§ Order of the Day for the Second Heading read.
My Lords, it is now my privilege to move the Second Reading of this Bill for making provision for the appointment of Peers of Parliament for life, and I would ask you to bear with me a little while I give a brief historical account of the form in which this question has been brought before the House on former occasions, and the way it has been treated on such occasions. I do not deny that the principle of the appointment of Life Peers has aroused considerable controversy in your Lordships' House in the past, but I will show you in the course of my remarks that that principle has been actually accepted by a Select Committee of this House, and that it has received the support of some of the most distinguished members of your Lordships' House over a period of seventy years. I do not think that I need weary you by traversing the early history of this question, because there was a good deal of uncertainty in the earlier centuries with regard to the creation of these Peers; but there is no doubt that between the years 1295 and 1485 Life Peers were created and summoned to your Lordships' House. Two Life Baronies were created in the 17th century, those of Lord Hay in 1606 and Lord Reede in 1644. In both cases it was provided that the bearers of the titles should not sit or vote in the House of Lords. So it seems useless to rely upon what one might call Cromwellian authority as to the creation of Life Peers. Since the reign of William III the practice has been quite conventional and there is no case or example of the creation of a Life Peer to this House since that Sovereign reigned.
Coming to a more modern era, I find that the matter came up very definitely in the year 1856, when the Government of the day attempted to strengthen the judicial capacity of your Lordships' House by making Sir James Parke, who was then over 80 years of age and had no heir, a Life Peer. The members of your Lordships' House at that time resisted this proposal, chiefly on the ground that they were in favour of maintaining what is called the ennoblement of the blood. In any case the proposal was not passed, and Sir James Parke became 1166 Lord Wensleydale with full hereditary privileges. But a controversy had been aroused as the result of that debate which would not be stilled. Out of it grew a further debate in the same year when a Bill was introduced to create two Law Lords; but it did not pass. It is interesting to note, however, that in 1876, under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act of that year, two Law Lords could be created. That Act was amended by a further Act in 1913 which enabled the creation of six Law Lords, who would have the right to sit for life and vote in your Lordships' House.
I should like to refer to certain remarks made by a very distinguished member of the House at that time, Lord Palmerston, in the course of the debate in 1856. He said:—There can be no doubt that the House of Lords would derive great influence and consideration in the country if there were the menus of placing within its limits men who had distinguished themselves either by their legal attainments or by great military or naval achievement, but who, not having that fortune which would enable them to transmit to their descendants the means adequately to maintain the dignity of the Peerage, would be placed in an improper and, to themselves, a painful situation by being made hereditary Peers.That was an expression of opinion in 1856, over seventy years ago. Subsequently, in 1869, Lord Russell, the author of the Reform Bill, introduced a Bill to provide for 28 Life Peerages with not more than four creations per annum. That Bill was supported by Lord Salisbury, the father of the distinguished Leader of the House to-day, on the ground that the Bill would make the House more representative. It was supported also by Lord Derby on the ground that the House was composed too exclusively of landed proprietors. The Bill, however, did not pass. In 1888 Lord Salisbury, who by that time had become Prime Minister and Leader of your Lordships' House, introduced a Bill providing for Life Peerages; but this Bill was also dropped.
Coming to still more recent times, I find that in 1907 my noble friend Lord Newton introduced what I may call an omnibus Bill dealing with the reform of the House of Lords, which included a provision for the creation of Life Peers to a number not exceeding 100. That Bill was remitted to a Select Committee, and it is extremely interesting to note 1167 that the Select Committee appointed by your Lordships' House recommended, amongst other things, the creation of Life Peers to a number not exceeding forty, with not more than four creations per annum. Nothing happened on the Report of that Select Committee, and I cannot find any other trace of reference to Life Peers until we come to the Resolution moved by my noble friend Lord Clarendon last December, which included the creation of Life Peers. As is well within the recollection of your Lordships, only the first part of that Resolution was passed, and the second part, which contained the detailed proposals, was not pressed to a Division. Consequently, we do not know whether the House, in this more recent era, is in favour of Life Peers. Upon that Resolution no debate took place in connection with the creation of Life Peers.
I think I have told your Lordships enough to show the many vicissitudes through which this question of Life Peers has passed over a period of practically eight centuries, and also I have told you enough to indicate that this Bill contains no new principle but that it contains a principle which has been discussed over and over again in your Lordships' House and has actually received acceptance by a Select Committee of this House within the past twenty years. Whilst I make no excuse therefore for introducing this Bill, I should have been happier had it been fathered by the Government of the day, because I believe that any amendment to our constitution, any constitutional change, however small, ought to be introduced and fathered by the Government. I would, however, point to the Resolutions which have been brought within this Parliament before your Lordships' House with the object of reforming this House which have likewise been introduced by private members, the reason being that the Government have not thought fit to introduce a measure of reform themselves. Therefore, those of us who believe that a measure of reform of this House is necessary and ought to be proceeded with have no option but to introduce Resolutions and to move the introduction and Readings of Bills such as the one I present to-day.
1168 To turn to the Bill itself, as your Lordships will observe it is a short three-clause Bill containing two provisos. First of all, I should like to point out that this Bill in no way interferes with the existing Prerogative of His Majesty to appoint hereditary Peers. So far as the principal object of the Bill is concerned, it will permit of the introduction into this House of individuals who, for various good reasons, would be embarrassed by taking an hereditary Peerage, but who otherwise would be eminently fitted to sit in your Lordships' House owing to distinguished public services here and overseas, or to long experience in the House of Commons, the Army, the Navy or other professions, or in business or science and so on. Again, I would like to suggest that it would give the opportunity to appoint to this House distinguished statesmen of the Dominions who might be resident over here and whose services in this House would be most valuable from their intimate connection with the Dominions and Dominion affairs. I think at this time, when our whole life and interests are bound up with the Empire and its development, it is most important that we should in this Second Chamber have representatives of those Dominions who can give us at first hand their knowledge and experience and information on conditions existing in the Dominions. This Bill would secure to the nation those invaluable services which we are losing to-day. I think, also, that this House would receive an accession of individuals who would add lustre to it and distinction to its debates.
With regard to the proviso in Clause 1 (a) of the Bill, this provides for the limitation of numbers to 25 in any one Parliament. I have inserted this proviso with the object of preventing the swamping of your Lordships' House by the creation of Life Peers. It is obvious that it would be much more easy to swamp this House by the creation of Life Peers than it would be by the creation of hereditary Peers. The actual number, 25, is an arbitrary number which could be changed if the House so desired. This number would enable the Government of the day to deal with the cases I have just enumerated, and it would also enable an adjustment of the numbers in this House so far as Parties are concerned. Looking to the Opposi- 1169 tion Bench, if the Government were so unfortunate, after the General Election, as not to return to power and it should happen that there was a Labour Government in office, then I believe that this Bill, if it were passed, would be very useful to that Government, for it would enable them to strengthen their numbers and to make a more representative appearance in this House than they are able to do to-day.
The second proviso in Clause 1 says:—No persons shall be so appointed in pursuance of this Act until two calendar months have elapsed alter the beginning of a Parliament.There is growing up in this country a form, of politics which one might almost call European, in which three or four Parties contest Elections, with the result that after the General Election it is quite likely we may have a stalemate; in fact, stalemates may continue for several General Elections. If that is the case, this proviso will prevent a Government which is in for a very short time taking advantage of this Bill, creating 25 Peers (or whatever the number may be) and then leaving the next Government no opportunity to exercise any of the privileges conferred by the Bill. I do not feel very strongly about this particular proviso, but I have put it down for the reason that it deals with a contingency which possibly ought to be provided against.
I wish to add this. I have not introduced this. Bill as part of any large measure of reform. I am introducing it, and I am asking your Lordships' House to accept it, as a simple measure by itself which present-day conditions demand and for which I believe the country is ready. I admit that like my noble friend the Earl of Midleton I am in favour of a larger measure of reform than is contained in this Bill, I only wish that I could persuade him to support this Bill and not to use all his eloquence and influence in order to delay this Bill, because I believe that on this subject of reform it is extremely difficult to find, and in fact it is very unlikely that we shall ever find, that unanimity of opinion which is necessary in order to secure that larger measure.
Besides, I venture to believe that the foundation of any reform of this House in its capacity of the Second Chamber of the State cannot be upon a popularly 1170 elected basis or even upon a partially elected basis, I am of opinion that with a Constitution such as ours a popularly elected Second Chamber or a partially elected Second Chamber is bound sooner or later to clash and conflict with another place. So I believe that a simple solution of this problem could be found by the selection of a certain number of hereditary Peers from this Chamber and by the appointment on the other side of a limited number of Life Peers. It is because of this that I believe that in this Bill for the creation of Life Peers is to be found the real living germ of reform of this House, and if your Lordships were to pass this Bill and it were to be placed upon the Statute Book, I believe that out of it would grow that larger measure of reform which so many of us desire and for which the country is looking. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Viscount Elibank.)
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON had given Notice to move, as an Amendment, That this House, while welcoming proposals for broadening the constitution of the House, declines to proceed with any measure which does not deal with the general question of reform which this House has twice during the present Parliament advocated as urgent. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am sure my noble friend needed to make no apology for re-introducing a question which has been so often before your Lordships and which according to his résumé of what has passed has obtained on so many occasions the primary approval of this House. As one of those who have tried to induce this House to move in a much more vigorous manner on this subject I welcome any effort such as he has made to remind your Lordships that this question is still unsettled, but at the same time I hope my noble friend will not think I am speaking with any disrespect of his Bill, or of his effort, if I very briefly give reasons which mike me feel that a proposal so often supported in this House is, as it stands by itself, now entirely out of date.
§ I think the last occasion he mentioned was 1907. That twenty-two years ago. Even twenty-two years ago there was a distribution in this House the inequalities of which would have been redressed 1171 to a considerable degree by his Bill. But it was then a question of a Conservative Government winning a Division by 60 or 70. Look at the position now. We have 700 Peers. You have seven gentlemen sitting on that Bench opposite. What would have been a really valuable reform twenty-five or thirty years ago would not be even a palliative of the present situation. To make twenty-five life Peers in order to redress a majority which is counted by hundreds would really be like Mrs. Partington's mop against the Atlantic. If we are going to do anything we must go much further.
§ I want, if my noble friend will allow me, to point out that his Bill as framed does not really carry out the reform he desires to see. In the first place, as I have already said, it does not redress, except in the most meagre degree, the great inequalities of representation of the different Parties. Secondly, it does not meet what I understand is a strongly held opinion among a great number of Labour members, that if they sat in this House as the Second Chamber they ought not to have to adopt the title or position of Peers. There are many who would not care to be brought in under that designation, and in the proposals of my noble friend the Earl of Clarendon it was directly laid down that those who, in accord with the strength of Parties in the House of Commons, might be added to this House for one Parliament, would put "Lord of Parliament" after their names just as a member of the Lower House puts "Member of Parliament" after his name, but they would not necessarily be Peers.
§ My noble friend provides in his Bill that the Government may make twenty-five Life Peers, but he has included a proviso the effect of which I think ought to be considered. If, and when, the Leader of the Labour Party goes to His Majesty to take up office the first thing he will have to consider is how his Government can be represented in this House. There should be some machinery by which he can, at all events, have members who can answer for the different Departments. That is obviously fair. But my noble friend, in order to avoid another difficulty, puts off this power to make Life Peers for two months. Therefore, it would be quite impossible for the Leader of the Labour Party when forming his Government to take advantage of 1172 this provision in order to fill places in his Government which he is bound to fill. There is a third point of a more general character, and that is the question whether, when this House has by a very large majority on my noble friend Viscount FitzAlan's Motion, and by a sufficient majority considering the circumstances on the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Clarendon, expressed desire for very broad reforms, to take one single point and deal with it is the way to salve the conscience, the extremely sensitive conscience, of my noble friends below me who are unwilling to face a perfectly obvious difficulty which, not unlikely, will in a few months result through their inaction, which they may bitterly have to rue.
§ Let us look at the present position. I do not want to pose as a prophet of woe, but I think that anybody can see that the position is a critical one. The noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, has mentioned the strange position in which we may be placed if, owing to there being three Parties at the General Election, the Labour Party finds itself in a minority in respect of 100 or 200 seats, but having the representation. In such case we may have, what has never been known in this country before, for five years government by a minority, as regards which there is no possible redress except by the action of this House. I know that my noble friend Lord Salisbury, who has fought for this House on every occasion, is well aware of this difficulty, and I am going to ask your Lordships to remember that if and when the Government is carried on in the House of Commons by a Party which, while representing the seats, under present conditions is yet in a minority of the electors in the country, the tax upon this House will be infinitely greater, and the country will look to this House to supply some of the opinion which the majority in the country hold. Is this House well equipped to do so at the present time? Will any man, woman or child in the country say that a House in which the reigning Party, in a majority in the House of Commons, have perhaps only half a dozen representatives, is really a proper assembly to revise and check what has been done in the House of Commons? It is impossible.
§ There is another point of view from which we have to look at it. This 1173 House, I say it with great regret, has been atrophied by the manner in which it has been treated by successive Governments. Business comes up at the end of the Session, to be hurried over as rapidly as possible, and a complaint, made from those Benches, that this House during a Conservative Administration is simply a registry office, is one which I myself would not dispute. There is another point. The attendance at this House has completely fallen off. If you look at the attendance in the 'seventies, when there were 300 fewer Peers, you will find that there were more in attendance then on an ordinary debate than to-day. We had a Division last night on the greatest measure that the Government have brought forward, and less than one-fifth of the members of the House were present. If you will look at the list you will see that out of those who have the great privilege of taking their seats here, something like 140 have not taken the trouble even to take the oath in the course of the five Sessions that we have been sitting in this Parliament. I think I am Justified in saying that this represents a House which has been atrophied by the policy of successive Governments.
§ Surely there are two things which we may deduce from that. The first is that the authority of this House, in the contingency of government by a majority in the House of Commons who yet represent a minority in the country, would be very difficult to sustain. The second is that this House must undergo some considerable modification, and that if that modification is undertaken at a time of great national feeling, it will certainly be done on lines which are not likely to remember the traditions of this House, which we all desire to maintain. Therefore I would urge my noble friend not to press this particular proposal on this occasion. If he does so, after the measures to which so many Governments have given the go-by, after months of labour by Committees—one by Lord Rosebery, one by Lord Bryce and one brought in by Lord Lansdowne than whom no man had more power as Leader of the Unionist Party in this House: all three have been shelved and put aside—I cannot imagine anything more likely to occasion a further delay than that my noble friend should take what is one comparatively small point, as compared 1174 with what it is really necessary to do if this House is to become, as it should become, a really revising chamber, which is not only impartial in fact but has behind it the confidence of the people in its impartiality. I beg to move the Motion on the Paper in my name.
Leave out all words after ("That") and insert ("this House, while welcoming proposals for broadening the constitution of the House, declines to proceed with any measure which does not deal with the general question of Reform which this House has twice during the present Parliament advocated as urgent.").—(The Earl of Midleton.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I only desire to say a very few words. Personally I wish to express my entire concurrence in what has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Midleton. I have rarely heard a speech with which I have been more in agreement from the first word to the last. Therefore I do not propose to cover the ground which I think he has completely covered. I do, however, desire to say this, that I shall oppose this measure, and every other measure brought forward for the reform of this House, unless it provides for the remedy of what I regard as a gross injustice—namely, the exclusion of women from having any opportunity of sharing in your Lordships' deliberations. From time to time t has been solemnly promised that if this House is reformed that opportunity should be afforded, and into every one of the deliberate schemes put forward there has been a possibility of women being introduced. This Bill not only excludes them, but expressly provides that the only people to be added are male persons. If only for that reason I object to the Bill, but there are other and more formidable reasons, which have been brought forward by Lord Midleton.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I would like to say a word as regards the Bill. It is impossible to expect, I am afraid, that a Bill brought forward in this way by a private member is likely to form the foundation of a true reform of this House. Personally, I sympathise a good deal with the view of the noble Viscount, that one of the ways, at any rate, in which reform of this House might be approached is by a larger number of what I may call nominated 1175 members. I entirely agree with what the noble Earl said, that you do not want to make this House in its representative capacity a rival of the representation in the House of Commons, but if you do not have either an elective or an hereditary principle, nomination in some form is the only other road of approach that I can see towards a reform of this House.
With regard to one point to which the noble Earl referred, although I agreed with a good deal of his speech, surely at the present time the Government which is in power is in a minority in the country. That is a matter which occurs from time to time, and which I think has been rather largely prominent during the last five years. At the same time we have to remember that while there is a majority for the present Government in the House of Commons—a considerable majority—really we have in this country single-chamber government. My noble friend Lord Hunsdon has more than once protested against that position. It is a position in which no Second Chamber ought to be left. As to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Buckmaster, the wording of the Bill says that Life Peers shall be male persons. That is an archaism nowadays. In any reform of this House men and women should stand on an equal basis as they do at present in the House of Commons. I do not think it is necessary to say more because proposals brought forward in this way cannot make any real progress towards acceptance at the present time.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I gather that it is not your wish that this debate should be prolonged and I, for one, shall not contribute at any great length towards detaining your Lordships this afternoon. A few words are due as to the position of the Government and of myself. I do not know whether my noble friend who made that excellent speech, the mover of this Bill, intends to press it to a Division. If he does, he will not be surprised, of course, having regard to the action which the Government took in December, if they do not as a Government take any part in the decision which the House may come to in that Division. As your Lordships will remember, in December 1176 we stated that we were not prepared to commit the Government in any way in respect of the details of House of Lords reform when there was no prospect of carrying through legislation which might represent definite steps in that direction. Therefore, upon that occasion the Government abstained as a Government from any part in the Division. That course, which was a good deal criticised at the time, was undoubtedly very unusual and I do not think it can be repeated. Therefore, there will be no question of the whole Government abstaining. It remains true, that we do not propose on this question to act as a Government and that, so far as we are concerned, the question is a completely open one on which we would not suggest either to noble Lords who support us in this House or to noble Lords who sit on this Bench that they should vote one way rather than another.
Personally, if my noble friend Lord Elibank goes to a Division, I shall be obliged to vote with my noble friend Lord Midleton. I shall do so with considerable regret because I have always been in favour of the creation of Life Peers as one of the elements in House of Lords reform, as indeed are my noble friends who sit behind me and who were responsible for the debate of last December. It is a very old remedy and, if your Lordships will permit the juxtaposition of the phrase, I may almost claim an hereditary interest in it because a proposal to this effect was introduced by my father many years ago. I am satisfied that what has been said this afternoon is perfectly true, that no measure of this sort ought to be passed except at the instance of the Government, and, as I have explained, owing to the want of time and feeling in the House of Commons, there is no opportunity for the Government upon the present occasion. Of course, if a Government, whether this Government or any other, brought it forward and that was the only crumb of House of Lords reform that was possible, I personally should support it on the ground that half a loaf or very much less than half a loaf, a very small crust, is better than no bread. My noble friend Lord Midleton is right in saying that to try to carry such a Bill now and to adhere to such a Bill now on behalf of the Government would prejudice the larger 1177 scheme of reform to which so many of us look forward. That would be a pity and personally it is a responsibility I would not like to incur. Therefore, if nay noble friend goes to a Division I shall be obliged to vote for the Amendment.
I confess that I approach this question with a feeling of considerable dismay. I do not think any of us, to whichever House or Party we belong, can view with satisfaction the attitude of our countrymen towards the Parliamentary institutions under which they are governed. There is a loss of confidence in the country in its Parliamentary institutions. That is a most deplorable thing. It seems as if the great days of Parliamentary institutions were passing by or had passed by. Of course, it is very evident in a foreign country and in a very extreme form. We only have to look abroad to see that the old belief in the representative principles as patented by Great Britain and as spread throughout the civilised world, has lost a great deal of the strength which it used to have and has been abandoned in many countries not far from these shores. Even in our own country, though of course there is no such point of view favoured here, there is a loss of confidence. People look at the Lords and at the Commons and it must be admitted that they have not the same respect for either the one or the other that they used to have fifty years ago when I began my political life. That is a very formidable thing.
Your Lordships' House has its great merits and I am the last man to underrate them, but the apathy to which my noble friend Lord Midleton called attention cannot be denied. The want of interest which many noble Lords take in our proceedings cannot be denied. It is due to a great variety of causes—partly to the changed circumstances, and partly, if I may be brutal, to the change of financial circumstances in which many noble Lords stand. They are no longer free to spend as much time in the public service as their fathers were in happier times. But, of course, I do not attribute the loss of interest only to the social and financial circumstances of noble Lords. I shall not command general assent in what I am going to say, but I attribute a great deal of the loss of interest to the passage of the Parliament 1178 Act. I believe that the announcement on behalf of the country—because that is what it came to—that the country no longer trusted the House of Lords to the extent to which it had trusted it before was a fatal step, and that it was very unlikely that noble Lords who respect themselves would feel as much interest in their functions after the passage of that Act as they did before. Noble Lords there [on the Liberal Benches] are responsible for all that. We, at any rate many of us, have no responsibility for it whatever. We did our utmost to resist, and if our advice had been followed we should have resisted it to the very end; but we were over-ruled.
That is the Lords. But may I very respectfully look at the House of Commons. No one can pretend that the House of Commons enjoys the same respect as it formerly did. It is not appropriate for a member of your Lordships' House to criticise what takes place in the House of Commons, but it is difficult to believe that the limitations under which they have to transact their business are really satisfactory for a great deliberative assembly. It is, indeed, the fact that many of the provisions of Bills come up to your Lordships' House without having been discussed in the House of Commons at all. I cannot say that I am surprised at the alteration in the public feeling in respect of the House of Commons. It is a very formidable result, I say, that whether the public look at the Lords or look at the Commons they cannot look at them with the same respect and satisfaction as they did formerly.
But there is this difference between the two Houses, that we are anxious for some measure of reform. I am not aware that an analogous attitude prevails in another place. We are anxious for some measure of reform, but we are not allowed to do it. That is the great difference. My noble friend behind me and his friends in the debates of last December did their utmost, but everybody knows that whether the proposals proceeded from the Government, as they did in 1927, or from private members of your Lordships' House, as they did in 1928, there were no means of getting the House of Commons to consider them. The younger members of the House of Commons—younger, perhaps, much more in experience than in years—have a great 1179 responsibility. They prevented the proper consideration of the late Lord Cave's Resolutions when they were brought before that House, and the times are very critical. I must say I reecho with all the emphasis I can the words of warning which my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer uttered at the Queen's Hall a few days ago, when he enumerated as one of the handicaps under which this country stands in comparison with other countries the fact that it has no strong Second Chamber.
The responsibility, then, of the members of the House of Commons is very great. I wonder whether they feel as happy to-day in the attitude which was taken in 1927 as they did then. Those were great days, when there was a great confidence in the future fortunes of the Unionist Party. Well, I believe, as my right hon. friend does, in the good sense of the British people, and I think that, notwithstanding certain adverse circumstances, the General Election will result favourably for the Party to which I belong. But undoubtedly the prospect is not so obviously favourable as it was. I wonder what the younger members of the House of Commons think about it now? Is it another history of missed opportunities? When the time was favourable, when there was an opportunity of reforming your Lordships' House, that opportunity was allowed to go by. I repeat that I cannot contemplate the situation with complete equanimity. I earnestly hope—not, perhaps, in regard to the Bill of my noble friend, but in regard to other proposals which hereafter may be submitted to the House, a better history may result, and that we may look forward to a time not far distant when your Lordships' House and its constitution may be placed upon a better footing, more worthy and more able to perform the high function with which the country would entrust this House.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I had no intention in joining in the debate, but I can hardly allow some of the remarks made by the noble Marquess to pass by without one or two words of comment. I certainly shall not join with him in the words of criticism which he applied to another place and the question as to whether it has, or has not, lost some of its influence in the country to-day. I 1180 would rather confine myself to his remarks upon the subject of the reform of this House. If, indeed, this House no longer enjoys the same influence, in the country to-day, the noble Marquess is of opinion that it is due to the passage of the Parliament Act. My opinion is that it was due to the causes which led to the Parliament Act, and not to the passage of the Parliament Act itself.
But I am certainly going to be as brief as possible, because there is an important measure later on the Order Paper, standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Buckmaster, for which I imagine your Lordships would like to have plenty of time for discussion. Two other observations only I would venture to make. The first is that, if the noble Marquess is anxious to see some reform against possible dangers in the future, I think that the proper course would have been so to reform the electoral system in this country as to give everybody in this country some chance of being properly represented in another place. It would have been far better to have amended our antiquated system, which, good enough as it may have been when there were only two Parties in the State, is out of date when there are three Parties in the State. A reform in that direction might have gone far to allay the fears which he expressed.
And, lastly, I would venture to say that the admonition which he addressed to the younger Conservative members in another place naturally leaves us on these Benches perfectly cold. It does not matter to us very much what line they took, but I think we are entitled to say that His Majesty's Government had it in their power at any time in the last four years to make the reform of this Chamber the first and most prominent feature of their progamme for the Session. It was in their power to do so, and they might have done it. Other measures might perfectly well have been delayed while some measure that they thought desirable for the reform of this House was introduced. They did not do that. They postponed for some considerable time the introduction of the reforms associated with the name of the late Lord Cave. They were not introduced by any means at the beginning of the Parliament. Even then, I cannot understand why they were so much discouraged as to refuse entirely to accept any responsi- 1181 bility for a further measure with regard to the reform of your Lordships' House. It was always within their competence as a Government, and I should have thought, in view of the strict promise which they made that the matter should be dealt with within the lifetime of the present Parliament, they ought to have taken further steps in that direction.
It is perfectly possible that further measures (or that a measure) for the reform of your Lordships' House will be proposed in the course of the next few years. Whether they will be more drastic than will appeal to the noble Marquess or not I am not sure. Probably they will be, and then he will have this further cause to regret the fact that his Government, the Government with which he is connected, did not introduce during the present Parliament some measure for the reform of your Lordships' House.
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, before the Question is put I should like to say one or two words with regard to the extraordinary speech, if I may say so, of the noble Marquess who leads the House. I re-echo what has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, in protesting against, the attack—for that is what it was—which the noble Marquess made upon the House of Commons. I do not agree myself with his estimate of the view which the people of the country have of the House of Commons to-day; but if it is right in any sense, I believe the responsibility for that state of things rests almost entirely upon the present Government which, during its term of office, has done much to degrade the House of Commons, and certainly in very many ways it has done a great deal to lessen interest in Parliamentary proceedings. That cannot be denied.
The noble Marquess is always very ready to blame everybody but himself and his own Government. The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, dealt with that point. Surely we could not have a greater travesty of the actual facts with regard to the rejection in another place of the so-called reform proposals of your Lordships' House than the noble Marquess put forward. The blame, if blame there be—I do not think there was blame—rested with the followers of the noble Marquess in another place. Therefore, he not merely attacked the House of Commons but he attacked his own 1182 Party there. The fact is that the proposals put forward were so indefensible, so out of date, that even The Times in a leader strongly animadverted at any rate upon certain features of them, and the members of all Parties in another place were not prepared to entertain them. That is a perfectly simple statement of fact, and if we do wish to have a true perspective of the case put in the speech of the noble Marquess I believe I have stated the facts correctly. I will conclude by saying that I was unable to find any close connection, indeed I was unable to find any but a very slight relation between the remarks of the noble Marquess and the business before the House, which is, after all, a Bill for the creation of Life Peers. As regards that I will not speak now. My noble and learned Leader has said something upon it, and I will leave the matter there at any rate for the time being.
With the courtesy of your Lordships' House I should like to say a few words. It seems that the sense of the House is that this Bill should not be proceeded with to-day. If that is the sense of the House, and I gather it is in all quarters and Parties, I have no intention of pressing the Motion to a Division, so I, therefore, ask leave of your Lordships to withdraw it.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, I do not think it would be desirable to ask the House to proceed with an Amendment upon a Motion which the mover, the noble Viscount, wishes to withdraw.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.