§ LORD SOUTHBOROUGH rose to call attention to the Report of the Royal Commission on Honours, to make some observations thereon, and to ask the Government whether they propose to introduce the legislation recommended therein. The noble Lord said: My Lords, His Majesty's Government probably have their minds full of home and hearth, and perhaps it is not a very opportune moment to ask them to apply themselves to such a minor matter as decorations, but the Question on the Paper has been before your Lordships for some time and I should like to discharge my mind of it. It will be within the recollection of your Lordships that at a time of some acute political pressure a Royal Commission was appointed to advise on the procedure to be adopted in future to assist the Prime 260 Minister in making recommendations to the King of names of persons deserving special honour. The Royal Commission recommended that a short Act should be passed which would impose penalties on any person offering to become instrumental in the securing of an honour for another in respect of a money payment or valuable consideration. It also advised that the Act should impose penalties on any person promising payment or consideration in order to receive an honour. I think that the first category of persons was described by the Royal Commission as "touts." The Question on the Paper invites His Majesty's Government to say whether they propose to introduce legislation to give effect to that part of the Commission's Report.
§ I do not propose to pursue that matter further, but with your Lordships' permission I should like to make a few observations upon the Report of the Royal Commission itself. The Commission, as your Lordships are aware, reported some time ago. It is not my intention to make any reference to the events which were assumed to give rise to the appointment of that Commission; neither should I think of talking disrespectfully of the Commission itself. It performed its duty with great rapidity under the care of my noble and learned friend Lord Dunedin. It produced a document of great value and importance, a piece of concise and lucid drafting not untouched by humour.
§ My first point, then, is with reference to the recommendations of the Royal Commission that a Committee of the Privy Council, of not more than three members, be appointed of persons not being members of the Government to serve for the period of the duration of office of the Government, and that before submission to His Majesty of the names of persons for appointment to any dignity or honour on account of political services, the names of such persons should be submitted to the Committee with appended to each name the following particulars:—
- (a) A statement of the service in respect of which, and the reasons for which, the recommendation is proposed to be made;
- (b) A statement by the Patronage Secretary or Party manager that no payment, or expectation of payment, to any Party or political fund is directly or indirectly associated with the recommendation;
- (c) The name and address of the person who the Prime Minister considers was the Original suggestor of the name of the proposed recipient.
The Commission go on to recommend
That the Committee, after such inquiry as they think fit, should report to the Prime Minister whether, so far as they believe, the person is, in the whole circumstances, a fit and proper person to be recommended.
The Commission further express the opinion that this information would enable the Committee to make such inquiries through their secretary as they thought desirable, and they would then report whether, so far as they knew, there was any good reason which made it inexpedient that the name in such and such an instance shall be submitted.
§ An examination of the Report shows that the Commission, conscious no doubt of the criticism that their proposal might weaken Cabinet responsibility, were careful to say that "the proposal we make is intended only to help the Prime Minister to satisfy himself and not to diminish his duty in so doing." No one would deny first-aid to a Prime Minister, but it is a question whether in such a case any aid is really necessary—whether he could not, by care and circumspection, and with the assistance of his Cabinet, come to a full and fair conclusion as to the merits and demerits of his recommendations. The Committee of the Privy Council is to report to the Prime Minister whether the person is, in the whole circumstances, a fit and proper person to be recommended. That, so far as it has gone, would seem to suggest that the Committee of the Privy Council would have practically full control over the recommendations which the Prime Minister proposes to make, and which are sent, together with this information to which I have referred, to the Committee. But the Commission then go on, as it seems to me, to make some limitation. They say their duty (the duty of the Committee) "must be one of scrutiny, and 262 scrutiny only—to report if the past history or general character of a person rendered him unsuitable to be recommended." This is a recommendation which the Prime Minister proposes to make, but it goes to this Committee for their scrutiny and report" if the past history or general character of the person renders him unsuitable to be recommended."
§ I have felt some difficulty in making up my mind exactly what the duties of this Committee are to be. The Committee has been appointed, and I presume that it exercised some functions with regard to those recommendations which have recently been accepted by the Crown. If that is so, I take it that the Government may not be indisposed to give us some account of the reference to, and of the procedure of, that Committee. It really is an interesting matter to know whether the Committee is instructed merely to report upon the past history and character of a person who is to be recommended for a seat in your Lordships' House, or whether, by reference to the material which is to be sent to the Committee by the Prime Minister, the Committee is also to look into the general circumstances of the case and come to some conclusion upon the matter.
§ I should like to know how this Committee is going to function. If it is to report on character and history only, well and good. But your Lordships will observe that if that is what the Committee is appointed to do, then there are many other questions which ought to be considered before your Lordships could be certain that a person recommended would become a wholly suitable member of your Lordships' House. There are, for instance, the question of services and the question of the adequacy or inadequacy of the reward. And if the Committee is not merely to go into character and history, but is to make the sort of inquiries suggested in one part of the Report when it says that they are to be supplied with material, then, indeed, the Committee is taking into its own hands a large share of the duties which certainly ought to fall upon the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, and particularly upon the Prime Minister as primarily responsible to the King. Therefore, in the one case or the other the subject demands some consideration from your Lordships.263
§ I imagine, from the terms of the Report, that the Government will say that the Committee can only go into past history and character, and that they cannot assume to themselves the general supervision of these recommendations in such a way as to take the principal power out of the hands of the Government. If this is so, I venture to suggest to your Lordships that the Prime Minister is to be aided by the Committee in regard to limited part of the whole subject upon which he really does not require much aid. Surely, upon reflection, the whole picture is out of perspective.
§ What is the true view? It is the custom at the New Year and on the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday to submit recommendations or suggestions for honours. The Royal Commission goes out of its way—and very properly so—to express a hope that those lists will be small, but it appears to be necessary each half year, for reasons which I cannot fathom, to go out into the world and endeavour to find four or five persons who should be submitted for Peerages. Apparently, as the appointed time arrives, the Prime Minister, already busily employed, is in labour, and produces four or five recommendations for potential Peers. The Report of the Commission suggests to the mind of the reader that when he makes up his mind to recommend these gentlemen for seats in your Lordships' House, he knows nothing about the men at all; that he has never heard of them except at second hand, and that, apparently, he knows nothing of their services; and the suggestion is that it is impossible for anybody but a Committee of the Privy Council to "devil" those names for the Prime Minister and ascertain whether they have a past or deserve to have a future.
§ I should have thought that there would have been no difficulty at all on the part of the Prime Minister in coming to a conclusion as to whether those four or five men were fit and proper persons to be recommended to the Sovereign, and that the Cabinet is the body who should be responsible for that office. I have had something to do with honours of sorts in the past, and I have always felt great difficulty in understanding why your Lordships' House should be recruited by the calendar, why at two periods of the year it should be necessary to find persons who 264 are to be recommended to the Sovereign and are now, under the new procedure, to be recommended to the Sovereign after the list has been "vetted" by this Committee. There is no reason why, at these periods of the year, men should be sought for, found, and then warranted sound. If there is no knowledge as to who they are and what their services have been, why should any recommendation be made?
§ Surely, the true view is that a public servant designed for such an important honour as a seat in your Lordships' House should be a man who, by his service and by his merits, is certain to catch the eye of the Prime Minister without any of this paraphernalia. This Committee of the Privy Council on past history and general character must always be very distasteful to a Prime Minister and it must also be very uncomfortable and distasteful to the Prime Minister's nominees. The formula in the future will be to congratulate a man not upon his Peerage, but upon having passed the test of this Committee. That is a form of examination to which a man of mature years and distinguished service would never have expected to have to submit—certainly not on this side of the grave. I should be very glad indeed if I thought that your Lordships would consider this question somewhat deeply, because it means, as it seems to me, that in the future your Lordships' House is to be recruited in a manner which lamentably reflects upon its dignity.
§ I know that it will be said at once: "But what is the alternative?" Those of your Lordships who have read the Report will have observed that the Commissioners lucidly point out that non-political honours are not the work of the Prime Minister only, the overworked Prime Minister. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, India, and to some extent both the Navy and the Army deal with their own recommendations. Unless the recommendations coming through those Departments savour of what is called a political honour they go direct from the Minister to the Crown. But it must be recognised that political honours proper cannot be dealt with in that way. Political honours proper must be contained in a Prime Minister's list. Bearing in mind that 265 the policy of sub-dividing the heavy duty of dealing with these somewhat disagreeable things is well known to the Cabinet, why should not two Ministers of distinction and importance, connected, if possible, with your Lordships' House, be detailed to assist the Prime Minister in going into these delicate questions and to make a report in writing? There are, for instance, the Lord President of the Council and the Lord Privy Seal, two very important Ministers at all times and usually sitting in your Lordships' House.
§ It may be said by some: "But if you have an irresponsible Prime Minister"—if such a person could ever exist—"he will coerce his Ministers and they will become, parties to recommendations which are not satisfactory." I think there is a great deal of difference between the case in which sole responsibility rests upon the Prime Minister, and that in which two Ministers of great position and distinction, forming a Cabinet Committee, make a written report upon the recommendations and that report goes with the Prime Minister's recommendations to the King, so that the King is apprised not only of the recommendations of his Prime Minister but of the views upon them of two members of the Cabinet stated in writing. If you can deal with the difficulty in that way, surely you are extending the responsibility of members of the Cabinet—a preferable course, I suggest, to the nomination of this outside Committee.
§ If the question of the recommendations is dealt with in the manner I have suggested, it will be observed that the Ministers who, at the Prime Minister's request, examine the recommendations for political honours put forward by him will be in a position not only to de-al with the question of character and of history, but also with all those things which are very pertinent—namely, the services of the individual, the adequacy or inadequacy of the reward, and many other matters which will readily occur to your Lordships.
I do not desire to weary your Lordships, but I should like to say one word upon another recommendation of the Honours Commission—a matter which arises directly out of that which I have ventured to put before you. It bears on the question: What effect, if any, has the
Report of the Commission upon the Prerogative of the Crown? I think that, inadvertently no doubt, the Report of the Commission has worn the attenuated form of the Prerogative thinner and thinner. The Report of the Commission says this:
The King is the fountain of Honour, and all grants are made by him, but in the selection of the recipients of these grants, as in other things, he is in use to act not on his own initiative but on the advice of his Ministers.
This, as your Lordships are well aware, the Sovereign does, except in one or two cases, such as the Royal Victorian Order.
No sane person at this time would argue that the Crown should take what I will call positive action with regard to conferring political honours. That is quite out of the question. But what about negative action? Do your Lordships hold that where a case comes before the Crown on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, in which there is evidence of had character, or "history" or unsuitability, the recommendation should be accepted by the Sovereign in spite of those defects? The Royal Commission reported as follows:
It follows therefore that the whole true responsibility rests on the Prime Minister and we think that it is of the greatest importance that this position should be fully maintained and that any suggestions which we may feel able to make should be looked on as morn aids to the Prime Minister and not as in the slightest degree relieving him of the responsibility which in a question with the King he must truly bear. We would add that we think it ought never to be cast on the Private Secretary of the King to make inquiries as to the proposed recipients. Tile list, as presented to the King, ought to be unassailable both as to selection and composition, and the only outstanding matter for the King to decide, with the Prime Minister, should be the number of honours to be conferred.
When the Commissioners reported that in their opinion it ought never to be cast on the Private Secretary of the King to make inquiries as to the proposed recipients of honours it is probable that those words were intended to be merely enabling—designed, that is, to save trouble.
§ But I am sure your Lordships will agree that the certificate as to character and history to be given by the Committee of the Privy Council only one of many questions which may arise in the mind of the Sovereign as to a recommendation presented to him. The Private Secretary 267 represents the King for such a purpose and it cannot be contended that there is any impropriety in his endeavouring to obtain information of every kind, even including that upon which the Committee of the Privy Council has based its findings. I cannot think, in the words of the Commission, that the only outstanding matter for the King to decide, with the Prime Minister, should be the number of honours to be conferred. That would surely leave the Prerogative in a most unsatisfactory condition. Apparently, it would mean, if there was any trouble or disagreement with regard to such matters, that the Crown would be left with no alternative but to say: "Oh, well, I do not agree that any recommendations should be made upon this occasion."
What do the Commissioners say upon the subject? The first part of paragraph 25 I have already described to your Lordships. It deals with information as to service and so forth which is to go before the Committee, and it then proceeds:—
This information would enable the Committee to make such inquiries, through their secretary, as they thought desirable and they would then report if, so far as they knew, there was any good reason which made it inexpedient that the name in such or such an instance should be submitted. If in spite of an unfavourable intimation the Prime Minister still wished to submit the name to the King, then the King should be informed of the report of the Committee.
"The King should be informed of the Report of the Committee." For what purpose? Is His Majesty's Prerogative to be invoked for the purpose of supporting the finding of the Privy Council Committee in a case of this sort, although the Prerogative finds no place elsewhere? The King is to be informed of the report of the Committee. Does that mean that His Majesty should be informed to enable him to reject the recommendation, or is it intended that notice should merely be given to him that such a finding has been made by the Committee and without giving any aid as to what is to follow from it?
§ I certainly should have preferred it if the Commissioners had said that the King could be informed in order that the recommendation might be rejected, or some words to that effect. However, I cannot but think that your Lordships would hold, and I trust the Government may agree, that where there is, as in a 268 case which had been before the Committee, evidence of bad character, evidence of a past history, or evidence of general unsuitability, that the Prerogative should be exercised adversely to the recommendation. I am sorry that I have been so long. The Report of the Royal Commission is an important document. It emerged as the result of a political appeal, the consequences of which were, I think, far-reaching. But the Report will now go into the dusty archives of the nation, and when it comes out again no doubt it will be referred to as the great State Paper on the method of dealing with honours in our time. For these reasons I have hoped that it would not be uninteresting to your Lordships to take some stock of its contents.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Southborough has raised not one but two very important subjects. The first related to the position of the Prime Minister and to the new Committee of the Privy Council. The second related to the Prerogative, and it was obvious why the noble Lord was hound to allude to the second question. The two are inseparably connected. I will touch first for a moment upon the very delicate topic of the Prerogative. I think it is useful that we should have had this discussion because it has brought something to light, although I do not quite agree with the noble Lord in something he said at the conclusion of his speech.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding in the country about the position of the Sovereign in respect to Ills Ministers. In the Constitution of this country the Sovereign is no automaton, as is sometimes popularly supposed. A Minister goes to him—any Minister or ex-Minister who has had considerable experience of recommending honours knows this—and the Sovereign may discuss very searchingly the question which comes up. He may do the same thing with the Prime Minister. He does not automatically approve what the Minister says. On the contrary, he considers it with him. And that is necessary, because although the maxim that the King can do no wrong is of full practical application as well as theoretical in the Law Courts, it has not the same practical application outside and the public would misunderstand the action of the head of the State.
269 But the King is within his rights in asking from his servants the most minute explanation of what they are doing and what they recommend. In my own experience that has very often happened. If that is so and there are cases of difference, a question of difficulty does arise. The noble Lord touched on it, and I am not sure that I quite agree with his conclusions. Suppose a Minister makes a recommendation to which the Sovereign objects. The Minister may, if he wishes to proceed to very extreme courses, go to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, and if the Cabinet endorse his view and the Prime Minister and the Cabinet repeat the recommendation to the Sovereign, then the position of the Sovereign is a very difficult one. The Sovereign acts on the advice of his Ministers on all things that are not peculiarly within his personal Prerogative. There are such things, but the noble Lord suggested that the Prerogative is now much more narrow than it was in days gone past. It has varied very much in the course of history. Things that George I would have done at once on the advice of his Ministers, George III would have refused: and since the time of George III the situation has changed.
In an unwritten and developing Constitution such as ours the relation of the Sovereign to His Ministers is a relationship which is constantly modified as time goes by. To-day, it remains certain that although in extreme cases the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, if they feel they have the public behind them, can give such advice to the Sovereign as would constitutionally bind the Sovereign, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the Cabinet would not take up any such question, and the matter would drop. Therefore I think that a great amount of influence remains with the Sovereign in stopping had recommendations. A Minister goes and asks for an audience. He is graciously accorded an audience; and the King is graciously pleased to say: "This, that, and the other matter has occurred to me, upon which I wish you would tell me whether you have maturely considered the matter"; and it may happen that the discussion leads to the dropping of the proposition. Certainly the Sovereign is well within his rights in taking that 270 course, and I have no doubt that it has often lead to the dropping of unseasonable proposals.
Therefore, in discussing this question, it is necessary to get rid of the "either-or" attitude—either the Sovereign has no power, or has full power. The truth is that in an unwritten relationship such as ours he has great influence with his Ministers and can exercise that influence in what may be a very effective fashion. I have said that in order to come to the first branch of the subject. If that be true, then I do agree with my noble friend in the distinction he has made between cases which are proper for the Commission of the Privy Council and cases which are without the scope of the reference to them. There are two kinds of objections which may be taken to a proposed Peerage. One class of objection is based on some flaw in the past; and the second objection is based on merit, or want of merit. The two are in a very different position. The first raises questions which must be approached in a semi-judicial attitude; the second raises questions which trench on policy which are for the First Minister of the Crown, and really for him alone.
It is obvious from the Report of the Commission which was presided over by my noble and learned friend Lord. Dunedin, that the members took a very careful view of their position. They were resolute that they would not trespass into-the domain of policy. Question as to whether there was a flaw—that was all right; but the question as to whether such and such a person should be recommended they put outside their scope, with the result that one member of the Commission dissented and said that the time had come when all honours should be abolished. I read that as meaning that he did not regard the recommendation of his colleagues as one which would cover the ground and, therefore, he would not be a party to the Report. I do not think the least exception can be taken to the Report on this point. You may say that if the other branch of the inquiry were thoroughly conducted there would be no necessity for the Committee of the Privy Council at all. But if you do not say that, if you say that in order to relieve the Prime Minister or to give confidence to the public there ought to be an inquiry into past conduct, then the Committee is an admirable body for performing that duty.
271 But I wish to point out, and to emphasise, that any competent Committee will regard the scope of its rights as very limited. It will not go into anything like general reputation; it will not go into gossip. It will inquire into things about gossip, but when it reports it will confine itself to things which are more or less proved. I have known cases of honours given in which, if that Committee had been in existence and die facts had been brought to its notice, there would have been a Report which would have stopped the honour. It is for cases of that kind that it exists. The far larger side of the question is the recommendation on the ground of merit; and the question is how can that be accomplished. A recommendation for a high honour of merit is an act of State when assented to by the Sovereign, and it ought to be on the responsibility of Ministers and the First Minister of the Crown.
I do not believe in referring this question to the Cabinet as distinct from the Prime Minister. It is essentially the Prime Minister's business, and he is the only person who can properly deal with it. But the Prime Minister may obtain what assistance he likes. He does sometimes obtain very competent assistance. I have known him, for instance, in selecting a condidate for a bishopric, whose name is to be put into the patent document known as the Congé d' élire, take most competent advice from different quarters. I do not see why he should not assist himself in a similar way in regard to honours, but I would not tie him down to any particular Committee on this matter. I do not like the idea of devolving even upon so admirable a Minister as the Lord President of the Council, or the Lord Privy Seal, a duty which belongs to the Prime Minister alone, a responsibility which rests upon the Prime Minister alone. How can they tell? It is a very difficult matter to decide who is to come up for an honour and who is not.
My noble friend said—I thought with immense truth—that a custom has grown up lately of producing on feast days, as a sort of matter of course, a long list of persons who are entitled to honours. I entirely agree with his objection to that course. I do not think it was the practice of Sir Robert Peel, nor was it, at any rate in anything approaching the present dimensions, the practice of Mr. Gladstone, 272 and they were both great constitutionalists. It has grown up to such an extent that, as my noble friend said, the Prime Minister seems to be looking about him to fill up a decently fat Honours List. That is not as it should be. It the granting of honours were very much more restricted, if the spirit, not the letter, of Mr. Henderson's dissenting Report were carried into effect, then the Prime Minister's task would be much easier. He would regard it as a very serious matter to recommend anybody for an honour, as a matter which he must take time to consider; he would inquire, it might be of the Lord President, it might be of the Lord Privy Seal, it might be of various colleagues in the Cabinet, or it might be outside the Cabinet; he would take time to satisfy himself, and he would look, above all, to what is the real standard in four cases out of five—I mean public opinion. I do not say that there are not some cases into which public opinion does not enter. There are people who have rendered very great service to the State of which the public are imperfectly informed. But the Prime Minister would judge of that.
I do not see clearly my noble friend's picture of an overworked Prime Minister, a Prime Minister so overworked that he cannot do what I have suggested. This is one of the matters upon which he can surely reflect very adequately in the interstices of his occupations, and I think that if he could get a sense of what the standard of public opinion will approve, it would enable him better to perform the next part of his duty, which is not to put the name in a box with a humble application to the Sovereign, but to ask an audience of the Sovereign and say: "Here are the very few names which come up, and I have come to ask your Majesty's gracious permission to discuss them with you." In that way I think considerable light would come, particularly if the King were advised beforehand what were the names which were to be brought forward.
The sum and substance of what I venture to suggest to your Lordships is this. It is quite true that the Committee of the Privy Council covers only half—indeed, not half, but a mere fraction—of the ground, and there is another important part of the ground which cannot be so covered, and for which the Prime Minister must remain responsible. The 273 Prime Minister should satisfy himself, not in one particular way but, as in other matters, by consultation, what is the proper thing to be done consistently with the standard of public opinion; and when that has been done, the matter should form the subject of that discussion which takes place between the Sovereign and his Ministers, not leading to any enlargement of the Prerogative, not leading to the slightest alteration of the position as it now stands, but leading to that position, which is not uncommon, in which discussions between the Sovereign and his Prime Minister are often of a very fertile character.
§ VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, before the noble Marquess replies, I think somebody ought to protest against the view brought forward by the noble Lord who asked this Question that no legislation ought to be based on the Report of the Royal Commission.
§ LORD SOUTHBOROUGH
If the noble Lord will forgive me, I did not say that at all. I merely asked the Government whether they proposed to introduce such legislation. I am anticipating that they will.
§ VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I understood that he was against legislation being introduced, but I am very glad to hear that he is not. It seems to me that the Report of the Royal Commission is a most excellent document, and this House is under a great obligation to noble Lords like the noble Earl opposite, Lord Selborne, for the arguments, which he has brought forward on many different occasions, on the basis of which the Royal Commission was set up. There is no doubt that the Royal Commission was set up because there were instances of people being awarded high honours when people outside, found it impossible to understand why the honours had been given. The people who were given these honours may have done great service to the State, but it was not service that anybody knew anything about, and I venture to say that the Report of the Commission, which is being acted upon by the Prime Minister, and which, I imagine, will be acted upon by all Prime Ministers in future, will make it impossible, so far as the award of high honours is concerned, for any man to be 274 given an honour without having done at any rate very considerable public service. It seems to me that the Report of the Royal Commission has been very valuable in that direction. As I have said, anybody who obtains an honour must be able to show a record of public service, and nobody will have an honour conferred upon him merely because he has given largely to political funds, and for no other reason.
There are two very small points, however, in relation to which, if the Government is going to bring in legislation, I should like to urge that the procedure should be strengthened. The Royal Commission recommends that three Privy Councillors should be appointed to settle whether a man has or has not done public service. I have no doubt that three Privy Councillors are quite enough. They can say at once, on the evidence before them, whether a man has done good public service or not. But I would put one point which I think has not really been dealt with by the Royal Commission. I refer to cases of men who have performed political services, of men who have performed services in the Press or in the House of Commons. Can we imagine that three Privy Councillors will necessarily know whether these people ought to have honours conferred upon them or not?
I have known cases—of one or two of them I had some personal knowledge, though of others I knew nothing—where I have gone into the City on the day when some list of honours has come out, and I have been told by man after man in the City that there was some public scandal connected with a man upon whom an honour had been conferred. Such men had clone public service in a way, they had served in the House of Commons or done something of that kind, but they had been mixed up in a scandal in the Law Courts which, if the Prime Minister had known about it, would surely have restrained hint from giving them any honour at all. I suggest that when the Government are introducing legislation, as I hope they will, to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission, they ought to appoint more than three as a Committee to inquire into this matter. I think there ought to be at least two Judges on the Committee, and 275 that it would certainly strengthen the proceedings if the number were so increased.
Secondly, I do not think it is a very good recommendation of the Committee where they say, in paragraph 24, that the Committee of the Privy Councilshould have attached to them a secretary, and as it is inexpedient to create a new office for business which would only be intermittent, we think a suitable person should be found in the ranks of the Civil Service who should combine these intermittent duties with his ordinary functions.I venture to say that if legislation is brought in the Government ought to do something to keep a permanent record. I had an experience some years ago, during the war, as I think I have mentioned before. I happened to hear that a minor honour was going to be conferred upon a certain individual. In the district where that individual lived everybody knew that he had shown a very conspicuous lack of assistance in the war, when other people were trying to do their best to help. I went to the official whom I thought was concerned and mentioned the facts, and the moment he heard them he said it would certainly be a scandal if the honour were conferred, and that he would see that the person's name was struck out. The name was struck out, and I heard no more about it until two or three years later, when the honour was conferred. I inquired the reason for this, and I found that the old official had gone, that no record had been kept, and that the new official, knowing nothing about the facts, had allowed the recommendation to pass. I was told that what I ought to have done was to go to the Private Secretary of the King, who would have kept a record, and that then the individual could never have got the honour.
I think it is important that the Government should see that a record is kept and that if the Prime Minister brings forward certain names to go on the Honours List, and if the Committee of the Privy Council which is set up strikes out certain names, there ought to be a record kept of those names, so that whenever those names are brought up again the Committee will be able to say: "Five years ago this or that name was struck out: let us look into the facts and see whether or not the name ought to be struck out again." I 276 believe it is in the interest of the public and of the Government that there should be a record. There are very few cases of honours that ought not to have been conferred at all, but I am certain that things can only be kept right by a record being preserved. And provision for that should be included by the Government in any legislation which they introduce.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
The Question which has been raised is one of considerable importance, but also, as has been said, one of some delicacy, for it introduces the subject of the Prerogative, which naturally introduces the rights and, to a certain extent, the personality of the Sovereign; and your Lordships are rightfully very chary of discussions which may in any way allude to the action which the Sovereign may have to take in any special circumstances, or to the influence which he or she may bring to bear in any particular political crisis. We live under a constitutional monarchy, but we do not wish our Sovereigns to be mere figure-heads. The fact that King Edward VII has gone down to posterity by the name of Edward the Peacemaker, is, I think, sufficient to show that he took strong action in the direction of peace, and used an equally strong influence in the same direction. So, in the case of Queen Victoria, as years went on, her influence was more sought and valued by her Ministers, as it was recognised that she was a greater authority on constitutional matters than any of them, and that her influence was always used towards the softening of asperities and the reconciliation of differences between the two Houses.
I was surprised and somewhat disappointed to find in the Report of the Royal Commission—and the Commissioners certainly gave great attention to the subject—to what a very small degree the Royal Prerogative had been in their opinion reduced. As pointed out, it seemed to consist merely of the Sovereign being able to look over the list submitted by the Prime Minister, and stating whether he wished it reduced or not, and I was glad to hear from the noble Viscount that that was not in his opinion an accurate view of the situation. The Commissioners went on to say that even recommendations relating to persons of the Royal Household would appear in the Prime Minister's list. Of course they 277 would, because that is the constitutional way in which they should appear, but I cannot imagine that there is any Sovereign of this country who, if he wished to recompense a trusty member of the Royal Household, for services rendered through a number of years, would hesitate to take the initiative and inform the Prime Minister that he wished to confer an honour upon him. Nor can I imagine that any Prime Minister would receive the Sovereign's wish as other than a command. We all know that Coronation, honours are bestowed on the initiative of the Sovereign. It is the habit on those occasions to give promotions in the Peerage, and to create extra Knights of the Garter. The fact that these are made on the special recommendation of the Sovereign is shown by the circumstance that they are very often given to gentlemen who hold political views different from those of the Party in power.
I wish to call attention to two recent instances where I think the Prerogative of the Crown has not been treated with proper respect. One case I mentioned in the House last year, when the Irish Free State Constitution Bill was under discussion. Your Lordships may remember that one of the provisions of the Bill states that "no title of honour in respect of services rendered in or in relation to the Irish Free State may be conferred on any citizen of the Irish Free State except with the approval or upon the advice of the Executive Council of the State." I am not going to argue whether that provision was a good one to put into the Bill or not. We know there have been cases where the Prime Ministers of other Dominions have expressed the opinion that honours should not be conferred upon citizens of those Dominions without the approval of the Prime Ministers being first obtained. I think the reason of that is not so much that they objected to the honour as that they objected to the Prime Minister of this country bestowing an honour upon a citizen of a Dominion whom the Prime Minister of the Dominion would not have selected for such a distinction.
The point I wish to make is that that provision in the Act was a serious interference with His Majesty's Prerogative and ought not to have been considered by either House until a gracious Message had been received from the Sovereign stating that he placed at the disposal of 278 the House his rights with respect to the conferring of honours. I believe that has always been done—as I believed I pointed out during the passage of that Bill—in the case of legislation dealing with the Duchy of Lancaster. In that case a Message is always sent to the House that the King has placed his rights as regards that Duchy at the disposal of the House for the purpose of the special legislation which is contemplated. The measure to which I refer, however, was passed in a great hurry, and it was impossible to press the matter on the Douse to the extent that I should have liked to do.
The other case of interference, if I may call it so, with the Royal Prerogative, in which due respect was not paid to His Majesty the King was, I am sure, unwitting, because it was in the case of a great newspaper, The Times, on the occasion of the resignation honours when Mr. Lloyd George's Ministry resigned. Instead of the usual notice that we are accustomed to see that His Majesty is graciously pleased, either on the occasion of his birthday or some other occasion, to confer the honour of a barony or a knighthood on certain individuals, the following appeared in The Times of November 11, 1922:—We received yesterday from 18, Abingdon Street, Westminster, the headquarters of the National Liberals, the following resignation honours list, dated October 19, together with the services in respect of which they have been conferred.I believe this is the first instance in which it has occurred that, instead of the notice emanating officially from His Majesty, it was furnished apparently by a clerk in the offices of Mr. Lloyd George. I sincerely hope that this precedent will not be repeated.
I think it might be worth while to recall the terms of the ordinary Letters Patent. They are very well known to your Lordships; in fact, during the last administration we used to have the pleasure of listening to them, I should think, on the average once a fortnight during the whole Session. But, although they are familiar to your Lordships, they may not hr so familiar to all His Majesty's subjects, and, with the permission of the House, I should like to quote a few words from them. The Sovereign begins with the usual greeting to all his subjects, from Archbishops down to free- 279 men, and then he proceeds to state that he intends to confer a certain honour on an individual, and he gives his reasons for doing so, and the reasons are three:—We of our especial grace, certain knowledge, and mere motion ….These are not meaningless words. I speak in the presence of many noble and learned Lords, but I believe they have all been before various Courts of Law and the exact meaning of the words has been decided. "Especial grace" does not require very much explanation: that is the Royal bounty or favour. "Certain knowledge" means that there have been brought to the knowledge of the King the reasons why the person selected is a suitable recipient for the honour. The words "mere motion" are even more interesting. Ex mero motu, which is the Latin for it, means that the honour was not given upon the suggestion or suit of the party who is concerned, and I think, in view of what has happened lately, that is a very interesting announcement.
We are apt to forget that every word which is put into the mouth of the gracious Sovereign is put with a special meaning, not only in these cases, but even when an Act of Parliament is passed. Your Lordships will remember that, there are two forms in which the Royal assent is given. The ordinary one is, "Le roy le veult." But in the case of such a thing as the granting of a divorce, which the Sovereign is not supposed to be so anxious to do as some noble Lords—a noble Lord on the front Opposition Bench for example—we have the words: "Soit fait comme il est desire." In these democratic days, I think often without intention, the Royal Prerogative is encroached upon, and it is because I am very anxious that this should not be done, and that as far as possible the Royal Prerogative should be preserved that I have ventured to trouble your Lordships with these few remarks.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
My Lords, I only wish to call your attention to two small points: at least, to two points which are not left quite so clear by the Report of the Royal Commission, and as we have the pleasure of seeing the noble and learned Lord who presided over the Commission (Lord Dunedin) in his place, I hope the debate will not close without some of these points being clarified. 280 I find in paragraphs 23 and 27 words which seem, to limit the functions of the proposed Committee of three Privy Councillors for deciding whether there is anything which makes it inexpedient that the name should be submitted, and in another paragraph they seem to be limited to the consideration of whether there are any circumstances which render the proposed nominee unsuitable to be recommended.
Those words, standing by themselves, would seem to limit the three Privy Councillors to consider questions of character, questions of record, and questions of fitness arising out of character and record, and those only. But there appears later in paragraph 34 (iii) the words "in the whole circumstances." What I want to know is whether those words are to be construed as meaning that the three Privy Councillors will or will not be able to go into the adequacy of the public services alleged for the ground of the recommendation, because a good deal hangs upon that. I admit that those words "in the whole circumstances" are not much upon which to place such a load of construction as that, but still there must be some construction put upon them, and I invite my noble and learned friend, whom we always so much like to hear in this House, to say what is to be the meaning put upon those words.
Then, as to the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, I think we have to face certain things. I can hardly conceive that any Committee would, with satisfaction to the public, not leave some record, and that a record should not be kept of its proceedings. Clearly lists must be drawn up and very carefully preserved, but, of course, we have to face what that may mean. I took occasion to make inquiry as to what historical precedents there are, and, speaking with the utmost respect and veneration for a certain very great religious community, I looked up the question of the process of Canonisation. There I found that- it was found necessary in that great community to make use of the services of a functionary who went by the name of the advocatus diaboli, that he duly appeared on those occasions and intervened in the necessary process, that on his interventions matters of the greatest minuteness were gone into, precedents were most elaborately searched, and arguments were 281 most carefully balanced. Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that that process resulted in the necessity of maintaining a large and expensive staff.
It is true that you have to go to foreign works of history to find these interesting details, for I believe there is no English work to be found giving a description of this process. But we have to face this as a consequence, and we ought to face it. We will hope that the unfortunate experience as to the expense of a staff of mediæval functionaries will not be repeated in this case, but I do hope that there will be some process of this kind to be rendered effective by good records.
§ LORD DUNEDIN
My Lords, I had not intended to address the House because the course of the debate has not really been one of criticism upon the method of inquiry which we as a Committee thought it right that we should take, and I should not have troubled your Lordships with the single remark that I am going to make if a personal appeal had not been made to me by the noble Lord who has just sat down. I should like to say first, as regards what was said about the Prerogative, that really on: is almost astonished at the idea that it could be said, as was said by the noble Lord who opened the debate, that anything that we said had worn thinner the Prerogative of the Crown.
I am not going to give a lecture on the Prerogative, but I would remind your Lordships that so long ago as the reign of James I when the question of the extent of the Prerogative was raised because of certain proclamations that had been issued, Lord Coke was consulted and asked leave to have three Judges along with him. The second head of the response that he gave was: "The King hath no Prerogative but what the law allows him." When we come to inquire as to where we are to find the law we find (and here I quote from Sir William Anson's book) that—It is in statutes, in judicial decisions, and in the customs of the Realm.Therefore what seven modest people sitting upon a Royal Commission could do I do not know, but I am perfectly certain that they cannot wear the Prerogative thin.
With reference to the points which were raised about the Prerogative, I should 282 only like to add that any words of mine would be superfluous because my noble and learned friend, Lord Haldane, has, to the best of my humble judgment, exactly appreciated what we really meant to say in our Report. That deals with much of what has been said. Certainly, I am not going to respond to the invitation of my noble friend beside me that I should tell him exactly what we did and what we did not do when we sat upon the Committee the other day. The Committee functioned, and the list appeared, and with that amount of intelligence I think my noble friend must be contented.
The answer to the remarks which fell from the noble Lord, Lord Stuart of Wortley, can be given in one sentence. The whole idea of the suggestion of a Committee is that it should be of assistance to the Prime Minister and not a transference of responsibility. Accordingly, it is obvious that assistance can only he given in questions of character. There might be such utter inadequacy of service that, upon certain facts, that matter would come within the cognisance of the Committee; but it can be no part of the duty of the Committee to consider whether a person who is recommended for an Earldom ought to be content with a Viscountey or anything of that sort. I have only troubled your Lordships with these very short observations in response to the appeal that was made to me. All else that has to be answered must be replied to by the Government of which I am not a member.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, the noble Lord who introduced this subject commenced by an apology, at a time of great Public anxiety when so many matters of urgent importance are pressing upon us, for drawing the attention of your Lordships' House to what he called "a minor matter." I can assure him on behalf of the whole House that no such apology was needed, because in no sense is this a minor matter. The speeches we have heard this afternoon, the not inconsiderable attendance on these benches, and the numerous occasions on which during the past few years it has been seriously debated here in full House, show that in the opinion of the House at large—and it is one that the Government share—it is a matter of first class importance which 283 your Lordships' House certainly do not waste time in discussing either now or at any time you may choose.
I am myself placed in a position this afternoon where the task that is laid upon me is both easy and difficult. It is easy in this sense, that, broadly speaking, His Majesty's Government accept and are prepared to act upon the Report of the Royal Commission which is in your Lordships' hands. Indeed, they have already acted upon it, as has been mentioned, in the appointment of the Committee of Privy Councillors to advise upon the list of honours submitted a short time ago. It is difficult in the sense that I have been called upon by noble Lords who have addressed you to some extent to interpret and explain the language and the proposals of the Royal Commission, for which, of course, the Government have no responsibility apart from that of deciding whether they will or will not act upon its advice. There is, perhaps, a further difficulty in the fact that the criticisms which have been heard in this debate, although I complain of none of them, have ranged over a very wide field, some of them raising issues of great constitutional importance, others being matters of detail of an almost insignificant character. However, to the best of my ability I took note of the observations that fell from my various noble friends and I will deal with them in turn.
In the first place, I should like to join the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, in what he said as to the share of credit that is due to those noble Lords, some of whom sit behind me—I may specially instance, as he did, Lord Selborne, and to his name I would like to add that of the Lord President of the Council, Lord Salisbury—for the part they have taken for many years in pressing this question upon the attention of your Lordships, and for the contribution they have made to the appointment of this Commission, which they originally suggested, and, therefore, indirectly to the result of its work. Secondly, I would like to include in my words of congratulation and of thanks the members of the Royal Commission themselves. It is quite clear that, dealing with a matter of infinite delicacy, they acted with a high sense of responsibility, they explored the whole subject in a manner that was both 284 dignified and sufficing, and they have presented a Report which has met with the general commendation of everyone who has dealt with it this afternoon.
Your Lordships and, indeed, the country at large, will have noted with gratification that the Commission have declared that little fault is to be found with the distribution of the great mass of honours that are bestowed by the Sovereign of this country, whether through the agency of different Ministers or otherwise; and that their main attention has been concentrated upon the question of what are commonly called political honours. It is around that subject that the controversy of the past six or seven years has been raised, and the Royal Commission and the Government will be judged by the manner in which, and the measure of success with which, it is proposed to deal with that situation.
There can be no doubt that grave uneasiness had been excited in many quarters by three phenomena. Firstly, by the excessive number of additions to the Peerage in recent years, numbers so large that they had converted this Chamber, which is in its essence a legislative body, into a vast Assembly, if that phrase can be properly applied to a body three-fourths of whom seldom come within these walls. Secondly, there can be no doubt that suspicion had been excited to a large extent that titles were in some cases, whether due to carelessness or otherwise, conferred upon persons who were either unfit for the honour or whose claims to it had not been sufficiently investigated. And lastly, there was the belief that large contributions to Party funds, however legitimate and honourable in themselves, had been in too many cases the main and decisive, if not the sole, factor in the conferment of these honours. Those were the main abuses, or alleged abuses, which the Royal Commission was appointed to deal with, and it-is in relation to them that we ought to judge of their Report. I will not allude, except in a sentence in passing, to the further abuse that they dealt with—namely, that of the existence, or alleged existence, of touts who went about, very often without any authority at all, offering honours for sums of money. If that was true, and I believe there was evidence that such persons did exist, it was a deplorable, a 285 discreditable and an ignoble phenomenon in our public life which, I hope, will henceforward disappear.
The main suggestions of the Royal Commission were the appointment of this Committee, to which I will come in a moment, and the suggestion of legislation. Lord Southborough asked the Government whether they propose to introduce the legislation advised by the Royal Commission. The purposes for which an Act is, in the opinion of the Royal Commission, required are stated in paragraphs 31 and 32 of their Report. They recommend that a short Act should be passed which should impose penalties on any person offering to be the instrument in securing an honour for another in respect of a money payment or valuable consideration. They go on to say:We think that the Act should also impose penalties on any person promising payment or consideration in order to receive an honour.The answer to the Question of my noble friend Lord Southborough is in the affirmative. The Government do propose to introduce this legislation. It will have to be carefully framed, a matter for which, no doubt, the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will make himself responsible. But we have the fullest intention of introducing it, and of introducing it in your Lordships' House.
My noble friend Lord St. Davids was mistaken, when dealing with the contemplated legislation, in imagining that legislation would be required for a further purpose to which he alluded—namely, the setting up of the Committee. If he implied, as I think he did, that a law would be required for that purpose, of course he was in error. The Committee has already been appointed without a law, and no law is required for it. It is open to the Government—this Government, or any Government that is its successor—while acting upon the general advice that is given here, to appoint to this Committee three persons; or four persons, or live persons, as they please.
Similarly with regard to a record. Not having considered the matter with my colleagues or consulted the Prime Minister upon the point, I should not like to express too definite an opinion upon the question of records, but I have heard of 286 cases—and I think one has been mentioned in this debate—where, at a subsequent date, an honour was conferred upon person, investigation with regard to whose claims had shown at an earlier date, though the record had disappeared, that they were wholly untenable. I can well imagine that to meet a case of that sort a record of some kind may be desirable. Here, again, legislation is not required. The Committee, who are appointed, if I remember aright, for the period of the duration of office of a Government, and who have their secretary, can, I imagine, give such instructions to their secretary as they may think fit. On the whole I am inclined to think it would be a good thing that a secretary should, in discharge of his duties, keep some record, without of course going too minutely into particulars, which may save us from the recurrence of any such scandal as that to which I referred.
I next turn to the composition of the Committee. Here a number of suggestions have been made with which, I own, I find myself in no sympathy. There were two suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Southborough, who introduced this subject. The first was that instead of having this Committee of independent outside Privy Councillors the Cabinet should be entrusted with the task. I shudder at the prospect of the. Cabinet being invited to sit down and discuss, firstly, whether A, B, or C should be made a Peer, and, secondly, if he be made a Peer, whether he should be, Baron, Viscount or Earl. Arduous as are our duties at the present moment I can conceive our absolute breakdown under any such strain. But I do not want to deal with it as if it were a humorous matter. I lay it down, from such knowledge of Cabinet procedure as I possess, that this has nothing whatever to do with the Cabinet. It is altogether outside the constitutional functions of a Cabinet. The grant of honours has been for hundreds of years, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, correctly pointed out, a function that rightly devolves upon the Prime Minister in consultation with the King. The King is the fountain of honour, but he acts in this respect upon the advice of his Prime Minister. The Prime Minister may consult anybody he pleases, and very often does, but the idea that he should bring before the Cabinet the question of honours is one utterly 287 foreign to our whole constitutional procedure, and is an innovation which everyone of us has knowledge would altogether deplore.
The same criticism applies, of course, to the other suggestion of my noble friend Lord Southborough, that the task should be devolved upon two members of the Cabinet—for instance, upon the Lord President of the Council and the Lord Privy Seal. Conceive the invidious position in which it would place them. In the first place you select them out of their colleagues for the privilege of advising the Prime Minister upon this matter; consequently, whatever advice they give, as they are members of the Cabinet, would be looked upon as possessing a Party character, as tainted with the Party spirit, as open to the many abuses we are now trying to correct and remove. Conceive, for instance, these two noble Lords—these two members of the Cabinet—being asked to advise the Prime Minister as to whether ole of their colleagues should receive a step in rank. Can you imagine a situation more delicate or more disagreeable? No, my Lords, let us be grateful to the Royal Commission for having spared the Cabinet, or members of the Cabinet, any task so profoundly disagreeable as that, and for having suggested to us an outside body both of authority and competence.
§ LORD SOUTHBOROUGH
Will the noble Marquess forgive me? It would be much more disagreeable in the case he quotes for the Committee to have to undertake the duty.
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I do not think so. The two Cabinet Ministers would be dealing with a colleague, and colleagues have to be very delicately handled. Another noble Lord suggested that to this Committee there should be added two Judges. I confess I have no idea why that suggestion was made. Was it required for the moral character, or the judicial—
§ VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
What I had in my mind was that there had been several scandals revealed in the Law Courts in respect of persons concerned in what I call minor honours. There has been a public scandal connected with a 288 man, and then some years pass, and it is forgotten. The man then receives an honour. Judges would have knowledge of past proceedings in the Courts.
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I apologise if I misunderstood my noble friend. Really it will not be necessary to have two Judges permanently on the Committee for that purpose. These cases can but seldom arise, and there is nothing in the procedure or prerogative of the Committee to prevent them from consulting any member of the Bench upon such a question as that.
I come to the question of the functions of the Committee, about which a good deal has been said. My noble friend Lord Southborough commenced by asking me questions as to the procedure of the Committee that sat the other day to make its recommendations to the Prime Minister, and Lord Dunedin, who, I think, served upon that Committee, very properly said in reply that any divulgation of these proceedings would be grossly improper. Obviously, this Committee can only discharge its responsibility adequately by working in private, and to make any public statement as to the way in which it proceeds, and the manner in which its recommendation is given, would defeat the very object for which the Committee itself has been created.
Then he alluded to the suggestion in the Report of the Royal Commission that there should be given to this Committee, when they are asked to undertake their duties, the name and address of the person who the Prime Minister considers was the original suggestor of the name of the proposed recipient. I do not know why that proposal was made, and I confess I think it would be rather difficult to carry out. in the first place, it throws upon the Prime Minister the responsibility of saying, out of half a dozen or a dozen people who may have suggested for an honour some worthy recipient, who was the original suggestor, and, in the second place, it may place him in the difficult position of pointing out to the Committee, sometimes not without truth, that the original suggestor was the proposed recipient himself. Therefore, that is a proposal upon which I think the Committee may find it rather difficult to act.
289 Broadly speaking, the question is: Does the Report of the Royal Commission give this Committee the latitude in discharging its duties which we all desire? You may take passages from different parts of the Report, balance them against each other; find, conceivably, some slight. contradiction or inconsistency between one and the other; but, broadly speaking, it is quite clear to my mind that the Royal Commission desires this Committee to have full and general powers of inquiry into the past history of the person or persons recommended, into their general character, and into the nature—and in the word nature I include adequacy—of the services they may have rendered. Of course, it is no part of their function, when it is proposed by the Prime Minister to recommend a candidate for an Earldom to the Sovereign, to say that that gentleman ought not to be an Earl, but ought either owing to the excellence of his services to be a Marquess, or owing to their relative inferiority to be a Viscount. That is clearly no part of their functions.
The real explanation of the work of the Committee was given by Lord Dunedin himself when he said that this Committee is intended not to supersede the Prime Minister but to aid him in the discharge of very difficult and sometimes very embarrassing functions. It seems to me that Lord Southborough has not the dimmest idea of what a Prime Minister is and does. He speaks about him as no doubt a busy man but who has large interstices in his official occupations, and who could not better devote these interstices than to sitting in an armchair and considering, unaided by anybody except one or two of his colleagues, the persons whom he should recommend to the Sovereign for honours. The Prime Minister has a difficult task as it is. He has not many interstices I can assure my noble friend. But if his interstices are to be occupied in that way, I think you will find people increasingly reluctant to assume the burden. The present Prime Minister—I can speak for him—welcomes the appointment of this Committee as an aid to him. He is not at all anxious to place limits to the proper discharge of its functions, and within the limits laid down by the Royal Commission it will be found to be of substantial service.
I turn now for a few moments to the question which more than one noble Lord 290 has raised—the Royal Prerogative. Here I heard with great satisfaction Lord Dunedin confirm the position taken up by Viscount Haldane. I am convinced that it never entered for one moment into the mind of the Commission, certainly not, into that of His Majesty's Government, to limit, curtail, or narrow in the slightest degree the responsibility of the Crown. That is an idea that would be very distasteful not only to the Government but to every member of your Lordships' House, and when it is laid down in one part of the Report that in certain cases the only outstanding matter for the King to decide, with the Prime Minister, is the number of honours to be conferred, I am quite certain that the Royal Commission did not mean, certainly the Government in accepting their Report do not mean, that the King is not to be allowed to exercise his own judgment on the matter, is not to be allowed to make such personal inquiries as he may choose. That is fundamental and essential in the responsibilities of his high office.
What I think the Royal Commission meant was that whereas the King has hitherto had to do this unaided, officially unaided, and has been dependent solely on the advice of his Prime Minister, in future, in addition to the nomination of the Prime Minister, he will have the consciousness that that advice is supported by the recommendations of an authoritative Committee. The King's labours to that extent will be lightened, but there is no desire to abrogate or touch any portion of the Royal Prerogative.
There is one other question which Lord Southborough put. He found a certain inconsistency in the phrase which I have just quoted with the passage, in another part of the Report, that if the Committee advised against, the conferment of an honour and the Prime Minister still decided to make the recommendation the Report of the Committee should be placed in the hands of the Sovereign. His argument was that that placed rather an unfair responsibility on the Sovereign. I do not think we need concern ourselves with such a situation. I cannot conceive that it could arise. It seems to me in the highest degree improbable, if you appoint your authoritative Committee and on good grounds they decide against such and such recommendation, that the Prime 291 Minister would persist in making it over their heads. However that may be, and should such a situation arise, you must trust to the common sense and high feeling of duty of the Prime Minister, acting in consultation with the Sovereign, to settle the matter. It is not the sort of case you can predicate in advance or to solve which you have to lay down rules. I have now dealt with all the questions that have been raised in the debate.
In conclusion, let me say that the Report of the Royal Commission and the procedure they set up are, in the judgment of the Government, worthy of being given a fair trial. It is a step in the right direction. It is a step which, in our judgment, will be helpful to us and will be found equally helpful to those who follow us. I think it will tend further to enforce a greater degree of circumspection than has always been observed by Patronage Secretaries, Party managers and people in those positions. It will tend more and more to diminish, and I hope finally to eliminate the purely money aspect of titles in so far as that has existed, and I think, too, that it will have a general tendency to keep down the excessive membership of your Lordships' House.
But apart from this particular machinery, I myself attach importance to one consideration that was mentioned by a noble Lord in the course of the debate. The real check upon abuses in these matters seems to me to consist not merely—certainly not exclusively—in any machinery that you can set up, but in the improved and ever-advancing standards of honour and public duty that exist in this country. Those are our real safeguards, and it is the existence of a powerful public opinion, finding expression in this House, that has been responsible for all these movements of recent years, culminating in the appointment and Report of the Royal Commission. I only hope that in the future, as in the past few years, that high state of vigilance of public opinion will be maintained, in order to help the Royal Commission to obtain the full fruition of its excellent labours.