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THE HOUSE OF LORDS.
“Nothing in the history of our constitu- it were possible, to maintain the House of tion," says Sir Erskine May, “is more Lords as a second Chamber for Great remarkable than the permanence of
every Britain, without considerable modificainstitution forming part of the Government tions in the constitution of that legislative of the country, while undergoing con- body';” while Lord Granville said at tinual and often extraordinary changes Manchester, in the autumn of last year, in its powers, privileges, and influence.” “Without dwelling upon the extremely difAgain : “ No institution has undergone ficult task, even if you wish it, of abolish greater changes than the House of ing the House of Lords, I must say that Lords.” “In its numbers, its composition until better-digested plans for its aboliand its influence, it is difficult to recog- tion are put forward, I for one strongly nize its identity with the Great Council and vehemently protest.” And in the of a former age. But the changes which same speech, alluding to the opposition of it has undergone have served to bring the Conservative majority to most Liberal this great institution into harmony with measures, he speaks of his opponents as in other parts of the constitution, and with most cases . . . “much too statesmanlike the social condition of the people.” The to use the House of Lords as an instrument Reform Bill of 1832 affected the Peers of obstruction, using it as an instrument almost as much as it did the Commons. which they would break if they carried its The Reform Bill of 1867 has transferred
use too far.”
And Lord Derby said the chief control of the elections from one at Liverpool, “As to the House of class to another; and when the Ballot Lords, I am very far from saying that has been in use a few years, we shall pro- it is perfect, or that we could not do bably find the House of Commons greatly something to improve and strengthen it. affected by the transfer of power already ... While I should object to an unlimited made from the middle class to the rapidly creation of peerages for life, I see organizing wages class. But no recent harm, and some advantage, in a limited change has been made in the House of nun.lc: of peerages of that class.” Lords. That some improvement in that When the leader of the Radical party august assembly is deemed necessary and the most thoughtful essayist of the and is near at hand is evident: the press day are found advocating modifications in and the magazines have the subject in a great institution like the House of Lords, hand; a conference has been held on and when the leader of each of the two this most important matter, which failed great parties which compose that institubecause while very few men are satisfied tion, devotes a considerable portion of a with the present constitution and position speech to the question upon which the of the Upper Chamber, still fewer wish active politician and the tboughtful writer to hand over the entire government of say modification is essential, we may safely the country to the House of Commons. conclude that action of some kind will not
Not only has Mr. Bright said “that be long postponed. such an institution must in the course of The Peers of Great Britain can bear time require essential modification," but comparison with the members of any Mr. Arthur Helps, who perhaps knows legislative assembly in the world. We as much as any man of “the hidden are proud of our House of Commons, life” that goes to make up Government, and not without reason ; for, although has in his most interesting, useful, and many candidates pay heavily— within admirable Thoughts on Government, said, legal limits—for admission into the “I confess, that I think it is impossible, House, not a breath of scandal has been or, at least, that it would be very unwise, if heard, in recent days, as to payment,
bribery, or corruption within the House think that he will be satisfied that my proitself, or connected with its public busi- position is fairly made out, that in every ness. We have purged the country from personal and individual particular the Peers the open and wholesale purchase and sale can hold their own against the members of of boroughs and counties, and have the other House. Take, then, the Peers happily arrived at a state of affairs exactly of the Realm, take both sides of their opposite to that of a century or less past, House, regard them from a national, not when “representatives holding their seats merely from a party point of view, and comby a general system of corruption could pare them with the members of the House scarcely fail to be themselves corrupt.” of Commons in the following particulars:
Some few members may hardly be Take the statesmen, form an imaginary thought worthy, in public estimation, of a cabinet from both sides of each House; seat, but some constituency judges them surely the Upper House does not lose to be fit and proper men; and, take the by the comparison. Whether we regard House all in all —not forgetting that there actual experience, administrative capacity, are a few men who would add greatly to the power of expression, mastery of details, strength of the House, who cannot now minuteness of observation, local knowledge, obtain seats, and not forgetting that a interest in the poorer classes, or whether we redistribution of seats, a considerable re- take their powers of management, knowduction in the cost of elections, and the ledge of the law, intimacy with official life, payment of such costs by the electors, their integrity, moral excellence, eloquence, are greatly to be desired—yet take the or patriotism, may we not fairly say, with House all in all, we may happily say the two lists written down side by side, that that for common sense, political prudence, the Peers lose nothing by the comparison ? and sterling honesty, our House of And apply the same principle to the folCommons is second to no representative lowing subjects, in every case selecting body in the world. While maintaining the best men in each House:-Arms, both this position, I also maintain that in spite naval and military; diplomacy; authorship; of the disadvantages under which an scientific, classical, mathematical, legal and hereditary legislative assembly must artistic knowledge ; philanthropy; colonial labour, our House of Lords
and Indian government, militia, yeomanry every personal and individual particular
and volunteer command. If in some of stand comparison with the House of these subjects we find the Commons beatCommons. I believe that in whatever ing the Lords, in others we arrive at point of view we regard the Peers of this an opposite result; and when we bear realm, we may regard them with honest in mind that the chief motives which pride and patriotic satisfaction. It is not induce most Commoners to work at school, for me to mention individual names. I at college, or at the professions—the amhave neither knowledge enough, nor desire
bition to create a name, the necessity of to do so; I should insert names that making a livelihood or a fortune--are might weaken my argument, I should
1 A great debate in the House of Lords is omit others that would strengthen it. But worth attending. Nothing conveys so well let any person of ordinary observation the idea of England's greatness and grandeur ; follow the debates, keep himself fairly the speeches, all of the highest calibre, are con acquainted with current literature, move
tinued throughout the evening with an inde
pendence and power that contrasts inost about the United Kingdom, and go through favourably with a great debate in the House life with his eyes and ears open, and I of Commons, which consists--for the most
part-of one or two speeches from leaders in 1 While this is going through the press, the the early part of the evening, a number of expenses of the successful and unsuccessful addresses of inferior power delivered to empty candidates for East Surrey are published : Mr. benches and absent constituents during the Watney's being 6,0081. 2s. 2d. ; Mr. Leveson dinner hour, wound up by one or two more Gower's, 3,3091, 16s, 9d. And Dover-Soli- speeches late at night, which tend to recall citor-General, 1,9531. 14s. 10d.; and Mr. Bar- England's power, and which render the scene nett, unsuccessful, 2,6771. 119.! These terrible not inferior in interest to that in the House of charges are legal, but surely not right.
Lords throughout the evening.
almost entirely wanting to the Peers, for an office which his younger brother, we shall estimate more fairly the credit being a member of the House of Comand honour due to these honourable and mons, might hold, and that an hereditary favoured men, the highest in rank, and noble, who has probably been carefully first in dignity, of the most favoured trained with regard to the position he will nation of the world.
occupy in life, should not be eligible, If this be true, why is it that men are before he is thirty, to hold an office in discussing with grave and serious mien the which he would be the second in command, question of reform, the still more grave and with a veteran of experience his immeserious question of the abolition of the diate superior; at which age a clergyman House of Lords ? I think it is mainly due is eligible for consecration as bishop, and to the different manner in which the Houses the charge of diocese. “ Almost all do their work ; and I further think that a rules are bad which tend to limit the few simple modifications would, if made choice of men for employments of any in time, restore the confidence of many kind. Any rule, for instance, about that have lost some of their trust in the excess of age is injudicious.” Does not House of Lords, and would go far to this sound principle clash with suggestion create confidence in the minds of many of No. 3? the recently enfranchised who have lately With one more quotation from Mr. begun to take an interest in politics, and Helps' Thoughts on Government, I venwho have unfortunately commenced their ture to make my suggestions : “It is political lives with a creed in which a always a most difficult thing for a reformer prominent place is assigned to the belief who perceives that a reform is wanted in that the House of Lords is not worthy of a great institution, to lay down the exact their confidence.
lines upon which his reform should be Mr. Arthur Helps proposes
constructed. He knows that so soon as 1. That there should be life-peerages
he submits some particular suggestions for granted by the Crown.
the reform in question, he abandons the 2. That certain offices, when held for a abstract for the concrete, and often is liable certain term of years, should entitle the to seem to be answered upon the general man who has held them to a seat in the question, because he himself has not been House of Lords.
able to satisfy the world as to the wisdom 3. That no hereditary Peer should be or prudence of the particular suggestions able to take his seat in the House of he offers." Lords until he had reached the age of I venture to propose thirty, or had sat in the House of Com- 1. That the quorum of the House of mons for five years.
Lords should be raised to thirty. 4. That an hereditary noble should not Sir Erskine May says on this point : be obliged to take his seat in the House “A quorum of three-though well suited of Peers until ten years had elapsed from for judicial business, and not wholly out his succession to the Peerage.
of proportion to the entire number of its Most men, not Peers, will agree with members in the earlier periods of its Nos. 1 and 2 and 4; but there are decided history—has become palpably inadequate objections, as it seems to me, with all for a numerous assembly.” Again : “Undeference to Mr. Helps, to No. 3.
less great party questions have been under long as the present system endures, of a discussion, the House has ordinarily the political Secretary and a political under- appearance of a select committee.” secretary of State, the one generally in one In almost every council, committee, comHouse, the other in the other House, it pany, or society, a quorum is fixed bearing seems advantageous that the hereditary some relation to the number of its memnobility—the leaders in a very few years— bers, and there seems an entire agreement should gain official experience at as early as to the fact that a quorum of three Peers, an age as possible. It seems, too, an out of about 460, throws ridicule upon
the anomaly that a Peer should be ineligible whole national business. Nearly every
person who discusses the reform of the he said, the regular House of Lords, House of Lords points to this as the chief that is to say the hundred members who blot in its constitution; hardly anybody during the Session really do transact the attempts to defend it.
business—if they had been in the House, 2. That a Speaker, with the ordinary the Paper Duties Repeal Bill would powers of a President, should be
ap- certainly have passed. But about two pointed
hundred Members who hardly ever come “The position of the Speaker of the there were let loose for the occasion.' House of Lords is somewhat anomalous, The rule that I have suggested would for though he is the President of a Legis- prevent those Peers who preferred relative Assembly, he is invested with no maining in the country, running up to more authority than
other member;" town occasionally, at what they may feel in fact he need not be a Peer at all, and to be some personal sacrifice, to record therefore need not be a Member of the their vote, and by so doing swamp the House. Moreover, so far as the Lord votes of those who actually do the main Chancellor is the President of the House part of the legislative business. I think of Lords, his presidency is opposed to that there are very few men who wish to the ideal of a President (the chief au- deprive any Peer who is willing to work thority) in every particular. He is of the for the country of a jot or tittle of the lowest rank, and often the junior Member privilege which his ancestors have earued of the lowest order of the Peerage ; if for him, of taking an active and innot, as often, a party man, he is always a fluential share in moulding the national partisan, thus offending the national in- interests. But there is a strong feeling stinct, and opposed to the national custom, "growing out of” (large words these) for in every other assembly, the man of the inattention of a large proportion of the greatest weight, the highest rank, the the Peers : that feeling is finding forms most extended knowledge of the business in which to express itself, and unless it is to be performed, and the utmost im- allayed by some improvement, will “grow" partiality, is placed in the chair.
into very large proportions; and if no 3. That a Peer who omits to attend a change is made, the House of Lords may given number of times in one Session, find itself damaged as clearly and as should forfeit bis right to vote in the greatly as England will find herself next Session.
damaged if she has to pay the claims I quote Sir Erskine May again :- growing out of certain acts which, “ The indifference of the great body of even if legal, are open to question. the Peers to public business, and their 4. That the House of Lords should scant attendance, by discouraging the have power to recommend that a Peer efforts of the more able and ambitious whose conduct is, in their opinion, dismen amongst them, impair the influence of creditable to their order, should be dethe Upper House.” Nothing has done so graded from the Peerage. much to lower the influence of the House Any dishonourable act on the part of a of Lords as this indifference; that a Bill Peer has an adverse influence on the which occupied the House of Commons for whole Peerage out of all proportion to weeks should narrowly escape destruction the act itself, and to the very small because six Peers were opposed to it, and percentage of Peers who discredit their seven in favour, is a sample of that which order. The recent acts of a few Peers provokes much sharp criticism. “It is on the turf have done more harm to said "--Mr. Bright is the speaker—" that the House of Lords than can easily be the Paper Duty Abolition Bill was thrown estimated. The refined sense of honour, out in the Upper House by a great ma- the uprightness and integrity of well-nigh jority. That is a fact with which we are the whole of the Peers, are to some minds all well acquainted. I was talking recently barely balance sufficient to weigh against to a Peer who gave an explanation of the acts of the few individuals who have this, which I will venture to repeat. 'If, brought discredit on themselves and their
order. A very few cowards would bring rative; and such measures as the Irish dishonour on an entire army; still fewer Church and Land Bills, the Ballot, and bankrupt racing Peers create a prejudice the Abolition of University Tests, would against the whole body.
not bave passed a second reading if in5. That as Sees become vacant the troduced there. But with all deference Bishops should be replaced in the House to the distinguished men who constitute of Lords by lay life Peers.
the Upper House, is the fact that a That the Church loses more by the Conservative Government must frequently, absence of the Bishops from their dioceses and a Liberal Government generally, than the Siate gains by their presence in originate important measures in the the House of Lords, is a proposition House of Commons-sufficient reason for which is obtaining gradual but, I believe, the small amount of work done by the sure acceptance. There are many ecclesi Lords in the early part of the Session. On astical laymen whose presence in the Upper a recent Tuesday and Wednesday, private House would compensate for the absence members of the Lower House gave notice of the Bishops, while no man can take of no less than fifty bills or motions for the the place of the Bishop in the diocese. I Session then commencing. shall not further press this subject now. numbers of questions which members of
6. That no Peer should be allowed to the Upper House might, with great advote in the House of Lords until he had vantage to the nation, take
and sat in that House one year, unless he had press forward for legislation. previously sat in the House of Commons. recently said: “It is upon those ques
7. That a property qualification should tions which lie outside the Ministerial be necessary for all men called to an here programme that the chief interest of the ditary Peerage, but that the not possessing opening Session gathers.” It is hardly the property qualification should be no bar too much to say that nearly every questo promotion to a lifo Peerage.
tion of very great importance which A wealthy noble of proud lineage, Ministers take in hand, and bring forof personal and inherited distinction, pos ward for legislation, has been taken in sessed of great influence, and credited hand for more, or fewer, years by some with that rare gift, common-sense, to individual member, who has obtained at the an extraordinary degree, has, in the onset but scant encouragement, but who speech from which I have already quoted, has seen his arguments making their supplied argument more than sufficient and his measure obtaining more support, to recommend this, by coupling those in until at last the Government of the day stinctively antagonistic words
makes it a Ministerial question. This kind peerages.”
of work, than which none can be more im8. That the members of the House of portant, might, I think, with advantage Lords should introduce more bills, origi to the country, be more extensively en. nate more motions, altogether apart from gaged in by members of the Upper Government bills. It is a common com House, but we should gratefully rememplaint on the part of the Lords that the ber that very many useful measures, speciGovernment does not introduce a sufficient ally in connection with religious liberty, number of bills in their House. Now have been originated by Peers in the Upper there are many measures that even a Con House. What Mr. Wilberforce did for the serrative Government could not introduce in the Upper House, as for instance the
1 While this is in the printer's hands, a Reform Bill of 1868; and it is hardly an
short discussion has been held on this point in
the House of Lords. Lord Salisbury proposed exaggeration to say, that there is scarcely that bills should be introduced simultaneously a single bill, of first importance, brought into the Lords and Commons; but if, as woulă forward by a Liberal or Liberal Radical
often be the case, the Lords came to one conGovernment, that would obtain a foothold
clusion, and the Commons to another, would
not the difficulty of coming to an agreement if originated in the Upper IIouse. The
be far greater than when only one House has tendency of the Upper House is Conser committed itself to an opinion ! No. 150.-VOL. XXV.