§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE had the following Notice on the Paper—
§ To call attention to the alleged sale of honours; and to ask the Lord President whether, in view of the public uneasiness as to the manner in which recommendations for honours have in the past been made to the Crown, and of the widespread belief that such honours have sometimes been granted in return for payments of large sums of money, His Majesty's Government are prepared to agree that the following provisions should have effect—
- (1) That when any honour or dignity is conferred upon a British subject, other than a member of the Royal Family or the members of the Naval, Military, or permanent Civil Service under the Crown, a definite public statement of the reasons for which it has been recommended to the Crown shall accompany the notification of the grant.
- (2) That a declaration to the Sovereign be made by the Prime Minister, in recommending any person to His Majesty's favour for any such honour or dignity, that he has satisfied himself that no payment or expectation of payment is directly or indirectly associated with the grant or promise of such honour or dignity.
§ " That in the opinion of this House a contribution to Party funds should not be a consideration to a Minister when he recommends any name for an honour to His Majesty; that it is desirable that effectual measures should be taken in order to assure the nation that Governments, from whatever political Party they are drawn, will act according to this rule; and that this House requests the concurrence of the House of Commons in the foregoing Resolution."
§ It is rather singular, my Lords, that the House of Commons have never taken any reciprocal action. It is true that the war broke out in August of the same year, but the House of Commons had five months in which they might have considered this matter. Then and since—and I would add previously—the apparent indifference of the House of Commons to this matter is very difficult to understand. I venture to think that it is deplorable that the House of Commons has never shown itself alive to the public opinion that undoubtedly exists on this question.
§ In my speech in February, 1914, I showed how this matter had been raised and dealt with in all the important sections of the Press. That is even truer to-day. There have been very strong expressions of opinion in the Press, and your Lordships all know how far one's own correspondence can be, or cannot be, taken as an indication of public opinion. But if the correspondence we receive is such an indication—and sometimes it certainly is—then I am prepared to state that there is a large section of public opinion much concerned over this matter, and indeed deeply stirred lest the evil which they believe exists should pass to a point which will render all further honours in this country a matter of impossibility.
§ Several members of the Privy Council, a band of some forty of us, thought in the early part of this year that the advent of a new Ministry to power was a very fortunate and favourable opportunity of bringing this matter once more to the front. I have always said, both inside this House and outside, that this is not a matter out of which either Party can make any Party capital. Both of the old political Parties are tarred with the same brush. But we who acted and are acting together in this matter, this band of Privy Councillors, thought the advent of the new Government 174 to power was a singularly favourable opportunity for raising the subject again; because, although this Government represents all Parties in the State, it has no past in this matter, and has obviously a perfectly free hand to deal with it if it chooses to do so, and we felt that nothing could be more felicitous than that this matter should be dealt with by a Government representing all sections of public opinion in this country. I cannot help thinking that there is really a great opportunity to the present Government to gain credit in a noble field. Of course, if there is no scandal, if all the facts in which I believe and the opinions which I have formed on those facts are erroneous, there is no such opportunity. But if the facts are facts, and if the opinions which I hold on them are shared by vast numbers of people in this country who hate to see the honours of the Crown become a matter of sale and barter, to see, in fact, genius and long public service treated no better, or even worse, than the mere possession of wealth, then I think that this Government may reap fresh laurels for themselves and do a permanent service to their country and a special service to their King if they will take up this question and deal with it once for all.
§ The Question I am asking to-day is in the nature of a preliminary skirmish. We propose to refer to this subject at greater length in the autumn; but I hope that we shall find, as the result of this afternoon's discussion, that His Majesty's Government are in agreement with us over the first steps which in our opinion should be taken. First, I ask whether His Majesty's Government are prepared to agree that the following provision should have effect—That when any honour or dignity is conferred upon a British subject, other than a member of the Royal family or the members of the Naval, Military, or permanent Civil Service under the Crown, a definite public statement of the reasons for which it has been recommended to the Crown shall accompany the notification of the grant. It is quite obvious why the members of the Royal Family are excluded. I need not dwell on that. Sometimes those honours are the expression of His Majesty's own sense of the position which the members of his family should occupy, and it is natural and right that the members of our Royal Family should hold a position marked out and distinguished from that of all other subjects. At other times members of the 175 Royal Family receive honours which have a different source, or at any rate there is a double source for the grant. A notable case in point was the elevation to this House of a very distinguished naval officer with whom it has been my privilege to work for several years at the Board of Admiralty, but who is also a member of the Royal Family. Then the officers of the Navy and of the Army and the members of the permanent Civil Service of the Crown are excluded from the ambit of this proposal, because, so far as I know, there is no question as to the manner in which honours in those cases are conferred. I have never heard it suggested that our sailors or our soldiers or our permanent Civil Servants have ever obtained the honours—not meted out with any too ungrudging a hand—which they have received for anything except long and splendid public service. And one of the points which I wish to make to your Lordships is the grievance, the intolerable grievance, that the sailor, or the soldier, or the Civil Servant should serve his country and his King for the whole of his life and just at the end of it receive no greater reward than somebody else receives many years earlier merely because he has been able to put down a large sum of money.
§ I cannot believe that any of your Lordships will think it unreasonable that, when honours are granted to British subjects not belonging to either of the classes I have named, a definite public statement should be made of the reasons for which those honours have been recommended to the Crown. That statement very often is made. In the very long lists of Birthday Honours it is quite a common thing to see a little note attached to some of the names stating for what service the honour has been conferred. Therefore there is an excellent precedent already in existence. I think those notices are sometimes rather jejune, and might be amplified and made more definite. But there are honours about which nothing is ever said. I do not think any statement accompanies the notification that His Majesty has conferred a Peerage. Why should not a statement be made in respect of the conferment of a Peerage? I see sitting round me on both sides of the House many of your Lordships who have come here after distinguished service in the House of Commons, or in the Army or Navy. I take two leading examples—my noble friend Lord Chaplin and my noble friend Lord Beresford. If when they had 176 been raised to this House a notification had appeared of the reasons why His Majesty had conferred a Peerage, I think it very likely that they might both of them have been caused to blush, but the blush would have been with pride at the record of service for their King and country which had been recognised by a seat in your Lordships' House. Therefore I do not think that there is any reason for excepting membership of this House from the rule which I suggest to His Majesty's Government.
§ The second provision which I propose should have effect is this—That a declaration to the Sovereign be made by the Prime Minister, in recommending any person to His Majesty's favour for any such honour or dignity, that he has satisfied himself that no payment or expectation of payment is directly or indirectly associated with the grant or promise of such honour or dignity. I ask your Lordships to observe that this is not a public declaration. It is a declaration to be made by the Prime Minister to his Sovereign. It has been represented to me that it is asking too much of the Prime Minister and that it is not consistent with his dignity that he should make any such statement to his Sovereign. My Lords, if Prime Ministers had been sufficiently careful in this matter there would have been no occasion to bring the subject forward at all. Consider what happens. After all, the fount of honour is the Crown. What I think ought to be one of our great concerns is the fact that if there is an abuse in this matter, as I contend there is, it is the prestige of the Crown which eventually suffers. I think that you are injuring the Public Service, but I am quite sure that you are impairing the prestige of the Crown. In old days the Prime Minister was looked to by the public as the person who in certain respects kept a check upon the Crown, but I cannot help thinking that a great many people now look to the Crown to keep a check upon the Prime Minister in this matter, and that their confidence in their Sovereign as the best judge of extreme cases is greater than it has been in the Prime Minister in the past. Therefore I say that for the protection of the public, and especially for the protection of the Crown, it has become necessary to suggest that the Prime Minister should make this statement to the Sovereign.
§ I remember that when I brought this subject forward in February, 1914, my noble friend Lord Crewe said, on behalf of 177 Mr. Asquith, that a contribution to Party funds had not been a consideration to him when recommending names to His Majesty for honours; and Lord Crewe added that, although he had not asked them, he did not doubt that he could say the same for Lord Rosebery and for Mr. Balfour. I want your Lordships to examine that for one moment. I do not doubt that it is perfectly true that neither of those Prime Ministers was ever aware, when he was making a recommendation to the King in respect of an honour, that that honour had been in any way purchased by money and not by public service. I do not doubt that each of those great statesmen could quite honestly say he had never been aware of any single occasion when money had passed in respect of the person whom he was recommending. But am I to believe that these Prime Ministers never suspected, as the long procession of names wholly unknown to them was brought to them by their Whips with an urgent request for the grant of an honour, that in the course of the year some of these unknown men had done something which made the Whip particularly anxious that the honour should be conferred, and that that "something" had been a contribution to Party funds? To ask me to believe that is an insult to my intelligence, and to suggest that of any Prime Minister is an insult to his intelligence. After all, a Prime Minister is not a man who lives entirely outside the general atmosphere of public life. I remember in the days of my youth a famous Judge earning undying fame by asking, "And pray who is Connie Gilchrist?" I am quite sure that the Prime Minister must very often have been inclined to ask his Whip, "And pray who is Mr. Jones?" when Mr. Jones was put before him for an honour. After all, the Prime Minister knows what public service is in the House of Commons and in any ordinary sense of the term, and therefore he must have suspected that the particular public service in which the Whip was so deeply interested was a public service about which he had better not know too much.
§ We shall never get to the bottom of this matter or stop this scandal unless we insist that the Prime Minister shall become less innocent, less ignorant, and that in this matter he should discard humbug. Then again the argument is used, Are you going to say that nobody who has been munificent, nobody who has given great benefactions 178 to some public object like hospitals, or cancer research, or in the interests of art, should receive recognition? A particular case has been put to me by a very esteemed and old friend, the case of ady Burdett-Coutts, who we all remember received from Queen Victoria a Barony, and certainly nobody had ever been more munificent than Lady Burdett-Coutts. I submit that that honour was not conferred on Lady Burdett-Coutts because she had given in the aggregate very large sums to public purposes, but because of the nobleness of her general character, of which this munificence was only a sign. If this provision which I suggest were accepted, there is no reason whatever why a person who is very munificent should not receive an honour in the future as he or she has in the past. The whole point is this, that their munificence should be real munificence arising from public spirit, and that the money should not be given in the guise of munificence only in order to purchase an honour. It would not be easy—I do not pretend for a moment that it would—to attempt to define what case came within or what case fell without the rule which I should like to see laid down; but I am perfectly certain that there is not one of your Lordships who, if he had to deal with such a case, would not on each occasion know perfectly well whether the honour was recommended because of the character of the public life of the person on whose behalf it was suggested, or because that person had, in order to qualify for the honour, put down a large sum of money for some public purpose.
§ I remember on the last occasion citing a case not exactly of public, but of Party, munificence, and as the member of the House of Commons whom I mentioned told me afterwards that he in no way objected to the manner of my reference to him, I will repeat the case to-day, because I want to avoid the very obvious retort that may be made that I am attempting to draw a rule so strict as to eliminate from the sphere of honours all those who have done honourable Party service or those who have been munificent on public occasions. I took the case of Sir John Brunner. If ever there was a strong Party man it is Sir John Brunner, and I do not doubt that he has given large sums of money to the Liberal Party. But he has been honoured—as I contend, perfectly legitimately and rightly—because he has a long career of public service in the House of 179 Commons, where, being a strong Liberal, of course he always supported Liberal opinions, and he is also the head of one of the greatest industries in the country. It would have been absurd to contend that, because he was a very good Liberal and had given money to Party funds, therefore he should not receive an honour. The contention is that a man should not receive an honour merely because he has given to Party funds, and without long service in the House of Commons or without a certain position in the country. I repeat that, although it is impossible to define the occasion when an honour becomes legitimate and when it becomes illegitimate, I am perfectly certain that a Prime Minister who meant to carry out the spirit for which I contend would have no difficulty in drawing the line.
§ Another remark that my noble friend Lord Crewe made on the last occasion was this. He said that, after all, we were better than our forefathers in this matter; that in the eighteenth century there had been much more corruption than there is to-day; that this particular evil of the sale of honours existed then, and that there were other instances of corruption of a different kind which did not now exist. I did not think at the time, and I do not think now, that my noble friend can really make good his contention. There is all the difference in the world between corruption that is naked and unashamed because it is not inconsistent with the public opinion of the day, and corruption which only haunts the secret alleys of public life and never comes to light because it is not consistent with the public opinion of the day. A great deal else besides corruption went on in those days. There was duelling, there was drunkenness on a very large scale; but the corruption, the duelling, and the drunkenness all cured themselves because public opinion became sound, and when once public opinion had become sound those evils gradually disappeared. But those evils were always acknowledged and public; they never hid their head; everybody knew they existed. This particular evil never comes to the light except in the form of rumour, of speculation, and by the sheer impossibility in some cases of the human imagination finding any reason for the honour except the possible expenditure of a large sum of money.
§ I remember Lord Lansdowne, on the same occasion, saying that he thought the 180 suspicion in this matter was probably exaggerated. My Lords, I wish I thought it was. Since I took public action on this question I have been the recipient of a good many confidences. The worst of them is that they are confidences, and that I am never allowed to give names or particulars. If only one individual would sacrifice himself for the public good and give particulars of his own case, I think he might well become a national hero.
§ I have explained, I hope carefully, that it would be absurd in my judgment to make good Party service or public munificence a bar to an honour. That is not my contention. My object is to prevent an honour from being literally purchased by a man exactly in the same way as he purchases a diamond tiara for his wife. Your Lordships may think that this is never done. All I can say is that, although I cannot prove it because I cannot mention names, I have been told by men who have actually had the offer made to them, who never for one moment thought of asking for an honour or thought that they deserved one, but to whom a person has come and said, "If you will contribute so much to the Party funds I can secure for you such and such an honour "; and the person who has given me that confidence certainly had no doubt whatever in his mind that, if he had agreed to the bargain, he would have received his payment in kind. I am not the only one who thinks this. A great many of my friends in both Houses of Parliament have told me that they share my views in this matter, that they believe that these opinions are not exaggerated, and that they have themselves heard of similar cases. Therefore I say that the evil is a very real one. I say that it is an evil which is distinctly impairing the prestige of the Crown, and that is the last thing we can afford in these days to have impaired in the slightest degree. I say that it is demoralising to the standard of public opinion; it is demoralising to the Public Service, when, as I have already said, a man can obtain by long and laborious service for his King and country only a lesser honour than somebody else who has just come into a large sum of money can buy through the agency of some political Party.
§ But you will never deal with this question if you are too careful in the matter. I do not doubt that a Prime Minister who set himself to stamp out this evil would have difficulty, but I believe that he would gain 181 such a reward of public credit as would far more than compensate him for any loss in the efficiency of the organisation of his Party. And if one Party grasps the nettle and is determined to strike at its root, then the other political Party has to do the same thing. No one political Party in this country could reject and repudiate this scandal, and another afford at the same time to cling to it and retain the bad old custom. If my noble friend is discussing this matter at any time with the Prime Minister I suggest that he would remind the Prime Minister that if the first David of whom we have an account had been too closely concerned about the hosts of the Philistines he would not have slain his giant. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, as my noble friend made some good-natured references to myself and the part that I took in a former debate on this subject more than three years ago, it is, perhaps, desirable that I should say a word on his present Question. I am sure that everybody in this House entirely appreciates and sympathises with the objects which my noble friend has in view. Regarded as an abstract proposition it would be impossible to take the slightest exception to anything in his Question or in the speech with which he has pressed it. As to the first of his two provisions, I think that there will be general agreement in your Lordships' House that it would be a highly desirable thing if, in the public announcement of any honour of any kind, a statement of the reasons for which it was given should be published, by the analogy of the statements that are made when a military decoration or honour is gained in the field. So far I have no doubt your Lordships will all agree with what my noble friend said.
As regards his second provision, my noble friend reminded me that in the former debate I stated, after quoting what Mr. Asquith had said to me of his own attitude when names were presented to him in order that they might be recommended to the Sovereign, that I believed that Lord Rosebery and Mr. Balfour would be able to make the same declaration—namely, that they had not been aware of anything that could be said to be a payment made in respect of honours or dignities. I have no doubt also that the present Prime Minister would be able to make precisely the same declaration, as indeed my noble friend agreed would be the case. But while 182 Lord Selborne confessed that there would be in practice some difficulty in deciding in the case of a munificent person how far the honour might be due to his munificence and how far to his general character, I cannot help thinking that he under-rated the great difficulty of arriving at a clearly-cut conclusion which would enable a declaration to be made of the kind which my noble friend desires. The wealthy and munificent person, besides having filled some kind of public office, either Parliamentary or municipal, might be a large subscriber either to a central political fund or to local political objects; and to disentangle the various claims or the various reasons against the conferring of an honour which might be applied to any particular person would be, I venture to think, in many cases an exceedingly difficult thing to do. To separate the post hoc from the propter hoc in these cases would in most instances be barely possible. I am afraid, therefore, that such a declaration as my noble friend desires to see made would not in practice be by any means as effective as he seems to hope.
My noble friend also reminded me that I had stated that in my opinion we were in this matter better than our forefathers. My noble friend seems to think that in this particular instance vice redoubles all its evil by losing all its grossness, contrary to the famous saying, and he thinks that, regarded as a, national evil, the vast scramble for patronage which took place at any rate during the whole of the second half of the eighteenth century was less unfortunate for the nation than the making of certain appointments in our own time. I cannot quite agree with my noble friend. When one remembers that in the seventeen years from 1784 to 1801 Mr. Pitt made or promoted 140 Peers, of whom I imagine only a very small proportion were either created or promoted for anything but downright Party services and for placing their boroughs at the disposal of the Government of the day, I cannot think that we compare altogether unfavourably with the eighteenth century in this matter. Therefore I did agree with my noble friend Lord Lansdowne when he observed that there is no little exaggeration—although an evil may be admitted—in anything like a general aspersion upon the honours of various kinds, from those of a Peerage down to the quite minor honours which appear in the half-yearly lists, and to which my noble friend has alluded.
183 It is, of course, quite true that a certain number of honours and appointments have been made within the last few years to which most of your Lordships would be prepared to take strong exception. Probably we should not all take exception to the same. It may be truly admitted that certain honours and dignities have been conferred which, to the ordinary and uninstructed observer, seem to have been scarcely earned by public service. But I do not feel certain that, even in any of these cases, the declaration suggested by my noble friend would in reality prove to be an effective bar. Where a great number of different reasons might be alleged, one of which very likely is the payment of large sums to Party funds, it is by no means easy to disentangle those reasons, and in all probability the appointments would continue to be made.
The noble Lord opposite, Lord Charnwood, has a Motion on the Paper for next week, on which it is not desirable to trench at this moment, on the subject of Party funds, and I think he has a Question on the subject to-day dealing with one incident connected with those funds; and my noble friend alluded explicitly to those funds as being the prime cause of the evil, because it is to them that he assumes that a payment is made, and I am afraid that he would agree that the Patronage Secretary of the day must be regarded as the chief villain of the piece.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I remember seeing some thirty years ago, in a book on the Civil Service, a reference to the continued existence of the Patronage Secretary, but it was said that he was merely the bloodless skeleton of what his predecessor used to be in the old days, when every Member of Parliament took off his hat to him and all dependants fell on their knees at his approach. He was then much more powerful than he can even be conceived to be at this moment. But if you succeed in doing what I understand my noble friend opposite (Lord Charnwood) would like to do by abolishing the central Party funds, do you suppose that in that way you will get rid of the evil? You will always find that people will form themselves into combinations, and that they will subscribe money for the objects to which those combinations are devoted. As I think Burke observed, "When bad men 184 combine, then good men must associate "—the bad men being, of course, our opponents, and the good men those with whom we agree. All that you can hope to do will be to replace your central combination by a number of leagues or councils or whatever you may please to call them, ostensibly perhaps of a non-Party character but still demanding and receiving funds and thereby acquiring merit, as they say in the East, which can be or may be translated into some form of honour. Such combinations—one of which I am in sympathy with, and the other not—as the Free Trade Union and the Tariff Reform League are bodies of the kind I have mentioned. I noticed the other day that an extremely well-known and energetic member of the House of Commons stated that the Tariff Reform League was not a Party body, and I have since seen in the newspapers that in order to enforce that statement and his connection with the Tariff Reform League he broke off formal association with the Unionist Party. But it does not alter the case. Those are merely substitutes of names, and I know that my noble friend would undoubtedly say that because a man had subscribed to the Free Trade Union or to the Tariff Reform League there is no more reason for his receiving any form of official recognition than if he subscribed either to the central Unionist or Liberal fund.
Therefore I come back to the belief, admirable though my noble friend's objects are, that in practice he will find, or anybody will find, them exceedingly difficult to carry into effect. The force that he himself, indeed, indicated can be applied is that of public opinion. Where appointments are made or dignities conferred which can be regarded in any sense as an outrage to that public opinion, those who have the power of conferring them have to learn their lessons; and I believe that, though I am far from objecting to the action which my noble friend desires to take, it is upon public opinion which he will have to rely.
§ LORD BERESFORD
My Lords, I should like to support the views of my noble friend Lord Selborne. There is no doubt that the feeling in the country is that most of the Party funds are raised in a manner which is discreditable to public life, that enormous sums of money are paid for Peerages, Baronetcies, and Knighthoods, and they believe further that sums of money have been paid for Privy Councillor 185 ships. Mr. Gladstone always laid it down that a Privy Councillorship was second to none in prestige, in responsibility, and in honour, and I believe that your Lordships would think that this is the case. The feeling exists in the country that some steps ought to be taken to stop large sums of money being paid for honours.
I have heard another sentiment freely stated, and it has also appeared in the Press, that these sums of money do not all go into the Party coffers, but that large portions go to those who tout and get people to pay money for honours. That sort of thing is very discreditable and does not conduce to the honour of our public life. There are plenty of old Whips in this House. They know all about it. Why does not one of them get up and tell us what happens? I do not suppose that any one of them would say that the sale of honours is honourable to our public life. My noble friend Lord Selborne suggests that there should be some public recital of the reasons why the Crown gives any individual an honour. It used to be done in the old days. Therefore why should it not be done now? In the old days the Patent was accompanied by a recital of the reasons for which the honour was given, and if your Lordships will allow me I will read certain facts to prove my case. In 1319 the Earldom of Lowth was granted to one John of Birmyngham, and this was the recital of the reasons for which it was granted—For the good and laudible service which our prudent and trusty John of Birmyngham recently did us in Ireland during the combat between the said John and some of the adherents under his command and our enemy the rebel Edward Bruce and his accomplices and supporters. In the combat, as it pleased God, the said Edward and many of his accomplices perished.Then we come to 1450, when the Earldom of Egremont was granted to one Thomas Percy—On careful consideration of the great and voluntary services, honours, and labours which our prudent and trusty Thomas Percy has on so many occasions rendered us and continues to render us.Then the Earl of Warwick was made the premier Earl of England, and the recital states—In consideration of the uprightness, energy, and circumspect and redoubled forethought of the character of Henry Earl of Warwick, we have granted that he be the first Earl of the Realm in the hope that this accession of dignity will add to his uprightness and energy.186 Next we come to Lord William Howard, who was made Baron Howard of Effingham. The reason given was—We consider nothing more prudent and trustworthy on the part of our princely predecessors than the distribution of rewards to the faithful, diligent, and energetic, and their singling them out for preference; and in imitation of their custom, taking into mature consideration after much thought the fixity of purpose and uprightness together with the other virtues of Lord William Howard, we create him a Baron.For 400 years a public statement was made of the reasons for the granting of the honour. Why is such a statement not now made? I am sure that it would be very illuminating if a statement were given of the reasons why some people have received honours during late years. Why has the habit of making a statement been discontinued? Is it too dangerous to state the claims of those who have been recently elevated to the Peerage or received other honours? The Sovereign gives the honours. Why should he be debarred from doing what was done in old days? The Crown can give the honours only on the recommendation of the Party chief. But none of us knows what those recommendations are. We hope to know in the future, if the scheme of my noble friend is carried out.
I agree with my noble friend that there are many civilians who ought to have honours, people who do some great national work, like starting hospitals, and so on. They should receive honours if they care to have them. There are many people to whom no honours would have been too great. But they have not got them for the reason that they either did not want to pay or could not afford to do so. That is what it has come down to, and I do not think it is creditable to our country. There is nothing wrong in giving money to Party funds, but I would go further than my noble friend and say that the funds into which this money is put should be audited. I am certain that the Whips will not agree to that, but public opinion may insist upon it. It is done in America. When the President of the United States is elected, every dollar spent on his election is made public and the funds are audited.
This war will be celebrated in history for the large numbers of honours, rewards, promotions, and even office given to people who have disastrously failed. Nobody can deny that. Many of these people who have received honours have no earthly right to them except that they were lucky enough 187 to be plutocrats. Why should not the Patent for a Peerage be made out on exactly the same lines as the Patent for the V.C. I agree with my noble friend Lord Selborne, and I hope that the noble Earl the Leader of the House will throw some light on the question. He will not be able to tell us anything about Party funds, because he has never been a Whip; but he will recognise I am sure, as the House does, that there is a very deep feeling in the country on this question of the way in which Party funds are raised.
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
My Lords, I have a Notice on the Paper to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have the information, which at the time of the outbreak of war the then Administration had undertaken to obtain, in regard to legislation in the United States of America whereby the names of subscribers to Party funds and the amounts of their subscriptions are made public. I understand it is convenient that I should put my Question at this stage. It was in no spirit of antagonism or competition towards the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, that I put this Question down, as a subsidiary suggestion.
I am entirely in agreement, as all your Lordships are, with the object of the noble Earl; and so far as I can frame an opinion, I imagine that his suggestions are practicable and will go a considerable distance—I am not sure whether they will go the whole way—towards achieving his object. Anyhow, I should welcome the second of his suggestions for a purpose quite different from guarding against any corrupt payment for honours. A good many honours are now bestowed—and it seems to me a most desirable thing that it should be so—for public services which, although very great and valuable, are of an entirely local character, and the man who renders those services may perform a very important part in the public life of his own neighbourhood and the local government of his own town or county without his name being in the least known to people fifty or a hundred miles away. I think it would add to the value of the honour bestowed in such cases if the giving of a statement of the grounds on which the honour is conferred were, as the noble Earl has suggested, made the practice.
When I called your Lordships' attention some time ago to the legislation of the 188 United States on the subject of Party funds, to which the noble and gallant Lord who has just sat down has alluded, the Government of that time kindly promised that they would obtain precise information as to that legislation. That promise was given only a very few days before the war broke out. Therefore I should not only be surprised, but I should be shocked, if the Government had found time to bestow upon the fulfilment of that promise. However, the fact as I understand it is this. In the United States the funds which can be used in the support or promotion of candidatures for Federal elections are subject to this requirement—the names of the contributors to those funds and the amounts that they contribute are either published or made accessible to the public. I am not aware of the exact details of the machinery. But a law to that general effect has existed now for about eight years. I understand that, though it is believed that there are some slight and unimportant evasions of it, it is thoroughly effective on the whole and accomplishes its purpose. I should add, as of course your Lordships know, that the law of the United States can bear on these funds only in so far as they are used for Federal elections, but I believe the law has been supplemented by particular laws passed in a number of the States of the Union which bear upon funds employed for the purposes of State and municipal elections.
This seems to be a very obvious, useful, and desirable kind of provision. I think it bears directly upon the subject to which the noble Earl (Lord Selborne) has been addressing himself. Because there is, I hope, no dishonour involved in the existence of these Party funds. So long as our elections are as expensive as they are it will be necessary that from time to time such funds shall be created. I myself have contested several very expensive elections, and on many occasions I received help from Party funds—a fact of which I am not in the least degree ashamed. And the various contributors to those funds have certainly no reason to be ashamed of the mere fact that they are contributors to Party funds. But a provision like that which obtains in the United States, while it could not be in the least offensive to any honest contributor to Party funds, would, it seems to me, absolutely shut the door on the sort of scandal which is supposed—and I believe rightly supposed—now and then to take place. If the American law were adopted 189 mutatis mutandis in this country it would be perfectly impossible that such an event could occur that a man who had never taken any interest in politics should suddenly receive an honour, and then, after some decent interval, should pay a very large contribution to the war chest of the Party in power.
But the suggestion to which I am calling your Lordships' attention has, of course, a wider bearing besides its reference to the matter of honours. In the United States the motive of any corrupt donation to Party funds would not have been the expected receipt of a title, but the expectation of some far more substantial favour. I believe that the practice of corrupt dealings of the sort to which I am alluding had very much died out in the United States before this law was passed, and that the measure was looked upon as closing the door against their possible return. I am not going to suggest that anything very heinously or nakedly corrupt of that nature is likely ever to happen in this country. But, still, here is the fact. Not long ago our elections to a great extent turned on a contest about Tariff Reform. We all know that the powerful commercial interests which were in favour of Tariff Reform must have contributed largely to Party funds on the one side, and probably the still more powerful interests which supported Free Trade on the other side must have contributed equally largely. In the future it is, I suppose, quite certain that Parliament will have to concern itself with legislation far more closely affecting the course of trade and industry than the legislation of the last generation or two, and there is a real possibility of Party contributions exercising an adverse influence to some extent on the absolute uprightness of the action of the Government in dealing with commercial and industrial interests. The existence of such publicity as that to which I have referred would exercise a very large influence in shutting out the possible graver abuses of Party funds, and would have a certain influence in keeping public life obviously clean and sweet and above board.
I had not intended to say more. But the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, referred to a rather larger question which I propose to raise one day next week, if the time of your Lordships permits. The noble Marquess suggested that I wished to sweep away Party funds altogether and make 190 their existence impossible. I had no such idea in my mind. But as the noble Marquess has alluded to that subject, I may as well say exactly what I have in view in the Motion which I have put on your Lordships' Paper for next week. It is simply this. As I understand, there are certain Party organisations which existed for very well understood objects before the war, but which, so far as most of us perceive, have no clear or defined public object in view now. On the principle that Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do—I am not intending to be in the least offensive—I am not sure that the existence of Party organisations in the crisis through which we are now passing is wholly free from public danger, the public danger being the subjection of the Government for the time being to pressure one way or the other which does not represent the actual opinion of the country. Therefore it seems to me that the employment of Party funds and the active maintenance of Party organisations at the present time are things which can be justified only if a clear disclosure is made to the public of the objects which the respective Party organisations are pursuing. That is the object of the Motion on my part to which the noble Marquess opposite alluded. But I agree with him that this question does not arise now. I am aware that the suggestion I have made this afternoon is one which cannot possibly be given immediately effect to, because it would require legislation of the sort for which we have, of course, no time at present. I know that the literal answer which the Government must give to my Question will be" No." But I am not without hope that this negative may be accompanied by some expression of sympathy towards the suggestion that I have made, which in the legislation of a quieter time seems to be well worth considering.
My Lords, the noble Marquess who spoke after Lord Selborne said that there might be considerable difficulty in disentangling the claims of a man who had given money to Party and also to charity. Of course, there will always be difficulties in any reform. But I suggest to the noble Marquess that instead of taking the trouble to disentangle in the future he might insist on a sort of combination. I remember a gentleman, almost unknown, coming to me and asking, as the King was coming down to a certain hospital 191 with which I happened to be connected, whether I thought if he gave £25,000 to the hospital he would be as likely to get a title as if he gave it to Party funds? Believing that honesty was the best policy, I told him that he would be more likely to get a baronetcy if he gave the money to Party funds. Within a short time of that date he came out as a Baronet, and the hospital suffered in consequence. If my suggestion were accepted, you could combine the two things. It should be insisted that a gift to a charity should be made at the same time as a gift to the funds of a political Party. That would get over the serious difficulty mentioned by the noble Marquess with regard to disentangling the claims. The noble Earl (Lord Selborne) suggests that a statement should be made in public of the reasons why an honour had been conferred. That would remove the pleasure we experience every New Year in endeavouring to solve the puzzle set us. But it might be carried further. Letters might be put after the name of the recipient to indicate why he had received a title. For instance, "B.C." might stand for "Beggar for Charities," or "B.O." for "Bazaar Opener," and so on. That would be a way of indicating why the smaller titles were given. Moreover, if titles are purchasable they ought to be saleable. We all ought to be able to sell our titles to enable us to give a handsome present to the Red Cross.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Selborne, in his opening remarks, told us that his speech this afternoon was in the nature of a preliminary skirmish; and I gathered, from what came after, that he proposes to follow it up by a more sustained military movement, accompanied no doubt by even more powerful artillery, in the autumn. Perhaps, therefore, in view of this serious impending occurrence your Lordships will allow me this afternoon, in the observations that I have to make, to ask your attention to the general considerations which it seems to me ought to carry weight with your Lordships' House and with the public in general in the study of this matter of honours. I would add, with reference to the speech to which we have just listened, that, although it came as a ray of sunlight in the somewhat sombre gloom which often overspreads your Lordships' House, I venture to hope that we shall not all, in discussing this matter, 192 which is one of great seriousness, adopt the tone of comparative levity which was pursued by my noble friend. I certainly shall not follow him in that respect; and, indeed, the speech of the opener of the debate this afternoon was a warning that this matter was regarded not merely by him but by the public at large as one of great gravity and importance, and that any speech delivered at any rate by a Minister on the matter ought to be coloured by general appreciation of the gravity of the case.
There are, I think, with regard to the award of honours in this country, certain propositions in which we shall all concur. The first is that honours, whether they take the form of a decoration or of a title, are a perfectly legitimate form of recognition of public service, just as they are a perfectly legitimate object of private ambition. It is, no doubt, very easy to laugh at the case of any man who values a Star or an Order or who aspires to prefix a handle to his name. Such desires are sometimes silly; they are sometimes even sordid. But in the great majority of cases I venture to say they spring from a deeply-rooted instinct of human nature, an instinct which is not without an element of sentiment and romance—namely, the desire to possess, and even to exhibit to the world, some visible witness either to personal merit or to public achievement. Such a desire is not confined to our own people. It is common to every age and to every time; and when Lord Nelson, on the eve of one of the greatest battles which he fought, made use of the famous phrase "To-morrow it will be a case either of a Peerage or of Westminster Abbey," he was not uttering the sentiments of a snob but he was giving utterance to the legitimate ambitions of an honourable Englishman.
There is another point of view from which I think honours ought to be regarded. They ought not to be treated as if they affected the recipient only. They are a source of gratification to the nation, which takes pleasure in seeing its public men rewarded. Why do we, when the Honours List comes out, sit down and write letters to our friends whose names appear in that list? And why do the public newspapers scrutinise those lists very closely, and add their felicitations to those who are the recipients of honourable awards? It is not because a man who has received a distinction has gained one iota in merit or importance: it is because the seal of public 193 approval—for in these cases it is the Sovereign who as the fountain of honour is the representative and trustee of the public—it is because the seal of public approval has been set upon his service, of whatever nature it may have been. There is yet a third point of view from which I venture to think that honours may be justified, and that is as an incentive to public service or to private munificence on the part of others. When a man sees that another man has been rewarded for some such act, he is more disposed than he was before to go and do likewise himself; and the spirit of emulation of which I am speaking is not only a deeply-grounded trait in human nature, but it is one of the best features of our public life in this country.
These general propositions, if they are true of honours in general, are, I think, especially true of hereditary honours. It is perhaps difficult for me to say much about hereditary honours in an Assembly which is constituted upon that basis. But this I am at liberty to say. The desire to pass on a distinction to your descendants, the desire to found a family and to leave a name is far from being an ignoble feature in human nature. And judging from the not inconsiderable additions that are made to your Lordships' House when politicians holding advanced views are in power, it would appear that these feelings are not merely confined to those who are themselves the heirs of ancient traditions or of large landed possessions, but are widely diffused even among democratic sections of the community. Certainly this I can say of my own experience, that nowhere do I find more jealous champions of the rights of the nobility or more vigorous defenders of the prerogatives of your Lordships' House than among those who have come here through democratic portals and who are the founders of an ennobled line.
There is another proposition that I would like to lay down as one of universal acceptance. It is that if honours are a legitimate object of public ambition they should be widely and generously diffused. They certainly ought not to be confined to any one class or caste of the community. There ought to be nothing whatever in the nature of a monopoly about the award of honours. I venture to think that a great advance has been made in this respect in the lifetime of even the younger ones of us who sit in your Lordships' House. The 194 noble Marquess opposite (Lord Crewe) alluded to the creations of Pitt 120 years ago and pointed out how many of the 140 Peers—I think that was the number—who were created by that statesman owed their advancement to the possession of large means. Apart from the aristocracy and the public service, they were the class to which hereditary honours were almost exclusively confined. Look at the change in the situation now. There is scarcely an aspect or side of the national life—science, literature, art, the drama, painting, medicine, law, journalism, commerce, education, philanthropy—which is not now honoured. This democratisation of honours appears to me to be one of the most distinctive features, as it is one of the best safeguards, of our public life in this country; and I think it must in fairness be set against the abuses to which the noble Earl and other speakers have so pointedly drawn attention this afternoon.
I pass directly to the Question and to the remarks upon the Question of my noble friend Lord Selborne. He speaks of the public uneasiness as to the manner in which recommendations for honours have in the past been made to the Crown, and of the widespread belief that such honours have been sometimes granted in return for payments of large sums of money. That such an uneasiness does exist I am quite disposed to believe, and that there is this widespread belief all of us know. I say this, that in so far as that belief is well founded, in so far as that public uneasiness exists, it is not only a profoundly regret-able phenomenon, tending to bring into disrepute the award of honours in this country, and indirectly, perhaps—although I venture to think much more indirectly and remotely than the noble Earl supposes—to reflect upon the Sovereign, but that it is also a stain and a slur upon the escutcheon of our public life.
Nobody in this House or in the other House would defend—certainly I should be the last to do so—the sale or purchase of honours. The idea of a mercantile transaction, such as that alluded to by the noble Earl opposite, in which a Peerage or a Baronetcy is handed, as if it were a parcel of goods, across the counter, is, I agree with my noble friend, abhorrent to all right-thinking men. But when such things are spoken about, as they were in the debate three years ago and as they 195 have been this afternoon, some of us—I can at any rate speak for myself—are living in a world of which we know nothing. I can truthfully say, speaking for myself, that I know no foundation but that of public rumour for any of these stories. The noble Earl himself admitted the difficulty of proceeding beyond the region of rumour into the region of fact, and, indeed, he made a most pathetic appeal to any noble Lord who had secured his Peerage in the manner of which he was speaking to come forward and make a clean breast of it.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Some one who has had an offer made to him and has refused it. That would be quite sufficient.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Oh, but it would be much more interesting to have the case of some noble Lord who has had the offer made to him and who has accepted it. However, in whichever category, if there are any in this House, perhaps they will respond to the appeal which has been made to them. But I am afraid they will not. And I am afraid that the knowledge of which we are speaking, and of which most of us have so little, is really confined to a limited number of persons. The noble and gallant Admiral, Lord Beresford, said that the people who really know about these things are the Whips, and he wondered why some noble Lord who had filled the position of Whip did not get up in your Lordships' House and state his experiences. But he forgot that my noble friend Lord Selborne had been a Whip, and I believe had been one of the best and most successful of Whips.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I know. But the noble Earl has talked a good deal about promises and prospective arrangements, and I venture to think that if my noble friend Lord Selborne had spoken—perhaps he was speaking—from his own experience, he could have given your Lordships a good deal more information than you can obtain from me. I can truthfully say that the only experience of honours I have ever had in my life was in another part of the Empire, where it was my duty as representing the Sovereign to administer a system of honours to a very large population for a number of 196 years. There no suspicion of a corrupt bargain was ever entertained or even heard of, although I frankly admit that Baronetcies have been sometimes conferred in India—and as I shall presently contend were rightly conferred—on men who had made a large and public-spirited use of the means they had acquired. I even think—and here I agree with my noble friend Lord Crewe—that there has been some exaggeration about the number of cases in which these things occur. The noble Earl and some of those who agree with him seem to speak as though this kind of honour, bought honour, were a matter almost of every day occurrence; but when you go to those who have greater acquaintance than one has oneself and you ask them for the number of cases, the answer is "extremely few," and it is one of suspicion only. Even supposing these things to be true, when you compare them with the great volume of public honours in this country, which has swollen in recent times, even during the continuance of this war, almost into a cataract, I venture to think that they do not sensibly pollute the purity of the stream.
There was a point made by Lord Charnwood which I thought was a very good one. People are rather apt, supposing they see in the newspaper that an honour has been conferred upon some person unknown to themselves, to imagine that the honour must have been bought. To be unknown to the public is not necessarily to be corrupt. Some of the best public service in the country has been rendered in narrow areas and amid humble scenes; and one of the recommendations for the class of statement or declaration which the noble Earl advocates I think may be this, that it will call public attention to honourable service of the kind of which I am speaking, which because it does not attract much attention in the public Press may be none the less deserving of recognition and reward.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
There was another observation which fell from the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, with which I should like to express my agreement. I do most emphatically hold that matters are not, as it is sometimes alleged, getting worse in this country, but that they are getting better. We are now 197 in the year 1917. If you look hack only 100 years ago you will find it on record that out of 658 members of the House of Commons at that date no fewer than 487 were the nominees of other persons, very largely of members of your Lordships' House. There was traffic in honours; there was corruption on a large scale; there was a low standard of public morality. I remember reading a passage in the writings of Sidney Smith, not 100 years ago from now, in which he said that the country belonged to the Duke of Rutland, to Lord Lonsdale, to the Duke of Newcastle, and to twenty other holders of boroughs. Sidney Smith, although a clergyman, was capable of gross exaggeration, and I believe that the facts did not justify any stronger statement than that some members of your Lordships' House at that date were the masters of six or eight or ten borough seats in Parliament. I venture to say, in the presence of the descendant of one of the noble Dukes there alluded to, that I think it very doubtful if he has the control of a single constituency at the present moment. The fact is that those days, those good old days or bad old days, whichever you like to call them, were killed by the Reform Bill of 1832, and have entirely disappeared from sight.
If you say that that is bygone history and does not interest us, coming down to present times will you not agree with me that there has been a very marked elevation of standard during the time which most of us have been in public life? The evidence I give of it is the following. In the first place, honours are distributed over a much wider field than they were fifty years ago. They are given far less, I contend, for Party services than they used to be. Look at the Honours List as it comes out. I believe that you will find in it a conscientious attempt to distribute honours among all classes of the community, and to escape as far as may be the narrow conventions of Party. I will give another illustration. It is not by any means an uncommon thing now, although it was unheard of forty or fifty years ago, for an honour to be conferred upon members of one Party by the Prime Minister of another. We have all of us cases in our own recollection, and I do not suppose it would be suggested for a moment that any of these recipients contributed to the Party funds of the Party to which they did not belong. Take another point—the great curtailment 198 of the expenses of Parliamentary elections, which is the result of the Corrupt Practices Act and of subsequent legislation. This is pertinent to the present inquiry, because, of course, it is the money that is spent at elections that is the main excuse for Party funds and for the reward of persons who give large subscriptions to those funds. Steady improvement in this respect has been going on for years, and it is going to be carried further in the Reform Bill—now in another place—as the result of the Speaker's Conference, in the Report of which quite a number of suggestions are made for reducing the cost of elections and for placing upon public bodies expenditure now borne by the candidate and liable to be drawn by him from Party funds. I believe that it is in the curtailment of opportunities for expenditure in that direction that a large measure of improvement will be found in the future.
I pass to the suggestions which have been made in the course of this debate. My noble friend Lord Charnwood made a very interesting speech in support of his Question, which really related only to a very small point. What he wanted to know was whether information which was promised to him just before the outbreak of the war as to the system that is adopted in America, not only in the Federal Government of America but in the States also, could be made available to the public in this country. On that occasion the spokesman for the Government gave him an affirmative reply, and my noble friend has correctly interpreted the reason why the information has not been forthcoming. The date of his Question was July 20, 1914. Only a few days after that the country, one might almost say the world, was at war; and it was impossible then, and it has been impossible since, and it is, of course, impossible now, to trouble our Ambassador in the United States with the duty of making investigations on this matter. At a later date, if the noble Lord will return to the charge, we shall in more normal conditions be pleased to get him the information for which he asks.
Now I come to the two suggestions of my noble friend Lord Selborne. The first is that when any honour or dignity is conferred upon a British subject, other than a member of the Royal Family or the members of the Naval, Military, or permanent Civil Service under the Crown, a definite public statement of the reasons 199 for which it has been recommended to the Crown shall accompany the notification of the grant. In a certain sense my noble friend answered his own question, because he admitted that that is done now. But what he complained of in the present system was that the notices that are issued as to the services or merits of the individual are unduly jejune. In order to meet that criticism my noble friend Lord Beresford read out to us a somewhat full-blooded model of what was done in the Middle Ages, which I understood he desired to see adopted in more modern times.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I venture to think that the newspapers which contained the kind of announcements quoted by the noble and gallant Lord would be indeed most interesting reading. They would give an opportunity for a good deal of rhetoric which would add to the enjoyment of our public life. Now as to the facts of the case. When a title is conferred there is, I believe, always drawn up in the office of the Prime Minister a statement of the grounds and reasons for which it is bestowed. It is a statement of the salient features in the life of the recipient, and of the grounds upon which the Sovereign has been advised to award this honour. But my noble friend says, What becomes of it? I am afraid the fault is that of the Press. I know of occasions on which these notices, many scores in number, have been issued to the Press, but are taken no notice of by them. They are either abbreviated or not published at all.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I am talking of the Press. I am not very familiar with the London Gazette. But, broadly speaking, the principle for which the noble Earl contends is in existence already. The Government are willing to look into the matter, and to act in the general direction which the noble Earl has indicated this afternoon.
I pass now to a suggestion which is in rather a different category—namely, the second suggestion of the noble Earl, that a declaration should be made to the Sovereign by the Prime Minister, when recommending any person for any honour or dignity, that he (the Prime Minister) 200 has satisfied himself "that no payment or expectation of payment is directly or indirectly associated with the grant or promise of such honour or dignity." On the face of it, that sounds plausible enough. But I venture to think, as was suggested by the noble Marquess (Lord Crewe), that when you examine into the working of the scheme you will find it to possess a good many flaws, and that it will hardly satisfy the objects which the noble Earl has in view. Take the case of the Prime Minister. I believe that the Prime Minister could, in 99 cases out of 100—I will go further and say in 999 cases out of 1,000—successfully and honourably make such a statement to the Sovereign at the present moment. For two reasons. First, because it is not in such forms that payments are made, if they are made; and, secondly, because the Prime Minister has himself no cognisance of the circumstances to which the noble Earl refers. It is not the Prime Minister but the Party Whips who are responsible and who have the knowledge, and even if you call upon the Prime Minister to make this declaration I do not think you will gain much; I doubt myself whether you will gain anything by it.
But I should like to go a step further, and to point out to your Lordships that such a declaration, if it had to be made by the Prime Minister after a full examination of the circumstances of each case, would be an unfair restriction upon the award of honours, which the noble Earl himself would be the last to recommend. I ask your Lordships' assent to this proposition, that public munificence, the worthy use of large means, is a legitimate ground for public honour. How many noble Lords have at one time or another made their way into this House by that avenue? They have not bought their honours either directly or indirectly. There has been no direct payment made. They would spurn any such suggestion as dishonourable. It is quite inconsistent with the facts. But just as the soldier gives his valour, or courage, or genius; just as the artist gives his talents; just as the captain of industry gives his energy or enterprise; just as the man of science gives his inventions to the service of the State, so the wealthy man gives, and in my view is rightly justified in giving, his wealth, which very often is his only asset, for the benefit of this country. And yet, if we accept the recommendation of the noble Earl that no payment or expectation of 201 payment is to be directly or indirectly associated with the grant or promise of such honour or dignity, such a man would be excluded from the Temple of Honour. No rich man could afford to make these great public donations lest he should be suspected of aiming at some honour. The rich man would be more likely to obtain an honour by hoarding his wealth than by distributing it, which I imagine is the last thing your Lordships have in view.
My noble friend Lord Selborne took the case of the Baroness Burdett-Coutts. I was the person who mentioned that case to him, and it is a very significant case in demonstration of the argument which I am venturing to put before your Lordships. The Baroness Burdett-Coutts—one can talk of her, I hope, without saying anything that is wrong, because the grave has closed over her, and her name remains only an illustrious tradition—the Baroness Burdett-Coutts inherited great wealth from her grandfather, who was a banker. She did not acquire it herself. She inherited it, and she spent the whole of a long and beneficent life in devoting that wealth to every kind of charitable and philanthropic purpose inside and outside this country—to hospitals, churches, bishoprics, reformatories, model dwellings, charitable and compassionate funds of every description. For the use of that wealth she obtained a Peerage in her lifetime and a grave in Westminster Abbey. The noble Earl says that she was rewarded for her nobility of character. Yes. But the nobility of character was demonstrated by the profuse and splendid use that she made of the wealth that she had inherited. Does the noble Earl contend for one moment that if the Baroness Burdett-Coutts had had no money or had made no such use of it she would have been made a Peeress or would have been buried in Westminster Abbey? Nobility of character would not have been enough in that case. It was the nobility of character illustrated by the splendid use of large and ample means.
The noble Earl will say, "Granted. But a different test must be applied to the case of payments to Party funds." Why? Is it dishonourable to make a subscription to Party funds? Is there a single member of your Lordships' House, or of either House of Parliament, who has not constantly done it? If you believe that in the success of the political principles which you hold—say the political principles to 202 which my noble friend Lord Selborne, has been so consistently devoted all his life—lies the welfare of the nation, and, if you like, of the Empire, are you to be prohibited from subscribing to the Party which carries on the propaganda that is required for the spreading of those principles? May you not contribute to a fund that is not necessarily unworthy or corrupt but that is partly designed to spread the literature of your faith, and partly, as my noble friend Lord Charnwood said, to assist the entry into Parliament of gentlemen holding your own political convictions who may not have the means to enter Parliament otherwise? The noble Lord told us himself that he could not have entered Parliament had it not been for Party funds. When I first stood for Parliament, although I was the eldest son of a Peer, I was a poor man, so was my father, and I could not have entered Parliament if it had not been for Party funds. I dare say that applies to a large number of members of your Lordships' House. There is a large number of persons in this country who have no other means of contributing to the political interests of the State. They are men without political ambition themselves, who have neither the power nor the desire to enter Parliament. Their wealth is their only asset. Do you mean to say that such men are not to be at liberty to contribute to the funds of the Party which carries out their political convictions? Is no preferment ever to come their way? Are the doors of the Temple of Honour to be perpetually banged and barred in their faces? How are you to find out how a man deals with his money? When the question of an honour comes up, is the Prime Minister to go to the man's bank and look at his passbook, and if he finds "Consumption Hospital, £50,000," or "People's Palace" or "Palace of Peace," £50,000, is the honour to be given? But if, on another part of the page, he finds "Carlton Club, £5,000," or "Reform Club, £5,000," or "National Liberal Federation, £5,000," is the honour to be denied? It seems to me that there is a suspicion of cant about this matter. Do let us be perfectly frank. The sale and purchase of honours is a despicable thing. It ought to be and it is condemned by the public sentiment of the nation; it is, I believe, abjured by every First Minister of the Crown. But it is not a dishonour to subscribe to Party Funds—
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Or to receive an honour in the gift of which a contribution to Party funds may have played a part. I have in mind the declaration to which the noble Earl asks us to agree. It is that the Prime Minister should make a declaration that there has been no payment either before or after. I know the case of a noble Lord, one of the most respected members of your Lordships' House, a man of immense wealth and a great philanthropist, who was given many years ago a Peerage to which he has always rendered honour. But I know that this noble Lord has consistently throughout his career given large sums annually to Party funds. Under the test of the noble Earl, he would never have found a seat in your Lordships' House. Nothing could be more true than that which was said by the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, that there would be the utmost difficulty in disentangling the cases of honourable payment and the cases of the sort of payment to which the noble Earl objects.
The noble Earl (Lord Selborne) has referred more than once to the speech which he made in your Lordships' House about three years ago. I read that speech before I came here this afternoon, and I found that he said on that occasion that no rule, or regulation, or law would effect the object which he had in view, because you cannot define the cases in which, or the objects for which, a man may legitimately give without jeopardising his chances of honour. You must trust in the main—and I believe the noble Earl recognises this—not to rules, or to undertakings, or to declarations, even if they are made by Prime Ministers, but to the growing standards of public honour and to the awakened conscience of the nation. If public opinion is reasonably confident that in any case that you like to name honour has been given where honour is due, it has many ways of making that known both to the donor and to the recipient. If a Party politician is known to have offered to buy, or even to have bought, an honour, that honour "rooted in dishonour" stands, and is itself his own condemnation. And if a Prime Minister realises that by the abuse of the preferment which he enjoys he will be sharply condemned by public opinion, I doubt very much whether he will run the risk of doing it.
204 I do not in the smallest degree deprecate these debates, of which this is the second that has occurred during the last three years. They afford an evidence of an aroused public opinion with which we cannot but be in sympathy. I think myself that it is well that these debates should be resumed. I shall welcome the return of the noble Earl to the attack in the autumn, and I think that when every new Ministry comes into power it might be well to challenge it as to the principles on which it thinks that the award of public honours ought to be made. It is a good thing to give to Ministers the opportunity of laying down the manner in which, and the degree to which, they are the supporters of the principles of public morality, and of abjuring for themselves the prostitution of public honours of which complaint has been made. But I hope that no attempt will be made, in the manner which has been suggested in the second declaration of the noble Earl, to put fetters on public liberality, or to think that higher standards of public virtue can be induced by written rules. A vicious practice—and it is a vicious practice—will really only be stamped out because it is condemned by the public opinion of the nation as a whole.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I think that all your Lordships will be grateful to my noble friend opposite for the accustomed eloquence and wit of his speech, and I may say the humour in which he indulged freely, although he reproved my noble friend behind me (Lord Knutsford) for having made what I thought was a very bright and useful contribution to the debate. But although we are grateful to my noble friend for his eloquence and for his wit, I must say that I very much regret the tone of his speech. My noble friend spoke in moving terms of the greatness of the system of honours in this country, and how admirably it had been developed in modern times. I thought he was going on to say that there would be all the more shame if this edifice were damaged in any way by the elements of corruption which undoubtedly exist in the administration of these honours. Does anybody doubt, even after hearing my noble friend's speech, that there is corruption in the administration of honours in this country? Nobody doubts it. My noble friend said that he knew nothing about it, and had never heard of it. O sancta simplicitas! Does my noble friend really expect us to believe that the 205 leading public men of this country do not know of the corruption which exists in the administration of honours?
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I said that I was perfectly well aware of the rumour. I said—and I repeat it—that I know of no established case; and I ask for one.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It is not a rumour; it is a fact. There is no advantage in minimising the existence of these evils.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I cannot give the facts, and my noble friend knows I cannot. But it does not prevent them being facts. My noble friend Lord Knutsford gave one instance. My noble friend Lord Curzon, like a practised debater, swept it aside, and said it was unworthy of the attention of your Lordships' House because it was humorously stated. I venture to say that Prime Minister after Prime Minister in this country—and I know something of Prime Ministers—have been sick when called upon to administer the system of which my noble friend says he knows nothing. I regret that the noble Earl and the noble Marquess (Lord Crewe) should use their great talents in order, if possible, to eliminate from the knowledge of the country the existence of these evils. They would be doing a much greater service to the country if they would say quite frankly, "This does exist, and we intend to do our utmost to stop it." There is a scandal. Of course, there are great difficulties in defining the scandal. No doubt you can show that there are mixed motives which govern the award of an honour by a Prime Minister. There is no desire on our part to penalise munificence, or to make it a bar to a man receiving an honour because he has contributed to Party funds. None of us would do such a thing. We are most anxious that people should be munificent. Let all those who are blessed with wealth confer it on their neighbours. My noble friend the Leader of the House was using a well-known rhetorical device in sticking up this bogey which none of us defended and which he himself could comfortably knock down. Let people be munificent, and let them contribute to Party funds. It is a very 206 good thing in its way. I have done it myself, of course; and no doubt my noble friend has also done it. But that is no reason why an honour should be bought. That is no reason why in the City of London it should be known that such and such an honour can be obtained for £25,000. Even if it is not so crude as that, nobody doubts the substantial truth of the fact.
My noble friend says that it was much worse in the old days. So did the noble Marquess. What does it matter to us if it was worse in the old days. I am not an historian like my noble friend the noble Marquess on this side of the House, or my noble friend opposite. But it does not bear on the point. I do not care what was done in the old days. The question is not that, but what is done now. It is the present system which I want to get rid of. In a splendid peroration my noble friend spoke of the awakened conscience of the nation. That is exactly what has happened. The conscience of the nation has been awakened, and it has led to this debate in your Lordships' House. And now we want to crystallise that by extracting a pledge from His Majesty's Government that they will have regard to the awakened conscience of the nation.
The point is, What are the Government going to do? I was well aware of what would happen. I knew that we should make out a very strong case, and that then noble Lords who did not agree would say in the first place that the evil was exaggerated, and in the second place that the remedies were impossible. That is always the way in which you meet a scandal which you cannot defend. It is for the Government, if they do not like our remedy, to find one themselves; and I shall say a word or two before I sit down which will give your Lordships reason to think that our remedy is not so bad after all. The conscience of the public is awakened. It is not the least good my noble friend saying that this matter is exaggerated and that nothing can be done. It has to be done, and public opinion will insist upon its being done.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
The noble Marquess is rather apt to forget that the noble Earl who is his associate in this matter did submit a definite proposal and a definite formula to your Lordships' House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Let us deal with the formula. In the first place, the noble Earl said that it was impossible to convey to the public more prominently than was done now the reasons why an honour was awarded. He said that it was all the fault of the newspapers, and that these reasons existed in the Prime Minister's pigeon-holes but were not published by the Press. My noble friend said there was the London Gazette. The noble Earl opposite answered that he himself did not read the London Gazette. No doubt he has no time to read it—
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
It is a perfectly adequate answer. The London Gazette is not only not read by myself but it is not ready by anybody, and it is in the Press that you want this public intimation to take place. The information is circulated to the Press. If it is not circulated in sufficient volume, nothing would be easier than to make it more ample in the future.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If my noble friend will make it more ample in the future, so much the better. But I do not agree with him that nobody reads the London Gazette. At any rate, it is published; and if these wonderful reasons exist in the Prime Minister's office, why are they not published in the London Gazette?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Perhaps my noble friend will accept that remedy. Then we pass to the other remedy—namely, that the Prime Minister should assure the Sovereign that to the best of his knowledge and belief no pecuniary consideration had entered into the award of the honour. My noble friend said that the Prime Minister had no cognisance of that. That is true. It is just like my noble and right hon. friends. They carefully avoid knowing too much about it. That is what we want to get rid of. We want to direct the Prime Minister's attention—not this particular Prime Minister; I hope no one will think that I am attacking the present Prime Minister; I am not; I am attacking 208 the system which has grown up under successive Prime Ministers—we want the Prime Minister's attention prominently called to this, and to ensure that he shall make it henceforth part of his business to know whether or not a corrupt pecuniary consideration has entered into the giving of an honour. The Prime Minister himself does not always know the reasons why a man is recommended for an honour, any more than the Sovereign does or any more than does my noble friend opposite. A great list is supplied to him. He may suspect the reasons, but perhaps he does not ask questions and the thing passes. We want to put an end to that. We suggest to the Prime Minister that he should ask questions in the future, and should find out whether as a matter of fact there has been any pecuniary consideration entered into or not.
Then my noble friend says, "You are putting an end to munificence." I should be very sorry to put an end to munificence, but I do not think it is a very good reason why a man should be made a Peer that he has contributed largely even to a charity. But if that is my noble friend's difficulty, I am sure that Lord Selborne and myself and those who are acting with us would be very glad to amend the form of this certificate which we suggest the Prime Minister should give to the Sovereign. We should be very glad to insert the words "Party funds "—that no contribution has been made directly or indirectly to Party funds as the reason for the honour; not that a man should be barred from an honour because he contributes to Party funds, but that the fact that he does so contribute should not be the reason for the honour. My noble friend really agrees with that. Of course he does. A man is not allowed to give a money consideration in order to get an ecclesiastical living. That is called simony, and it is a criminal offence. A man is not allowed to give money in order to get a seat in the other House of Parliament. That is called bribery. Why should he be allowed to give money in order to get a seat in your Lordships' House? That is the question. If a man contributed largely in order to get a seat in the House of Commons, that would be corruption, and he would not be allowed to sit. We say, Let the same principle be applied to your Lordships' House. No man is entitled to give money in order to obtain a position of trust, and this is a position of trust. The membership of your Lordships' House is a great honour 209 but it is also a great obligation, because so long as we exist as a House of Peers we are entrusted with great authority and great power in the legislation of the country, and this position should never be tarnished by a gift of money in order to obtain it. Every single human being must see that that is utterly vile.
We do not say that our remedy is necessarily the best. If the Government have a better remedy, by all means let them propose it. But we say that it is "up to them," if I may use a colloquialism. I will tell your Lordships why I think that our remedy is a good one. We call upon the Prime Minister to give an assurance to the Sovereign that there is no pecuniary consideration. There are no means whatever of enforcing that, except honourable trust in the conduct of the Prime Minister, and it is because we trust to his honour that we believe it would be so effective. If you make a restrictive regulation everybody sets himself to evade it. But if you say that public opinion has pronounced against this kind of thing, and we ask the Prime Minister to give an assurance on his word of honour as a gentleman to his Sovereign that no corrupt pecuniary consideration has affected the recommendation of the honour, then we have a real guarantee and safeguard, because we can trust the Prime Minister. And I need not say that we can trust the King. It is because we believe that this remedy will be a real one that we submit it with confidence to your Lordships' House. As my noble friend (Lord Selborne) has said, this is only a preliminary skirmish. We hope, if we are favoured with your Lordships' support, to return to the matter, probably in the form of a Motion, later on. Then we shall ask for a definite vote of your Lordships' House in favour of some such remedy; and when that moment comes I would beg of my noble friend not to meet us with any attempt to refer to the old days, or to minimise the scandal, or to pick holes in any remedy that may be suggested, but to co-operate with us in purifying our political life, which I am sure he himself would desire.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, after the very peaceful opening of the noble Earl who asked the Question on the Paper, animated apparently by the counsels of the forty Privy Councillors who agree with him, the debate has certainly livened up, and in the last speech we have had a good many hard words. We have heard a great deal 210 about corruption, about the awakened and indignant conscience of the people of this country, about the crystallisation of a pernicious system, and so on. That may or may not be. Personally I find myself very much more in agreement with the noble Earl the Leader of the House and with what Lord Crewe said on the previous occasion than with anything that has fallen either from the noble Marquess who has just addressed us, although I pay tribute to the weight of his observations, or from the noble Earl, Lord Selborne.
But Lord Beresford seemed sorry that no one who had filled the office of Whip in this House had had anything to say in the debate about this alleged custom of the sale of honours. I was a Whip here for about ten years. The unfortunate thing in the House of Lords—though I admit that this is to some extent a point in your favour—is that the Whips here are held in curiously small regard. The important man, no doubt, is the Patronage Secretary in the House of Commons; and this to some extent, I think, is an evidence that Party funds must have something to do with the matter. It would be perfectly hopeless to approach any individual in the House of Lords, particularly in the days of democratic England, on any subject of this sort. It would be sheer waste of time. I remember that on the last occasion I did tell rather a long story, which I certainly will not repeat, about a gentleman who came to see me about getting something. But in the ten years during which I was a Whip, only twice was I directly approached with a view to anything important being done on anything like the scale on which Lord Salisbury seems to believe that things of this kind proceed. That may not be good evidence, but that is my experience. As I say, I personally think that the noble Earl, Lord Curzon, is not very far from the mark, for although I was in some sort of position to approach important people with suggestions of this kind, in all those years I was only twice approached. Therefore I think there is a great deal of exaggeration about the whole of this matter.
I come now to words. Lord Salisbury said just now that the noble Earl (Lord Curzon) had swept away certain points with a light touch of ridicule. But I think he was made uncomfortable by the reply of Lord Curzon. As I understand it, Lord Salisbury's suggestion is to mitigate considerably provision No. 2. He said, in effect, 211 " If you can suggest any words to make it more acceptable, or less stringent, we and some forty Privy Councillors will be very glad to consider them." I believe it is very much a question of words. I will take two words in the second provision—the word "payment" and the word "indirectly." "Payment" is a difficult word to define exactly in a connection of this sort. It is true that if I pay a guard half-a-crown not to scrutinise my ticket too closely, that is a wrong payment to make; but if I pay for a luncheon basket what I am asked to pay, that is a perfectly legitimate payment. Let us keep in our minds that the question depends on whether it is the right or the wrong sort of payment. I know that the noble Earl puts "payment" in provision No. 2 because he is animated by his fear of a scandit fatalis machina muros state of things from which we are supposed to be suffering—namely, that every payment of this sort must be of a criminal kind. Further, the noble Marquess seems to think that it must be of a corrupt kind. But it is clear that it need not be either. Then the noble Earl used the words "directly or indirectly." I agree with the noble Earl who leads the House that if you have the word "indirectly" plus "payment" without any sort of qualification, you will not reach a condition where honours cannot be bought, but you will reach a condition where honours cannot be given; whereas the whole brief of noble Lords opposite is that they think honours ought to be given although they are much upset by the kind of reasons which are supposed to animate the bestowal of honours.
I am unrepentant in the matter. I agree with Lord Crewe that there have been great improvements. I think that Party Government is a useful thing. I also believe that as long as you have Party Government you must have Party funds; and I further 212 think that as long as you have Party politicians you must have some incentive to encourage them to fight expensive elections. I should certainly view provision No. 2 with less apprehension if you struck out the word "indirectly" and if you found some kind of definition so that the word "payment" did not include a benefaction to a hospital or the foundation of a scholarship. At present all payments are put in the same category. According to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, all payments which could involve an honour are criminal if not corrupt, and that is the position in which, as it seems to me, the second provision leaves the House.