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countries more democratic in spirit than our own, it is freely recognised that the interests of the representatives of the people may easily be opposed to those of the people itself, and that the people require to be protected either by another chamber, or by their constitution, or by both, against their own representatives. The British House of Commons, as things stand, is far more predominant’ in Parliament than is the House of Representatives in the legislatures of other nations. Practically it nominates and rules the Executive Government, and so long as it has the evident and continued support of the people, it is recognised as virtually supreme over important legislation. A Liberal or Conservative Prime Minister, the head of the executive, enjoying the confidence of the House of Commons, holds for the time being—that is, for the particular Parliament—a position of great, though not unlimited, power. He and the House of Commons form but a part of the constitution, and are not its absolute masters. The Parliamentary constitution of the kingdom belongs, it must never be forgotten, to the people. It is not the private property of the 670 gentlemen who at any particular moment occupy the benches of the House of Commons. These gentlemen are not the people. If rather they are trustees for the people, it would be strange that they should be given a free hand in resettling at their own pleasure the terms of the trust!
Where a written constitution exists, or some constitution deriving its powers from a higher authority than that of the existing legislature, the legislature, whether consisting of one chamber or of two, can be restrained within the limits of that constitution from which alone its own powers are derived. In England no such constitution exists. It is recognised that it is impossible to tie the hands of the British Parliament. If, then, we are to substitute the House of Commons for the Parliament, if resolutions passed by the Commons alone are to take the place of Acts Parliament, the representatives of the people, instead of being, as in most democratic States, subject to the constitution or a part of it, will hold the constitution itself in the very hollow of their hands.
Once only in England have we had experience of a singlechamber Parliament. On May 19, 1649, the well-known Act was passed by that small remnant of the Long Parliament, which declared "That the people of England, and of all the dominions and territories thereunto belonging, are, and shall be, and are hereby, constituted, VOL. CLXXXI. NO. CCCLXXI.
made, established, and confirmed to be a Commonwealth and Free State, and shall henceforth be governed as a Commonwealth and Free State by the supreme authority of this nation, the Representatives of the people in Parliament, and by such as they shall appoint and constitute Ministers for the good of the people, and that without any King or House of Lords.' The last thing these gentlemen who declared that they represented the people intended was to give back their power to the people. On the contrary, they desired indefinitely to prolong their own authority. They were determined not to dissolve themselves, and it was only through the intervention of Cromwell's musketeers that they were at last dispersed.
Till the date of the Union Scotland was governed by a Parliament, consisting of a single chamber, in which the Estates sat and deliberated together. It was not, however, an assembly which could be regarded as a free Parliament till the restraint of the committee called the “Lords of the Articles' was removed in the reign of William III. More. over, no one acquainted with Scottish history would point to the ancient Parliamentary system of Scotland as one which it would be wise to imitate.
In the absence of a constitution superior to Parliament itself it is difficult to see how any efficient check can, in the interest of the people themselves, be put to the absolute authority of the IIouse of Commons, except through the instrumentality of a second chamber. Lord Rosebery inay use the word 'predominant;' Mr. Bryce may talk about clipping the wings of the House of Lords;' yet both intend that without an Act of Parliament the House of Commons should endow itself with authority to dispense with the consent of the House of Lords. This is, on the face of it, impossible. If fundamental changes are to be made in the constitution they can be made only by Act of Parliament. In the courts of law a resolution of the House of Commons conflicting with an Act of Parliament or with the customs of the realm is not worth the paper on which it is written. Even by the House of Commons itself very little respect is shown for the resolutions of its predecessors, sometimes even for its own.
One of the most remarkable instances of a House of Commons' resolution was when, in 1835, the Whigs defeated Sir Robert Peel on a motion declaring that the question of Irish tithes could not be settled unless an appropriation was made to certain secular purposes of surplus funds belonging to the Irish Church. The Whig Ministry, having acceded to office, again led the House of Commons to affirm its previous resolution. The House of Lords threw out the appropriation clauses, and after prolonged discussions the Bill was passed into law without them.
Here was a precedent precisely on all fours with such a resolution as Lord Rosebery proposes. • It was passed at the instance and on
the authority of the Government itself. ... It represents * the joint demands of the Executive Government of the
day and of the House of Commons,' and so on. Yet the very same Government and the very same House of Commons departed from their own resolution, and abandoned the policy of appropriation. The bare resolution of the House of Commons was of itself of no effect whatever.
The language of Mr. Asquith and the weakness of the Prime Minister have combined to render of some importance the political views of Mr. Labouchere and Sir Charles Dilke. These members of Parliament are avowedly in favour of the entire abolition of the second chamber or of its authority; they naturally do not much care which. With Mr. Labouchere, however, the House of Commons, though it is to have absolute legislative authority in the State, is itself to be but the instrument of an outside force. Its present duty is to carry out the decree of the Leeds Conference. There spoke the Will of the People! He himself and Sir Wilfrid Lawson were, if we remember right, the best known statesmen who were present at that important gathering. Lord Rosebery and the House of Commons are to do as they are bid; and against this mischievous impudence not a colleague of Lord Roseberyhardly one of his followers-ventures to protest. Indeed, the drift amongst the weak-kneed members of the majority of the House of Commons, a large proportion of any party, is unmistakeably towards ending' rather than 'mending the second chamber. In the absence of vigorous leadership in an opposite direction this was to be expected. The gentle aspirations of Mr. Bryce and the pious opinions of Lord Kimberley are not calculated to inspire with courage the timid hearts of trembling members of Parliament. Is any · Liberal' peer or member of Parliament prepared to make a stand for reforming rather than for abolishing the second chamber? If not they will, most of them, sooner or later, find themselves at the heels of Mr. Labouchere and Sir Charles Dilke, who have at least the courage to say what they want.
If, in the crisis of to-day, reform of the House of Lords
is to be tabooed by degenerate · Liberals,' who find the expression of the highest political wisdom in the resolutions of the Conference at Leeds, it will still occupy the thoughts of men of a different stamp, of men by no means confined to any single political party in the State. Lord Rosebery, in 1888, used the language to wbich we have already referred. His speech was that of a statesman. On the eve of a general election, doubtless, the voice of the platform orator will ring more loudly in our ears. At the meetings of the one side, anyone acquainted with public meetings will feel sure that ending,' not mending,' will be the policy to draw cheers; whilst, at the public meetings of the other side, there will be scarcely any limit to the laudation of the incomparable qualities of the House of Lords. Parties will arrange themselves for the time on the side of the one House and on the side of the other; and it is much to be deplored that even for a time the two parties should identify themselves each with a different branch of the legislature. It is possible, and even probable, that at the present time the House of Lords is more popular than the House of Commons, owing to the great service which the former has recently rendered to the nation, and to the discredit into which the latter has, we trust only temporarily, fallen. Yet assuredly the time will come when the composition and the proper functions of a second chamber will have to be carefully thought out, and when a reform of the House of Lords will demand the earnest efforts of constructive statesmanship.
Whatever changes may come to pass in the character and constitution of our second chamber, its usefulness and success will always mainly depend upon the discretion and firmness of the statesmen who lead it. They must recognise the proper functions of a second chamber, which cannot, at the present day, exercise co-ordinate authority with the House of Commons. When the Duke of Devonshire invited the Peers to reject the Home Rule Bill, it was on the ground that that measure had not been approved by the people, and the subsequent action of the Government went far to prove that the belief of the Duke of Devonshire was also their own. No second chamber, however constituted, could, under the then existing circumstances, without proving its own uselessness, have passed that Bill into law. But, on the other hand, the days of vexatious and factious resistance by the Peers, such as occurred when, after the first Reform Bill Lord Lyndhurst led the House of Lords to reject, or fatally to mutilate, every measure of reform that came to them, are gone for ever. It is said that the House of Lords remains an unreformed chamber, whilst the House of Commons is continually, by successive changes in its constitution, being brought to correspond with the changing necessities of the age. This is true so far as formal changes effected by law are meant, whether with regard to the composition or the functions of the House of Lords. It is, however, no less true that the reforms that have been passed for the House of Commons, and the change in the popular sentiments of the age, have modified very effectually the position which the House of Lords holds in the Parliamentary system, and have, consequently, very greatly modified its Parliamentary conduct. In the days of Lord Lyndhurst the Upper House made repeated stands in the cause of privilege and exclusiveness. In 1893 the Peers had no greater interest than their fellow-citizens in the maintenance of the Union with Ireland. The legislation of the last few years on the subject of Irish land shows how, even on matters deeply affecting the personal interests of their class, they are ready to bend to a House of Commons backed by public opinion. The Peers to-day boldly justify their action on the ground that they are protecting the right of the people to pronounce for themselves for or against measures of vast constitutional importance. The change of attitude of the second chamber from that of the years 1834-1841 is most striking.
In attempts to improve the House of Lords, we should make clear to ourselves what are the functions we wish the House of Lords to perform.
It has to revise ineasures coming from the other House, to correct errors, and to repair omissions. It has, moreover, to guard the permanent interests of the nation against the rash action of the representatives of the people. The Union with Ireland has been upheld by the House of Lords against the House of Commons, and with, it is hardly now possible to doubt, the approval of the majority of the people. The Gladstonian partisan may censure the House of Lords; but every true Liberal who wishes the people to have the deciding voice on its own fate knows that the Peers were right.
Lord Rosebery, in a wiser spirit, approached, as we have seen, this question of reforming the House of Lords, in the years 1884 and 1888. His desire was to improve it, as a second chamber. The principal reasons which now detract from its usefulness are not far to seek. It is im