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days, with their conflicting principles and confusio 1 of purpose, one thing stands out clear: that every collision of the estates of the realm with each other and with royalty itself awakened afresh the consciousness that the source of all the rights of the great lords and the last protection and support of the weaker classes are to be found in the permanent sovereign power—that is, in the monarchy. The mediaval monarchy rapidly developed into the absolutism of the Tudors, and from that time, since the revolution of 1688, the king in Council has been superseded by the king in Parliament-and Parliament, if real control and influence is implied, means the House of Commons. The fitful attendance of the peers is not due to any fault of theirs or to any neglect on their part of political duties or opportunities. As Lord Salisbury said :
It is because most of those who sit in the IIouse of Lords do not themselves select the profession of politics as a thing which they love, but come to it by the operation of external causes, that we have a body that brings to the consideration of political matters a feeling which is described as one of languor, but which I would describe as one of good nature and easy-going tolerance which enables them to accommodate themselves to the difficult part of playing second to the House of Commons. .. Depend upon it, if you ever succeed in so altering the character of this House that it consist of determined politicians who always attend all the debates and attach the same weight and importance that are attached to their own opinions by those who sit in the flouse of Commons, you will have pronounced the doom of our present system of government. You will be imposing upon the House of Lords a place in the constitution which will be fatal to the constitution as it exists.
Mr. Curzon and those with whom he has collaborated his plan are doubtless impressed with the belief (1) that the present system of government is dangerous to the constitution, and (2) that the proposals they make would strengthen the efficiency and power of the present second chamber. Moreover we are told to act promptly and without delay; urgency in the minds of these radical insurgents against the constitution seems to be part of the essence of the case. They urge that the reform of the House of Lords should be attempted by the present Parliament. Now, first, do the circumstances of the case justify this fidgetty restlessness ? Is the House of Lords in such a state of political depression that radical measures must be promptly taken to revise its constitution and thereby save it from perishing of inanition? Are its influence and its power so decrepit and so fragile that the opportunity of a constitutional majority in the House of Commons must be seized upon to carry into effect a constitutional change the measure of which it is impossible to gauge and the effect of which it is impossible to exaggerate ? I confess that to me there is a suspicious element in the situation of a group of clever young men and eldest sons wishing to retain the opportunities of both systems without incurring the obligations of either.
Under Mr. Curzon's scheme the eldest sons of peers would remain
members of the House of Commons so long as their ambition or predilection for active public life was unsatisfied ; while the House of Lords would still be open to the charge of a privileged assembly, with the stigma of being deserted by the most distinguished men during their years of distinction, and degraded into a privileged preserve and refuge for the necessities of broken-down health or crippled fortunes, political, social, or financial.
Nothing brings greater odium upon the House of Lords than the aristocratic scandals which connect bad conduct with high privileges.. Under Mr. Curzon's scheme, provided a man was qualified under some fantastic head, he could slip into the House of Lords to avoid the exposure and racket of a public election which his private character would not stand. Experience and common sense tell us that the able performance of political functions is no guarantee for private worth or character. To men of ability, but not of character, Mr. Curzon's reformed House of Lords would afford a convenient refuge. I have no sympathy with those busybodies who would convert the House of Lords into a house of superior persons, of prigs and pedants; but if episcopal legislation has made the House of Lords sometimes ludicrous, there is no reason for so violent an antidote as to render it the happy hunting-ground for that sort of ability of which Lord Westbury was the type—the ability to gain everything and be everything except a respected man. I do not wish to write anything disrespectful of my clever friend, nor can I, as a party interested, object to a scheme which would personally suit me a'lmirably; but it is a reductio ad absurdlum of the end which his reform professes to secure-namely, the increased dignity and authority of the House of Lords. Authority and influence are not a question of numbers, and even in these days of democratic suffrages and mass meetings the prestige of name and position is very strong, and the intellectual power of the House of Lords is even stronger still. Would the House of Lords be strengthened if Lord Salisbury had remained, under Mr. Curzon's scheme, leader of the House of Commons (just as Lord Castlereagh, after he became Lord Londonderry, was able to do), or if Lord Rosebery had become the heir-apparent to the Gladstonian party in the House of Commons ? If the position of the House of Lords is a difficult one, and if, as Mr. Curzon admits, the House of Lords plays a valuable and necessary part in the constitution, is it not of the first importance that those who have to control its action and its relation towards the unwieldy mass of humanity that constitutes the constituencies should
and assurance which can only come from great ability combined with great station which we bave seen displayed at critical periods in the past, and which it is all important to reserve for use in the future? I can conceive nothing but disaster from Mr. Curzon's scheme. All the ablest and most powerful heads of the great families who have in the past played the part of trustees of
the English constitution would in times of danger and of difficulty (and in these days who can foresee how soon they may be upon us?) have to compromise their own independence or their own power. The best of them would be members of the House of Commons, and there they could and would not be able to guide and control-as has been done in the past in relation to reform or in relation to every great constitutional movement of this century—the conduct of their own order or of the second chamber. Face to face with an extravagant popular demand made under the influence of popular excitement carefully stimulated and manipulated for his own purposes by an ambitious and revolutionary statesman, what would be the second chamber which Mr. Curzon's scheme would have erected ? (1) Princes of the blood royal; (2) the eldest sons, who, having qualified as members of the House of Commons, had lapsed into lords of Parliament; (3) fifty persons elected by the House of Commons—that is to say, by the revolutionary majority of the moment, which would probably select the most violent and objectionable of their advocates to give this reconstructed House of Lords a taste of their feelings ; (4) bishops; and (5) fifty-four life peers, nominees of the Crown.
This reconstructed House of Lords, this fancy house of political cards, would tumble to pieces at the first touch, like the work of a jerry builder. But I am told that increased weight, increased respect would be given in the institution of life peers. They have been mentioned as the panacea for many evils, and they afford certainly in theory (and if theory is to be our guide how easy it would be to reform all parts of our illogical constitution) the most plausible way of carving the House of Lords into consonance with modern views. Well I don't believe that the constitution will be saved, or even appreciably strengthened, by any large system of life peers. I say any large system, because I should welcome the bestowal of life peerages upon a few representative men like Cardinal Manning and Dr. Dale, and also upon some representatives of the colonies, but beyond this I should not be prepared to go. In the first case you are at once confronted by the objection that if life peers became a system it would infallibly be used by a minister to threaten the independence of the House of Lords. As it is (and the sense of this reserve power has a very beneficial effect, and to my mind constitutes a very strong argument in favour of the existing House of Lords), where the House of Lords places itself in repeated opposition to the wishes of the people as expressed through the House of Commons, the Prime Minister can threaten, as at the time of the Reform Bill of 1832, to swamp the House of Lords.
Such a power is most potent in its influence on the peers themselves, as it implies a constitutional alteration in their chamber of a permanent character. For that very reason it is calculated to be used by the minister with great restraint and forbearance, for where it would be difficult to create ten suitable hereditary peers it would be easy for such a purpose to nominate twenty life peers. Apart, however, from these considerations, I have no great belief in life peers. Rich commoners of influence and position who did not care to stand for the House of Commons would stand out for hereditary peerages. The same class of men who had political and popular capacity would become members of the House of Commons, leaving for the creation of life peers the residuum of the country gentlemen and of the business magnates.
But Mr. Curzon advocates the representation of a distinctly new class, of a distinguished and admirable class indeed, but of a class who per se have never in any modern country in the world possessed any title for direct representation. With one hand Mr. Curzon points the finger of scorn at the country peers, as if they were the dull clods of the House of Lords—“the casual and lazy men, the sportsman and the spendthrift.' I confess it is rather hard to couple together the sportsman and the spendthrift, and to place influential magnates like the Duke of Beaufort and Lord Fitzwilliam (who possess tenfold more influence than the superior persons whom Mr. Curzon suggests could ever obtain) upon the same political level as the vulgar spendthrifts of the peerage. With the other hand an invitation is extended to the writers and students and philosophers.' Far be it from me to sneer at literature and learning, still less, as one who is largely interested in commerce, to echo the famous and often-quoted lines of Lord John Manners. Literature holds already an enormous influence in political affairs. An able editor of a leading journal has the unique power of applying simultaneously a daily and persistent influence to the opinions of unlimited masses of men. What increase of influence or what greater influence can any political writer or thinker obtain than through the channels of the press ? And is it not probable that by depriving them of their independence and impersonality you would destroy their effectiveness?
Political authority in a democracy must obviously rest upon something which is visible and tangible, which is vulgarly and popularly accepted as a power. The intellectual power of the House of Lords is undoubtedly an auditional argument for the House of Lords, but this is chiefly felt to be so among those who are already its adherents. With them we are not dealing, but with its critics and opponents, and among them to increase its intellectual power by adding men like Froude or Huxley or Tyndall would tend neither to justify its position nor to extend its authority. The popular mandate is the great and supreme title ; wealth, station, and rank are inferior, but by tradition and experience are accepted as the alternative titles to authority. Two sons of two leading magnates, Lord Granby and Lord Walter Lennox, have recently both been returned unopposed for the House of Commons. It makes no difference as to which political
party it is. All political parties, the most Radical and popular constituencies, prefer candidates of wealth and standing.
We are familiar with the arguments used in favour of the rotten boroughs, that they afforded the opportunities for clever but poor young men or for clever but unpopular old men. But you cannot import the close-borough system into the House of Lords. The representatives of close boroughs stood, after all, upon a perfectly clear and legitimate basis. They were elected in all constitutional form. They had availed themselves of an anomaly which had grown up under our electoral system, but not, as would be the case with Mr. Curzon's life peers, of a personal privilege conferred upon them apart from and outside the system itself, under a fancy qualification, because they were superior persons and, without having any exceptionally large stake in the prosperity of the country, were out of their inner consciousness to educate us in political philosophy. Ability and force can always win their way through the existing channels for political distinction; and, speaking broadly, it is only through the mill of public life that direct political influence can be wisely achieved or wisely exercised. The country peers who do not take an active part in the House of Lords do take part, truly not in the most ambitious, but none the less in very important walks of public life. They take a most active part in all the public affairs of their own neighbourhood (and I hope will continue to do so in the County Councils).
The political cockney is always measuring the influence of the House of Lords by the contrast between the alacrity and busy character of the Commons and the air of languor and repose that pervades the Upper House. Nothing can be more misleading. Such a view is only partial; it regards one side of the picture only. The other, pregnant with vital influence, is the position of the country peers in the provinces. These men, the sportsmen and the casual attendants, are each the centre of their country-side, the local personages who are looked up to for the lead in all the social and charitable affairs of the district. They dislike London, and prefer to live among their people ; and friendly and easy intercourse almost invariably produces kindly relations. They have the faults of ordinary men, but they are without the intellectual faults of men who live in studies and apart from ordinary mankind. As a rule, they are shrewd, good men of business, who see the facts of life squarely and fairly, and possess a sort of inherited instinct as to their proper place in the constitution. Above all they are a connecting link between town and country. The country peers have saved the second chamber from becoming a bureaucracy. The permanent officials, the judges and the diplomats, play a necessary part in the machinery of government, but while many from their ranks have been admitted with advantage to the peerage, it would be most unwise, in my opinion, to give them a more prominent place in the House of Lords.