§ LORD NEWTON rose to call attention to the Return respecting the Attendances of Peers, and to move, That it is desirable that the numbers of this House should be reduced. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in calling attention to this Return I need hardly remind the House that the principle of reducing the numbers of this Assembly has figured in the 537 forefront of every scheme for the reconstruction of this House, and the subject of absenteeism has frequently occurred in the course of our debates. The last occasion on which it was mentioned, in a very unflattering manner, was in the debate on honours, which took place a short time ago, and the observations to which I refer were made by the Leader of the House. But the full absurdity of the position has only been revealed by the Return to which I am calling attention this afternoon. That Return covers five years, but I eliminate the two years 1918 and 1919, because it is perfectly obvious there a number of Peers were then occupied in other ways.
§ I confine myself to dealing with the years 1920, 1921 and 1922. In 1920 there were 664 Temporal Peers. Of these 195 never came near the place at all, and 180 attended fewer than ten times. In 1921, when apparently politics were even more unattractive than in the previous year, there were 674 Temporal Peers, of whom 240 abstained altogether from coming here, and 220 came here fewer than ten times. In 1922 we had reached the figure of 684 Temporal Peers, of whom 189 failed to attend at all, and 222 did not attend as many as ten times. It is interesting to note that among those who failed to attend at all is the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, who is at the present moment the most fanatical and consistent opponent of His Majesty's Government, It is a matter of taste—you cannot account for tastes—but had I as great a grievance against the Government as the noble Viscount appears to have, I should prefer to come down here and have it out with Lord Curzon, rather than turn on my hirelings and office boys to attack him.
§ The average of absolute non-attendance for these three Sessions is 208, and of partial, and very partial, attendance 207, but these figures, I may observe, are slightly misleading, because it is not the case, as might be supposed, that a large proportion of these Peers attended eight or nine times. Many of them only attended once. It is therefore obvious that there must be many Peers who look upon attendance here very much in the same light as you regard attendance at, say, a levee, or even attendance at the 538 Derby—the sort of thing which ought to be done every now and then, in order to keep up appearances.
§ With regard to the numbers the Return is equally somewhat misleading, because it only deals with Temporal Peers. No mention is made for instance of the Royal Dukes, and no account taken of the Spiritual Peers, of whom I think there are twenty-six, amongst whom, if I may say so without disrespect, there are a certain number of ecclesiastical backwoodsmen, prevented by their duties from attending here, as they would no doubt like to do. But, in addition to this, there ue about thirty minors who will grow up one of these days and add to our numbers. And there are, if I ant not mistaken, about thirty ladies who are anxious to enter his Assembly, and who probably will enter it eventually over the prostrate forms of my noble friends Lord Curzon and Lord Birkenhead, unless we take steps to reduce our numbers and fix them at a certain figure. And let it be remembered that there is no cheek whatever upon the number of Peers who may be created by the Prime Minister. At one time the late Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, was creating Peers at the rate of one a fortnight. That rate has diminished, but still we are faced with the fact that it is highly probable that there will he many additions made before very long. And therefore, while the actual number of members of the House at the present moment is 726, the potential number is obviously very much greater, because, if you i3 d d the minors and the ladies and also the prospective Peers, you will very soon arrive at a total approaching one thousand.
§ The result is that not only is this House already considerably larger than the House of Commons, but it is more than double the size of any Second Chamber in the civilised world. The Second Chamber in Spain, I believe, consists of 360 members; in Italy the number is 340; in France there are 300 Senators; and in the United States, with a population of 110,000,000, there are only 90. In spite of the enormous and continually increasing size of this House the number of persons who take an effective part in its deliberations is, as everybody knows, very small. I observe that the number of Peers who served on Private Bill Committees last Session was only 42. In no year, so far as I am aware, has it ever reached as 539 much as one hundred. Nearly the whole of the talking in this House is done by about fifty or sixty noble Lords. You can always form a more or less accurate guess as to who will speak, and you may even, with a certain amount of certainty, reckon upon what they will say. The same names occur over and over again. The persons who attend here regularly may be taken, on a generous estimate, at something like 150 or 200. In fact, 200 is a very large Division, and that number is seldom attained.
§ But do not let it be supposed that am finding any fault with the Peers who come here and maintain silence. It seems to me on the whole a very creditable feature in this Assembly. Here are hundreds of people who can come down three times a week and bore their colleagues and their friends to death on any subject that occurs to them under the guise of asking a Question, yet they do not do it. I think I may say without fear of contradiction that people in this House do not as a rule talk for the sake of making a speech, but they talk because they have something to say. The reticence on the part of the people who attend here and do not speak is, to my mind, highly commendable. And how different it is in every other country! I observe that in the Angora Assembly the other day, when they were deliberating on the terms presented by my noble friend Lord Curzon, there were no fewer than sixty-eight orators who were desirous of expressing their opinion, but did not get the chance of doing so.
§ If reticence is a quality to be commended, however, I do not think that anybody will commend absentees. It is obvious that in so large an Assembly there must be a certain number of members who are more or less unfit to discharge their duties, and are probably incapacitated by virtue of their professions. Nobody, for instance, would expect people who are on the Active List of the Army or the Navy to attend here, and, for my part, I should think it wrong if they did so, because I consider it to be highly desirable that all the Services should be kept clear of polities. But, on the other hand, it is an undoubted fact that there are many members of this House who have a strong and pronounced dislike for political life. I am acquainted with various noble Lords who pride themselves upon the fact that they have never 540 been inside these walls, and that they never mean to come here at all. I am acquainted with one nobleman who refuses to come here because, he says, he is too clever for this Assembly, and therefore declines to take any part in its deliberations.
§ LORD NEWTON
No, I will not give his name. And it may be an unfortunate thing, but everybody knows that there is a certain limited number who are, on the whole, undesirable. But it has always been claimed, at all events up to now, that among these absentees are a number of extremely worthy individuals who are discharging most valuable work in the country.
§ LORD NEWTON
I observe that that statement meets with approval. I have grave doubts upon the point myself. I suppose the fact of being a Lord-Lieutenant naturally implies that a man busies himself in county work. Well, I have looked through the list of Lords-Lieutenant, and I find that, every Lord-Lieutenant, with the exception of one or two, who are incapacitated by old age, are men who are well known here and frequent attendants at our debates. I have also looked through the list of Peers who are Chairmen of County Councils; they are also attendants here. I have investigated the list of Peers who occupy the position of Chairmen of Quarter Sessions, and I find that they also are regular attendants here. The fact is that if a man is industrious in one direction he is industrious in another.
I have observed one example of extraordinary industry, for, in the ease of my noble friend, Lord Bath, he is not only a Lord-Lieutenant, but he is Chairman of a County Council, Chairman of Quarter Sessions, and a member of His Majesty's Government as well. But it really is the same all over the world, and you will find the same thing in every class: where a man shows energy and industry in one direction he will show it in others, and where -a man has anything to do he can always find time to do something else. I do not suppose there is any more hard-worked person, either here or elsewhere, than my noble friend, 541 Lord Curzon, who leads the House at the present time. If you have occasion to write to my noble friend you will get by return of post a long personal letter. I do not say it will contain what you want, but, at, all events, you will get a long, reasoned personal letter from him almost by return of post. And I will undertake to say that, if you wrote to one of these absentee Peers, who has no visible sign of a profession at all, you will be very lucky if you get any answer, or—as I, in my own experience, have found—you will, perhaps, get an answer from his butler. I altogether disbelieve in this theory of noble Lords blushing unseen in the backwoods, and diffusing a beneficent atmosphere around them. I think you would be much more likely to meet many of these absentees upon the racecourse than you would upon the benches of their county hall, and I have not the smallest doubt that if you were to go to Aintree you would find a Very large assortment of them there this afternoon; in fact, had it not been for this Motion, I should have been there myself.
Now the moral of all this—at least, the moral which I wish to draw from these observations—is that our numbers ought to be largely reduced, and I contend that this can be effected without any great difficulty. I firmly believe that you could get rid of half the members of this House without many of them ever becoming aware of the fact. They would suffer a kind of political euthanasia. They would pass away from our midst, and we should be unconscious of their departure, while they would be unconscious of their new circumstances. The only question is as to how it is to be done. I much prefer simplicity in affairs of this kind. I do not want to expound my plan at length at the present moment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillimore, has put forward an ingenious and complex proposal which, no doubt, has great merits, but which, to my mind, is 'somewhat too complicated.
I would much prefer to proceed on simpler lines. I should like to suggest, therefore, that a fixed number should be decided upon of anything between, say, 250 and 300; that there should be a high qualification, because it would be absurd for ex-Secretaries of State and people of that kind to submit themselves for election; and that the rest of the House should be elected on the same principle 542 as that upon which the Scottish Peers are elected, except that I would much prefer that they should be elected for a longer period than one Parliament.
Such a scheme as this has always been rejected up to now because it has been contended that it would react unfairly upon the Liberal Party. In former days there was a clear, clean-cut division between noble Lords on this side of the House and those on the other side. We were divided upon all kinds of questions. But the last question upon which we were divided has disappeared, and, since the Irish surrender, what difference is there between the politics of the noble Lords who sit upon this side of the House and noble, Lords who sit opposite? Let me take a case: What difference in principle is there between my noble friend Lord Curzon and the noble Viscount, Lord Grey, who leads the Opposition? I do not know what the difference is. Possibly the noble Viscount, may be in favour of a revision of the Peace Treaty; at least, I hope that he is. But I cannot conceive of any other difference that exists between them, although they sometimes indulge, much to the edification of everybody else, in a kind of intellectual pillow-fight upon important occasions. The fact is that Party divisions have practically disappeared, and, with the disappearance of those Party divisions, the character of this House has changed, too.
The late Lord Salisbury, who probably said more true things than any one else, once observed that in this House we were all drawn too much from one class and, therefore, we possessed the defect of thinking too much in the same way. I do not think that anybody would contend that this House consists of one class now. In the time of the late Lord Salisbury it did; it consisted of the land-owning class and retired servants of the State. But at the present moment it is no exaggeration to say that every class is represented here, with the exception, perhaps, of the proletariat, and I do not suppose that Party managers would have much use for the proletariat. That being so, we have all that we want, and much more than we want. The only thing that is really necessary is to get rid of superfluous and unnecessary people.
I have been connected off and on with this question of the reform of the House of Lords for a considerable period now, 543 and I have long ago come to the conclusion that the country does not in the least desire a Second Chamber constructed upon elaborate principles such as those which have been laid down by various Committees. No revolution in this country is going to be stemmed by importing Peers elected by county councils or by groups of Members of Parliament. It will require something much stronger than that to stem a revolution if it ever comes in this country. The strength of this House really consists in our extreme dissimilarity from the House of Commons. It is precisely because we are not elected and do not represent any one in particular that we enjoy such influence and have such strength as we really do possess.
I am convinced that the swollen condition, I might almost call it the bloated condition, we are in at the present moment is a distinct source of weakness, and, if I may borrow the words which were uttered the other day by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, if we repel from our discussions those who by universal consent have neither adorned nor attended them, we shall be strengthening our position and we shall have done something by this act of self-sacrifice in enabling us to claim the return of some of those rights of which we feel we have been unjustly deprived. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That it is desirable that the numbers of this House should be reduced.—(Lord Newton.)
My Lords, when I read the Notice of Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord, I could not help thinking that he was going to indulge in those merry jests in which he used to indulge before he was sobered by getting some small Government appointment; I forget what it was. I am certain that if the noble Lord were to let the backwoodsmen know that he was going to speak he could be sure, as long as he would keep to his lighter vein, of having a sufficient audience. But the basic reason why the attendance of those of us who are backwoodsmen is so small is just this—a man has to make up his mind whether he is going to make politics his chief aim in life. Too much praise cannot be given to those noble Lords who make the carrying on of the government of the country their chief object in life; but that opportunity has not been offered to all of us and very few of us have the 544 ability to accept it even were it so offered. The fact is, though the noble Lord denies it, that Peers in this country have a great many responsibilities. They do not attend here, not because they are too idle but because they are too busy. Many of them are at the head of great commercial undertakings; many of them have large estates to manage and they engage in county business, of which the noble Lord makes so light.
Many of them have to earn their living, or enough, at any rate, to pay their taxes. Some of them have even to beg. Many of them are engaged in work which, if not remunerative, is very absorbing both of interest and of time. It seems to me that it would be an absolute waste of energy and of time for backwoodsmen, so employed, to come here day after day to listen to the answers to the conundrums put so constantly by Lord Sydenham, and to hear a discussion on Departmental matters which do not concern them very much and in which they are not particularly interested; especially when they could be of no use at all except to make an audience. People call us backwoodsmen. I think we are the backbone of the whole Constitution.
Every Government knows that so long as they carry out the wishes of the country, so far as we know them, they can depend upon us to come up and support them at any moment. On the other hand, it is very good and healthy for a Government to know that if they do not carry out the wishes of the country they may at any moment pull the string of the shower-bath and receive a douche from all of us when we think it is to the interest of our country to come here and oppose the Government. People say: "Oh, but they come so seldom, and when they do come perhaps they will come in great numbers and swamp the Government." But what is the harm of that? Are we backwoodsmen less able to form an opinion of what is good for our country simply because we do not attend here every day? The fact that we do not come every day does not make us more stupid. It might have the opposite effect. Surely it is far better to come here when we are wanted and can be useful than to come here when we are not wanted and cannot be useful. That really sums up the whole matter.
545 It seems to me that the way business is done in this House is almost ideal. In the first place it is the only political Assembly in the world where there is no One to keep order. It is only the courtesy of one man to another that preserves order in this House. This House is attended every day by those who are chiefly interested in the subject under discussion. The business is carried through in a quick and businesslike way by men who understand it, and, above all things, any Peer coming here known to be interested in any subject is absolutely certain to get courteous and kindly consideration and encouragement from the Leader of the House. That is why you are so kind in listening to me to-day speaking in favour of these poor backwoodsmen.
If this Resolution were carried your Lordships would deprive Peers of the only political privilege left to them. Never mind how great our stake in the country is, never mind how great our experience may be, never mind how wide our responsibilities, how exceptional unrivalled our experience may be, we are classed with criminals and paupers, and we have no vote in the election of a Government. But we have still left to us, unless the noble Lord is successful, the power to come here and to voice, when we wish to do so, what we believe to be the wishes of the country. We have still left to us the power to come here and vote. If this be taken from us then we shall lose the only privilege that is left to a Peer. My Lord, withdraw your Resolution; have mercy upon us. It is because of the merits of our forebears that we are compelled to be ornamental. Do not take away from us the only opportunity we have of being useful.
§ LORD PHILLIMORE
My Lords, I had the honour to move for the Return which has formed the subject of Lord Newton's Motion. It was intended as a document to be considered in relation to the question of the reform of your Lordships' House. As I understand the objections to the present state of things, they are four in number—This House is too large; the voting power is too uncertain because it is so large and because the attendance is, or may be, so fluctuating; some voters here are untrained in political matters, though they may be very valuable men, as Lord 546 Knutsford has just indicated; and lastly, and of most importance of all, these defects are distorted, magnified and exaggerated in the minds of people who are outside this House, and therefore this House has not the authority and weight—not all the authority and weight—which it ought to have in the counsels and deliberations of the country.
Lord Newton has proposed a somewhat drastic remedy. I do not say that it is not a good one. I do not wish to be understood as speaking against it, but I venture to submit my own little scheme, because it is a simple one, and is by no means so drastic, or so advanced, or so exclusive as Lord Newton's. Indeed, I almost think it might pass muster with Lord Knutsford's. My plan may be called a plan of self-disfranchisement. I can put it in very few words. As your Lordships know, since the case of the Earl of Bristol in the reign of James I—a case which was much brought to our notice during Lady Rhondda's action—it has been held that every Peer has a constitutional right to his Writ of Summons, and that neither the Crown can refuse it nor can his brother Peers exclude him from taking his seat. Therefore, if anything has to be done, there must be an Act of Parliament.
The Act of Parliament I would suggest would have in it but two or, at the most, three clauses. It would provide—I have ventured once already to trouble the House with this matter, but I may ask to be allowed to do so again, shortly—it would provide that no Peer should have his Writ of Summons as of right. He should be bound to petition the Crown much I suppose as now, when there is a disputed succession, he presents a petition. The petition would take a form to be settled by Standing Orders, and it would contain—this is the vital part of it—an undertaking that if he received his Writ el Summons he would attend in your Lordships' House and take part in the business of the House and of Committees for a period of years—five or three, or whatever number might be thought desirable.
An undertaking such as that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, of course, would he complied with to the letter by the Peer who made it. But in order that there should be no uncertainty about enforcing it, and in order also that licence 547 or dispensation from it should be given in proper cases, such as sickness, or accident, Standing Orders would provide—and the Act of Parliament would enable this House by Standing Orders to provide—that there should be a standard of attendance. There should be some Committee of your Lordships' House—like the Committee of Selection—which would determine that standard, and determine, in any case of doubt or complaint, whether that standard was being observed by the Peer in question, and would give him a licence to depart from it if the illness of himself, or the illness of a child or wife or parent, or any accident, or other cause afforded a strong reason why he should be allowed to depart from it. I ought to have said that I would propose that the Peer in question should not be bound to attend if he was otherwise in the public service of the Crown. His undertaking would be that he would attend unless employed in the public service of the Crown.
I do not suggest that a man should make his choice once and for all, and should be barred for all time because, when he was young and foolish, possibly idle, or possibly properly engaged in earning his livelihood away from London, when he could not attend, he did not ask for the Writ of Summons; but let it be provided that he should not be able to qualify himself ad hoc and vote in any particular Division. My suggestion would be that he should have six months after succeeding his predecessor, or after attaining his majority, in which to sue out his Writ, and if he did not sue out -his Writ then he should wait for the next Dissolution and the next Parliament and that during the next or any subsequent Parliament he should be entitled to get his Writ.
The advantages of this proposal, in my humble judgment, would be these. In the first place, we should considerably limit the number of your Lordships' House. I am aware that now almost every Peer takes his seat once and qualifies. The Return is a Return of people who do not attend during the particular Parliament. I assume that with few exceptions every Peer qualifies. But if Peen had to undertake to serve for three or five years I think a very great number would fail to qualify, or at any rate would not qualify until they are much older. In that way we should considerably reduce 548 the effective number of your Lordships' House by self-disfranchisement.
One objection is that untrained Peers have the power to sway matters by their vote. I submit that it would be most desirable that every Peer who votes should at some stage of his life have taken an active and continued part in practical polities. He should be here, able to go across to the other House, and listen to the debates there. He should have that atmosphere of one at the centre of the politics of the country which would train him almost unconsciously in political wisdom so that he would know the balance of things, questions of proportion, which are so important in politics; and having once learned, he would never forget. After three or five years let him go away to the country, or abroad, and come back from time to time. I believe he would never forget his training. People who have once made a substantial advance in any study may drop it and come back to it years afterwards, perhaps better than if they had been constantly studying in the interval. I apprehend that such Peers would never lose the qualifications they had obtained in the first instance.
That is my "complicated" measure. I say that it is not complicated at all. No Peer gets his seat who does not undertake to serve, subject to certain conditions, for a period of time; and there will be a system under which it can be decided whether he is fulfilling his duties and under which he can get a licence to depart if there is reason for it. There are one or two details which I would venture to add. In the first place, with regard to Scottish and Irish Peers I suggest that a Scottish Peer on his first election and an Irish Peer on his one election should give an undertaking similar to that given by a Peer succeeding by hereditary right. Then there are some curious cases which would have to be provided for. Many great families have more than one Peerage in the family, and the cadet with the inferior Peerage may find that by the disappearance of the senior line he succeeds to the higher title. Of course he would not be expected to go through the mill again and serve for another period of three or five years. It is possible that a Law Lord, a Lord of Appeal, or a Bishop, might become a Peer; he, again, ought not to be so 549 subjected. Peers of the Blood Royal have always been excluded from any scheme of reform of your Lordships' House and from the common fate of other Peers, and it may be worth consideration whether heirs apparent to Peerages who have had seats in the House of Commons and have had political training should be required to give such an undertaking in the future.
I may be told with some truth that my measure would take a long time before it operated with any great force; that it would operate very little at first and take some time before its influence was felt. I am afraid there are many changes by death in your Lordships' House and that it would not be so long before an appreciable effect would be produced. But I submit that without any undue interference with vested rights we might accelerate its operation a little. We might apply it to those who, already Peers and major Peers, have never taken their seats; we might say also that no Peer who does not choose to qualify during the Parliament in which this measure was passed, although he had qualified in times past, should be allowed to take his seat except under the prescribed conditions. We might apply it also to Peers who are now minors.
I have heard it said that many of the defaulters in attendance are not those Peers who have succeeded by hereditary right, but new creations, and that no such scheme as I have suggested would affect them. Something may be said about that. I apprehend that these new Peers fall into two classes. They are the great admirals and generals who by tradition are rewarded for their great public services by dignified seats in your Lordships' House. We are, of course, very glad whenever they come here, but their Peerages are rewards for merit and cannot be considered to bind them to attend. With their descendants, who, if history repeats itself, will be some of the most valuable members of your Lordships' House, it would be otherwise; they would attend in due course as hereditary Peers. Then there is the other class, those who are promoted here because of good service in the House of Commons, occasionally, because they have been leading judges—and I put myself in that class. They, I apprehend, ought to be expected to attend and give the benefit of those services in 550 respect of which they were created until either age or infirmity gives an excuse. The same applies to the great captains of industry, to whom Lord Knutsford seemed to refer as people who ought to be excused attendance. It seems to me that they are the very people of all others who ought to come here and give us the benefit of practical advice.
In conclusion, I would venture to say this. Thought through a long life on social, political and constitutional questions has led me to believe that in nine eases out of ten true reform is not radical reform; it is not uprooting the tree, but starting where the tree has begun to deflect from its true course and putting it straight. In nine cases out of ten, that is to say, reform is recurrence to first principles, the restoration of that which has gone astray. That little Writ of Summons which some of us receive when we are first made Peers, and which we all receive on each Dissolution and new summoning of Parliament is a Writ which, if I remember aright, orders us to leave aside all other matters and attend here in our places. It is the original conception of a Peerage that the Peers should be present as counsellors of the Crown. That, I think, is what we should try to restore—the principle that Peers should be here as counsellors of the Crown, and, in consequence, as counsellors of the nation.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
My Lords, there are two points upon which I think all your Lordships will be in agreement. In the first place, a body of over seven hundred Peers is too large for any deliberative and legislative assembly. In the second place, it is extremely undesirable that there should be a large number of Peers who are either unwilling or unable to attend our debates, and are yet able to come here, and on occasion actually do come here, when a matter of great constitutional importance is before your Lordships' House. I believe cases have been known where they have appeared even on the very day when a Division is to be taken, have taken the Oath at that Table, and have then proceeded to vote on a matter of vital importance to the future of this country without even having taken the trouble to listen to the arguments which have been adduced in favour of or against such a measure.
It is natural that if a remedy is suggested for this state of affairs it 551 should take the form, as has been proposed by my noble friend Lord Newton, of a very moderate scheme, because we know that for the last thirteen or fourteen years we have been promised a total reform of this House, and as that is not likely to be brought forward at present, it is natural that the noble Lord should suggest an alteration of such a moderate nature as to have some chance of being passed both by your Lordships' House and the House of Commons. The form which he has put forward is one which has suggested itself to many people—namely, the adoption of the system which prevails with regard to the Scottish and Irish Peerages—but it often seems to be forgotten, when that suggestion is made that the scheme for the election of Scottish and Irish Peers does not consist merely in choosing a certain number to represent the remainder, either for one Parliament, as in the case of Scotland, or for life, as in the case of Ireland. The conditions under which those arrangements were made were settled by the respective Acts of Union.
In the case of Scotland this was accompanied by the condition that the Crown should confer no more Scottish Peerages. After the Union any Peerage conferred on a Scotsman was to be a Peerage of Great Britain, and subsequently of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Peers at that time were very careful to make an arrangement to ensure that at any rate a certain proportion of the number of Peers then existing should always represent them in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. As time has gone on the position, from the point, of view of the Scottish Peers, has naturally improved, because a, large number of Scottish Peers have been made Peers of the United Kingdom, and, in addition, a certain number of Scottish Peerages have either become extinct or dormant or, in some cases, have been attainted. The Scottish Peers at the present time are consequently in an even better position as regards representation than they were at the time of the Union in 1707.
A similar arrangement was made at the time of the Irish Act of Union. There the position slightly differed. The Irish Peers were to be represented by twenty-eight lay Peers and four Spiritual Lords. But a condition was also laid down that the Crown was to have no power to create a new Irish Peerage except after 552 three Irish Peerages became extinct. This was to he the case until the number was reduced to one hundred Irish Peers who had not seats in this House. After that one Irish Peer could be created for every Irish Peerage that became extinct. It was owing to that provision that my noble friend the Leader of the House was first made an Irish Peer, and that we subsequently had the honour and pleasure of welcoming him in this House as an Irish Representative Peer.
Let us see how that could be carried out in respect of the whole of the House of Lords. It seems to Inc that if a similar arrangement were made it would necessitate some means whereby no more Peers should be created. We know perfectly well that no Government would agree to that, and no House of Commons would ever pass a measure limiting in that way the Prerogative of the Crown. Supposing again a very large number of Peers are created. My noble friend suggested that before very long our numbers might be increased to 1,000, and in that event the proportion of Peers which it was then settled should represent the whole body in the House would be very much less with 1,000 Peers than it was when the number was only 700.
And what would be the position of new Peers? It must be one of two things. They must either on their creation have seats in your Lordships' House for life, the representative element coming in only when their sons succeed, or, on the other hand, they must be in the position of an Trish Peer on his creation; that is to say, they would have no seat in the House until they had been elected. We know that would be perfectly impossible. For instance, if a new Government were to come in, the first thing they would desire, probably, would be to promote some distinguished lawyer to become Lord Chancellor. If he did not obtain a seat on creation he would, it is true, be able to sit on the Woolsack, but he would not be able either to take part in debates or to vote until some vacancy had occurred, and in that event only if your Lordships were willing to elect him to a seat in this House. That, it seems to me, is the first objection to the creation of Peers who would not immediately have seats in this House. We must remember, too, that no Government would ever agree to that arrangement because it would do away with one of the chief weapons which 553 an arbitrary Minister can always use against this House—the threat. to overcome our resistance by the creation of Peers.
On the other hand, if the creation of a Peerage conferred a right on every Peer so created to sit in this House, would not that result in a much weaker House of Lords than we have at present? We know that there have been two instances in the nineteenth century when it was threatened that in the event of this House not agreeing to the passage of certain measures it would be overridden by the creation of Peers. I do not know how many Peers it was proposed to create at the time of the Reform Bill, but we know that at, the time of the Parliament Bill it was intended to create 500 new Peers. Those are very extreme measures for any Prime Minister to adopt, and we know that it is only in a very great Constitutional crisis and in a matter which he thought concerned the whole future of the country that he would be willing to take such a very extreme step.
But consider the position if the House were limited to 250 Peers, as Lord Newton suggests. Probably these Peers would be elected by Proportional Representation, and there would not be a majority of more than fifty on one side or the other. It would be a great temptation to a Government, if they found they could not carry a measure, to threaten the creation of fifty Peers. That is a very different thing from the creation of five or six hundred. They could call upon the eldest sons of Peers, and no doubt they would be able to find a number of worthy gentlemen who would not object to being made Peers, and who would not be likely to leave successors behind them.
The alternative reform suggested by Lord Phillimore has a great deal to recommend it. I would make a few suggestions. The first, is that no Peer should be allowed to take his seat until he has attained the age of thirty. I do not know that that would lessen the number very much, but it would justify our existence as a Senate, which is supposed to be an Assembly of older men. Another possibility which strikes me is that no Peer should be allowed to exercise his full functions in this House, as to debate and voting, until for three years he has passed through a probationary period, which should include attendance at one Private 554 Bill Committee at least. We have heard a great deal of abuse of this House from Radicals, but it is a strange thing that even the strongest Radical has never objected, so far as I know, to any decision of a Private Bill Committee, although those Committees deal with matters of vast importance to the citizens of some of the greatest towns in Great Britain.
I cannot help thinking that if Peers went through an apprenticeship for this House by serving for three years on a Private Bill Committee, they would obtain a great deal of useful information on many subjects, which would fit them eventually for the larger matters which would come under their consideration at a later date. These suggestions, I think, are deserving of some consideration when the question of reform is considered, and therefore I have ventured to put before your Lordships an alternative to the scheme, of a House of Lords consisting altogether of representatives of the Peerage, which I think might have more success.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
My Lords, I have been listening to this debate since it started, and it, appears to me that every single title which I have to sit in this House has been seriously impugned. First of all we had Lord Askwith, who cast some aspersion upon drawing titles out of abeyance, and I listened with certain amount of trepidation for the recital of the title of Willoughby do Broke, which was in abeyance for a considerable period. Luckily, it appears to have escaped the scrutiny of my noble friend. I examined the date to which he limited his scrutiny, and I found that perhaps I might have been lucky enough to have been a little bit antecedent to that period which he wishes to bring under the observation of the House.
Then we have my noble friend Lord Newton, who has revived, in a somewhat modified form, the proposition which he has placed from time to time before the House. The first proposal he made, I think some ten or twelve years ago, was of a similar character to that which he has proposed this afternoon. He has always thought, and he may be quite right, that those Peers who do not crime to Westminster and take part in the debates, or at any rate do not listen to 555 what other Peers have to say, which is an even more important thing than speaking themselves, ought to be excluded from the power of taking part in Divisions. I do not think that that is an unfair statement of Lord Newton's general thesis.
He then went on to say, and I agree with this idea, that a busy man has always got time to devote his attention to something else. I agree that those who are the most busy, and the hardest worked, are probably those who still find time in which to pay attention to other matters. But I do not think that Lord Newton quite covered the ground, because I can recall at random the names of a least three of my noble friends, well known to your Lordships, who do not take part in our debates and do not attend this House, but who are, as Lords-Lieutenant, the representatives of His Majesty, who are the heads in their counties of the county councils and the heads of the Territorial Associations, and who devote practically the whole of their lives to conducting affairs in their own counties.
I think Lord Oranmore suggested that a noble Lord might come up from the country and take part in an important Division in the House, although he had only just taken the Oath. I do not consider that that matters very much, and I suggest to your Lordships that a Peer who has been considered good enough by His Majesty to he Lord-Lieutenant of a county, or, if not, who has responsibilities in rural districts and who fulfils them, whether they be in business or in agriculture, has a perfectly legitimate and accessible means of forming his own opinion upon public affairs. The mere fact that he has only taken the Oath at the Table a few moments before he votes does not necessarily disqualify him from having a voice in the affairs of the nation in your Lordships' House.
I submit to your Lordships that the last people in the world who would wish to see disqualified those whom Lord Newton might call the backwoodsmen, would be the county councillors, the farmers, the labourers, and the neighbours of those Peers. A Peer who takes an active part in public affairs in his own county is just as representative of public opinion, when he comes up to Westminster, as is a Member of the House 556 of Commons, who has spent the intervening time between going through the Lobbies, in smoking or playing chess, or wandering about the purlieus of the other place, and only coming into the Division Lobby when told to do so by the Whips of the Party to which he belongs. I submit that a Peer who may not be able to come up here because he is doing his duty to his country elsewhere, is just as representative of his country, although he may be labelled by my noble friend a backwoodsman, as some Members of the House of Commons whose only effective appearance in the House is in the Division Lobbies.
From time to time various proposals have been made for limiting the number of the hereditary Peers who are qualified to attend this House. In the abstract I thoroughly agree with my noble friend Lord Newton. It does seem anomalous and strange that the House should consist of considerably over seven hundred members, and that only a certain number of them should be good enough to come, up to Westminster and listen to the speeches of my noble friend, and, in a much more minor degree, those of the backwoodsmen who sometimes address the House. That is an abstract proposition which can easily be supported. One or two ways have been suggested of limiting the numbers of the hereditary Peerage. My noble friend Lord Newton has one set of suggestions which he has placed before your Lordships from time to time; my noble and learned friend Lord Phillimore has produced another suggestion this afternoon. I do not wish to make fun of it, but he rather suggests that each Peer, when he succeeds, should take out a sort of certificate to kill game, which will enable him, during his tenure of the title, to come to the House of Lords and take part in Divisions.
These proposals to limit the hereditary Peerage may be all very well, but I, for one, although the title which I enjoy may have been in abeyance for some time, and although I believe I am what my noble friend Lord Newton calls a backwoodsman, do not intend to surrender any single one of these privileges unless I get something in return. And I tell your Lordships quite frankly that any proposal to limit the numbers of the House of Lords should, in my humble 557 opinion, be accompanied by a general constitutional reconstruction. I will put before your Lordships, as I have done on a previous occasion, a business proposition. If my noble friend Lord Newton or Lord Phillimore is going to turn me out of the House, or to submit me to a vote by my fellow Peers, or anything of that kind, I will consider that proposition if, and only if, it is accompanied by a complete and absolute repeal of the Parliament Act, and by a general revision of the powers of the House of Lords. That is a perfectly firm business offer.
I submit that there is nothing to be gained by trying to alter our title to sit in the House of Lords unless it is accompanied by some such constitutional reform. In support of that I will give a quotation from Lord Beaconsfield's speech in 1872, and, if any of your Lordships feels that this particular description applies to himself he is perfectly at liberty to do so. Lord Beaconsfield said:—I am inclined to believe that an English gentleman, managing his own estate, administering the affairs of his county, living with all classes of his fellow men, now in the hunting field, and now in the railway direction, unaffected, unostentatious, proud of his ancestors if they have contributed to the greatness of our common country' is on the whole more likely to form a Senator agreeable to English opinion and English taste than any substitute that has yet been produced.I am well aware that it is not proposed to introduce any fancy substitute for the hereditary Peerage into the House of Lords, as has been proposed before from time to time, and I am very glad that those noble Lords who wish 10 reform the House of Lords have confined themselves to restriction of the hereditary Peerage as it is.
But in considering these proposals is it wise to try to tinker with the hereditary Peerage until Parliament generally has under consideration some scheme of constitutional reform which will restore the balance of the Constitution? Much as I sympathise with the desire of my noble friend to reform the House of Lords in a manner which might make the hereditary Peerage more palatable to the public, I submit with all sincerity that it would be wise to wait until we can get a Government, perhaps a Conservative Government, which will consider a 558 reconstruction of the balance of the Constitution and a restoration of the powers of the Second Chamber.
§ EARL BUXTON
My Lords, what I like mainly about this Resolution is that it is very simple. It deals with one issue alone. It does not raise constitutional questions, or any question of a brand new Chamber, or the relations between the two Houses. It has this additional advantage, in spite of what was said by my noble friend who has just spoken, that there is a real demand for the proposal of reform which has been made. I do not think there is any demand for great constitutional change, and certainly I do not think it would be in the direction referred to by my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke—namely, that of restoring the bal Ince between the two Houses. I think it was shown by the Resolutions last year and the debate which then took place that there is really no demand for a big constitutional change. I believe the impression left on the minds of noble Lords who followed that debate it certainly was on my mind—was that, it was almost impossible to get any general agreement as to the method in which that constitutional change should be made. Even the members of the then Government, which introduced the Resolutions, could not agree among themselves. They damned the Resolutions with very faint praise, and they !were not able to show that the proposals they made were watertight, or such as would work in times of emergency.
That being so, it seems to me that there is all the more reason for the members of the House of Lords to take the question into consideration themselves, and to see whether they cannot incidentally strengthen their position, and make the House more popular than it is at present. The real weakness of the present constitution of the House of Lords, as everybody admits, is that which was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Newton—namely, that it depends entirely on the hereditary principle, and that it is, as we all believe, too large, and therefore an unwieldy body !or legislative purposes. The figures given by my noble friend in his speech showed to what alarming proportions the numbers of the House of Lords are rising. We are really swelling visibly before the naked eye, year 559 by year, almost month by month. It is more and more obvious that we are becoming an unwieldy body for legislative purposes, and, as my noble friend pointed out, there are so many members who take no part in the legislative operations of this House.
My noble friend who has just addressed your Lordships spoke, as he always does, on behalf of the backwoodsmen. My idea of a backwoodsman is of one who never attends or takes any interest or part in the proceedings of the House of Lords. We are all very glad to know that my noble friend is as good an attender as most of us and does take his part in the House. In reference to the noble Lord's proposal of a great constitutional alteration in the position of the House of Lords, I understood him to say that that was the only quid pro quo which would induce him to agree to relinquish his seat, as a backwoodsman. To my mind, that is a great additional argument for not dealing with the matter on a constitutional basis because, until we do so, we shall have the advantage of the presence of my noble friend amongst us.
He made a point with which I should like to deal in reference to the selection of those who are not active members of this House. He said that there were a certain number of Peers living in the counties and elsewhere, acting as Lords-Lieutenant and manfully doing their duty to their country better there than by frequent attendance here. But if the number of members of the House is reduced by about one half to 300 or whatever it may be, there will he canvassing —that is to say, selection among the members of the House—and I am sure that any one with such a record as my noble friend is just the sort of Peer whom the majority of your Lordships would desire should remain among them, even though he was not a very good attender. It is those who take no interest in the House, who do no public work outside, and who amount, I am afraid, to something like three hundred of our members, that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, has in mind.
Then Lord Oranmore and Browne said that one of the difficulties of the position would be this. If your numbers were fixed and a great constitutional question arose, it would make it impossible for the Government to create Peers, as Govern- 560 ments have once or twice threatened to do, in order to overcome opposition. But the answer to that is, surely, a very simple one. Under the Parliament Act no question can possibly arise of creating Peers in order to pass a measure through Parliament. A Bill would automatically become a Statute without the necessity of creating Peers. Indeed, my recollection is that one of the great arguments in favour of the Parliament Act was that it would enable the Lower House to deal with such matters without any such serious constitutional action as the creation of Peers in order to place a Bill upon the Statute Book. The advantage of the Motion of my noble friend is that by a simple operation, which is not even a major or a dangerous one, the House of Lords is at once relieved of the blemishes he mentioned, which will then disappear.
My noble friend who has just spoken referred—and I think he is the first speaker who has done so—to the fact that the hereditary principle would be affected by this Resolution. It is, surely, too late in the day to talk about or to support the continuation of the hereditary principle in any reform of your Lordships' House. In years gone by, and in very recent years, your Lordships' House, by Resolution or in other ways, has over and over again expressed the view that the hereditary principle cannot remain part of any reformed Second Chamber. The Resolutions adopted last Session were in absolute condemnation and destruction of the hereditary principle. Although they permitted the selection of a few hereditary Peers from the members of the House of Lords, that was not because of the hereditary principle, and the rest of the House was made up of nominated members and members elected or selected from elsewhere.
But the mover of the Motion was much kinder to the hereditary principle than were the Resolutions, because I understand his idea to be to select the members of this House from amongst existing Peers, and though to a certain extent that must affect the hereditary principle, the members must be taken from the hereditary Peerage. The noble Lord is reducing their position somewhat; he is taking away their debenture securities and giving them a sort of preference shares; hut, at all events, he is not 561 entirely destroying the hereditary principle in the way in which that was done by the Resolutions adopted last year.
The real difficulty of the position seems to me to be this. One or two instructive speeches, in which there were alternative suggestions, have been made; but the difficulty is that of fixing your numbers and the method of selection. As regards numbers, it seems to have been generally agreed by former Committees and in various Resolutions, that the number should be somewhere between 300 and 350. But it is more difficult to know exactly how, under the proposals of my not le friend, with which I am in cordial agreement you are going to carry out your selection and reduce your numbers by about one half. As I understand the Motion, they will be selected entirely from the Peers themselves, and that is obviously the simplest way, with few exceptions. That, I am bound to say, raises a very difficult question. It would be invidious, I think, for seven hundred Peers to choose three hundred Peers to represent them.
One point on which I do not quite agree with my noble friend is this. He seemed to think that in making the selection it would not be necessary to provide for what I may call a minority vote. There would be no minority. He said that there was so little difference now between the two sides that they were practically one. I beg to differ in toto from that view. In any case it seems to me that there must be a minority vote in order that the House should be really representative of political opinion in the country. And the method of selection becomes a difficult problem which will require very careful consideration. The first point that arises is how far the members selected would be ex officio members. It is clear that the Lords Spiritual, probably in reduced numbers, and the Law Lords would form part of the new House, and I think my noble friend suggested that members of the Cabinet would also be ex officio members of the new body. I suppose I may take it for granted that the two Front Benches will take care that that is carried out. Then I suppose the Navy, the Army and the Civil Service or those who have been connected with the Dominions will contribute a certain proportion of ex officio members, while it seems to me that those who have held the office of Governor- 562 General ought to be selected without question.
As to nomination, the question is how far those Peers should be nominated by the Crown, and how far they should be selected by the House. On the whole, I think the House itself would be against any question of nomination. As a matter of fact, if you Consider the Peers who take part in the debates in this House, you find that they are largely the sort of persons who would naturally be selected. The hereditary principle is not nearly so much affected as might be thought: I took the trouble to make out the figures the other day and I find that, taking into account the Lords Spiritual, the Law Lords and those whose Peerages are not hereditary, there are no fewer than 190 members of your Lordships' House who are in no sense hereditary, who come under those various categories to which I have referred, and who probably would be those who would largely form the new Assembly.
But there are two classes with whom I have a great deal of sympathy and who, I am afraid, may suffer under this proposal of my noble friend. To one he himself referred—that is to say, the silent member. There are many noble Lords who attend regularly, or take part in Divisions, who are silent members, and one is afraid that the members selected would be chosen for their speech rather than for their silence. Another class with which it is difficult to know how to deal, is the class of young Peers—Peers who succeed early. This House is very anxious always to encourage any young Peer who desires to take, part in the debates of the House. Your Lordships are always very kindly disposed towards them, but, of course, you realise that to a young and inexperienced speaker you are a very formidable body to address. Even some of us who are case-hardened as a result of our experience in the House of Commons find that it is with considerable trepidation we rise to address your Lordships.
There is, perhaps, a very good reason for this. While I think, on the whole, your Lordships are good enough to listen lo the speeches, you seldom cheer. You do not give the speaker that encouragement which he receives in the House of Commons. To a young Peer who has had no experience this is a very formidable 563 body to address, and one regrets that young Peers are not able to get more opportunity of addressing this Assembly. The mere fact of their having so little opportunity means that they have not been able to make their mark, and I am rather afraid they are the Peers who will suffer from this proposal if it be adopted.
I think it was Lord Oranmore and Browne who said that he would like to have a regulation that no Peer under thirty years of age should be a member of this House. I would take exactly the opposite view. I think your Lordships, as a whole—I speak without any personal application to any of us—are rather middle-aged, or even, many of us, aged, and I think the House would be stronger by having younger members rather than the bald-headed Solons of whom there are so many in this House. I would have suggested, though I am afraid it is not practicable, that a number of Peers under a certain age should be selected among those mentioned by my noble friend.
I support this Resolution because I believe that it will have a very great effect on public opinion outside, and will strengthen the House of Lords. The real weakness of this House consists in its large numbers and the idea that the hereditary principle overrides the legislative functions of the House, and that a large number of members who are taking no part in it from time to time override its decisions. Therefore I am very glad that my noble friend has brought this Motion forward. It will, of course, require consideration in detail, but I hope your Lordships will pass it by a large majority.
§ VISCOUNT BURNHAM
My Lords, the question of reconstituting this Chamber in whole or in part has been discussed a dozen times during the last few years in your Lordships' House. We talk round the question. The evils are admitted, and yet we come no nearer to a conclusion still less to an agreement. The arguments are almost threadbare. Your Lordships have had the recommendations and advice of two or more Select Committees within the last twenty-five years, and of the Conference presided over by Lord Bryce which presented so elaborate a Report. What I think is disappointing in the discussion this evening is that most noble Lords who have spoken have approached the ques- 564 tion not from the point of view of the Parliamentary efficiency of the Constitut ion, but of the privilege of the Peerage A good many have said that they ought not to be shut out of this House because they can no doubt contribute at times useful information, or, at any rate, that they have a good deal of spare time the interstices of which they wish to fill. It has also been pointed out that young Peers obtain a good training for political life in this Assembly.
But, surely, the ideal we have to aim at is to increase the political stability of the Constitution and to make it work with higher efficiency. It is admitted on all hands that this is the most cumbrous, and, I suppose, the most uncertain, of all the Legislative Chambers in the world. If Peers are summoned here at the rate at which they have been during the past few years this House will approach in numbers the Polish Diet of the eighteenth century, and we shall have to adjourn our sittings to Westminster Hall, because no other place will be large enough for us.
May I point out also that your Lordships have had before you during the last fifty years the making of no fewer than four Constitutions for our Dominions overseas, in each of which a Second Chamber was constituted, more or less no doubt according to the wishes of the people for whom it was intended, but subject to your criticism and direction? The Legislative Council of the Dominion of Canada, which was part of the Constitution granted in 1867, is much the most numerous, but since then you have had the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa. In all those cases you have constituted a Second Chamber which, compared with the numbers of this House, would appear to he meticulously small. In Australia the Senate has only thirty-six members; in South Africa-, forty; and in New Zealand, forty-three. Here we have our own House of 700 members. Although in its personal qualities it no doubt possesses the most distinguished elements that are to be found in any Second Chamber in the world, yet it is clearly so curious in its working that it lends itself to ridicule, and certainly does not tend to the solidity of our institutions. That seems to me to he that which you have to face.
565 May I venture to point out this also to your Lordships? Like other Peers here, like the most rev. Primate opposite, I was a member of Lord Bryce's Conference, and at one point Lord Bryce asked every member to bring up a memorandum setting out his views as to Ni hat the reconstitution of this House ought to be. There was but little agreement amongst us, yet there was not one of the members either of this House or of the House of Commons who took part in our deliberations who did not take it as a matter of course that we ought greatly to reduce the numbers of this House. That was common ground upon which every proposal was founded. Yet here this evening we are still debating this question as if it only concerned the historical privileges of this or that noble Lord, or interfered with the personal convenience of those who still wish, no doubt with great advantage to the Assembly, to take part in the debates.
I have had many opportunities of addressing your Lordships on this question, and I will only say this in conclusion. It is said that the British constitution works well, not in spite of but because of its anomalies. That may be so, but I think you are indulging in a dangerous paradox if you argue from that that it will flourish not in spite of but because of the absurdities which we all admit hut which we seem unwilling to do anything to abate.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FORMCIN AFFAIPS (THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, the noble Lord whose Motion we are discussing made one of those characteristic contributions this afternoon which do so much both to enliven and enlighten our proceedings. I am not sure that he did not provide us with an illustration of his own dictum, and that those of us who are familiar with his most attractive style of oratory could not with perfect ease have reckoned upon the greater part of what he was going to say. Nevertheless, whatever be the process of reduction, diminution or elimination, which we apply in the future to the numbers of your Lordships' House, at least let us be certain about this—that we manage to make such arrangements as will continue to retain in our midst one who is such a perennial source both of utility and delight.
566 The first point, it seems to me, upon which we require to be certain is as to the actual numbers of your Lordships' House with which we are called upon to deal, and here there seems to have been uncertainty in the minds of some noble Lords who have spoken. Before I came down I provided myself with the latest Roll of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal who sit on these benches. It is dated only last month, and I find, as my noble friend Lord Newton more than once pointed out, that the total numbers on the Roll are 741. If you deduct from those the limited number, actually five, of duplicates, whose names appear in more than one place if you further deduct the minors, of whom We were told by one speaker that although, of course, Peers, yet for the moment they are not effective members of your Lordships' House, and whose number, I think, was given as thirty; and if you further deduct Royal Princes, who, although they sometimes honour our proceedings, do not, of course, take part in our debates, you have still a total of legislators who can, if they choose—and many of them do —take pare in or r proceedings, of about 700.
The question is whether that is an excessive number for the Second Chamber of a Kingdom like this. I answer that question unhesitatingly in the affirmative. I am not quite sure that I would endorse the particular epithets employed by Lord Burnham—"cumbrous" and "uncertain"—but do not let us dispute about adjectives. If you take the fact, which I have ascertained to be true, that one hundred years ago, in 1820, there were only 370 members of your Lordships' House and that now, in 1923, that number has doubled, according to the figures I have read to your Lordships, the total being actually 740, I for my part am able to draw no other conclusion from those figures than that this House is unnecessarily large both for legislation and for debate, and, indeed, unnecessarily large for the physical limits, if they were all assembled here, of the Chamber in which we sit.
I will go further and signify my own adhesion to another proposition, which is that your Lordships' House has been swollen—I think that was the word employed by 3, previous speaker—unduly swollen by the excessive number 567 of creations of Peerages which we have witnessed in recent years. I remember two or three years ago that the late Lord Balfour of Burleigh moved for a Return, which we laid on the Table of this House and which gave the exact figures of the creations that had been made in various Ministries during the last forty or fifty years. That Return showed that whereas between the years 1870 and 1903 the number of Peerages created per annum was about six, from that date onward, for various reasons into which I need not enter, the number steadily grew from year to year. Under the Coalition Government of Mr. Asquith, between May, 1915, and December, 1916, when, of course, the conditions were exceptional because for the first time the Government represented all Parties in the State, the number of new creations—I am not counting elevations in the Peerage; I am only counting new creations—rose to twelve per Finnum while in the long administration of the late Prime Minister, which came to an end at the close of last year, the number of new creations —again excluding elevations in the Peerage—was eighty, or an average of thirteen per annum during the period in which Mr. Lloyd George held office.
Of course, it must be remembered in fairness that that period covered the war and that many of the new creations were for conspicuous national services rendered by our heroes both on land and on sea. Nevertheless, I think the contention is established of those who have argued that the excessive numbers of the Peerage are in part due to the lavish creations which we have witnessed during the last ten years or more. It is true that if you apply the test, which I am not disposed to argue is a very sound one, of population—the ratio of Peers to population—there is not a substantial difference between the numbers now and the numbers one hundred years ago. I have made a calculation which shows that, in 1820, when George IV came to the Throne, the number of Peers was one to every 57,000 of the population of Great Britain and Ireland. The number at the present moment is one to every 63,000. On the whole these figures are less rather than more alarming. Still, the test of legislators in ratio to population as applied to the Second Chamber is one which I would not like to press too far.
568 The two propositions which I have laid down are, as Lord Burnham correctly pointed out, propositions which, at any rate as regards the first—namely, our excessive numbers—have been endorsed by every Committee, or body, or Commission, or Conference that has dealt with this matter during the lifetime of any one of us on these benches. In 1908 Lord Newton and I, and the most rev. Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who have seats in this House, were members of Lord Rosebery's Committee. That Committee, appointed, if I remember aright, because either a Bill was introduced or a Motion was made by my noble friend Lord Newton, was the first real authoritative Committee to deal with this matter in recent times. It took a great deal of trouble and recorded in its Report its views in these words:—The Committee do not desire to limit the Prerogative of the Crown as regards the creation of hereditary Peers, but they wish, by dissociating the right of legislation from the possession of a Peerage, to secure a more compact, efficient and responsible body for Parliamentary purposes.The Committee then went on to give a list of figures showing the great recent increases in the Peerage, and they ended by expressing the hope that it might be found possible to restrict within somewhat narrower limits than heretofore recommendations to the Crown for the creation of hereditary Peerages. That Committee ended by recommending a House of Lords the members of which should number 388.
In 1911 my noble friend Lord Lansdowne introduced into your Lordships' House a Bill which was the result of a prolonged investigation in which many of us took part. His Bill proposed a House of Lords of 350 members. In 1918 the Bryce Conference, of which Lord Burnham was a member, proposed a total of 342 members—I need not go into the component parts— and last year the Resolutions of the Cabinet Committee, over which I presided, and which were placed in a general form let fore this House, suggested a total of 350. I do not mean to pretend that there is any particular magic in that number, but it is clear that if you have a number of influential bodies examining this question over a period of something like thirty years, and if all of them come to the conclusion that the most acceptable 569 numbers for this House are from 300 to 350, that is a consensus of opinion to which, at any rate, we must attach very considerable weight.
For my own part, when I recall our discussions last year, in which the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, took part with myself, I think we came—although there was some divergence of opinion—to the general conclusion that a number of that sort was, on the whole, the most suitable number for the efficient discharge of business, for the due representation of all the various interests who have a right, traditional, hereditary and otherwise, to a seat in this House, for an adequate representation of the special interests which some of us desire to see represented here, and also for the physical accommodation afforded by the Chamber in which we are now met. So much for numbers.
Now I come to the question raised by my noble friend arising out of the Return for which he moved, and which is now in your Lordships' hands. What do these figures show? They do undoubtedly demonstrate that since the war—and it was to that period that he confined his examination—the experience has been that one-third of your Lordships never attend at all, while about another one-third give a rare and rather sporadic attendance; in other words, that approximately two-thirds of the full strength of your Lordships' House can hardly be described as effective members for the debating or legislative purposes of this Assembly. That leaves a total of about 250, of whom I heard one noble Lord say that fifty were in regular attendance. I think that was rather underrating the figures to which we are accustomed. I should say from my own experience that there are about 100 members who are in fairly regular attendance in your Lordships' House, and that the Whips could without much difficulty rely upon another 100, or perhaps more, to come here if they were aware that important business was proceeding.
Several speakers have pointed to a number of considerations which account for the absence of a considerable number of your Lordships. Some speakers have defended the absence of important territorial magnates on the ground of the duty that they are performing in their respective country areas. Other speakers 570 have contended that the adequate performance of those duties is compatible both in theory and in practice with close attendance here. I think we shalt all of us admit that there are many Peers, perhaps living at a distance, who are well employed and who are doing eminent public service in attending to their country duties. It is also true, as another speaker remarked, that when you give a Peerage to an eminent admiral or general it is intended rather as a recognition of services rendered than as a gauge of legislative work to be done.
That is true; but on the other hand I cannot help recalling that there was no more constant, efficient or useful member of your Lordships' House than the great Field-Marshal, Lord Roberts, who, during the many years when he sat here, was seldom on important occasions absent from that bench, and frequently contributed very vale rile material to our proceedings. You must also deduct the minors to whom I referred just now, and who will become legislators later on. It is only fair to remember also, though we constantly see upon that bench the most rev. Primate and some of his colleagues, that it is inevitable in the circumstances of the ease that the ecclesiastical and spiritual duties the Bishops, often in distant parts of the country, render it for the most part impossible for them to give a regular attendance at our proceedings. All of these are explanations of the absence of some of our members.
There is one point to which I hope I may without disrespect here allude. I am sometimes a little disappointed that the new creations, the men, for instance, who have come up here from the House of Commons, do not take a more immediate and active part in our proceedings. My remark applies only to a small minority of their numbers. There are among them men like max noble friend Lord Long, who contributes to our discussions exactly the same amount of energy, ability, and experience as he was wont for so many years to do in the House of Commons. There is also my noble friend Lord Buxton, who, although he has been a Peer for a long time, has only recently returned to our midst, and who takes a very frequent and very welcome part in our proceedings.
These, no doubt, are the explanations of the absence of many of our number, 571 but I should like to put another consideration before your Lordships. Supposing that a different system were adopted; supposing that we had a House selected or elected by some other system; are you quite sure that you would get a better attendance proportionately to the total numbers than you do now? I am far from clear upon that point. I am far from clear that the stimulus of public service and the stimulus of patriotic interest do not bring as many members to your Lordships' House in fairly regular attendance now as might be expected under some other, and perhaps theoretically more perfect, system of selection.
In that respect I might call your Lordships' attention to the phenomenon which may any day be witnessed over the way. In this House, on any occasion of reasonable interest, we see the benches well occupied, we see a debate conducted by experienced speakers addressing your Lordships with great authority. Go over the way and you may very likely find a House—I was a member there myself for thirteen years—and I would say that at most periods of the day or the night there are perhaps only twenty or thirty members seated upon those benches. I have seen speakers of the highest eminence addressing an almost insignificant body of members. I have seen speakers of great mark met with an interruption which is never given in your Lordships' House. And when we are told about our own failings as an hereditary Chamber, do let us say with all modesty that all virtue is not necessarily found in the representative Chamber, and that some of the points made against us can be made, as I think, with greater force and justice against the other Chamber over the way.
There is another drawback to our proceedings which, of course, I cannot attempt to deny. Attention was drawn to it by Lord Oranmore. It is not the daily conduct of our business here, it is not our debates, be they on subjects great or small, which are open to attack. It is the fact that sometimes large numbers of your Lordships' House may, at a summons of the Whip, come up from the country, either because the subject of the debate is one which has a personal interest for them, or because Party loyalty requires them to attend, and the phenomenon may be exhibited of a vote being registered here by an overwhelming 572 body of Peers who very rarely appear upon these benches, and whose intervention on those occasions, although perfectly proper and legitimate, is undoubtedly capable of being converted into a source of weakness to your Lordships' House. We all of us know that, and it is to escape that peril, that anomaly, that some of us hold so strongly the views which I ventured to express at the beginning of my remarks, that a substantial reduction of numbers would at least free us from the incidence of that particular charge.
In the course of the discussion this afternoon a number of noble Lords have given us their individual remedies for these evils, if evils they are. Of course, a familiar feature of all these debates is that everyone has a scheme in his own pocket, which he thinks is the best scheme in the world, and is impervious to the schemes of his neighbours. For instance, we had Lord Phillimore arguing in favour of a scheme which, although ingenious and not without some merit, did not receive very widespread or enthusiastic support when he introduced it on a former occasion. Then we have Lord Newton with a scheme to which I will come in a moment. I am bound to say it has occurred to me, at times, that there are minor methods of reform which it is somewhat surprising that we have never succeeded in introducing into our midst. For instance, it has always seemed extraordinary to me that a Peer should not he at liberty to resign his right as a legislator for the term of his own life, leaving it to he revived in the case of his successor, if it is an hereditary title. The only way he can now abstain from our proceedings is by neglecting his duties, and I have never understood why you should not allow him the faculty to resign.
There is another point. I have always wondered why Peers who fail to attend the sittings of the House for a definite period without good cause, or without the permission of the House, should not be asked to vacate their seats. A further suggestion came before Lord Lansdowne's Committee, and was included in his Bill, that some limit might be placed on the number of Peers to he created in any one year. Lord Lansdowne in his Bill, in 1911, proposed that hereditary Peerages should not he conferred upon more than five persons in any one 573 year, and in the Committee over which I presided last year some such suggestion was at any rate discussed. Of course, if you limit the number of Peerages created in any one year you will have to take steps to meet the difficulty which a noble Lord raised, and allow a Minister or man of distinction, whose elevation to this House is in the public interest desirable, to be so elevated in excess of the numbers to which I have referred. The objection hitherto taken to any such restriction has been that it curtailed the Prerogative of the Crown. Whether that is a serious or final objection I do not pause now to discuss, but I think perhaps you ought to trust rather to the growing public sense that recent creations have been too numerous, and confidently hope that your Prime Ministers in the, future will adopt a much more moderate scale of remuneration of pubic services than that which they have favoured in recent times.
There only remains for me to notice, in a sentence or two, Lord Newton's remedy. He would cut down the 740 members to some 300 or 350, by a process familiar to us in the case of the Scottish and Irish Peerages, subject to the difference that Lord Oranmore pointed out. I am not quite certain, if you reduced the 740 to 350 in that way, that, although you would escape the particular scandal to which I was referring just now, of a mass vote on rare occasions of Peers called backwoodsmen, you would get any better House than you do now, and there is the further objection that whereas on other occasions, when debating these matters, we have passed Resolutions against making a hereditary title the sole ground for a seat in this House, this would be confirming, while reducing, the application of that principle, because, of course, every one of the Peers so returned, although returned by the suffrages of his fellow Peers, would really only sit here because he possessed an hereditary title.
But there is another objection more formidable still, and that was hinted at by a noble Lord a few moments ago. It is this: What is the really important question in the future reform of your Lordships' House? It is not a question of numbers alone, or mainly. It is not a question of composition alone, or mainly. It is a question of powers. What are the powers which this House, if reformed, is to enjoy and exercise in 574 the future? What are to be its relations to the Chamber over the way? How are you going to adjust the difficulties which arise between the two Houses? And how are you going to have a properly balanced legislative machine? That is the real question, and I can quite understand different opinions being held by different people upon the priority of dealing with the question of composition over the question of powers.
When I was away ill last year and the Resolutions were discussed in your Lordships' House I believe that powerful opinions were expressed on both sides— some anxious to begin with one, some anxious to begin with -the other; some saying: "What is the good of determining that your total number shall be 350 until you have made up your minds what powers you are going to give to those 350?" others saying "Let us, on the other hand, construct our Chamber to begin with, and then find out, in view of its numbers and its composition, what are the powers which we can properly entrust to it." For my part, I am rather inclined to agree with those who place powers and composition in the first rank rather than numbers. I am disposed to think that when we get to work, as I hope this Government may do, upon this exceedingly difficult question later on—
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Well, if I remember what passed in this House only a few months ago nobody expressed a desire that this Government should undertake this question in the first months of its office, or in the first years of its office. So far as I recollect, an undertaking was given by the Prime Minister during the Election and, I think, was repeated here, that the question of the reform of the House of Lords was one of those obligations which we, of course, accept, which we willingly and loyally accept, and which we hope to redeem. The same was true of the last Government, of which some noble Lords opposite and I were members. The task of redemption is difficult, but it may be undertaken by us later on, just as it was by our predecessors.
And that brings me to my concluding observation. Surely you cannot deal with this question in morsels, in detach- 575 ments. Discussions of this sort are really very valuable because a great many ideas and suggestions are put into the pool, but nobody really thinks that, even if this Motion wen! put to a Division and were carried, it is going to advance the cause of House of Lords reform. And the reason is that when that is dealt with it must be dealt with as a whole. You will have to take the questions of composition, powers, and numbers all at the same time. You cannot deal with the matter piecemeal. That, at any rate, is the proposition which I submit to your Lordships' House. I am grateful for the discussion that has taken place. I think the House owes a debt of gratitude to my noble friend on this occasion as on many previous occasions, for having called our attention to the matter, and I hope the contribution which, on behalf of the Government, I have made to the discussion may have helped things a little forward towards the solution which we all ultimately desire.
§ THE EARL of BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, the last sentence of the noble Marquess's speech seems to me a little sanguine. I cannot pretend to he of the opinion that the contribution which he has made to the discussion will be of the slightest value from the point of view of determining the problem which everybody has admitted has to be determined. I should have asked leave to intervene in this debate at. an earlier stage, but inasmuch as I looked upon the noble Marquess as my leader in this matter, I thought it was respectful to him to hear the statement of his views in relation to the pressing question of the reform of the House of Lords before I decided whether or not it was necessary for me to draw any distinction between the expression of his views and the expression of the views which I hold.
I find the speech of the noble Marquess extraordinarily puzzling. I see him sitting side by side with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I sat for many months on a Committee over which Lord Curzon presided, the object of which was to introduce proposals for the reform of the House of Lords. And observe the circumstances under which that Committee sat, and under which those proposals were made. They were made while the whole Conservative Party outside the Coalition was making the 576 case against us that, while there was risk, immediate, proximate risk, of a Socialist Government, we were neglecting the reform of the House of Lords—we were running the risk that the Parliament Act might still remain completely in force while there was a chance, which we were neglecting, of undertaking our own reform. That was the case that was made against us.
I remember Lord Salisbury, who sits now by Lord Curzon, cheering his moderate harangue—I remember that he came galloping down to the House of Lords with Resolutions for the reform of the House of Lords entirely inconsistent with the proposals for which my noble friend Lord Curzon and I were responsible —inconsistent in detail, inconsistent in principle. And Lord Salisbury came down and tabled his own Resolutions here for the reform of the House of Lords. I remember Lord Selborne and Lord Younger going down to the meeting of the National Union of Conservative Associations and carrying resolutions hostile to Lord Curzon and hostile to myself because we were not reforming the House of Lords. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, used to come from the National Union to the House of Lords, and go back from the House of Lords to the National Union, very often taking Lord Younger with him, and very often taking Lord Salisbury with him, and the one case they made against us was that we were neglecting the chance, while there was a Coalition Government, of setting up this bulwark against Socialism. I will not say Lord Selborne and Lord Salisbury were the twin brothers of this movement; it would be a juster image to say they were the "Dolly Sisters" of the movement.
Now what has happened? A Conservative Government is in power. We were told that at last we had got rid of Coalition intrigues. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, does not talk quite as often in the presence of his present colleague Lord Curzon of the dishonesty of the late Coalition as he used to do when he sat upon these benches. They have, I suppose, composed their differences. Well, what is the result? We, a Coalition Government, were incapable of making a real and genuine contribution to this pressing problem—the problem which Lord Salisbury told us could not he postponed—we were incapable of doing it because we were 577 shifting opportunists. And now we have the enormous educational advantage of seeing the noble Marquess, Lord Curzon, sitting side by side with Lord Salisbury; we have the advantage of knowing that we have got rid once for all of those shifting necessities of opportunist compromise which were involved in a Coalition Government; we have a Conservative Government; we have a Government which knows its own mind; we have, thank God, an honest Government.
And what is the result of it all? I asked the noble Marquess a question while he was speaking. When he told us that these reforms were forthcoming, said: "When?" The noble Marquess said "When?" was a very difficult question to answer. It is a very difficult question to answer. It is a very difficult question for poor, dishonest Coalitionists, like Lord Curzon and myself, to answer. Lord Salisbury, who was not particularly merciful in calling attention to the immoral condition in which Lord Curzon found himself, knew it was very difficult for us to answer. Why should it be difficult for a Conservative Government to answer? We were told a year before the late Government left office that it was of vital consequence that the reform of the House of Lords should be dealt with, and should be dealt with then. And what does the noble Marquess say? He says in one year, in two years, in three years it may be dealt with.
The noble Marquess seems to me to find himself in the unfortunate position of people who insure their lives without an exact appreciation of the actuarial situation. When we are told that this Government is going to deal with the question in two years, or in three years, what are the prospects that this Government will be here to deal with anything in two years, or in three years? This Government was returned to office as the result of a minority vote. We were told that it was a great triumph for Conservative principles, and the noble Marquess, Lord Curzon, said two nights ago, in a discussion which took place upon either Proportional Representation or some cognate topic, that in his opinion the, existing system has worked extremely well. I was, unfortunately, unable to be present at that debate or I should have ventured to make some observations. Has 578 the existing system worked so extremely well? It has worked extremely well from the point of view of the noble garquess, because it has placed him and his Government in office as the result, for the first time in English history, of a minority vote of the constituencies of this country, and the day on which this Government came into office it came into office and is hero existing as the instrument of a minority vote in this country.
What has happened since? We have seen the by-elections that have taken place. We have seen whether or not the position of a Government which was returned by a minority vote has been strengthened by the expressions of opinion that have taken place, when Minister after Minister has been defeated; and we see to-day this extraordinary position on the part pf the Government which asks us to wait two years to see what they are going to do in this matter—that they cannot find a seat for the Lord Advocate, for Scotland. So that the situation to-day is this. We are asked to wait two years to see what scheme the Government is going to produce when, at this moment, the Lord Advocate for Scotland is prevented from discharging the duties which, by Statute, he is bound to discharge as a condition of receving his Parliamentary salary and of attending to the affairs of Scotland in the House of Commons. This Government which cannot find a seat for the Lord Advocate, asks us to wait two years, three years, for their reform of the House of Lords. I am not concerned to magnify or to exaggerate their difficulties.
When I stand opposite to and speak of the noble Marquess, Lord Curzon, I refer to one by whose side I fought with great loyalty for many years in many hard fights, and I have, if he will not think me impertinent for saying so, no feeling but one of kindness towards one who showed me great kindness through many difficult years and in many anxious crises in which we stood side by side. But when I see sitting by him the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who for four years pursued ns with malignant criticism, who impeached us not merely with criticism as to whether we were right in a decision or wrong in it, but impeached our morality, and for four years impeached the honesty of the Government of which the noble Marquess, Lord Curzon, who sits by his side to-day 579 and is his leader, was a member, then I rejoice at the vicissitudes and paradoxes of politics.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, the morality of the late Government, the absence of the Lord Advocate for Scotland from the House of Commons, the minority vote and the characteristics of my noble friend who leads the Government are all entrancing subjects of debate; but, until the noble and learned Earl who has just spoken waxed so hot in his recollection of them, I was not aware that they formed part of the Order Paper of to-day's proceedings. But I was greatly flattered when I learned for the first time that during the last years of the late Government the noble and learned Earl had spent a large portion of his valuable time in watching the movements of my humble self.
It is quite true that I did all that I could to keep the Government to which he belonged up to the fulfilment of their solemn pledges about the House of Lords. But his history is a little at fault. When the Coalition Government came into power in 1918 the Prime Minister had pledged it very distinctly and definitely to deal with the whole problem of the composition and powers of the House of Lords, but he had said also that it would not be in the power of his Government to deal with that subject either in their first or their second Session. And if the noble and learned Earl who takes so much, interest in my proceedings will look up the records of the first two Sessions of the last Parliament he will not find that in those two Sessions I was active on this subject. I deeply regretted what Mr. Lloyd George had said; I deeply regretted the postponement, but I knew that it was binding. It was only when the third and fourth Sessions came and when, the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Coalition Government, having again and: again repeated his pledge to deal with this question, there was no sign of the redemption of that pledge, that I thought it my duty to take the steps which have so interested the noble and learned Earl. I said then, and I say now, that the late Government broke faith with the Conservative and Unionist Party in this matter of dealing with the Second Chamber.
Now I come to the present Government of which I am a supporter though not a 580 member. The pledge has been repeated, but so also, to my great regret, has the statement been repeated that the subject is not going to be dealt with in the first or the second Session of this Parliament. I deeply regret that fact, and my friends know that I deeply regret it. The pledge has been made publicly by Mr. Bonar Law, and he is governed by that pledge exactly as Mr. Lloyd George was governed by a similar pledge in the late Parliament. I respect that pledge, however much I regret it. But I can assure the noble and learned Earl that, if the Government is in existence—and, in despite of his prophecy and his expressions of sorrow that they might not be in existence, I think he will be gratified to find them on these benches in three years time—and the time comes and they are not fulfilling their pledge, then I shall repeat the protests that I made in reference to this subject during the latter years of the late Coalition Government.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
Then may I count upon the support of the noble Earl in three years time, if the Government is still in power?
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
The noble and learned Earl may count on me to do all I possibly can to make this Government deal with the question of the Second Chamber.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.