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House of lords is the second chamber

What the House of Lords Is. It is often assumed that those who advocate the ending or the abolition of the House of Lords are therefore necessarily opposed in principle to a Second Chamber.

It would be nearer the truth to say that it is those who believe most in the importance of Second Chambers who are the most hostile to the House of Lords.

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

That this is necessarily so will appear the moment we inquire for what purpose the Second Chamber is supposed house of lords is the second chamber be needed in a representative Government, and it is still more apparent when we examine the Second Chambers of other lands.

The first duty of a Senate is to act as a revising Chamber to correct the errors and straighten out the tangles in the legislature of the popular Assembly. This duty demands for its exercise, impartiality, expert training, patience, and industry. Its second duty is to act as a legislature, taking its fair share in the burden of legislating for the nation.

The more hopelessly clogged and broken down is the popular House, the more urgent is the need that the Second Chamber should relieve it of some portion of its task. Its third duty is to act as a strong and trusted bulwark against the aggression either of monarchs or of mobs, to defend liberty and law impartially and firmly against all assailants.

For the discharge of these duties, the first essential is the confidence of the nation, without which it cannot possess the courage to do its work. The second essential is confidence in itself: The third essential is that its members should be held to their work by a constraining sense of public duty. And the fourth is that they should be fairly representative of the nation as a whole, and above any reproach of being connected with any special industry or interest.

For any Second Chamber to command the confidence of the whole nation it must not be identified with any house of lords is the second chamber of the nation. Alike in class, in politics, and in religion, it ought to bear some proportionate relation to the people on whose behalf it legislates. To be permanently identified with either party in the State is fatal. This is not to say that it should be recruited equally from the Sansculottes and the money-bags, but it ought not to be identified with either.

The House of Lords is the only Second Chamber in the world at the present moment which is based solely upon the hereditary principle, plus page 10 the Lords Spiritual—the Bishops. That circumstance in itself is sufficient to give us pause. How is it that the universal judgment of mankind is against a strictly hereditary Second Chamber?

Many Second Chambers have an infusion of the hereditary element. But the House of Lords stands alone as the one solitary survival of a hereditary House.

This is the more remarkable because it was not originally intended to be a hereditary Chamber. Freeman has devoted much learning to demonstrate that the hereditary character was not its original essence.

House of Lords: pros and cons of an unelected chamber

The hereditary legislator he regards as a late modern development which has obscured the original character of an assembly to which the King summoned whom he pleased at first, without a thought of conferring upon their descendants a right to be summoned in their turn to the legislature. Be that as it may, we have to do with things as they are to-day, and the outstanding fact is that the House of Lords is now a hereditary legislature. As such it invites, nay, challenges attack.

Hereditary legislation belongs to the past. It is an anachronism and an anomaly at the present day. The task now proposed to British statesmanship is in effect that of converting an estate of the feudal realm into a chamber of revision or senate.

It is conscious of its anomalous position, and is weak and timorous when a real Senate would be bold and strong. That, indeed, is one of the reasons why it has continued so long to exist. There are Radicals who resent any attempt to create a real Second Chamber because they regard the House of Lords as the weakest, and therefore the least mischievous, Second Chamber that the wit of man ever invented. Single Chamber Radicals, it has been wittily said, prefer to keep the House of Lords as it is for the same reason that the Russian Government preserves the Sultan at Constantinople.

It is not that they love the Lords or the Turks, but they regard both Lords and Turks as less formidable obstacles to the realisation of their ulterior ambitions than any conceivable substitutes. To the revolutionist the House of Lords is almost an ideal simulacrum of a house of lords is the second chamber check, for it is guaranteed to disappear whenever the popular pressure rises to the point of threatened violence.

But alike to the constitutional reformer and the opponent of reform, no contrivance can be so detestable as an institution which blocks the way obstinately when timely reform might avert disaster, but which vanishes from the scene the moment popular discontent develops into revolutionary fury.

The essential weakness of a hereditary House in this democratic age has been frequently deplored by staunch Conservatives. Lord Newton and Sir Herbert Maxwell are among the most recent to bear testimony in this sense. The latter, writing in 1906, said, "It would be vain to deny that the continuance of a purely hereditary Chamber in a Constitution such as ours, thoroughly democratic in theory and practice, is a salient anomaly, and as such liable to frequent and formidable attack.

The result of being in such a position was illustrated, much to Sir Herbert Maxwell's disgust, in the passage of the Trades Disputes Bill in 1906. The speeches of Lord Lansdowne and Lord Halsbury, as leaders of the majority, showed that they entirely shared Sir Herbert Maxwell's view of page 11 the iniquitous nature of the Bill. Lord Lansdowne told the Peers that the Bill would bring "ruin to trade, bodily suffering to individuals, and mental anguish, with loss, danger, and inconvenience to the community at large.

This was the deliberate verdict of the late Lord Chancellor and the leader of the Conservative Peers. They had an obedient and overwhelming majority at their command eager to destroy this atrocious Bill and to deliver the country from the danger which menaced it. But instead of doing this plain duty the Peers were advised by their party chiefs to allow it to pass, lest by rejecting it they might endanger their own existence.

Lord Lansdowne's words were thus reported in the Times December 5, 1906: They were passing through a period when it was necessary for the House of Lords to move with great caution. Conflicts and controversies might be inevitable. But let their lordships, so far as they wore able, bo sure that if they were to join issue they did so upon ground which was as favourable as possible In themselves.

In this case the ground would be unfavourable to the House, and the juncture was one that, even were their lordships to win the victory, would be fruitless.

The Peers accepted his advice and passed what they believed to be a thoroughly bad Bill on the naked ground that the issue was an unfavourable one for the House of Lords. As the Westminster Gazette remarked: How apt house of lords is the second chamber timely an illustration of the justice of Lord Rosebery's remark: It is a permanent party organisation, controlled for party purposes and by party managers. The House of Lords is in a most unfortunate position. If it were free to act upon its convictions as to what is best for the country it would reject unhesitatingly almost every Liberal measure sent up from the House of Commons.

If the Peers did this they know they would be swept out of existence. They have, therefore, constantly to consider, not what are the merits or demerits of Liberal Bills, but whether it would be safe for them to give expression to their real sentiments.

They yield everything to fear and nothing to reason. If they give way it is solely a registration of the result of a calculation that it would be dangerous to persist in their opposition to the popular demand.

The House of Lords as a Second Chamber is only useful as a political thermometer of the popular temperature. The Peers inquire not whether a proposed measure be just or good for the country. All that they ask is whether there is behind this particular measure such a volume of popular passion as to render it unsafe for them to stand out against it.

If there is, then no matter how mischievous the measure, the Peers will incontinently pass it into law. The House of page 12 Lords is a body which not only yields everything to threats of violence and nothing to argument, but which absolutely glories in this as its supreme title to public support. It regards it as its chief function to dam up the flood of public discontent until it threatens to sweep the dam away altogether.

Then it opens the sluices.

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Such a policy is a permanent premium upon revolutionary violence. Again to quote Lord Rosebery: This is a great national question and it is a great national danger. The House of Lords as a revising body is very much at a discount.

That there is great and urgent need for a Chamber of revision cannot be denied, especially of late years, since measures have been passed undiscussed through the House of Commons by the unsparing use of the guillotine. Unfortunately the House of Lords has not risen to the occasion. Instead of revising the half-baked measures sent up from the Lower House, it has placed them on the Statute Book often without serious discussion.

This slovenly habit of shirking its proper work is peculiarly manifest when a Conservative Government is in office. The House of Lords practically retires from business when its political partner has house of lords is the second chamber majority in the House of Commons. Legislatures exist in order to give statutory expression to the wishes of the legislators. Whether they do their work effectively or not is to be tested by the decisions of the Law Courts when they are called upon to interpret the statutory results of legislative activity.

It is a curious fact that for the whole of the first year of the present Parliament the nation has been occupied in endeavouring to remedy the results of the imperfect drafting of three Acts of Parliament, all of which were framed by Conservative Governments and carried in their present shape by Conservative Parliaments, without a Second Chamber discovering the flaws in the drafting which nullified the intentions of their authors.

The House of Lords, as it is at present constituted, consists of three peers of the Blood Royal, 540 peers of England, Great Britain, or of the United Kingdom, 28 representative Irish peers, 16 Scotch representative peers, the 2 Archbishops and 24 Bishops of the Established Church, and 5 life peers. Of the 600 odd peers, lay and spiritual, 400 seldom, or never, attend.

The heaviest attendance occurred in 1893, when 419 peers voted against the Home Rule Bill, and 41 in its favour. In the last forty years there have only been forty divisions—just one per annum—in which more than 100 peers found themselves in the same lobby. The heaviest numbers have been on the Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, which, after they had thrown it out eight times, they suddenly accepted in 1896, without any apparent reason for this change of heart.

No one was threatening them with violence, nor had any General Election been held for the express purpose of ascertaining the views of the electorate on the lawfulness of marrying sisters-in-law.

It is a popular delusion that the Peers, as a body, represent families of ancient lineage. Since 1831, no fewer than 215 peerages have been created by Liberal Governments.

Of these, 30 have become extinct. In 1828, there were 128 Liberal peers. If none of them had turned their coats, there ought to-day to be 313 Liberal peers in the House of Lords.

The following brief table shows the way house of lords is the second chamber which Liberalism in the Upper House has dwindled in the last forty years: