§ House again in Committee (according to order) to consider the best means of reforming its existing organisation so as to constitute a strong and efficient Second Chamber.
§ [The EARL of ONSLOW in the Chain.]
§ THE EARL OF ROSEBERY rose to move the following Resolutions standing in his name—
- 1. That in future the House of Lords shall consist of Lords of Parliament:
- A. Chosen by the whole body of hereditary Peers front among themselves and. by nomination by the CROWN.
- B. Sitting by virtue of offices and of qualifications held by them.
- C. Chosen from outside.
- 2. That the term of tenure for all Lords of Parliament shall be the same, except in the case of those who sit ex-officio, who would sit so long as they held the office for which they sit,
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, in bringing these Resolutions before your Lordships' House, I propose to occupy your time for only a few minutes. I have already occupied your time much too often and at much too great length on this subject; and I have, indeed, said all I have to say—an excellent reason for not continuing to inflict any further remarks on your Lordships. Secondly, of course, our time is short. I must also apologise to noble Lords for not having been able to give them longer notice of Resolutions which so materially affect their House. That, again, is not my fault. Time is short. You may have no other opportunity after to-night of discussing these or any other Resolutions affecting the future of this House. That was made clear, ii it was not clear before, by what fell from my noble friend opposite last night.
§ My noble friend the noble Marquess behind me had challenged the Government 715 to produce their Bill, their Parliament Bill as it is called. With almost unexpected readiness my noble friend opposite expressed his willingness to take the First Reading of the Bill last night, and he also intimated his willingness to take the. Second Reading not long hence; but when he proceeded to the touchstone of Committee, the case seemed less simple. I cannot help thinking that my noble. friend Lord Lansdowne had it in his mind to introduce Amendments in Committee which might aid the cause of the reform of this House from within this House; but it was quite clear from what my noble friend opposite said last night that such a course will not be possible. Indeed, from the first I did not see how it could he possible, because it is obvious that any amendment in the sense of reform would be almost vital to the principle of the Government Bill; and that the carrying of such an Amendment would be a signal for the withdrawal of that Bill, and so for the closure of any further discussion of the kind we desire.
§ That, I think, shows that you will have no other opportunity than that which is given by these Resolutions before the termination of this Parliament for the discussion of your own reform, and I am bound to say that I gave notice for the day following yesterday because I am not willing to run the risk of what Party exigencies may dictate in the way of a hurried closure of our Parliamentary proceedings. I felt that a bird in the hand was worth two Parliament Bills in the hush, and I thought that your Lordships would concur with me in thinking that it was better to proceed without a moment's delay in the prosecution of these Resolutions, the consideration of which suffered so lamentable an interruption by the death of his late Majesty.
§ Let me say one word more about the Conference to accentuate what was so well said by my noble friend Lord Balfour last night,. which I meant to have said myself, but from which I was rather put off by a prolonged interruption by my noble friend opposite. Had we understood when the truce of God was announced in the name of the Conference that it meant that those who are interested in the reform of the House of Lords could not for a moment consider the suspension of their projects of reform—if we had understood 716 that the Conference meant this, not that eight leading men were to consider in a room without prejudice to other considerations or to the future what was the best way of settling this great Constitutional issue, well and good. But had we understood that what was meant was this, that the Conference meets to-morrow, and that from that day all discussion is to be suspended till the Conference is ended, and that all discussion is to be burled and at an end, then I am certain we should have taken a very different view. This may be the last day which we may have to discuss the matter. I have no conception of what may be announced to us at noon to-morrow, but I think we shall all feel that we shall be in a more satisfactory- frame of mind as Peers interested in the future of the Second Chamber if we can listen to that discourse at noon to-morrow, whatever it may contain, with the feeling that these Resolutions have passed your Lordships' House.
§ Now I propose to move this first Resolution as a whole. I suppose that some discussion will follow upon it, and I see that some Amendments, one of which I have had private notice, will be moved. But I must, before I go any further, and I have little further to go—I must proceed to discuss one objection which was raised very formally by my noble friend opposite with regard to these Resolutions. It was that they did not embody a plan. He said these are merely vague principles—he will forgive me if I am misquoting his sense—and the whole gist of the matter lies in their application. I venture to say that he will find no sound foundation to his proposition that it is the function of an Opposition in a great minority in the other House to formulate a Bill on a great Constitutional question. I venture to say he will find no sound foundation for that proposition.
§ I will venture to remind him and his neighbour, my friend the President of the Council, of the very strong doctrine that was always laid down on that point by Mr. Gladstone. I have not had time to verify the reference, because there has only been a crowded hour or two between last night and to-night. But I am strongly under the impression that, when he moved his Irish Church Resolutions in 1868, he laid the doctrine clown with great positiveness that it was not the duty of even the Leader of the Opposition to formulate a 717 plan in a Bill, that he could only proceed by Resolution, and that the function of producing a. detailed plan on any such question. as that could only belong to the Government in possession of office. It was obvious that if Mr. Gladstone thought otherwise on that great occasion, he would have proceeded by Bill. It is quite true that he did produce a Suspensory Bill on that occasion, but that was not a plan for 0.e:Aing with the Irish Church. It was only an intimation by legislation, which was rejected in this House, of the intention of the Opposition, if returned to power, to proceed drastically and at once with the case of the Irish Church.
§ But as regards the choice between resolution and plan, I venture to say Mr. Gladstone would not for one moment have listened to any proposition for proceeding by Bill from the Opposition Benches on such an occasion as that. I venture to say that, in the position of the Opposition. it would be an act of great presumption on the part of the Leader of the Opposition to produce a Bill containing a detailed plan for a reform of this House. when he would know that he had no possible chance or hope of carrying it through the other 'House of Parliament, and therefore he could only propose it as a sort of airship, to float over to the other House of Parliament and then be lost in the mist of legislation. But if it would be a great piece of presumption, as I think it would, on the part. of my noble friend the noble Marquess, it would be an infinitely greater piece of presumption for any private member in this House or in the other to attempt to do what not even the Leader of a Party ought to think of doing.
§ The Resolutions, I venture to say, are not. so unpractical as to prevent the production of a definite plan for the consideration of this House. They are in effect Resolutions intimating the readiness and desire of this House to co-operate in the task of its own reform on the basis of these Resolutions and to support any plan brought forward by a Government proposing a. reform of the House on such a. scheme as this. They are ready and willing to support, as I hope, and as I think from all the indications I have seen, such general principles as these for the reform o this House, because they see that on such principles as these you can reform tae House of Lords, you can, too, to a large extent solve this great Constitutional problem, you can maintain the ancient Constitution of this 718 country, and you can do it without all the convulsions incident to a reform carried on by continuous General Elections and the agitation that, in the midst of the labour convulsion and with all the troubles with which our country is harassed at this moment, such a cow se cannot fail to produce. I do not say that these propositions are impeccable, but I think they are large, I think they are comprehensive, and I think they allow so much latitude that they could not unduly fetter the discretion of a. Government which had to legislate upon them.
§ My noble friend the Leader of the House rather reproached us last night for not having introduced the various proportions of which these various elements should consist in any reformed House of Lords. But, my Lords, there is no question of doing anything of the kind. If there was any question of doing that, that would be exactly producing the plan which, I say, it is not our function to do. If, as he says, the numbers, the proportions, are of the essence of the scheme, to produce those numbers and proportions would simply be the expression of an individual opinion on my part, which would only lead to protracted discussion and which could have no practical effect on the issue, whatever that issue may be.
§ As we proceed in discussion I have no doubt we shall have various points raised with regard to the inclusion of other elements, large or small, on different bases. I do not propose to trouble you with those points at this juncture, but I do venture to point out that, however far these Resolutions may go, they only go part of the way to solving the great Constitutional problem which is before us. The other part of the problem, which is distinct from this, but which is of no less importance, is how to settle the differences between the two Houses, when they occur, so that the Liberal Party when in office shall not be placed at an unfair disadvantage as compared with the Conservative Party, which is usually predominant in this House. It we are spared, to use a colloquial expression. the exploration of that subject may furnish a very useful topic for examination in the future.
§ I myself endeavoured to persuade the Committee of your Lordships' House, but in vain, and perhaps rightly in vain, to adopt a paragraph in their Report recommending that, n cases of differences 719 between the two Houses, there should be, as now, a Conference, only a Conference conducted on different principles from those now prevailing, followed, in the case of acute difference, by a Referendum. And I myself do not doubt that it is on that basis that this question must ultimately be settled. But that is far too great for this occasion as it seemed to be too great for the consideration of our Committee, and I only venture to indicate it as showing that those who wish to reform this House are by no means under the impression that their task would be ended if they could prevail in carrying these Resolutions.
§ But, at any rate, my Lords, we at least know this. Noble Lords behind me have, I think, learned something from the experience of some years past. I think there is hardly an individual in this House who is not convinced of the necessity of reform. What is more, I do not believe that, there is one single man in this House. whether he sits on the Treasury Bench or not—I do not believe there is a reasoning man outside this House who believes that there is any choice whatever between a reformed House of Lords, whatever shape it may take, and the intolerable tyranny of a Single Chamber.
§ Moved to resolve, That in future the House of Lords shall consist of Lords of Parliament—
- A. Chosen by the whole body of hereditary Peers from among themselves and by nomination by the CROWN.
- B. Sitting by virtue of offices and of qualifications held by them.
- C. Chosen from outside.—(The Earl of Rosebery.)
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
My Lords, I do not wish to occupy your Lordships' time at any length, but I gave private notice to my noble friend that I would ask him whether lie would accept the insertion, after the words "Lords of Parliament," of the words, "who shall have attained the age of 35." I appreciate most strongly that this is not the occasion on which we ought to discuss details, but there is in the country a strong objection —and I think it is a reasonable one—to a young man leaving college or almost the threshold of school and walking directly into a legislative Chamber. There 720 may be differences of opinion as to whether thirty-five is the best age, but I do most respectfully urge that, either now or at some future stage, an age limit should be introduced.
To insert, after "Parliament," in line 2, the words "who shall have attained the age of 3b."—(The Earl of Portsmouth.)
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
As far as I am concerned. I see no objection to the age of thirty or thirty-five. Personally I should not groan if I was under those ages if your Lordships came to this resolution. There is the preliminary difficulty to adopting it that, as a man may sit in the House of Commons, which is the predominant Chamber, at twenty-one, it offers almost a tacit reproach to the other House if we adopt a higher age for ourselves. I admit that where popular election consecrates the age of a representative there is a difference, but if we once begin to go into questions of detail like this we shall never come to an end, though I feel sure that, if any measure is brought forward dealing practically with this matter, my noble friend will meet with the greatest sympathy in his effort to keep the age of a mature and mellow description. I hope he will not press his Amendment on the present occasion.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, perhaps before your Lordships proceed to the discussion of Amendments on smaller points such as that winch has just been raised, you may be willing to consider for a few moments the wider principles opened up by these Resolutions and attempt to form some idea of the consequences which, if they are passed by this House, and ultimately carried into law, they would have on the future of a Second Chamber in this country. It seems to me very undesirable that this discussion should dwindle away into the examination of petty details. Great and momentous proposals are put before us, and surely there must be many of your Lordships willing and anxious to discuss the subject on its larger lines before embarking on the minor ramifications opened in this direction or that.
721 May I remind. your Lordships of the situation in which we are placed in regard to this question of the reform of the House of Lords? It is now eight months ago since your Lordships passed the first two Resolutions placed on the Paper by the noble Earl, the first declaring the necessity for a Second Chamber in this country, and the second declaring the advisability of reforming and reconstituting this House, and these were passed by your 'Lordships without any division at all. I think it is fair to deduce from that the conclusion that you then accepted the broad general principle of reform. Then there was the third Resolution of the noble Earl, which you will remember was carried by 175 to 17, which declared that the possession of a Peerage should not of itself entitle the holder to sit and vote in your Lordships' House. That was a most grave and momentous decision on your Lordships' part. It was the spontaneous act of this House on the invitation of the noble End, and a voluntary act of self-renunciation without any parallel in the history of any legislative Chamber in any country. I believe that decision produced a profound. impression on the country, because it showed that your Lordships were genuinely in favour of reform, and were willing to waive your Constitutional prerogatives and to leave the ground clear on which, at a subsequent date, there might be erected the superstructure of a reformed House.
As representing our side of the House, I should like to emphasise what was said in a passing sentence by the noble Earl. It is purely by accident that we along with himself have been disabled from discussing the matter in the last six months. We were just as willing to pursue the debate as he was to initiate it, and it was merely the lamentable event, to which allusion has more than once been made, that not only threw the whole county into mourning but dislocated the entire proceedings of your Lordships' House. It is not open, therefore, to any one to say, even if he felt inclined to do so, that there is the slightest reluctance on our part to approach these more drastic proposals that are now put before us. On the contrary, this is really the first opportunity that we have had of discussing them, and I hope that now that we do discuss them we shall exhibit a unanimity with regard to them not less than we did to the former proposals. In one respect I venture to suggest that the 722 interval has not been altogether without some compensating advantage. There has been a certain movement and crystallisation of opinion both in this House and outside on the question of House of Lords reform, and I believe we are prepared to come to a decision on these Resolutions to-night with an even greater prospect of unanimity than we might have shown had the matter come before us in the month of March last.
I own that I was rather expecting that the noble Earl would explain in some detail the operation of each branch of these Resolutions. I thought perhaps that he would defend, if defence were needed, each upon its merits and would endeavour to place before your Lordships some sort of idea as to what a reconstituted House of Lords would be if it were reconstituted on these lines. I am not so impertinent as to blame the noble Earl for not pursuing that line of action, but those of us on this side who are deeply interested in reform are bound to put before ourselves the question —Here we have an existing Chamber in which we have sat for a less or greater period, which has performed its work with greater or less efficiency in the service of the country, and it is now proposed to replace it by something very different. What is the difference between the two to amount to? In what way will the new Chamber be superior to the old?
What is the character of the reformed House we are invited to set up? Perhaps I may endeavour to answer these questions in the way they present themselves to my mind. In the first place, I suppose it is certain that we contemplate a smaller House; I will go further and say a much smaller House than the present one. Our numbers are something in excess of 600 Peers—I believe by far the largest Second Chamber in the world. I imagine there can be no reason why the work of this House or of any Second. Chamber should require as many as 600 persons to discharge it. The work could probably be as well clone and the interests in the country which ought to be represented in a Second' Chamber would be as efficiently represented, and the functions of debate and revision which appertain to a Second Chamber would be as faithfully discharged in a House of 300 or 400 members as in one of 600. I am rather frightened of talking about numbers after the warning given by the noble Earl just now, and pray do not 723 assume that I am attempting to lay down details. But while it is unnecessary to be precise about numbers, we shall probably agree that the reformed. House will be a very much smaller body than that to which we now belong.
I pass to the second feature of this reformed House. I have reminded your Lordships that you have already agreed that heredity shall not in itself confer a, right to sit in this House, but I imagine that even the most ardent reformer among us, at any rate on this side, would not go so far as to be anxious to dispense with the hereditary element altogether in the composition of this House. This is not the occasion, nor am I the man, to embark on a discussion of the merits or the reverse of the hereditary principle; but even the most advanced reformers, of whom I suppose I am one, would be prepared to contend here or anywhere that that principle has provided, and is still capable of providing, a valuable and steadying influence in the administration of this country, which is precisely what ought to be reflected in the Second Chamber of a Constitutional Government. Again, it is unnecessary to say that those of us who hope to make reform effective realise that that cannot be done by any too drastic or violent rupture with the past.
Having conceded that much, let me point out that what these Resolutions mean is this, that hereditary Peers, in so far as they are to be entitled in the future to a seat in this House, would only take it up if they could satisfy the tests either of qualification by office or by election by their fellows. I confess I have always been a great believer in the test of qualification by office, because in this way you both obtain the most eminent men, which after all is your first desideratum, and you adopt a principle easily understood and widely favoured in the country at large. But I have always recognised that if you adopt such a method exclusively, or even too widely, you will run the risk of excluding very valuable elements from this House; and for my own part I think the plan of the election of a certain proportion of the reformed House by Peers themselves is a most just and reasonable plan, not only because it conserves their rights, but because it will be the means of introducing into this House Peers of great weight and influence both in the country and in the 724 proceedings of this House and in Committees of the House who might never have had the opportunity of satisfying the official qualification test, but are, nevertheless, indispensable to the utility of our proceedings. Therefore, I think we can all agree with the noble Earl when he proposes that the hereditary element in the future shall rest on this double basis. Here again I am rather frightened by what the noble Earl said about numbers, because the question at once arises as to what proportion the hereditary element so constituted should fill in a reformed House of Lords. I have no right to speak on such a matter. but I imagine that the majority of your Lordships would agree that in a reformed House of Lords the hereditary element should not exercise a preponderant or predominating influence, whatever may be the exact numerical proportion given to it.
Then we come to the remainder of the reconstituted House. Now, what is the object which most of us, at any rate, have in view in dealing with the remainder of a reformed House of Lords? I imagine that we have two things we desire to effect. The first is that we want to rest this Chamber to a greater degree than at present upon a democratic basis. By that I mean that we want not merely to obtain for it the support and confidence of the democracy at large, but to connect it in some manner, if it be possible, with the democracy by direct and living ties. The second object, I imagine, is this. It was stated by the noble Earl that we desire a majority in the House of Commons, 'whatever it be, to have a greater opportunity of influencing the decisions and affecting the policy of your Lordships' House than it is sometimes able to acquire under the existing system. It seems to me that both of these objects are provided for by the Resolutions of the noble Earl. He has not, it is true, explained to us exactly what he means by the word "chosen," but perhaps it was a deliberate abstention on his part. Of course, "chosen" may be held to mean a number of different things. There are some persons no doubt in this House who would hope very much that choice might mean choice by election. I myself am one of that number, and I have no hesitation in saying so because I have never for twenty years wavered in the belief that a portion of your Lordships' House might very desirably and opportunely be recruited 725 by election from the people. Of course, I do not propose on the present occasion to discuss what might be the method of election, whether it should be direct or indirect, and there may be many here present who, while they may be favourable to choice, may not favour choice by the particular method of election. Personally I feel very strongly that your Lordships' House would have a great opportunity of building itself anew in the confidence and. the esteem of the people if the people felt that they themselves in some manner or another made some direct contribution to our numbers. I think the plan would possess the further advantage, that it would give an opportunity for the currents of public opinion, so frequently changing as they are, to be reflected from time to time by the contributions that would. thus be made to the composition of this House, and also that you might in this way admit to your Lordships' ranks many excellent men who are now debarred from entering this House because they have not the wealth or the ambition or the personal desire to accept an hereditary Peerage.
Then the final point of this Resolution I understand to be this, that there is left in the hands of the Crown—which, of course, means in the hands of the Crown as advised by the First Minister—the power of nominating a certain number of members to the reformed House of Lords. That, I think, is a proposition which we shall have no hesitation in accepting, because it is an obvious method of meeting the charge so frequently brought against your Lordships' Chamber that a Liberal Minister in the House of Commons has not the means of making his preponderating influence there at all adequately reflected in this House except by the expedient—an impossible one in many circumstances—of creating a number of hereditary Peers.
The sketch which I have ventured to give is a general idea of the House of Lords reformed upon the lines of the Resolutions submitted by the noble Earl. We should have a smaller House than at present; we should have a House which would not be hereditary in its composition; we should have a House the hereditary element in which would only come here if it were supported by the tests either of official service or of election by their fellows. We should hive a House which contained elements directly reflecting the political 726 opinions of the Government in a majority in the House of Commons, and we. Should have a House if the word "chosen" is liberally interpreted and is taken to include election, which contained a democratic element replenished front time to time by contact, direct or indirect, with the people.
The noble Earl, if I may venture to say so, made one very wise proviso in the latter part of his speech. He said, "Do not let it be imagined that the acceptance of these Resolutions—the construction of a reformed Chamber based upon these lines—solves the whole question." I am sure I may say, on behalf of all of us who sit on these Benches, that we cordially endorse that proposition. The reform of the House of Lords is not the whole of the question. It is a branch of the question which we are specially concerned to take up because there is nobody else to do it. It is openly and almost shamelessly repudiated by noble Lords opposite. But do not let that blind us to the fact that there are other aspects of the case scarcely less important. There is the question which was suggested by the noble Earl of the solution of the difficulties that have occurred in the past and which are likely under any system to occur from time to time in the future between the two branches of the Legislature, whether they be differences with regard to ordinary Bills or to 'Finance Bills, or great measures of organic change. The present is obviously not the occasion upon which those considerations can be properly examined. They are not germane to this discussion, and I imagine that next week, when we shall have the Government Bill before us, it will be open to the noble Marquess and others on this side of the House to state clearly to the House what are our views on this question.
To-night we have to confine ourselves solely to time relatively limited question of reform, and to give our votes upon that alone. What the immediate future may have in store for us in the way of reform none of us know, and His Majesty's Government have so far not vouchsafed us any information. I am afraid that in the task of reform to which I hope we shall unflinchingly adhere, we cannot expect much assistance, or indeed any assistance, from them. Reform of the House of Lords has figured in some of the speeches of important members of their Party; 727 it has appeared in the King's Speech; it has tentatively and timorously obtruded its features from time to time in debates in this House; but whenever we get to business—if we form a Committee, the people who openly abstain from it are noble Lords opposite, and if we have a debate in this House the people who decline to take any part in that debate are the noble Lords opposite. It is not for me to reproach them. They have a right to pursue their own policy in the matter, but in proportion as they evade their responsibility the greater is the responsibility which devolves upon us. It places the onus upon our shoulders, and it compels us as a matter of public and patriotic duty to pursue this matter to the end. I hope your Lordships will unanimously carry the Resolutions of the noble Earl, and I believe if you do so you will be placing upon the records of this House and before the country the outlines of a scheme—practical, generous, and coherent—which are more likely to produce a favourable impression upon moderate men of all classes of the community than are the revolutionary proposals contained in the Bill which is to come before us next week.
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, I lied not intended to speak this evening, but I desire to ask noble Lords opposite one or two questions. The noble Lord who has just sat down and the, noble Earl who preceded him said they thought it very inadvisable that a Party in Opposition should go into details. In that they are no doubt taking up a perfectly fair and defensible position. The, noble Earl who introduced this Motion quoted the case of Mr. Gladstone and the disestablishment of the Irish Church, and said that Mr. Gladstone when in Opposition merely brought forward general Resolutions and refused to introduce a Bill, But this case, surely, is somewhat different. Noble Lords opposite are producing an alternative plan of policy for the country to consider in opposition to the plan which has been proposed by His Majesty's Government.
The first question I wish to put to noble Lords opposite is this. I want to ask them what in their opinion is about the number of Lords of Parliament of which the reformed House of Lords should consist. The noble Lord who has just sat down, presumably speaking for his political 728 friends on the Front Bench opposite, said that the number might possibly be something like 300 or 400, but the noble Lord went on to say that he thought the members of the hereditary Peerage ought not to be allowed to select from among themselves a number sufficient to have a dominating influence. I presume, therefore, that the noble Lord, speaking for the Party opposite, does not intend that in the new House of Lords reformed by himself and his friends the hereditary Peers should be as many as 200. But I think we are entitled to ask something more than that. We are entitled to ask what percentage of hereditary Peers do noble Lords opposite think should be in the reformed House of Lords. Would you have it five per cent., or would you have it forty per cent.? Twenty per cent. might, perhaps, strike people as being something like a reasonable proportion. Yet if you had put twenty per cent. selected on an hereditary basis in the House of Commons, except in the Parliament that was elected in 1910 there would never have been, in my life time at any rate, a single House of Commons in which there would have been a Liberal majority. In other words, if you were to take a popularly elected assembly and put into it twenty per cent. of hereditary Peers, that assembly would practically always have a solid Conservative majority. Therefore, when noble Lords on the other side of the House are laying before the country an alternative plan which they say is to be a fair one as between the two great political Parties, I think we are entitled to ask them this question—What percentage of hereditary Peers do you think a fair proportion?
There is another question I think they ought to answer. In this plan which the noble Earl on the Cross Benches has proposed, do they contemplate or not that the hereditary Peers who are to sit in the reformed Chamber are to be chosen equally from the two political Parties'? If they do propose that, then the elected element, however small it may be, may sometimes have a majority in the new House. If they do not propose that, and if the Peers are to be chosen in the new House from the majority, then practically it will mean that the same Party influences will always control the reformed House as control this House to-day. I do not wish to comment further on the scheme. I merely ask these questions. If they are answered in one way we shall know whether 729 the country can consider this an attempt to make a fair scheme as between all political sections of Great Britain. But if we get no answer, people outside will draw their own conclusions.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I must ask the indulgence of the house while I answer at once the question which the noble Lord has put. He said that the scheme which We propose to put before the country is an alternative scheme to that of the Government, and he says it ought to be much more detailed. Speaking in strictly arithmetical mariner, he wants to know what percentage of the hereditary aristocracy is to sit in the future House of Lords, how it is to be chosen, and so forth. I do not wish to argue on that point. I deliberately disclaimed any idea of giving any proportion whatever. But vague as my plan may be, how does it compare with the alternative plan? I, in my turn, will ask a question. My plan is in certain Resolutions, vague though they may be, but giving a general indication of what the composition of the House of Lords of the future may be. how does that compare with the Government plan? The Government plan says:—" That, whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of an hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation." and so forth. That is the alternative plan.
§ THE EARL OF MAYO rose to move an Amendment to leave out in Resolution A the words "whole body of."
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Before the noble Earl commences his observations I should like to ask whether it will be in order, after the Amendment is moved, to speak generally to the Resolution.
THE LORD CHAIRMAN
The Amendment, if carried, will not affect the discussion on the general Resolution.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
Do I understand that if the Amendment is moved it will not prevent any one afterwards speaking on the general Resolution?
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, I listened to the general statement of the noble Earl in moving his Resolution, and I regret that he did not go more fully into A, B and C as they appear on your Lordships' Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Curzon, alluded to that, and I hope, therefore, that in asking for some information, which I do in the form of this Amendment, my Amendment may not be considered by the House a petty one. As I read the Resolution it indicates that the selection should be by the whole body of hereditary Peers now in the House of Lords. If that is so, the hereditary Peers in Ireland who do not sit in the House of Lords would be precluded from voting as hereditary Peers. Therefore I should like to ask the noble Earl whether lie means the whole body of hereditary Peers, including the Scottish and Irish Peers who do not sit, in the House of Lords at present. I hope the noble Earl follows my point.
THE EARL OF MAYO
I read Resolution A to indicate that the electoral body will be the body of hereditary Peers in the present House of Lords, and not all the hereditary Peers that exist. Does the noble Earl mean that the electoral body should be the Peers in the House of Lords as now constituted, or all hereditary Peers, including Irish and Scottish Peers?
To leave out in Resolution A the words ("whole body of")—(The, Earl of mayo.)
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I think this is rather an important question because it might prejudice the whole plan to sonic extent. I may say that in my mind, and in the mind of the Committee over which I presided, the intention was to constitute the whole of the hereditary Peers, English, Scottish, and Irish, in one body for this purpose.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
My Lords, the noble Earl on the Cross Benches made a very effective point just now when 731 he compared the alleged vagueness of his own proposals with the vagueness of the Preamble in the Ministerial Bill. No doubt nothing could be more vague than the latter, and in comparison with it what the noble Earl has to propose is very definite and practical. But I submit that this is really a very unsatisfactory way of dealing with a grave problem. It does not much matter whether the Ministerial plan is or is not vague. You are really asked to consider the means of remodelling the constitution of your House so as to make it more consonant with the force of public opinion outside and to give it a more acceptable position in the national mind, and if you are to pursue that work I think the noble Earl must submit something much more definite and much more practical than what is contained in his Resolutions. It is quite true that in relation to the disestablishment and disendowment of the Irish Church Mr. Gladstone introduced only Resolutions, but in those Resolutions he very clearly indicated the principles upon which he proposed to proceed, indicated them so clearly that a Parliamentary draftsman might have gone a long way towards drafting a Bill to carry out what he desired. But I submit that if a Parliamentary draftsman were given the Resolutions of the noble Earl and asked to construct even an outline of a Bill which would embody them, he would have to give up the task in despair as being beyond his power.
Our time, no doubt, is short; the proceedings of this House may be interrupted at a very early period by a Message from the King which will put an end to our deliberations; but if you are going to realise the shortness of time you had better endeavour to make the best use of that time by putting before the country something that will be understood, something that can be studied, discussed, and even determined by the electors who presently may have to go to the poll. But the propositions before us are even more vague than the proposals which were agreed upon by the Select Committee, presided over by the noble Earl, which Committee was not absolutely void of a slight infiltration of members sitting on this side of the House. The noble Lord who spoke from the Front Bench opposite (Lord Curzon), though carefully screening himself from any suggestion that thereby he was questioning the wisdom of the noble 732 Earl on the Cross Benches, did. I think, very good service in giving a definiteness to the proposals before the House which previously they were lacking; but still much remains for explanation.
For instance, the interpretation to be given to the word "chosen" is a matter to be carefully considered, and without some explanation on this point it is surely idle to suggest that this scheme is something which can be deliberately considered by the public. The wide range of meaning involved in the use of the word "chosen" might include choice by co-option; that is, bringing in such members as you yourselves would like to have added to your numbers. Such a suggestion is no sooner made than it is dismissed as unsatisfactory. The choice must be by some body other than yourselves. It must in some way be from outside. It must introduce elements of representation which are not now here, and in the absence of those elements we are not capable of making a right choice so as to bring in those members. I do not know whether anybody will venture to suggest an amendment to that word, but unless you do submit some amendment, unless you introduce some explanation that will make matters clearer, you surely must be conscious that you are laying the foundation of a scheme so illusory that it cannot be grasped by any rational mind.
I approach this question with a sincere desire to see the solution of a great problem worked out by constitutional means—by evolution, not by revolution, by gradual adaptation of new methods to new forms of life, following the great traditions of the past which I still hope may be preserved in the future. But if you are going to enter on a task like that, you must have the courage of your undertaking; you must be clear as to what you desire. Let it be granted that in the reformed House you may get that link between the present and the future which is involved in the presence of a certain number of Lords of Parliament elected by the whole body of the Peerage. In spite of the observations of my noble friend below me, I do not think that that element need be fatal to a composition of the House of Lords that would be approved, or, at all events, that would be accepted, by the people at large. The new House of Lords must be Conservative in its temper, but it may have new elements of life and movement in it which will make it more 733 accessible to opinions prevailing without, more responsive to national movement, more approximating to another branch of representation and embodiment of the national will.
You are to have a certain number elected by the whole body of the Peerage. As the noble Earl said just now, the Select Committee agreed that the election should be made by all Peers, whether of England, Scotland, or Ireland—that the distinction of origin of the Peerage should he lost in the election of representative members of the Upper House. It was also agreed that the representation should be so undertaken—a really vital point—that it should in some measure reflect in the men chosen the composition of the House itself. With regard to nominations by the Crown, there were more distinct and definite recommendations made by the Committee as to who should be eligible and what qualification should be required, which the noble Earl has not thought it convenient to reproduce in the Resolutions before the House. I do not quarrel so much with that, but one of the Resolutions goes on to provide that the members of the reformed House shall all sit on the same term of tenure. I do not know what the noble Earl means by that. The scheme of the Select Committee had much greater variety and elasticity, and there were merits in that variety and elasticity which need not be lost in presenting the scheme to-day. The Lords of Parliament who were to be elected by their fellow Peers were to be elected for a. Parliament; those nominated by the Crown were to be nominated for life. A suggestion has been made in favour of the introduction of a body of elected members from without who should be elected by members of the House of Commons. This suggestion proposed that those members elected should sit for two Parliaments, one-half going out a t the end of each Parliament. So that you would have members elected for one Parliament, members elected for two Parliaments, and members sitting for life, thus giving variety and a new and better character to the reformed House. I do not think myself, short as our time is, that it is too short to discuss principles in the way I have indicated. If it is, indeed, impossible to do so, then we have a good deal to lay to the charge of the Conference.
If I may be allowed for a moment to pass from the point immediately at issue, I can- 734 not say that I all agree with the view which is apparently taken by His Majesty's Government that, the Conference having failed to come to a conclusion on this great question, it is idle to pursue it further except by precipitating a General Election. If that is so, the institution of the Conference has been a great derogation of the power, dignity, and I would say the vitality of Parliament. It was understood when the Conference began its sittings, at the instance, I believe, of the Prime Minister, that if it failed we should revert to the status quo ante and go on with the discussion which was interrupted. It is said—What is the use of going on if it is found that the foremost men on the Government side of the House and the foremost men on the Opposition side are unable to come to an agreement? I altogether demur to that statement, which appears to me to imply a very shortsighted view of the action of Parliament. Parliament moves in a whirl of public opinion, and the discussions here and elsewhere are continually influenced and penetrated by suggestions from without and by what is going on outside. Because eight men meeting together in a room have endeavoured to pursue their deliberations, in the most friendly way, absolutely by themselves, and have come to no conclusion, it is said that it would be impossible for Parliament, working in the light of public opinion, to arrive at a solution. Well, if I may say so without. offence, that seems to me to imply too great importance in those who constituted that conclave.. Their failure is not to be interpreted as a failure on the part of the nation.
From that divergence I come back to-this, that that being so you ought to go on and make use of whatever time you have as if the Conference had not existed If the Conference had not existed you would have gone on with these Resolutions in a businesslike way. The fatal defect of the present proposals is that they are not businesslike, that they are not sound. In the bringing of new elements into this House, to speak of them as "chosen" you are using a word of such terrible ambiguity that it is impossible that it can carry any conviction or assent or the part of those who are really seriously engaged in this discussion. I conclude by saying again that I have taken part in this debate with the sincere desire, if it is possible, to continue it to a conclusion in a constitutional way. I am altogether averse from. 735 legislation in the streets. I always remember the dying words of Cavour—I will have no state of siege. Any man can rule in a state of siege.And so it may be said that any man can legislate in the streets. Instead of that we should have legislation in Parliament, and I deplore the possibility of the premature interruption of the discussion of this question within the walls of Parliament itself.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I had the pleasure of agreeing with a great deal of what my noble friend Lord Courtney has just said, but, before I pass on to endorse and emphasise the criticisms which he made, I must demur to the criticism that he levelled at the commencement of his speech and in his peroration at the particular form of the Resolution which your Lordships are now discussing. I do not dispute that, in other circumstances, the proposals which we are met to discuss might have been embodied more fully either in Resolutions or in a draft Bill, but the noble Lord entirely forgets the history of the case and why it is that at this moment, when, naturally, your Lordships thought you would have ample time for dealing with this question, the Resolutions have had to be taken as they stood on your Lordships' Paper. Again I dispute the deduction Lord Courtney seemed to make, that there was any ambiguity in the statements of my noble friend Lord Curzon. I associate myself with all that he said. I will summarise it in these words: Selection by the Peers of Peers; chosen by election; nominated by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister for the time being. I maintain that in those three methods—selection, election, and nomination—you have the materials for a House which will carry on all the traditions of the past and will engraft into it all the forces of the nation and those elements of public opinion which, we recognise, are not here to-day. The reform which we mean is a bona fide reform; we have no mental reservations behind it. In answer to Lord St. Davids I would say we have no intention of swamping the reformed House of Lords by hereditary Peers, and we mean to give the opportunity his Party have claimed for the representation of his Party in this House in such a manner as has never occurred for many a year past. Therefore, although I cannot go fully and in detail to-night into the points 736 raised, I do wish, in the most deliberate manner, to associate myself with what Lord Curzon said, and I recommend the summary I have ventured to give as an accurate description of his meaning.
I will now pass to that part of Lord Courtney's speech in which he criticised the Government for the position in which we find ourselves, and I think I shall be accurately representing him when I repeat his own summary—that he liked constitutional change by evolution, not by revolution. Last night the Leader of the House expressed opinions in relation to this matter, which, I confess to your Lordships, appeared to me to he fairly amazing. He said—and Lord Courtney has already touched on this point—that he did not assume but he knew—he knew !— that, because eight Statesmen had failed in a bona fide attempt to settle this question in secret, it could not be settled in public. Why? You cannot settle this question, forsooth, by adding to eight reasonable men any given number of red-hot Radicals or red-hot Tories. No, my Lords; but is every man even who calls himself a devoted Liberal or a devoted Conservative red-hot on this subject? I very much mistake the condition of public opinion on this matter if I am not correct when I say I believe that on this question the great majority of electors, be they Liberal or Conservative, are detached. They want a settlement, and they know that there is a strong case on the other side as well as on their own. So far from a settlement of this question being impossible by public discussion and the exertion of the influence of the multitudes of our fellow-countrymen and of the Press, I believe the very reverse to be the case.
The second statement of the noble Earl the Leader of the House was, I think, more amazing still. I do not think any more remarkable statement, and, if my noble friend will allow me to say so with perfect respect, any statement more absolutely divorced from fact, has ever been made in this House. That is a strong statement, I admit, and I have to justify it. I should explain that I am not questioning a mis-statement of fact, but that the opinion he expressed is further from the truth of what will be than any opinion on a really important matter I have ever heard before in your Lordships' House. Unless I wholly misunderstood the Leader of 737 the House, he said that this question in its main lines could only be settled by one of the Parties of the State. It was to be settled either entirely by his Party or entirely by my Party.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
What I said was that it would have to be settled in its main lines under the direction of one Party. That is to say, supposing it was settled now it would be settled under your direction. We should greatly prefer to see it settled under our direction.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I do not want to read into the noble Earl's words anything lie did not intend to put there. I submit that the country reading his speech as reported. would think, as I thought, that he meant that the attempt to settle this question by agreement and compromise had failed, and that it would only be settled in its main outlines—and, after all, it is the main outlines that matter — by one Party or the other. I believe that to be absolutely contrary to the facts of the ease. You have in this country art almost equal division of opinion. If you take in the Irish voters, my Party is in a minority of votes, thought not a large one. We know that in Ireland this is not the main issue. In Great Britain the electorate is almost equally divided on this question. I say that it is absolutely impossible for one-half of the electors of Great Britain permanently to coerce the other half in this matter. I say that just as much for my half as I say it for your half. know that this matter cannot be permanently settled as I in my heart of hearts should like to see it settled. Neither, my Lords, can His Majesty's Government and the Party they represent settle the question permanently according to their own ideas only. Supposing that there should be a General Election, and supposing for the sake of my argument that His Majesty's Government arc again returned to power and that by some means or other they embody as part of the Statute law of this country their conception of the proper settlement of this question, is it to be supposed that my Party, and the electors that we represent in the country, will accept that as a final decision? Instead of being the end of this question it will be but the beginning of a most bitter and prolonged Constitutional struggle. We will never sit down under a solution which has been arrived at after ignoring the feelings 738 of half of our fellow-countrymen, and which, rightly or wrongly, but conscientiously, we believe to be absolutely incompatible with the well-being and future greatness of this country. Therefore, my Lords, I most earnestly register my protest against the meaning which I read into the noble Earl's words and which others equally honestly may read into them, although he may not have intended it. I warn hint, as I would warn any of the headstrong of my own Party, if such there be, that this matter can only be finally settled in a way which reasonable men of both Parties will accept, and by the recognition on that side as well as on this that there are two sides to this question.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, I hope the noble Earl on the Cross Benches will believe me when I say that on personal grounds, and in a sense on public grounds, I am exceedingly sorry that I shall not be able to support the Resolutions which he has put before us to-night. I say on personal grounds because I had the great pleasure of sitting on the Committee over which he presided, though I think when he addressed us on this same subject in March he said that I came there more or less as a freebooter and an independent; and on public grounds I am sorry I cannot support him because I have now been in this House thirty-three years and I recognise very fully, more fully, perhaps, than a good many who have not been here so long, what a tremendous amount of most valuable attention Lord Rosebery has given to the question of House of Lords reform, and with what sincerity and ability he has always treated the subject.
I do not agree with the charge brought against the Resolutions by Lord Courtney, that they are not sufficiently broad or sufficiently precise. Looking at them as an average individual, I should say that the Resolutions are admirably drafted for the noble Earl's purpose. But I decline to support them for very much the same reason that I gave when I six/cc in this House on March 14, when I said that I should not like to mortgage in any way my freedom of action until I had seen the Government Bill. That is one of the reasons why I am not prepared to go into the Resolutions now. I was very glad to hear last night from the noble Marquess opposite that lie found many points in the Government Bill upon 739 which he thought noble Lords behind him and himself would be able possibly to meet the Government. He asked for a full discussion and a Second Reading debate on that Bill, and although I was sorry to hear that Lord Crewe was unable to hold out any prospect of representations in Committee being accepted by the Government, yet as a strong House of Lords man, which I have been all my life, I think we shall best get out of our difficulties by trying to turn our minds to the Government Bill, and if it is a question of putting our case before the constituencies, as I apprehend it will have to be put at no distant date, I think our best line is to show to what extent we are prepared as reasonable men to try and meet the Government Bill.
I submit that these Resolutions do not touch the difficulty in which the two Houses find themselves. I do not want to go back to ancient history, but I think that within the last four or five years the action of the House of Lords has been a little too muscular. The noble Earl, I believe, put in a proviso, but I understood him generally to say that by adopting these Resolutions we should go a long way towards solving the great constitutional question in which we find ourselves without any violent revolution and without any great breaking off with the traditions of the past. I understood that he meant by that, that the reform of this House as put before the public by the Resolutions would go a very long way to solve the constitutional problem. It might go some way, but I am afraid the only way we can solve the constitutional problem is by finding some readjustment of, to quote the words used by the Leader of the House last night, the House of Lords as we find it now and of the House of Commons as we also find it now. That seems to me the real difficulty, and I do not think these Resolutions, however ably drafted, ably supported, and influentially backed, do anything in that direction. What we have to find is some means by which we can adjust the existing powers of this House to the existing powers of the House of Commons, and I do not think that can be found in these Resolutions.
I understood the noble Lord, Lord Curzon, in the interesting speech he delivered earlier in the evening, to say that from the moment these Resolutions 740 came before the House of Lords they had made a profound impression upon the country. His information may be better than mine, but in my opinion the profound impression on the country, not only on our side but on the Conservative side, the profound impression upon the average voter on both sides in this country is not a question of the self-reform of the House of Lords from within, which they look upon as a domestic affair and which an ordinary meeting does not understand—the profound impression which at present is resting on the mind of the country is this. They say—Here are you, 600 well-educated gentlemen; you see that we want some readjustment of the existing relations of the two Houses, and we expect you to put your mind to that of the Government and see if something of the kind cannot be found. I was very glad that the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition urged the full debate of the Parliament Bill. I was equally glad when the noble Earl below me said that sufficient evenings would be found to debate that measure properly. It seems to me that the case for the House of Lords, which I have very much at heart, may be much better put by a full debate on that Bill, the case being put in the form of Amendments in Committee, than by the adoption of these Resolutions to-night. I think that is what the constituencies would understand and what they would expect, and it is for that reason that. I, with great personal regret, shall have to take the same line as I took before. I did not vote before, and I shall not be able to support the Resolutions this evening.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
May I ask why my noble friend gives the preference to a discussion in Committee when no Amendments will be permitted, rather than to Resolutions which he admires in form and substance?
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My wish is that our case should be put before the constituencies, and I think it is perfectly possible, by Amendments moved by one person or another, to show a reasonable desire to bring about an adjustment and to meet the Government wherever possible.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
The Government will admit of no Amendment, and I do not see what it is my noble friend hopes to gain.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I hope the description applies to the whole House. I mean the Leader of the House.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, unlike the noble Lord opposite, I desire to support the Resolutions which are before the House, and I should like to comment, in the first place, on one somewhat singular fact. What strikes me more than anything else in this debate, or at all events strikes me as much as anything else, is that in the space of about three hours we are apparently about to pronounce a practically unanimous opinion upon questions of the most vital importance. I own that it is almost a surprise to me—it is a surprise, in fact—to realise the almost passionate desire which apparently exists in your Lordships' House at this moment for reform. It is emerging almost like a subterranean torrent and overwhelming all the Benches on this side of the House, and the only persons who appear to remain untouched and as reactionary as ever are the noble Lords who are members of the Government.
There is one thing that can be said about these Resolutions—I think it has been said already—namely, that nobody can complain that they are not wide and comprehensive. I think it was Frederick the Great who once remarked that any subject in his dominions was at liberty to go to Heaven in the best way he chose. Everybody can put his own interpretation on the words "chosen," "offices," "qualifications," and upon the word "outside." I put exactly the same interpretation upon those words as did my noble friend Lord Curzon. These Resolutions in reality represent roughly what everybody—I might almost say every sensible person—is agreed upon, but I am afraid I must except front this category the members of the Government, whose clear and avowed object it is to retain this House as a pompous and pretentious place which is to grow constantly in size and the functions of which are to diminish in inverse proportion.
Something was said by the noble Lord opposite as to the proposal with reference to the election of Peers by their own numbers. I hope that I shall convince the House of the sincerity of my support 742 of the Resolutions when I announce that, so far as I can see, I personally have no chance whatever of forming part of a reconstituted Assembly. I do not possess the requisite qualifications. Were I to offer myself for election I suspect that the Whips would oppose me, and I am also afraid that there are a number of noble Lords, who, quite erroneously and quite unjustly, probably think that I am in no small degree responsible for their ultimate exclusion. On the whole it seems to me that the best chance that I personally would have of forming part of a reformed House of Lords would be to become a Liberal Peer, in which case I should have no difficulty whatever in attaining my desire, and at the same time I should discover that I possessed innumerable virtues of which at the present time I am unconscious. There are great difficulties in connection with elections of all kinds. I remember many years ago I was in one of the Balkan States at the time of a general election, and an election was a particularly difficult operation to carry on in that country, because hardly anybody could read or write and nobody knew what they had to vote upon. But the difficulty was easily got over. The Government laid hold of all persons they thought might be potential opponents and put them in gaol, and the rest of the population was marched to the polling booths by the police and shown how to vote, and I am not sure that I did not vote myself. I state this to show how easy it is to get over a difficult situation if you put your mind to it.
But to put the naked and brutal truth before the House we must admit—I, at all events, am ready to admit—that the melancholy fact is: a lot of us have got to go. Sentence has been pronounced by several speakers to-night. The only doubt which remains in our minds is as to the number of us who have to be got rid of. If you have to discharge a disagreeable duty of this kind, you ought to make it as easy as possible, and obviously election offers the easiest mode. Theoretically—and I hope it may be the case—we shall proceed to elect the best, the wisest, and the most respected members of this House; but I rather doubt myself whether we shall attain this ideal standard. I am not at all sure whether each Peer, as the Athenians did on a historical occasion, may vote for himself. That obviously will cause a good 743 deal of trouble. No doubt everybody will use all possible influence in order to get elected, and female influence would not necessarily be barred. I know that at all events I should do all I could in order to secure my election.
It has been pointed out, not so much to-night but on previous occasions, that by this particular method many well-deserving but obscure Peers—I apologise for using the word "obscure," perhaps I should rather say lesser-known Peers—might find themselves left out. We have heard the complaint made that there are many of these deserving persons who seldom come here but are doing perfectly inestimable work in the country. I hear a responsive echo. Personally I feel some doubt as to the existence of this class. I should like to think of the retired nobleman, blushing unseen, shall we say, in the backwoods, and diffusing a gentle atmosphere of utility and beneficence, but I am not sure that these persons exist in large numbers. What I have observed since I have been in this House is that the Peers who are most prominent here and who do the largest amount of political work are at the same time the persons who do the most work in their own localities. There are several Peers present who afford illustrations of this statement Take, for instance, the case of my noble friend the Duke of Northumberland. Take the case of my noble friend Lord Curzon. I have known him for many years and can safely say that I have never known him idle. Take, again, the case of my noble friend Lord Camperdown, the most frequent attendant here, and one who might almost be said to occupy the position of senior master of the ceremonies of this Assembly. My noble friend is a chairman of a county council and fulfils numerous other offices, and he is in his own person a perfect monument of industry. On the other hand, I doubt whether, even supposing these meritorious persons are excluded, they will be much missed. But the fact is that there is no other way of getting out of the difficulty. Election of this nature may be an unsatisfactory method, but it is the one thing which everybody who has considered the subject has been obliged to fall back upon as the last resource, and I do not know that any better alternative can be produced. It is a thing upon which everybody is practically agreed and which we have got to face.
744 As to the relative merits of a House consisting of Peers elected by each other and of Peers who sit by virtue of some qualification or other, I hold the same view as my noble friend Lord Curzon, and I much prefer the latter. I do not wish to detain the House at this moment by expatiating on the superior advantages of qualification. What I desire to point out is that these are the two recognised methods by which everybody who has considered the subject is agreed the new House of Lords should be constituted. As regards the third and most critical proposal in the Resolution, "Peers chosen from outside," here again I take refuge in the word "chosen," and I might also take refuge in the word "outside." This is left judiciously vague, and I do not honestly see that anybody has a right to complain that it is so. It is absurd for people to come here and ask for categorical replies and for figures and facts with regard to the exact constitution of the future House of Lords. All that the noble Earl on the Cross Benches has done—and I only wish it had been done earlier—is to lay down certain broad principles which, if I am not mistaken, will receive practically the unanimous assent of this House, and will serve for future legislation which will be undertaken by a Government when the opportunity arises. They are the result of the deliberations of persons who have made this particular question a study, and they in all probability provide the best solution of the difficulty with which we are now attempting to deal.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I have so often had occasion to trouble your Lordships with an expression of my views on this subject that I am reluctant to say anything more this evening; but the matter is one of immense importance, and I really feel I would be almost disloyal to my noble friend on the Cross Benches if I did not say one word in support of the Resolutions which after many disappointments and many years of laborious work, he will, I hope, convoy safely into port this evening. I will not follow my noble friend behind me into his amusing anticipation of the manner in which these projected reforms are likely to operate; but I will venture to express my entire disagreement with him on one point. He gave us to understand that he doubted extremely whether in the new order of things he would find himself among the survivors of the old House of Lords. I am 745 not a betting man; if I were I should be in lined to offer my noble friend a small bet that should a reformed House ever come into existence lie would be found a place somewhere or other upon these Benches, and that without recourse to any of those subterranean and insidious influences which he seemed to think would so often be relied upon.
I think my noble friend was quite right in suggesting that there was a very general opinion throughout the House that it was absolutely impossible for us to leave the House of Lords untouched and in its present condition, not because I share the feeling that it does its work badly, not because I at all desire to suggest that it has proved itself incompetent. I believe, on the contrary, that it is abundantly competent for the work it has to do. I go further. Having known this House for a great number of years, I believe there never was a moment when there was a larger number of Peers who took a part, and a useful part, in our proceedings. But for reasons with which we are too familiar this House has become absolutely unwieldy in numbers; and I for one am convinced that it will never be allowed to exercise the functions of a properly-constituted Second Chamber unless its constitution is very materially altered.
Under the guidance of my noble friend we have travelled a considerable distance. We have already passed his first three Resolutions, the result of which will be that in the reconstituted House we shall have admitted, in the first place, the principle of a large reduction of numbers, and, in the second place, the even more important principle that no Peer will be entitled to sit and vote unless he is able to present some credentials other than the possession of an hereditary Peerage. What are those credentials to be? My noble friend has asked us to consider that point to-night. There are two kinds of credentials which obviously can be resorted to. One of these might be the possession of personal qualifications, while the other might be the election of a Peer by his fellow Peers. I wish to say a word with regard to the question of personal qualifications. I feel, as does my noble friend behind me, that it is a very obvious suggestion to make that Peers who have held high office at home or in the Colonies, men who have, perhaps, ranked high in diplomacy or in other branches of 746 the public service, Peers who have had, let us say, a long and wide Parliamentary experience, or who are honourably connected with the arts and the sciences, that such men as these should be spared the necessity of submitting themselves for election by their fellow Peers, and I am entirely in favour of relying, to a certain extent, at any rate, on qualifications of this kind.
But I desire to point out—and those noble Lords who sat on the Committee presided over by my noble friend will bear me out—that the difficulty of applying this test of official or other qualification is very great indeed. You find yourselves face to face with constantly-recurring puzzles of this kind an ex-Cabinet Minister is to be considered as qualified, is an ex-Under Secretary of State to be qualified? If an ex-Ambassador is qualified, is an ex-Minister qualified? if an officer of the rank of a full General or Admiral is considered to be qualified, what about officers of lower military or naval rank?
All these are extremely difficult questions to deal with, and I merely desire to say that in my view, if we are to resort to this test of qualification, it would be desirable that the list of qualifications should be kept very small and within very narrow limits, and that the qualifications should be of the most unimpeachable kind. If you fill up too large a portion of your reformed House of Lords with distinguished veterans, if I may so put it, I doubt extremely whether you will not exclude a number of men who really would be of much better value to this House for the purposes of our every-day legislative and deliberative work. I for one would certainly prefer, if I wished to construct an efficient House of Lords, a pretty liberal contingent of Peers familiar with country life, familiar with the management of landed property and with local and municipal administration, to veterans with a distinguished record who have arrived at a time of life when they look naturally for repose rather than for laborious Parliamentary work.
I therefore attach great importance to the presence of a sufficient contingent of Peels elected by their fellow Peers, and I sin under the impression that you could construct a most efficient House of Lords by resorting partly and within moderate limits to the test of qualification and partly 747 to election by the body of the House. Changes of this kind will have the effect of curing two admitted defects in the present House of Lords—the defect of its unwieldiness and the presence of Peers who, for one reason or another, are not able to interest themselves in the way we should wish in our proceedings. But I desire to add that I am as thoroughly convinced as my noble friend (Lord Rosebery) that no reconstruction of the House of Lords within those lines will really meet the necessities of the present case. We have to meet this complaint of the existing House of Lords, that we are out of touch with the country, that we are, as it were, remote from our fellow subjects and irresponsible to them. I have always thought that the complaint was a most unjust one, but we have to deal in these days with sentiment and prejudice, and I think I may add with constant misrepresentation. There are millions of people in this country whom, I believe, you will never convince that hereditary Peers can be trusted with the sole and final arbitrament of our public affairs. Have not your Lordships lately noticed how widely it has been believed throughout the country that the Osborne judgment was the work of the House of Lords which I am now addressing? How are you going to carry conviction to people who are as unfamiliar as that with the real manner in which the business of Parliament is conducted?
I say again, I am convinced that your Second Chamber will never be given the place which it ought to occupy in a properly balanced Constitution unless you can find some means of bringing it into closer relation with the democracy. You can do that by allowing one section of the House to be recruited from outside and from any source, either by nomination of the Government of the day or by sonic form of election. I have always attached great importance to nomination by the Government of the day, and I will tell your Lordships why. A Peer nominated by the Government of the day is nominated by an authority which owes its existence to the popular House of Parliament, which, again, owes its existence to the suffrages of the people of this country. A Peer so nominated: has therefore distinctly a democratic title to his seat, and this resort to nomination appears to me to have this particular advantage. It is, moreover, as far as I am aware the only means by which you could make sure of mitigating to some extent the disparity of strength between the two Parties in this House.
748 I will explain my meaning. Let us assume that a Liberal Government has the right of appointing five Peers tithing each of its five years of office. When the time came for the Liberal Government to go out of office they would have behind them in this House a residuum of twenty-five Liberal Peers, who would help materially to redress the inequality of strength which now prevails between one side of the House and the other.
But I do feel that the country would not be content merely by a step which strengthens this House by adding to it Peers who would be regarded as the nominees of the Government of the day. I may say, therefore, that I am ready with my noble friend to look beyond that, and I should desire to see a certain proportion of the reformed House chosen from outside, and by this I mean elected in some way or other outside this House. I come to that conclusion, I admit, with a great deal of reluctance. I have always thought that heredity and election were not very good bedfellows; and if this change is made I have an idea that those who come after us may see that one of the partners gets rid of the other; and f do not think that the hereditary element is likely to be the predominant partner if that should occur. But I am convinced that we have come to a time when nothing but strong and courageous measures are likely to save this country from the peril in which I believe all our institutions and the Constitution of the country itself stand. I do not hesitate to say that if I am offered, on the one hand, a choice of a policy based on a tender treatment of this House accompanied by the deprivation of those powers which I conceive a Second Chamber ought to possess, and, on the other hand, a policy based on a drastic treatment of this House accompanied by the retention of the full measure of the powers which a Second Chamber ought to enjoy, I should without hesitation prefer the more drastic treatment.
I do not trouble your Lordships with any observations upon the question of the numbers in which these different classes might be added to the reformed House. Those are details which, it seems to me, must obviously be left for consideration whenever the subject is dealt with in a Bill. But I wish to take up the challenge which was thrown out by the Leader of the House last night when he told us that 749 we had left him and his friends entirely in the dark as to our views upon this question of numbers. I think he said he did not know whether, when we talked of reinforcements from outside, we meant only a mere handful or something more than that. I certainly do not mean only a mere handful. I mean that a substantial section of the House should be recruited in this manner, and as I cannot help thinking that in laying these proposals before the country we cannot study simplicity too much I am inclined to say that in my view the reformed House might consist of one-half of hereditary Peers, all of whom would, of course, be either qualified or elected by their fellow Peers, and the other half of men not one of whom would hold his seat in virtue of heredity, and who would be chosen from outside, either by nomination or by some form of election. That is the kind of policy which I understand the noble Earl on the Cross Benches advocates and which I am prepared to support.
Noble Lords opposite give us to understand that they, too, are House of Lords reformers. I hope when the noble Earl rises he will take up the observations that were made by my noble friend Lord Curzon on that point. Noble Lords opposite have never stirred a finger in the direction of House of Lords reform. They boycotted the Committee presided over by Lord Rosebery. They have up to the present moment boycotted this debate. They mentioned the subject of House of Lords reform in a vague sentence in the last Speech from the Throne delivered by His late Majesty, and they have mentioned it again in an equally vague manner in the Preamble of the Parliament Bill which is to come before us next week. We are sometimes told that our proposals with regard to the House of Lords are of a hazy description. What are we to say of the proposals of noble Lords opposite? It would be a compliment to call them nebulous. I will not trouble your Lordships further. This discussion has been valuable because it has enabled us to estimate what our policy is and what your policy is. Your policy is to encourage the abuse of this House and to belittle it; and having taken away its character to shear it of its powers. Your policy is to set up something which would not be very dissimilar from single-Chamber government—government under the despotic 750 control, not so much of the House of Commons, as of the Minister who happens for the moment to control the House of Commons, and of the Parliamentary combination by which that Minister is himself controlled. Between these two policies we have to take our choice. I cannot believe that reasonably-minded people will doubt as to which is the truer and more statesmanlike policy.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
My Lords, I hope I may be pardoned if in the few words which I say in reply to the noble Marquess I confine myself to one part of the debate which has been held. I may be excused, I hope, if I do not follow some noble Lords who have spoken into a general discussion upon the political situation as it exists at the present moment —I mean, for instance, Lord Courtney and Lord Selborne. Lord Selborne devoted himself with an eloquence warmed by the Southern sun under which he has been winning so much distinction, to an attack upon our policy in regard to the general situation. Although at one moment I thought he was going to say that I ought to be impeached, I trust that he will allow me to say very honestly that I am delighted to see him here once more.
My noble friend on the Cross Benches, if he will forgive me for saying so, somewhat over-stated the case when he assumed that I had complained that he had not brought in a Bill. It had never occurred to me that lie would bring in a Bill, and I think I am accurate in saying that I never suggested that he ought to have done so. But I did say that, for the noble Earl's purpose, I thought the Resolutions exceedingly vague in their terms, and I have had some unexpected support in that view. The noble Lord opposite, Lord Curzon, proceeded to develop in great detail and in a most interesting speech his view of the way in which the principles enunciated in the Resolutions ought to be carried into effect; but we are none the wiser as to whether those are the views of my noble friend on the Cross Benches, or of a great many other noble Lords who have not taken part in the debate.
Now, my Lords, one word on the question of time. It is assumed that this debate has been forced, so to speak, into the last moment. We have spoken all along of the lamentable event which, by causing a cessation of polemics, prevented these Resolutions or any other Resolutions from being discussed during the latter part of 751 the Summer Session. That is perfectly true, but the Committee of my noble friend reported at the beginning of December, 1908, and during the whole of the session of 1909 neither the noble Earl nor anybody else took the slightest step to bring this subject before the House. I think that is not an irrelevant fact when we are taunted with attempting to closure discussion. Then we have been told that, after all, we have no right to speak of these Resolutions as vague, because, if possible, we are vaguer still. That is perfectly true; but then we do not profess to begin with a plan. What we ask for are powers to have a voice in framing a plan. As a matter of fact, we have no voice in framing such a plan except such as noble Lords opposite choose to give us. They are in an impregnable position because, if we offer any suggestion, we are liable to be told, "If you do not like it, you can have always the status quo." That is a pure advantage to noble Lords opposite. It is this which makes us feel that to attempt discussion of the details of the reform of the House of Lords would be futile so far as we are concerned.
A word as regards the Resolutions. It has been pointed out by my noble friend behind me, Lord St. Davids, that the application of the Resolutions suggested by the noble Lord opposite, Lord Curzon, would involve the disappearance from the scene of more than half of the members of your Lordships' House. That, I think, is easily shown. It was to be a considerably smaller House, with at any rate not more than two-thirds of the present number, and it was not to be more than half hereditary. Therefore it is clear that more than half of the present House must go. It is rather a singular fact, if that is the proposition, that the House should not be more fully attended on this occasion; and if the reason be that my noble friend on the Cross Benches had to proceed at short notice, it certainly does seem a little hard that those noble Lords who are going to have their fate declared to-night should have had no opportunity of making their protest. Because I may remind the House that it is a very different affair to say that the mere possession of an hereditary title shall not give a man a claim to a seat in this House from wiping out at one blow more than half of its members. The first might merely mean that a man who had done something particularly dis 752 creditable should be removed, as was proposed in what was called the Black Sheep Bill. But this proposal is of so sweeping a character, if it is carried out in the way propounded by Lord Curzon, that I am almost tempted to say that it might be difficult to rely on noble Lords opposite, supposing they were in a position to bring it forward, being able to carry it against a possible majority of those who preferred to remain on the present terms to retiring into private life. As regards the question of voting either for or against these Resolutions, I assume that nobody desires to divide the House against them. If anybody did, I should not vote but should walk out of the House, and for this reason. I think there is a great deal to be said in support of all the propositions advanced by my noble friend, and I think it is exceedingly probable that when the House of Lords is reformed, some or all of them may become elements in its new constitution.
But I do not feel the certainty which some noble Lords seem to feel that all three of these principles will necessarily, when your Lordships' House is reformed, be brought into action. The first Resolution is that Peers shall be chosen from among hereditary Peers. I confess I do not take it as an absolute certainty that, when your Lordships' House is reformed the hereditary element will be present at all. I can conceive, from the Radical point of view, that the country may desire to be represented in a Second Chamber only by those elected to such a Chamber. But what is much more, the noble Marquess said something of profound meaning in relation to this question of election which I think night also give your Lordships' pause. I can quite conceive that the most Conservative elements in the country might be driven by the assertion of Conservative principles involving the necessity of a strong Second Chamber positively to prefer an elected House to a House which was weakened by the infusion of a strong hereditary element. The noble Marquess did not put the matter in quite the same way, but he arrived at a somewhat similar conclusion on the possibility of what might follow the introduction of an elected element in the House.
That is No. 1. Then there is No. 2. The noble Marquess again dwelt with some force on the extreme difficulty which 753 confronts you when you come to decide who is to sit by qualification. You may find yourselves in possession of a Chamber full of scarcely anybody but retired Admirals, Generals, and Ambassadors, and therefore I do not feel at all certain, when the reform of your Lordships' House comes, that this question of the necessity of qualification being one of the means of entering it will form part of the actual Reform Act. Then, again, No. 3—chosen from outside. There again I do not feel certain that it is an absolute necessity that if this House were reformed it should contain anybody chosen from outside. That may seem a disputable proposition, but I can conceive a reform of the House—a reform, that is, of the acting and active part of the House—which would not necessarily involve the introduction of either elected or non-elected members. And therefore I confess it seems to me that the House is a little rash in committing itself to-night to the proposition, not merely that some of these changes, but that all these three changes must necessarily form part of any reform scheme. It is true, in a sense, that it does not matter. A vote for a Resolution does not necessarily bind one for life, and I suspect that, when the time comes when a reform of your Lordships' House is put forward, there will be some who will not find it necessary to adhere to the proposition that all these three changes must necessarily take place.
I have only one more thing to say. Noble Lords to-night have carefully said—the noble Earl Lord Selborne said, and the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition said before he sat down—that it must not be supposed that, even if these Resolutions were turned into a Bill and the Bill were carried and the House were reformed, that the whole question is at an end; that there remained the question of the relations between the two Houses. I am bound to repeat once more that, until this week, I have never heard a suggestion of the kind from the Benches opposite. We have always been given to understand that the question of the relations between the two Houses was one which would probably be entirely solved by a partial reconstruction of your Lordships' House. What I understood to be the argument was this. At present people were able to say, "Here are Liberal Bills thrown out by a number of gentlemen, 754 some of whom are not at all interested in politics, and all of whom, or almost all of whom, are only here by right of birth." And that is a weak position. But once you reform the House—I understood this was the argument—the nation would be so much impressed by the quality and character of the reformed House that no such thing as a question of deadlock could arise, because when the reformed Upper House threw out a measure which came from the Lower House, the nation would have so much respect for the reformed Upper House that the House of Commons would in that case have to wait until the next General Election to secure a return to power and have a chance of bringing in the same measure again, when, if the House of Lords were convinced that the country wanted it, it would be passed. That has always been the attitude until this week, and when it is complained of us that we have devoted our attention solely to this question of deadlock and difference, I am bound to point out that the question of deadlock and difference has never before earned the slightest notice of your Lordships' House.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I do not rise for the purpose of prolonging this debate for more than a minute or two. I am quite unable to verify or contradict the statement last made by my noble friend (Lord Crewe). It has come upon me as a complete surprise that the question of deadlock has never even been contemplated by the Bench behind me. If it is so, it is a most surprising circumstance. I gave them credit for being something above the par of idiots, but apparently I was wrong. They seem to have been living in a balloon, as Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Bright once said, utterly unaware of the circumstances of this world and utterly unprepared to deal with them. Of all the harsh things passed about in the recent controversy, 1 know of nothing more cutting or more severe, uttered by my noble friend in his usual courteous tones, than what lie has been pleased to say about noble Lords behind me.
I wish to advert to the point which my noble friend also raised as to the attendance in this House to-night. I must honestly say I do not know why he should be disappointed with the attendance, unless he looks at his supporters behind him. But, considering the shortness of the notice, 755 the attendance is at least of an average character and represents the working and the most habitual elements in this House. It is extremely difficult to please the Bench opposite. If there is a large attendance in this House and a large vote is taken, they then say, "These are gentlemen who do not usually attend the business of this House. They have no business to be here at all. Let them go back to their hayfields and let them not trouble the Legislature at all." On the other hand, when von have a substantial House, composed of habitual attendants, they say. "Where are those gentlemen who ought now to be in their places? How singularly little interest "and that is so when I look on the Benches opposite—" they show in Parliamentary proceedings."
But there is a more serious point. My noble friend says it is not his business to reform the House of Lords; that his business is of a different character. His business apparently, as far as I understand it, I will illustrate by a metaphor. A sick man calls in a physician, who at once opens a third-floor window and throws the patient on to the ground, announcing that that is what he has come to do. And, when he has cleared the apartment in that way, lie may, at some future time, replace the patient in his bed unless, in the meantime, the patient has been carried to the churchyard. But would it not be worth while for my noble friend, who has high Constitutional views as to the relations of the two Houses, to proffer some scheme for the reform of this House? It is not this House which is in an impregnable position. It is my noble friend himself. He is supported by a very great majority in the predominant Chamber. He has a great feeling in the country behind him. No one can doubt who looks round that the feeling as regards the hereditary principle in this House has rather increased and strengthened where it was already strong. He has all these great elements behind him, and a Government of remarkably able men to assist him. Yet, the only way in which he can deal with this high Constitutional question, involving the history of England for centuries past, involving the whole balance of the British Constitution, compromising the whole future of the country, is to have recourse to a perpetual series of General Elections without offering the slightest plan of their own for the reform of this House. When they come and say 756 that is not their business, they must remember that they do contemplate that it is their business at some time or another —that is to say when the patient is dead. "At some future time," according to the immortal preamble which is associated in political circles with the name of Sir Edward Grey. When we come to that immortal preamble and consider the prospect that it holds out to us on the part of an almost omnipotent Government, and contrast that with what a comparatively feeble Opposition is doing in the way of trying to reconstruct and reform this House, I honestly confess I do not think it is the part of the Government to plume themselves on their position, or even to discourage the humble, and, as my noble friend said, the too vague efforts of those on the Cross Benches to try to produce a plan which may at some time form the basis of a scheme for the reform of this House. At any rate, that is doing something, and that is better than doing nothing.
My noble friend touched also on the fact that Lord Curzon had gone much more into detail as regards his own plan than I have. I confess I thought that, having indicated at an earlier stage the dangers of going too strictly into a plan, my noble friend sailed uncommonly near the wind. He did point out the proportions which recommended themselves to his mind without taking any notice of the proportions which might recommend themselves to my mind or to the minds of others who were interested. However, I do not complain of that, I deliberately abstained from doing anything of the kind; but what I do say is this—that, whatever our view may be as to the proportions—I do not suppose that those who have studied this question on the Committee or otherwise are very far apart on that question—if you adopt these Resolutions as your base there are not any ten men who have studied the subject honestly and sincerely who would not, in a very brief time. frame a practicable scheme of reform in detail for the House of Lords.
If that be so that is a great point gained. We shall not mind sneers at the vagueness or generality of our expressions, and we shall not mind inquiry as to the percentages we propose to allocate to various proportions in this House. We shall leave this House to-night, I think, with the conviction that though it may be late in the 757 day—Lunch later, I admit, than I myself could have wished—though it may be late in the day, we have at any rate in our feebleness and our impotence made a substantial step in the direction which every public-spirited and reasonable man desires who wishes to avoid the incredible dangers and tyranny of single-Chamber government.
With regard to the last Resolution, I want to say this. I think it errs against my own canons and goes too far into detail. Many noble Lords interested in the question might have ground for questioning it, and for the same reason for which I begged Lord. Portsmouth to withdraw his Amendment, I beg leave to withdraw the second Resolution on the Paper.
THE LORD CHAIRMAN
The Resolution as the noble Earl moves it reads—
That in future the House of Lords shall consist of Lords of Parliament:
- A. Chosen by the whole body of hereditary Peers front among themselves and by nomination by the CROWN.
- B. Sitting by virtue of offices and of qualifications held by them.
- C. Chosen from outside.
§ On Question, Resolution agreed to.
§ House resumed, and the said Resolution, together with the Resolutions of the 21st and 22nd of March last, reported to the House.