§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
rose to move to resolve—That a contribution to Party funds should not be a consideration to a Minister when he recommends any name for an honour to His Majesty; that effectual measures should be taken in order to assure the nation that Governments, from whatever political Party they are drawn, will act according to this rule; and that this House requests the concurrence of the House of Commons in the foregoing Resolution.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, before I pass to the subject-matter of the Motion of which I have given notice, I wish to make certain preliminary observations. The Crown is the fount of all honour in this country, but the Crown bestows honours in two different ways. Sometimes the Sovereign acts on his own gracious motion, and at other times he acts on the advice of his Ministers. Nothing that I am going to say to-day refers to those honours which the Crown gives of its own grace. I refer only to those which it bestows on the advice of Ministers. Again, I must make a distinction in that case. There is a certain class of honours, perhaps the most important class, in respect of the gift of which and the selection for which I have never heard a word of adverse criticism. I mean those honours which are conferred on the Civil Service and on the Navy and Army. Those are always given for meritorious public service, often for very brilliant public service, and nothing that I am going to say to-day refers to that class of honours; though I must confess that I fear that, unless present tendencies receive a salutary check, the day will come when some one will offer to buy a Victoria Cross. It is quite incomprehensible, I agree, that any one should wish to possess a Cross so acquired, but then there is a great deal about this question that is incomprehensible. We all of us know the story of a very distinguished personage who used to delight to recount his exploits at the Battle of Waterloo, although he knew that every one to whom he spoke knew that he had never been there. I shall only treat of those honours which are given to the public at large on the advice of Ministers, and I mainly refer to those which are known as political honours.
§ There is a prevalent belief—I do not think that I should be guilty of exaggeration if I said a very widely prevalent belief—that persons are often recommended for these honours whom no one would have 253 thought of so recommending if they had not contributed largely to Party funds. That prevalent belief takes three forms, as I know, not only from the Press, but from a voluminous correspondence on this subject. It is believed that persons who have social ambition, or whose wives have social ambition, and who have really no claim at all to receive an honour, can purchase it if they go to the right place. Again, the belief takes this form, that there have been cases where social ambition has never entered into the soul of the innocent rich man, but where he has been tempted and where an honour has been actually hawked to him on condition that he would make this contribution. The third case is rather of a different kind, but still, I maintain, a great evil. It is the case of men who have really done public service, whom public opinion would be very content to see honoured, and who have had pressure—I would almost say brutal pressure—put upon them to make a contribution to Party funds which they did not wish, and in some cases could not afford, to make. If it were necessary, I could quote sheaves of cuttings from the public Press to prove the prevalence of this belief, and from newspapers covering the whole field of political opinion, from the Labour Leader to the Morning Post, and from the Nation to the Saturday Review, and last, but not least, we have the new publication, the Candid Witness, in which Mr. Gibson Bowles has dealt very fully with this question. And further, every playgoer knows that this matter of the sale of honours is now openly scoffed at in the theatre, and it has also even been thrown across the floor of the House of Commons as a taunt from one member to another.
§ I say at once that this prevalent belief applies to both political Parties, to both those great political Parties that have held office, and that the evil is a growth of our Party system and that both political Parties are responsible for it. Therefore, my Lords, I think you will see at once the point of view from which I am asking you to-day to approach this question. I will commence with the confession that if you asked me to prove in a Court of Law one single case I could not do it. Though I have been the recipient of numerous confidences, I could not prove one single case. Yet I am not ashamed to say here that I believe there are grounds for the 254 prevalence of this belief. Moreover, I fear that the evil is growing and that it will continue to grow unless checked by public opinion. I will give presently the reasons why I think the evil, unless checked, is bound to grow. I will first of all ask, Is it an evil? Certain of the most cynical among my friends shrug their shoulders and say it is not an evil, and that it is prudery or pedantry to make a fuss about it. But, my Lords, I should not have brought this matter before your Lordships if I did not believe it was an evil.
§ I think it is an evil with many sides to it, but the two on which I wish to lay stress are the injurious effects of this belief on the prestige of the Crown and on the standard of public morality. This is not the occasion to talk about loyalty, that feeling which defies analysis and yet is a force which actuates us throughout our lives. But, altogether apart from that, is it not true that thinking men of all Parties are feeling more and more the great value of the Monarchy as part of our Constitution? As we watch the working of other forms of government, in other countries, I think. we more and more congratulate ourselves that we possess a Constitutional Monarchy; and those who believe, as I do, that the Empire is a great force and an increasing power for human happiness and for the peace of the world, value the Monarchy, because we know that under no other system whatever could the Empire be held together. Therefore, an influence which injuriously affects the prestige of the Monarchy, of the Crown, must be a great public evil. Is it possible that this belief, that honours which proceed from the Crown can be acquired by wealth, by whomsoever owned or howsoever got, should be prevalent and the prestige of the Crown not be affected? I will not incur the wrath of the shade of Lord Macaulay by saying that "streams meander level to their fount"; but I do say it is natural for an ordinary man, when he sees the stream polluted, to think that there must be something wrong with the fount, whereas we know that in this case the fount is undefiled, and that the source of pollution is elsewhere.
§ What about the standard of public morality? Surely it does matter whether the hall-mark of honour is to be genius or noble life, or position, or public service, 255 or whether the hall-mark of honour is, as I have already said, to be simply wealth by whomsoever owned and howsoever got; and I do not think a less question is before your Lordships to-day. Therefore I say that it does affect the standard of public morality, because if the Crown selects men of genius, of noble life, and of great public service for honour, it must be a support to the standard of public duty throughout the nation; whereas, if the opposite is the case and honours are just as easily or more easily acquired by those who fulfil none of the qualifications I have enumerated but who have simply bought them, then, I say, the standard of public duty and the service which flows from the sense of duty is dangerously impaired. If you believe, as I do, that the system of honours if properly used is a good system and a valuable institution in the State, must it not be true that the value of honours will in time be fatally impaired if they can be bought? What possible object can a man of genius have in accepting an honour which a man who is not only not a man of genius, but who has no qualifications except wealth, shares equally with himself?
§ There are those, of course, who think that there should be no honours. There are countries in which in theory there are no titular distinctions, but I notice that in practice titular distinctions exist there in a large quantity, and I am prepared to argue that honours properly bestowed are a real incentive to public virtue and national service, and that they are in accordance with the good sense and the reason of most men. Surely it is a good thing when the King draws public attention to the self-sacrifice of some miner, or railwayman, or seaman, or soldier, and marks it publicly in the eyes of the whole nation; and I think every sensible man feels satisfaction and personal gratification when the King confers an honour on such men as the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Morley) or the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, or when he crowns the career of a man like Mr. Burt by promotion to the Privy Council. In order that I may avoid all misunderstanding, I want to explain to your Lordships the point of view from which I approach this question. I think it is quite reasonable that honours should be conferred on men of genius or of noble life or of position, or who have performed valuable public service, or who represent 256 families or houses that have done so, provided always that the private life of these men has been clean and honourable. My conception of public service, I admit, is a very wide one, and I think it ought to be a very wide one. In public service I include all service for the State, whether Imperial, or Parliamentary, or municipal, and, of course, I include Party service. I know there are people who say that Party service ought not to be included. I do not think they have thought out what the consequences of exclusion would be, because under our system a very large number of our most valuable public servants always have been and always will be Party men. Then, of course, I include eminence in commerce and manufacture; eminence in art, including, of course, the stage; eminence in literature, including, of course, journalism; eminence in science, and public benevolence and munificence. I do not mean for one moment that that list is exhaustive. I only put it before you as showing that my conception of public service is a very wide one, but always with the condition that the life of the man to be honoured must have been clean and honourable. The scandal —the grievous scandal, as I submit it to be—which is alleged, and which public opinion ought to kill, is that a man whom no one would think otherwise of recommending for an honour should be able to buy an honour just as he would a picture.
§ Let me pass to another aspect of this question. Just as there are those who say that there should not be honours, there are those who say that there should not be Party funds. That is a very big question on which I can only touch lightly to-day, but it is a very serious question, as I will show to your Lordships presently. I noticed that the Nation called this question of Party funds the Achilles heel of the Liberal Party. I think the simile rather a strange one. I should have thought that the deplorable militarism of Achilles would have made him an unsuitable prototype of the Liberal Party, and we who live in partibus infidelium are happy to think that we can see more vulnerable parts in that Party than merely the heel. But the simile of the Nation brought another to my mind. Would it not be true to say that this greed of all political Parties for money with which to run their political machinery is the clay foot of Democracy? Just think how mixed up this question is 257 with all we call popular movements. They cannot be worked by either Party without money and no Party can do without money and without titles. Look, my Lords, at the last instance, the Land Campaign, of which the Government have appointed Mr. George to be manager. That campaign consists in speeches and organisation, for both of which Mr. George is responsible. But in making his speeches a Duke is just as indispensable to Mr. George as a mother-in-law is to the editor of a half-penny comic paper.
§ I hope that noble Dukes in this House will forgive me when I say that they and Mr. George between them are becoming a bore, although Mr. George has done his best to be amusing by discarding fact for fiction. But the point is that just as fictitious proceedings attributed to those that are Dukes are the basis of Mr. George's speeches, so the actual contributions of those who want to be Dukes are the basis of his organisation—that is, of those who want to be Dukes or to put their feet on the rung of the social ladder. I am very glad that the noble Marquess opposite (Lord Lincolnshire) has just come into the House, because he is the patron saint of this organisation. Just think, my Lords, what it means. There was an inquiry, perfunctory and illusory, it is true, but it must have been a very costly inquiry, and now this programme is being preached all over the country by means of an immense organisation. Am I to be told that that organisation is financed by the mites of the Liberal widows, or by a sort of Peter's pence of the Liberal Party; or perhaps I ought to say Paul's pence, because the noble Viscount opposite will remember that one of his colleagues suggested to us the other day that the only person really worthy to be compared to Mr. George was St. Paul? No, my Lords, nobody will believe that this very costly and elaborate organisation is only financed by what I have called the mites of the Liberal widows. I have taken that illustration. The noble Marquess opposite, if he indulged in tu quogue, which he never does, might find an organisation belonging to my Party with which he could parallel it, but if he did so he would only be helping me to prove my point, and that is that one of the greatest evils and dangers of Democracy is that both political Parties are becoming absolutely dependent on enormous funds for their existence.258
§ Why do the Parties want money? And they want more and more every year as time goes on. It is because a very large proportion of the Democracy take no interest in politics, know nothing about politics, and would not take the trouble to vote unless a refusal to do so became more irksome than acquiescence in going to the poll. It is the necessity of endeavouring to educate this large part of the Democracy, however superficially, and above all of having such a machinery as will bring the last man to the poll, however unwilling he may be, which is forcing both political Parties to cry out more and more for money. And think, my Lords, of the incongruity of the position. Just at the very moment when those who pay most taxes have least political power, and when there is a real danger lest certain forms of property should be the subject of unjust legislation—just at that very moment wealth, as mere wealth, and without responsibility, has the most opportunity of illicit and secret influence. We are not the only country that has had this experience. We have the example and experience of other countries before us. There is a noble Lord, one of the most distinguished members of our House—I do not see him here to-day—who might be able to tell us that in other countries it has happened that those who have found the money for a Party have eventually also dictated its policy. Who can say there is no danger that the same sordid fate should not befall us? Men will dispute till the crack of doom as to the respective merits of different forms of government, but I say without hesitation, and I know not one of your Lordships will deny it, that the very worst fate that could befall a country is to be governed by an alliance of the caucus and the plutocrat. Remember, my Lords, the more the honours flowing from the Crown are depreciated the more influence you are throwing into the hands of what is known as the plutocracy. There is a danger—noble Lords opposite must know it as well as we, do—lest the real residuary legatee of that influence of which you are trying to deprive the hereditary Peerage should be not the people but the plutocracy.
§ Now the whole of this controversy centres round the Whips and the Whips' Office. Whips are not more depraved than other people. That would be a com- 259 plete misapprehension. How is it that they have got into this position? They have a very weary and thankless life, and they are being subjected ever more and more to claims from sections of their Party for money. Because the Party machinery is ever becoming more and more elaborate, the Whip is ever being asked for more and more money, and he becomes obsessed with the idea that the only thing that matters in this world and probably in the next is that his Party should remain in office. He begins to think that money is an essential condition to his Party remaining in office, and in the end—well, the end justifies the means, and, however scrupulous he may have been when he begins, he ends by thinking that the Party must have funds at all costs. He is very loyal to his chiefs. He tells them everything about the Party except about the Party funds, and his loyalty there is shown by telling them as little as possible. The Party chiefs are busy men, and they are careful students of the Book of Genesis, and they avoid the tree of knowledge of good and evil. My Lords, the position is really perfectly intolerable both for Whips and chiefs. I do not believe there are any men in England who would be more delighted if they could be freed from this curse of the Party system than would the Whips and their chiefs. But I very much doubt if they can free themselves. I doubt if this servitude imposed upon them by the Party system is one from which they can escape of their own action and their own desire. I believe it is public opinion and public opinion alone which can rescue them.
§ I want to guard carefully against an interpretation of the views that I put before you which might otherwise be made and which certainly does not represent my views. I want to guard against the supposition that I think that men who are otherwise properly and reasonably qualified to receive an honour should become disqualified because they have also contributed to Party funds. I think that would be most unreasonable, and I will give your Lordships an instance. I have been very careful not to introduce any personal element into this discussion, and the name I am going to mention now I name with respect and only as an illustration of my meaning. I will take the case of Sir John Brunner. There is a man who has done long and honourable service in the House 260 of Commons and who is the head of one of the greatest commercial enterprises in the country. It seems to me very reasonable that he should have been honoured by his Sovereign. But if there is any Party man in England it is Sir John Brunner, and although I have not the honour of being in his confidence, I feel perfectly certain that he has contributed liberally to Party funds. But how absurd it would be if because he had so contributed he should be disqualified for the honour he has otherwise deserved! My meaning is made so much plainer by that illustration that I think Sir John Brunner will pardon me for borrowing the use of his name. If you tell me that the line will often be very hard to draw I quite admit it. Not only do I agree that the line will often be hard to draw, but I think that many of us would differ in respect of individual cases that might be put before us. But I submit that it is quite useless to attempt definitions in a case like this, and that any tendency to pedantry in the matter would defeat the object which I have in view.
§ Surely this is the whole truth—that if public opinion is vigilant in the matter and sound in itself, Ministers of all Parties will conform to the standard demanded of them. And if it is true that this evil has been growing under our Party system, does no blame lie at the door of public opinion? I say, my Lords, that public opinion has been extremely lax in this matter, and that it is disquieting how little attention the Press has paid to it down to quite recent months, because it is of all things an evil in which the opinion of the public, as voiced by the Press, may have a most salutary effect. We are accused sometimes by other nations of hypocrisy. We deplore the forms of public corruption of which we have heard in other places. My Lords, is not this accusation a little true sometimes? Would it not have been better if we had attended to this beam in our own eye before we had deplored the mote in the eyes of other nations in the matter of public morals? That is really the object of my Motion to-night. I want to do what little I can to rouse public opinion to this evil of the sale of Party honours which I believe exists, and to the still greater evil—this greed of all Parties for money—which as I have said is one of the great dangers ahead of Democracy.261
§ I have proposed no remedies, and I have been deliberate in my determination not to propose any, because if I had offered a prescription for the disease the discussion would have ranged over the prescription and not over the disease. What I have desired has been to focus public attention on the disease; and for another reason, because no rule, no regulation, no law will be of any effect whatever in this matter if public opinion is not sound. If public opinion is sound and vigilant, then the remedy will be found quickly enough. But before I sit down I should like to say for myself that I believe we have in our Constitution machinery that may be of great service in this matter as in so many others, and that is the Privy Council. I believe that the Privy Council may be used to help us in this matter, and with that suggestion I ask your Lordships to affirm this Motion.
§ Moved to resolve, That a contribution to Party funds should not be a consideration to a Minister when he recommends any name for an honour to His Majesty; that effectual measures should be taken in order to assure the nation that Governments, from whatever political Party they are drawn, will act according to this rule; and that this House requests the concurrence of the House of Commons in the foregoing Resolution.—(The Earl of Selborne.)
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
had given notice to move, as an Amendment to the Motion, to leave out all the words after "That" in the first line, and to insert—in view of the persistent allegations implying that contributions to Party funds have been a consideration to Ministers when recommending names to His Majesty for honours, this House would welcome an assurance from His Majesty's Government that such allegations are untrue; and that in view of the actual or possible abuses of Party funds in regard to the manner in which they are employed as well as the manner in which they are said to be raised, this House urges upon His Majesty's Government the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire by what amendments of the Corrupt Practices Acts such abuses may most effectively be restrained.
§ The noble Lord said: I hope your Lordships will not think it in any way unfitting that on this particular subject a very recently created member of your Lordships' House should come forward at once to address you. The noble Earl has not described the malign influence of which he spoke as an invention of the present Government. He has described it as what 262 it is—something which has a long history behind it, and which almost unconsciously has been suffered to regain force in recent years. He has also made it perfectly clear to those who did not know it well beforehand that he has absolutely no partisan object in raising this question. He would be willing, I imagine, to take the position, not of censuring the existing Administration, but of raising a matter which requires attention; and he may he well assured that he has the sympathy of as many men in the Party opposed to him as he has, I am sure, on his own side.
There is only one observation of the noble Earl's to which I will refer. He confesses that he meets a good many people to whom this whole subject does not seem to matter. We have all of us, I suppose, come across that state of mind. There are, I believe, perfectly honourable gentlemen to whom this system seems something amusing, even picturesque, something which has a fine antiquarian flavour about it reminiscent of the eighteenth century. But I think that anybody who makes light of it is mistaken altogether. That is not at all the way in which the man in the street regards this thing. The ordinary honest Englishman hopes that, if he were to receive a chance of an honour which had been in fact bought, he would reject it as a dishonour. That is the unsophisticated view; and the prevalence and growth of the system to which the noble Earl has referred, should it proceed further, will be, I think one may seriously say, a thing which will expose the governing classes of this country to the contempt of the poorer people whom they govern.
In what I am going to say, therefore, I do not wish to make light of the secret influence to which the noble Earl referred. I desire, on the contrary, to point out how subtle the influence is, and how likely it is to survive the remedy which he prescribes. We may make, I think, a very good guess at what takes place in these matters. It is not that one supposes that Ministers put names before the Crown for false reasons, the real reason being that they know that their Party funds will benefit. That is unthinkable. The fact is, I imagine, that a Minister recommending a name for an honour is very often ignorant—a particularly cynical Minister would probably take care that he was always ignorant— 263 whether the good man whom he recommends has contributed to the Party funds or not. But here is the trouble. A Minister cannot always, cannot often, be aware of how it conies about that that good man's many virtues have been so prominently brought under his own notice. Therefore, as it seems to me, this Resolution might be passed, and every Minister who recommends the bestowal of an honour to the Crown might be able with truth to declare that he acted upon the principle of the Resolution; and nevertheless the system might still be going on, that cash was paid with the prospect that honours would result, or what is scarcely less offensive that honours might be bestowed and thereafter blackmail extorted with the allegation that it was a sort of customary fee. Therefore I think that the mere assertion of this principle in a Resolution does not carry us very far.
§ The noble Earl said that the expression of public opinion and the existence of a vigilant public opinion in this matter is the real remedy and a sufficient remedy, as I take it, for the evil which he believes to exist. But there is this further difficulty. It is very hard indeed—it would be impossible in many cases—for public opinion to draw a. line between proceedings which might be absolutely clean and proceedings which might be quite scandalous. I happen to speak on this question of Party funds with considerable detachment. My own relations to Party funds, I say plainly, are those of a beneficiary, not a benefactor. Large contributions to Party funds are quite out of the question for me or anybody connected with me, and I imagine that in that I am like many of my noble friends; but possibly I am unlike them in the further fact that in repeated elections I have received help from Party funds myself. There is nothing necessarily dishonourable in the fact that rich men on both sides on occasions make large gifts. There is nothing dishonourable if, for other reasons, those very men have honours conferred upon them. There is nothing dishonourable in that. And yet so long as that is admitted, so long there will be considerable danger that the secret influence to which the noble Earl has referred will be at work.
§ I believe, therefore, that you cannot strike at this evil in so simple a way as the Resolution suggests, or by merely an 264 appeal to public opinion. You will do a little good, but no great permanent good, I believe, by enunciating in this Resolution what, after all, is a moral platitude. You must, I think, be prepared to go further, and must be prepared for drastic measures in regard to these Party funds. You must be prepared to cut short the lavish expenditure upon elections, which is the root of the evil and which puts upon Party managers, who, as the noble Earl said, are just as often as honest as any other class among us, a really terrible strain and a really terrible temptation.
§ I should like to say a word or two, if I may, with reference to the wholly exaggerated and distorted impression which exists with regard to this subject out of doors, and which one meets with sometimes in the Press. The idea that all honours, or almost all, have been solicited or been afterwards paid for, is, of course, a ridiculous and contemptible idea. But there is this further point which I think requires in common decency to be widely recognised. It has been the subject of frequent comment out of doors that recent distributions of honours have been large. They have been large, my Lords. It may be a wise policy or it may not, that the present Government have bettered the example of some of their predecessors in conferring recognition on many varied kinds of merit and of public service which might not have been so freely recognised at a former time, and I thoroughly believe that a good many honours of which the public wonders about the cause are well deserved recognitions of local public services of a meritorious kind. That, as I say, may be wise or not. Again, it may be wise or not that the Government should have been very ready to create what I may call nominated members of this Second Chamber. But whether that was wise or not, it was obviously in itself not a discreditable thing. And this wide distribution of honours happens, I think, to have been accompanied by something which is in itself honourable in a very high degree. I think that the Government have gone beyond precedent in the giving of honours—I am not speaking, of course, of official honours—without regard to Party considerations at all. Not only have they conferred honours upon politicians opposed to them; but they have, for example, elevated to this House gentlemen qualified to assist its deliberations who, 265 though not politicians, would certainly not be expected to support the present Government. I am not instituting any kind of Party comparison, but I believe it to be the fact that the Ministers at this moment in office have in that respect gone beyond the practice of any of their predecessors, whether Liberal or Conservative. The credit of the Government is not impugned in this debate, however, and that is the only reference that I am going to make to the policy of the present Government in particular in this matter.
§ Now to return to the reality of this question. It would be futile, as the noble Earl has said, to examine particular cases, for where the information that comes to one is most precise and most authentic it is apt to be such as no one would state publicly, and even the dates and the names are in some cases carefully not revealed. But there is one general reason why I think we may take it as quite certain that this practice is growing at the present time and is likely to continue to grow; and it is the enormous growth of election expenditure. That expenditure goes very far beyond any possible requirements of honest and reasonable propaganda, and the existing law either has not been enforced, or, as I think also is the fact, is in itself inadequate to the case. Just before I came down to the House this afternoon there was put into my hands an illustration of what I am saying. I am told by an eye-witness that in the South Bucks by-election the other day part was taken by representatives of the Tariff Reform League and the Free Trade Union, the Ulster Unionists and the Home Rule Council, the Land Union and the Land and Housing Council—six organisations, three on one side and three on the other, all having representatives at work in this one by-election, and all those representatives unquestionably paid.
§ Now, my Lords, I think I have very good legal authority for saying that the salaries and other expenses paid to the agents of these organisations are required by law to be returned as election expenses of the two candidates, and the treasurers of these various funds are liable to criminal prosecution if those expenses are not so returned. Will those expenses be so returned; and. if not, will any prosecutions take place? I doubt it very much. Why have no prosecutions on that account 266 taken place in the past? I am afraid there is no possible answer but one, and that is that some understanding exists between the gentlemen on both sides of politics who work these various organisations. A large and flourishing political industry is in existence and would be in danger if these practices were curtailed. Bach of these organisations has its paid organisers and its paid missionaries. A large number of persons on both sides are interested equally in the maintenance of this state of things. But I put it very seriously to the Government, that here is a question which possibly the Public Prosecutor might sometimes consider; and I put it very seriously to the leaders on both sides that by an understanding among themselves this covert agreement which exists could be to a very large extent broken down.
§ I said just now that these elaborate proceedings at elections and previous to elections go far beyond the needs of honest propaganda. I can conceive somebody supposing that all these organisations tend to the education of the electorate. Now is that so? Is the education of the electorate really going to be effectively promoted by gentlemen who preach political views for hire?—a class of men, many of whom I know and for many of whom I have had the highest regard in the past, but a class which is growing and multiplying, and which I am certain includes at the present time, and is certain more and more to include, persons who will preach views with the same fervour as readily upon one side as upon the other according to which is able to offer them the highest pay. This lavish expenditure at elections is an evil, not only because it necessarily tends to measures for replenishing Party war chests, but for many other reasons as well—because it is a depraving influence on political discussion, because it encourages a fresh kind of corruption among the electors, and because it tends to put our whole representative government permanently within the grip of the machine. I do not think there will be any disagreement on that. I should be going too far from the immediate subject of the debate if I were to dwell any further on that particular point. I will remind you of the way in which it is connected with this question of corrupt influence in the matter of honours, which was the original subject of this Motion. It is that so long as election expenses 267 go on at this lavish scale, so long will Party managers be under dire pressure to replenish their Party war-chests per fas aut per nefas.
§ Now, my Lords, is there no remedy? I have suggested that in part the remedy would be possible under the existing law if that existing law were vigorously administered. I do not believe, however, that the existing law does carry us far enough in the matter. The remedy, if there is to be any, must be drastic. It would require the concurrence of men in both Parties or in all Parties in the State. It would require, I believe, also a long and patient inquiry into the remedies. I do not mean inquiry which should dig up things of the past, but a careful examination of the practicability of the remedies that may be proposed. And such inquiry, I believe, ought to include an investigation of the measures which in other countries have been found useful. That, my Lords, is the reason why in the Amendment I have placed on the Paper I have suggested the machinery of a Royal Commission. Briefly to outline the sort of measures which I have in my mind, I may say that they would include a clearer and more rigid regulation of expenditure by candidates themselves during and before elections, and a similar curtailment and regulation of expenditure by outside organisations within any constituency. I suggest that they should also include a requirement that the names of the subscribers or donors to Party organisations of this sort and the amounts of their subscriptions or donations should be available for inspection. The whole possible harm and the whole possible shame of gifts of that kind disappear if they are given in the light of day.
§ In reference to my Amendment I may say that I ventured to put down the first part of it thinking at first sight that the noble Earl's Motion might read as asserting the existence of conduct on the part of Prime Ministers or other Ministers of either Party of the kind indicated. I do not think, however, on further thought that the Motion carries with it any such suggestion as I at first thought it might be capable of. Therefore, if your Lordships will allow me, I should like to move my Amendment in this form—To add at the end of the Motion, "and in view of the actual or possible abuses of Party funds in regard to the manner in which they are employed as well as the manner in which 268 they are said to be raised, this House urges upon His Majesty's Government the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire by what amendments of the law and administration of the law such abuses may most effectively be restrained." I hope that in the endeavour with fair brevity to make my point clear I have not merely succeeded in adding obscurity to undue length. I am sure that you will never get at the root of the evil of which the noble Earl complains except by a drastic regulation of election and of other cognate expenses. I beg to move.
To add at the end of the Motion, "and in view of the actual or possible abuses of Party funds in regard to the manner in which they are employed as well as the manner in which they are said to be raised, this House urges upon His Majesty's Government the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire by what amendments of the law and administration of the law such abuses may most effectively be restrained."—(Lord Charnwood.)
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
My Lords, I do not know what view my noble friend who made this Motion will take of the Amendment which has just been proposed. Neither do I know whether a Royal Commission on this subject would do a great deal of good, or whether we should get much advantage out of it. The only people whom you could examine would be the Party Whips on both sides, and I imagine that they have information at their disposal which even a Royal Commission would find great difficulty in extracting. But it is no good for any one to think that the noble Earl has brought forward charges which are vague and cannot be substantiated. Nobody knows that better than I do, because I have dabbled in the sale of honours myself. I do not mean that I bought my own title. That was conferred on my ancestor for an active part that he took in placing the Tudor Dynasty on the Throne—a Dynasty which furnished a line of Monarchs who, I believe, would have treated noble Lords opposite in a very different way from that in which they are being treated by his present Majesty.
I will tell you the circumstances of this attempt of mine. You need not be anxious: I am not going to implicate anybody on my own side, although, even if I did, we have been out of office so long that I think the Statute of Limitations ought to apply with regard to any trafficking 269 which the Conservative Party might have had in this unclean thing. I wanted a large sum of money for an enterprise which cannot be entirely dissociated from Party politics, but which I can assure your Lordships was entirely patriotic in its design. I called upon a gentleman and suggested that if he would give me this sum of money I would use my influence with my Party to secure for him, not a Peerage—a baronetcy only. I am not quite sure what the price of a baronetcy is—I dare say some of the Whips on either side will be able to tell me—but the price which I asked was, I assure you, not excessive. Then a question was put to me which was a perfectly natural one. The gentleman said, "That is all very well, Willoughby, but when are yon going to deliver the goods?" I said that I might not be able to do so in any case, but I certainly could not do so until the Unionist Party got back into office. He said, "When will that be?" and I replied, "I am sure I do not know." Since that time we have had two General Elections; and I am not at all surprised that I was very politely shown the door.
The noble Earl has raised one of the most important questions, probably the most important question, that we can consider, and that is the grounds on which a title or honour should be given. He recited in the course of the eloquent speech which he made—with every single word of which I desire to associate myself—the public grounds on which an honour should be granted. I have never been quite sure whether we ought to look on the granting of an honour as a reward for services done either to country or to Party. Do you not think that it would be better to agree with what Francis Bacon said about an honour and regard it as a vantage ground for doing good? And this particularly applies with regard to the granting of a hereditary Peerage. An honour is given to a man in order that he may have, not only reward for something that he has done for his country in the past, but in order that he may have distinction and authority among his fellow men to enable him the better to perform his duty in the future and to do more work for the nation and the Empire. That was why, if I may say so, when Mr. Curzon went to India he was made Lord Curzon, and why Mr. Gladstone when he went to South Africa was made Lord Gladstone—namely, in order that each 270 might be in a position of eminence the better to enable him to perform his trust to the Empire with authority and dignity.
But it is not the slightest use giving a hereditary Peerage or a title or honour to anybody unless the possession of that title is going to bring with it the enjoyment of power, the exercise of responsibility, and the discharge of duty, and this particularly applies to the institution called the hereditary Peerage. Noble Lords opposite may think that they have brought the hereditary Peerage to the ground. I do not believe it. I do not believe that you have heard the last of the hereditary Peerage in this country, and I do not believe you ever will. We talk from this side of the House and from the other from different points of view, perhaps, about the reform of the hereditary Peerage. That may be all very well. I am prepared myself for the present to go very far in the direction of getting a Second Chamber of some kind or another which will be based upon sufficient authority to correct, and, if necessary, as Lord Ampthill rightly said the other day, to disagree, and effectively disagree, with the House of Commons. Whatever form your reformed House of Lords is going to take it will never have the same authority in the long run that was enjoyed until recently by the hereditary Peerage—an authority which will be one day recovered by the hereditary House of Lords. Oliver Cromwell got rid of the hereditary House of Lords for a few short years during the history of this country, and reformers on both sides of the House may try as hard as ever they like they will not be able to beat Oliver Cromwell at that game. Any Constitution which we may agree to in the future is bound to be in the nature of an interim Constitution. You have one interim Constitution already which was set up by the Parliament Act. How long do you think that is going to last? Do you not think it has very nearly come to the ground already? Lord Ampthill used the word the other day and I will use it again. I say the Parliament Act stinks; and it is a foul deed which willsmell above the earthWith carrion men, groaning for burial.From the point of view of the nation and the Empire, the greatest disservice which statesmen and those who are responsible for the granting of honours in this country can possibly perform is to debase 271 the hereditary Peerage. The granting of a hereditary title is a most difficult thing to do. If I were a Radical organiser I should always try to choose my Peers from among those who, like Mr. Jorrocks, had no legitimate offspring. Sometimes their conversion to Tory principles is only a matter of a few months, or a few weeks, or possibly in their heart of hearts a few hours, but their son is almost certain to become a Tory, whereas a Radical grandson of a Radical Peer is a phenomenon that cannot be conceived. On the other hand, if you were going to choose a hereditary Peer, not from the point of view of the caucus but from the point of view of the nation, you would certainly choose him on what are called eugenic principles. [Laughter.] I had seriously hoped that noble Lords would not laugh at that. It is obvious that he should be chosen on account of his coming from a sound stock, being himself sound and coming, as Lord Selborne said, from a family—I do not care whether he is rich or poor—who are patriotic and are likely to continue in their posterity the same qualities. That is not an extravagant demand.
But what are the grounds on which you give a title to gentlemen nowadays? He would be a very bold man who would get up and deny that the grounds on which you advise His Majesty to grant a Peerage to-day are not more dictated by the necessities of the caucus than by the needs of the nation and of the Empire. I was very glad to hear the noble Earl condemn so eloquently that terrible alliance, which is mutually exploiting one another, between the caucus and the plutocracy. This thing called Democracy, of which everybody is talking so glibly in this country and of which we have had such an orgy in England during the last few years, has one never-failing vice, and that is that it throws up a race of exploiters who were well described by the late Mr. Price Collier in his exceedingly penetrating work, "England and the English," as politicians who live by the people, on the people, and for themselves. That is the government from which we are suffering to-day, and I think we should suffer in a greater or less degree whichever Party was in office.
I do not want to make a strong Party speech this evening, though it is impossible to make a speech about public affairs without treading upon somebody's toes; and I am not going to refrain from saying 272 what I think simply because it happens to give offence to one Party or the other. But here is your view recently expressed with regard to the creation of Peers. You told us that you had the power—I presume that you had; we shall never know—to create 500 Peers in order, if necessary, to pass the Parliament Bill and the Home Rule Bill. I say that it is just as corrupt to extract a consideration out of a man by means of a direct vote as it is to extract a consideration out of him by means of the direct payment of a sum of money; and if a great many of us had tried to get money in the same way as we try to get votes we should have been sent to prison long ago. I ask one question quite seriously and with the greatest respect, and I intended to ask it in exactly these words whether Lord Reading—Sir Rufus Isaacs that was—was in his place or not. I see that he has left the House. I do not know him personally, but will the noble Marquess or any one who is going to speak from the Government Front Bench deny that unless it had been convenient to the Radical Party and necessary to your credit in the country in a certain sense to place Lord Reading at the head of the judicial system and also to advise His Majesty to make him a Peer—were not those recommendations based more on the convenience or what you thought was the credit of your Party than on what you thought was best for the credit of the nation?
This question of bestowing titles and honours opens up a very wide-reaching consideration which what are called the working classes of this country will do well to consider. We are witnessing, and have done for some years past, a struggle in the industrial portions of England between Capital and Labour, and that struggle is largely engendered because the working classes have to deal with a small knot of employers who have not been brought up in and do not understand the old English traditions between employers and employed. These men are the plutocrats who are at the bottom of a great deal of the industrial unrest to-day; and the one power which stands between the working classes of this country and the plutocracy which they are rebelling against but which they do not quite know how to defeat, is the hereditary Peerage as represented in this House. And whatever you may do to the hereditary Peerage, that connection between the hereditary Peerage and the 273 working classes of this country is bound to survive. I say to those who are engaged in the industrial struggle that the best chance they have to defeat the plutocracy, with which in many cases they are perfectly and justly engaged in a righteous warfare, would be to uphold the hereditary Peerage and sec that it is recruited from those who have got some instinct, some tradition, and who have been brought up in those honourable relations between employers and employed which have always prevailed in this country in the past.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, into what I recognise as some of the "Die-hard" arguments, except to say that under his able hand they seem to trot out pretty briskly. Nor do I wish to follow him into the special virtues of the hereditary principle. But as we here are all more or less victims of the hereditary principle, I think we ought to be much obliged for the encomiums he has been good enough to pass upon it. Neither do I mean to go into the question of Party funds, upon which both Lord Selborne and Lord Charnwood touched to-night. I have had very little to do with Party funds, and I have always expressed a profound reluctance to subscribe largely to them.
But, like the noble Lord who spoke last, although I have not exactly dabbled in getting honours for people, I have been, I believe "approached" is the right word, from time to time during the ten years or so that I was a Whip in this House; and only the other day I was called upon by a very honest foxhunter, who sent up a message to see me with so much mystery that I thought he wanted to sell me a horse. I went down to see him. He is not a man who keeps in touch with current politics and he seemed to be under the impression that I was still a Whip, and that though a Whip in the House of Lords is not an individual who has very much to do in that kind of way, he evidently thought that any channel might be useful. It turned out that he had come on behalf of a friend of his. He looked grave and pregnant with thought, and, when I pressed him, he put the matter in a very blunt way. He said his friend would like to have a certain sort of honour. So I said, "Well, what is the inducement?" "Oh," he said, "I think he would give a good deal of money." I asked, "What sort of 274 figure?" He indicated a figure, and I said, "I don't know about that." After walking about the room a good deal he came back, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, "I think he would go a bit better." So then I said to him, "Yes, that might be all right, but what about his political views?" He did not seem to have thought about that at all. "I don't know much about that," he said, "but I think it will be all right." With that he went away.
With regard to the business we have before us to-night, I am bound to say that I am not in agreement with either the Resolution or the Amendment. Both speakers at times touched what the papers call a "high" note in the arguments which they put before us, and at the end their accents reached a solemnity which reminded me of the lines—Religion, blushing, veils her sacred fires,And, unawares, Morality expires.And, much to my surprise, the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down, who as a rule is inclined to take an Alfred Jingle view of life, had very much the same sort of solemnity about it. This, of course, makes me nervous of what I have to say. I am afraid I belong to the class of people which the noble Lord behind me (Lord Charnwood) very pleasantly alluded to as people who seem to think that these things must be, that they do not very much matter, that they have always gone on and are likely to go on, and that if they do not go on in one form they will go on in another. That is precisely my opinion.
I, personally, do not care very much about the Resolution in the form in which Lord Selborne has put it, because, as far as I can make out, the effect of it would be absolutely nil. Even if we moved to resolve what he asks us to resolve, and even if we should invite the House of Commons to move to resolve something of the same sort, I think at the end of both transactions both Houses would be expressing a pious and—I do not use the word in an offensive sense—a slightly Pharisaical opinion. The noble Lord behind me (Lord Charnwood) is enamoured of that-well-known engine a Royal Commission. When any one is in a difficulty in the City a committee is appointed to look into it. When we are in a difficulty in the Houses of Parliament a Royal Commission is appointed to get us out of it. My opinion 275 of Royal Commissions is that they either report so much that it is difficult to do anything, or they report so little that it is not worth doing anything.
In this particular case I have no doubt that a reference drawn on certain lines would be an extremely popular thing with the public, but I am reminded of what fell from Mr. Justice Darling in a case the other day, when he told the jury that they ought to remember that public interest was not the same as public curiosity. There is little doubt that if you had a Royal Commission, and if you had the Whips up, if anything could be extracted from them it would very likely be of a kind which would be stimulating to our reading of the newspaper reports of that Commission on that particular day. But I dare say that even under the guile of a Royal Commission very little would be extracted, and therefore I do not think there is much to be gained by having a Royal Commission. There is no doubt that there are cases which we should not like to know too much about, where honours have been given in this way. But is it such a very terrible evil as all that? I would put it in this way. I have never, or very seldom, been able to construct a syllogism, but I think a syllogism could easily be constructed out of the following materials:—That, for good or evil, we in this country have for a long while been proud of Party government; Party government, on whichever side, requires large sums of money; the more money there is the better the Party government will be—that is, the machinery of Party government will be more perfect. To that extent, therefore, I think it is a good thing that as we must have Party government it is better that it should be well endowed with funds than that it should not.
Then the noble Earl opposite (Lord Selborne) was very angry with the caucus, but he was still more angry with plutocrats. Now, why is he so angry with plutocrats? I am not one of them myself, but I believe they are a very nice body of men. At all events, I am reminded of Dr. Johnson's line—Slow rises worth by poverty depressed.After all, if a man wants to get on in this world, he is none the worse for having a little money, and for persuading the Party Whips that money may be useful to the 276 Party chests. Therefore I take the view— the view which Lord Charnwood felt sorry about—that we are to some extent tilting at a windmill on which we shall not make very much impression, and that there is a great danger in an inquiry of this sort that our minds may be a Little deflected by proper feelings, but proper feelings which verge on those we associate with Mr. Pecksniff. We have heard that everything depends on enormous Party funds, and that the great vice of the day is that everybody wants money. That, after all, has been the difficulty of every day. And, as to things having become more expensive, everything has become more expensive, from your washing bill to a seat in Parliament. I conclude with repeating that I do not agree with either the Resolution or the Amendment, and that personally I think that this particular thing had much better be left very much as it is.
§ VISCOUNT MILNER
My Lords, I hope I may not fall under the lash of the noble Lord's sarcasm if I treat this subject with a slight approach to seriousness which he may condemn as solemnity. I am very sorry to appear priggish, and I really think I enjoy the noble Lord's witticisms on suitable occasions as much as any man in this House. He has often greatly entertained me, and I always welcome his appearance in debate for that reason; but I cannot resist the feeling that a rather unfortunate impression would be given to the world outside if what is, after all, the grave matter which has been brought before us by the noble Earl on the Front Bench should be, as it were, chaffed out of court. I am afraid I shall be unable to add to the gaiety of nations in the few remarks which I shall venture to offer to the House, but perhaps I may contribute to some extent to reviving the impression under which a great many of us were earlier in the evening—that we are discussing a public matter of real gravity about which many of us have strong opinions. The noble Lord, Lord Ribblesdale, expressed the view that he differs both from the Motion and the Amendment. I am rather inclined to agree with both. I agree with almost everything which fell from Lord Selborne except his concluding passage, in which he seemed to me to be prepared to rely exclusively upon public opinion to produce a remedy for what, personally, I cannot describe otherwise than as a very great and growing evil.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I meant that public opinion must be awakened before any effective steps could be taken.
§ VISCOUNT MILNER
I quite agree, and perhaps the greatest advantage to be derived from a discussion of this kind in this House, if it can be kept on right lines, is that it will stimulate public opinion on the matter. Perhaps I might say from another point of view that it will satisfy public opinion, that it will focus public opinion; for my belief is that there is a great and growing and serious feeling throughout the country as to the enormity of the sale of honours, which it is just as well that Parliament should take some pains to direct into wise channels. But though I attribute importance to the effect of a discussion of this kind upon public opinion, I do not myself think that we can stop there; and I believe that if we are serious in the matter in this House or in the other, if we are really serious in the two Houses of Parliament something material may be achieved.
I must say I was looking forward with some curiosity to the line which noble Lords representing the Government might take to-night, especially in view of Lord Charnwood's original Amendment, which called upon them to give us an assurance that the allegation that a Minister might recommend a name for an honour to His Majesty on the ground of contributions to Party funds was untrue. The significant change which the noble Lord subsequently made in his Amendment has, I fancy, relieved his leaders from a very great difficulty. They could hardly take no notice of his demand for such an assurance, but I think we should have listened with some surprise if that assurance had been given. The great difficulty of this discussion, of course, is that it is impossible to produce absolute proof of what is described as the sale of honours. In the literal sense of the word, no doubt, honours are not sold, like butter or cheese. It may even be said that there is no honour, however flagrantly bestowed, which cannot often, or in fact, always, be accounted for by some plausible reason besides the true one, and care is always taken to avoid suspicious juxtaposition of cause and effect. If a gentleman of good position and standing who happens to have contributed liberally to the Party funds becomes the recipient of an honour, who is to say that 278 the Minister who recommended him was influenced wholly or mainly by gratitude for his generosity and not by other considerations? The only thing we know is that the tendency to bestow titles of honour on persons with no very obvious qualifications is a rapidly growing tendency, and that the bestowal of them has a habit of synchronising with periods when the Government of the day is in special need of funds.
As regards the multiplication of honours, I do not want to go into a great number of figures. But it is, I believe, a fact, taking only the creation of Peerages—although I do not want to be regarded as maintaining that the Peerage is the form of honour which is most freely used for replenishing Party funds—that the present Government during their eight years of office have created no fewer than 63 Barons, not to mention Lords of Appeal, whose case, of course, has no relevance to the matter at present under discussion—63 Barons, or about one-sixth of the total number of Barons in this House, although it has existed for more than six hundred years. In the eight years preceding there were 41 creations of the same rank, which one might have thought was already a sufficiently liberal figure. I do not mention this with any intention of raising a Party point; that is very far from my desire. Indeed, it may be said that the only reason why the present Government has created the largest number of Peerages and other titles of honour on record is that it is the latest comer, and that its successor may outdo it in that respect, although I sincerely hope that, possibly owing to the efforts now being made, that will not be the case.
There is another interesting point besides the number of these creations, and that is what I may call their periodicity, the cyclical movement which seems to affect them. They are rather like shooting stars. I mean to say there is a certain period of the year when we always look out for them, but a really imposing shower only occurs every two or three years—perhaps I ought to say every three or four years; at any rate, it only occurs in connection with critical moments in the life of a Government. The occurrence of these great showers of honours is nearly always in the year before, or the year of, or the year 279 after a General Election; and one is almost forced to the conclusion that there is some kind of mysterious relation between the two phenomena.
But be that as it may, the Motion of the noble Earl only goes this length, that it asks us to declare that the use of titles of honour as a means of replenishing Party funds is not a proper use to which to put them, or the Royal power by which they are created, that it is more or less dishonouring to His Majesty—a degradation of honours and a degradation of public life. I could not add anything to what has been said so well by the noble Earl about the bad effect which the traffic in honours must have upon the esteem in which honours are held, and the harm it does in destroying a powerful and respectable incentive—though I do not say it is the highest form of incentive—to good public service, and to munificence for public objects. But there is an even worse consequence of this traffic, and that is that by offering to Party managers the opportunity of collecting enormous secret funds it helps to rivet the yoke of Party upon our public men, to undermine independence alike in candidates and in Members of Parliament, and to submit Parliament and the nation to the uncontrolled and growing despotism of the Party machine. It is part and parcel of the same system which has destroyed the authority of this House and is fast reducing debate in the other House of Parliament to a farce.
The noble Lord who has just spoken said, I think truly, that Party funds were an inevitable concomitant of the Party system, and as he is a great admirer of the Party system he thinks the larger Party funds are the better. I differ from him in that I am not a great admirer of the Party system. But, accepting the Party system not as a thing in itself desirable but as, in my lifetime at any rate, a necessary evil, I am still anxious to limit, and not to encourage, one of its very worst and most discreditable features. There is nothing which is more calculated, in my humble judgment, to lead to the widespread corruption of public life than the irresponsible control of large secret funds by Party managers. Is not there a certain extraordinary inconsistency in the line which we at present take about bribery and corruption? You have laws against them 280 under which a trifling transgression—a transgression which may be committed in all innocence by a man or his agent—may invalidate his election; and yet can it be said that the power of money, which all these Statutes are intended to curb, that the power of money, either in an individual or a Party, to influence the judgment of the constituencies, has in any way been diminished? We all know that it has not been; on the contrary, it has been increased. The forms of bribery may have altered, but the essentials of it are there, and they are as strong and formidable as ever they were. Whether it is worse to buy a few votes at an election by giving illegitimate employment, or to try to debauch a whole constituency by promising a vast expenditure of public money within its borders or by flaunting before it some wealthy candidate who is expected to be a rich fount of future favours, I must leave to moralists to determine; the point is that the vast expenditure of money upon constituencies at election times and during intervals between elections, is giving and continues to give an undue and unhealthy influence to mere wealth on the destinies of the nation. And the corrupting influence of overgrown Party funds, in itself a thing that is undesirable and evil, is only rendered possible by this traffic in honours, which is likewise discreditable to public life.
I do not know that it is for me to venture to suggest any remedies for this evil. I think' it really rests with the members of both Front Benches—for both Parties have something to atone for in their past conduct in this matter—to suggest the remedy. But I cannot agree that nothing can be done beyond appealing—though I am all for appealing—to public opinion and trying to arouse public opinion. I agree with the noble Lord who moved the Amendment that it is possible, and indeed I think it is imperative, if there is any sincerity in our professions of dislike for corruption, to try and restrict expenditure at elections, and expenditure so restricted might, I think, fairly be thrown on the public funds. But that is not alone sufficient, because the wholesale bribery of constituencies is not confined to election times, but goes on merrily in the interval between elections. It seems to me that it would be idle merely to restrict expenditure at election times unless it could also be made illegal for Members to spend large sums of money between elections in their constituencies. 281 Unless that is going to be done I think the unfortunate and evil need for large Party funds—which has to be satisfied by the undesirable means we are discussing— will continue to exist.
In conclusion, my Lords, may I make one other suggestion? Would it be unreasonable that when honours are announced some brief statement of the reasons for which the honours are conferred should be given? The thing is done, for instance, whenever money is granted to deserving individuals from the fund at the disposition of the Prime Minister—the Civil List. I have constantly seen—it has appeared a reasonable and satisfactory proceeding in cases where grants were made from the Civil List—a brief statement, entirely honourable to the recipients and perfectly satisfactory to the public, of the reasons why the grants were given. Why is there any objection to doing the same in the case of the bestowal of any honour whatsoever? I do not say it would altogether remedy the evil of which we are complaining—there is no single remedy, it has to be attacked in a number of ways—but it seems to me this would be a very considerable check on the abuse of the bestowal of honours, for no Minister would wish to make himself ridiculous by giving explanations of the honours he had asked the Sovereign to confer which were obviously ill-founded and calculated to excite general derision.
I do not say that these are very valuable suggestions or that they are the best that might be made. I repeat that I think it rests more on the leaders of Parties than upon independent members of this House to suggest a remedy. What I do hope is that the decision of the House to-night, the reception which the House gives to the Motion, and, may I venture to add, the speeches to which I hope we may yet look forward from the leaders of both Parties, will leave no false impression on the mind of the nation, as I think a false impression may have been left by some of the preceding speeches, but that it will go forth to the country that in this House at least the degradation of titles of honour is regarded with abhorrence and is looked upon not only—which is a minor consideration—as an injury and insult to the order to which we have the honour to belong, but also as a serious injury to the nation.
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, I agree with what fell from the noble Earl who introduced this Motion and with what has also been stated by other speakers that no question whatever of Party advantage or Party feeling ought to be involved in this discussion, and I think that fact has in the main been recognised by those who have taken part in the debate. It is also true that none of us wish to adopt a priggish or Pharisaical attitude in this matter; at the same time we are certainly not disposed to minimise its gravity. Speaking for myself and my noble friends behind me, we take precisely the same view of the importance of the subject as was taken by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. I think, however, there has been a tendency on the part of some speakers to exaggerate the position as it now exists, and, as it were, to attempt to indicate that political life is becoming less pure and honourable than it was, and that, as the Roman poet said—We are worse than our grandfathers, and our children are likely to be worse than ourselves.As a matter of fact, any one who looks back at political history will recognise— whatever may be said of the existing state of things—that the contrary is unquestionably the case.
There is no need to go back very far. You can go back if you like only a few years, within the memory of those who are now alive. The whole position in relation to Party expenditure and the dependence of Party expenditure upon honours and distinctions and gains of all kinds was, as everybody with the most trifling knowledge of history will recognise, infinitely worse during the whole period before the Reform Bill of 1832 than it has ever been since. All through the eighteenth century the possession of pocket boroughs and borough-mongering generally brought about abuses of this kind which were infinitely more flagrant in every respect than anything that has ever been hinted at since; and it was not until the year 1782 that the Whig Government of that day—and we all of us, I think, ought to be proud of the Whig Party in that respect—brought in a series of Bills, some of which became Acts of Parliament, dealing with some of the grosser forms of corruption which then existed. Everybody knows that the owners of boroughs, 283 representing something like two-thirds of the whole House of Commons, commanded votes, and that those votes meant money and also meant honours. All the patronage, English, Irish, Indian, and Colonial, was practically in the hands of the people who owned the boroughs and could command the votes. Government Loans were issued in their interest at a price which meant an enormous loss to the country, and in one famous case the country is supposed to have lost a million sterling owing to the price of issue in favour of certain privileged persons.
And then, as we know, the Government used to buy seats in Parliament outright. There was one famous case when Lord North bought three boroughs for a particular election; the price that he offered was £2,500 per seat, and the owner of the seats obtained a certain reputation for stinginess by insisting on the pounds being made guineas. Dozens of instances of that kind could be given. The noble Viscount who has just spoken told us about the number of Peerages created of late years, implying—though I do not think he actually stated in so many words— that the creation of at any rate some of those Peerages had a connection with Party funds. Well, my Lords, between the years 1784 and 1801 Mr. Pitt made 140 creations or promotions in the Peerage.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Mainly English. And certainly the noble Viscount, who has studied history, will not say that a great many of those titles, now honourably borne by their descendants, were given on account of anything which could be called in a strict sense service to the State. There is no object in raking up stories which tell hardly upon our forbears, but it is necessary to mention these facts in order to show that when an almost portentous tone is adopted in relation to what is considered to be political corruption to-day we ought to remember that as a matter of fact we are living, as I believe, in an infinitely clearer atmosphere in these respects than ever existed before the Reform Bill. I do not believe that, except for a short period when Parties were all in confusion and therefore the Party system was not working as it has worked since—say, between 1845 and 1860—I do not believe that at any time, 284 except possibly during those years, when the whole question of Party funds was for the time being in abeyance, there has been any material change for the worse in respect of these matters which are complained of.
When we come to the actual terms of the Resolution proposed by the noble Earl, and of the Amendment proposed by my noble friend behind me, there are one or two words to be said. The noble Earl says that "a contribution to Party funds should not be a consideration to a Minister when he recommends a name for an honour to His Majesty"; and my noble friend behind me, in the original form of his Amendment, stated, as the noble Viscount has reminded us, "that in view of the persistent allegations implying that contributions to Party funds have been a consideration to Ministers when recommending names to His Majesty for honours, this House would welcome an assurance from His Majesty's Government that such allegations are untrue." The noble Viscount seemed to think that it was out of some consideration for the feelings of the Party leaders that my noble friend behind me had altered the terms of his Amendment.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
It was in no way known to me that my noble friend had done so, and the fact that he has done so does not prevent me from giving, as far as I am able to give it, a categorical assurance on behalf of my right hon. friend the Prime Minister that a contribution to the Party funds has not been a consideration to him when recommending names to His Majesty for honours. I should not have the least hesitation, although I have had no communication with either, in giving precisely the same assurance on behalf of my noble friend Lord Rosebery, and also on behalf of Mr. Balfour (if he would allow me to do it), those being the only two others alive who have been placed in the same position as my right hon. friend.
The noble Lord has pointed out, what is quite true, that although we should always desire that a contribution to Party funds should not be a consideration, yet it is altogether impossible to lay down a 285 rule that a contribution to Party funds should be a bar to the reception of any honour whatever. The noble Earl opposite gave an instance of a highly respected individual who, he had no doubt, had contributed to the Party funds. Such instances could be multiplied of those who have received distinctions of various kinds and who have contributed, being men of wealth, sometimes in very large sums to the support of the Party to which they belonged. Consequently, it is only possible to suggest to those who have the power of recommendation that their minds should work in a particular way, and that certain considerations should not be present to them. That, of course, points to the difficulty of laying down or attempting to establish a distinct canon or rule in a matter of this kind, and I find myself in general agreement with the noble Earl opposite when he says that the real safeguard to which we must look— in my belief it is the only practical safeguard—is the force of public opinion being brought to bear upon appointments which are improper in themselves.
It is only, as the noble Viscount pointed out, where a person—supposing such a person to exist in any Party—receives an honour for which he is obviously unfit that the question is asked, "Why has this particular gentleman been singled out for this distinction?" If the recipient is considered generally worthy no kind of question is asked as to whether he has or has not contributed to the support of his Party. The same thing, I think, may be said to apply to other forms of what is called the purchase of distinctions. It has often been rumoured that high distinctions of various kinds have been purchased, not by contributions to either political Party, but by what may be called general munificence, gifts to hospitals, gifts to colleges, gifts to public objects of various kinds, which according to popular talk and rumour have been made by wealthy persons with apparently the main object of achieving some form of distinction. There, again, these things are impossible to prove, although I suppose in the abstract we should all desire that in such a case distinction should be withheld. Yet those cases are cases of extreme difficulty, and they would not, as far as I know, be covered by any of the general remedies which some noble Lords have suggested.
THE EARL OF SELBOENE
The distinction in that case is that it is the nation which gets the benefit and not the Party.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I suppose it might be argued by sound Party men, by noble Lords opposite or ourselves, that there is some national advantage in the Party which holds the views which we believe to be the right views being in power; but, still, I will not argue that. One suggestion of the noble Viscount was that the practice which obtains in relation to the Royal Bounty, by which, when donations or annuities are given to certain people in bad circumstances, the reason is given for the particular donation, might be followed. I do not know, my Lords, that any great service would be done by insisting upon a similar rule in the conferment of honours unless you are prepared to go so far as to say that no honour should be given except for public service, independent of Party, and that, I think, has not been suggested. If, on the other hand, the reason given is that the recipient has done good service to the Conservative Party or to the Liberal Party, as the case may be, I do not know that public opinion would be very much more satisfied than it is at the present moment.
Then I come to the suggestion made by my noble friend behind me for the appointment of a Royal Commission. His ingenious plan is to get round the difficulty not so much by inquiring into what is called the sale of honours as by, as I understand him, having a Royal Commission to inquire into the. working of the Corrupt Practices Acts and into the possibility of their extension in order to bring about his object in a circuitous way; that is to say, in this manner. Supposing you can avoid all expenditure on elections you will not then need Party funds. If you do not want Party funds you will not desire people to subscribe to Party funds, and therefore the power of acquiring distinctions as some form of reward will fall to the ground. But the doubt which is in my mind is this. Although there is, I think, much to be said for some possible extension of the Corrupt Practices Acts, in particular with regard to those irregular bodies or societies which seem to have taken the place to some extent of the regular Party organisations in conducting the business of elections and spend large sums outside the legal limit, I should have 287 thought it would be possible to achieve that object directly by legislation rather than by instituting the long and heavy machinery of a Royal Commission. And there is rather a singular point in relation to those outside societies which has not, I think, been mentioned—that although they are not in direct opposition, of course, to what is called the regular Party funds, which are the main object of censure at this moment, yet I do not know that they are always looked upon on either side with particular enthusiasm by those who are responsible for the management and expenditure of those Party funds. I greatly question, therefore, whether the kind of inquiry that my noble friend suggests into the operations of these various leagues and unions and other bodies has much bearing on the subject of the noble Earl's Motion, because there is no implication, so far as I know, that subscriptions or assistance to those more or less irregular bodies has been used as a lever, as it is supposed subscriptions to Party funds have been used, for the purpose of acquiring distinctions of any kind.
I come back, therefore, to the expression of my opinion that it is not possible, at any rate at present, whatever it may be at some future time, to do more than attempt to encourage sound public opinion in all these matters; and, consequently, although I have no desire to offer any opposition to the noble Earl's Motion, I find it difficult to agree to the actual wording of it when he asks "that effectual measures should be taken in order to assure the nation that governments will act according to this rule." That appears to indicate that he supposes some machinery could be set on foot with that object. But I take his speech, rather than the actual wording of his Resolution, as expressing what he means so far as he thinks the possibilities of the moment are concerned, and on that ground I do not desire to offer any opposition to the noble Earl's Resolution. So far as my noble friend Lord Charnwood is concerned, I am afraid that we could not give our concurrence to the idea of the appointment of a Royal Commission for this purpose, because I do not think it would effect much in the direction which the noble Lord desires; but I repeat once more that I am far from implying, in saying this, that I do not think some extension of the Corrupt Practices Acts might very properly be undertaken.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I will not detain the House for more than a moment, but I desire before this discussion ends to state in one or two sentences why I am ready to give my support to my noble friend beside me (Lord Selborne), and why, on the other hand, I do not feel able to recommend the proposition which the noble Lord on the Back Benches opposite has put upon the Paper as an Amendment. In the first place, I think we may congratulate my noble friend beside me upon the extremely sympathetic reception which his proposal has met from all parts of the House. I confess that with regard to the wording of his Motion—for which he is himself entirely responsible—I think something might be said, but, like the noble Marquess who has just sat down, I pay much more attention to the substance of my noble friend's speech than to the precise words in which he has framed his Motion.
Now, what was the case put forward by my noble friend? He was perfectly frank and candid with the House. He told us that he was not prepared to produce instances of the kind of abuse to which he desired to put an end; and he rested himself almost entirely on the suspicion— I think he said the widely prevalent suspicion—which exists in the public mind that abuses of this kind do take place, and take place not infrequently. I believe with my noble friend that that suspicion does exist, and that it is widely prevalent, but I think, with the noble Marquess opposite, that it is probably exaggerated, and I noted with satisfaction that my noble friend early in his speech pointed out to the House that in his view, so far as a very large body of the honours which are now conferred by the Sovereign are concerned, there was no reason for the kind of misgivings which are present to his mind. In regard to honours conferred upon the Civil Service, the Army, and the Navy, and upon the Sovereign's Indian subjects, I certainly do not think there is a word to be said. As for the honours conferred upon others, any one who looks through the lists of the names of those who have received distinctions within the last few years will readily recognise that the greater number of those names are the names of persons who are in every way well fitted to be rewarded in this manner.
289 But, undoubtedly, the public mind does require to be reassured upon this subject, and I think the Resolution of my noble friend Lord Selborne, received as it has been here to-night, and perhaps confirmed by a similar Resolution in the other House of Parliament, will have the kind of reassuring effect that we desire. There is a universal feeling of reprobation of the idea that honours of any kind conferred by the Sovereign can form the subject of a bargain between the persons who receive them and the persons who are instrumental in procuring the bestowal of such honours. I agree with my noble friend in believing that the need of precautions in this respect tends to become greater as time goes on. I am afraid that suspicions of this kind are inevitable so long as we have what is commonly called the Party system in this country. The Party system in a democracy like ours means a great many things. It means that you must have Party organisation, Party machinery, Party literature, and that you may have to support Party candidates. All these things mean, and mean inevitably, the expenditure of large sums of Party money, and that money inevitably tends to be taken out of the pockets of the wealthier members of the Party. That may not be a very pleasant thing to contemplate. My noble friend used a happy phrase when he said that that state of things "revealed the clay foot of democracy." But I doubt very much whether any precautions that you can take will altogether obviate the dangers against which we all desire to guard.
The matter is complicated by this fact, and I think it was admitted both by the noble Marquess and by my noble friend, that these contributions to the Party funds are perfectly avowable transactions. What I think my noble friend desires to insist upon is not that a man who has made a contribution of this kind to his Party's funds should have a black mark put against his name and should be regarded as disqualified for the receipt of an honour, but that the liberality of his contribution should not be the justification of the honour of which he may eventually be the recipient. I say distinctly— I cannot say it too strongly—that while in my view a contribution to the funds of a Party is a perfectly avowable transaction, such a contribution ought in no circumstances to lead a Minister to con- 290 sider for an honour an individual whom, but for that contribution, he would not have been ready to consider. That, I take it, is the principle upon which my noble friend insists. But then, of course, you will inevitably find yourselves face to lace with very complex cases. There is the case of a man of wealth who has spent his wealth wisely and generously, who has acquired a conspicuous position in the industrial world, who has been a model landlord, who has attended to the business of his own neighbourhood, and who may also have been a liberal contributor to the funds of his Party. How is the Minister, or how is the lesser personage who advises the Minister, to decide how much weight is to be given to the generous contribution to the Party war-chest, and how much to the meritorious record in other respects of the individual concerned?
I noted, as did the noble Marquess, the expression in my noble friend's Motion to the effect that he calls upon the Government to devise effectual means of guarding against these abuses. He did not specify the means that he had in his mind except, I think, in a passage at the close of his speech, when he suggested that questions of this kind might be dealt with on the advice of the Privy Council. That is a suggestion whish is, I have no doubt, worth considering, but I should be sorry to commit myself to an acceptance of it this evening. The noble Viscount, Lord Milner, thought that in each case there might be published with the announcement of the honour an intimation of the services in respect of which the honour was conferred. That seems to be a not unreasonable suggestion, but I am bound to say that I would much prefer to leave the consideration of the effectual means which my noble friend desires to see adopted to the Sovereign and those who advise him in regard to these matters; and I feel sure that the action of your Lordships' House this evening will have a salutary effect in calling attention to the question.
With the proposal to refer the whole matter to a Royal Commission I cannot say that I am much enamoured. The noble Lord who makes it no doubt has in his mind not that the past history of these transactions should be raked 291 up but that the question of strengthening the law in regard to them should be considered. But his suggestion is for a Royal Commission "to inquire by what amendments of the Corrupt Practices Acts such abuses may most effectively be restrained." I am afraid that his Royal Commission would find it very difficult not to consider what the alleged abuses were, and that opens out a rather alarming field. I think there are at this moment three statesmen alive who have held the office of Prime Minister. I doubt very much whether the noble Lord would gain anything by examining Mr. Balfour and Mr. Asquith as to the circumstances under which the two hundred and odd Peers who have been made since the year 1885 received their honours; while the 300 baronetcies, and the literally innumerable knighthoods, would open out a still more distracting field for investigation. May I interpose the observation that I heard with interest my noble friend Lord Milner's comment upon the fact that during the past eight years the present Government had made, I think, 63 Baronies—is that the figure?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
The comment I was going to make upon that fact was that the other evening, when we had a most important Division on my noble friend Lord Midleton's Amendment to the Address, in spite of the 63 Baronies noble Lords opposite marshalled altogether only 55 Peers of all sorts and descriptions to support them against my noble friend.
Then I think further difficulty would be encountered when, as the result of this or any inquiry, you set to work to frame rules for the purpose of guarding against the apprehended abuses. My noble friend said, I think very truly, that it was almost impossible to define the circumstances in which an honour might or might not properly be given. That is perfectly true, and I am very much afraid that, whatever rules you might adopt, it would be found that a twentieth century Party manager was able to drive a coach-and-six through them. For that reason, my Lords, I very much prefer, at any rate in the 292 first instance, to trust to the effect which will be produced upon the public mind by this discussion and by the Motion of my noble friend behind me; and I do sincerely believe that if the two Houses of Parliament join in expressing a decided opinion upon this important question the result will be to reassure the public mind and greatly to strengthen the hands of the Minister and, above all, to lead him to resist the temptation which is always present in the case of an overworked man: the temptation to rely upon the advice of somebody else rather than upon his own instincts and his own judgment.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (EARL BEAUCHAMP)
My Lords, I do not rise to prolong this discussion, but in order to try and meet a point which has been raised by the noble Marquess who has just sat down. His Majesty's Government as your Lordships have heard, offer no opposition to this Motion. But the noble Marquess in the course of his remarks drew attention to the form of the Motion, and in doing so criticised it in a way which seemed to us on this Bench to have considerable force. I rise, therefore, to make the suggestion to the noble Earl that his Motion should be amended so as to meet more nearly the opinions of the noble Marquess opposite. The noble Earl no doubt notices that in the form of his Resolution as it is at present he would almost seem to call upon the House of Commons to take effectual measures. The noble Marquess, on the other hand, seemed to think that for the present, at any rate, it would be sufficient if measures were taken by His Majesty's Government, and he left for future possible use the question of measures being taken by the House of Commons. I think, therefore, that we may say there is a weighty body of authority in this House anxious for some amendment to this Resolution. The amendment which I would suggest—I throw it out not with any particular pride of authorship—is that the words "effectual measures should be taken in order to assure" should be left out, in order that it might run in this way, "that the nation should be assured that Governments, from whatever Political Party they are drawn, will act according to this rule." Your Lordships will see that the effect of that alteration would be to leave out the phrase which seems to call upon the House of 293 Commons to take the effectual measures, and postpones until a later period the question whether effectual measures should be taken or not.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am not quite sure that I follow the argument of the noble Earl. He began by saying what all your Lordships have said, that the Motion commands his sympathy; but in his criticism of the wording he said that as the Motion stands it seems to throw upon the House of Commons the obligation to take effectual measures, whereas he quoted my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition as saying that the effectual measures might properly be considered by His Majesty's Government. I do not follow his argument. There is nothing in the terms of my noble friend's Motion that throws upon the House of Commons the providing of effectual measures; it is that effectual measures should be provided; nor does the Motion prescribe any particular effectual measure. There was the suggestion made by Lord Milner just now which I think might be an effectual measure, and there are others which might be suggested. But the general argument, I would submit to your Lordships, is this, that if it be true that a contribution to Party funds should not be a consideration, then it is clear also that effectual steps should be taken to make that opinion effective. Those measures might be taken by the Government itself, by the Prime Minister himself, or by any other authority; but that some effectual measures should be taken to make effective what your Lordships' House has passed seems to follow as a matter of course. It is a most significant thing that a suggestion should be made to cut out from the Motion words which imply that effectual measures should be taken to carry it out. What is the reason of a Motion of that kind? Even if the words might have been left out originally, I think that to strike them out now would have a significant and unfortunate effect, because it would seem to imply that although we were ready to express a pious opinion we did not want any steps taken.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Perhaps I might explain what is at the back of my noble friend's mind, and what also appears to me to be the case. What we are asked to do is to communicate to the House of 294 Commons a Resolution and to ask their concurrence in it. We call upon some person or persons unknown to take effectual measures; but the whole trend of the debate has been, both in the speech of the noble Earl and in that of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, that we are not prepared to say as a House that any effectual measures can be taken. It may be that as far as rules or regulations, still more as far as legislation is concerned, it may not be possible to invent a form which will meet the case. Is it then quite dignified to send down a Resolution to another place saying that effectual measures must be taken when we are not able even to suggest what those effectual measures should be and some of us think it may not be possible to take any active measures? It was merely out of concern for the proper dignity of this House in approaching the other House that my noble friend and I made the suggestion that to speak of effectual measures when we have none in our minds was not the right way of dealing with the matter.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
What the noble Lords suggest can be done very simply by putting in these words, "that it is desirable that effectual measures should be taken." But the alteration suggested by Lord Beauchamp would land us in another difficulty; it would put us in the position of resolving that the nation should be assured that no Party would ever do a certain thing. We have, of course, no power to ensure that any political Party would do what we wished in any matter. Quod est absurdum. What you want to do is to agree that it is desirable that effectual measures shall be taken, which, after all, is what is in the Motion as it stands.
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment. In doing so I should like to state, with regard to what fell from the noble Viscount, Lord Milner, who suggested that I altered my Amendment in order to relieve the leaders of my Party of a great difficulty, that I entirely repudiate that suggestion.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.295
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
accepted the alteration suggested by Lord Ampthill, and the Motion was put in the following form:— Moved to resolve, "That in the opinion of this House a contribution to Party funds should not be a consideration to a Minister when he recommends any name for an honour to His Majesty; that it is desirable that effectual measures should be taken in order to assure the nation that Governments, from whatever political Party they 296 are drawn, will act according to this rule; and that this House requests the concurrence of the House of Commons in the foregoing Resolution."
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and a Message ordered to be sent to the Commons to request their concurrence therewith.
§ House adjourned at half-past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.