§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY rose to move, That it is expedient that a Select Committee of seven Lords be appointed to join with a Committee of the Commons to consider the present methods of submitting names of persons for dignities and honours for the consideration of His Majesty, and to report what changes, if any, are desirable in order to secure that such dignities and honours shall only be given as a reward for public service.
§ The noble Marquess said: My Lords, when your Lordships had this subject under discussion a fortnight ago the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition said that he was satisfied that in no part of your Lordships' House would there be any hesitation in saying that matters could not be left as they stood. I think that view-has been confirmed and intensified by the reflection which we have been able subsequently to give to the subject, and I should have again brought this matter earlier before your Lordships' notice but for the; fact that it was thought more appropriate that the two Houses of Parliament should consider this subject simultaneously, and it was not convenient to the House of Commons to deal with it at an earlier date.476
§ I do not want to detain you at any length this evening, and I think I may begin by saying that the abuses which prevail in the method of awarding Peerages and honours—or "dignities and honours" as they are technically termed in my Resolution—are practically not denied. People may differ as to the extent to which they have gone, but I do not think there is any responsible body of opinion anywhere which doubts that these abuses exist. They are abuses of very long standing. They have been the subject of remonstrance in your Lordships' House and elsewhere for some years. They have grown annually, as I believe, worse and worse, until they culminated in the proposed appointment which we had under discussion a fortnight ago—the particular Peerage case which was brought under your Lordships' notice by Lord Harris, and which received such condemnation by your Lordships.
§ With your Lordships' consent, I do not propose to go into any of these past transactions at the present moment, but I should like to say one word about the alleged scandals of the crudest kind which are commonly reported—the scandals of honours which are said to be put into the market and sold in order to obtain money for Party funds. I do not know how far matters have gone—I do not pretend to state how far they have gone—but, taking the report at the very lowest, I would point out to your Lordships that the existence of; such rumours is, by itself, a condemnation of the present system. What is said is that there are a large number of swindlers who go about the country suggesting that they have power to obtain honours, baronetcies, and even Peerages, and asking for a certain remuneration for their services to persuade people to deal with them.
§ Let us admit for the sake of argument—as, indeed, I do not doubt for a moment—that all these persons are really swindlers, that they have no such authority. What does that show? What is the moral? How is it to be explained that they have anybody to listen to them? If there really was a careful administration of honours, quite free from adverse pecuniary considerations, these men would never be listened to for a moment. Supposing people went about the country saying they could obtain the position of a major-general or a general of division for money; no one would even listen to them; they could do no trade. Or if they said they could buy 477 a bishopric, it is evident that any such suggestion would be treated with contempt. The fact that these swindlers are listened to for a moment is, of itself, the greatest condemnation of the present system, because it must be apparent to a great number of people that it is not absolutely incredible that these honours, these baronetcies and Peerages, should be awarded for pecuniary consideration. These are arguments which seem to me to be overwhelming. We must have some change; we cannot go on as we have gone on hitherto.
As to the actual position of the Government for the time being in respect of these honours, I wonder how far your Lordships are satisfied that the celebrated Resolutions passed in this House in 1917 have been carried out. There were two such Resolutions, and one of them laid it down that
The Prime Minister, before recommending any person for any such honour or dignity, should satisfy himself: that no payment, or expectation of payment, to any Party or political fund is directly or indirectly associated with the grant or promise of such honour or dignity.
That was laid down upon the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Lansdowne, and was accepted by His Majesty's Government—accepted by the noble Marquess, Lord Curzon, speaking expressly in the name of his colleagues, and therefore of the Prime Minister. Are your Lordships convinced that the Prime Minister has satisfied himself in every respect, in the matter of these honours and dignities, that there has been no pecuniary consideration? I confess I cannot believe it.
§ I am not making any charge at all, I need not say, against the Prime Minister himself, beyond this, that, to all appearances, in many instances, notwithstanding the fact that this Resolution was accepted by His Majesty's Government, it has, in fact, been treated as a dead letter. I say so because I was not able to discover in the debate a fortnight ago who was responsible for the recommendation of Sir Joseph Robinson to a Peerage. Your Lordships will forgive my recalling my own observation. I recited the various persons who might have been responsible, and I was able to satisfy your Lordships that one after the other had denied responsibility, in effect or expressly. None of them was responsible. How, then, can the Prim: Minister have satisfied himself that no pecuniary consideration had passed or was expected? I suspect that the Prime Minister knew 478 nothing about the subject. So far from being satisfied, I have considerable doubt whether he knew that this gentleman was going to be recommended at all. If such a thing could happen then the case is proved, beyond the possibility of doubt, that some change in the system is required.
§ Let us have a clear conception of what we want. I do not wish to be anything but sincere with your Lordships. I am not saying for a moment that because a man subscribes to a Party fund he ought therefore to be, as it were, barred from receiving any honour from the Crown. If he sincerely believes in the principles of a political Party it is not an objection to him, on the contrary, it is a merit, that he subscribes where his convictions lead him. And that is, no doubt, how it began—because this is a system which has gradually grown up through many years and, as time went on, this question of subscription no doubt became a sort of addition to the public services for which the honour was going to be awarded. First, His Majesty was satitled by the recommendation of his Prime Minister that the public services performed by a particular individual entitled him to be recommended for an honour. Then, in addition, there; was a certain subscription to the Party funds, and that was the first downward step. Then it got a little further, and the pecuniary contribution became an integral part of the consideration, so that it was not merely any longer the public services which alone counted, but it was the public services plus the large Party subscription which counted.
§ That, no doubt, was the first step. And it went a little further still, until I am afraid that now the Party subscription has become the more important part of the consideration. That is the point at which, I imagine, we hive arrived to-day: a gradual descent, a sort of "Rake's Progress" in the method of awarding honours. And if nothing were done, if your Lordships' House and the House of Commons were not to interfere, I think, before some of us finished our earthly careers, we should find that the pecuniary consideration was the sole consideration, and that no public services at all were involved. That would be the end. We must stop that. The first downward step was when the money became a part of the consideration, and what requires to be laid down is that henceforward money or a subscription to Party funds shall be no part of the con- 479 sideration for which dignities or honours are awarded. By all means let a man follow his convictions; if he believes in a Party let him subscribe to it; but do not let that count for a single instant in the question as to what honour he is entitled to or ought to be awarded. That seems to me to be the only method of stopping this evil growth which is choking the fount of honour in this country, and is peculiarly dangerous in a democracy such as our form of government has become.
§ Your Lordships have been kind enough to listen to me while I have tried to diagnose the exact disease, but I am not going to propose the remedy myself. What I am suggesting to your Lordships is that a Committee ought to be appointed whose business it shall be to consider and report as to what that remedy ought to be. We are engaged upon a very serious business, and our object, of course, is with the future. The past is past. Our object is to prevent the recurrence of these mischiefs in the future. The past is only important because it indicates the disease and is a guide to what the remedy ought to be. No doubt, the fact that the existence of the disease is practically admitted makes an elaborate inquiry into the past much less necessary than it otherwise would have been, but for my part I cannot exclude the necessity of looking into the past. It appears to me that it will be very difficult to bring home to those who are responsible for these evils what the extent of them is, and what the public indignation is in respect of them, unless, at any rate, the opportunity for looking into the past is left open.
§ Therefore, in the terms of reference which I have placed upon the Paper and submitted to your Lordships there; is no bar to looking into the past. But I repeat what I have already said: that our main object as patriotic citizens of this country, and subjects of His Majesty, is to prevent a recurrence of these evils in the future. It is upon that that we are principally engaged. It is our duty, if I may say so, to have an inquiry which may help the Prime Minister in the future to perform this part of his duties with greater satisfaction to the country. It is said, I know, that in touching this subject we are touching the Prerogative of the Crown. In the sense that we are dealing with the subject-matter of the Prerogative that is true, but I am quite sure that in any inquiry we may make and in any result of that inquiry we shall not hurt the true Prerogative of the Crown.480
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
On I the contrary, I entertain the confident hope that what we do will be of the greatest assistance to His Majesty in using that Prerogative. What we are going to do is, I believe, to help the Prime Minister in the advice which he gives to the Crown as to the exercise of this Prerogative. We are going to do another thing, and one which is most important—we are going to I reassure public opinion. I doubt whether everybody realises how deeply stirred public opinion is on this matter. The public are profoundly shocked to find that what they had thought to be honours legitimately won are partly due to pecuniary considerations, and that the highest of all honours and dignities—a membership of your Lordships' House, with the power of giving your voice and vote in the making of laws, and in the administration of the country—is also partly affected by the comparative wealth of the individual and the amount of money which he is going to contribute for Party purposes. They are profoundly shocked in this country. But it is worse than that. They are profoundly shocked in the Dominions of the Empire outside this country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
So much so that, but for our deep sympathy with them, it would almost have been an insult to this country that one of the great Dominions forbade its citizens to accept an honour from the Crown, at any rate a Peerage, without the previous consent of the Government of that Dominion. Those are circumstances moving us to profound regret. They show that what I have said to your Lordships is true, that public opinion requires, that the country and the Empire require to be reassured and nothing will reassure them but a full, fair and impartial inquiry. Therefore, I have proposed the setting up of a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament, which is, of course, the most dignified form of inquiry open to Parliament. That we can do of our own Motion. The Houses of Parliament have complete control over it. We can determine its membership, its powers, its references, by our own direction. That is the natural, straightforward course which is indicated for Parliament.
481 It is suggested, I see, that the same end might be achieved by the appointment of some other form of inquiry. Until that proposal, with all its details, is laid before us it is impossible for us to judge whether it would be an adequate inquiry. What we want is a full and impartial inquiry. No useful purpose will be served by trying to burke it. The country and public opinion demand that the matter should be fully inquired into. I rejoice that it should be so, because the great danger of a democracy comes from the misuse of such things as the award of honours. It is one of its principal dangers. It ought to be a matter of great satisfaction to us all that public opinion is so healthy as to resent this abuse, and it throws a very heavy responsibility upon us. We are bound to do our utmost to second public opinion. What would be said of us if it could be charged against us in this generation that we contributed to the demoralisation of public opinion, and that when the better impulses of the people stirred them to resent these practices and to beg that they should be ended, we did not second their efforts?
I am glad that it is in your Lordships' House, amongst our own body, with our own great traditions, that this matter has been first mooted. It may be that some recent appointments to your Lordships' House, are matters of regret. I think it is so, but at any rate the heart of the House of Lords is sound. We are desirous, I believe, to do our utmost to put an end to this abuse, and, by responding to this impulse from public opinion, at any rate to set on foot an inquiry which shall bring to an end that which never ought to be, and which, if it continues, has within itself a threat and a menace to the future of the democratic institutions of this country. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That it is expedient that a Select Committee of seven Lords be appointed to join with a Committee of the Commons to consider the present methods of submitting names of persons for dignities and honours for the consideration of His Majesty, and to report what changes, if any, are desirable in order to secure that such dignities and honours shall only be given as a reward for public service.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, I rejoice that 482 the noble Marquess and his friends have brought this subject again to the attention of your Lordships. The noble Marquess is perfectly right when he insists that the subject is one of the, utmost possible importance. He is perfectly right when he says that it is one which specially concerns the I dignity and the authority of this House. There are other than Peerage titles. There is the well-known rank of baronet, with I the well-known history and origin of that-rank. Whatever may be said about the origin and the history of that honour, it never, of course, curried with it, as the noble Marquess has pointed out, the right to play a part in Parliament, and the right to exercise an influence, which is still great, over legislation. It is, therefore, altogether appropriate that the matter should, in the first place, have originated in this House, and that it should be in consequence of the initiative taken by this House that it has assumed, in the course, of the last few weeks, so much prominence.
The noble Marquess expressed the opinion that the Prime Minister might not even have seen a name, or names, contained in the recent Honours List. I would, in that connection, only say this. No Prime Minister, at the period when, conformable with the customs of this country, the List required to be settled, can have been more busily engaged than was the present Prime Minister on this occasion. While I should think that the view, or the hint, given by the noble Marquess puts the matter far too high, it is true that at the critical moment, when the List was being finally settled, the Prime Minister was at Genoa. It was necessary that he should deal with the matter while he still was at Genoa, having regard to the period at which the List has to be submitted and which admits of no postponement.
It is unquestionably true, certainly of this Prime Minister and I have no doubt whatever of almost all his predecessors, I that they have looked upon this question of the recommendation of honours as one I of the most important and most anxious of all the functions which they have to discharge. In a country such as ours—at least, most people, I think, will accept this view-honours, if wisely recommended, are among the greatest securities of an ordered hierarchy in the State. I agree equally that if the advice is unwise, if the I selection is partial, still more if the selection were unhappily ever to become upon 483 any considerable scale corrupt, the resultant mischiefs would be far graver than any continuance of the system could be expected to counterbalance by way of advantage. On all these grounds I am in entire agreement with the general views taken by the noble Marquess.
There are some difficulties of which, I thought, in his speech he was, to some extent, at least conscious, and I was not quite satisfied that what he called his diagnosis of the mischief was one of which it could be said that it was completely logical. But I was very glad to hear the noble Marquess recognise—because the recognition seemed to me to be inevitable—that the mere fact that a man had given financial support to the Party in whose tenets he believed was not, and ought not to be in itself, a disqualification for receiving honours. I think that admission was a necessary one, for a reason which I will ask leave very shortly to develop.
We, in this country, have committed our institutions to what is generally known as government by Party. Party government can be assailed by many arguments. It contains, indeed, as an inherent necessity, many most manifold absurdities, and it would appear to be as ludicrous as it sounded when Swift's Traveller explained it in the country of the Giants—it would appear as ludicrous as that to any uninformed foreigner coming for the first time into a country which was governed as we are if he were told that its extraordinary and most distinguishing feature was that at any given moment it secured that almost half the ablest man in the State should be ranged in consistent antagonism to the other half of its statesmen. Yet its compensations are known to all of us, and its compensations have been, on the whole, approved by the sustained voice through generations of the most sagacious of the statesmen who have governed in this country.
If we recognise, as I think we must recognise, that Party government has advantages which no alternative system can supply, that it enables and has enabled this country to pursue its destiny through the centuries that have passed, that realisation carries with it a further conviction, and the conviction is and must be this, that that which is necessary to maintain Party government in this country must be 484 tolerated unless the first concession is to be revised. What is necessary to maintain Party government in this country? It is, as every single noble Lord in this House, whether he succeeded to a seat in this House without having served his apprenticeship in another place or whether he had what I may still call the advantage of having undergone his Parliamentary training in the House of Commons, knows and realises, as plainly as I do, that you cannot maintain any Party in the. State unless it has some central fund by the aid of which I the necessary expenses, which any Party in any democratic country in the world must be prepared to carry out, can be met. I think I am on grounds which will not be treated as debatable when I say that no Party in any country in the world can subsist without Party funds behind it. It is true, and always has been true, of the Parties in the United States of America; it is true, and it always has been true, of the democracy of France; it is true, and it always has been true, of the democracy of this country.
If I am right, first of all, that we require Party government, and, secondly, that we cannot maintain Party government without funds—then we approach the next question: Where are those funds to come from? Nothing is more, certain than that they will not drop like the gentle rain from heaven. They will be the result of human endeavour and human contribution. The Labour Party have been so fortunate as to solve it in a particularly happy manner. By the assistance of the Legislature in the years which followed upon the Election of 1908, they placed themselves in the enviable position that they are entitled to make compulsory levies upon the funds of their trade unions, to winch their opponents, their political opponents within those trade unions, are compelled to contribute. I have seen in a constituency for which no Labour member has ever sat, over and over again men leaving the polling booth wearing the button of their particular trade union (of which the Labour candidate was a member and perhaps the leader) and openly handing, in the light of day, their cards to the Unionist agent who was waiting outside. And yet those men were compelled by law, which we sanctioned in the years following 1906, to subscribe to the election expenses of men whose political views they detested and abhorred. That system has at least the merit that it solves for the moment their problem, and, therefore, of all the Parties 485 in the State the Labour Party may be placed upon one side as being in the enviable position that it need not consider the financial difficulty of which I am attempting to indicate the nature and limits.
The older Parties are not so fortunate, and I again ask: Take the Unionist section of the Coalition, or the section of the Liberal Party with which the noble and learned Lord on the front Bench is associated, or that section of the Liberal Party with which the Prime Minister is connected—is it, or is it not, desirable or reasonable that they should be in a position to maintain their existence by means of that financial strength which is indispensable? If that be conceded, where is it to come from? It can only come from the subscriptions of men who agree with their views. It always has come from the subscriptions of men who agree with their views, and as long as those funds are coming in it can never come from any other source. I followed carefully the noble Marquess's analysis on this point, and subject to a small reservation, I agree with him. He said, in effect: "I will not repel from the grant of an honour a man merely because he has made a Party-subscription." But the second stage I absolutely reject. The second stage indicated by the noble Marquess was when you take a Party subscription, plus a record of public service. The noble Marquess says that the Party subscription must be, treated as an absolutely irrelevant consideration. I say plainly that in my judgment it never has been treated as an entirely irrelevant consideration, and I have the greatest doubt as to whether the proposal of the noble Marquess, though I have not risen to oppose it but to suggest modifications which will impair neither its value nor its substance, is a system which could be carried out by such a Committee as he proposes.
Let us see how it would work in a concrete case. Two men are brought up for consideration; in order not to make the comparison too invidious or critical, let us say, for the rank of baronet. Each has served for precisely the same period on the London County Council, say for thirty years, and each has worn the ermine of an alderman for fifteen years. There is no dispute in any quarter as to the merits between them but a universal admission that the merits of each man would entitle him to the baronetcy which I am dis- 486 cussing. Suppose one of these men is known to have been a staunch supporter of the Party which the noble Marquess leads in this House, would it be contended, should that happy day come when the noble Marquess's Party was in Office, that it was the duty of the Whips in deciding between the two men, the claims of whom were equal, not to have regard to the circumstance that in the dark days—the noble Marquess's Party has had unhappily to come through their dark days—that one man held aloft the flag at a moment when few people were ready to hold it, and perhaps had afforded the means of contesting a decisive election at a moment when, had that means not been forthcoming, the election could not have been contested? And why in the name of common sense should it be so decided?
Let us analyse this a little more closely, and, while we are rightly attacking an admitted grievance in those cases in which the grievances are proved, let us, as Dr. Johnson said on one occasion, be quite careful that we have entirely purged our minds of cant. In that connection what observation at once must spring to the lips of every sincere man? You have a profound belief, or you do not believe, in the tenets of the Party of which you are a member. You believe, or you do not believe, that the salvation and the greater prosperity of the country and Empire depend upon such a general adoption of the views of your Party as will place it in a position in which it can carry those views into effect. Does it not follow, ex hypothesi, that the leader of a great Party is to have some genuine gratitude to a man who has subscribed to the resources which would not otherwise have been forthcoming, which hive rendered possible the adoption of those views, upon which, ex hypothesi, the salvation and fortunes of the country and Empire depend.
If the position is impartially examined it must be clear that in the mind of the leader of any Party, who distinctly believes in the doctrines which he and those who work with him are daily preaching, that at least it is no demerit at all, but a positive merit, that the man has assisted to keep together the framework and the body of that Party in days when its fortunes are diminished, and when, consequently, it was not so easy, as at other and more prosperous periods it might be, to raise the necessary financial support for that pur- 487 pose. I am not making these observations with the object of impugning the major thesis of the noble Marquess. I have been in Parliament only for some sixteen years. The noble Marquess has been in Parliament very much longer and is, compared with me, a veteran in Parliamentary service; and there sits next to him my noble friend, Lord Selborne, who, again, has a long Parliamentary experience, and who, I believe, possesses an even more intimate personal knowledge of the difficulties of the subject which I am attempting to examine to-day. But I will take leave to tell the noble Marquess that I do not believe that any member of this House, who has sat in another House as long as these two noble Lords have sat there, would say that ever, in all that long time, they have known a Whip—I do not care on which side of the House he sat—who, as between two men of admittedly equal public service, would not have thought himself fully entitled to have regard to the fact that one of them had at some earlier period given support to the Party to which he belonged. I am distinguishing most clearly in everything I say the case of a man who makes a bargain then and there, having given no such support beforehand, and who says: "I am prepared to do this or that." Such a system would, of course, be odious and indefensible, and I cannot believe that here or elsewhere you would ever find anybody to defend it.
I remember a manifestation of this same idea in the year 1906, when I was a young member of the House of Commons. On that occasion, Mr. Hilaire Belloc introduced a Motion to which I know many noble Lords now listening to me must at that date have listened. He made, a speech, as he always did, extremely diverting and extremely intolerant, of the institutions against which he was directing his invective, and he moved for an inquiry into the system. A similar inquiry, only more searching in its implications, had been ordered so long ago as the days of Walpole by a Secret Committee of the House of Commons, which inquired also into other matters which had attended the interesting and important period during which that great statesman held office.
After Mr. Belloc had finished his speech, and had been seconded by a gentleman who shared his views. I remember that my 488 noble and learned friend, Lord Buckmaster, rose to move an Amendment. I was, at the time, in some small uncertainty as to what the contemporary purpose of my noble and learned friend might have been, but I recall the verbal form which his contribution to the debate assumed. He moved an Amendment, or a rider—I cannot precisely recall which—that an inquiry should be directed into the methods by which the Tariff Reform League obtained its funds. I know my noble and learned friend far too well, and I knew him far too well then, to assume that it could ever have been part of his deliberate purpose to draw a red herring across the trail of the substantive Motion, which enjoyed a very limited time, in any event, for its discussion, because it arose at 8.15 p.m., and must, by the then Rules of the House, determine at 11 p.m. I have no doubt that, in the sequel, my noble and learned friend was as distressed as Mr. Belloc indisputably was by the circumstance that the scanty time which remained was entirely occupied in a discussion of details, upon which Lord Chaplin could have given far more information, of how the funds of the Tariff Reform League were raised.
That was not, of course, the first time that such discussions had taken place. I do not know whether your Lordships read a long article which appeared in The Times a few days ago, and which intimated, or made plain, the difficulties which Sir Robert Peel experienced in his discharge of these anxious duties. Sir Robert Peel adopted, I am sure with complete sincerity, the attitude of mind that these things were of the smallest possible importance, and affected, and, I have no doubt, sincerely felt, a genuine intellectual contempt for any man in any circumstances who desired that he individually should receive an honour. As I have made plain on an earlier occasion, I have not the slightest sympathy for that point of view. On the other hand, so long as the selection for honours is judicially, honestly and efficiently made, I am persuaded that history shows that it affords one of the greatest possible influences making for stability within the State. Certainly, in this country, where the Monarchy, with the growing assent and support of the nation and the Empire, is constituted on a hereditary basis, we, of all people, who sit in this House, are most deeply concerned to lend all the support that is in our power to the hereditary principle.
489 I must not be led into a topic which will engage us at a later date, when we discuss the Resolutions dealing with the reform of the House of Lords. I am at the moment upon a much more limited theme, that the desire for honours, in this country or any other country, is perfectly legitimate, and that it does not entirely become those who themselves, either in their own persons or in history through their ancestors, become the recipients of them, to disparage the desire of others who come later. In this connection, I was reading a day or two ago, in the biography of a most distinguished member of this House, who is the head of one of the most illustrious families in Europe, the life of his first great ancestor. It was many centuries ago that his life was lived, and I read, in the old-fashioned and almost contemporary record, that he was knighted in such and such a year, and sworn of the Privy Council in such another year, but—He in vain aspired to a Peerage during this reign, but honours soon approached, for the King among the first created him a Peer.One must remember that the greatest oaks, after all, at some period or other, had contact with an acorn, and, just as a great family was created three or four hundred years ago, because he who founded that family possessed singular individual worth, so in the same way we, in our day and our generation, must not be unwilling that those, so long as they be worthy, who play a great part in the life of this country, should equally be given a chance to fulfil that desire which, whether it be an infirmity or a nobility in human nature, leads every man to hope that, if he be not descended from a great family, he, may, at least, have the happiness of founding a family which may in its generation render great service to the State. All of these observations depend entirely upon the, assumption that the selection is wisely made.
Among those who spoke when this subject was under discussion on an earlier occasion, one or two expressed surprise that I thought it worth while analytically to examine into the whole, of the creations of Peers which have been made in the course of the last five years. Undoubtedly, any such examination is apt to be tedious, and I was under no delusion that the recital contributed any interest to my speech, but I undertook it for a special purpose, because, as I read those names I was persuaded—I think I read almost every 490 creation for the last five, or six years—that your Lordships could not escape the conclusion that hardly a name appeared in that period, which we are told is the most flagrant and scandalous period of all, for which adequate grounds for the promotion which had taken place did not appear to the mind of every one who heard it the moment the name was read out.
It is extremely important that we should avoid exaggeration in the pursuance of these topics, and we certainly ought not to forget this, that just as it was true that these charges were made at the time of Sir Robert Peel, so it is true that they wore made upon an even larger scale, and the picture was painted with a still more lurid brush, in the days of Walpole, and that they were made over and over again in the days of the younger Pitt, who your Lordships may remember, on one occasion expressed his opinion with a cynicism which was at least intelligible. He said: "My opinion is that any man who is master of £10,000 a year has a right to a Peerage." I suppose that £10,000 a year in those days was probably the equivalent of about £100,000 a year to-day, although I have not worked it out, but the claim in any shape was undoubtedly a cynical one, and I recall it only as part of the history of the matter, in order that your Lordships may have it plainly in mind that the matter now complained of is, at all events, not a new one.
I need not take into consideration the Irish Peerages created on a celebrated occasion in Irish history. I am not going back over the last two, or three, or four hundred years. I am not in the least going to join with those who, being either members of this House or critics of this House, will say that the House has not in the main been adequately and worthily recruited. I certainly do not propose to associate myself with those, mostly to be found in the critics outside this House, who would use that history, and whatever may be wrong or open to criticism in that history, as a weapon of general disparagement of this House. To them I would reply that in the long centuries of the past this House has been, on the whole, most worthily recruited, and has proved itself a body very adequate to discharge all the duties committed to it, and if any one, disputes it, then to him I would say si monutneitum quants circumspice.
The noble Marquess has proposed that a committee should be appointed. Here 491 we are dealing with a matter of which he spoke with perfect truth when he said we must not exaggerate, but nevertheless, technically, we are dealing with a matter which affects the Royal Prerogative. I am not making this statement with the object of attempting to pass or defeat inquiry, but I am making it in order to justify a technical amendment or variation of the proposal of the noble Marquess. When you are dealing with the Royal Prerogative, although it is exercised, as it always has been, upon the advice of a responsible Minister, the proper way, in my judgment, or in the judgment of the Government, is that it should be dealt with by a Royal Commission of which the members are appointed by His Majesty himself and under his own Warrant. The Government, therefore, are not able to agree, and with great respect to the noble Marquess do not propose to agree, to the appointment of a Committee in the terms of his proposal, but they will agree to the appointment of a Royal Commission, with a reference which I will presently make plain, to give assistance in the difficulties which have arisen.
I need only say about the Commission that it will be so constituted, both in respect of members who from this House will sit upon it, and of Members from the other House, as to afford to the harshest critic of His Majesty's Government, and other Governments which have preceded it, in this matter, the fullest possible security that men of great ability, great experience, and, what is even more important, great independence, have been selected, and I will be willing to stand before your Lordships on a later occasion, when possibly it may be my duty to defend the constitution of this Commission—I will be prepared to stand before your Lordships in sackcloth and ashes if I am not able to substantiate every assurance made upon these points.
Now I come to the terms of the Amendment. I propose to leave out of the Motion of the noble Marquess all the words after "That" and to insertan humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that His Majesty will be pleased to appoint a Royal Commission to consider and advise on the procedure to be adopted in future to assist the Prime Minister in making recommendations to His Majesty of the names of persons deserving of special honour.The noble Marquess, in an interesting passage in his speech, said it was not his desire 492 to undertake a microscopic historical examination into the past.
I should suppose that that will not be anybody's desire, not for the reason that might spring to the mind of any person who had formed an unfavourable view of a particular Government, but for a reason which must appeal to any person of common sense and responsibility. In the first place, how far back is such an inquiry to go? How many decades, or generations, or centuries? How many honours, worthily in our generation held, are to be impeached and rendered more or less important as the result of such a discussion? In the name of common sense, who in the world is going to gain by an examination of this kind? What ordered cause such as appeals to this House will be strengthened or reinforced by allowing every rumour or gossip to be investigated over the last ten, or twenty, or fifty or a hundred years? I cannot believe any reasonable person, however willing to give his vote because he thinks there ought to be an improvement in the system uuder which advice is given to His Majesty, would for a moment desire to lend the weight or the authority of his name to a roving inquiry into the past.
Therefore, adopting what was quite plainly said by the noble Marquess in one part of his speech, and in order that the result may be a practical one, and one not incapable of comparatively early attainment, we propose—and I confidently expect that your Lordships will confirm that view—that the terms of reference should be those which I have read—To consider and advise upon the procedure to be adopted in future to assist the Prime Minister in making recommendations to His Majesty of the names of persons deserving of special honour.Such is the Amendment which in a moment I shall move, and I hope it is one which the noble Marquess himself may not be unwilling to accept.
I have only to add this, speaking, as I have attempted to speak, upon a grave and serious subject in a suitable tone and manner, that I profoundly rejoice that this matter has been taken up, so definitely and so emphatically taken up, by your Lordships; and I rejoice that the result of that initiative has been to introduce a change which may prove in its ultimate consequences to be of vast importance in the whole history of this matter in our 493 country. The whole history of the Anglo-Saxon race has been founded upon the high tradition that those who deserve worthily of the State should be given some external symbol by which they may be distinguished from their contemporaries. And even in countries which do not claim, as ours has for so long claimed, the particular form or manifestation—which is nothing but a symbol—which that recognition takes, even in countries like France and Italy, you discover that there are great companionships of honour, like the Legion of Honour, which are dearly prized in obedience to the same irresistible impulses of human nature. We have a distinction not possessed in all States, in that we have also preserved the appanage of heredity. Let us by all means purge the system which exists of everything which, by rendering it less honourable, may destroy that system itself, let us purge it by every means in our power, let us not by any act impair that disposition and tendency of human nature to merit and to seek for recognition which is the result of honourable and successful endeavour. I beg to move the Amendment which I have read out to the House.
Leave out all the words after ("That"), and insert ("an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that His Majesty will he pleased to appoint a Royal Commission to consider and advise on the procedure to be adopted in future to assist the Prime Minister in making recommendations to His Majesty of the names of persons deserving of special honour").—(The Lord Chancellor.)
THE MAKQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I agree most heartily with the noble Marquess who moved the original Motion that the question is one which is exciting, both in Parliament and out of it, the deepest interest, and I do not understand that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack in any way disputes that proposition. On the contrary, he also dwelt on the importance of this matter and upon the degree of excitement which the discussions in both Houses to-day are causing. I myself cannot remember a subject, not directly concerned with some intended legislation by the Government of the day, which has caused so much public interest, as is evident from what we read in the Press, as this question.
The noble and learned Viscount dwelt or a moment on the natural and legitimate 494 importance which is attached to the honourable conferment of distinctions, and it must be to the interest of everybody that these honours, which are conferred by the Crown on the recommendation of the Government of the day, should continue to be the objects of the deepest respect. It is sometimes forgotten that the honours conferred by the Crown are not the only honours which a British subject can obtain. There are such rewards as the medals conferred by the Royal Humane Society, there are other distinctions, some academic and some conferred by learned societies and others, such as the highly valued medals of the Royal Society and of the Royal Geographical Society. It would be a pitiable thing if the honours conferred by the Crown, which ought to stand above all others, for one reason or another were less regarded than these other covetable distinctions.
It is admitted by everybody as a foundation for this proposed inquiry that for many generations the system by which the recommendation of honours has been made—of late, twice a year—has not been in itself a satisfactory system. The circumstances in which names were brought to the notice of the Prime Minister of the day by an important political person who, in addition to having to perform this function, was also the unquestioned guardian and trustee of the Party funds, were liable to lead to abuse, and in common repute has done so in certain cases in the past.
There is, of course, just this difference—and it is one which the noble and learned Viscount did not mention—that, whereas up till 1017 the Prime Minister of the day, by general admission, never asked questions from his subordinate who brought him names as to whether or not a particular person had or had not subscribed for Party purposes, here in October, 1917, those Resolutions which have been quoted to-day were unanimously passed and accepted by His Majesty's Government, laying on the shoulders of the Prime Minister the burden of making that inquiry. And it is because the noble Marquess who introduced the Motion believes, and, as I cannot help thinking, a great many other people also believe, these; Resolutions have been ignored in the case of certain recent recommendations, that the matter is on a somewhat different footing from that on which it would have been had those Resolutions not been passed.
495 There is also the growing tendency greatly to multiply the number of distinctions. The number of additions to your Lordships' House—dealt with seriatim, as they were, on a former occasion, as the noble and learned Viscount mentioned, by himself—has been very large, and I observe it is stated that this year in the two Lists (that of the New Year and that in celebration of His Majesty's birthday) the number of distinctions conferred has included 10 Peerages, 32 baronetcies, and 141 knighthoods. Some of those, no doubt, include what are known as Service honours; that is to say, appointments in the old Orders of the Bath, St. Michael and St. George, the Star of India, and the Indian Empire; also, no doubt, the Order of the British Empire. I cannot help thinking that there has been a rather uneasy feeling that these Service honours, if they may be so described, which in former years would never have come under the head of an inquiry of this kind at all, have been somewhat lowered of late years by the principle of the recommendations made, and might also have to be the subject of such an inquiry as is now proposed.
The noble and learned Viscount dwelt at some length, and in most interesting terms if I may say so, upon the question of Party funds. I have never heard anybody in this House or out of it maintain that Party funds in themselves ought to be abolished, or, indeed, that it is in the slightest degree discreditable to any man to subscribe according to his means to the funds of the Party in whose tenets he believes; nor do I think that anybody would differ from the noble and learned Viscount in saying that recommendations for honours have regularly been made in the past in respect of Party services. In this House, in another place, and in the country it is, of course, well known that men of high character have been regularly recommended for Peerages, baronetcies and the various Orders, in respect of their Party services. More than that, it is quite well known that the Government of the day, except on special occasions, such as that of the Coronation of the Sovereign, never recommend anybody else; the recommendations are confined to those who belong to the same. Party as the Government in power, and, so far as I know, nobody has ever complained of that.
What is complained of, of course, is where there is apparently a direct con- 496 nection between subscriptions to political objects and the conferment of an honour, where the connection is apparenly so clear and so immediate that the one has to be taken as the cause of the other. It is into the truth of the allegations made in that regard that it is desired to inquire. After all, we come back to this, that the only thing that is in real question is the character of the person who receives the distinction. If his character stands high, the mere fact that he is very wealthy or that he is known to be a keen partisan and to have subscribed largely for political purposes in no way matters, and in no way hurts him in public estimation. It is also true that the Prime Minister of the day, whoever he may be, must trust somebody in accepting recommendations to pass on to the Crown. It is obviously impossible, I do not say merely for the present Prime Minister in the present stress of circumstances, but for any Prime Minister at any time—and I am certain that the noble Earl opposite would bear me out in this—to make personal inquiry into all the circumstances surrounding the recommendation for every honour, large or small. He, clearly, has to depend on what he is told by those whom he trusts.
Then I come for a moment to the proposal of the noble Marquess, that this House should proceed to appoint its share of a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider this matter. His Majesty's Government have made an alternative proposal, that of the appointment of a Royal Commission. I am not certain that I quite follow the constitutional grounds on which a Royal Commission is preferred, because I cannot, see that the Royal Prerogative is in any degree brought into question by the appointment of a body of persons to advise the Prime Minister to make recommendations. I should be sorry to admit that it would be in any way improper for both Houses of Parliament to appoint a body of that kind. On the other hand, I can conceive that there are certain conveniences in substituting a Royal Commission for the proposition of the noble Marquess behind me (Lord Salisbury). I can imagine, for instance, that there may be persons, not members of either House, who would add strength and weight to such a body, and there may be other reasons appealing to the mind of His Majesty's Ministers which, on the whole, appear to make that course more convenient.
497 That being so, I certainly have no wish to oppose the suggestion made by the noble and learned Viscount. I do not, of course, know what the noble Marquess behind me will say about the substitution ol this plan for his own, but I should hope that the intrinsic difference between the two may not be serious. It may be assumed, I suppose, that some members of each House are likely to form part of the proposed Commission.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If the noble. Marquess will allow me, I may say that it is contemplated that the personnel shall be, taken almost entirely from the two Houses.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I can conceive that there might be persons not in Parliament who would be, very valuable members of it. However that may be, I certainly am not prepared to offer any opposition to the proposal. As regards the terms of reference and the functions which it is intended that this body should fulfil, and the form the inquiry should take, it may be found difficult to eliminate altogether some inquiry as to the past practice in deciding what is the present system which it is desired to modify, but I would say quite frankly that I do not think it would be to the public interest that anything like the roving inquiry of which the noble and learned Viscount spoke should be instituted.
I dare say there are people who would take a sort of morbid interest in raking up stories of alleged scandals in the past, implicating some who are living and some who are dead. There may even be people of a still baser mind who find positive amusement in that pursuit, but it clearly is not one which any serious inquirer would desire to encourage. Apart from such necessary statements as have to be made as to the past practice in order to make it clear what the present practice is, I should hope that inquiry of that sort would be avoided as far as possible. The main result of such an inquiry will be the satisfaction to public opinion which it ought to cause, and, as I believe, will cause. There is a very deep-seated and widespread feeling that scandals have been rife, apart from the trouble created by one or two recent appointments, of which your Lordships have lately heard. I, therefore, so far as I am concerned, quite share the feeling of joy which the noble and learned Viscount 498 expressed, that this inquiry should take place, and the sooner it can get to work and the more prompt its action, the better will be the effect on public opinion.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I think the speech of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will become famous in Parliamentary annals as the speech of admission, for, after a struggle extending over eight years, and after having met with denials again and again from those who spoke on behalf of the previous Government and of this Government, I do not think ever previously have we had such an admission as that of the noble and learned Viscount. Having been met with these denials for eight years, we now have the admission from the noble and learned Viscount that it is practically impossible for the Prime Minister, unassisted, to fulfil his constitutional responsibility in the examination of names put forward through him for recommendation to His Majesty for honours.
I pressed that point in the year 1917. I held in my hand an enormous Gazeile, and I asked how it was possible for the Prime Minister to consider himself, in any reasonable sense of the word, responsible for those recommendations. I was met with scorn from the Bench opposite, and was to do that the Prime Minister was perfectly competent and able to do it even in war time. Now we have the admission from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that it is quite impossible for the Prime Minister to fulfil this function as any Prime Minister would wish to fulfil it, and as the public expect him to fulfil it, and that as a matter of fact he was engaged on no less a task than the Conference at Genoa when the last Honours List was being prepared.
Again, I do not think that I am exaggerating when I say the noble and learned Viscount made no attempt to deny the case against the present system, which has aroused such a vast amount of public indignation. He did not come forward and say there is no grievance. He did not say that there is no case. He did not say that there is no scandal. By his silences, by the general tone of his speech, by his frank statement that, in general he was in entire agrement with the views of the noble Marquess behind me, he has admitted all these things, and yet this Government again and again has denied 499 them. When we brought these subjects up in 1914—there was another Government in power then—in 1917, and in 1918, we were told by my noble friend the Leader of this House, and by other spokesmen of the Government, that we were guilty of gross exaggeration, that there was no real scandal, and that our proposals for change were impossible. Technical objections were piled one upon another, like Pelion on Ossa, and we were told that the whole foundations of the Constitution would crumble if for one moment any machinery were devised to assist the Prime Minister in advising the Sovereign.
To-day, the whole case is admitted, and the Lord Chancellor rejoices that the initiative came from this House in meeting public opinion, and in promoting what we all hope will end in a great reform. I rejoice, for reasons which I do not expect the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to share, that this House has forced from the strongest Government of modern times the concession which they have done all they could in the past to resist. We have not allowed this matter to drop; we have not been discouraged by the refusals and the denials by spokesmen of the Government. Public opinion has gradually grown and admitted the strength of our case. To-day, public opinion behind us is so strong that the Government did not dare to refuse the inquiry. In that sense I rejoice also that this is due to the action of your Lordships' House. Although the House of Commons is for the first time to-day seriously pursuing the same subject, it will be mere fact of Parliamentary history that the honours in this struggle are not with the Lower but with the Upper Chamber.
Let me turn to the Amendment which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has moved. I am not going to say that the procedure he proposes is impossible, or even improper, but I want to point out that it is a wholly different reference from that which is proposed by the noble Marquess. I think it was my noble friend the Marquess of Crewe, as well as the Lord Chancellor, who asked what good there would be in raking up the past. I agree to a certain extent. Our object is to prevent abuses in the future and not to pursue the history of the past in order to rake up every scandal we can. But I want it to be clearly understood in this House and by the country that we who have 500 taken this matter up are not afraid of a reference to the past. If an inquiry into the past is refused, it is not refused by us but by the Government and by those who are responsible for the Amendment.
It is idle to conceal from ourselves that the object of the Amendment is to prevent even a reasonable reference to the past; such a reference as that on which a solid case for future procedure, might legitimately be built up. In that connection I want to ask the Lord Chancellor a question about the powers of this Royal Commission. I do not pretend to be familiar with the constitutional powers of a Royal Commission. I know what are the powers of a joint Select Committee of the Two Houses of Parliament. I know that they can call for evidence on oath and send for Papers, persons and Records. What are the powers of a Royal Commission? Without any question of raking up the past for four hundred years, three hundred years, two hundred year, one hundred years, or even ten years, is it possible that a Royal Commission can do its work properly if it has no power to send for a single person, Record or Paper? Then, again, I want to know what is the exact meaning of the words "special honour"? Is there any significance attaching to the word "special"? I see the Lord Chancellor shakes his head and, therefore, I understand that the word means nothing. It does not mean that certain honours only would be submitted.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I understand, therefore, that the word "special" implies no limitation. Then I ask: What is to be the composition of the Royal Commission? The Lord Chancellor has said that it will be mainly composed of members of the two Houses of Parliament, by which I understand him to mean that there will be some members on it who are not Members of Parliament.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I merely wished to keep that door open. It may prove to be the case that someone who has been a member of the House of Commons and has not become a member of this House may be on it. I merely kept that door open.
§ THE EARL OP SELBORNE
Personally, I entirely associate myself with what Lord 501 Crewe said that some very suitable persons might be found not only from those who had been previously members of the House of Commons but who had never been members of either House. Could the Lord Chancellor give us any indication of the probable size of the Royal Commission?
THE LOBD CHANCELLOR
I think it is intended that it shall number from fourteen to sixteen, but the noble Earl will not tie me to a precise number.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
A Royal Commission is no doubt appointed by the King's Sign Manual on the recommendation of his Cabinet, of the Government. I do not want to appear to be unduly suspicious, but in a matter of this immense public importance it would be satisfactory if the Lord Chancellor could tell us a little more about the members of the Royal Commission. It has often happened in similar cases, before a certain matter has passed altogether from the consideration of Parliament, that the names have been given to both Houses. I think that was done in the case of the Parnell Commission, but it has certainly happened that when a special body has been set up to deal with a matter of great public; importance the Government have published the names of the proposed members before the question Las passed from the purview of either House.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
May I interrupt the noble Earl for a moment? I will gladly undertake to consult with the Marquess of Salisbury as to the constitution of the Commission so far as your Lordships' House is concerned.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I am much obliged for what the noble and learned Viscount has said that before the names are finally settled he will consult with Lord Salisbury, and, I imagine, also with Lord Crewe.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Certainly, I did not mean to be at all discourteous to the Marquess of Crewe, but in this matter the Marquess of Salisbury has taken a leading part.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
The only question which the noble and learned Viscount has not answered, and it is a rather important point, is as to the powers of the Royal Commission.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Earl will observe that the terms of reference are:To advise on the procedure to be adopted in future to assist the Prime Minister in making recommendations to His Majesty of names of persons deserving special honour.It is undoubtedly the fact that a Royal I Commission has no power to compel evidence to be given on oath or to force persons to produce Papers in the same way as a Special Joint Commiteee of both Houses. But having regard to the terms of reference neither of these disadvantages is, in my view, of the slightest importance. The Royal Commission is to report as to the future. The Papers concerned are naturally in the hands of those who for ten or twenty years have occupied the position of Whip. No one is going to refuse to give any information, whether documentary or other, to a Commission constituted under this reference; that is, in the service of the Government. Nor is it conceivable that any responsible person is likely to refuse to give evidence before the Commission, and as it has to advise as to what procedure should be adopted in the future it seems to me that it is not a matter which requires evidence, on oath. Should it appear afterwards that the matter requires such reinforcement it would be perfectly easy to do this by a single clause Bill.
My Lords, the great Lord Salisbury on one occasion stated that a Royal Commission was only useful to shelve an inconvenient question.
THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
My Lords, I hope the Amendment will not be accepted unless we are quite clear that it does include a very full inquiry into the existing system. It may not be necessary to inquire closely into the past, but it is necessary to inquire into any system if you I wish to reform it. The Lord Chancellor suggested that there was no fundamental difference between the position in which the present Government was placed with 503 regard to the bestowal of honours and the position of previous Governments, and he mentioned various occasions on which this question has been raised before.
But there is no parallel whatever between the position of this Government and any previous Government in regard to this question. This Government is in quite a distinct and peculiar position; firstly, because of the immense scale on which honours have been lavished during the past few years; secondly, because of the utterly reckless disregard of the services and character of the recipients; thirdly, because a systematic attempt has been made to obtain control over the Press by selling honours in return for newspaper support; and, fourthly, because this Government holds office in peculiar conditons. Formerly there were two great Parties in the State, and, in many cases, those who received an honour were expected to contribute to the funds. That might have been very undesirable, but it was, as everybody knew, a recognised system. These people were expected to contribute to the funds of the Party to which they belonged. The patronage possessed by the Party in power was always a valuable asset. Today this power of patronage nominally rests in the hands of two Parties, who at the present time form a Coalition, but the curious thing is that one of those Parties, numbering little over a hundred members, the Party of the Prime Minister par excellence, would seem to have profited to an extent out of all proportion to its numbers.
It is commonly reported, indeed, it is generally admitted, that the Unionist Party funds are at a somewhat low ebb, although the Unionists are by far the most numerous and influential Party in the State, whereas the Prime Minister's Party, insignificant in numbers and absolutely penniless four years ago, has in the course of those four years apparently amassed an enormous Party chest, variously estimated, at anything from £1,000,000 to £2,000,000. The strange thing about it is that this money has been acquired during a period when there has been a more wholesale distribution of honours than ever before, when less care has been taken with regard to the services and character of the recipients than ever before, when whole groups of newspapers have been deprived of any real independence by the sale of honours, and constitute a mere echo of Downing 504 Street, from whence they are controlled. It also coincides with a period when touting for honours has become a practice extensively carried on, and, to judge by the numbers engaged in it, is not a wholly unremunerative trade. What conclusion is the public likely to draw from this strange series of coincidences?
I suggest that one of the first objects of an inquiry should be to investigate the conditions under which this fund—and I include, of course, the Unionist funds, and all other Party funds—the conditions under which this great fortune, which has been amassed with such extraordinary rapidity by the Coalition Liberal Party, is held, and the persons who have subscribed to it. Who are the persons who have subscribed to it? Are they all Liberal Coalitionists? Or does anybody who happens to be an admirer of the Prime Minister contribute? I ask this question because there seems to be some reason to suppose that the purchase money which is sometimes paid for these honours is paid by wealthy Unionists.
A curious story was told me some two years ago. A gentleman who had held a position of great civic importance in the north of England, a man of real distinction, who might have been considered to be worthy of an honour, came to me and told me that a certain Member of Parliament, whose name he gave—it was quite well known to me—told him that he had seen his name on the List of New Year's honours, and had been authorised to tell him that, if he wished to make sure of receiving the honour, he must contribute to the Party funds. The Member asked him what sum he would give. He declined to give anything at all, and accordingly his name was not included in the Honours List. He, therefore, came to me, and asked me to find out what had happened, and to elucidate this curious incident. I wrote to the Chief Whip of the Unionist Party. He replied that this gentleman's name had never been included on their List, that he had never heard of him and knew nothing whatever about him, nor had they authorised anybody to approach him. There is no question whatever about the good faith of that disclaimer. The fact remains that this gentleman's name was on somebody's list, and somebody authorised that Member of Parliament to go and offer him an honour. If we had an inquiry we might find out to what fund, had the 505 money been paid, it would have gone, and also who authorised that Member of Parliament to act as he did.
With regard to the question of the merit of those who have recently received honours, I admit that it is not very much use conducting an inquiry into the question, because it is now practically admitted that the question of merit does not outer into it at all. When you confer a knighthood upon a man for his services during the war, and you proclaim in the Honours List that those services consisted in advising the Government as to trading in diamonds, you confess a cynical disregard for the worth of the services rendered. How stimulating to the millions who were giving up all that made life worth living in the war to learn that His Majesty had delighted to honour a man who advised the Government as to how they should trade in diamonds! How stimulating to learn that another gentleman was rewarded because he was the owner of a paper, and had contested two unsuccessful elections. No, there is very little to be gained by an inquiry into this aspect of the matter.
Let us be content with the knowledge that, within the past four years, three gentlemen have been honoured, either with a baronetcy or a knighthood, all three, of whom have quite recently been convicted by a court of law of the most serious offences. One was sued by his divorced wife for increased alimony, when the jury found him guilty of deception in having made her an allowance on a considerably understated income. I have heard—probably there is no truth in the rumour—that this gentleman may shortly be honoured with a Peerage. Another was convicted of having misconducted himself in relation to certain advertising contracts by rendering false accounts; he had, in fact, to put the matter quite plainly, engaged in a public swindle. A third was convicted of food hoarding during the war. From these instances one may form a tolerably just conception of the general worthiness of a large proportion of those upon whom honours have been conferred, and further inquiry could serve little purpose.
There is one direction, however, in which an inquiry would be most useful as well as interesting, and that is the method of using honours to influence the Press. It would appear that there are many rich 506 men who are tempted by the prospect of controlling newspapers, especially when coupled with the expectation of an honour. It is quite extraordinary how many gentlemen who buy newspapers and run them in favour of the Coalition Government's policy are rewarded with honours. It is also remarkable how papers which have opposed the Government, and then turn round suddenly and support them, are immediately rewarded with honours for their proprietors and editors. These things may, of course, be only coincidences, but still they are very curious. And yet, can we really, when we come to think of it, call them coincidences, when we find forty-nine Privy Councillors, Peers, baronets and knights created since 1918, all of whom are either proprietors, principal shareholders, editors, managing directors, or chairmen of groups of newspapers? This figure does not include a multitude of others who have been made Companions of Honour, C.M.G.'s, and the like, nor does it include certain other gentlemen who have been similarly honoured and who, without having this direct connection with the Press, have very obligingly provided the money to purchase a newspaper or a group of newspapers.
Again, can we really call it a coincidence when we find three persons concerned with the principal newspaper in South Wales, the Western Mail, Cardiff, all honoured with titles—the proprietor, one of the largest shareholders, and the editor? Really this does seem to be overdoing it. Strangely enough, the fount of Press honours has suddenly dried up. The last Honours List, though, perhaps, the worst in many respects ever produced, does not include any Press honours. It is evident that the powers that be are getting just a little alarmed, and I understand there are certain unfortunate gentlemen who are running newspapers at a loss, and who are likely to get remarkably little out of the bargain they have entered into with the dispensers of honours.
No, these things are not coincidences. It is, of course, true that many of these gentlemen have received honours for genuine services, quite apart from their connection with the Press, and there is perhaps something to be said for honouring representatives of the Press who helped the Government in connection with national propaganda during the war. But, making all allowance for this, the fact remains that a regular 507 system has been established for controlling the Press by the corrupt use of honours. Twenty years ago it was recognised as a principle that no honour should be granted to the Press, since it established relations between the Government and the Press which were subversive of the independence of both, and which were contrary to all the traditions of British Government. That standard has, unfortunately, been abandoned for some time past, but it has been reserved for this Government to convert this form of corruption into a system, and to exalt into a fine art the robbing of the Press of its independence.
Now let us turn to the system of touting for honours, which cries aloud for inquiry. I have already given the House some instances of this practice, and I have obtained a denial from the Government that these touts are authorised by them. Of course, I accept the denial unreservedly, but since I brought this matter up, other letters have come into my possession which leave a strong impression that while these touts have received no authority from the Government, they yet may have some connection with a third party who is authorised by the Government. How, otherwise, are we to account for the following curious case? Here is a gentleman who writes the following letter to two people living in different parts of England, and the letter is in each case in identical terms:
§ "Dear Sir,
§ "I am requested to place before you a social matter of a very confidential nature which it is thought may be of interest to you. Will you kindly let me know whether you can suggest a meeting within the next few days in London or elsewhere. I cannot put more in a letter.
§ "P.S.—In ease you might care to find out who I am I am well known to—of—."
§ Here follows the name of a well-known baronet in the North of England, whom we will call Sir John Blank, of a certain great city in the North of England.
One of the recipients of this letter interviewed Sir John Blank, who informed him that the letter had emanated from Downing Street; that he (Sir John Blank) had mentioned the recipient's name as being worthy of an honour, and that he would have to pay £40,000 if he wanted a baronetcy. The other recipient of this letter did not interview Sir John Blank, but interviewed the writer, and this is his description of the interview—
I gave that man an interview. He told me my name had been mentioned to him as a suitable person for a baronetcy, and if I agreed he could have it done in an hour. I presume he meant put on the list. He said the Government would not last very long, and that when Lloyd George went to the country he wanted funds to contest certain seats, etc. He did not mention the amount because I very quickly told him what I thought about it.
He then goes on to say that one of His Majesty's Ministers tried him with the same thing some time ago, but that was for a knighthood, and mentioned the sum of £10,000, which he said need not be paid down all at once, but might be spread over a period of four years.
§ Here we have a tout who writes to two hard-headed business men making them an offer of an honour in exchange for money, and quoting as a reference a third gentlemen, who is very well known in the north of England, who is highly respected, and who has earned great distinction in public life. I want to know whether anybody will seriously contend that this tout would have quoted that gentleman as a reference if he had been a mere swindler, and if he had not had good reason to believe that he could deliver the goods. Numerous other instances have come to my knowledge, but I will not weary your Lordships by giving them all.
THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
I will give one or two typical cases. I do not say that these cases prove any connection with the Government, but at least they prove that so well known is this traffic in honours that it is worth while to carry on touting on this scale; and since it is difficult to believe that any considerable number of persons would be foolish enough to give money without some assurance that the goods could be delivered, I cannot help thinking that in most cases some connection may exist.
Here is a case in which the tout gives chapter and verse, accompanied by a wealth of detail which is somehow strangely convincing, and bears a remarkable resemblance to the other interview that I have just related. This is an interview between one of the gentlemen written to and the tout, and it is signed by the gentleman in question, whom I have seen—I am authorised to offer you a knighthood or a baronetcy, not of the Order of the British Empire—no nonsense of that kind, but the real thing.509A knighthood will cost you £12,000 and a baronetcy £35,000.There has been some difficulty in the past through people paying in advance and failing to receive the honour. This has lately been overcome by arranging for a deposit in joint names, but on this occasion there will be no complication of that kind. You will be asked to meet someone in high authority, probably in Downing Street, and after the introduction, but not until say three or four days before the List is announced, you will be asked to pay £10,000 or £30,000, as the case may be, to someone—formerly it was … I don't know exactly who it will be this time, but probably … Then you will proceed to—I forget the precise Government Office which was named—and I am permitted to take the balance which represents the fees. Nothing need be paid until you are absolutely assured that the honour will be given.There are only Ave knighthoods left for the June List—if you decide upon a baronetcy you may have to wait for the Retiring List. The Retiring List—All this is very interesting; I did not know it before—refers to the honours which a Retiring Prime Minister is allowed to recommend on a change of Government. That may take place at any time now. It is not likely that the next Government will give so many honours, and this is really an exceptional opportunity, but there is no time to be lost if you wish to take it. I assure you that all inquiries regarding yourself have been made and satisfactory answers received, so that you may be sure there will be no difficulty. It is unfortunate that Governments must have money, but the Party now in power will have to fight Labour and Socialism, which will be an expensive matter.Now I will give one other instance of an interview in response to a similar request. The person approached is very well known to me personally, and his account of the interview is also signed. It is as follows:—He [the tout] commenced the conversation by saying that he was authorised to ask me whether I would accept a high honour if it was offered me. I replied 'Why?' He then said that my 'outstanding services to the country' had long been recognised and that the Prime Minister would be very glad if I would accept an honour, but first wished to ascertain through him whether I would accept it. I replied that such services as I had been able to render during the war had been already recognised by the bestowal of an O.B.E., and I think I added that my charwoman had received the same honour.I then asked him again why, if the Prime Minister thought I was deserving of some high honour, he should approach me through … I am sorry to say that at this point I lost my temper, and without giving … an opportunity of broaching the financial side of the question I told him of the episode of …510 he mentioned a distinguished gentleman who was convicted of food hoarding during the war—and mentioned that I was one of the principal people in the north who had used every endeavour to get this baronetcy rescinded. I further told him that I would consider the offer of a baronetcy from Mr. Lloyd George as the greatest insult he could possibly offer me, and I felt sure that this was the opinion of every honest man in the north.I am, unfortunately, not in a position to quote names in connection with this correspondence, as the persons who were approached desire to avoid publicity, but I have reason to believe that they would be willing to come forward if a proper Parliamentary Inquiry were instituted. If that means fails I believe that there are other means of arriving at the truth, and I hope to procure the support of these gentlemen in adopting those means.
I am quite aware that in all this there is no proof of any connection between these persons and the Government; there is nothing on which you could base a charge against the Government. The Government, of course, may say: "You have no proof; all this is not evidence; it would not be accepted by any Court of law; you mention no names; we are above suspicion, and we decline to take any notice." How can you say that when you admit that the whole system of bestowing honours is so open to question that you have to appoint a Royal Commission in order to prevent its being abused in the future? It is all very well for Caesar's wife to adopt the attitude that she is above suspicion, but when Caesar's wife says: "I admit that my reputation is somewhat besmirched; I admit that there are incidents in my past career which will not bear very close examination; but, as you can prove nothing against me I insist on ignoring your unworthy suggestions, and I insist on your regarding and treating me as a lady of immaculate a ad impeccable virtue," the position is different.
If that is the position which the Government are going to elect to stand upon, if they succeed in burking a full inquiry into this matter I shall regret it, but I shall find considerable consolation in the reflection that no course could do them more harm in the country. And, as I regard the continuance of the present Government as an unmitigated evil, I shall not pretend to be sorry if the public forms the conclusion 511 —which is, I believe, the only justifiable conclusion—that this Government have been responsible for inaugurating a system of corruption such as has not been seen in this country for a hundred years, and that they have deliberately used the Prerogative, of the Crown in order to support that system.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I did not rise at once because I was unaware whether any member of the Government was going to speak. I had certainly anticipated that one would. However, that is not for me to decide. I only desire now to indicate the course which I think the House might pursue in reference to the Amendment of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. I think your Lordships who have listened to this debate, especially to the last speech which was delivered, will be convinced, if anybody wanted conviction, that an inquiry into this subject is absolutely requisite. Of course, that is the opinion of His Majesty's Government, and is involved in the Amendment which they have moved. As it stood when it was presented to us there were certain vaguenesses about it which required to be cleared up, but I think they have been to a great extent cleared up.
In the first place, in reply to my noble friend, Lord Selborne, the Lord Chancellor has been good enough to assure us that those of us who are interested in this subject will be consulted as to the personnel of the Royal Commission. He mentioned my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition and myself, and I suppose he included others who are much more distinguished than I am. Therefore, although perhaps it is not equivalent to the actual appointment of its members by the House which would have followed from the acceptance of the Motion for a Select Committee, I think that is a very considerable concession to meet our view.
Then, my noble friend pointed out that a Select Committee had power, according to the well-known formula, "to send for persons, Papers and records," and that it had power to take evidence, and he asked what power this Royal Commission would have to take evidence. I am glad to accept from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack the assurance that most of the relevant Papers are in the possession of His Majesty's Government, and that no 512 difficulty would be made in laying what was appropriate before the Royal Commission and that, as regards persons, every person who could throw any proper light upon the subject, as I understood him, would be available, so far as His Majesty's Government were concerned; and that, though evidence would not be on oath, at any rate any evidence which was required could be given without oath; and, lastly, that if in the course of the inquiry it appeared that that would not be sufficient, it would be open to Parliament, as I understand with the assent of His Majesty's Government, to pass a one-clause Bill giving this power of examination upon oath to the Royal Commission.
That does, I must admit, bring the case of the Royal Commission much nearer to the case of the. Joint Select Committee than appeared originally upon the bare terms of the Motion, and, although I hope it is well understood that, so far as we are, concerned, while we have no desire specially to go back into the past yet we have no reason to shrink from it, having regard to the very considerable concessions which His Majesty's Government have made to the strong case which has been laid before your Lordships, I shall not take upon myself the responsibility of advising your Lordships to resist the Amendment. I should advise the House to accept it.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to, and Motion, as amended, agreed to: The said Address ordered to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.