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of the whole ad exists in make a serious
possible to doubt that, with a very large part of the public, the fact that the House of Lords is founded upon the
hereditary principle’ lessens the estimation in which that House is held. It is far easier for the multitude to take an à priori view of the whole question, and to remark the want of apparent reason that exists in constituting a chamber of hereditary legislators, than to make a serious inquiry as to how the system works. We live in democratic days, and none of us are entirely free from the sentiments natural to democracy. In truth, it does seem absurd, on the face of it, to reward John Smith for services rendered to the nation, or to his party, by giving to him, and the heirs of his body for ever, the privilege of taking a direct part in making laws for the British people. Peerages are nowadays given with an ever-increasing frequency. Pitt has been thought to have far exceeded proper limits in the number of his creations. But more Peers were created in the seven years 1880–87 than in the whole seventeen years of Pitt's administration. In these democratic days the pressure upon the Prime Minister for peerages is as great, nay greater, than ever. Indeed, elevation to the peerage is expected to prove the reward in more than one instance for joining in the clamour against the House of Lords ! Peerages are given for many other reasons than those belonging to personal merit or distinction. A long purse which has been put at the disposal of party managers has lifted many a man to the hereditary chamber. Surely this is to approach within measurable distance to the sale and purchase of public honours. If creations are to proceed at an ever-increasing rate, that consideration alone will, before long, make it absolutely necessary to introduce changes into the second chamber. Yet, as a matter of fact, however recruited, whether by the
accident of birth' or by fresh creations, the House of Lords does contain a very large proportion of members possessing high qualifications. As regards business qualities, its average probably compares favourably with the average of members of the House of Commons. We believe we are correct in stating that, as regards Private Bill committees, the Lords' committees enjoy greater confidence on the part of those who practise before them than do the committees of the representative House. In fact, the Lords' committees constitute in general the stronger tribunals. The peerage, it cannot be denied, is rich with elements which would add to the credit and renown of any assemblage of statesmen in
the world. Surely, then, there is much to be said for the plan proposed in 1888 by Lord Rosebery.
Another charge that is made against the House of Lords, though much exaggerated, is not entirely without foundation. It is accused of acting as a Tory committee rather than as a second chamber. This charge is largely based upon the indiscretions of the House of Lords two or three generations ago. Granted, however, that a principal function of the second chamber is to give time for consideration, to secure that sweeping and irrevocable changes should not be made without the deliberate approval of the people, it follows that it will generally be called into play against the party of rash reform and of reckless innovation. Out of excessive caution even moderate and well-considered reforms may temporarily be delayed, till the will of the people has become manifest; but this is hardly too high a price to pay for protection on other occasions against irremediable injury to the State. When, however, Mr. Asquith makes it a grievance that the House of Lords should not throw out Tory' reforms, when Lord Rosebery, having in his mind the treatment by the House of Lords of the Reform Bills of 1832, 1867, and 1884, complains that that chamber strains at the Liberal * gnat, yet swallows the Conservative camel,' we are tempted to ask these statesmen whether they really think it wrong of the House of Lords to show deference to a practically unanimous House of Commons. It has often happened that what are called 'Tory' reforms, such as the establishment of County Councils, or of Free Education, are sent up to the House of Lords with far more than mere party approval, and as such they would naturally be treated with the utmost respect by any rational second chamber.
It is, then, its hereditary character, and its undue preference for the Conservative party, that constitute in the eyes of the Prime Minister the chief blemishes in our second chamber. These are the two faults which principally detract from its usefulness. Democratic sentiment being opposed to the hereditary chamber, the action of the House of Lords is too seldom judged upon its merits. The fact that that House has rejected a Bill gives it, with certain classes, additional popularity, and sometimes affords to the demagogue the very chance for which he has been longing. All this was well put to the House of Lords itself in 1888 by Lord Rosebery, who then proceeded to sketch out the various improvements he should like to see adopted. To these reference has already been made,
tle Hot House of Conteforms
Like every English reformer who has preceded him, Lord Rosebery desired as far as possible to proceed upon the lines of the constitution, and to enlist in support of an improved chamber the sentiments which cling to the old one. By applying more largely the principle of selection, already practised amongst Scotch and Irish Peers, he would elimi. nate the · black sheep,' he would secure the presence of the ablest and most industrious of the Peers, he would mitigate the effect of an unadulterated hereditary chamber, and he would prevent the rapid growth of the House of Lords to unwieldy dimensions. By the creation of life peerages additional ability and merit would be available to recruit the second chamber. By having recourse to the representative principle in the manner he suggested, the House would be kept in better touch with the varying popular sentiment of the country. Whether nominated, selected, or elected, let the members remain 'Lords of Parliament,' and let everything be done to retain the dignity of our historic second chamber, whilst we add to its usefulness by modernising its constitution.
Let us turn from the Prime Minister to his lieutenants. Mr. Asquith has been already quoted. Mr. Bryce is reported to have declared in a speech at Aberdeen * that any second
chamber worth having' must be entirely elective, and based on the same suffrage as the House of Commons;' and that the hereditary element in the House of Lords must be entirely extinguished. With Mr. Asquith our revolutionary Prime Minister is almost a Tory. With Mr. Bryce, the reform which Lord Rosebery has made a principal object of his career is 'not worth having.' Now, wbatever may be thought of the precise remedies suggested by Lord Rosebery in 1888, it must be admitted that he approached a very difficult subject with a liberal and thoughtful mind, and in a serious and responsible spirit. Even men who do not agree with him can hardly deny that his speech in the House of Lords was the speech of a statesman. The jingle about 'selection and election,' about • blue blood and new blood,' in which the Home Secretary indulged, is, of course, on a different level. The phraseinongering of one minister, the flattering of the House of Commons electorate by another minister, are but specimens, and rather good specimens in their way, of a platform oratory very common in these days. Imagine building a
* December 17, 1894.
second chamber upon election based upon precisely the same suffrage as that which is the foundation of the House of Commons! A man must be a member of Parliament, or, at least, a candidate, in order to do full justice to the wisdom and virtue possessed by the House of Commons electorate, and to desire to build up a second chamber upon that admirable foundation. Mr. Bryce, however, has twice been responsible, in 1886 and in 1893, for the construction of a second chamber based on principles which he denounces. Mr. Asquith has endeavoured to force through Parliament the application to Ireland of a double chamber legislature. Neither minister, therefore, need be taken too seriously. Yet surely the country has a right to look for words of greater wisdom and weight from Cabinet ministers even when on the stump.'
Without for one moment denying that great improveinents are possible in the composition of the House of Lords, the important question remains--Are the people at the present moment really anxious to effect a grand revision of their constitution ? To us it seems that there is no evidence of any feeling of the kind. The spectacle we are witnessing is that of a wirepullers' revolution only. There is no popular heart in it whatever. Home Rule British statesmen were sick to death of Home Rule. English and Scotch Home Rule members would not venture to face their constituents with their perfected scheme of 1893 in their hands. Yet it was essential that ministers should pose as strong Radicals; and hence the notable expedient was adopted of endeavouring to abolish the House of Lords as a stepping-stone, first of all to Home Rule, and then to whatever anyone else might be in want of. This is just the kind of advice that party managers who believe implicitly in the power of party machinery might be expected to give. Accordingly, in every quarter, caucuses have been set to work. Stump orators mouth about the “ hereditary principle.' Lords Spencer, Kimberley, and Tweedmouth address meetings. Lord Rosebery travels from Bradford to Devonport, from Glasgow to West Ham. Mr. Bryce and Mr. Asquith, Mr. Shaw-Lefevre and Mr. Fowler, are on the warpath. Yet the public will not catch fire. The revolution falls hopelessly and incurably flat.
Englishmen refuse to believe that English liberties are at the present time in real danger from the hereditary prin
ciple. Indeed, there is much more danger to popular rights of self-government to be dreaded from the abuse of
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the representative principle’ than from any possible action of the House of Lords. Two or three Home Rule members of Parliament have lately explained to their constituents that in voting for the Home Rule Bill of 1893 they had no wish or intention that it should become law. They disapproved the Bill ; but knowing that the House of Lords would reject it, they supported it in order to satisfy the pledges given by their party to its Irish allies. The House of Commons cannot thus act and at the same time retain the respect of the public. It is a contemptible doctrine that a member of Parliament surrenders conscience and individual judgement into the keeping either of a party whip or of some committee of his own constituents. Let those who believe that the representative system necessarily protects the rights and interests of the people look into the history of New York and Chicago. Democratic institutions and popular forms have again and again both in Europe and America been the machinery by which a self-interested few have captured power for themselves and riveted a tyranny upon the helpless and unorganised masses. The caucus and the political ‘boss,' far more than the British peerage, put in jeopardy at the present day those rights of popular self-government of which Englishmen are justly proud.
Mr. Chamberlain understands better than most men how to gauge the real feeling of the public. He believes that the principal work which lies before our statesmen at the present time is very different in kind from that constitution-building to which our ministers inveterately turn. A socialistic spirit, largely uninstructed, and possessed with impossible ideals, has gained much influence with certain sections of the people. The declaration of the Trades Union Congress against the institution of private property, for that is what it came to, is evidence enough of the thoughtless recklessness with which men may be carried away. Mr. Chamberlain would, in the old fashion of Liberal statesmanship, encounter discontent and revolutionary projects with measures of amelioration and reform. The better and independent housing of the working classes, the provision of support for the aged and deserving poor, the regulation of the liquor traffic, the provision of compensation in all cases for accidents incurred during the course of employment-these are the subjects to which he is endeavouring to turn the active energies of English statesmanship. It is not necessary, as a preliminary step towards the objects he is seeking,