§ House again in Committee (according to order) to consider the best means of reforming its existing organisation so as to constitute a strong and efficient Second Chamber.
§ [The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]
§ Debate on the Motion of the Lord Rosebery (E. Rosebery) 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 resumed.
§ LORD HYLTON
My Lords, I venture to ask the indulgence of the House for a few minutes while I attempt to explain the reasons why I intend to vote for the Resolution of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, although I have no doubt that personally I should be one of the first persons who would be swept on to the dust-heap in consequence of the legislation founded on that Resolution. But, my Lords, I am no sudden convert to the cause of the reform of your Lordships' House. I am not seeking refuge under the noble Earl's umbrella because I am frightened at the rumble of the approaching storm presaged by the Resolutions announced by His Majesty's Government for destroying all the existing powers of this House. I am supporting the Resolution of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches because I am one, I believe, of a very large number of noble Lords on this side of the House who have for many years past, or for a good many years past at all events, been convinced that a moderate reform of this House was an essential to enable us to retain in the country the full respect of the electorate and to act as that strong and efficient Chamber, a faith in which your Lordships pledged yourselves to unanimously under the second Resolution that was passed yesterday.
In common with a very large body of opinion throughout the country, I am convinced that in order for this House to remain strong and efficient two things are necessary—first, that an element of further strength shall be added; and, secondly, that an element of existing weakness shall be removed. The best, and, indeed, I venture to think the only, way of securing further strength to this Assembly is to add life Peers in large and considerable numbers 460 to the existing hereditary element. I put on one side the suggestion that county councils should be entitled to elect Peers to this House, for I think that if there is one matter on which people who have been engaged in connection with county councils on either side of politics throughout this country for the past twenty years have been more united than another, it is that politics ought not to enter into the qualifications of those who are elected to the county councils or into the business of the county councils. In the county council on which I have sat for years past the one point on which we have all been agreed is that whatever candidates come forward for the county council they shall bar politics, and I think that is the case with the majority of county councils throughout the country. As to elections ad hoc throughout the country for securing the election of Peers to be added to this House, I think it has been abundantly shown that there are too many elections taking place already, and that, to use a common expression, the country is rather fed up with elections. I dismiss altogether, therefore, in considering the best way of reforming your Lordships' House, any system of election by county councils or of election ad hoc of Lords of Parliament.
The only remaining means, it appears to me, of giving additional strength to your Lordships' House is to allow a considerable number of life Peers to be added. The existing source of weakness in our House I think we are nearly all agreed consists in a number of Peers retaining their powers of legislation although they are unable or unwilling, except on very rare occasions, to come here and vote. Could there have been a more striking proof of that, if proof were needed, than yesterday, when only 187 Peers attended, or at all events took part in the Division? It was, I know, a Division on a minor issue, and a Division that may not have been expected by noble Lords who are present here to-day. But I am not sure that there are more than 187 Peers present in the House to-day. At all events, it was within the knowledge of every member of your Lordships' House, even those who inhabit the deepest and the darkest recesses of those backwoods which are supposed to be the places where so many noble Lords dwell, that Resolutions of the utmost importance were going to be brought up for consideration yesterday. Yet, as I say, only 187 Peers attended.
§ LORD HYLTON
That strengthens my case. It appears that there were only 167, I thought the number was 187. I would not be so impertinent as to criticise the reasons why so few noble Lords were present, but I repeat that in the country it will be regarded as showing a considerable want of appreciation on the part of many noble Lords of their duties in this House when on so important an occasion only something between a quarter and a third of the members of the House attended. Excluding the noble Lords on the two Front Benches, I do not think there were more than a quarter of the members occupying hereditary seats in this House present yesterday. It may be—I daresay it will be—argued that when a general revision of the constitution of this House takes place, such a revision as will be implied by a Bill based on the Resolutions of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, the constitution of the House of Commons should not be exempt from the general stocktaking, as it were, of the Constitution; and I am not at all sure that I for one do not think that a revision of the constitution of the House of Commons should proceed pari passu with the revision of the constitution of this House.
We know, for the noble Earl the Leader of the House has told us, that unfortunately there is a state of war between the two Houses. The two Houses have come, into collision. The blame is put on the House of Lords. I will not venture to quote to your Lordships so old and trite a fable as that of the wolf accusing the lamb of muddying the waters when the lamb was drinking below where the wolf was drinking, but I think it is a parable that is rather applicable in regard to the accusations that have been hurled against us that we are alone responsible for the state of war and collision that has occurred between the two Houses. I should not dream of voting for the Resolution of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches if I thought that the continuity of the hereditary principle in this House was to be thereby abandoned; but I do not understand that the third Resolution which we are now discussing abandons that principle at all. As I understand, the rights of hereditary Peers in this House will probably be restricted by legislation based on these Resolutions to a representation among their own members—that is to say, they will not all in future have the right of direct representation.
462 On this side of the House we were certainly afforded a great treat yesterday when noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite twitted the noble Earl on the Cross Benches with the ambiguity of his Resolutions. The ambiguity of the noble Earl's Resolutions compared with the ambiguity of the Government's proposals—I am not alluding to the Campbell-Bannerman Resolutions but to the reforms that are some day to be proposed to us by His Majesty's Government—is as light to darkness, and I am sure that many noble Lords on this side of the House when they heard noble Lords on the Front Government Bench twit the noble Earl on that subject thought of Satan reproving sin. I owe my seat in this House to the operation of the hereditary principle, and I am no opponent of the hereditary principle. And this I should like to say in favour of the preservation of the hereditary principle, restricted as the noble Earl on the Cross Benches proposes, as I understand, it should be restricted. I think I am justified in saying that nearly every noble Lord, either on these Benches or on the Benches opposite, who owes his seat to the operation of the hereditary principle has been brought up and trained to consider the exercise of that right, not as a personal privilege, but as a trust, in the same way as heirs to large landed estates in this country have been brought up and trained to consider that the possession of those estates, should they ever succeed to them, is to be regarded as a trust and not as a personal privilege; and I do not believe that the people of this country have considered, or consider now, that the way in which those estates have been administered or the way in which the hereditary votes have been exercised in this House has shown that the holders of those rights and those estates have exercised them in a manner unworthy of the way in which they have been trained and brought up to exercise them.
But, my Lords, what is the existing state of things? The constitution of your Lordships' House is a structure of the thirteenth century, or at all events of a very early and remote period. Are we in the twentieth century—I do not want to introduce politics into this question and therefore I will not say whether we are Liberals or whether we are Conservatives—are we Peers of the United Kingdom to say that a structure that dates from the thirteenth century is incapable of improvement in the twentieth? I believe that it is foolish to say that such a 463 structure, dating from such remote times, is incapable of improvement at the present time. I shall vote for the Resolution of the noble Earl because I believe that reforms based on that Resolution will be conservative reforms in the best sense of the word, and because I am willing and anxious to co-operate in remedying the defects and the failings of a very ancient structure, and to sweep away the cobwebs that have accumulated through all these centuries.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, the speech to which we have just listened is the strangest confession of faith on which to found a vote in favour of the Resolution I have ever heard. The noble Lord has given us a very favourable account of the mode in which the privileges of this House have been exercised and the spirit in which people have been educated in order to exercise them. The noble Lord has professed a belief in the hereditary principle and yet he concluded by saying that he was going to vote for a Resolution which, to my mind, condemns the hereditary system, though I am aware that it does not in actual words say so. I have asked more than once, when we have been discussing these questions, what is to be substituted for that which is, in itself, the most inoffensive, and, according to very high authorities, the most enduring system you could have. This is no new system. The Throne is hereditary, the succession to landed estates is hereditary, and in various forms and in various parts of the world that system is known and understood.
I have said before, Is it not practical wisdom to know what is going to be substituted for it? No one has ever yet suggested what is to be done with what are called the undesirables. I do not believe in the existence of the undesirables in the sense in which, through the election, that word has been used. Bankrupts and lunatics form, apparently, the majority of this House according to statements made in various election speeches. That is a statement which, I suppose, the House will hardly acquiesce in, but allow me to say, as a matter of law, that bankrupts are excluded from this House. Over and over again I have heard in election speeches the loose general statements that are so easily made—that they are all bankrupts and that there is also a certain number of lunatics in this House, but I pledge myself to the fact that bankrupts and lunatics are both of them incapable of exercising a vote in this House. 464 I am afraid you can never extinguish an absolute mis-statement once it has been allowed to run riot, as it has all through the election, but I desire to emphasise this, because it has been made use of very frequently in different parts of the country.
Getting rid of that particular allegation, I want to know what is the meaning of the sort of phrases we hear. The truth is that in these times we live upon caricatures and slang phrases. What is the meaning of "Wild men?" Does it mean everybody who is not diligent in attendance, and that these persons ought to be excluded? I want to know, before we rashly, as I think, undertake this crusade against our own House, what is to be done, what is to be put in its place. I can well understand that we might arrange that, if a man did not attend for so many years or months, or what not, he should not be entitled to vote, though I doubt very much whether we would have any legal right to enforce that Resolution if we did. But, be that as it may, that is not what we are dealing with now.
We are dealing with the reconstitution of this House and with the reconstitution of the country, for I presume it will be admitted that the House of Lords is an integral part of the Constitution—indeed, one of the Resolutions which the noble Earl has moved affirms that very clearly. Then why is the House of Lords to be seized upon as that part of the Constitution which is to be amended, and, if amended, in what respect is it to be amended? There are too many people in it—that is the only allegation I have heard agreed upon by those who are attacking it. Is not that true of the House of Commons? Does any one say that the present number in the House of Commons is not more than they can reasonably do business with? And if that is a reason for diminishing the numbers in this House, why is it not a reason for diminishing the numbers in the House of Commons? Has the noble Lord who spoke last ever even looked at the Division Lists of the House of Commons and observed how many of the large numbers in that House fail to take part in Divisions? I think that if the noble Lord did so he would find that the proportion who take part in Divisions in the House of Lords is not so very unreal in comparison with the other House of Parliament. But that is part of the attack on this House.
I must appeal to the noble Earl who initiated the discussion as to whether his 465 impression of the House of Lords and of the necessity for the revision of its constitution remains the same now as it was when he addressed his fellow-countrymen at Bradford on October 27, 1894. I am bound to say that that address was of a most bellicose character. The Ironsides were appealed to as parallels, and the noble Earl's statement then was that, in his view, it was the paramount duty of the Government to proceed to put down the House of Lords; and, although I quite admit that the noble Earl then said, as he said the other night, that he was not in favour of a Single Chamber, yet his denunciations of the House of Lords left very little to be desired by a person who wished to destroy it altogether, if his allegations against the House of Lords were true. All I can say upon that is that I had the pleasure of hearing the noble Earl the other night at the banquet to Mr. Harold Cox, and he then described what seemed to me a model Chamber. It was the only place in this country where free speech obtained and where unpalatable truths could be spoken, and the noble Earl went on to say it was a most remarkable state of things that that should be the only place where these attributes obtained. It is natural to inquire, if that is an accurate description of the House of Lords, what do you want to alter it for, what has it done wrong? This debate is not really concerned with the constitution and powers of the House. It is an electioneering debate. I suppose it is intended to get rid of something that has been said against the House of Lords. But, surely, no one who had really at heart the question of the constitution of the House would begin with preliminary Resolutions. If you want to amend the constitution of the House, or supply a new one, why fetter your hands by preliminary Resolutions? I confess I am in despair when I look around and see that unexplained phrases are put forward to take the place of deliberate and considered intentions. I do not say, and I have never said, that the House of Lords is not susceptible of improvement. It would be rash to say that of any human institution. But I ask again what has the House of Lords done that its present constitution should be altered. No doubt noble Lords on the Ministerial Bench would say it was because this House had upset the financial arrangements of the country. But if the Budget of last year had but followed the ordinary course of all Budgets there would have been no difficulty about passing it. Had not the authors of the Budget proclaimed that by it a new era 466 of legislation was being inaugurated? Can it be said then, that the Second Chamber is not entitled to consider whether the question of beginning a new era of legislation under the guise of the Budget should not, as a matter of prudence and equity, be submitted to the people?
I also desire to ask—How are you going to arrange the method by which the chosen hereditary Peers would take their seats in the House under the new arrangement? I have never been able to get any one to tell me that. Are you going to institute a system of entrance examination? In some of the United Stales of America no man is allowed to vote unless he can read and write, do the rule of three, and give a short account of the American Constitution. Are you going to adopt such a system? It is suggested that the Peers should elect representatives from among themselves, like the Scottish and Irish Peerages. But the Scottish and Irish systems were initiated at the unions of the Legislatures of these countries with the English Parliament, when it became necessary to limit by selection the number of Irish and Scottish Peers to sit in the United Parliaments. I therefore think that no analogy is afforded by the Scottish and Irish cases. The system of selection under the new arrangement should be made clear. Vague phrases about "improving" and "reforming" will not suffice. I submit that until we have a complete system before us we have no right to decide to take people's rights away. We have a House in which freedom of speech exists and the rights of property are respected, and it would be a serious experiment to destroy that House and then trust to being able to supply something better in its room.
§ EARL BATHURST
My Lords, I rise to express the opinions of one who sits on the Back Benches of your Lordships' House. I fear that I must ask your indulgence because I have no way of wrapping up my words in pretty phrases, or putting my opinions diplomatically. I can only tell you the view of one who lives in the backwoods but who holds very strong opinions on this subject. I am afraid I must disagree with what many noble Lords have said during this debate. I cannot help thinking that when noble Lords express a desire for the reform of this House they feel very differently in their inmost hearts. It seemed to me when this debate started that 467 these proposals were the most far-reaching and the most revolutionary that had been put before the House for many a long day. There is evidently a certain feeling now among noble Lords that this is rather an academic debate—that real business is not meant. I have heard that it is merely brought forward for some tactical reasons.
What are the reasons for this great cry for the reform of the House of Lords? I cannot help thinking that it originated with the Socialists, who are strongly opposed to this House. Then the Irish joined in the cry. They have taken up the question of the Veto, for the reason that so long as the power of this House exists there is no possibility of Home Rule for Ireland. In this connection I should like to quote what was said only two nights ago by Mr. Redmond—This question of the Veto is the supreme issue. For us it means Home Rule for Ireland. To it we are willing to subordinate everything, any number of Budgets, any conceivable issue that can be raised, and our interest is to see that the struggle for the settlement of the Veto question is conducted on lines of courage and determination.Further on in his speech he offered terms for the settlement of the Budget. My Lords, it strikes me that had it not been for the action of the House of Lords in referring the Budget to the people, Ireland would have been suffering at the present time from those proposals which have been criticised so strongly.
When the Irish also took up the cry of the Veto, the Radical Government saw at once their chance of making a political gain of this, and that is the way in which the matter has advanced and been put before the country. The Welsh also know that so long as the House of Lords exists they will never see the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales. Then when this great cry was started it occurred to politicians on this side of the House to start something as a counter-stroke to that policy, and at once everybody began to talk on this subject, and every paper began to write on the question of the reform of this House. The effect of advertising is well known. If a particular kind of soap or hair-dye is but advertised enough, the whole country will come to the conclusion that the particular soap or hair-dye is the very best. I contend that this cry for the reform of the House of Lords is only a well-advertised cry. Everybody has been reading or writing about it, and they believe now that it must be necessary. The result is the Resolutions which have been brought 468 before your Lordships' House by the noble Earl who sits on the Cross Benches.
Is it a very sound position for us to take up to say that we do not in our heart of hearts believe that reform is necessary, but that because the Government have taken up the cry of the Veto, and because unscrupulous agitators have brought it forward, we think the best means of retaining our powers is to offer to reform ourselves on democratic lines? It seems to me my Lords,—and this has been pointed out during the debate—that if we reform ourselves on those lines this House will be much stronger than it is to-day. That is not what we want. I contend that this House suits the state of our politics better than any manufactured House possibly could. There is more elasticity in it, and in former days it has always passed those measures which the country really wanted. Moreover, even if we do manufacture a stronger House it will not satisfy anybody. There will still be that cry from the Irish, from the Radical Party, and from the Socialists. They will not be satisfied until they have brought in their Veto proposals, and until they have reformed the House on their own lines. My Lords, it will be a bad day when somebody else brings in reforms of this House instead of ourselves.
My chief objection to the reform of this House is that it is tampering with the Constitution, and if we once admit that it is possible to tamper with our Constitution we do not know where it will stop. If we manufacture a strong House now it will be a precedent for others at some future date to reform it again, until our power and our prestige will have gone for ever. The greater number of the speeches which we have heard from noble Lords are to the effect that we must reform this House. I wish most strongly to protest against that. I believe also that this cry for reform comes from those members of the other House who are afraid that when they go back to their constituencies they will lose a certain number of votes, especially in the North of England and in Scotland. In Scotland they have this elective principle already. The Peers of Scotland are elected by their fellow Peers, and there is great dissatisfaction in Scotland from this elective principle. On no grounds whatever can I bring myself to vote for this Resolution.
Before I sit down I would beg the House to consider the important changes which 469 this Resolution may involve another day. I would ask those noble Lords who sit on the Back Benches—descendants of noble Lords who have in former days occupied great positions in the State—to reflect what they would say if their forefathers had lightly sold their birthright and disabled them from sitting and voting in the House to-day. I ask those noble Lords who sit on the Front Benches what will their children say of them if they lightly give away their inheritance? I would ask all noble Lords, before voting for this Resolution, to beware lest they take an action which may call upon them the bitter reproof of their descendants of the third and fourth generations for giving away so lightly that which their forefathers had so hardly won. I shall certainly vote against the Resolution.
§ THE EARL OF GALLOWAY
My Lords, although I am a pretty constant attendant in this House it is rarely that I address your Lordships, but I should like to do so on this occasion. The Resolution before us is, I fear, one of the most drastic ever submitted to this House, and if it is carried in its integrity most of us will probably turn round to the noble Earl on the Cross Benches and say, in the famous words of the Gladiator, Ave, Cœsar, morituri te salutant. Few of us will feel inclined to do this although we may admit that some reform of this House may be beneficial. We have heard that the size of the House is getting unwieldy, but the reason is very palpable. It is due to the leaders on both sides constantly adding to the number by introducing, with the consent of the Crown, many of those who have supported their political policy, and the present Government are the worst offenders in that respect, and consequently the Resolution of the noble Earl can have but a very transient effect in diminishing the numbers. I think, however, most of your Lordships will agree with the moderate proposals of the veteran Earl, Lord Wemyss, whose long experience in both Houses of Parliament is known to everybody. My Lords, the question of absentees may be dealt with when considering the reform of this House. There are those who will not, or cannot on account of ill-health or other causes, take part in the debates. I think this House would not be unreasonable in expecting that in a future Parliament those noble Lords should not occupy the position they do now. 470 Then, again, your Lordships may welcome the idea that the Leaders of both Parties should try to obtain from their Sovereign a promise as to future life Peerages as against hereditary ones—that they may be more numerous. The reward given for political services is the cause of the enlargement of this House, but the revolutionary and unconstitutional character of recent legislation has had the effect of bringing the two sides of the House into such a position that on one side you will see perhaps 150 votes recorded, and on the other side only thirty. This Resolution, if carried, will, I think, be a recommendation to exclude certain members from this House, a proposal which I understand was made almost unanimously—the only exception being the noble and learned Earl, Lord Halsbury—by the Select Committee. Several noble Lords objected to Lord Killanin's Amendment, that the Resolution should only be carried out in the case of future accessions to the Peerage, and indeed the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, advised him to withdraw it on the ground that, if it were passed, the action of your Lordships' House would be misunderstood in the country. Does it not occur to the members of the Select Committee that their own position is absolutely analogous? The Resolution would not affect them personally although they unanimously voted for it. They recommend your Lordships to declare that for the future an hereditary Peerage shall not necessarily carry a seat in this House as a Lord of Parliament, but they declare at the same time that it shall not affect their own personal position as such. I would point out to your Lordships the absurdity of such a recommendation. Possibly many of them would be elected if their fellow Peers thought it would be an advantage to the House to do so. Surely you must know many cases, however, within your own personal knowledge where, for political reasons, offices have been given to those who have been universally considered failures. Indeed, in many cases they have been raised to your Lordships' House or given high appointments under the Crown because they were failures. If you are going at all to abolish the hereditary principle it stands to reason that it should be done universally—that is to say, everyone must be placed in the same position; you must do it without favour or affection, or you will be committing an act of gross injustice. Many of these exceptionally favoured 471 individuals would never have had a chance of distinguishing themselves by holding office but for their original positions as eldest sons. Again, there are plenty of hereditary Peers who have not risen to high rank in the Services and yet have done good service to the State both in peace and war, as well as in their several districts where they are always recognised as men who have tried to do their duty to their King and country, and yet none of them have received the well-paid rewards for political Party services.
The more you examine into the question the more I am sure you will see the un-wisdom of the action proposed. I will not detain the House longer, except to point out that your Lordships have been recognised throughout the country as a territorial influence, and this is one of the points which does not seem to have been very much borne in mind in the course of this debate. A man possessed of a large income in Funds or Stocks can any day leave the country and spend his money elsewhere, but a man who holds a large territorial position must stay here. The whole of his income comes from the land. He is obliged to do his duty by that land, and he does it. I am quite certain of this, that everybody will agree that the landlords of this country deserve well of their country. Go down to their districts and find out what is thought of them there. It is not there that the House of Lords is looked upon as an evil. It is in the great towns, where the people do not see them. All I can say is this, that the people wish noble Lords who have seats in this House to move amongst them and to be at the head of every movement, and I feel certain that a great many of those whose absence from this House we deplore are kept away by the duties which they carry out so faithfully in those parts of the country where they live.
§ THE EARL OF CRANBROOK
My Lords, I did not intend to take any part in this debate, but I cannot help thinking that even in passing this Resolution, which seems to be necessary in any reform, we seem to be putting the cart before the horse. It seems that we have been discussing the necessity of reform of this House without deciding beforehand the question upon which the necessary amount of reform will depend. It appears to me that the question of deciding in our own minds and in the minds of the country what is to be the ultimate machinery for settling differ- 472 ences between the two Houses of Parliament is an essential preliminary to any proper reform of this House. There have been published to-day the proposals of the Government for that purpose. I need hardly say, my Lords, that those are not proposals to which we should for one moment submit. They may be forced upon us hereafter, but they are not the kind of proposals which this House with any sense of dignity or of its responsibility to the country could accept. If we could abandon in this House the right of rejecting Bills of first importance, and if we could have the power of referring such Bills to the unbiassed judgment of the people of the country by way of referendum, I should think we might in that way provide a system under which the old Constitution of the country might go on for many a long year to come, and in that case the reform needed by this House would be very small. While I quite agree that we ought to diminish the numbers of this House, it is useless if the Government continue to reward their supporters and people whom they wish to get out of the House of Commons by giving them seats in this House. If we could get that diminution I think there would be a very hopeful outlook for the future. As far as I know, there are only two other systems which might be tried. You might, as has been suggested, diminish the numbers of this House so greatly that the two Houses might meet in one Chamber and vote upon a question. That is not an amendment of the Constitution to which I should be willing to submit, for I believe it would be practically putting an end to the powers of this House and merely making a fictitious arrangement intended to perpetuate the power of the House of Commons. You may, on the other hand—and there is some little hope for that in the proposals of the Government—reduce the length of Parliaments, and restrict the power of this House to reject Bills to one Parliament. You may in that way, I believe, make a compromise which might be satisfactory to the people and honourable to this House. I firmly believe, while I am going to support the noble Earl's Resolution because I think it is an essential preliminary to any reform, that it is foolish of us to proceed to any reform of this House until we have settled what is to be the mode of adjusting differences with the House of Commons after that reform has taken place.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
My Lords, I would ask leave to detain you for a few moments while I make one or two observations on the Resolution now before us. It appears to me, and I think I shall be echoing what is the feeling of every member of this House, that in considering the reform of your Lordships' House we should be very careful about adopting principles which are dangerous in themselves and incompatible with the whole history of the House in the past. I think, therefore, that any reform which is to strengthen your Lordships' House must be a reform which does not impair that sense of continuity which binds your Lordships' House of to-day to your Lordships' House of the past. It seems to me that a reform which enables the King to summon to the House of Lords for any Parliament such persons as he thinks likely to promote the welfare of the Empire would be quite in accordance with the original principles on which the House of Lords exists. It is true that a Writ of Summons to the House of Lords once granted has been held to be hereditary, but I imagine that that hereditary right is due to the feudal system rather than inherent in the original constitution of the House. It can hardly be denied that there are many persons outside your Lordships' House who for various reasons would be the kind of persons the King would have originally wished to summon to his Councils, and that there are members of your Lordships' House who perhaps not very perfectly fulfil the conditions which, would have originally led to their being summoned. There are two other matters which I think ought to be considered. Your Lordships' House represents the Lords spiritual and temporal, and I cannot think that any reform of this House which destroyed that character could possibly be a reform which did not destroy our continuity with the past. And I think also, to go back for one moment to the hereditary principle, that though the hereditary principle may not be, strictly speaking, as I think the noble Earl on the Cross Benches mentioned when he introduced the Resolution, an inherent part of the constitution of the House, it has been so long connected in popular estimation with the House of Lords that to sacrifice the hereditary principle or to destroy it would be a fatal mistake; and were it so destroyed nobody in the country would look upon this House as anything but a brand new body 474 created ad hoc, and not the old House of Lords.
To apply these preliminary remarks to the present Resolution, it seems to me that your Lordships, by election amongst yourselves, could very well limit the number of hereditary Peers so as to make room for a greater number of life Peers summoned by the King, and that you could take effectual steps to exclude from this House Peers who, for whatever reason, ought not to have a vote. Your Lordships might also suggest the sort of persons who, as life Peers, would in your opinion add strength and weight to the councils of this House. These and such like things, if they are thought good, might be very well done in perfect harmony and consistency with the original character and constitution of this House. That would not, I think, in any sense be inconsistent. But—and this is the point I wish earnestly to impress upon your Lordships—if you gave assent to any principle of election from outside and endeavoured in that way to give this House a representative character, it appears to me it would be absolutely inconsistent with the existing constitution and the past history of this House. We are told that we ought to consider public opinion. Public opinion, however, is a shifting and changing thing, and I think we have first of all to consider whether public opinion is well-informed, and next whether in endeavouring to satisfy it we may not be endorsing principles which a little later will prove fatal to the maintenance of an Upper Chamber at all.
In this connection—and this is the last thing I have to say—may I insist that there cannot be a greater mistake than to speak as though the House of Commons were alone representative. The House of Lords is also representative. It is co-ordinate with the House of Commons as a factor in the representation of the people, and as such it has its own distinctive and invaluable function—the function of representing aspects of national life which are not represented, or are imperfectly represented, in the democratic House. Any attempt, then, to reform your Lordships' House ought to aim at enabling this House to discharge this function more perfectly, rather than to attempt to reform it upon a democratic basis, which can only make it either a formidable opponent of the House of Commons or a pale reflection of it. To adopt that principle is simply to play into the 475 hands of our opponents; and to accept principles which in the long run mean that you cannot be representative unless there is election from outside to put you in touch with public opinion, would deprive us of our power and would reduce this House to impotence.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, my rising has reference to the remark of the noble Lord who opened the debate this afternoon with regard to the poor attendance of Peers yesterday. I should like to say that when we left on Thursday in last week I fully understood that, very properly in my opinion, the consideration of this important Resolution would be postponed until after Easter, and that opinion, I believe, was held by a great many Peers in this House. Speaking for myself I went away to Scotland, and I quote myself as typical of a great number of Peers and of their actions. They have numerous duties to perform not only in this House but outside. Saturday I spent with the Yeomanry; on Monday I was engaged in county business; and these are duties which the Leader of the Opposition said accounted for the absence of a number of Peers from this House. We have numerous duties which call us away from Westminster. Not only on this but on every occasion Peers have their local duties to perform in various parts of the United Kingdom, and many of them are also engaged in military and naval services. Some have important posts abroad throughout the Empire; and I venture to say that any Peer who has had a seat in the House of Commons will frankly allow that in the matter of attendances the attendances in this House compare very favourably with those in the other House. On a big night in the House of Commons the House is crammed, but as soon as two or three important speakers have finished the attendance evaporates; and on the occasion of an important discussion on Indian matters or on the Estimates you will see the House with only a handful of members present. It is not fair that it should be bruited about that to consider this important topic yesterday there was not a proper attendance of Peers. I did not intend to make a speech on this occasion, but I am in hearty accord with what has just fallen from Lord Halifax. I think that we ought to proceed with great caution. I do not believe in surrendering a great principle. It seems to me the worst tactics in the world to give up a big position to the enemy and not think that he will not 476 afterwards also occupy the less important position. It is a matter of tactics. If the nation at large wishes to see elected members sitting alongside of us so as to bring us more in accord with popular feeling, it is for the nation itself to express that opinion. I hope that full support will be given on the lines laid before us by the noble Marquess the Leader of this side of the House.
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
My Lords, as one who took a somewhat active part in what was known as the "Peers' Campaign" prior to the General Election and met a good many audiences of various complexions I do not like to give an entirely silent vote on this important question. I merely wish to say that I cordially support the Resolutions which have been put forward by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches. While it is perfectly evident that a great deal of the opposition and the supposed indignation against the House of Lords is manufactured for Party purposes—deliberately manufactured by most unworthy and what I might call pestilential literature distributed in the great industrial districts where your Lordships are least known—yet there is no doubt a feeling of what I may call restiveness amongst those who constitute the great body of moderate and reasonable opinion in the country, who think that a change in the constitution of your Lordships' House is desirable. There is no getting away from that fact. And there is a great deal of restiveness not only amongst moderate opinion, but amongst our own supporters in the country. I feel certain, if we were to adopt the line suggested by some of your Lordships who have opposed all reform whatever, that one of these days, and before very long, we should bitterly regret it. I am perfectly well aware of the fact that no sort of reform will satisfy those supporters of His Majesty's Government who are desirous of reducing the proceedings of this House to an absolute farce—a farce such as is represented by the Government's Resolutions which have appeared in the Press to-day. I am also aware of the fact that nothing in the way of reform could satisfy that other body who wish to do away with anything in the shape of a House of Lords or a Second Chamber at all. But I do give my most cordial support to the Resolutions of the noble Earl because I believe they will have a very great effect upon that moderate and reasonable opinion of which there is such a very large force in the country, and which it is impossible for 477 us to ignore. The exact methods of effecting reform can be considered afterwards. The noble and learned Earl below me (Lord Halsbury) laughs. I know he considers that the whole matter hangs upon the details. At the same time I think there is no getting away from the fact, as was stated so well by the noble Lord behind me a few minutes ago, that the Resolutions of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches ought to be supported because they are an absolutely necessary preliminary to any reform which can be undertaken. Therefore I shall certainly support the Resolution, and I feel quite undeterred by the lurid prospect held out by the noble Lord behind me (Lord Bathurst) of our ghosts being cudgelled by an outraged posterity.
THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
My Lords, as this appears to be a day for those who sit on the Back Benches, I ask the indulgence of the Committee while I make a few remarks on the question now before us. I want to repudiate, to start with, the suggestion that the action that the House of Lords is preparing to take at this moment is due to what is to happen, or to what has happened in recent times. We must remember that in the minds of a great many of your Lordships the necessity for a reform of the House of Lords has been ever present. It has been in the mind of the noble Earl who sits on the cross Benches since 1884, and I think it is quite evident that we are not acting as a result of pressure which has been brought at the moment, but because we are convinced that for the good of the country something must be done to strengthen the House of Lords. Undoubtedly the idea of reform has been hastened by what has taken place in more immediate times. The result of our action upon the Budget has turned the attention of people in the country to the position and to the authority of the House of Lords, and therefore the moment has come to see whether something cannot be done. What is really wanted, in my opinion, is to strengthen the authority of this House in the minds of the country. Therefore if it is a question of reform or no reform, I am an unhesitating supporter of the reform of the House of Lords, and for three reasons. First, because we want to strengthen the authority we possess for the action that we may take; secondly, because this Chamber is really becoming too unwieldy; and, thirdly, because we 478 must, if possible, try and eliminate the too strong partisan element that has accrued in this Chamber. To-day we have before the Committee the question whether we shall surrender privileges which we have hitherto enjoyed. If it is a necessary preliminary to reform I will unhesitatingly support the noble Earl when he goes into the Division Lobby; and if hereafter we have to think out a scheme—the question is, I admit, bristling with difficulties—I hope ample time will be taken, and that nothing will be done in too hurried a manner. I am quite certain that we must for the good of the country surrender privileges which we have hitherto enjoyed; and nothing appealed to me more than the words of the noble Earl when he asked noble Lords to consider the good of the nation and the necessity of doing something to strengthen this House. I am not going to discuss whether the elective principle is necessary, or how far it is to be adopted. I am satisfied that we must abandon the hereditary principle. I will also say this before I sit down, that if we are not to have the elective principle—and I do not advocate it myself—I am very much in sympathy with what fell from the noble Marquess in his eloquent speech, namely, the possibility of finding some way of getting rid of the partisan element by a system of nomination.
My Lords, like my noble friend below me I feel that, having taken part in the debates in this House for many years it is impossible in this, the most momentous debate that has ever taken place during that period, to remain altogether silent. I am going to vote for the Resolution of the noble Earl. I will confine my remarks to giving my reasons for so doing, and I will not discuss or estimate what is to follow. I confess that I shall give my vote for the Resolution only after much mental anxiety and even now with very great apprehension. But before doing so, I think one is justified in acknowledging one's regret at taking a step which is to deprive one of a privilege which one has enjoyed for very many years, and a responsibility which one has regarded as a great honour and a great duty. And not only is it depriving one's self of that privilege; it is depriving those with whom one is allied and those who will come after of that privilege, perhaps for ever.
479 The expression "vested interest" was used by a noble Lord last right. I do not think that is a very happy expression. A more correct and happier description of the duty of a Peer would be that he was obeying the commands of his Sovereign. I had the honour recently of standing at the Table when a new Peer was taking the oath, and I listened with close attention to the words used in the Patent of Nobility. The words were that that noble Lord was commanded by the Sovereign to attend here for the purposes of legislation. It is his duty; there is no question of a vested interest. There is the command of the Sovereign that he should attend here. Therefore what we are asked to give up by this Resolution is not only that which appertains to ourselves and to those who come after us, but we are actually asked to take away something which has been hitherto the privilege of the Sovereign. In such circumstances I submit one may approach a Resolution of this kind with the gravest hesitation. But I have made up my mind to vote for the Resolution for several reasons.
In the first place, I feel that this House has grown numerically abnormally large. In the last one hundred years—a short space in the history of your Lordships' House—our numbers have nearly doubled. That, it seems to me, is too rapid an increase and has constituted a part of the present danger. If things were to go on as they are I do not know that that increase might not continue. Therefore I think the time has come when some effectual check is necessary upon an increase in the number of Peers. In the second place, I feel that I shall be echoing the feelings of the greater part of my neighbours. I do not profess to know the opinions of those outside my own immediate neighbourhood, but for thirty-eight years I hold that I have represented my neighbours in this House, not by election it is quite true. I know them intimately; they come to me on many matters, and I have always regarded it as a great honour to consider myself one of their members of Parliament, and I would relinquish that position with regret.
As regards numbers, I feel most strongly, more strongly than anything else, that the abnormal majority on this side of the House is a great danger to the State. It was not ever thus. In earlier days, 480 as was pointed out by the noble Duke, the Duke of Northumberland, the numbers on each side were fairly equal. As he said, it was the policy pursued by Mr. Gladstone which gradually brought over members from the other side to this side, and that movement was increased with dangerous rapidity by the introduction of the Home Rule Bill. To rectify the inequality is, of course, the great difficulty, but it has to be done. The perplexity which marks the replies of every noble Lord whom I have questioned on the subject does not lead me to hope that anything practical can be done at very short notice, and I sincerely hope that a change will not be made at short notice. We have taken many centuries to build up the constitution of this House, and it is not to be expected that in one short session we are going to adapt to an old building of this kind something that will be both architecturally pleasing to the eye and at the same time useful for habitation within. For these three reasons, which seem to me very important reasons, I have made up my mind to vote for the noble Earl's third Resolution. At the same time I honestly confess I do so with considerable apprehension, and only because I feel that there is less danger in voting for this Resolution, which deprives us and those who come after us of certain privileges, than in leaving things as they are.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, I cannot help thinking that there is a good deal of misunderstanding in the minds of those who are opposing this Resolution. In two or three of the speeches it has been described as the most drastic proposal that has ever been laid before this House, as a proposal revolutionary in character, and I think a noble Lord below me said that it amounted to a confession of our own un-worthiness; and then the noble Lord who has just spoken, although he is going to vote for the Resolution, tells us that he will do so with the greatest possible apprehension. I deny the accuracy of the descriptions which have been given of the nature of the Resolution, and I say most emphatically that it contains no condemnation of the hereditary principle, and that it is an absolutely necessary and indispensable preliminary to any change in the composition of this House. The noble and learned Earl on the Front Opposition Bench tells us that until a complete scheme of reform has been laid before this House it is unfair to ask your 481 Lordships to pass such a Resolution. That attitude was like that of one who refused to go into Committee until he knew all the details which might be submitted to the Committee. Whether the scheme of reform hereafter to be proposed be good or bad, it surely is quite impossible to reduce the number of members or to prevent an undue increase in the future unless this House is prepared to consider some modification of the hereditary principle.
I am no critic of the hereditary principle. I am prepared to defend the contention that it is much better to breed members for the Second Chamber titan to elect them by ballot; but your Lordships are not called upon to defend the hereditary principle at this moment because there is no condemnation of the hereditary principle in this Resolution. I doubt if the title by which noble Lords sit and vote in this House is sufficiently realised. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, has just reminded the House that that title is based on a Writ of Summons from the Crown. True the distinction of our ancestors and accident of birth render us eligible to receive that Writ of Summons, but the title by which we sit and vote in this House is the possession and receipt of that Writ of Summons. There is nothing inconsistent with that in the proposed Resolution. Even supposing that the Resolution is accepted by the House, and the spirit of it subsequently guides legislation, the accident of birth to which I have referred will still make noble Lords eligible to sit and vote in this House. The only modification of it, perhaps, would be that the selection from those persons so eligible would proceed according to certain accepted principles. Surely it cannot be denied that the hereditary principle will be strengthened and that the title of every Lord of Parliament will be increased if, in addition to his birth, which has rendered him eligible for membership, he also sits and votes either on account of his services to the State or because he has been selected by his Peers. That, surely, would be no condemnation or weakening of the hereditary principle. Later on we shall come to discuss the suggestions—I have no doubt many will be made—as to the principles which shall govern that selection; but at the present moment all that this House is asked to do is to pass a Resolution signifying its willingness to agree that the possession of an hereditary Peerage shall not of itself and unaccompanied by any other consideration give 482 the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords. My Lords, that is not a tremendous revolutionary proposal. It is an indispensable preliminary to any reform, and no one can vote against this Resolution unless he is prepared to say, not only that there shall be no reduction in the number of members of this House at present, but that at no future time should any check be placed upon its unlimited increase. I hope, therefore, that the Resolution will be passed by an overwhelming majority.
My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships very long, but I would like, as one of those who sit here as an elected Peer from Ireland, to say a few words. I shall support very cordially the Resolution of the noble Earl. I believe it is suggested that our number, which is now twenty-eight, should be reduced. I am quite prepared as one of the number of Irish Peers to retire into the backwoods with several of my noble friends and to take my chance, but I do hope we shall have in the future, as we have had in the past, a representation of Irish Peers in this House. Situated as we are in Ireland, we require support in this House. We look forward to coming here and getting assistance from our own side, and I should regret very much indeed if our numbers were cut down to any great extent. Personally, like many noble Lords who have spoken to-night, I am very much in favour, and always have been, of a reformed House. I feel that our numbers have grown too large, and that the only way for us to deal with this matter is by the Resolutions which the noble Earl on the Cross Benches has put on the Paper. I do not think we are giving up anything, and if we are it is only fair and right that we should have the nation's interests at heart. Our object should be not to weaken this House but to strengthen it in every way we can, and to bring it, if possible, into closer touch with public opinion outside. I am not one of those who took any part during the late election on the hustings in my own country, although as it turns out the Budget proposals which your Lordships referred to the country are not very favourably entertained in Ireland. I daresay if one had gone out and spoken one would have received a very favourable reception at the hustings on those lines. I cannot help thinking that although the matter before the House is one of very great importance and one which appears to me to bristle with difficulties, a way will be found out of them 483 if we approach the question with due caution and not stand too much at the present moment on detail. I do not share the apprehension expressed by Lord Harris. I feel confident that the action which your Lordships will take will strengthen and perpetuate and popularise this House which we all honour so much, and which has been for so many years a help and guide to the nation.
THE DUKE OF NORFOLK
My Lords, one or two noble Lords in addressing the Committee have referred to the way in which they are going to vote. I do not know whether the noble Earl on the Cross Benches intends to divide on the subject, but I sincerely hope that course may not commend itself to him, because I cannot but feel that if he does divide he will be giving a somewhat fictitious importance to the special work we are engaged upon to-night. We have before us a task which will eventually require an Act of Parliament, and when we come to framing the clauses of that Bill we shall have to be careful as to what exact limits we commit ourselves in any direction. I venture to suggest that that is not what we are doing now. At present we are merely preparing by a series of Resolutions a platform on which we are going to build, as we trust, a lasting edifice. These Resolutions are only preparatory to the work we have to do. To attach importance to them now as if they had the binding influence of an Act of Parliament would be altogether misleading and fettering ourselves in a way which is most undesirable. We have been reminded that in the Peerage of Scotland and Ireland this condition of affairs exists, and the noble and learned Earl told us that it was because a compact had to be entered into and conditions had to be drawn up. But he did not say that on account of the contract and conditions in connection with those Peerages, the hereditary principle had been renounced. The noble and learned Earl also told us that a bankrupt Peer was unable to sit in this House. Therefore the actual possession of a Peerage does not, even now, of itself entitle anyone who holds it to sit in this House. I cannot but think that we are giving a strained and somewhat dangerous interpretation to the Resolution now before us. It is almost universally admitted, keenly as we may regret it, that it will be practically impossible to carry out a reform of this House which will enable all those Peers who now have seats in it to remain and 484 vote. In order to bring about any change which would meet that unfortunate necessity, we should approach the matter from the spirit of the third Resolution. I think it is only fair and right that before this House is invited to go into the discussion on this great problem it should be made clear that the probable result will be that we shall have to come to some self-denying ordinance. How far the exact limits of that sacrifice must go, what exact limitations it will be desirable to impose, and what safeguards an Act of Parliament must have in it in order to prevent a misinterpretation of what we are doing, are points which I submit are premature at the present moment. We are now merely passing the Resolution for our own guidance and suggesting the direction in which our work must progress; and it would be unfortunate if we gave the country the impression that we regarded the matter in so serious a light that we thought it necessary to divide upon the proposition. I believe there are a great many who sympathise with those who look upon this matter with apprehension and it would be painful to go into the Lobby against them; but as one who cannot share their fears, believing them to be strained and unnecessary, I shall certainly support the Resolution moved by the noble Earl.
§ LORD BOSTON
My Lords, I trust I may be pardoned for intruding in this debate for a few moments and thus breaking through the custom which obtains in this House that members who sit on the Back Benches should not on ordinary occasions unduly obtrude their opinions upon your Lordships. But as this is not an ordinary occasion, but one which specially affects the more humble members of this Assembly and upon which a free expression of opinion on their part seems desirable, I venture to ask your Lordships to bear with me for a few moments. A noble Lord who sits upon the opposite side of the House (Lord Willoughby de Broke) in the entertaining speech he made a few nights ago, stated that he addressed your Lordships as one of those members of this House now termed backwoodsmen. I do not think the noble Lord did himself justice in so labelling himself. But even it he can, by a stretch of the imagination, be described as dwelling in the outskirts of those sylvan shades, I can at any rate be said to hail from their innermost recesses, from a district the gloom and monotony of which is happily relieved by the existence in an extensive clearing of one of 485 the feudal residences of my noble friend the Minister for Agriculture. I sit here not by any merits of my own, but simply, as the phrase goes, as the son of my father. I am one of those hereditary Peers whose type is usually portrayed by our foremost political cartoonist as a decrepit and senile old gentleman seated with his feet in hot water or swathed in bandages and by his side a nauseous black draught labelled "Liberal Mixture," which a group of gentlemen is about to administer to him by force. This group usually consists of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Home Secretary, but to these I think must now be added the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition and the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, who has taken so prominent a part in brewing the mixture which the hereditary Peers are now called upon to take. I have sat in this Assembly for something like thirty years, having become a member of it without a chance of seeking a seat elsewhere, and I have taken part, I think, in nearly all the Divisions on matters of moment which have engaged the attention of the House during that long period, and have brought to bear upon those measures such limited intelligence as a backwoodsman and a hereditary Peer can be supposed to possess. I have endeavoured to perform the same operation in the case of the Resolutions now before the House, and have arrived at the conclusion that as a complete reform and reconstitution of this House appears to be generally desired in order to bring it into closer harmony with modern conditions and with the new ideas of thought and action which are springing up among the people, we hereditary Peers who have no particular public services to place to our credit must not allow any selfish considerations to stand in the way, but must be content to surrender our right to sit and vote here. Upon the further questions which will arise as to the best methods of creating a Second Chamber acceptable to the nation, I express no opinion. Neither do I express any opinion upon the somewhat drastic proposals of His Majesty's Government, which we have seen in this morning's papers, for limiting the powers of this House. No proposals beyond those of the noble Earl are now before the House, and when any further proposals are submitted they will, no doubt, be adequately discussed and criticised. My Lords, I would only express the hope, if I may do so without presumption, that if this House is to be reconstituted, whether by one Party 486 or the other, it will be placed upon a basis which will render it more sympathetic to the legitimate aspirations of the people, less dominated by an element drawn exclusively from the ranks of the wealthy and leisured classes, and lastly, less under the control of one political Party in the State.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My lords, I have already on one occasion at least made to the House my profession of faith with regard to this Resolution, and I have neither the right nor inclination to repeat that profession of faith this evening. But I want, if I may, before we go to a Division to say one word with regard to the scope of the Resolution itself. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lytton in thinking that there is a certain amount of misunderstanding with regard to the effect of the Resolution. We have already resolved that a strong and efficient Second Chamber can best be provided by the reform and reconstitution of the House of Lords, and we are now asked to go one step further and to say that it is a necessary preliminary to such a reform and reconstitution that the possession of a hereditary Peerage shall not of itself—and I lay great stress on those words—give a right to sit and vote in your Lordships' House. That Resolution has been represented as if it was equivalent to a repudiation of the hereditary principle. My Lords, I do not at all so read it. I will even go the length of saying that it would be possible for one of your Lordships to vote for this Resolution with the full intention of afterwards proposing that this House should consist entirely of hereditary Peers. All that we are really invited to do by this Resolution is to say that a hereditary Peerage by itself is not to give the title to sit and vote.
I ask your Lordships whether that proposition does not lie at the very threshold of this question. Whatever reform of the House of Lords we may have in contemplation, no matter how moderate that reform may be, it seems to me that the acceptance of this Resolution is a preliminary condition without which we cannot hope to obtain the desired result. Take two or three of the suggestions we have been discussing. Some of your Lordships think that it would be desirable to relieve a certain number of members of this House who may be unable or unwilling or unqualified to take part in our business of their functions as Peers of Parliament. How can 487 you do that unless by means of some such preliminary step as that which we are now asked to take? Take another kind of reform which, I think, received the general commendation of your Lordships. I mean the proposal that the numbers of this House should be reduced so as to render it less unwieldy in its dimensions than it is at present. How can you effect a change of that kind unless you harden your hearts at any rate to the extent of admitting that the possession of a hereditary Peerage shall not be sufficient to entitle the possessor to come down and take part in the work of this House? And the same, of course, is true when you come to other suggestions, such as those for taking steps to remove the regrettable disparity in numerical strength which now exists between the two political parties in this House. Therefore, my Lords, I for one regard this Resolution really as the gate, so to speak, through which we must pass before we can enter upon any of the roads along which we are asked to travel towards the goal of House of Lords reform. I must venture, therefore, to dissociate myself entirely from those who regard the Resolution as anything in the nature of a crusade against your Lordships' House. I think, on the contrary, it is the step most needful if we really intend to show by our action that we mean business, and that we are determined to deal seriously with the question of House of Lords' reform. For that reason, my Lords, I say again that I shall vote without a moment's hesitation with the noble Earl when the Resolution is put from the Chair.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (THE EARL OF CREWE)
My Lords, I rise merely to say that we desire to offer no opposition to this Motion. The noble Marquess stated, and stated, I think, with perfect truth, that the carrying of some Motion of this kind is a necessary preliminary to any reform or alteration of the constitution of your Lordships' House. Although, as the House is aware, we propose to adopt a different course, and to deal, first, with the relations between the two Houses, yet we have never set aside the question of the reform of the constitution of this House. Indeed, as your Lordships are well aware, we definitely contemplate undertaking, if circumstances make that possible, a scheme for the reconstitution of this House, and as the wording of the third Resolution is such as 488 to enlist the sympathies of those who desire merely to make the faintest alteration in the present constitution of the House, and also is compatible with the views of those whom the noble Marquess described as crusaders against the House of Lords, we have certainly no desire to oppose this third Resolution of my noble friend.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I do not desire to interpose for more than a moment in so extremely satisfactory a discussion as that to which we have listened. My noble friend opposite has just made the interesting announcement, of an academical character, that he and his colleagues do in time contemplate, have in definite contemplation—I am not quite sure of the words—the reform of this House. I think from what we have seen of the policy of the Government, as announced in this morning's papers, it will be wisdom on the part of this House to accept suggestions of reform rather from those who are friendly to it than from those who propose to proceed on the lines laid down in this morning's Press. My Lords, I was, I confess, a little depressed at one period of the discussion this evening, because it seemed to me to proceed very much in layers. There was no alternation of opinion, but a thick layer of opposition developed itself in successive speakers under the inspiration of the noble and learned Earl behind me, Lord Halsbury. I was gratified to find that that did not represent the overwhelming opinion, but that it was followed by an equally thick layer of Peers who were favourable to the proposition.
The noble and learned Earl behind me made, as he always does, a very interesting, a very vigorous, and a very humorous speech. He did not indeed quote the circular which he has sent round to the more promising members of your Lordships' House, among whom, I am sorry to say, he did not reckon me, calling them with the voice of a trumpet to oppose this Resolution. But there was one remark he made which I do think deserves particular notice, because I think it more derogatory to the character of this House than anything which has been said by its greatest enemies. He said that this was a rare piece of electioneering. For my part, I beg emphatically to deny that statement. If there is one person in this House who ought to be considered 489 innocent of any electioneering ambitions or devices it is the humble individual who now addresses you. But electioneering is a very wide phrase. I suppose that every measure that is introduced into either House of Parliament is, from some points of view, a measure of electioneering, because, I presume, no one wishes in this House, or in the other House either, to do that which is repugnant to the great mass of his fellow-countrymen. As I think Lord Denbigh said, many Peers going in and about the country during the recent crisis, having discovered that the process of reform undertaken by your Lordships yourselves as against the process of reform suggested from outside would be gratefully received by the country at large, have been stimulated to come and vote in this House for these three preliminary Resolutions.
There was another expression in the noble and learned Earl's speech which I thought also a little derogatory to the character of this House. He quoted me as saying that it was the one place in Great Britain where unpalatable truths might be uttered without interruption. I entirely maintain that statement, and, as the noble Marquess behind me, Lord Salisbury, said in his speech the other night, no one has tested that amiability and courtesy of your Lordships more than I have myself. But I would remind the noble and learned Earl that a legislative Chamber does not exist entirely for the utterance and acceptance of unpalatable truths. It has functions very considerably above and beyond those, and it is to the strengthening of the authority of the House of Lords in the exercise of those functions that I frankly and freely admit these Resolutions are aimed.
After this third Resolution is passed, as I sincerely hope it will be, if a Division is thought necessary, by an overwhelming majority, we have to look a little into the future. The noble and learned Earl asked more than once what was the plan that was to follow these Resolutions. I think that indicates a certain misapprehension of the proceedings to which I have pledged myself. Those who desire the reform of the House of Lords have distinctly avoided framing a definite Bill or a definite plan because that is not our purpose in the proceedings to which we are accessory. Our idea, at least if I interpret the mind of my friends 490 rightly, is this, that the House of Lords should, with great deliberation, I admit, but with deliberation, adopt and lay down certain broad principles on which this reform might well proceed. Beyond that, I have no idea whatever of inviting the support or the consent of your Lordships to any plan or scheme whatever. I think that to do that would be to go beyond the functions of an Opposition, much more beyond the functions of a Cross Bench, and that any definite and detailed scheme must come from a Government in power and not from any private member or even any leading Opposition member of this House. Therefore, what I should propose to your Lordships is that, after the Easter recess, we should take one or two or three or more Resolutions gradually and deliberately, that those should not indicate an exact framework for a new Second Chamber, a task from which I should recoil, but should simply lay down broad and general principles on which we think as a House of Lords that reform should proceed. I venture to express my firm belief that, if those principles, or anything like them, represent the general tendency of your Lordships' mind, they will act as a very agreeable and acceptable alternative in the minds of the great mass of the nation as compared with those that are produced in the newspapers this morning.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD LOREBURN)
My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will suffer me to say a very few words in regard to the statement, which is, I think, completely new, although I do not say it is inconsistent with his former declarations, that has fallen from the noble Earl. As regards what we have done, we have affirmed three propositions. I hope I shall not incur the displeasure of the noble Earl by saying that no one is committed to anything by any one of those propositions. There are three methods by which you can compose a Second Chamber—the hereditary, the nominative, and the elective. It is compatible with those three Resolutions that this Chamber should consist of all hereditary Peers, of all nominated Peers, or of all elected Peers, or in any of the numerous possible combinations between those three. There is no numerical parity, or disparity or proportion which is also not completely reconcilable with every one of those three propositions. Under these circumstances, 491 my Lords, I did venture to suggest at an earlier stage of the debate that it might be desirable to know a little more. I do not presume to pry into the secret wishes of the noble Earl, into, perhaps, his undeveloped and immature views of some of the details, but that we should know what on earth it is he really wants at the end of it all. I am glad to learn from the noble Earl that he proposes after Easter to bring forward Resolutions, and if we shall be able to know who will sit, or what class of persons will sit in the House under any scheme proceeding from those Resolutions, then I quite apprehend that we shall come to some effectual business conclusions. But at present, with all respect to the noble Earl, I really do think that what the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, said is perfectly true, that we ought not to attach a fictitious importance to the Resolutions we are asked to accept.
§ appeal to me on the ground that I said something just now which is totally inconsistent with what I previously stated.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
No, what I said was that I thought what the noble Earl said was new, although I did not think it was inconsistent with what he had said before.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
The noble and learned Lord will find the statement I refer to in the speech in which I introduced the Resolution.
§ On Question, 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?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 175; Not-contents, 17.493
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Leicester, E.||Ampthill, L.|
|Loreburn, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Lichfield, E.||Annaly, L.|
|Crewe, E. (L. Privy Seal.)||Lindsey, E.||Armitstead, L.|
|Liverpool, E.||Ashbourne, L.|
|Norfolk, D. (E. Marshal.)||Lucan, E.||Ashby St. Ledgers, L.|
|Argyll, D.||Lytton, E.||Atkinson, L.|
|Bedford, D.||Malmesbury, E.||Avebury, L.|
|Devonshire, D.||Mount Edgcumbe, E.||Barrymore, L.|
|Northumberland, D.||Munster, E.||Basing, L.|
|Rutland, D.||Northesk, E.||Belper, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Onslow, E.||Biddulph, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Blyth, L.|
|Camden, M.||Shaftesbury, E.||Blythswood, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Stradbroke, E.||Boston, L.|
|Linlithgow, M.||Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Bowes, L. (E. Strathmore and Kinghorn.)|
|Salisbury, M.||Waldegrave, E.||Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)|
|Albemarle, E.||Althorp, V. (L. Chamberlain.)||Burghclere, L.|
|Brownlow, E.||Churchill, V.||Burnham, L.|
|Camperdown, E.||Cobham, V.||Carew, L.|
|Carrington, E.||Falmouth, V.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)|
|Cawdor, E.||Halifax, V.|
|Chesterfield, E.||Hampden, V.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.|
|Chichester, E.||Hardinge, V.||Clinton, L.|
|Clarendon, E.||Hood, V.||Clonbrock, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Colebrooke, L.|
|Cromer, E.||Collins, L.|
|Dartrey, E.||Knutsford, V.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Morley of Blackburn, V.||Courtney of Penwith, L.|
|Derby, E.||Peel, V.||Curzon of Kedleston, L.|
|Devon, E.||Ridley, V.||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||St. Aldwyn, V. [Teller.]||De Mauley, L.|
|Templetown, V.||Denman, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Desborough, L.|
|Fitzwilliam, E.||Exeter, L. Bp.||Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.)|
|Fortescue, E.||Lichfield, L. Bp.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Guilford, E.||Winchester, L. Bp.||Faber, L.|
|Harewood, E.||Farrer, L.|
|Howe, E.||Abinger, L.||Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.)|
|Lauderdale, E.||Addington, L.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)|
|Glantawe, L.||Monson, L.||Sackville, L.|
|Gorell, L.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.||St. Levan, L.|
|Granard, L. (E. Granard.)||Monteagle of Brandon, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Gwydyr, L.||Newton, L.||Sanderson, L.|
|Hamilton of Dalzell, L.||Northcote, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Harris, L.||Nunburnholme, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Heneage, L.||O'Hagan, L.||Saye and Sele, L.|
|Hindlip, L.||Oranmore and Browne, L.||Seaton, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Penrhyn, L.||Shaw, L.|
|Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)||Pentland, L.||Shute, L. (V. Barrington.)|
|Kesteven, L.||Poltimore, L.||Silchester, L. (E. Longford.)|
|Kinnaird, L.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)||Somerhill, L. (M. Clanricarde.)|
|Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)||Ranfurly, L. (E. Ranfurly.)||Stanmore, L.|
|Lamington, L.||Rathmore, L.||Stuart of Castle Stuart, L.|
|Langford, L.||Rayleigh, L.||Sudeley, L. [(E. Moray.)|
|Lawrence, L.||Reay, L.||Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)|
|Leith of Fyvie, L.||Redesdale, L.||Tennyson, L.|
|Lovat, L.||Revelstoke, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Lucas, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.||Wandsworth, L.|
|MacDonnell, L.||Rosebery, L. (E. Rosebery.) [Teller.]||Wigan, L. (E. Crawford).|
|Manners, L.||Worlingham, L. (E. Gosford).|
|Marchamley, L.||Rothschild, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Bagot, L.||North, L.|
|Hertford, M||Byron, L.||Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)|
|Bathurst, E.||Killanin, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Leigh, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.) [Teller.]|
|Halsbury, E. [Teller.]||Mowbray, L.|
|Lovelace, E.||Muncaster, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative accordingly.
§ House resumed.494
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter-past Four o'clock.