§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE had the following Notice on the Paper:—To move to resolve, That all Peers of the Realm be entitled to record their votes for the election of members of the Commons House of Parliament, and that all Peers of the Realm be entitled to offer themselves for election to the House of Commons, provided that during his membership of that House, no Peer shall have the right to sit or vote in the House of Lords.537
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sankey, brought forward a Resolution last week, and passed it in your Lordships' House, for the abolition of the trial of Peers by their Peers, which. I think has been regarded as one of the privileges of your Lordships' House. In days gone by, when the Peerage was of considerably smaller dimensions than it is to-day, Peers were regarded as powerful potentates and had a number of special privileges accord to them. If noble Lords were to make any research on the subject and went back to the time when Selden wrote The Privileges of Baronage of England, in 1642, and looked into successive books of the Special Orders and, Regulations of your Lordships' House, they would find that there were many privileges accorded not only to them but o Peers' wives and sons and families and servants. There was a time when we were allowed chaplains. I should have been allowed two chaplains in days gone by. A noble Marquess would have been, allowed fie chaplains. As to whether the fact of that privilege having been dropped is an advantage or disadvantage I will not speak at the moment. I also find that the person of a Peer is for ever sacred and inviolable. Well, in the short period in which I have had the honour of being a member of your Lordships' House I have not come across any demonstration of my person being sacred, and I do not think that mediæval adjectives of this sort are such as would be laid claim to by any of your Lordships to-day.
§ Moreover, we are now numerically a very much larger class and as numbers have increased the powers of this House and the individual power of any Peer have waned. Practically all the privileges I can think of have been dropped. It now remains for the restrictions and disabilities to be dropped too. We must recognise that we live in a democratic age, and just as we desire no advantages for ourselves personally or for our positions we, at the same time, do not wish that there should be any restrictions or disabilities placed upon us. I want to make it perfectly clear, my Lords, that I do not want to raise the question of the reform of the House of Lords. This Motion which I am moving to-day is quite independent of anything connected 538 with the powers and position of your Lordships' House, and I want very specially to avoid the controversial note in order that I may put a case before your Lordships upon which I hope I shall find general agreement.
§ The two points in my Resolution are the right to vote in Parliamentary Elections and the right to stand as candidates for the House of Commons. My desire is that we should be classed with the other citizens and subjects of His Majesty and should not have imposed on us any special disabilities. By what authority these two rights are denied to us is certainly not very clear; in fact, the deeper I have gone into it the more puzzled have I become. If I wanted to delay your Lordships for a long time, which I do not, I could get volumes from the Library from which to quote, but I want to be as brief as possible and at the same time to put the case as clearly as I can. With regard to the right to vote in a Parliamentary Election there are a number of cases in which this right has been claimed and denied. I do not wish to weary your Lordships by going through the cases in past centuries and I am going to take only three cases in the reverse order of their dates, the three most recent cases, in order to illustrate my point.
§ In 1911 the Earl of Roden voted in a Parliamentary Election. That, to begin with, shows that the Earl of Roden's name was on the register, a point which I would ask your Lordships to bear in mind. The matter was brought before the Committee for Privileges of the House of Commons and he was deemed to have committed a breach of Privilege by violating the Sessional Order. He apologised, and no further action was taken. In 1906 the Marquess of Bristol brought a case for damages for not being allowed to vote in a Parliamentary Election. In reading up that case I found that he duly tendered a voting paper. He could not have done that without his name being on the register. The polling clerk refused the paper, the noble Marquess brought a case for damages, and he was unsuccessful. But the most noteworthy case was in 1872 when Earl Beauchamp and the Marquess of Salisbury applied to be put on the register. If your Lordships will allow me I will refer to that case by some quotations because they illustrate as well as anything the 539 question in dispute. The Court decided in this connection that in law as derived from authorities—which I suppose is what is called the Common Law—and from the determination of Election Committees, as well as by Resolution of the House of Commons, Peers have no right to vote.
To show the confusion that exists I want to quote references, which were recited in this case, to a vote in your Lordships' House in 1853. Lord Brougham, who was a great legal authority, said:
There was no law to prevent a Peer using his influence at an Election.
But Lord Campbell replied:
The question was whether a Peer had any right to vote for a representative in the Commons House of Parliament. He was clearly of opinion that a Peer had no such right or power. He placed no importance at all upon the Resolution of the House of Commons. That House could not make laws. It might declare what the law was; but it could not by any Resolution it might pass alter the Constitution of the country … But, irrespective of that Resolution, by immemorial usage, by authority, and by reason, fie was clearly of opinion that no one of their Lordships, who sat there by hereditary right or by grant of the Crown, had any right to interfere in any Election of a representative of the people.
I would draw your Lordships' attention to the word "interfere," and to the words used by Lord Brougham, "a Peer using his influence at an Election," as I will have later on to refer to another point in that connection.
Lord Campbell's opinion was questioned again by Lord Derby in reference to what had been said on the subject of the authority of Resolutions passed by the other House. He replied:
He had to observe that the Resolutions of neither House of Parliament altered or affected the law of the land. The Resolutions of the House of Lords or of the House of Commons affecting to alter the law of the land would in Westminster Hall"—
that is to say, the Courts of Justice—
be regarded as so much waste paper. It was not by Resolution of the House of Commons that Peers were prevented from voting for representatives in the House of Commons, but it had been an ancient, immemorial law of England that Peers sat in their own right in their own House, and had no privilege whatsoever to vote for members to sit in the other House of Parliament.
Those quotations puzzle me a good deal. It is declared sometimes to be the Common Law, it is declared sometimes
to be the Resolution of the House of Commons, or it is simply declared to be Parliamentary practice, or the ancient and immemorial law of England. I have studied these points very closely because, if any alteration has to be made, one must examine what authority it is that deprives us of those rights. As your Lordships will see, it is extremely difficult to find out what authority is concerned.
But, my Lords, before I describe the present position in which we are placed, I want to draw your Lordships' attention to another Sessional Order, to see whether these Sessional Orders have the force of law and whether, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, they govern these restrictions under which your Lordships are placed. Up to 1909 there was a Sessional Order of the House of Commons passed regularly in the first sitting of every Session without any question:
That it is a high infringement of the liberties and privileges of the Commons of the United Kingdom for any Lord of Parliament, or other Peer or Prelate
and then there is an exception with regard to Peers of Ireland—
to concern himself in the Election of members to serve for the Commons in Parliament…
Then it excepts Peers of Ireland, and at the end lays down:
…or for any Lord-Lieutenant or Governor of any county to avail himself of any authority derived from his Commission, to influence the election of any member to serve for the Commons in Parliament.
That is in the first day of the Session of 1909.
§ What happened about that? It was a Sessional Order, and some authorities say that it is the Sessional Order of the House of Commons that governs this matter. Mr. Swift. MacNeill opposed the passage of this Sessional Order; he wanted to prevent its renewal. He stated that no steps had ever been taken to enforce it and that it had been repeatedly abrogated and violated. He quoted Mr. Gladstone as having given qualified support to the dropping of the Sessional Order as far back as 1886, and reminded the then Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, that his first vote in the House of Commons had been given in opposition to that Order. However, the Prime Minister did not accept Mr. MacNeill's Motion and there was a Division. I looked through the list and I found that I voted 541 for Mr. MacNeill, and, what was more interesting, I noticed the names of Lord Castlereagh, Lord Robert Cecil, Mr. Hope, Mr. Marks and Lord Willoughby de Eresby, now all respected member of your Lordships' House—the Marquess of Londonderry, Viscount Cecil, Lord Rankeillour, Lord Marks and the Earl of Ancaster. They all voted for the suspension, or against the renewal, of this Sessional Order, and they were defeated. I looked at the Parliamentary Report for 1910 to find the Sessional Order. It had gone; it had been dropped in so far as Peers were concerned, and only the tag-end about the Lords-Lieutenant remained. I then rummaged through the volume to see when the debate took place for the dropping of this Sessional Order and the decision of the House of Commons that it should be dropped. There was none; it had simply been a matter of the Leaders of the various Parties of the House of Commons coming together and saying, "We will drop it." And they dropped it.
§ Well, my Lords, if that is the way in which this thing is regulated, it seems to me that it is quite possible that we can make the Leaders in the House of Commons to-day go a step farther. But Lord Campbell tells us that it is not the Sessional Order that governs it, and that the Sessional Order is so much waste paper. If your Lordships will give me your support in this Motion to-day, I will set to work to find out how to go on. I have no doubt it will be difficult, but it seems to me that it is not impossible that the authorities, whoever they may be, will listen to plain common sense and reason. The legislative value of the Sessional Orders cannot be maintained at all. I do not know about the Common Law; I am not lawyer enough to know what happens to that, but it seems to have gone by the board, and it is simply a matter of reasonable common sense, of leaders meeting and saying "We will stop all this old mediæval regulation." But see in what a ridiculous position it places us. A Peer, hoarse from his efforts on the platform—which, of course, are influencing an Election far more than one single vote in these large electorates of to-day—drives his wife to the polling station to record her vote. He is not allowed to go in, and while he is outside, the crowd, far from regarding him with awe as a great potentate who has so 542 much power that he does not need to concern himself in the election of mere commoners, regard him with ridicule as an individual who is to be classed with prisoners and lunatics.
§ Why should we be deprived of this right because we are legislators and therefore ought not to vote? But members of the House of Commons are legislators. They can vote; they can vote for themselves. Besides that we must take things as they are, and I think only comparatively few of your Lordships can lay claim to being legislators. As we know, the average attendance of your Lordship's House is eighty out of 740, and therefore the claim that under present conditions we are legislators really will not hold water. A Parliamentary Election decides which Party is going to govern this country, and which individuals are going to govern this country. That is of crucial importance and the fact that we should be deprived of having any voice or say in it seems to me to be quite irreconcilable with reason. Why should we be able to vote for municipal and borough councils and to stand for county councils, and yet, when it comes to the supreme governing body, be deprived even of the right to vote?
Now I come to the second point—Peers standing as candidates for election to Parliament. There is no Sessional Order governing this. Various legal luminaries and Committees have laid down the law on this question, but it is extremely difficult to find out what the law is that they have laid down. It is a series of decisions. There is no law against it. There is no electoral law against it and no Sessional Order against it. Again I do not want to go back into remote history, and I shall take more recent instances. First of all let me say that in Parker's Election Law it is written:
Peers of Parliament, being bound to serve the State in another capacity"—
I do not think "bound" is the proper word. We are summoned here, but there is nothing binding, because if it were binding there would be a penalty, and if there were a penalty for not attending a great many people would find themselves in difficulties—
incompatible with the character of representatives of the people, and who compose a distinct and separate part of the Constitution, have always been deemed ineligible and incapable of sitting in the House of Commons.
I always become suspicious when the word "deemed" is used. I never know who "deems." It is one of those verbs which has no subject to it, and I feel very suspicious as to what really is intended. There is a vagueness about it which really is evasive.
§ May I say that of the Peers who are deprived of the right to vote and the right to stand as candidates for Parliament, nobody has a greater grievance than the Scottish Peers who are not elected as members of your Lordships' House. They cannot be legislators, they cannot be electors, and they cannot be candidates. Why should a section of the community be picked out to be restricted and disabled in this way? In 1894 a writ for Attercliffe was moved to fill a vacancy caused by the acceptance by Mr. Bernard Coleridge of the Chiltern Hundreds. I am giving one or two instances to show how decisions were made. Mr. Chamberlain raised the matter as one of Privilege, on the ground that Mr. Bernard Coleridge no longer existed since the death of his father. A Committee was set up and continued its deliberations in the next year. This affords a magnificent opportunity for lawyers, your Lordships will notice. If any one is interested in the matter he can look at House of Commons Paper No. 278. The Committee reported that succession to a Peerage was a disqualification to sit in the House of Commons, that the evidence of that disqualification was as a rule the Writ of Summons, but that in the event of any delay in the application for or issue of the Writ, the House of Commons were bound to make inquiries and get what evidence they could. That is a decision of a Select Committee, which, as Lord Campbell says, is of no value at all, no more than a Sessional Order. It has not the force of law.
§ This pronouncement leads me to the following reflection. While the House of Commons have a perfect right, of course, to decide questions as to the eligibility of persons for election to that House, with which decisions this House would not be likely to interfere, as a matter of fact and procedure Electoral Reform Bills, Redistribution Bills, and Registration Bills, affecting the House of Commons only, must have the endorsement of this House before they can have the force of law. When I looked at the 544 register recently to notice if my name was on it, and found it was not, I knew that every name on that register was there because of some Act of Parliament. The women were on it because of an Act of Parliament. The franchise was extended by Act of Parliament. Everybody's name on it, and nearly everybody's name that was not on it, was either one or the other because of the passage of an Act of Parliament—only Peers have not got their names on it, not because of an Act of Parliament but merely because of these vague phrases which prevent a Peer from voting.
§ To take another case, in 1895 Lord Wolmer raised the point on his succession to the Earldom of Selborne. A Select Committee reported that Lord Wolmer had succeeded to a Peerage and at once directed that a new Writ should be issued. There can be no doubt, therefore, about the practice, although it may not be clear what authority can lay it down. There is no question about the decisions which have been given, and if any one feels inclined to oppose my Motion he need not waste time in piling up cases. My point is on whose authority the decisions were made, and what steps can be taken to prevent this authority from enforcing these restrictions.
§ I should like to say one word about the Lords Spiritual. I have not included them in my Motion. I do not say that they would not make admirable members of the House of Commons, though I do not know that they want to remove themselves there, or that they should be deprived of their vote. But I would just call attention to the law as it stands. There are two legal enactments, the Clergy Disqualification Act, 1801, and the Roman Catholic Relief Act, 1829, which prevent clergymen of the Church of England and Roman Catholic priests from standing for Parliament. There is something quite definite and quite clear. We know exactly where we are. That is the only definite thing I have come across in the whole of my researches. When we come to the question of the votes we have the usual difficulty. A Bishop who is not a Peer, a member of your Lordships' House, can vote at an Election. A Bishop who is a Peer and a member of your Lordships' House cannot vote at an Election.545
But I want to call your Lordships' attention to two categories which are very greatly affected by the present, restriction. First of all, the heir to a Peerage who is a member of the House of Commons. However eminent he may be, however promising his career may be, however valuable his services would be to the State, that career is cat short if he comes to your Lordships' House; and as matters stand now that individual, however near he might be to the very top of the ladder, can in the nature of things as we know now, never be the Prime Minister, never be Chancellor of fie Exchequer, and, as we find according to modern practice, never be a Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I ask your leave to give quotations from an admirable article on this subject one of the authors of which I see in his place to-day. It is better put than in any ether document. It is an article in the Nineteenth Century of 1894, by Mr. St. John Brodrick, Lord Wolmer and Mr. George Curzon. I will give three extracts. Referring to the individual whom I mentioned just now they say:
The world supposes him to be the fortunate heir of what is called the accident of birth and he is in reality the hapless victim of the accident of death. He has become a Peer. From this lot there is no escape.…
Because a man's father or grandfather or ancestor at some bygone period (a period in some cases measured by hundreds of years) was ennobled as a reward of services to the State, he is himself upon the succession to the title, about which in the majority of cases he was by the necessity of things never consulted, prohibited from ever afterwards continuing or resuming that service to the State in that legislative assembly by which the State is governed, viz., the House of Commons.…
On of the writers of this paper while travelling in the East came to a country in which it was recently the habit to execute the worst criminals by immuring them alive in pillars of clay. In England we treat our Peers as the Persians treat their malefactors. But whereas the result in the one case is physical suffocation within a few hours, in the other it may be political strangulation for a life-time.
I am very glad that we have still with us one of the authors of that very valuable document—
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
And I see the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, laughing at the very recollection of it. 546 But it is a fact, and in the present Government there are two Cabinet Ministers who are in this position. I am not going to weigh their particular capacities or talents. I simply say that, whatever their talents may be, there is in the nature of things going to be an end put to the exercise of them without their wish or without their consultation.
There is another class to which I think this very properly refers. I would call your Lordships' attention—and I am sure many of your Lordships are fully aware of it—to the unfairness to the young Peer in this House. He has not a chance. I do not want to belittle your Lordships' House. That is not my theme just now. I merely want—and here I think I shall have complete agreement—to emphasise the fact that this is not an Assembly for young active men. I am going to be personal just in giving my instances. I want to take three noble Lords, one from each Party. I have noticed it since I have been here. Take, for instance, the noble Marquess, who is not here to-day, Lord Dufferin, who is an admirable speaker and has studied public affairs very keenly. He came to your Lordships' House and made several valuable contributions to our debates; but in time, what is the use of his coming? There is nothing for him to do, and he absents himself. The usual mumbling that goes on over the Table between this side and that is not sufficiently interesting to arrest anybody's attention.
On the Liberal Benches I would draw attention—and I hope the noble Lord, who is in his place, will not mind my doing so—to the noble Lord, Lord Pentland. I think his presence here to-day means that he feels strongly on this point. Judging by his speeches we know that he takes a keen interest in public affairs, and he expresses himself admirably, but he has other work, and naturally to sit here watching our proceedings is to him very properly a waste of time. And, to take an instance from the Benches on which I sit, of a noble Earl who is not present here to-day, Lord Listowel, he has a very keen interest in public affairs, he has had a better chance, from being in a small minority, than the other two I have mentioned and he has on occasions been able to make valuable contributions of 547 his own. But it is not really worth his while. There is all the difference in the world between serving in this Chamber and being an elected Member of Parliament, in touch with the constituencies and with the people, and with a host of other duties in addition to debates in the House of Commons which keep him in close contact with public affairs. I think the present position is most unfair. Permission should be allowed and no disability should prevent noble Lords such as these, if they wish to, from giving their services, which may be of great value, to the House of Commons. Were these restrictions withdrawn I do not think it would make any great difference in the membership of your Lordships' House. Some might want to leave it, others might want to stay, but on the whole there would not be a numerical change of any consequence at all. It is simply removing hampering restrictions from individuals; and with regard to the vote it merely means placing us on a level with the rest of the community.
I hope your Lordships will not think it a presumption on my part, after only six years membership of your Lordships' House, to move a Resolution of this character, which is not drastic but is an innovation which has been pleaded for before now by more eloquent voices than mine. If your Lordships will forgive just one sentence of reminiscence, I entered this Chamber in an official capacity long before any noble Lords whom I am addressing at this moment. Just fifty years ago last January I was standing in an official capacity by the steps of the Throne when Queen Victoria opened Parliament for the last time in person. In these fifty years there have been very many changes. Democracy has, I am glad to say, risen; privileges have gone: restrictions have been abolished; your Lordships' House has lost some of its powers. Nobody flatters himself he is a potentate with any great power, and nobody demands any privileges. I feel we must wipe away these remaining restrictions. We are not asking for any thing that is in any way objectionable or absurd. We are only asking to be placed on a level with others, and I think that request should be granted to us. Before any further proceedings can be taken with regard to my Resolution want to feel I have the backing of your Lordships behind what I do, and I 548 sincerely hope all present will support me in the Division Lobby.
§ Moved to resolve, That all Peers of the Realm be entitled to record their votes for the election of members of the Commons House of Parliament, and that all Peers of the Realm be entitled to offer themselves for election to the House of Commons, provided that during his membership of that House, no Peer shall have the right to sit or vote in the House of Lords.—(Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.)
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, my noble friend at the outset of his speech enumerated a number of privileges which have been withdrawn from members of your Lordships' House, and he seemed to regard their loss with considerable equanimity. Indeed, at the close of his speech, he rejoiced that they had disappeared, and he maintained at the same time that your Lordships, by agreeing to the Motion which he has laid before the House, would not be claiming further privileges, but would be merely removing restrictions under which we labour. As things are, it seems to me, if we were to agree to my noble friend's proposal, we should be really adding considerably to such privileges as remain to your Lordships' House. To be able to sit in your Lordships' House and at the same time choose whether to stand for another place or not, seems to me to enable a Peer to have considerably more privilege than any other member of the community; but that is perhaps not a matter which we need discuss at length now.
The Motion which my noble friend has proposed falls into two parts. In the first place he suggests that members of your Lordships' House should have a vote for the election of members of another place. Naturally that part of the Motion must precede the second and more important part. If we were, in agreement with another place, to permit your Lordships to vote in Elections for the House of Commons I do not think any particular difference, or any difference at all, would be made to the Election. There are on the register now many millions of voters, and the addition of 740 more would not be likely to have much effect. If that were all, there would not be any difficulty in removing the stigma which my noble friend thought rested on your Lord ships through being classed as non-voters among prisoners and lunatics.
549 When we come to the second proposal, the result would be to offer a potential reserve strength to another place, but I venture to say that it would in the end drain the life-blood of your Lordships' House as at present constituted. I am afraid I cannot agree with my noble friend when he says it would have very little effect. I think in time it would have very considerable effect. I agree that at the outset it would make little difference. I do not think the effect would be felt immediately. Probably very few of your Lordships, except the younger members to whom my noble friend alluded with such pathos, who do the day-to-day work of the House, would be tempted away to another place. But heirs to the Peerage who sit in the House of Commons would undoubtedly be tempted to remain there as their predecessors were tempted before them. Lord Midleton and Lord Selborne, when members of the House of Commons endeavoured to resist coming to your Lordships' House. If heirs to Peerages were able to make use of this Resolution they would continue in another place.
My noble friend alluded to the fact that if a member of the House of Commons succeeded to a Peerage he would be precluded from holding certain offices of State. I think he must have forgotten the fact that tile late noble Marquess, Lord Reading, was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs only four years ago. He said that under modern practice no Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs could sit in this House. I think we have had a very recent example of a Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs sitting here, and I should hesitate to think it would be impossible in the future. However, that is neither here nor there for the moment. If this Resolution became law, gradually those who are political-minded, if I may use a rather obscure term which explains what I mean, would be drawn away from this House, and after a not very long time there would be few of these people left to transact the ordinary day-to-day business of the House. I speak rather feelingly in this matter. Whoever my successor may be, under this new state of things I should pity him very ranch, because I do not know how he would be able to get together sufficient Peers to serve on the Committee 550 of the House—for example, on Private Bills.
One advantage of a House consisting of an unlimited number of members who owe their position to honours conferred on them for distinguished service to the State, not only in an official and administrative capacity, but for every kind of distinction, is that on almost any subject which may arise, almost any subject which may be discussed, experts will be found in your Lordships' House who will be available to give their advice and the benefit of their knowledge to Parliament. But noble Lords in that category are not the regular attendants in your Lordships' House. They have their own business to de, and as a general rule it is only when their special knowledge and special advice are useful to your Lordships that they attend our proceedings. They, I have no doubt, would remain with us and would not seek election elsewhere. But, if I may remind your Lordships, this House is not only a place where Parliament can obtain expert advice and special knowledge, it is also a working Second Chamber, and so long as that is the case I think it must be able to command the services of the best and the politically minded members as it does to-day. I think if you draw them away you will very gravely prejudice the usefulness of this House as a Second Chamber.
I have no doubt whatever that the proposal of my noble friend is very tempting to many members of your Lordships' House in whatever quarter they may sit, and I do not think it at all unlikely that some day or another, perhaps not so very long ahead, my noble friend's proposal will be realised; but at present, and until comprehensive reform is taken in hand, I feel it is the business of a Peer to give his services to your Lordships' [louse. I know my noble friend did not want to raise the question of the reform of your Lordships' House, and he specifically said that the Motion applied to your Lordships' House as at present constituted. Nevertheless I do hope that some day the question of the reform of this House may be taken in hand and, personally, I think I might be inclined to agree with perhaps more comprehensive changes than might be acceptable to seine members of your Lordships' House. Indeed I do not think I should greatly object to almost any alteration so long 551 as we were to obtain an efficient and competent Second Chamber. But until we take this up comprehensively and seriously my strong belief is that we should not interfere in any way with your Lordships' House as it is constituted at present.
It was this reluctance, if I may mention one personal matter, that led me some years ago to vote against the proposal that Peeresses should be allowed to take their seats among your Lordships; and, for the same motive, I was unable to support the proposal of my noble and learned friend Lord Sankey the other day that the system of trial of a Peer by the House should be abolished. I think in any reformed Second. Chamber it is almost elementary that women would be included, as they are in the House of Commons. It is equally elementary, I think, that in any reformed Second Chamber the method of trial by the House of a member of the House would vanish. But until a general reform is taken in hand I feel that it would be a mistake to undertake any piecemeal change in the constitution of the House as it at present exists.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, I venture to say a few words because, as my noble friend opposite has suggested, some of us have been interested in this question for a considerable number of years. I am sure my noble friend will not mind my saying that, although I at least, and I think most of your Lordships, listen to him with great regard and interest in this House, I do not think the proposal he has put forward this evening is based on those wide lines of human sympathy with which his actions are usually associated in this House. In the first place I think the proposal that we should attempt to dictate to the House of Commons as to who should have a vote for that Assembly is a very remarkable one. For us to single ourselves out and explain to the House of Commons how infinitely better they would be and how infinitely more representative they would be if we also had a vote—Lord Onslow has pointed out that we are about 760, though I think our number is rather larger than that, out of many millions—would I think be needlessly challenging the rights and privileges of the House of Commons.
If that is a good reason for putting aside the proposition of my noble friend, 552 another reason that I venture to press most strongly is that the worst thing we can do for the interests that he has at heart, and the wider interests many of us have at heart in this matter, is to make an untenable proposition either to the House of Commons or to the country. Never, I think, in the fifty years in which this matter has been discussed has it been claimed that we should adopt what may be called an in-and-out system. Take my noble friend's own position. He came here a very few years ago of his own free will. No doubt the Government to which he was attached had a great desire for his services here at the moment, but is it not rather a bold thing to say: "I enjoyed the House of Commons; I had a position there when I came here, and now I am not quite so satisfied as I was. Let me out and allow me"—after having had the privilege of sitting here when there would have been considerable difficulty for many of his political friends in finding seats at all—"to go back to the other place now that I find an opportunity."
There were two schools of thought when this question was first raised, in the days when the late Lord Salisbury was our Leader nearly forty years ago. One was that it was fair for a man to say: "I wish to stand for the House of Commons and I wish to remain there, and I give up—not surrender for the moment but give up my right to a Peerage." From the legislative standpoint that was objected to in the strongest manner by perhaps the strongest advocate for reform of your Lordships' House in those days, Lord Rosebery. I can recollect perfectly well listening to Lord Rosebery from the steps of the Throne when he pointed out that in his opinion three out of four of the ablest members of your Lordships' House at that time might decide to stand for the House of Commons, and, he said, "your Lordships would be reduced to what?—to an hereditary Bath and Cheltenham." That was his expression, meaning that all the younger and more energetic men would remain in the House of Commons and that only those who were past work would stay here. I do not say that I agree with that. I merely state that Lord Rosebery took that view.
There were others, and some who were not connected with the Liberal Party but with the Conservative Party, who took a stronger view. They said: "If you 553 want to sit in the House of Commons and do not accept the obligations which were conferred on your ancestor when he accepted a Peerage, then your duty is to surrender the Peerage and surrender the title. There ought to be powers by which a man who says, 'I wish to remain a commoner,' could really make a sacrifice." But the one thing which no Party was willing to do was to agree to any in-and-out system, by which when it became inconvenient to remain here a Peer should sit in the House of Commons and later come back and sit here again. Therefore my first objection to the noble Lord's Motion is that it is, I think, an infringement of the rights of the House of Commons.
My second is that it is asking in these democratic days for a concession which was never even hinted at in the days when democracy was not so open and not so intent as it is at the moment. There is a third objection. My noble friend said he did not wish to deal with the question piecemeal. Surely, if I may say so without offence, the time is brimming and bubbling over for dealing drastically in one single measure with the difficulties which have arisen with regard to membership of this House. I do not wish to speak at length and f will only make one or two points. I would like to point out in the first place that the membership of this House is 760, which is an inordinately large number for any legislative chamber. Secondly, the majority of your Lordships do not attend the sittings. No doubt the reason for that is partly that there is so small an Opposition that their services are really not needed, but I do think it is an impeachment of this House. Before I came into your Lordships' House I kept some statistics and I can tell your Lordships that when there were little more than 400 Peers in this House there was a better attendance at every class of debate—when there was nothing much doing, when the debate was only of moderate importance and when it was of first-class importance. There was a better attendance with a membership of only just over 400 than now when the membership is getting near 800. The citizens of this country like people to do their duty and not to come up here occasionally when the spirit moves them, nobody knowing what may be the effect of a large influx.
554 We have had Committees, among whose members were ex-Prime Ministers and leading members of this House, appointed to consider schemes of reform. We have had two or three affirmative Resolutions carried by enormous majorities. We had the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury's Bill which, after being debated, was relegated to a dark limbo. Surely the time has come for a pronouncement from the Government that they will in this Parliament make proposals so that we may know that we have some hope of the worst difficulties being relieved. As regards the right of sitting in the House of Commons I hope that your Lordships will not ask either for created Peers or for those who have inherited Peerages a right to go into whichever Chamber happens to please them for a short period, and then again present themselves in the other Chamber. For that reason alone I hope my noble friend opposite will not think me discourteous if I say I personally cannot accept the Motion he has put forward.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, there are only one or two points I want to make. I think the noble Lord who introduced the Motion sustained his case logically and threw ridicule on the present system. The only objection I see is that it might deprive this House of some of the more active and younger men whom we like to see here to help us in our debates. There is also of course the argument put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, that an in-and-out system is objectionable. But on the other hand it does not seem right that, some of us having been allowed on seven or eight occasions to express our views at Parliamentary Elections, should suddenly be deprived of that privilege which every adult in our households may exercise. We are taxpayers but we have no influence whatsoever in the question of finance and we are deprived of that privilege which is given to everybody else. That is not fair. The noble Earl, Lord Midleton, said we ought not to interfere in the question of who should vote for the House of Commons. I entirely depart from him in regard to that proposition.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
I think my noble friend has misunderstood me. I (lid not in the least advocate our giving up the right we have always had to 555 advise our fellow-countrymen as far as we can and as far as they permit it, but we have no right I think then to assist in giving the verdict. So long as we have rights here and cannot be challenged by the House of Commons, I think we ought not to have a Parliamentary vote, although we may advise our fellow-countrymen.
§ LORD GAINFORD
I am not speaking about advising our fellow-countrymen but about our right as a House to deal with the question of who should vote for Members of Parliament. I introduced on three successive occasions a Plural Voting Bill which was passed by the House of Commons and on two occasions this House thought it necessary to throw out the Bill. Then the War intervened and an arranged settlement was reached. At any rate this House has the right to say who shall vote for members of the House of Commons because Franchise Bills have to come before this House after being passed by the other House. I am reminded by what has been said of some lines of poetry:I'm an eclectic. As to choosing'Twixt this and that, I'm plaguey loath.I like to leave a side that's losing,But whilst there's doubt I stick to both.I think it is undesirable that members of this House, after being defeated at a General Election, should be able to come back and claim the privileges of membership of this House again.
There is, as I have said, this objection to the noble Lord's proposal, that we should deprive the House of young men who are competent and who might elect to go to another place. There is one advantage which we retain in this House and which is not possessed by the other House. In this House we can express ourselves on subjects on which we have knowledge and we are listened to in a way that is not permitted without interruption in another place. That is an advantage to us. A noble Lord who sits near me was once addressing an after-dinner gathering and had to respond for the Houses of Parliament. He said that what impressed him most in the other House was not the eloquence of its members but the diversity and many sidedness of truth. Here at any rate we speak absolutely freely and we speak without having regard to anybody that we may represent outside. I think for 556 that reason our speeches are more valuable often than speeches in another place. Logically, however, I think that we are entitled to stand for constituencies and ought not to be deprived of the right which every adult in the country except ourselves possesses.
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, I should like to make one or two observations on the proposals of the noble Lord. Perhaps he will allow me to say how much I enjoyed his speech and the method in which he presented his case. And also, as a brother layman, I admire the way in which he tried to deal with the Common Law, and I was not at all surprised that he got into some difficulties in the research which he so carefully carried through. There are two points which he brought forward. One was the question of our having the right to vote. Of course, from the point of view of justice, it is quite obvious that we ought to have the right to vote. There is nothing more to be said upon the point except this: just think of the amount this House contributes to the taxes of this country, and yet we are not allowed to deal in any way with its finances. I do not make a point of it, because it is obvious. It is not a question of privilege, or right, or anything of the kind; it is an absurdity that we should not have the right to vote for representatives in the House of Commons. As regards the vote, I do not give twopence for it. What is the vote of five or six hundred men? So long as I am allowed to go round the constituencies when an Election comes, I am content. I value that right, but I do not need the right to vote, although on a rational and sensible basis we ought to be allowed to vote.
I do not regard the question quite from the same point of view as my noble friends Lord Gainford and Lord Midleton. I am not concerned to ask whether we are seeking privileges or giving them up. But I do notice that, as the powers of this House are weakened by custom or Statute, our disabilities do not decrease in any way, except on that one point of speaking at an Election. I do not regard it from that point of view. It has constantly been a matter of observation to me that while, as the noble Earl has said, we have a large number of Peers, yet in 557 considering the question of advising His Majesty as to who should enter this House, no Prime Minister, so far as I can understand, has ever been guided by the consideration of the numbers already in this House. The choice always seems to depend upon the particular virtues and capacities of the individual, and not on whether there is already a reasonable number of legislators in the House. Everybody knows, of course, that hundreds of Peers do not attend, and I think they show their common sense in not attending, because the eighty or a hundred members who come to this House are quite enough to discharge all the duties which are laid upon us. I sometimes think there are too many of us as it is, and that an average attendance of thirty or forty would be quite competent to discharge the legislative duties which are east upon the House.
From another point of view, however, there is, as we all know, an enormous reserve of ability in this House. There are also a great many young men—or older men, if you like; I do not want to confine it purely to those who are noted as young men—who are prevented by all their disabilities in this House, and by the comparative weakness of this Rouse, from giving their services to the State. It is from that point of view only that I am viewing the matter. I do not care whether it is a question of advantage for them or not, but there are a great many men who certainly ought to have the opportunity of going into the House of Commons and who would do very valuable service in the House of Commons. The State loses by the fact that they cannot go there. One speaker —I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby—picked out certain young men in your Lordships' House who came to this House, spoke, found there was nothing for them to do and got discouraged. Of course there are; I have seen them during the time, nearly twenty years now, that I have been in this House. And I say further, and not only from the point of view of the other place, that it would be of immense advantage to this House and its affairs if those young men could have ten years or so in the House of Commons and gain another sort of experience which would be of enormous value to them here. From these two points of view—I do not 558 pin myself to any in-an-out clause—if it could be arranged, it would be of immense advantage both to this House and to the State to utilise all that enormous unutilised material.
One more point, my Lords. My noble friend the Earl of Onslow said that if the suggestion of my noble friend were adopted, some of the more valuable members would be "drained away." I do not like the metaphor, "drained away into another place" I should prefer to say "drawn away"; I think it is a prettier phrase. I do not believe that at all. I think you would always have many of these hundreds of Peers, men of ability and capacity, to discharge and more than discharge all the duties that are handed over to this House. I think that the fear that he would not be able to man his Committees upstairs or downstairs, or wherever they are, because of the shortage of Peers, is chimerical.
The only other point I should like to mention is this. My noble friend says: "Ah, I don't want all these little changes; what I want is a really comprehensive measure." It is wonderful with what sincerity noble Lords will repeat these phrases. I am sure the noble Earl really meant it, but is there any chance whatever of this Government bringing in any comprehensive measure? Is there the slightest chance of it? We are always brought into this dilemma. It shows, though I have been a great many years in politics, how dreadfully ignorant of politics I have remained while thinking that I knew something about it!I should have thought that a Coalition or a National Government was the very body which should deal with a great constitutional question. Here they are; they are all together, all the best people putting their heads together. What a concourse of ability, genius and constitutional knowledge!You would have thought that they were made for it.
But when I put that question I am told, No, there is a section of that Party—I do not know how small the section is or how large—which objects to this reform of the House of Lords, and therefore this great National Government, which is able to do so many things in the field of economics and finance—and, I was going to say, foreign policy, but I do not for the moment think I will, so I withdraw that 559 phrase—cannot do anything, apparently, with a matter like constitutional reform. When I was a member of the Conservative Party, which I believe is now merged in a larger Party, I was told: "Oh, no, you cannot have reform when only one Party is doing it. If you had a National Party, if you had a Coalition of all Parties, why, then you could do it, but you cannot do it now, because you cannot expect one Party to make this great reform." Therefore your dilemma is complete: if it is the Conservative Party or any one Party, you cannot do it, and if it is a National Government you cannot do it for other reasons. The other dilemma which is always presented to us is this: that we cannot bring in a reform of the Second Chamber because the matter has never been before the country. Our Leaders are always extremely careful not to put the matter before the country; they exclude it with almost religious abstinence from any of the programmes they put forward.
§ EARL PEEL
Of course; they always do it; it was not only at the last Election. The result is that it is extraordinarily easy at a later stage to say: "The country has not pronounced upon this subject. It was not discussed at the General Election, and therefore, much as we desire to have a comprehensive reform of the House of Lords, we are precluded by that honourable understanding which exists between a Government and those who have elected them." Therefore the dilemma is complete, but I am only going to ask the Government if they will say one thing. I am a little doubtful whether they will say it, but I hope they will. I see the Leader of the House is temporarily absent, but I will appeal to his colleagues.
§ EARL PEEL
I did not notice that the Lord Chancellor was present. The very simple question is this. I have seen so many efforts made to stir Governments up to deal comprehensively with these questions, and I see so many dilemmas in which we are placed, that I think it would be of very great value if the Government were not to say, "Oh, we will try to deal with the matter, before 560 the end of this or that Parliament," but would say deliberately: "We have no intention whatever of dealing with a comprehensive reform of the House of Lords and you must go jogging along comfortably in your own way." If we were told that it would at least clear the ground, and then we should be getting a recruit in the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who would no longer be dreaming about comprehensive reforms but be ready to accept such modest reforms as that proposed by Lord Ponsonby, or by my noble friend Lord Rockley with regard to Life Peers. I believe that would clear the air, and we should no longer be elated or excited or depressed by these varying Government statements about the position of the House of Lords. We should know where we were, and we should know that we were confined in this form to this Chamber for ever.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, it would not be right to let this debate terminate under the assumption that my noble friend Lord Ponsonby had no support on this side of the House. Therefore I desire to say one or two words in general support of the proposals that he has made. First of all I should like to complain about the reproach which was administered to hint by the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, who apparently did not like to be reminded of his own youthful past, when he made propositions of this character. If ever a Motion was made in a spirit of generosity it is that of my noble friend, for here you have a House, I am told, of 760 people, and my noble friend proposes to give 750 of them the power to vote against everything that he believes in. If that is not really self-denial I do not know what is. It is a sacrifice of himself and his colleagues to the greater power of the Tory machine.
I confess I was somewhat interested to note that those who have spoken seem to imagine that if any of your Lordships had the choice to get away from this House it would result in a very serious depopulation of your Lordships' Chamber. That may or may not be so, but what I take to be the main motive of my noble friend's Motion was that a man should be given the choice, not to run from this House, necessarily, to another House, and come back, but the choice, when the question of succession arose, whether then or at some later time he would take 561 up his Peerage. I can only say, from some years of experience in the House of Commons, that I think it would be of immense advantage to young people themselves, as well as at a later period, perhaps, to your Lordships' House, if they-had a time of experience, and may I say of discipline, in the other House. The noble Viscount the First Lord of the Admiralty is not here, but at the time when ha was Chief Whip, if they mould have passed under Lord Monsell in his best quarter-deck manner, and language on occasion, it would have done the world of good to all those who were proposing to devote themselves to politics.
I sympathise with what my noble friend said about the tragedy of young people coming to your Lordships' House and just compelled to sit and listen to what the Front Bench or somebody else may choose to say. I think all Parties might cooperate in giving an extended welcome and extended opportunities to young people in your Lordships' House. It was part of the policy of my noble friend when he led a little group on this side of it and it is a policy which will certainly be followed by myself. In conclusion I would like to say only a word about Lord Peel's statement. He said that there were too many people in this House already. If that is so, that difficulty can be remedied without any Act of Parliament, or anything but the self denial of your Lordships. If members of the other Parties will undertake to limit themselves to a regular attendance of about twelve, we will promise them the most interesting House of Lords they have heard and seen for some time.
My Lords, I do not often find myself in agreement with the noble Lord who has moved this Motion, but to-day I feel that he has done very great service to this House in bringing up this Motion, and in explaining to your Lordships, in the lucid and clear way he has, the reasons upon which he 'has based it. He said, as was stated by Lord Onslow, that he had brought it up in no spirit of reform. I can hardly conform to that view myself, because I believe that if this Motion could be carried into effect it would be a very useful reform indeed. Only last week a Motion was carried in which it was proposed to abolish the trial of Peers by Peers. This is the second measure of a similar nature, which may help to bring 562 this House into greater consonance with the feelings of the general public outside.
The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has talked about a comprehensive measure, and the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, did the same, but for twenty years I have attempted in one way or another to assist in bringing about that comprehensive reform of which he speaks. I supported my noble friend Lord Salisbury in his measure two years ago. I have voted for every measure of comprehensive reform brought before this House; but I have come to the conclusion that there is no chance at all of having any measure of comprehensive reform passed in this House, or by the House of Commons. It is in those circumstances that I welcome the noble Lord's Motion, because I believe that if we are not to have reform on what I may call a wholesale basis, at least we may be able to obtain it piecemeal by proposals such as those which are before your Lordships' House to-day. The noble Earl, Lord Midleton, suggested that he did not like what he called the in-and-out side of the Motion. But that is not unusual. You find the in-and-out system in France and in other countries also. It is not unusual for someone to be elected to the Senate in France at one Election and possibly to the Chamber at a following Election. Therefore why that should be put forward as a reason against this Motion I cannot conceive.
Then I wish to support what was said by my noble friend Lord Peel with regard to the value of our vote to-day. I can conceive that one of the reasons why your Lordships were deprived of the vote in past days was the fact that this House had control over monetary measures to almost the same extent as another place, and consequently there was no reason why Peers should have a vote for members of another place because they were able to exercise that vote in your Lordships' House. But what is the position to-day? To-day we are taxed to just the same extent as any other individuals in the country, and yet we cannot cast a vote for the representatives in another place who are going to decide what those taxes shall be. I believe that at any rate Peers in this House should have the same rights as are given to Irish Peers. Irish Peers to-day may elect whether they will sit in this House or in another place, and at least we should be given that 563 right. But I go further. I believe that what is suggested by the noble Lord is the full measure of what we ought to receive. And if he presses this Motion to a Division I shall have great pleasure in supporting him.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
My Lords, I cannot pretend to follow other noble Lords into a dissertation upon precedents and past experience on such a question as this. In fact, I came to the House this afternoon full of curiosity to find out the reasons why the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, wanted to bring about this change, because I felt that he, with his long experience in another place and his considerable experience in your Lordships' must have felt the benefits of the peace and quiet of your Lordships' House as compared with another place. I hoped, too, that he might have realised, which is not apparent, that that peace and quiet is, in fact, a very influential peace and quiet in the country. I think that in the country a great deal of attention is still paid to what goes on in your Lordships' House, and that when the occasion arises—it does not often arise—the country will look to the House of Lords to use the influence that it has, both moral and actual. And I think it would be a great pity to destroy that influence.
The noble Lord said he wanted to get clear of all questions of reform of your Lordships' House. It is obvious from the debate that that has been impossible. It is impossible also because this Motion is itself a Motion to achieve some measure of reform of your Lordships' House. There is in the noble Lord's mind, I think, a curious affinity with the minds of certain noble Lords on this side of the House. I think his mental processes, probably unconscious, have been very much the same as have been the conscious mental processes of certain noble Lords here over this question of reform of your Lordships' House. Certain noble Lords have pursued comprehensive reform of the House, and, as my noble friend Lord Peel has already said, that—if we do not realise it, we ought to—is quite impossible, so that we are inclined to pursue, as the noble Lord, Lord Rockley, has already tried, piecemeal reform.
Lord Ponsonby has expressed the definite opinion in your Lordships' House in my hearing quite recently that your Lordships' House should be abolished. 564 That is, of course, almost the most comprehensive reform of the lot. I think he, unconsciously, has realised that the abolition of your Lordships' House in one fell swoop is not within the bounds of practical politics just at the moment. He is therefore endeavouring to bring about that abolition piecemeal. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, pointed out very clearly that the politically minded members of your Lordships' House would endeavour to go to the House of Commons, and that the eldest sons of Peers, threatened with removal to your Lordships' House by the accident of death, would endeavour to remain in the House of Commons, thus depriving your Lordships' House of political talent and ultimately killing your Lordships' House by slow strangulation.
To take the two separate proposals of the noble Lord, he wishes first to have the right to vote for members of the House of Commons. I think his own words gave the answer to that proposition. He informed us quite clearly that the hoarse voice of noble Peers had far more influence at Elections than ever their single votes could have, and he is quite right. My noble friend Lord Peel pointed out that it is much more important that noble Lords should have the right to speak at Elections than that they should have the right to vote; and in fact I count it a privilege to be numbered among criminals, lunatics and even infants in not being allowed to vote. It also gives me at least one day off in the year of an Election. As to a seat in the House of Commons, I think the arguments that I have just used cover that point. Seats in the House of Commons for those Peers who wish to have them would undoubtedly deprive your Lordships' House of talent which should be here.
It seems to me that the real underlying reason of the noble Lord's Motion is that there is not enough scope for politically-minded Peers in this House, and his only way of putting this right is to give them the right to go to the House of Commons, where they will have more scope. He mentioned many privileges which have now been removed from your Lordships. There is another method by which the active political interest of Peers could be maintained, and that is by restoring to your Lordships' House 565 some of the powers which have in recent years been taken away from it. I feel that, instead of Peers having the right to sit in the House of Commons, it would be much better for the country as a whole that more power should be given to your Lordships' House. There would then be more interest in the work that is done here, and in that way the knowledge and ability that exist in this House would be made better use of. That would be better than that they should be removed to another place.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, I find myself to-day in the not unprecedented but somewhat unusual position of being in comparative agreement with a great deal of what a member of the Socialist Party has said, although it may well be that my reasons for agreeing are totally different from those of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. A great many points have been raised this afternoon, far too many for me to attempt to comment upon them at this late hour, and I shall mostly confine my remarks to a certain portion of the noble Lord's speech which I do not think has received the attention in some of the subsequent speeches which it merits—that is to say, the position in which another place and the country as a whole might well find themselves in the event of a Minister of the Crown, occupying high position, being suddenly and forcibly transferred to your Lordships' House.
I myself was one of those who were removed from another place in the middle of a Session. That, of course, did not matter in any way to another place. I disappeared without leaving a ripple, except possibly that a mild sigh of relief went up on the Government Benches that another of those pestilential Conservatives who still openly profess Conservative principles should have been removed from their midst, for in spite of what my noble friend Lord Peel said I do not admit that the Conservative Party has, up to the present time, lost its identity in the National Government, and I trust that day will never come. As Lord Ponsonby has said, there are two members of the Cabinet who are heirs to Peerages, and it might well be in future that we might have a Prime Minister himself suddenly succeeding to a Peerage because, after all, the man who succeeds to a Peerage is by no means always the son of a Peer, 566 but very often a fairly remote relation. In that event the situation might become very difficult indeed for the Government. It is only in this century and in fairly recent years that it has been taken as an accepted fact that a Prime Minister cannot be in your Lordships' House.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
I shall say it has come to be accepted. I personally do not accept it for one moment, and I hope your Lordships do not either. But unfortunately the impression does seem to have arisen in the country, and certainly among the members of the hierarchy of the Conservative Party, that such a thing is impossible. And, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, certain people seem to be getting the impression that other Ministers of the Crown cannot well be in future in your Lordships' House. This means, if carried to its logical conclusion, that before long we shall net have here a single Secretary of State or Minister other than those that the Statute lays down we must have. That would be a position even more distressing than the present one.
I do not see that it is in any way necessary that that should come about, and I suggest to your Lordships that it might be preferable, rather than adopt the suggestions of Lord Ponsonby, that something of this sort might be considered: That persons who, being members of another place, succeed to Peerages, should have the option to remain in another place as long as they like, but that once they have entered your Lordships' House there should be no going back. Then we come to the question of those men who in early life have succeeded to Peerages and who therefore have never had the advantage of what has been termed the discipline of another place. I am afraid that particular advantage is not one which I myself have endured or suffered. I have certainly lost count of the number of times I have voted against the present Government; but still it is very useful experience, both the fighting of Elections and membership of another place. Therefore I suggest that any Peer who has never taken the Oath in your Lordships' House, and who has either been defeated or has not stood at a General Election after being a member 567 of another place, should equally have it in his power to go back to the other place without having entered your Lordships' House.
In think these suggestions merit a little consideration. Should the noble Lord press his Motion to a Division, I personally intend to vote for it, not because I think it is perfect, but because I think that a considerable amount of attention ought to be paid to this very important subject. The noble Lord made it clear that he is not dealing with the larger question of wholesale reform of your Lordships' House. For myself, although I would welcome a certain reform, it would be more in the direction indicated by my noble friend Lord Radnor, of some strengthening of your Lordships' powers, accompanied possibly by a very slight modification of the constitution of this House. What we badly need is a redefinition of a Money Bill and some measure whereby swamping can be avoided in future. Your Lordships might well be grateful to the noble Lord for raising this matter this afternoon, and I should be very glad if, when the Government come to reply, they indicated that they would at least be prepared to consider the dangers to which we are at present subjected by this compulsory removal from another place of Cabinet Ministers, together with the possibility of fairer treatment for young Peers who would like a spell in the other House, and, most certainly, for all those Scottish Peers, a considerable number of whom are unable to enter either your Lordships' House or another place.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, the subject which has been introduced by the noble Lord in his Motion this evening is to my mind one of very great importance. I believe that any proposal for reforming the constitution of either House of Parliament is a matter to be examined with the very greatest care. It is a matter which in most other countries could not be embarked upon without the employment of special machinery, and in our own country it seems to me a subject so fraught with grave constitutional possibilities that it ought to receive most careful consideration. During the years that it has been my privilege to be a member of your Lordships' House I have heard quite a number of debates already 568 on the question of the reform of the House of Lords. Even within the last two years we have had the great Bill introduced by any noble friend Lord Salisbury, which dealt in very exhaustive fashion with the whole problem; there was the more modest proposal by my noble friend Lord Rockley, dealing with the constitution of the House, and there was one proposal at least from my noble friend Lord Rankeillour, to deal with the powers of the House. On several of these occasions it has been my privilege to speak on behalf of the Government.
We have had to point out that the question of the reform of the House of Lords was one which, whatever else it required, demanded in our view a very large measure of agreement before it could be brought into operation. It was not the kind of question which you would seek lightly to force through by the exercise of a strictly Party majority. We have had also to point out what I believe to be absolutely true, that the question of the reform of the constitution of your Lordships' House is very closely linked up with the question of the powers of the House of Lords, and that it is very difficult to invite your Lordships' House to deal with the question of altering the constitution without giving any indication as to what alterations, if any, are proposed with regard to its powers. The view which I, at any rate, have reached, and which my noble friend Lord Londonderry expressed on behalf of the Government on the last occasion when this question of reform was debated, is the view that it is not a wise thing to attempt to deal with a problem of this character piecemeal because, inevitably, you would get questions the answers to which might affect the attitude which your Lordships would take with regard to one particular proposal and the attitude you were going presently to take with regard to some other proposal on the other side of the picture.
It is curious that the noble Lord who brought forward this Motion himself took that view only a few months ago, because I observe that, speaking on, I think, the last Bill that was brought in on this topic, the noble Lord said:No good can ever come from trying to alter the present constitution by these petty attempts at reform.569 He went on to explain that he stood for a policy of the complete demolition of what he was kind enough to describe as a ruin. The noble Lord seemed a little anxious that that inconsistency should not be laid to his charge, and so he began his speech to-night by saying that his Motion was not dealing with the reform of the House of Lords. In one sense, and only in one sense, that is true. He is dealing mainly with the reform of the House of Commons, but surely, if you are not going to embark in this House on a piecemeal reform of any kind, and if you think that an attempt to make petty alterations in the Constitution is undesirable in the case of this House by this House, the argument is even stronger when this House is asked to alter the constitution of the other House without even consulting it or asking what it would think about it.
In fact the real proposal which matters in this Resolution is not the proposal that members of your Lordships' House should be allowed to vote at Elections. There are 760 of us; there are 615 constituencies over which we may be spread and average just over one vote per constituency. If you think we are a little concentrated in some constituencies, I suppose we might get up to twenty or flirty in them. The electorate consists of a great many millions of men and women. The average constituency has 60,000 or 80,000 votes. It does not matter the least in the world from the point of view of affecting the result of any Election in the country whether or not your Lordships have a vote. What does matter, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Peel, is that your Lordships should have the right to express an opinion. Up to 1909, as we were reminded, there stood on the Sessional Orders of the House of Commons a Resolution declaring that it was an infringement of the privileges of the House of Commons for any Peer to express any opinion or take any part in an Election. That has been dropped, because it is recognised that it is a hopeless anachronism, and everyone knows that we not only may express our views in Elections but that we do express our views in Elections. I am glad to think that not only do we express our views but the expression of those views has in some cases a material hearing on the result of the Election. As long as we 570 retain the power to speak at Elections to try and persuade our fellow citizens which way to exercise their votes, no one can imagine it matters the least in the world whether we have a right to put a cross on a ballot paper or not.
The important part of this Resolution is the part which resolves that any member of your Lordships' House, any Peer of the Realm, is entitled to offer himself for election to the House of Commons and that, if he fails to get into the House of Commons, he can come and sit in the House of Lords until, I suppose, he is more fortunate at another Election, when he goes back to the House of Commons. In the first place, that of course is a proposal which the House of Commons would be very slow to accept. Any one who has read the debates in 1894 and 1895, when an ingenious attempt was made to do part at any rate of this by not applying for the Writ of Summons to this House, whereby it was hoped those affected might continue to sit in the House of Commons—any one who reads those debates will see the jealousy with which the House of Commons insisted that there was no chance for any member of your Lordships' House to sit in the other House.
Historically, of course, it goes hack to the days of the original Parliament, because then, as now, every member of this House was summoned by His Majesty the King by the Writ of Summons which we receive to-day calling on us individually to come and attend and give our counsel. There was at the same time issued a Writ, as is issued to-day, to the different authorities in the different boroughs and counties commanding them in those days to find two persons to be elected by their fellow citizens to represent a particular constituency in the House of Commons. Since we were summoned by name to attend the Council, obviously it was not necessary or desirable or conceivable that we should stand for election to be chosen as elected members because we were already selected members. This is, of course, very ancient history. That is only the origin of the rule which has prevailed, as far as I know, ever since. But the House of Commons has very definitely always taken the view that if you become a member of this House, by that fact you are debarred from sitting 571 in the House of Commons, and I should have thought that there was very little chance of persuading the House of Commons to relax that rule.
Then, if it be the fact, as I gather, that the noble Lord does not approve of minor reforms, if it be the fact that he really desires the destruction and not the strengthening of this House, what really is at the back of this Motion and what is likely to be the result of this Motion? It is interesting to observe that in 1894, when the matter was raised in the House of Commons, Sir William Harcourt had taken a step which was regarded as indicating a willingness to adopt something very like this proposal—that is to say, to leave it to the individual Peer when he succeeded to his title whether or not he would apply for a Writ of Summons and whether or not he would vacate his seat. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, making a speech on that subject, said this—and I think that perhaps it throws a little light on the noble Lord's real meaning:It has been suggested that…this Government, which is committed to mending or ending the House of Peers, has really hit upon a means of granting to Peers a new and exceptional privilege—a privilege for exhausting all the delights of the House of Commons, and then, in their old age, retiring to the House of Lords as to a haven of rest. But what has been suggested to me is that, after all, this may be an invidious way of ending the House of Peers, because every successor to a Peerage who has enterprise, energy and ambition will probably choose the House of Commons during his period of juvenility, and will only seek the House of Lords when ho reaches the stage of decrepitude.I observe that the noble Lord has obviously studied that debate because of the quotations he made. I wonder whether that suggestion is at the back of his mind to-day.
When, towards the end of his speech, the noble Lord said that we were to seek in these days of democracy and equality to sweep away the disqualification which debars members of this House from enjoying the privilege which their fellow citizens enjoy of sitting in the other House, did it occur to him that if we sweep away our disqualification from sitting in the House of Commons we should very soon be asked to give up our privilege of sitting in the House of Lords? I wonder whether, whatever way have been the ostensible and 572 plausible arguments with which the proposal was put forward, that would not be the most probable result? Something has been said of the hardship on the younger members of your Lordships' House who are brought here without any will of their own, snatched away from useful public work in another place, and condemned to give up their time—to waste their time, as it was suggested —in this House. I think the answer to that criticism was given by my noble friend the Earl of Radnor, when he pointed out that if it be true that opportunities of useful service are so meagre in this House as compared with those in the other, one way at least of redressing the inequality would be to do something to make work in this House more effective and more interesting.
So far as the Government are concerned, we take the view that piecemeal alteration of this kind really will not help. We take the view which was expressed by my noble friend the Earl of Midleton, that this Motion ought not to be carried, first of all because you are dealing with what is primarily a question for the House of Commons itself—its own constitution—a question on which no doubt before it was altered this House would have to concur in legislation, but which, after all, is primarily a matter for the other House rather than for this. We take the view further that it is undesirable because we should be claiming for ourselves an extreme privilege—a privilege of being alone in all this country in being allowed to choose whether we will stand for election in the House of Commons or whether we will exercise our right to come and sit as members of the House of Lords. We take the view that this piecemeal alteration ought not to be carried, and further that if it were carried it would prove in the long run only to be a step towards the abolition of the House, which I at least value as an essential part of the Constitution. On all these grounds we do not accept the Resolution.
There is one other matter which I want to deal with before I sit down. My noble friend the Earl of Midleton made an eloquent appeal to me to declare that the Government would introduce legislation to alter the constitution and powers of the House of Lords during the present Parliament. My noble friend Earl Peel 573 made an equally passionate appeal to me to declare that the Government would pledge themselves not to introduce any legislation which made any alteration in the House of Lords during this Parliament. I can only say to both my noble friends that the Government are unable to give either of those pledges because they have not at this moment come to any decision upon the question, and because they think that, for the time being at any rate, there is plenty of useful work before them without embarking on that very thorny problem.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I should like to thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate for the interesting speeches they have made. I do not regret at all having raised this subject. The pronouncement in the closing words of the speech of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor was eminently characteristic of the present Government. I do not think I ever realised what an extraordinary difference there is between the two pronouns "this" and "that" more than when I heard the noble Earl, Lord Peel, refer to the Government as "that Government." I saw them all tremble and he corrected himself in time and called them "this Government." But this Government's pronouncement I think will hardly satisfy the noble Earl. I am not going to be led even by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack into the controversy of the reform of the House of Lords. It is perfectly absurd to say that this is a matter of the reform of the House of Lords or reform of the House of Commons. It is, if I may respectfully say so, an old trick of the noble and learned Viscount to use a magnifying glass in order to make a mole-heap into a mountain and then all the more easily to destroy it.
To say that we should be no longer classed as criminals and lunatics and that young men should have a chance of serving in the House of Commons instead of being brought here, often destroying their careers, is a very small matter, and I had no sort of Machiavellian intention of raising larger matters at the same time. Nor
§ have I confided in your Lordships what my intention would be if this Motion were passed. The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, really wants the extreme, and I think it is just as well that the country outside should understand that that view is very largely held. He said that he wanted a restoration of the powers of this House, and I dare say he would prefer an increase of what they formerly were. But the interesting point about his desire for restoration of the powers of this House is that the noble and learned Viscount speaking on behalf of the Government approved, so that, the country will now know what the policy of the Government is likely to be should they, unembarrassed by the enormous amount of business they have in hand at the moment, take it upon themselves to introduce a measure for the reform of your Lordships' House.
§ I should like to thank the noble Earl opposite, Lord Mansfield, for the support he gave me, and I should just like to deal with that small point of "in and out." I think he made some very valuable suggestions as to how that could be got over. I do not think there is very much in the in-and-out argument—the noble Viscount who also supported me said that in France and in America candidates for both Houses can, at different times, change their minds for various reasons as to the place in which they want to serve the State—but I think restrictions to prevent the in-and-out difficulties which the noble Earl suggested might well be introduced. That is a small matter. I was very sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, whose eternal youth we all appreciate, should somehow in his opinions have rather changed by turning his back on his former views. I had hoped very much for his support to-day, but I think there are sufficient noble Lords who are desirous of supporting rue to compel me to put your Lordships to the trouble of a Division.
§ On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 16; Not-Contents, 27.575
|Mansfield, E.||Chalmers, L.||Pentland, L.|
|Peel, E.||Dickinson, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Elibank, V. [Teller.]||Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.)||Rhayader, L.|
|Arnold, L.||Jessel, L.||Sanderson, L.|
|Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.)||Marley, L.||Snell, L.|
|Hailsham, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Plymouth, E.||Carnock, L.|
|Halifax, V. (L. Privy Seal.)||Radnor, E.||Doverdale, L.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Forester, L.|
|Bath, M.||Mersey, V.||Forteviot, L.|
|Zetland, M.||Swinton, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]|
|Hutchison of Montrose, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Abinger, L.||Killanin, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Askwith, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Boston, L.||Palmer, L.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Resolved in the negative and Motion disagreed to accordingly.