the Government would have met the case better by producing their scheme, and by taking into co-operation the noble Lord, Lord Newton, thereby assisting in the reformation of, or the doing away with, those parts of this House, or those parts of its procedure and constitution which are no longer of value. We are, as I have said, to a great extent the trustees of posterity, and we should strive our utmost to preserve all that is good in this House. This House has done splendid work for the country in the past, and I hope that it will continue to do so for many years to come; but at the same time, it would be foolish of this House to turn a deaf oar in this matter. There are a number of our fellow countrymen who, while they hold to a Second Chamber and while they like this House, still see defects in it which they wish removed, and it is because I think the noble Lord's Bill will go some way towards doing that that I hope your Lordships will see your way to give it a Second Reading.
§ On Question, debate adjourned till to-morrow, and to be taken first.