§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS rose to call attention to the following proposed Resolution which, prior to the late General Election, stood in his name on the Notice Paper, and to the important public bodies that approve of the said Resolution:
§ That, in the opinion of this House, it would be for the public good that important trading and other representative societies should each name three members of the existing Peerage in the current and each succeeding Parliament, to speak and act on behalf of such societies on all questions in which they are interested, and that the names of the Peers so nominated be entered in the Journals of the House.
§ Important Public Bodies approving.
- Royal Institute of British Architects.
- Royal Academy of Arts.
- Society of Authors.
- Building Trades Federation of the United Kingdom.
- Society of Engineers.
- Junior Institute of Engineers.
- Gas Companies Protection Association.
- Imperial Merchant Service Guild.
- Land Agents' Society.
- London Chamber of Commerce.
- Machinery Users' Association.
- Manchester Odd Fellows Friendly Society.
- Royal College of Physicians.
- Railway Companies Association.
- Royal Sanitary Association.
- Chamber of Shipping of the United Kingdom.
- The Shipping Federation.
- The Surveyors Institute.
- Society of British Gas Industries.
- Society of British Sculptors.
- Employers Parliamentary Council (representing 30 central associations connected with the chief industries of the United Kingdom).
- Liberty and Property Defence League (representing about 100 bodies connected with the property-owning, commercial, and trading interests in the United Kingdom).
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I would ask your kind indulgence whilst I, as shortly as I can, explain the Resolution which stands in my name on the Notice Paper. 684 I have been a long time in Parliament, but I never recollect a state of things such as the present. The House of Lords, the Press, and politicians in general appear to suffer from a very catching disease—the reform of the House of Lords. The other night 175 of your Lordships showed that they had got this disease and went in for the reform of the House of Lords. Seventeen of your Lordships showed that they were immune, and they followed the sanitary guidance of my noble and learned friend Lord Hal bury into the Lobby. Therefore with not a third of the House present your Lordships voted away your hereditary rights on that occasion. Where were the other two-thirds? I know not; but public rumour says that they were afraid of infection and stayed away. That may or may not be.
§ My noble friend Lord Rosebay has got the disease rather badly. Perhaps you are not aware that I am his guardian as well as his friend. As I say, he has got the disease rather badly, and he has produced a lot of Resolutions to cure the evil which he sees. And what is the evil which he sees? It is the weakness of your Lordships' House. The object of my noble friend's Resolutions is to strengthen your Lordships' House. Whatever another place may do or feel, I am quite certain that your Lordships backed my noble friend because of his intention, which is to strengthen this House. My object, I may say, is the same as that of my noble friend. My modest Resolution would, I think, greatly strengthen this House, as I shall endeavour to show.
But before I go on to speak about the Resolution I wish to say this. I feel it rather presumptuous on my part to venture to speak to your Lordships on this important question; but I would have you remember that I have been for twenty-seven years a member of your Lordships' House and that prior to that I was for forty-two years in the House of Commons. Therefore combining those two stages of life I think I can claim to have had plenty of opportunities of considering the question of the two Houses of Parliament. Further than that, in 1852, to my great surprise, I heard my name come out in the House of Commons as one of the ten Chairmen of Committees appointed for the year. I was sitting when this came out next to my friend George Smythe, who said—
I congratulate you on being in the Cabinet of I the House of Commons.
That shows, I think, that I have some reason for the action I am taking on this occasion.
§ The conclusion to which I have come as regards your Lordships' House is this, that as a business assembly it has no fear of comparison with another place. One great characteristic of your Lordships' House is its reticence. No Peer speaks unless he has something which he really wishes to say, or unless there is some Bill before the House which he desires either to support or oppose. But, in spite of that reticence, if there is to be a great debate and eloquence is wanted your Lordships' House would compare most favourably with your neighbour, gagged and guillotined as he is. A propos of that, can anything be more absurd than the gag and guillotine applied to one of the great representative bodies of Parliament? In these circumstances the name of Parliament ought to be changed. The reticence of your Lordships is greatly due to the fact that you sit here by hereditary right; you have no constituents to look to, and no Bills to bring in to take away property from one set of men and give it to another possessing a larger number of votes on the other side. Therefore your Lordships' House may compare favourably with the other House of Parliament.
§ Having stated the advantages of your Lordships' House, let me say what I think are its defects. What appears to me to be wanting in this Assembly is this. You require in the first place, if you can get it, a representative backing. The other defect is that your Lordships do not attend as well as you might, except on certain occasions. The want of attendance and the absence of backing are the chief defects, and I think I shall be able to show that this Resolution will remedy both. But before doing that I would like to explain how this Resolution came on the Paper. It is not new. It is not the result of the disease of which I spoke. It struck me some years ago that it would be a good thing to get representation of this kind. At that time my noble friend Lord Glenesk was alive, and I showed him my Resolution as drawn here. He highly approved of it, and to my surprise the next day it appeared in the papers. After that I endeavoured to find out how it would be 686 received by some of the bodies whom it was intended should be represented, and the result is the list which appears on the Notice Paper which I hold in my hand. All these important public bodies approve of the Resolution.
§ I have said that this Resolution would meet the two wants to which I have referred as affecting this House. How would it do that, my Lords? You have only to read this list to see that there is here represented the greater portion of the organised brains of this country. And if, without bother of any kind, without any canvassing or attempting to get votes, you simply allow these bodies to name three of your Lordships to represent them you would then cover the defect as to want of representation, because you would be the representatives of the organised brains of Britain. As regards the other point, I believe, if this Resolution was adopted and the nomination by these bodies consequent upon it became an accomplished fact, that noble Lords would attend better, because the sense of representative responsibility would be greater. Your Lordships may naturally ask, why did you not bring the Resolution forward sooner—say three or four years ago? Before doing so I was anxious to ensure success as far as I could. I was not prepared that so sound an idea should be imperilled by the chance of being voted out, and therefore I delayed it in the hope of getting that necessary support. I cannot say that I have been successful; but in justice to these great societies who have put their faith in your Lordships' House and assented to this Resolution I could not further postpone it, and therefore it is that I now bring it forward.
§ I have really little more to add, but before concluding I would call attention to this list of important public bodies that favour and are appended. I have made a sort of general abstract of the list. These bodies represent art, architecture, science, literature, medicine, shipping, building, railways, and commerce. There are, in addition, the Land Agents' Society, a very important organisation, and the Employers' Parliamentary Council, representing thirty important trades. Then there is the Liberty and Property Defence League, which represents nearly one hundred societies interested in land, in manufacture, and other things. I am chairman 687 of that league. I started it some eight-and-twenty years ago, but I did not like myself to propose that it should join these public bodies. The suggestion was made by one of the members, and I was not present when the question was discussed, so that personally I had no hand in the matter. I strongly urge your Lordships to accept the principle of my Resolution, leaving matters of detail—details, somehow or other, always arrange themselves in this world—for further consideration. It in no way affects the Resolutions of my noble friend on the Cross Benches or any other Resolutions. My noble friends may move Resolutions as they like. This proposal would strengthen their position as well as the general position of your Lordships' House. I therefore hope that favourable consideration will be given to my Resolution. By that means, simply by a Resolution, without any Bill, without any canvassing, by merely sitting still and receiving the nominations from these bodies, great strength would be added to your Lordships' House. You would get the intellectual representative backing which you do not now possess, and I think your Lordships' House would thus be strengthened for the coming revolutionary constitutional fight in which you will very soon find yourselves engaged. I commend my Resolution to your Lordships' favourable consideration.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN)
My Lords, I share the gratification that evidently animates the whole House at my noble friend's introducing this subject to your attention. It was my fortune to sit with the noble Earl for a certain time in the House of Commons, and it was always my ill-fortune to differ from him. I am afraid I differ from him now.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
I am going to say why. The noble Earl began with a very plain statement of the difficulties under which we are labouring. All of us, whether it be noble Lords opposite or my noble friend on the Cross Bench, are labouring admittedly under enormous difficulties. The noble Earl seems to me to have brought forward a proposal which only amounts to what has been called prescribing a pill for an earthquake. That there is a sort of earthquake is scarcely to 688 be denied. I am one of those who hope that even now by prudence, vigilance, patience, good-will an earthquake may be avoided and this great controversy may have an adequate solution. But this proposal I do not believe will lead in the slightest degree in that direction.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
I cannot myself think it will in any way or any degree strengthen the House of Lords. My noble friend referred to the principle and the details. I venture to differ from him as to the principle and as to the details in the schedule. The schedule itself would take this House three or four days to adjust.
It is one of the faultiest schedules—if I may say so without arrogance—I ever read in all my life. It is so imperfect. For example, you have the College of Physicians, but what has become of the College of Surgeons? You have the Oddfellows, but what has become of the Free Foresters?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
But the list is in the nature of a schedule. If you follow my noble friend's lead you will need a Bill and a schedule, and the schedule will in fact contain all these bodies, and, I should say, 100 or 200 more. There will be no end to the number of bodies who will claim the right of nominating members in your Lordships' House to act on their behalf. I will put another objection. Supposing three members of your Lordships' House were nominated by the College of Physicians, the Royal Society, or whatever body you like, how can you be sure their influence in your Lordships' House would be strengthened by the knowledge that they were nominated to represent what I must call in some cases trade unions? One of the great arguments that has been constantly used against the representatives of such bodies is that they are delegates, that they are not independent, that they do not speak their own minds. With the knowledge which I have of trade unions I do not admit these allegations, but these allegations will be made as to the members of your Lordships' House who 689 are told off by these rather miscellaneous bodies, and the hundred other bodies equally miscellaneous who might be added.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
Just so; so much the worse. Then I would put this point. Should not we listen to any one of your Lordships who got up to talk on any particular topic with the more deference, and weigh his arguments with the more care, if we knew he was speaking, as we are all supposed to do, with an independent mind? I think we should. I am not going to enter into a comparison between the oratorical ability and the political capacity of this House and the oratorical ability and political capacity to be found in another place. Your Lordships will not, I hope, suppose that I, though a very new member of this House, am at all inclined—quite the contrary—to say a depreciatory or disparaging word of the intellectual power and political capacity of this House, but its judgment is another thing on which I would like to reserve, at least not to-day to express, my opinion. What I am delighted to think is that if you take the two debates we had in this House, the one in November and December, and the debate the other day on my noble friend's Resolutions, and then if you take the debates in another place upon what are called the Veto Resolutions, and so forth, any impartial man in either House might be very proud to think that the two Houses together can afford such a splendid exhibition on both sides of debating power. That would be my answer to all the croakings I hear about Parliamentary decadence. There may be some features that we do not like in novel Parliamentary procedure, but as to the ability, public spirit, the disinterestedness shown, I do not think there has ever been a time in our history when the two Houses could come better out than they have done now up to this point.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
That is quite true, but it does not bear on what I am saying. I think it is rather idle to contend, as I see it contended in the Press, that the House of Commons is be 690 coming very inferior in its debating qualities to the House of Commons of old, and I think this House should be just as glad as the other House itself that the level in both Houses is maintained at the elevation that marked it during the debates to which I have referred. After all, we are all of us patriots, and I for one have no patience with the croakings that I hear as to the decline of Parliamentary ability. My noble friend has tempted me into that excursus. But to return. The principle of his proposal, so far as it has a principle, is that special interests ought to have special representatives told off in your Lordships' House. The Royal Society, I think, is one of the bodies mentioned; at all events, the Royal Society, if such proposal were seriously taken up, would be included. I suggest, however, that my noble friend Lord Rayleigh, without any instructions from the Royal Society, would be perfectly able to represent that body. From his own extraordinary knowledge of the topics that come within its consideration, he would be able to give your Lordships the very best knowledge and judgment on any one of those special topics that you could find. It would be invidious to go through the members of your Lordships' House who possess special qualifications. But I see my noble friend Lord Revelstoke here. Do you need bankers to tell off three of your Lordships to speak about banking? You have already full and adequate representation of banking interests. Then there is my noble friend Lord Avebury, who can tell you about a great many things from banking and commerce to wasps and bees. Last year a Bill affecting insurance companies was considered, and a great number of your Lordships addressed the House upon it with special, technical, and full knowledge. If all the insurance companies in England were to tell off special members to speak on these subjects you would not be a bit better off than you are now. The Abbé Sieyè s—of whom I am greatly reminded every day of the week by the number of fantastical proposals I see made for the construction of Second Chambers—said there are in politics no insoluble problems; there are only problems badly stated. I submit that this matter is part of an immense problem. The noble Earl has dealt with only one or two phases of a huge problem, and I do not think he has placed the problem before your Lordships in a way that tends to its satisfactory solution.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will allow me to congratulate the noble Earl who drew attention to this subject on his recovery from his recent indisposition, which has left no trace upon the vigour and eloquence with which he addresses us, and I trust the somewhat severe dissection of his proposal by the noble Viscount will not occasion a relapse. The noble Earl has, indeed, made a proposal which shows the full amount of that courage which never deserts him, because he has ventured to lay this matter before you at a time when my noble friend on the Cross Benches is already in the field with a series of Resolutions affecting the constitution of this House, and when the noble Earl who leads this House is also in the field with other and even more important Resolutions which he intends to move immediately after the recess.
Whether your Lordships agree or disagree with the noble Earl, I am sure that the feeling of the House will not be at all unfriendly towards his proposal. The principle at which he aims is, I think, a principle which ought to commend itself to your Lordships. The noble Viscount defined that principle in these words—that special interests should have special representation in this House. That seems to me an admirable principle, and I should like to see effect given to it if it were possible. Indeed, I am not at all sure whether one of the Resolutions of which the noble Earl on the Cross Benches (Lord Rosebery) has given notice may not be found to bear a construction somewhat of that kind. But the noble Earl desires, as I understand, that the principle should be enforced by establishing a kind of official connection between this House and certain public bodies representing great public interests and carrying with them a great weight of authority.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I, for one, would be very glad to see a connection of that kind established. I believe that if it could be done the result would be to add authority to your Lordships' House, and to give increased weight to the opinions of individual Peers who might be designated in that manner. I suggest, and I think the noble Viscount made the same suggestion, that something of the kind really in fact exists already; although not, perhaps, 692 in a formal or recognised shape. We know, for example, that when questions concerning the Army or Navy are discussed there are certain noble Lords whom the House recognises as qualified to speak on behalf of the two services. There are certain noble Lords who can speak with special authority on financial questions. Then, again, take the case of my noble friend Lord Belper, who represents the Association of County Councils, and to whom we all listen with a feeling that he has a right to address us on subjects connected with local government. I do not know whether it is very easy to go further, and to do what I understand the noble Earl proposes—namely, to stereotype arrangements of that kind and to devise machinery by which these public bodies would be brought into formal and definite relations with the House.
The noble Earl will forgive me if I say that I discern considerable difficulty in giving effect to his scheme. When he put the Motion upon the Paper of the House some months ago he went more into particulars than he has done on this occasion. I think I am right in saying that at that time he proposed to set up what I may describe as a "quadrumvirate," consisting of the Lord Chancellor, the Leader of the House, my noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury, and myself, and upon us was to be thrown the duty of deciding what public bodies and associations were to be deemed worthy to be brought into official relation with the House. I confess that never was my vanity more tickled than by the idea of serving with three such distinguished colleagues; but my heart sank within me when I considered the kind of task which was to be imposed upon us. The number of such associations is very great. The noble Earl referred me to "Whitaker's Almanack," where, I believe, ten pages are filled with their names.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Some of them are of conspicuous importance, possessing most dignified titles and positions; others are humbler. There are among them an association in favour of cremation, a Dante Society, a society which interests itself in lost dogs, and so on. So that there is every variety of body to be considered, and I really do not know how it would be possible for such a body as the noble Earl 693 proposes to decide which associations are worthy of recognition and which are not. Then there is another difficulty which I think lies in the way. Suppose the principle admitted, who is to decide what Peers are to represent what associations? I do not know whether that would be part of the duty of the "quadrumvirate." Obviously some one would have to do it, for I anticipate we should find that most of these bodies and associations would be competing with one another over the body of my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn who doubtless would be very largely in request for business of that kind. My noble friend shakes his head. Suppose we had disposed of Lord St. Aldwyn, and another association came round. We should be obliged to say, "We cannot give you the Peer whom you want; but here is another noble Lord who acquitted himself very creditably upon the platform during the last General Election and who shows great promise. We suggest you might adopt him." The association might not agree with our choice. I see almost endless difficulties 694 in carrying out the noble Earl's scheme, and I humbly suggest to him that the more informal plan is the best. It might, perhaps, be possible to regularise somewhat more than we do the existing arrangements; but it would not, in my opinion, be desirable to commit the House to a formal plan either of selecting any public bodies as fit and proper bodies to receive this honour or of selecting certain Peers to whom the task of representing them would be assigned.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
They might all select the same Peers. That would be the difficulty. At any rate, I hope the noble Earl will be content with the discussion which has taken place and will not ask us to commit ourselves definitely to the proposal which he has made.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes past, Five o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.