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HEREDITARY LI GISLATORS., Issue 7971, 29 July 1889
HEREDITARY LI GISLATORS.
In the House of Commons on May 17 Mr Labouchehe moved—“ That, “in the opinion of this House, it “is contrary to the true principles of “representative government, arid injurious to their efficiency, that any “ person should sit and vote in Parlia- “ ment by right of birth, and it is “ therefore desirable to put an end to “ any such existing rights. It cannot be doubted that the movement which this motion represents has made very considerable progress during the last few years. A decade ago the proposition to abolish hereditary legislators belonged distinctly to the regions of political academics and Radical minorities. It lived in the odor of visionary unreality on the one hand, and of supposed disrespectability on the other. An able and rising politician—whose name, then as now T was Joseph Chamberlain, though it was not then a watchword in the clubs of Toryism—used to make dangerously irreverent references to the subject; but there was no manifestation of opinion calculated to render the holders of a legislative birthright seriously uneasy. But the years have glided by; “ civilisation, in its journey with the sun,” has wrought, as ever, its almost imperceptible changes ; and to-day the awful proposal in question has so far reached the stage known as “ practical politics” that it is defeated in a Conservative House of Commons only by a majority of 41. It would indeed seem that the Duke of Argyll’s famous cry, “ My Lords, you are beginning to be found out,” is being verified in a different and far wider sense than that which the words were originally intended to convey. If the weight of over seventy summers has left the Duke of Rutland anything of that divine afflatus which inspired him when, fifty years ago, as Lord John Manners, he penned the immortal couplet—
Let arts and commerce, laws, and learning die But leave us still our old Nobility—it is high time he raised anew the poetic war cry of his order. When the promoters or enjoyers of any time-honored abuse begin to talk seriously of reforming themselves from within, it may safely be conjectured that they perceive signs of trouble approaching from without. No clearer evidence of the growth of public opinion in relation to the House of Lords is manifest than the fact that the Conservative party and the House itself have ceased to adopt the attitude of non possumus. Numberless plans of tinkering and reconstruction have latteily emanated from Conservative noblemen and their expectant offspring; it is not very long since Lord Salisbury was himself in labor with a poor little stillborn mouse. Needless to say, however, that none of these interesting, if rather suspicious, schemes makes any attempt to kill the hereditary snake; they scarcely pretend to scotch it. Whatever reasonable provisions these schemes contain are to go hand in hand with the glaring anomaly whose existence really causes the necessity for any change at all. With equal truth and smartness Mr Labouchere describes this Conservative method as a putting of “ the good Democratic wine “ of the nineteenth century into the “ bottles of the Crusaders.” With the motives and plans of these interested reformers the supporters of the motion of May 17 have very little in common.
Mr Labouchere made a delightfully Laboucheresque speech, blending a serious and sustained argument with that vein of dry and witty sarcasm in which he is a past-master. He expressed himself as desirous, where it was possible, to effect an alliance between tradition and progress, but in regard to the legislative principle “reform was absolutely impossible.” He admitted—what many would not admit that the theoretically anomalous nature of the present Upper Chamber did not itself necessarily call for interference j if he believed the House of Lords to be in touch with the nation and to be capable of doing a good work, he would let it alone. He had little difficulty, however, in sho.wing how utterly alienated from the trend of popular feeling the House really is; how completely it is the creature of the Tory and territorial interests; how generally pernicious, at least for many years, its work has, as a matter of fact, been. Mr Labouchere dilated most amusingly on the oftenmade assertion that the House of Lords was continually being recruited from all classes, and thus assimilated a democratic strain. He admitted that in theory this was so, “ but what was “ the fact ? Statesmen who had to be “ shelved, loan-mongers and brewers, “ were the class from which the Oham- “ ber was recruited. When a plebeian “ was added he became more aristo- “ cratic than the descendant of the “ Crusaders. Asa matter of fact he “soon became a descendant of the “ Crusaders. . . . There was a “ very excellent gentleman who had “ done nothing for his country beyond “ brewing good stout in Dublin. The “ Government said: ‘ Here is a man of “ the middle class, probably a self- “ made man ; let us send him to the “ House of Peers as a representative of “ plebeians.’ But the Government “ made a great mistake; for he read “in ‘ Burke ’ that Guinness was “not Guinness at all. His name “in pre-historic ages was MacGuin“ness; and this Mac Guinness who “lived in pre-historic ages was a “Yiscount Ivreagh. The Govern- “ ment had, therefore, literally restored
“this nobleman to his native nobility.” Mr Labouchere went on to show, amid great merriment, that Sir Haruinge Giffard, who worked his way up at the Bar, discovered after he became Lord Halsbury that he was descended “ from the union, in the reign of '‘Edward 1., between an eminent “gentleman named Giffard end Ihe “daughter of another eminent knight, “Bartholomew Giffakd. . . - “ Was an assembly thus recruited “likely to bo in touch with the “country !” In a more swious vein (though the extracts just quoted have, of course, a perfectly serious drift), Mr Labouchere proceeded to demonstrate the fact that the House of Lords, as at present constituted, is in turn useless and mischievous. It is useless when a Conservative -Ministry is in power, because it simply accords a stupid “ I say ditto ” to the Prime Minister’s fiat; it is mischievous during a period of Liberal predominance, because it continually ignores aud thwarts the action of the House of Commons and the manifest will of the people, thus casting upon the Government of the clay “ the responsibility of governing without “ the power to govern as they “ desired.” Mr Labouchere was answered —or, rather, the attempt (o answer him was made—by Mr Quezon, one of the most promising of the younger Conservative members. Mr Quezon is ono of those “schemers” already referred to who have a plan for the rehabilitation of the unpopular Chamber, but he clings tenaciously, pathetically to the hereditary principle. Here is a sample of his pleading : “ The hereditary principle slowly “ and imperceptibly became a feature “in the constitution of that House, “establishing itself as a rough and “ ready method of selection, and con- “ centrating in the House of Lords a “ great deal of ability and influence “ representative of the property of the “ country. It had given England what “no other country in Europe enjoyed “—a nobility worthy of the name, and a social order admired at home and abroad. It had saved this country from the corroding influence of “ unstinted riches ; it had sup--1(1 plied a succession of statesmen,” etc., etc., through all the ancient domain of wordy and sentimental platitude. Comment is hardly necessary. Truly, that is “a rough and ready method of selection ” which selects His Grace the present Duke of Marlborough and Lord St. Leonards as saviours from “ corroding influence.” The only member of the Government who favored the House with his views •was Mr Balfour, who waxed even more enthusiastically sentimental than Mr Ourzon, and described the House of Lords as an “ inestimable treasure ” which it would be “ midsummer madness ”to destroy ! The announcement of the numbers —2Ol against IGO— received with Opposition cheers.
HEREDITARY LI GISLATORS., Issue 7971, 29 July 1889
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