HL Deb 21 March 1910 vol 5 cc423-50

My Lords, with regard to the third Resolution— That a necessary preliminary of such reform and reconstitution is the acceptance of the principle that the possession of a Peerage should no longer of itself give the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords, I desire to take the opinion of your Lordships as to your own convenience. As to the first and second Resolutions, I had no doubt whatever that your Lordships would pass them practically without discussion, because, after all, they are maxims which, whatever my noble friends on the opposite Bench may say, are practically incontrovertible, I think, to the vast majority of persons inside this House. I did not desire to prolong the discussion on the second Resolution, because I was anxious to get both Resolutions through with as little discussion as possible—a practical measure which I am sure would recommend itself to my noble friends in every part of the House. But I must not allow it to be supposed that I pass without demur the proposition of my noble friend the Leader of the House that because I and those who agree with me think that a strong and efficient Second Chamber could best be found by the reform and the reconstitution of the House of Lords we are bound thereby at once to table a detailed plan of reform and reconstitution. In the enormously long and dreary speech which I delivered in bringing forward these Resolutions, I detailed very carefully the course of action we proposed to take. It was not for me as an individual in any way whatever to bring forward a detailed scheme. It was no part of my plan that I should put myself forward as the reformer of this House. I wished only to act as the mouthpiece, the agent, as it were, of the House, in reconstituting and reforming itself, and therefore I urged upon your Lordships that you should proceed slowly in this matter, so that every Resolution might be carried, as the first two have been, with the almost universal assent and support of the House. I hope that the course the House will pursue will be the one which was recommended on that occasion—that, not being able to produce a Bill, as the Government are able, for the reconstitution of this House, not being in that position of official authority, the House should confine itself to passing broad Resolutions of principle on which it thinks the reform of this House should proceed, and on which, when a Government able to deal with the question in both Houses shall have come into power, they may found a Bill. I believe that that view of the strategy of the situation recommended itself to this House, and I hope your Lordships will pursue it. But I demur altogether to the idea that because we have passed these two Resolutions, which I think are of an unquestionable and innocent character, we are at once bound to lay detailed schemes on the Table. The Government, after meditations of many months, possibly years, on this subject—the Campbell-Bannerman Resolutions were passed some years ago—have not yet found themselves in a position to lay any plan at all. That we, three weeks after the commencement of the session in which first we began to move, should be required by the Government to do this thing which they themselves, in all this time, have hitherto been unable to do, strikes me as going a little beyond the equities of the situation. What I do invite on this present occasion is an expression of opinion from the House as to whether we should proceed with the third Resolution now, or to-morrow, or the day after, or immediately after the Easter recess. Whichever course the Government wish to adopt will be agreeable to me—I mean, whatever course the House may wish to adopt, a very broad distinction.


My Lords, I did not rise immediately after my noble friend because I hoped that some member of the House on the Benches behind me would have something to say on this particular point. As far as I am myself concerned I subscribed to the third Resolution when I was a member of the Committee presided over by the noble Earl. Therefore I am committed to it and I am prepared to subscribe to it again whenever necessary. But as the noble Earl I think truly said, this is a matter in which the convenience of the House generally ought to be considered. I have endeavoured, with such opportunities as presented themselves, to make inquiries as to the general feeling amongst noble Lords who sit on this side. I cannot pretend to say I have ascertained what the universal feeling amongst them is, but I have certainly been made aware of a widespread desire that the third Resolution, which is regarded, rightly or wrongly, by many of my friends as more controversial than the first two, should not be taken immediately—that is, not to-day or tomorrow. Whether it would be more convenient to take it next week, immediately after the short holiday which I understand is to be accorded to us, or at the beginning of the following week, I really do not know. Either date, so far as I am concerned, would suit me perfectly, but it may be more convenient that the third Resolution should not be taken till either the 30th instant or the fourth of next month.


My Lords, may I suggest that, if the general convenience of the House is to be consulted, surely the simplest plan would be to go on with the Resolution now. This Resolution may be extremely disagreeable to many members of this House, but it will not be any less disagreeable if it is taken next week instead of the present; and I venture to suggest, if we really are going to consider our own convenience, it would be more appropriate to go on with the Resolution now. We have plenty of leisure, whereas if it is put off we shall be brought back next week for the purpose of discussing a thing which we could perfectly well discuss at the present moment; and it is possible, in view of the extremely uncertain condition of affairs at the present time, that we might have a General Election sprung upon us before we had come to a decision at all on this matter, and where should we be then?


My Lords, I entertain a strong view that we ought not to go on with the third Resolution now. I cannot pretend to have gauged the opinions of all members who sit on this side of the House, but certainly a considerable number of them were of opinion that it would be inexpedient and undesirable to proceed with this Resolution at the present moment. The two first Resolutions might well be passed without any hesitation. They are pious opinions, and I can quite understand, particularly after the explanation of the noble Earl the Leader of the House, that they may be understood very much according to the taste of the person who has got to interpret them. But certainly I am not prepared to discuss now and to dispose of the question of the right of a Peer to succeed to his father at the tail of this discussion. I think we require a little more consideration. It is not desirable, upon a question so important, that this Resolution should be passed like the preliminary Resolutions and that we should get rid of a constitution of this House which has existed for some centuries by a discussion of some minutes.


My Lords, I hope the discussion will be proceeded with now. There are a number of noble Lords who are not here primarily as politicians, but who do take an interest in the debates of your Lordships' House, and who give a great deal of their time to the business in their various counties. This is a very busy time of the year; and if you do not proceed with this Resolution to-day or to-morrow, I venture to say that you cannot, if you wish to have a full House, get on with it for another fortnight. County Council meetings, Quarter Sessions, and the Territorial Association meetings are all taking place within the next fortnight. I do not know whether it is generally known, but eighty per cent of the chairmen of the County Territorial Associations are members who sit on this side of the House, although we have been told at different times that Peers are no good for business or anything eke. Those Peers cannot be absent from the meetings of the County Associations because there is no one who can take their place. I therefore do wish, if we are not to take the consideration of the third Resolution now, that at any rate we shall know very distinctly when it is that the Resolution is to be brought on again. I myself hope that the House will be allowed to give its opinion pretty strongly now as to what it wishes. I cannot help thinking that the noble Marquess has only heard one side of the case. So far as I am concerned, since I have been here I have heard only one opinion, and that is that it is a great pity to waste time, and that it is quite possible, if we do waste time now, we may never get an opportunity again of considering the third Resolution because we may have a General Election sprung upon us.


My Lords, if there is one point on which your Lordships may be said to be generally agreed, it is that the number of Peers attending as legislators should be diminished. Now, how can that diminution possibly be effected without some restriction of the hereditary principle? It seems to me that those who think, as I believe almost the whole House does, that we should limit our numbers must consent to some limitation of the hereditary principle, and therefore I cannot see why the third Resolution should not be passed at once, seeing that it only proposes that the hereditary principle should not be the only and sole qualification for a seat in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, would it not be possible to take the opinion of the House on the special point whether we should proceed now or not? I endorse what Lord Heneage has said. I think it would be extremely inconvenient to a great many of us to be called up here again next week.


My Lords, I believe there are a good many of your Lordships who are anxious to proceed as quickly as possible in this important matter, but who at the same time have, either justly or unjustly, some doubt as to what the third Resolution would commit the House to. Those noble Lords who hold this opinion wish that the Resolution should be thoroughly discussed and that a hasty decision should not be come to upon it. I also signed the Report of the Committee, and I had my own idea as to what was meant. I think it would be unfortunate if there was any feeling that the matter had been rushed to-day. At the same time we are all here now, and why the debate should not be commenced I cannot see.


My Lords, I may say that I came down to the House with the idea that the general understanding was that only the first two Resolutions were to be taken this week. I may be wrong, but I am conscious of more than one Peer who had intended to take part in the debate but who was under the same impression. I feel that it is most important that the Resolution should not be passed without the most general assent that this House can command, and I deprecate proceeding at too great haste.


My Lords, there are two, or rather three, questions before the House—first, whether we are to proceed now; secondly, whether we should proceed to-morrow, which I think would meet the objection of the noble Viscount who has just sat down; or, thirdly, whether we should adjourn the discussion until after the Easter holiday. On this particular question the opinion of my noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury, if he will allow me to say so, carries less weight with me than on most questions, for I think an unlimited postponement of this question would meet his views more completely than even a postponement until after Easter. If I may offer an opinion on a subject on which I did not mean to offer an opinion, I do not think it would be quite fair to many Peers to proceed with the third Resolution and conclude the discussion to-night. I know one or two noble Lords who meant to speak on this third Resolution and who put off coming up until to-morrow. It is for the House to decide whether they will go on with the Resolution to-morrow or postpone it until after the Easter holidays. [Opposition cries of "To-morrow" and "Now."] I am glad in the circumstances that I am not leader of either side of the House. But to bring the matter to a head, I beg to move that we take the third Resolution tomorrow.

Moved, That the House be resumed.—(The Earl of Rosebery.)


My Lords, I beg to move, as an Amendment, that we proceed with the discussion now with a view to concluding it to-morrow if possible.


My Lords, I think it is hardly possible to conclude the discussion to-morrow. There are a number of noble Lords who wish to speak who were under the impression that the discussion would be postponed until next week. I support the noble Earl, and I hope your Lordships will agree to postponing the commencement of the discussion until to-morrow.


My Lords, it may have rather a bad effect if, after passing the two somewhat colourless Resolutions which we have already adopted, we should appear to shirk the discussion of the third Resolution. I do not think it is very material whether we go on to-day or tomorrow, but I think it might have a very bad effect in the country if it appeared that we were going to postpone the discussion on the noble Earl's first important Resolution until after the Easter holidays, especially when, as has been already remarked, the state of political affairs is such that we do not know when a crisis may occur. Whether we commence the discussion of this Resolution now or tomorrow, I would urge that we should enter upon it before the Easter recess.


My Lords, I am very unwilling to intervene; but I confess it does seem to me somewhat singular, in view of the unusually crowded state of the House as compared with its ordinary condition, that this debate should not be proceeded with now. As to the time when it ought to be concluded I express no opinion, but I confess I do not see precisely what would be gained by the adjournment of the discussion until to-morrow.


My Lords, I understand that the proposal is that the discussion of the third Resolution should be commenced, but that it should not be finally disposed of until to-morrow. That is a compromise which does not commend itself to me, for this reason. We understand that there are a certain number of noble Lords who desire to take part in this debate, but who were under the impression—how derived I do not know—that the third Resolution would not be taken to-night. Considering that we are dealing with the interests of a great number of members of this House who see themselves threatened with a deprivation of their hereditary rights, I think the least we can do is to give those noble Lords a few hours more, if they desire it, in order that they may hear the whole of the discussion that the third Resolution may give rise to, and, if necessary, take part in it. I do not see what we should gain by beginning the discussion this evening and carrying it on to-morrow. Therefore, if we have to divide between that proposal and the proposal to adjourn and begin the third Resolution to-morrow, I shall vote for adopting the latter course.


My Lords, it was far from my wish to impose any view on the House, and for the reason that I have no knowledge how long this debate is likely to last. It seems to be in the mind of the noble Marquess opposite that if it was started to-day it would be certain to be finished to-morrow. I do not know how many of your Lordships will desire to speak, how many noble Lords will wish to say morituri te salutant, but I think they should have an opportunity of doing so, and, if possible, of choosing their own day. If the noble Marquess is right in thinking that the debate is not likely to take more than two afternoons, I should withdraw my proposition to proceed at once on the grounds stated by the noble Marquess.


The Question is that the debate be adjourned until to-morrow, and that the House be resumed.


I have moved an Amendment that the debate be proceeded with now, with a view to concluding it to-morrow night if possible.


I venture to suggest that that is not an Amendment. It is a negative, being the antithesis of the proposal of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches.

On Question, That the House be resumed?

Their Lordships divided: Contents 80; Not contents, 87.

Newcastle, D. Verulam, E. Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.)
Northumberland, D. Waldegrave, E. Gwydyr, L.
Wellington, D. Westmeath, E. Hylton, L.
Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)
Ailesbury, M. Churchill, V. Killanin, L.
Bute, M. Cobham, V. Kinnaird, L.
Camden, M. Colville of Culross, V. Langford, L.
Lansdowne, M. Esher, V. Lovat, L.
Salisbury, M. Halifax, V. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Hampden, V. Mount Stephen, L.
Albemarle, E. Hood, V. Mowbray, L.
Brownlow, E. Hutchinson, V. (E.Donoughmore.) Oranmore and Browne, L.
Cathcart, E. Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)
Cawdor, E. Ridley, V. Redesdale, L.
Clarendon, E. St. Aldwyn, V. Rosebery, L. (E. Rosebery.)[Teller.]
Cranbrook, E.
Dartrey, E. Abinger, L. Sackville, L.
Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.) Ashbourne, L. Saltoun, L.
Bagot, L. Seaton, L.
Guilford, E. Barrymore, L. Shute, L. (V. Barrington.)
Halsbury, E. [Teller.] Braye, L. Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloicay.)
Harewood, E. Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)
Lovelace, E. Byron, L. Sudeley, L.
Malmesbury, E. Cheylesmore, L. Suffield, L.
Mansfield, E. Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.) Templemore, L.
Morton, E. Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.) Tweeddale, L, (M. Tweeddale.)
Northesk, E. Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.) Vivian, L.
Plymouth, E. Deramore, L. Worlingham, L. (E. Gosford.)
Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.) Zouche of Haryngworth, L.
Canterbury, L. Abp. Falmouth, V. Heneage, L.
Loreburn, L. (L. Chancellor.) Knutsford, V. James, L.
Crewe, E. (L. Privy Seal.) Llandaff, V. Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)
Morley of Blackburn, V. Knollys, L.
Norfolk, D. (E. Marshal.) [Teller.] Peel, V. Lawrence, L.
Lucas, L.
Argyll, D. Lichfield, L. Bp. Marchamley, L.
Bedford, D. St. Albans, L. Bp. Monson, L.
Winchester, L. Bp. Monteagle of Brandon, L.
Bath, M. Newlands, L.
Breadalbane, M. Addington, L. Newton, L. [Teller.]
Linlithgow, M. Ampthill, L. Northcote, L.
Armitstead, L. O'Hagan, L.
Beauchamp, E. (L. Steward.) Belper, L. Pentland, L.
Camperdown, E. Blyth, L. Poltimore, L.
Carrington, E. Blythswood, L. Reay, L.
Chesterfield, E. Burnham, L. Sanderson, L.
Chichester, E. Clonbrock, L. Sandhurst, L.
Cromer, E. Colebrooke, L. Saye and Sele, L.
De La Warr, E. Cottesloe, L. Shaw, L.
Denbigh, E. Courtney of Penwith, L. Shuttleworth, L.
Devon, E. De Mauley, L. Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. She field.)
Durham, E. Denman, L.
Fortescue, E. Ellenborough, L. Stanmore, L.
Kimberley, E. Eversley, L. Stuart of Castle Stuart, L. (E. Moray.)
Lauderdale, E. Farrer, L.
Lindsey, E. Forester, L. Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)
Liverpool, E. Glantawe, L. Swaythling, L.
Lytton, E. Gorell, L. Tennyson, L.
Onslow, E. Granard, L. (E. Granard.) Wandsworth, L.
Portsmouth, E. Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Winterstoke, L.
Stradbroke, E. Hemphill, L.

Resolved in the negative accordingly.


My Lords, I beg to move my third Resolution.

Moved to resolve, That a necessary preliminary of such reform and reconstitution is the acceptance of the principle

that the possession of a Peerage should no longer of itself give the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords.—(The Earl of Rosebery.)

No noble Lord rising to address the Committee, the LORD CHAIRMAN was proceeding to put the Question, when

VISCOUNT RIDLEY said: My Lords, I demur to this proposition being put through without debate. I am perfectly certain there are a great many who would have desired to express an opinion upon it, and who have not had an opportunity for one reason or another. Although those members who served on the Committee which made certain recommendations as regards your Lordships' House arrived at general conclusions, one of which was practically the embodiment of the noble Earl's third Resolution, yet to commit the whole House to it is committing it to a very considerable proposition, which really is the beginning of all the reforms which must or may bring this House into more direct touch, if that be desired, with what is called the democracy. I speak, if I may, for myself, because the other day the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition expressed the greatest solicitude for the fate of those Peers who, as a result of the suggested plan of reform, might be excluded from this House in the future. Every scheme which I have seen, and every plan which I have had an opportunity of looking at, would have excluded my humble self from being of necessity a member of your Lordships' House, and I should have had to take my chance. Notwithstanding that, I feel so strongly that there is a need, and an immediate need, of reform which will bring a fresh current of air into this House that I can assure the noble Marquess that the scheme which he has outlined does not in the least alarm me. It is realised by your Lordships that the membership of this House is too large for effective debate, that there should be opened to it sources of fresh inspiration which at present are denied to it, and although no friend of this House would desire it to have acted in any other way than it has done, although we may believe fully that the existence and the actions of this House have justified the hereditary principle to the full, yet it needs to be more deeply rooted in the general confidence of the people than it is at the present moment. We need to be stronger in the sense, not of containing stronger or more efficient numbers, but in the sense of being stronger in the confidence of the people. That is why I am anxious to see this fresh current of air introduced. When on subsequent occasions the noble Earl places, as I gather he will do, further Resolutions on the Table, that, I suppose, would be the more appropriate time to discuss any suggested details. But I do venture to express one hope, and that is that when proposals as regards the election of any Peers of Parliament from any source are put forward, due consideration will be had to safeguarding the status and the position of such Peers as can be elected. I am very anxious that the hereditary principle, which has worked well in practice, should form the main feature still of the constitution of this House. I trust that this third Resolution will command a wide and general acceptance in the House, because it is necessary at this stage of the twentieth century that we should march with the time. I sincerely hope that Lord Rosebery will lose no time in putting upon the Table Resolutions, so that the House may proceed at once to discuss the main outlines of the plan which may form the basis of future legislation.

*LORD KILLANIN had given notice to move to add at the end of the Resolution the words "to those who hereafter succeed to Peerages or who are created Peers." The Resolution, as proposed to be amended, would read— That a necessary preliminary of such reform and reconstitution is the acceptance of the principle that the possession of a Peerage should no longer of itself give the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords to those who hereafter succeed to Peerages or who are created Peers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have ventured, with considerable hesitation, to put on the Paper an Amendment to the noble Earl's Resolution. I hesitated to do so, not because I doubted the merits of my proposal, but because I felt that your Lordships might possibly think it presumptuous on my part to put down an Amendment at all to these important Resolutions. I am encouraged, however, to move my Amendment because the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, has invited us, especially us backwoodsmen, to give full expression to our views on the matter. I will therefore rely upon your Lordships' indulgence while I endeavour to give some reasons for the Amendment which I put down.

The meaning of the Amendment is pretty clear. It is that, in my opinion, it would be wiser and also juster, in bringing about reform in this House, not to interfere with the existing House. I will give your Lordships some of my reasons for that view. In the interests of the good name of this House and of its Parliamentary authority and responsibility, I cannot for my part adopt the Resolution of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, because it seems to me that, if we agree with that Resolution, we are confessing our own legislative un-worthiness; we are, to a large extent, condemning ourselves as a House of Parliament, and saying in effect that a number of us ought no longer to be in this House. I think that that is a very dangerous proposition for us at this time of day to adopt, and one that is not true. We should remember that when this Resolution, which the noble Earl proposes, was originally passed in the Select Committee, over which he presided, it was merely an abstract general statement, with which all noble Lords might probably have agreed, and with which the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, as he says, agreed; but I do submit to your Lordships that it is a very different thing when that abstract general statement comes before you as a specific, substantive proposal which you are asked to adopt as applicable to this living, acting House to-day.

I think that this is a very different situation, and that you cannot adopt this Resolution as it stands without announcing to the British public and to the world that in your opinion a number of the members of this House are unfitted to be legislators. ["No, no."] In the course of the debate last week, the noble Earl and the noble Lords, Lord Curzon and Lord Newton, said most distinctly that, if this Resolution were passed and legislation, based on it, followed, it would mean that a considerable number of your Lordships would be relieved of your duties in this House as being "black sheep" ["No, no."] or "undesirables" ["No."] or some such term. Those were the most flattering designations I heard. That was to be the necessary effect of this Resolution as interpreted by its leading supporters. Some said one-fifth should go, some one-half. I therefore submit as a proposition, which I shall be glad to hear refuted, that your Lordships cannot adopt the noble Earl's Resolution without thereby announcing that in your opinion a considerable number of your Lordships are unfit for your position as legislators and ought not to be any longer in this House.

My Lords, I go further. If that is the state of affairs, if that is the character that you are going by this Resolution to give this House, that reflection will not merely apply to the personnel of this House to-day but it will also apply to its actions three months ago and during the last few years. It is only three months since the House took a very important action, which was greatly criticised in various quarters. This House says it was right. I think the country has supported your Lordships in that action, but I think it will be a very curious commentary on the situation if the next step that this House takes is to say that the fact that we voted for or against the Budget was immaterial, and that the real truth is that we are not competent to a large extent to vote at all on any legislative question. The noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, indeed analysed that subject in the course of his speech on the Budget. In the middle of that speech, he actually turned round to your Lordships and said that in his opinion the question was not whether we should vote for or against the Budget, but whether we were fitted to vote at all on the matter. I remember the noble Earl making that as his most practical suggestion as to the course which should be followed in reference to the Budget. [The Earl of ROSEBERY dissented.] The noble Earl does not think he said so, but my recollection is that he did. However, the noble Earl now comes forward with his proposition, and I do submit that you cannot pass it without taking into account the effects of so doing which were clearly described by the noble Earl and by Lord Curzon and Lord Newton in their speeches last week, the consequences of your action and the inferences that will be drawn.

That is my main objection—and I think it is an important objection—to the adoption of this Resolution as it stands on the Paper. I do not agree with that condemnation of the existing House which it involves, but it will be most certainly turned against you by your enemies. I think it is a libel, but it will be used against you, and it will be said that you have declared that a great number of the members of this House are really not fitted to legislate at all. That is my main objection. But I have other objections to the Resolution of the noble Earl as it stands. If a number of noble Lords are to be eliminated, are to be given notice to quit, the next question one comes to consider is this. Are the modes by which this elimination is to be carried out likely to lead to satisfactory results? I am perfectly certain that if noble Lords on this side of the House, or in any part of the House, thought that it was for the good of the country to give up their rights and privileges, they would be willing to do so; but I think the suggested modes would not be satisfactory and would even be injurious.

In the course of last week's debate two ways were suggested by means of which the numbers of this House were largely—some said to the extent of one-half—to be reduced. One was by the test of qualifications, and the other by means of selection amongst the Lords themselves. With reference to qualifications, I do not see that that would work well. It would result, I believe, in some being included who ought to be excluded, and vice versa. I think it is a preposterous suggestion in the case of a living, existing House to set up arbitrary lists of qualifications and then march about testing members as to whether they have ever been, say, Governor of Ceylon, and, if they have not, telling them that they must go. A noble Lord in reply to the question might say: "No, I was not Governor of Ceylon, but I was offered the position and refused it." You would have to say, "You must ome out; you have had no official experience." Are you to ask noble Lords whether they have been in the House of Commons? One might say he had. Another might say he had not, but that he had stood twice, and the second time was only beaten by sixteen votes in some big constituency. But he should go, because he had had no experience in the House of Commons. I believe that such a process of elimination in the case of an actual, existing Assembly would be misleading, inequitable, and invidious.

As to the other method by which it is proposed to reduce the numbers of this House, by means of selection, I think it would be a most unfortunate principle to introduce. The great advantage of being an hereditary legislator is that you are dependent upon no electorate and nobody's vote for your seat. But if you introduce any form of selection you will at once impair, if not destroy, the independence of the members of this House; for unless a noble Lord is orthodox in every respect, unless he echoes whatever happens to be the dominant view of some league or caucus, he will not have the slightest chance, of being selected as a representative Peer. If the House puts a value on its political independence and wishes to preserve it inviolate, it will avoid this injurious mode of elimination.

There is one other remark which I would like to make in support of my proposal. I venture to submit that members of this House, as it is an existing body, have really some vested rights and privileges which should be respected. Noble Lords have not merely their rights and privileges; these also involve and have involved a number of duties and responsibilities which members have for the most part fulfilled in various ways. The mere fact that you have been a Lord of Parliament for a certain number of years has made you suffer also from limitations and disabilities, which have prevented you following other pursuits and other interests with honour and advantage. As Lords of Parliament you have been hampered and circumscribed in many directions. So that noble Lords have not alone got rights and privileges in this House; they are a counter part of duties and responsibilities and limitations. I submit that the vested rights and interests and privileges of any such members of this House ought not to be ignored.

These are some of the reasons why I ventured to put down the Amendment standing in my name. I consider that these are reasons which ought to make this House very wary about interfering at all with the existing House. But it may be said, "Then you propose to do nothing?" I am far from proposing to do nothing. It is indeed because I am an advocate for reform that I see an additional reason for not interfering with the personnel of the present House. There is nothing that would more clear the ground and enable us to judge the question solely on its merits in a purely impersonal and unbiassed fashion and without having recourse to so injurious a process as selection or attempting to draw up arbitrary lists of qualifications than the fact that we had removed from consideration the question of the present House, and that we deliberately set to work to consider what reforms could nevertheless be carried out now or in the near future. It may be said that would be too slow. I do not agree. In so far as it would be gradual, I think that that would be a good thing. I am not in favour of sudden and ruthless reform. Unfortunately, also, mortality will thin our ranks only too quickly. Since this House has assembled two of our number have died. And assuming there were qualifications for successors to Peerages and for new Peers, the numbers of this House would be gradually, perhaps quickly, reduced. An elective element could also be introduced at nceo, and a life Peer could be appointed, until a certain number were appointed, for every two vacancies that occurred in the hereditary Peerage.

As I have said, I cannot agree with the Resolution of the noble Earl as it stands, because I think it is based on a damaging and mischievous criticism and condemnation of this House, and I hope your Lordships will not adopt it. Furthermore, I think the suggested modes of reducing the numbers of this House will not conduce to the improvement of, but be injurious to the character of this House. If you avoided many unnecessary difficulties by not going into the question of the present House you would be able to do far more easily what is required—namely, consider constructive reform for the future which would restrict indiscriminate hereditary additions to the House and which would introduce new blood into this House and bring it more in accord with modern requirements and ideas as regards legislative responsibility and authority. And so, this House, without sacrificing its prestige, and without condemning its past without too much speed and without being too slow, would go about the important task of renewing itself and readapting itself to the necessities of the future.


I did not call upon the noble Lord to move his Amendment immediately after the Resolution, because in the way it appears on the Paper it is not, strictly speaking, an Amendment. It is an addition to the Resolution. But inasmuch as I think that whether these words are added or not might very largely influence some members of your Lordships' House as to the manner in which they would vote on the main Resolution, I suggest to the noble Lord that he should put it in the form of an Amendment by moving to insert the words of which he has given notice after the word "give." The Resolution would then read in this way— That, a necessary preliminary of such reform and reconstitution is the acceptance of the principle that the possession of a Peerage should no longer of itself give to those who hereafter succeed to Peerages or who are created Peers the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords.




Does the noble Lord agree to that?


Certainly, I quite agree, and I move the Amendment in that form.

Amendment moved— To insert, after the word "give," the words "to those who hereafter succeed to Peerages or who are created Peers."—(Lord Killanin.)


I confess that as the mover of the Resolution I have no reason to complain of the tone in which the noble Lord has moved his Amendment, but I cannot honestly advise your Lordships to accept it. The noble Lord's arguments, I think, are rather of a kind that would not look well if exposed nakedly to the country as the views of your Lordships. I heard him speak in the debate last week, and therefore I was not surprised altogether to see his Amendment on the Paper. He used the expression "vested interests" rather freely on that occasion, and also again to-night. I am bound to say that if it goes to the country that the House of Lords considers that, whatever the effect may be on the country, a Peer has a vested interest in the right to legislate, it will have rather a damaging appearance. We sit here, presumably, for the good of the country and if in our opinion it is well that we should divest ourselves of certain hereditary rights for the good of the is not pleasant, I think, to consider ourselves as a going concern for the goodwill of which we must require some compensation.

The noble Lord has completely misunderstood the basis upon which this Resolution rests. He says it is a reflection upon the present constitution of your Lordships' House, but I am wholly unconscious, at any rate, of any such reflection. He says that Lord Curzon and myself last week used the words "black sheep" and "undesirables." Well, I spoke a long time, and I cannot swear to every syllable I may have used, but I am totally unconscious of having touched upon that line of argument at all. It was not in my mind. The object of the limitation of the hereditary principle, at least, one of the objects, was the limitation of numbers, and though the noble Lord holds out to us the genial prospect of a speedy reduction by death and intimated that two Peers have already been taken from us in the course of this session, I think that is not the most attractive view to take of the subject. The noble Lord made great play with the Report of the Select Committee, and said it was all very well when it was merely a Resolution in Committee, but it was a very different thing bringing it forward as a substantive proposition. I ask what is the idea of the noble Lord about the good faith of the Committee that passed that Resolution. Does he think it a sort of valentine, or that the Committee honestly believed what was stated in the Resolution and were prepared to bring it forward at the first opportunity. Then the noble Lord brought forward another argument. It was that this was a reflection upon the action of your Lordships in voting for the Resolution of my noble friend the noble Marquess on the Budget in the course of last November. I quite admit I did not think that a judicious proceeding, but I do not see how it enters into the consideration of the present matter at all. The Resolution on the Paper is avowedly founded on the Resolution of the Select Committee, and that Resolution was passed eighteen months before the Resolution of the Marquess of Lansdowne was placed on the Paper, and at least a year before the Budget was introduced. Therefore if any of your Lordships feel any trepidation in voting for this Resolution on the ground that it implies any reflection upon your conduct in voting for Lord Lansdowne's Resolution, you may dismiss that from your minds with perfect ease. I do most earnestly hope that the House will not entertain this Amendment to the Resolution, because I think nothing could be more damaging to our credit in the country than the idea that it was considered that we had a vested interest in the legislation of the country.


My Lords, I am afraid I do not altogether agree with my noble friend who has just spoken, nor can I altogether support the view of the noble Lord who preceded him. I am, however, not afraid to speak of the vested interests of your Lordships. You have a right to sit in this House, and I do not very well understand the difference between a vested interest and a right. But when we come to the question of how far we should claim or waive that right for the public advantage, that, I think, is a very different matter. I must say I should be very unhappy, indeed, if I thought that your Lordships' House, with its great traditions, and its reputation for consideration of the public service before everything, were to begin to haggle when you are considering whether it is or is not necessary for the public good that your number should be reduced, whether each individual seat should be retained or not.

It seems to me a very curious position which the noble Lord has set up. We are to be sensitive of our own vested rights; this House is to be unable to move until mortality has thinned our ranks and paved the way to further reform, but the rights of posterity do not matter at all. Those who come after may take care of themselves. I should be sorry to take such a view, and I beg leave to altogether dissociate myself from it. I beg you particularly to allow me to emphasise that, because of what I am going to say in a moment a little bit on the other side. I do not know whether I am a "backwoodsman" or not, because I have never yet heard a definition of that term. There were many propositions put forward as qualifications before the Committee which sat on this subject. Under some of them, I believe, I should be qualified, and by others I should not. But my vote will certainly not be governed by any desire to retain a seat in this House for a longer time than the House as a whole thinks it to the public advantage that I should do so.

Having said so much on the Amendment immediately before us, perhaps I may be allowed to say one word with regard to the wording of the noble Earl's Resolution. I cannot help thinking it is unfortunate in one respect. It lays down that the possession of a Peerage should no longer "of itself give the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords." I cannot help thinking that it would have been more logical, more respectful to your Lordships' House, and more constitutional if the wording had run thus:—"That the right to sit and vote should not be exercised by certain Peers in this House." That is a very different thing from saying that a man shall not exercise the right. Your Lordships have, I believe, at the present moment a perfect right, an inherent right, to vote in this House by proxy, but you determined by Resolution not to exercise that right. I believe that in theory every member of this House has a right to take a part in the Judicial proceedings of the House, but we know perfectly well that the House would not permit lay Lords to do any such thing. I protest against the wording of the Resolution, which implies that you are going to take away an actual right which has been handed down to us by the unwritten Constitution. It is a totally unnecessary degree of change. You may effect all that you want to achieve by a Resolution depriving certain Peers of the right to exercise their vote or to occupy their seats.

As to the main result at which we want to arrive, I have no hesitation in saying that there cannot be two opinions in the mind of any one who has really considered the subject that the substance of the noble Earl's Resolution is an absolute necessity if anything is to be done in the way of reform. In the first place, I really do not know why we should be afraid of saying that there are some members of this House—no doubt a very small number—who, for many reasons, as I ventured to say the other night, are not desirable persons as legislators. My defence of the present House—I mentioned this the other night and I repeat it now to round off my argument—has been that those undesirables, if we are to call them so, never really affected the decisions of this Chamber upon important questions. But it is impossible to deny that they exist. They may, as I say, be very small in number; but your Lordships would be in a better position if you were able to say to the whole world, and to those people in the country who do not understand the working of this House, that there are no undesirable members who can join in legislation. If we can do that by excluding such members, by all means let us do so.

Then there is another aspect of this question. I think your Lordships are pretty unanimously of opinion that this House is too large. There is no restriction in regard to additions to the number of its members, and, as we all know, every Government seems to be more and more prolific in recommending the creation of new Peers to His Majesty. It is perfectly evident that if this is to go on, this House will become totally unwieldy. We see what it is in the House of Commons. The House of Commons is far too large for the proper transaction of its business. It is getting pretty nearly the same size as this House, although owing to the attendance here being less, we are not quite so unwieldy as the Lower House. But there is a third reason why we must adopt some Resolution of this kind, and that is the great evil, which both sides of the House admit, of the unbalanced character of political Parties in this Chamber. I am not altogether sure, my Lords, that some of us on this side of the House are not even more anxious than noble Lords opposite to see the two sides of the House more equal. I can assure noble Lords opposite that debating with very little reply is by no means an easy thing, and I cannot help thinking that our debates would be very much more lively if there were a larger number of noble Lords sitting opposite. But that is a very small matter compared to the importance and authority which this House would gain if the two Parties were more equal. For all these reasons I think that the noble Earl's Resolution, although I do not quite like its wording, is, in essence, absolutely necessary for us to adopt.

I do trust, my Lords, that we shall adopt the Resolution and deal with the whole question from a public point of view. Do not let us be thinking whether or not A or B or C is going to retain his seat. Let us reform this House so that certain classes of noble Lords whom we think it desirable should have seats should retain them. We have all got our own opinions. If your Lordships will give me leave at some future time I shall venture to express my own as to whether qualification or election is the better plan, and how much qualification there should be and how much election. All these will be questions which will arise later on. As to what is called "letting in fresh air"—I do not quite know what that means, but it is one of those vague similies which, however poetic, do not help us very much to understand what their authors mean—I suppose it implies that we are to look outside this House for additions to its numbers. All these questions will come up for discussion later. Let them be considered from a national standpoint, having in view what will be best for the nation, and above all let us not adopt, as we would do by passing the Amendment, an attitude which would certainly be accepted by the country to mean that we place the enjoyment of our own seats and whatever dignity may be attached to those seats before the interests of the country.


My Lords, I believe, that by the rules of your Lordships' House the debate ought to be confined to the Amendment of the noble Lord below the Gangway. Although there is a great deal in what the noble Lord said, I could not help feeling, when he argued that what has been proposed is simply a confession of unworthiness on the part of a great many of your Lordships, that he carried his argument beyond what is reasonable or what will commend itself to your Lordships. There are inherent disadvantages in this House from which we may, perhaps, free it, but I will always contend that it has done its duty well, and that it is one of those institutions which are of great practical value to the country.

Several attacks are made upon your Lordships' House. There is the accusation that owing to the strong preponderance of Conservative feeling Liberal measures coming from the other House are never properly and fairly debated; that measures coming from a Conservative House of Commons are taken practically without comment, while those sent by a Liberal House of Commons are either rejected or so seriously altered that it is considered to be an injustice. No doubt this is a point of great importance and one which should not be lost sight of. I should like to mention one disadvantage in this House, a disadvantage which I do not think has been much noticed in the Press or in public discussion, and that is that it contains a good many noble Lords—I cannot say exactly how many, but I suppose a good few—who are, so to speak, members against their will. They take no interest in public life and are put in a place which they cannot properly adorn and in which they cannot make use of the talents they possess. If by any means we could get rid of those without giving offence and without prejudice, we should have gone some distance towards reforming this House. That is one of the things to be aimed at instead of debating the Amendment of my noble friend, which would not interfere with the present hereditary Peerage at all.

I should like to see, if possible, a list made out of the membership of your Lordships House as it stands at present, and then that, in some way or another, word should be sent round practically to every Peer asking whether he would like to go on serving in this House should be be elected, or selected, or in any way appointed. I think you would find—I may not be correct in what I say—but I think you would find a certain number who would be rather glad to be released from what is an untenable, and, perhaps, a somewhat disagreeable position. That would reduce your list to a certain extent. As to the remainder, if we could devise some system of selection, which I cannot help thinking is the right line to go on, that would, I think, be the simplest and the safest way out of the difficulty. And if it were possible that you could select an equal number of Peers from each side of the House according to their political opinions you would have gone some way to redress the balance. If you fixed first of all how many Peers should be selected by their fellows and then laid down an equal number of the two sides to be elected, you could not really come to a deadlock, because it would be virtually impossible to have an equality of votes on any question, and, supposing you could carry this into practical effect, you would have the very great advantage of having serious political questions debated and settled by the views of moderate men of both sides. There is considerable difficulty in this, because you would have to do what I believe is rather foreign to the Constitution—recognise officially what has never been recognised officially before, the difference between one Party and another If that difficulty could be met, I think a good deal of ground would be got over towards meeting what has no doubt a certain amount of truth in it, although much exaggerated—I refer to the preponderance of one political Party in this House, which does give some colour to the accusation of partiality.

As to the idea of bringing in what the noble Duke called "fresh air," by which I presume is meant members from outside, I suppose that is not germane to the present Resolution, although I should like to make one or two suggestions upon that head. Whether or not it is thought fit that outside members should be appointed, I bog leave to throw out the suggestion that the power which exists now in the Crown to appoint Peers, which has existed for so many years and which I think it would be a very dangerous thing to interfere with, should be retained in the appointment of any fresh outside elements into this House; and that instead of adopting all the dangers of election, whether it be direct or indirect election, you should strive to get out of the difficulty by preserving that most valuable right of the Crown to appoint members of your Lordships' House.

I think that the Resolution ought, on the whole, to meet with a favourable verdict at the hands of your Lordships. There may be one or two things in the wording of it which may not altogether commend them-selves to you, and which possibly might be altered. There may be, in the opinion of some, an idea that it goes too far, and in others that it does not go far enough. But I cannot help thinking—and I wish to endorse to the full what fell from my noble friend the Duke of Northumberland just now on this point—that we ought to look upon this great question from a national point of view and not from merely selfish considerations. I hope that will be the frame of mind in which all your Lordships will look upon this question, and I hope that in the course of the debate we shall hear various expressions from all sides of the House which will tend to elucidate this great matter. I should like to say that, on the whole, I would be willing as far as I can to support the general principle contained in this Resolution, and I trust that it may bear some fruit and lead to a solution of one of the most important questions of modern times.


My Lords, several arguments have been brought forward against the Amendment, but I think the most fundamental one is that if it was adopted it would entirely frustrate the whole object of the third Resolution, and the vast majority of your Lordships who agree with the proposition must vote against the Amendment. It is most important at this special stage, as in all subsequent stages, of the work we have before us that this House should present as unanimous a front as possible, and therefore I think it would be most unfortunate that, through any misunderstanding or lack of clearness of vision on the part of those who vote, there should be division in our counsels which might easily be removed. I venture to think that there is some danger, as regards this third Resolution, of such a result arising. The noble Duke who spoke just now suggested a verbal alteration which tended in this direction. Whether he meant that as a distinct recommendation to the noble Earl I do not know, but if in the course of the debate any doubt is made manifest the noble Earl might do well to consider if by any slight alteration of words greater clearness can be introduced.

We do consider that the time has come when some limitation must be introduced to the present number of those who hold Peerages and exercise the right of attending debates in this House. That seems to me a very difficult result to achieve unless the proposition of the noble Earl is adopted. But there are some in this House, not without legal acumen, who say that by carrying this Resolution as at present worded we may be regarded as having gone further than is intended; that we may be regarded as having practically abolished the whole hereditary principle. I certainly have never regarded that as the result of carrying this Resolution. We are aware that the Peerages of Scotland and Ireland are already limited in regard to the number of their members who exercise the right to attend our debates, but I have never heard that any of them had accepted the theory that they had abandoned the hereditary principle. It seemed to me, therefore, that when I signed the Report of the Committee which embodied this Resolution, we were in no way abandoning the hereditary principle, although for reasons of national importance we did think that the time had come when the full attendance of Peers should be restricted. Indeed, I thought it might have come, without any question of agitation in the country or desire of the House of Commons, from our own unwieldiness; that it might have been found necessary, especially in view of the fact that there are so many Peers who do not care very often to attend our debates, to come to some Resolution of this kind. I certainly maintain that I have not the slightest notion of supporting any proposition for the abolition of the hereditary principle if I support, as I have every intention of doing, the third Resolution moved by the noble Earl. At the same time I do hope that some means may be taken to make quite clear how far we are going in carrying this Resolution, otherwise I see a danger of divided counsels at the beginning and of a considerable number of Peers being greatly dissatisfied with what is being done, and saying that they have been rushed precipitately on a very important question. Even if the Resolution is disposed of without any large show of opposition, there might be an uncomfortable feeling and very likely recrimination behind it. I do not know if anyone is going to move an Amendment or take any course of that kind. But if it should be urged from any influential quarter that by adopting this Resolution we are sacrificing the whole theory of the hereditary principle and this House decides the Resolution without that point having been completely disposed of, it will be accepted throughout the country that the House of Lords did regard it as the abandonment of the hereditary principle; that it was put before them as being that, and that, in spite of this warning, they decided to support the Resolution. It is very desirable, indeed, that we should come to an early decision on this important question, for it would be very unfortunate that we should allow the Easter recess to come upon us without having adopted this Resolution, especially as it is possible that we may be deprived of the opportunity of going forward with the beneficent work of legislative reform by incidents in another place. It is most desirable, therefore, that there should be no feeling in the background, either that it has been unduly rushed or that every clearness has not been afforded to enable your Lordships to see distinctly how far the Resolution carries us.


My Lords, I am under the impression that the point immediately before your Lordships is the Amendment of my noble friend, and I think that it should be disposed of. I trust he will forgive me if I plead with him and express the hope that he will not press it. I will not examine it at length, but obviously, if it were carried, it would have the effect of retarding indefinitely that reconstitution of this House to which your Lordships have already pledged yourselves by accepting the first two Resolutions. And apart from that, I think his Amendment is open to the criticism passed upon it by the noble Duke on the Back Bench, that it strikes what I would venture to describe as a wrong note on the present occasion. It strikes a note of what will be considered outside as a somewhat selfish regard for the—I think the expression that was used was vested interests—for the vested interests of noble Lords who have at present a seat in this House of Parliament. If we are to address ourselves to this question of House of Lords Reform with any prospect of enlisting the sympathy of the people of this country, we must, I think, divest ourselves of that idea, and set to work according to the best of our ability to carry out that reconstitution to which we are now committed upon lines most advantageous to the public welfare.


After what the noble Marquess has said, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, when, an hour ago, I voted for the continuance of the debate upon the present occasion I did so upon three grounds. The first was that I felt that if this House, after passing two self-appreciative Resolutions, were to adjourn at so early an hour, when a Resolution not quite so agreeable to the feelings of some of your Lordships was to be proposed, our action might be misunderstood and misrepresented in the country. I also felt that if we postponed action until to-morrow the plea might then be raised that we were getting still nearer the Easter recess; and a strong appeal might be made to this House to postpone action until after Easter, which I personally should regret. I am very anxious that this Chamber should give a guarantee of good faith to the nation that it is in earnest in taking up the whole task of reform, whether some, of its features be pleasing or unpleasing to ourselves. It is impossible for us to shut our eyes to the fact that the life of the present Parliament is seriously menaced, and that we may not, as my noble friend behind me said, have much opportunity of discussing possible reforms of this Chamber within the limits of the present Parliament. It is quite obvious to us all that the real serious work of discussion will begin when the noble Earl on the Cross Benches introduces those detailed Resolutions which we are not only anxious to see ourselves but which we wish to see laid before the country in such a shape as may ultimately commend themselves to our judgment; and it is quite impossible to suppose that any Resolutions which my noble friend will lay before us can be passed without very serious and prolonged discussion, in which I hope a great many members of your Lordships' House will take part. I never wished, in voting for the continuance of the debate, to suggest that the Motion of the noble Earl should be voted upon to-night. I quite realise that there are many noble Lords who did not expect that so important a Resolution would be disposed of before dinner on the first night of the debate, and I can also understand that there may be many noble Lords in this House who may wish to wait until to-morrow in order to express their matured views upon it. I would therefore suggest, if your Lordships agree, that it might be well to adjourn the debate this evening and continue it to-morrow. I beg to move the adjournment of the debate.

Moved, That the debate be adjourned until to-morrow.—(Lord Northcote.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed, and to be again in Committee To-morrow.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, Four o'clock.