rose to call attention to the abuses connected with the bestowal of honours; and to move to resolve—
That this House, convinced that Ministers have in recent times advised His Majesty to confer honours and dignities on persons who have given or promised money to Party funds as a consideration therefor, considers that His Majesty's Government ought forthwith to give effect to the following provisions: (1) That when any honour or dignity is conferred upon a British subject, other than a member of the Royal Family or the members of the Naval, Military, or permanent Civil Service under the Crown, a definite public statement of the reasons for which it has been recommended to the Crown shall accompany the notification of the grant. (2) That a declaration to the Sovereign be made by the Prime Minister, in recommending any person to His Majesty's favour for any such honour or dignity, that he has satisfied himself that no payment or expectation of payment to any Party fund is directly or indirectly associated with the grant or promise of such honour or dignity.
The noble and learned Earl said: My Lords, the subject that I am bringing before your Lordships is no new one. In February, 1914, before the War, Lord Selborne moved—
" That in the opinion of this House a contribution to Party funds should not be a consideration to a Minister when he recommends any name for an honour to His Majesty; that it is desirable that effectual measures should be taken in order to assure the nation that Governments, from whatever political Party they are drawn, will act according to this rule; and that this House requests the concurrence of the House of Commons in the foregoing Resolution."
That Resolution was passed without a Division, with unanimity, in this House; but unfortunately, as I think, the House of Commons has taken no notice of that communication. It has been stated here that during this year a number of Peers and Privy Councillors, of whom I was one, endeavoured by private ways to advance this same object. In August last Lord Selborne raised the same question in this House, but some of us, also including myself, did not think that the answer which was then given, or the way in which the question was met, was satisfactory. I should myself have much preferred if Lord Selborne, who, greatly to his honour, was the first to bring up this matter, had consented to bring forward this evening the Motion which stands in my name. He has, however, thought otherwise; therefore I move it myself.
I have thought it right to state plainly on the Notice Paper the ground of this Motion, so that there should be no question as to the attitude which is taken up. It is this—" that Ministers have in recent times advised His Majesty to confer honours and dignities on persons who have given or promised money to Party funds as a consideration therefor." I believe that to be the truth; and it lies at the root of this Resolution. In the course of former debates my noble friend Lord Crewe has given two assurances to the House. One of them was that contributions to Party funds had not been a consideration to any Prime Minister in recommending the bestowal of an honour. Of course, I accept the statement of my noble friend. It is explained by his second assurance—namely, that the Prime Ministers had not been aware, in recommending any name, of anything that could be said to be a payment made in respect of honours or dignities. I accept that statement also. It comes really to this, that Ministers have not been told, regarding any recipient of honours, that he has made any such payment, and therefore can say truthfully, of course, that no such payment has been a consideration to them. That is precisely what I have heard from very good authority. What I want to secure is that the Minister shall be told, before he makes any recommendation that an honour should be bestowed upon any person; for I believe that, although the Minister has not been appraised, payment or a promise of payment has in fact been in some cases made—of course, I cannot say in how many cases. I mean that there has been a promise of payment in substance and in fact, what-ever may have been the circumlocution or the different communications by which the transaction may have been concealed.
Your Lordships will naturally ask what are my reasons for holding this opinion. I will tell you. First, let me observe on the great difficulty of procuring proof in matters of this kind. The actual parties have a profound interest in keeping the matter secret, Those who receive offers, although they refuse them, do not like to tell tales or to injure the reputations of other men. They may tell you the facts and even the names, as some of them have told me, but they will not let you use either their names or the names of which they tell you. Also you hear of these things in private conversation, and, of course, we all desire to respect the privacy of conversation: but the thing leaks out, although not in a form available for explicit proof, as if we were sitting in a Court of Justice.
My Lords, I have not sought any confidences upon this subject in any quarter, but since Lord Selborne's Motion in 1914 various perfectly reliable people have told me of purchases and sales of which they knew, or of offers which had been made and been refused, giving the sums of money proposed and also the names. Let me give two illustrations, one from each side—one from the buyer's side, and one from what I may call the seller's side. A personal friend of mine told me that within a period which I will call five or six years he was three times approached with proposals that he should pay £25,000 for a baronetcy or £15,000 for a knighthood. He, in fact, did not want and had never wished for a title, and he refused; and then a short time afterwards he was told—I am quoting his own words, because he wrote this as well as told me—that "there was a chance of pulling it off if he would 20 to £10,000 for a knighthood," and that if he wanted a baronetcy later, "a full valuation for the first honour is allowed, and such candidate has a prior claim." My friend adds, "I gathered distinctly from all these persons "—because there were several who pursued him with these solicitations "that there are many intermediate commissions to be covered in carrying out these transactions "; and he had no doubt that the business could have been carried out if he had been willing. If in this case the various tempters—there were several. I think, certainly four or five—were what we call "touts," then I will only say. There are no touts where there is no trade.
It is impossible to ignore the widespread uneasiness on this subject. I have heard of quite a number of these transactions, and I am sure that many of your Lordships have heard of them from perfectly trustworthy informers; and when one comes to particular instances one's self, one is not justified in dismissing as mere rumour the universal anxiety and uneasiness that there is upon this subject—not because of the multiplication of titles, but because of the corruption which is involved. This is all the more so that I, for one, have never heard, although of late this subject has been a good deal mentioned, any one get up and deny that what I am saying is well-founded.
Let me give an instance from the other side. Another friend of mine, who has been in a position of official authority—not on the purchasing side, but, if I may call it so, on the selling side—and whom no one could possibly suggest was what you call a "tout." said to me of the sale of titles, "Why, I have sold them myself ": and he gave me two illustrations. Many of your Lordships have heard the same thing. Lord Selborne said he had been told by men who had received the offer of honours upon the condition of payment to the Party funds. My noble friend Lord Kibblesdale also said on this subject, in this House, that he had been a Whip here for about ten years. He had already told us of a case in which some proposals had been made to him; and after referring to this case again, Lord Ribblesdale said—
" In the ten years during which I was a Whip, only twice was I directly approached with a view to anything important being done on anything like the scale on which Lord Salisbury seems to believe that things of this kind proceed."
But then he added that the Whips in the House of Lords were "not of much regard," and that the important man was the Patronage Secretary. Lord Ribblesdale also thought that the subject had been greatly exaggerated. As this is the first mention of the Patronage Secretary, let me say I suspect that the Patronage Secretary has below him other people very often who do not inform him. One does not know how deep the ramifications in this sort of thing may go. My noble friend Lord Ribblesdale thinks the thing is greatly exaggerated. That is not the question. The question is whether this evil exists or not. It will very soon travel far if it exists and you let it go on unchecked.
Then Lord Knutsford told the House, in the last debate on this subject, that a gentleman, almost unknown, had asked him, when the King was going down to a certain hospital, whether if he gave £25,000 to the hospital he would be as likely to get a title as if he gave the money to the Party funds. Lord Knutsford told him the truth. He said he would be more likely to get the baronetcy if he gave the money to the Party funds; and, added Lord Knutsford, "within a short time he came out as a baronet, and the hospital suffered in consequence."
Now, my Lords, when we put all these things together; when we have heard in private numbers of statements of a similar kind; when we hear of great Party funds and do not know where they come from; when we see honours given, followed in a short time by fresh honours to gentlemen of great wealth who have never done any public service whatever; when we know that the belief is universal that this is a matter occasionally of bargain and sale; and when we have never heard it denied by anybody, either in this House or anywhere else—then one naturally looks to the Government of the day and expects them either to deny the practice or to provide a remedy. For they have the means, which we private individuals have not, of recourse not only to the Whips and the Patronage Secretary, but to everybody else, and can unearth this business in each Party if they desire to do so.
For that reason, my Lords, we awaited with interest the speeches of the two noble Lords who have been Leaders of this House while the preceding debates have been going forward. One of them is my noble friend Lord Crewe, and the other is the noble Earl who is now the Leader of the House. Both the noble Lords concur in telling us some things of which I think we ought to take notice, because with some of them we can quite agree. They said that honours were given quite purely. That is the substance of it. I think the noble Earl said this was so in "ninety-nine cases out of every hundred." I am sure that is quite accurate. But the thing one wants to know is whether any honours are sold. Then they said that the evil is exaggerated. I hope it is, but I think there is still a serious evil remaining. They hold that it is legitimate to give to Party funds. I quite agree with them, if the money is honestly given and is honestly applied. While you have a Party system you must have some funds. They said that munificence ought not to be a bar, and I entirely agree. Also, they said that it was difficult to disentangle the matter when a man gives to charities and also to Party funds. It is not necessary to call in a casuist for the purpose of settling each particular case. I am quite content if the Prime Minister insists on being told the whole of the facts, and then settles the matter with the honest determination, with which we justly and naturally credit every Prime Minister, that he will put down corruption.
Speaking for myself, I do not think that money ought to weigh in this matter at all, one way or another. The arguments to which I have referred were not the arguments of men who either deny or defend the practice. They are arguments, I think, of men who despise and detest this thing being done. I may be wrong, but I formed the impression that they at least suspect that the evil does exist and do not like to blame others. I respect and share that feeling, because I can assure your Lordships that it is not a pleasant task to say the things I have to say now, although I refrain from all personal attack upon anybody. My noble friend Lord Crewe went further. He said, in the course of his speech, that an evil may be admitted. That is the very thing I am endeavouring to establish now; and it is because that is the opinion not only of himself but of all of us that I bring forward this subject.
The noble Earl, Lord Curzon, said one thing for which I would respectfully ask his attention for a moment. I only read his speech—I had not the pleasure of hearing it—but, if I rightly understood him, he expressed the view that to receive an honour in the gift of which a contribution to Party funds may have played a part, was not objectionable. I would ask him to consider whether that is not a very dangerous doctrine. Is it not sure to lead to the very thing which I am certain he detests? But the most illuminating statement of the noble Earl was in reference to the proposed declaration which I ask that the Prime Minister should make, not to the public, but to the Sovereign. He said, "It is not the Prime Minister but the Party Whips who are responsible and who have the knowledge." I have been told the same privately by a most indisputable authority. The innocence of the Prime Minister is safeguarded, but the cash finds its way into the Party till. The Prime Minister is technically responsible, but we all know that he is a very busy man. The really responsible man, says the noble Earl, is the Patronage Secretary—who keeps the secret. Well, I think there is something to be said, which I will endeavour to say in a moment, about the Patronage Secretary. That is the reason why I want to have a declaration by the Prime Minister to the Sovereign. I want a declaration that the Prime Minister has satisfied himself. He it is who makes the recommendation, and I desire that the knowledge should be in the same quarter as the power to recommend.
A good deal has been said about the Patronage Secretary. There are several ex-Patronage Secretaries in this House. Lord Selborne called on them to enlighten us. They have not yet done so. They may, however, do so in the course of this debate. But I do not think it would be fair, even if honours have been sold, to lay the whole blame on the Patronage Secretary. In the first place, the Patronage Secretary is often very likely told by others, "Mr. So-and-So is a most excellent man; he has done this, that, and the other, and he is a strong local man." He may not be aware personally of a promise that has been made by some subordinate agent. I do not know whether that is so or not, because I have never been Patronage Secretary myself, but I think there is a sort of chain of persons below the Patronage Secretary who may do things of which he would not approve.
May I place a fanciful speech in the mouth of an imaginary Patronage Secretary? Suppose he said this, "You all insist upon maintaining the Party system. You expect me to keep a majority in the constituencies. My opponents have a perfect organisation, and I require the same. I must have a network all over the country to stimulate, to control, and to instruct opinion. I must also have a large staff at headquarters, and agents in each constituency. I must pay the election expenses of a great number of gentlemen who are standing for the House of Commons, and I must subsidise a portion of the Party Press. I must advertise the views of the Party, irrespective of the personality of the Party Leader. All these things require a vast amount of money. The present subscriptions are not sufficient. Where am I to get the money?" The practice of getting rich men to give large sums is not new. Our forefathers, as my noble friend Lord Crewe reminded us, were occasionally open to criticism upon this and kindred subjects. The Patronage Secretary may say, "Both Lord Crowe and Lord Curzon, in some particulars, do not hold a very high opinion of our forefathers in the eighteenth century. It is true they have been dead 100 years, but still I will take a leaf out of their book. I must get money somewhere. I did not inaugurate this system. I inherited it; and if I have enlarged it, it is only because more money is needed for modern methods."
My Lords, I think that in my imaginary speech of the imaginary Patronage Secretary there is not a little truth. The fact is that people do not realise these things because they are not brought to their attention. What is everybody's business is, proverbially, nobody's business. Speaking for myself personally, I gave no thought to this subject, and it never came under my notice, until Lord Selborne moved his Resolution. I seldom heard of it, and, like most people, thought it was mostly gossip, and did not suspect the dangerous tendency of the transaction. I think now we ought to stop it.
I move this Resolution, not in the special interest of this House or for the honour of this House, although I think that everyone who is a member of this House or any other House ought not to be indifferent to its honour. But this is a subject which affects others who are not Peers, and who are not seeking to be Peers. It affects baronetcies, knighthoods, and, if we are rightly informed, other species of honours as well. My Lords, it is not fair to the Crown. Every one knows perfectly well that His Majesty the King is wholly trusted, and rightly trusted, as he is entitled to be in matters of this kind. He acts upon advice, but that which is done does unjustly affect, or may unjustly affect, the prestige of the Crown, and, for my part, I think this is the time at which every one ought to do what he can to maintain what is, and I hope always will be, the unimpaired prestige and dignity of the Crown of this country. And it is not fair to the people, because it introduces an element into public life which is growing and which will spread in different directions if it is not checked. I wish Ministers would accept this Resolution or suggest a better one, and then, it may be, the people will not think of what has taken place in the past.
The remedies which I suggest are two-fold. The first is that the reasons should be given publicly for the honours that are bestowed, and I do not think any one objects to that. The second is that the Minister, in recommending the honour to the Crown, shall give an assurance to the Sovereign—not to the public—that he has sufficiently satisfied himself that it has no connection, direct or indirect, with any payment or promise of payment to Party funds. The purpose of that is to secure that the Minister shall insist upon being told the whole of the facts before recommending. In that way we should have a real guarantee upon which I should be perfectly prepared to place complete reliance. We should secure that the bargain for money should not be in one hand and the recommendation in another. Some people think that these remedies would be insufficient and ineffectual. I do not think so.
Proposals, indeed, have been made that a special Committee of the Privy Council should be substituted for the Prime Minister to advise the Crown in these matters. I should be perfectly willing to see that done. The Prime Minister is a very busy man, and he is intimately associated, of course, with one Party in the State. I should think he would be very glad if work of this kind, which cannot be very interesting to him, were placed in other hands. He would be able to bestow his time upon the enormously important questions which at all times he has to consider. It is also suggested—I think by Lord Beresford and Lord Charnwood—that Party funds should be audited both as to receipts and payments. I should be extremely glad to see that done; but for the present this Motion is confined to a much simpler remedy. The first remedy is to see whether this thing cannot be put an end to for the future, and I hope it may be, without further disturbance. But of one thing I am quite sure, and that is that this thing exists, and, as it does, your Lordships have no right to refuse to face it.
Moved to resolve. That this House, convinced that Ministers have in recent times advised His Majesty to confer honours and dignities on persons who have given or promised money to Party funds as a consideration therefor, considers that His Majesty's Government ought forthwith to give effect to the following provisions—
My Lords, I rise to second the Motion of the noble and learned Earl. When I asked a question on this subject at the beginning of August, my noble friend who leads the Opposition made a most skilful and ingenuous speech in reply. But the foundation of that speech, was the erection of a case which he proceeded to demolish, but which we had not made. We have never said that a person otherwise worthy to be honoured by the Crown should be debarred from that honour because he is a good Party man and has contributed to Party funds, and we have never suggested that great public munificence is not a reasonable subject of award. I wish quite clearly to repeat that we have never occupied that position. I was very plain in my statements to that effect when I first brought this matter before the House in February, 1914, and I did not think it necessary to weary your Lordships last August by repeating those arguments. But as my noble friend assumed that that was our position, I take the first opportunity of again contradicting it.The whole attitude of my noble friend opposite (Earl Curzon) and of my noble friend Lord Crewe in dealing with the subject on more than one occasion has been a scepticism as to the extent of the evil. My Lords, we have always understated the extent of this evil. Prom the information that has come to my knowledge, the evil has greatly increased in recent years and has been increasing up to a quite recent date. My noble friends have also not felt, as we feel—or I did not gather from their speeches that they felt as we feel—that if this evil does exist it is a very gross and dangerous evil indeed. Their attitude has been rather that of dwelling on the technical difficulties of dealing with the matter, and of suggesting that we are raising a case where a case of sufficient gravity does not exist. Nor, my Lords, do they seem to me to have any idea of the weight and depth of public feeling which is behind us in this matter; and there is no greater evidence of the extent to which the House of Commons has lost touch with the country than the callousness of that Assembly on this question. I think the indifference which the House of Commons has shown to this evil is a very disagreeable sign of the times. When I spoke on this subject before, I told you that I had been the recipient of many confidences, but that they were confidences, and that I was not in a position to give facts or names. But standing at this place in August, I made an appeal, and I asked whether some of those who had personal cognisance of this matter would not allow me to mention here in the House facts on their authority. I am glad to tell you, my Lords, that my appeal was not in vain, and that I am in a position to-night to state the facts of a certain number of cases. Your Lordships will remember how Lord Knutsford told us that a certain ingenuous gentleman, little known to him, asked him whether he was more likely to obtain a baronetcy by giving £25,000 to the London Hospital or to the Party funds, and Lord Knutsford advised him that the London Hospital perhaps was not quite the best place to go to with that object. Sir James Gildea, the founder of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association, and known by name to all your Lordships and personally to many of you, has authorised me to state that on three different occasions a similar question has been asked him. He was offered £20,000 by one person, £10,000 by another, and £10,000 by a third for the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association if he would undertake to use any influence he possessed to obtain a baronetcy or a knighthood for the individual. Sir James Gildea said he would have nothing whatever to do with such a transaction; and the single-minded and disinterested philanthropists in question never gave a penny to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association. Dr. Millard, the Medical Officer of Health for Leicester, authorises me to say that he had a friend who had done public service in many ways, and, unknown to that friend, he approached the local political association of the Party to which that friend belonged and asked whether an honour could be obtained for him in reward for his public services. The answer from the leader of the local political association came pat, and these were his words: "Certainly we will consider your suggestion. But we must be quite frank with you. We know it is very objectionable, but we have got to do it. What is your friend prepared to pay?" The reply was that the suggestion had been made quite unknown to his friend, and that he knew his friend would in no circumstances pay anything; and then the matter dropped. The next case is more remarkable. There is a gentleman in Lewes, in Sussex, called Mr. George Holman, who has been seven times Mayor of Lewes. He has done public work of a great many kinds, but he has never asked for an honour. In 1912, at the end of his seventh mayoralty, some of his friends in Lewes went to him and said, We should like to get an honour for you. You have done so much public work that we think you ought to have a reward. He said, I should like an honour very much; I am greatly obliged to you. One of his friends went straight to headquarters to the Whip, and the Whip said, "Yes, this is a clear case for an honour. What is he prepared to give to my Party fund? The friend returned to Mr. Holman and told him what had been said. Mr. Holman then remarked, In no circumstances will I give a penny to Party funds. The friend went back once more to the Whip, and the Whip said on each occasion. This is a very good case for an honour, but an honour he shall not have unless he contributes to my Party fund. My last case has been furnished to me by an ex-Member of Parliament, Sir George Kekewich. Sir George, your Lordships will remember, was the Permanent Secretary of the Education Office, and, after that, Member for Exeter. He authorises me to tell this story. When he was in Parliament at the time the Licensing Bill of the Liberal Government was before the House, a friend of his, not unconnected with the trade, came to him and said that he wanted a knighthood. He was introduced to the Whip, and he was informed that there was no great difficulty about his request. He was a Liberal, and had been a benefactor of his borough and Mayor of it. But he was told, There are two conditions you have to fulfil. The first is that you should abandon opposition to the Licensing Bill; the second is that you should subscribe £5,000 to the Party funds. He said, All right, I will do both. His name appeared in the next List of Honours. On another occasion, Sir George Kekewich informs me, a friend wanted a baronetcy. He says—
Sir George Kekewich adds—" I told him it would cost £25,000, and he said he would pay it. I wrote to the Chief Whip, who was abroad, and told him about the matter. My friend in question, I may say, was well known for his charitable donations. The Chief Whip replied that he would arrange an interview as soon as he returned to England, but for some reason, which I forget, my friend withdrew his application."
I hope that as the result of to-night's debate I shall be the recipient of other confidences which I shall be allowed to repeat in your Lordships' House. Because I assure your Lordships and the Government that we regard this matter very seriously. We believe it is a great menace to the honour of public life; we believe that it is doing grave damage to the prestige of the Crown; and we will never rest till we have accomplished the object we have in view, and that is to prevent the honours which emanate from the Crown, and which should be the proudest possession of any British subject, being bought and sold over the counter like packets of tea." Both these men were quite legitimate applicants. Both had done something, though not enough, to justify the honour; and I should like to say, in view of a statement that has been made that commission has been paid in such cases, that of course no such payment was made or demanded by myself."
My Lords, I have only a few words to say upon this question and I propose to direct them to a branch of the topic which has not been touched upon by either of the noble Earls who have addressed your Lordships But before I advert to that particular topic I may perhaps be allowed, though I cannot give any of those sensational incidents to which my noble friend has just treated the House, to say as an old Member of the House of Commons—what I think any Member who sat in the House of Commons from 1880 to 1907 would say—that there was no doubt at all, even then, in the House of Commons of the existence of these evils. When we saw hon. Members—sometimes others, but chiefly members of the House of Commons, for it was of them that we knew most—when we saw men of great wealth who did not appear to us in their daily converse of the House of Commons and its Lobbies to take anything but a purely perfunctory interest in politics, suddenly raised to the Peerage or receive other marks of titular distinction, men whose merits no eye less penetrating than that of a Party Whip had been able to discern, we were driven to only one conclusion. What was it that entitled them to receive these honours? To that question there was only one answer.I happen to know some things which I have been told in confidence and therefore cannot use; but although I cannot say anything to your Lordships to confirm the evidence which my two noble friends have given, I do not think any member of the House of Commons who sat in that Assembly during those years, when the evil, according to what my noble friends have said, was less gross than it appears subsequently to have become, doubted the existence of those facts. They doubted them no less than people in the time of Sir Robert Walpole doubted the infinitely and incomparably greater evils which prevailed in those days. Passing from that, I want to say a few words about another honour to which reference was not made by either of my noble friends—the post of Privy Councillor. Whether money passes when Privy Councillorships are conferred, with the valued title of "right honourable," I do not know; I think it is reasonable to suppose that in some cases it does. But, again, I would like to say that there is one increase in the number of Privy Councillors of which no one will complain. It has become the practice of recent years to swear of the, Privy Council the Prime Ministers of the great self-governing Dominions. That seems to me, as I hope it will seem to most of your Lordships, to be a very proper extension, quite in conformity with constitutional precedent, of the Privy Council to those who are not residents in Great Britain. And it has, I know, had an excellent effect in the great Dominions by associating some of their most eminent statesmen with the Privy Council, in which they may be called to sit, and where they are welcome, as at least quite the equals of those who sit from this country. But of recent years the honour of Privy councillor, with the title which it carries, has been sown broadcast, especially in the House of Commons. The grant of this dignity is not entirely, but almost entirely, confined to members of the House of Commons. It is given to two classes of persons—to persons whose hostility it is desired to buy off and propitiate and whose criticism it is desired to silence, and to persons who have rendered some Party services—Party services which are not always of a public character. In that way it has become so common in the House of Commons that latterly Members always ask, when they want to refer to somebody in debate, "Is he a right hon. or only an hon. Member?" In fact, the title has become so common that it is, I think, ceasing to carry much honour with it, and that is the particular evil to which I desire to call attention. There ought to be honours in a country like ours. There always have been honours in every country from the days when a Sovereign knighted for some feat of valour upon the field of battle some one who had set a splendid example to his forces, and it is perfectly right that these honours should be bestowed. But the value of an honour depends entirely upon the motive for which it is given, and upon the number of persons to whom it is extended. I once had occasion more than fifty years ago to visit a secondary school in the North of England of some considerable local reputation, and I found in this school a remarkable feature which seemed to have helped to win popularity for it. Every boy received a prize. That was very agreeable for the parents, who were in this way assured of the unflagging industry and intellectual proficiency of the boys, but it was not found to have any effect whatever in stimulating industry or inducing proficiency in the boys themselves. It was not something which any boy desired to attain, because everybody attained it. And it is precisely the same whenever you give an honour without any regard to the merits by which it has been won. It then ceases to be an honour. It is no longer a recognition of public service. It is a recognition of something else which may be, but is not necessarily, creditable to the recipient. In that way we are losing what used to be an exceedingly valuable way of singling out and rewarding merit. It was formerly a reward given only for those who had rendered some public service. I remember very well a case, now many years ago, when Mr. Gladstone, who was then Prime Minister, was asked to confer a Privy Councillorship upon a very old and highly-respected member of the House of Commons who had rendered great services in the city to which he belonged, and whom everybody respected and would have liked to see receive a mark of honour. Mr. Gladstone refused, not that he did not recognise the high merits of the particular person—who had not asked for it, and did not know it was being asked for but because he said the gentleman in question had never held any public office, and he thought a Privy Councillorship ought to be confined to some sort of public office. We have long passed from that; but surely we might draw the line somewhere, and not give it merely as a Party reward or as an incitement to some sort of Party service. The Privy Council is one of the most ancient, and has been in former times one of the most dignified, bodies recognised by our Constitution. In fact, I may say that the Privy Council is the oldest and most honourable of all our institutions except this House, having an origin which is almost co-equal with that of this House itself. And it may still be used for many valuable purposes. Constitutional reformers have sometimes suggested that we might put the Privy Council to new uses in our own times, as it has been put to one sentimental use in associating statesmen of the Dominions with it. But the value of the Privy Council depends upon the care which we take of it, and the care which is exercised in admitting persons to it. A Privy Councillorship will cease to have any value whatever if it is bestowed with as little care as has been the case in recent years. I venture to hope and I can assure His Majesty's Government that there are many not likely to join in this debate who join in the hope—that these representations will have some effect. I need not say that they are not made in any Party sense or with any Party feeling whatever. If I may venture to express my own opinion, I should say that, so far as there is any blame in this matter, it is one which is equally shared by both the great political Parties without distinction. Hoping that these representations will have some effect, I trust that we shall have on this occasion a favourable answer from His Majesty's Government, and that they will recognise that one of the objects which those of us who raise the question have in view is really to help them to resist the pressure which is brought upon them in the House of Commons, and which I am sure in most cases—I think I may say in all cases—Prime Ministers would be glad to resist.
My Lords, there are one or two points upon which I desire to say a word or two. I think we all agree that the field is a narrow one. Therefore I shall not detain your Lordships at any great length. I believe we also agree that there is general concurrence on the main principle that nobody defends the sale or purchase of honours. I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Curzon, who asked the other day for specific cases. Of course, specific cases are very difficult to bring forward; and if they are to be brought forward they involve a certain amount of plain speaking. My noble friend Lord Selborne has set us an example in that direction.I have a case. It is an old one now, extending back some forty years. The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, I think it was, said in the last debate that the Patronage Secretary was "the chief villain of the piece." I am not sure that he is. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Loreburn referred to what he called "touts." I think that when I have stated my case I shall be able to show your Lordships that there is a "hidden hand" that comes between the Patronage Secretary and the person involved. I say that without any diffidence, because I was once sounded as to my willingness to become the collector of funds for the Conservative Party. I declined, because I held that any one who had a scruple of conscience would not be a very effective collector of Party funds. At the same time, I think we shall all admit that there is no disgrace in the collection of Party funds. Let me now come to my case. It is the case of a man of position. He was very wealthy, and he was generous—which all wealthy people are not. He sat in the House of Commons for some time. He was one of those ideal Members, who rarely, if ever, spoke, and who was always there when wanted. At the same time he was a man whose opinion in his own particular line was of great value. When it became known that he was not going to stand again, a Peerage was offered to him, and he accepted it. All the preliminaries were put in hand. Soon afterwards, the "go-between," or the "hidden hand," or the "tout," whatever you like to call him, came to my friend and said, "How about that £30,000? "My friend was very indignant. He said he had heard of nothing of the kind; but he was informed that it was quite customary. My friend then replied," I do not know whether it is customary or not. You will get no £30,000 out of me." He told me afterwards that he thought this would be the end of his Peerage. But it was not so baldly done in those days as appears to be the case to-day, for he received his Peerage, and the £30,000 did not pass. It is very difficult, when matters are carried on in this way, to bring things home. To compare small things with great things, let me cite an incident to your Lordships. Some years ago when playing cricket—we had had rather a heavy day in the field—towards the end of the innings a cheerful-looking gentleman appeared at the wicket, and on the back of his bat was one of those silver shields which indicates some great achievement. We were anxious as to what was in store for us, and we asked him to show us the bat. He handed it to us with much pride, and it was with sighs of great relief that we found the bat had been presented to him "for his social qualities." One can imagine the Patronage Secretary being approached to the effect that when circumstances were favourable it would be very desirable that So-and-So should receive some recognition on account of his social qualities; and I suppose the amount of his recognition would depend on the amount of his sociability. It seems to me that it is really very difficult to grasp this nettle. The object we have in view is that the existing conditions of things should end now. We are often told that we are better than our ancestors. I do not think it matters whether we are better or worse than they were. We all know that in Walpole's time the world was not over nice. Walpole spoke of every man having his price. A cynic has been defined as a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. We want to be assured that honours are given for value and not for price. We find every day that there has always been some objection to certain Peerages. The Duchess of Devonshire has told us that—
" When a Peerage they give to some son of the earth,
He remains just the same as before.
It's an honour, if gained as a premium for worth,
We are told that the matter is very much exaggerated, and that there are extremely few cases. This rather suggests to me the tale of the Irishman who was convicted of assault. When the prosecution produced two witnesses who had seen him commit the assault, he at once offered to find 200 who had not! Therefore it is that when we have got a case we want to make the most of it. Of course, these matters may be exaggerated. Rumour always exaggerates everything. But we want to get rid of the foundation upon which this exaggeration is based, and to stamp out if we can the fire, however small it may be, that has given rise to all this smoke. I do not suppose there are any of us who are ashamed of the share which your Lordships' House has had in the present war, and I think it would be some recognition to those who have served their country if we, at any rate, could make provision for putting our own House in order.But exposes a blockhead the more."
My Lords, I should hardly venture to intervene in this debate if it were not that I am anxious that it should not be supposed that what is sometimes called the Cross Bench mind takes no interest in this kind of question. We who sit on the Cross Benches and who have not enjoyed the opportunities, which the speakers who have previously addressed your Lordships have enjoyed, of knowing what passes on the great stage of the country's affairs, nevertheless do view this question, I think I may venture to say, with the same anxiety and the same deep feeling which animated my noble friend Lord Loreburn in moving, and the noble Earl in seconding, the Motion. I am not able to advance to your Lordships any instances, piquant or otherwise, or to offer any detailed proofs of the existence of this evil; but having been present at the previous debates which have taken place upon this question, what has most strongly impressed my mind is this—that there is nobody who, so far as I know, has ever ventured to rise in his place in this House and say he does not believe this evil exists. Your Lordships are invited by this Motion to declare that you are convinced that Ministers have in recent times advised His Majesty to confer honours and dignities upon persons who have given or promised money to Party funds as consideration therefor; and I cannot believe that in the course of this debate or any other debate which may take place upon this question there will be any member of your Lordships' House who will be found to say in words, or declare by his vote, that he, for his part, does not believe that Ministers have in recent times so advised His Majesty.Some noble Lords, in speaking, have minimised the evil. Some treated it with an almost paternal indulgence. Some have said that it is not so bad as it was. Some have, in terms, admitted its existence: Nobody has said he does not believe that it exists. I have the greatest difficulty in believing that any noble Lord will speak on behalf of the Government tonight and say that he, for his part, disputes its existence. If he did, I am inclined to think that your Lordships would be disposed to ask in what cloistral solitude he has passed his meritorious life. If that is so, it appears to me that this Motion is one which it is almost impossible to meet with a frank frontal negative, although, no doubt, there are various ways by which strategically you might retire to a defensive position "according to plan." I should have thought that if this evil exists in recent times we will not impute it to any Party or to any body the honest and unanswerable step was to say, How shall we prevent its existing any more? It does not appear to me to be of any moment whether it exists in many cases or in few; whether the honour sold cost Only £5,000 or whether it cost £50,000; whether the trade price was high or low at the time; and whether the particular person who is said to have desired or who is said to have received the honour might well have received it upon his merits if money had not been in question. All these things are beside the mark. If this evil exists at all. I should have imagined it would have been quite clear that the first thought of any person who was sensitive to the dignity of the Government of this country would have been how to prevent it, and I have great difficulty in supposing that your Lordships will hear from the noble Earl who leads the House anything to the contrary. The remaining portion of the Motion tenders to the Government, or at any rate invites the House to express an opinion upon, two specific proposals. There, again, I feel sure there can be no desire on the part of those who support the Motion to dictate to the Government what steps should be taken, if they are prepared to take effective steps at all, or to do more than advance in a practical form measures, which we think would be of advantage and probably effectual, though capable, no doubt, of improvement. At any rate, if the Government claim to make their own proposals upon this subject, speaking for myself I should be perfectly willing to give them any opportunity that was required to consider the practical details, and not endeavour in the least degree to dictate what measures should be taken. We know from the course that debates have taken on previous occasions the arguments that are advanced to get rid of this question. There is a kind of attitude that it is not nearly so bad as it was. I confess I have not the slightest interest in what Sir Robert Walpole did in these matters. Even the last century is remote. The question is what is done in the present century. Then, again, there is the easygoing man-of-the-world who tells an interesting anecdote of his own experience, and how the tempted resisted temptation, and whose attitude is—Human nature still continues, Whips will be Whips, snobs will be snobs, and you cannot prevent it. That is no answer. I can perfectly well understand that Ministers and those who advise them may be deceived, but if earnest steps are taken to prevent that, I do not think it could happen once in a generation. After all, honours can be conferred only upon somebody's recommendation; and if the Prime Minister says to the person from whom the recommendation comes, "Why did you recommend this person? " and if he is told." It is because somebody else has mentioned him to me," and if he then says, "Then bring your friend, and I will ask him tie same question "—I presume these are persons who feel the duty they owe to their Chief to advise him loyally and conceal nothing from him—if he says "Why is this person recommended? "and he is told, and he then says," Give me your assurance that money has nothing to do with this—I do not care whether he is rich or not, or whether he has built a hospital or not—give me your assurance that no money has passed," and the answer is satisfactory, then the Prime Minister can honourably and properly advise His Majesty in accordance therewith. What is the difficulty? Why shrink from doing that? It takes no time. If that were done, this evil would come to an end. I trust we shall none of us be disposed to think that, because of the great difficulty, which I recognise, of determining whether a person's qualifications are sufficient or not, and because there are certain things which should not be an arbitrary disqualification if otherwise the person is a suitable person, therefore the Prime Minister and those upon whom he should rely should be exonerated from the primary obligation of seeing that a thing is "straight," of being assured, in a manner upon which they could rely, that the matter is straight, and so bringing about the object we all desire—namely, that this traffic should cease.
My Lords, the temptation to preserve a discreet silence on this occasion is not inconsiderable. The subject is an odious one and full of difficulty, but I feel I have been connected with the official life of this country for so many years that I can scarcely sit still without saying half a dozen words before this debate concludes. The difficulty which any one who addresses himself to this matter must encounter is this. He is likely to find himself either committed to an attack which may carry him a good deal further than he intends to go, or, on the other hand, he may find himself in the position of appearing to be an apologist of venality and corruption. If we go to a Division on my noble and learned friend's Motion many of us, I think, will have that dilemma to face. But, my Lords, I rather hope that we may not have to go to a Division. I believe there is so much general unanimity in this House in regard to the main principles with which my noble and learned friend is concerned that there should be no great difficulty in finding words which will do all that my noble and learned friend desires and which all of us can support without any misgiving.Let me say at once that I am not content to leave things alone. I agree with what was said so well a moment ago by the noble and learned Lord who sits near me when he told us that it was absolutely necessary that some notice should be taken of the widespread suspicion by which the whole of this subject is surrounded. I am quite prepared to admit that in the past there must have been insufficient care in dealing with this question of the granting of honours. I believe there have been what it is perhaps not too much to call scandals in connection with it, scandals for which the Prime Minister of the day has been in no way responsible, but which have been due to indiscretion or over-zeal on the part of his subordinates. Therefore when my noble friend Lord Selborne suggests that some of us were sceptical about the extent of this evil, I say at once that although he probably considers that it exists on a larger and a more flagrant scale than I do, I am entirely at one with him in believing that there is an evil, and that it requires to be redressed. Well, my Lords, can we do anything in this House to avoid the recurrence of these incidents and to reassure the public mind? I think we can. To begin with, I venture to say that in my view there is more to be done by awakening public interest in this question, by inducing the public to recognise its gravity, than by any attempt to apply rigid and carefully-drawn formulas by which those who are responsible for the recommendations for honours are to be bound. Such formulas are inapplicable, or, at any rate, I believe will always prove insufficient, because of the extraordinary difficulty of drawing the line between that which is permissible and that which is not permissible in this matter, I think my noble friend Lord Selborne said that His Majesty's Government relied too much upon a technical defence. It is not entirely a technical defence. What is the origin of all the trouble? It is the result of the Party system as we know it to-day. I doubt, however, whether anybody will suggest that it will be possible for us to dispense with the Party system altogether. I believe that political life would be very insipid and very inconclusive, if the Party system did not exist. If you have the Party system you must have the Party organisation. If you have the Party organisation you must have Party expenses. If you have Party expenses you must have the Party war chest, and it must inevitably happen that to that Party war chest the richer members of the Party will be expected, and I think naturally expected, to contribute out of their affluence. That seems to me not only not improper conduct but conduct in a way creditable to those concerned. At any rate, it does not shock me. Then we come to the moment when the Honours' List has to be compiled. It has been said more than once to-night—and I think we are all agreed—that nobody contends that a generous contributor to Party funds should be excluded from recognition because of his generosity. I am glad to sec my noble friend Lord Selborne signify his concurrence. But the complaint is that not only is he not disqualified, but he is given a good mark for what he has done. There, again, that seems to me to be an arguable point, and the question arises Are you to give him any good marks, and, if so, how many are you to give him? I venture to suggest that the real test is this—that no amount which has been contributed in this way by a possible recipient of honours should be recognised as a qualification for him, unless he is abundantly qualified for wholly different reasons unconnected with contributions to Party funds. It is for that reason that the first Resolution of my noble and learned friend seems to me so valuable. If effect is given to that Resolution it will make it absolutely imperative on the Government of the day to place a full and complete account of the candidate's activities of all kinds before the public before he is entitled to a reward. I am inclined to believe that in the past, if I may still use the same simile, too many marks have been given for political generosity, and that insufficient care has been taken to see to it that the claim is justified by other considerations of a less disputable kind. When I make that admission I do not consider that I am going the length of admitting what has been urged in some quarters—namely, that there is what you may call an open market for honours, a market in which all honours are ticketed at a price, and sold across a counter, as it were, to people who came and paid their price. To admit that would be to admit that the source of honour in this country is tainted, and I myself do not believe it is. I think it was Lord Salisbury who told us in a previous debate that it was a matter of common knowledge in the city of London that a man who could produce £25,000 could make sure of getting a certain honour. If the City of London is so foolish as to believe that, I hope we shall do something to disabuse its mind of the idea. I pass for a moment to the Resolutions which my noble and learned friend has put upon the Paper, I venture to make one or two small comments upon them because he was good enough to say that it any one desired to suggest an improvement on what he proposed he was ready to consider the suggestion. In the first place, the Resolutions begin with a preamble. The preamble contains a sentence to this effect "That this House is convinced that Ministers have in recent times advised His Majesty to confer honours and dignities on persons who have given or promised money to Party funds as a consideration therefor." We have heard from Lord Selborne cases in which there has been how shall I put it?—gross indiscretion on the part of applicants for honours, and apparently, if his information is correct, extremely imprudent language on the part of the Party Whips. But nothing that has been said in this debate, or in any of our previous debates, to my mind, justifies the suggestion that a succession of Prime Ministers have been in the habit of deliberately dealing in honours with persons desirous to obtain them. I venture, with great respect, to ask the noble and learned Earl whether it is really necessary that there should be a preamble to these Resolutions. As a rule, when we are legislating, we minimise the use of preambles in Bills. To my mind the real preamble to the Resolutions is the speech which has been delivered by the noble and learned Earl, and this debate, from which I believe he will obtain a considerable amount of support. As to the Resolutions, as I said just now, I think the first is wholly good and helpful. It seems to me most important that there should be a full statement of the services for which the individual is to be recompensed. It should be given the widest publicity, and I would like to add that it should also be laid on the Table of both Houses of Parliament. If that is done completely, and if it is a really full statement, then, if there is any dishonesty lurking at the bottom of it, that dishonesty will assuredly become evident to those who read the document. I therefore entirely favour that Resolution, and I think I am right in saying that when this question was discussed on a previous occasion my noble friend who leads the House encouraged the idea, and promised he would entertain the suggestion. One word as to the second Resolution. In substance I agree with it. I rather question its form, and I will tell the House why. In the first place, I think it is clear that nothing that is said or voted in this House will have the effect of binding the Prime Minister. It is clear that we cannot in this House lay down the procedure which is to be followed when the Prime Minister goes to the Sovereign and discusses with the Sovereign the question of the conferring of honours. I should not myself be in favour of imposing, either upon the Prime Minister or the Sovereign, the kind of procedure which seems to be indicated in this Resolution. But I desire as strongly as does my noble and learned friend to lay down the broad principle, which I believe he favours, that the Prime Minister, in recommending any person for any such honour or dignity, is to satisfy himself that no payment or expectation of payment to any Party funds is directly or indirectly associated with the grant or the promise of any such honour or dignity. If that Resolution were to be accepted on the part of the Government, accepted by my noble friend who leads the House on the part of his colleagues and the Prime Minister, I believe we should obtain that security for which we have a right to look, and the virtual pledge so given would not be repudiated hereafter. I believe that if a Resolution somewhat in that shape were to be passed we should go a long way towards allaying suspicion, which may be exaggerated, but which is certainly widespread and very deep-seated.
My Lords, my only title to address your Lordships on this subject is that I happen to be one of the most recent recruits to this House from the ranks of the House of Commons, and something has been said this evening about the attitude of the House of Commons towards this question. I think I can say from some experience that a good deal of uneasiness did prevail in that Assembly upon this question. It is no doubt true that members of the House of Commons would rate at a higher value purely Party services than would those who have not served in that House. But speaking as a matter of comparison, what I think causes uneasiness, not only in the House of Commons but also in this House, is to find that even Party services, humble and prosaic as they may be, sometimes get thrust upon one side in favour of that which is—and cannot conceivably be anything else—a bare pecuniary contribution to Party funds. I think if there is one sentiment that has inspired the debate it is the feeling that a contribution of that kind, whether it be right or not, is not of itself alone a sufficient justification for the conferment of honour.It might surprise some spectators that we are again discussing this subject to-night after a very few weeks, and after the short adjournment of our proceedings that has taken place since the 7th of August last. The fact is, my Lords, that we are in a great difficulty here; we suffer from a difficulty which the House of Commons does not suffer from. It is many years now since this House has been in a position to compel a reply from an actual Prime Minister, and we have at the present moment only a few opportunities of interrogating an ex-Prime Minister, even if an ex-Prime Minister should be willing to recognise any right in us to interrogate him. Again, this House never has the chance to interrogate an actual Patronage Secretary to the Treasury, and we can only gently hint that this House would be glad to receive any explanations which might be forthcoming from such ex-Patronage Secretaries as have seats in this House at the present time. The result is that we find ourselves the victims of that highly convenient device, which consists in putting up a most acceptable member of the Ministry, well known to this House, deeply versed in its traditions, and in all the arts which tend to enhance the persuasiveness of that which it is necessary to say in order to make a successful defence. He gets up and lays his hand upon his heart and says he has an almost child-like want of knowledge of the intricacies of these proceedings and cannot answer as regards them, because he really does not know. That was the position in which we were upon the last occasion when this subject was debated, and if I might give a hint to my noble friend who leads the House, it is this—that probably the uneasiness that has caused the recurrence of the debate is the feeling that his defence, if it be a defence, or his answer upon the last occasion, partook rather too much of saying that all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds. We do not wish for my noble friend the dreadful misfortunes which, according to the great French satirist, befel the philosopher whose only tenet was summarised in those well-known words. But my noble friend's case on the last occasion it has been recapitulated to-night by the noble Earl who brought this Motion forward, and I will not repeat it—went as far as saying there was no harm in a contribution to Party funds or the conferment of an honour even in a case where those two might have been connected together. That may be true. But the result was that, if it was the case, next morning, on my noble friend, like a well-seasoned statesman, looking round the morning Press for the specially valuable kind of support which consists "not in praising me when I am in the right, but in voting with me when I am wrong," must indeed have been surprised to find that in the whole range of the London Press the only two newspapers that supported the position which he had taken up were the Westminster Gazette and the Daily Chronicle. That at least was a position which I think he probably found somewhat paradoxical. These were the only two stalwarts who were found still favouring honours for millionaires and big balances for Party funds. The Westminster Gazette, in fact, contended in substance that honours do create and intensify class divisions; that they encourage snobbism, and stamp inequality, but we cannot do without them because without these things you could not finance political parties nor could you reward political service. If the noble Earl read those comments I hope he was not too much displeased at being associated with the conferment of honours for these undesirable ends and the seeking of them by these unworthy means. Earl Loreburn's Motion recommends a published declaration as to claims and services. The noble Earl who leads the House said, on the 7th of August, that such declarations had always been supplied, but the mischief was that the newspapers would not take any notice of them. I should like to know whether such statements and explanations ever in fact do go beyond those that we see in the newspapers. Do they ever go beyond mere statements about parentage, occupation, and personal history? Is it a fact that they ever state the actual services in respect of which the honour has been conferred? Perhaps it is a fact that the newspapers do not print these explanations because they are not what is called "good copy," and it may be that they are not "good copy" because generally they just stop short of the explanation, and do not lift the veil upon the inwardness of the matter about which everybody wants to know. The fact is that if they did not thus stop short these explanations would get more newspaper attention; in fact, the more difficult the explanation, the more spicy would be the matter for the newspaper and the better the "copy." I suggest that the practice should be to leave the Tress to itself, and to use the Gazette or Papers presented to Parliament instead, and let the Press forage amongst them as it thinks proper. The conferment of an honour is an important act of State, and therefore worthy of that special record which consists in an entry in public documents, and I think there should appear as well the motives which impel the exercise, of the Royal Prerogative in a specially gracious way. I think that upon the last occasion the noble Earl admitted that an uneasiness existed on this subject, and well he might. The real reason for that is that, after all had been said, at the end of the debate there remained certain unexplained cases which might be susceptible of a quite complete and satisfactory explanation, but have never in fact been explained. They are, I think, nearly all ancient history, yet what I may call a mule-like silence has ever since been maintained about each and all of them; and who can wonder if the public, in a case where no reason is apparent and where no explanation is forthcoming, attribute bad motives, imagine discreditable reasons, and infer that the only possible explanation was one which could not be risked in public. Such explanation could easily enough be given in defensible cases by the method I have suggested, or, if you prefer it, by informing or inspiring a newspaper; and Governments have only themselves to blame if the public finds in their obstinacy in keeping silence a thing which embarrasses, perplexes, and I may even say exasperates them, and if, in consequence, the public gets into a sort of temper in which every kind of misconstruction and suspicion breeds and grows rank. I hope that this House will make it quite plain, whether by a Division or otherwise to-night, that it thinks these grave matters should be restored to that plane in which there should be no doubt that the practice of our country will bear comparison with its noblest traditions in all matters of public service.
rose to speak, when
I hope the noble Lord will allow me to state the case of the Government now. During the past few weeks His Majesty's Government have more than once been reproached for raising questions that were not directly connected with the prosecution of the war, and I have sometimes found difficulty in meeting the criticisms that were directed against me from noble Lords who sit upon the Bench opposite. I do not make it at all a matter of reproach to them that they have now, for the second time in a few months, called the attention of your Lordships' House to a matter which has no conceivable connection with the war; and for two reasons. First, I think that the House can be hypercritical on the subject, and that even in times of war there are matters of great importance which either of the Houses of Parliament is entitled to examine and discuss; and, secondly, I think that this is emphatically one of those cases.I remember stating in my remarks on a previous occasion that personally I should look forward to the resumption of the discussion at a later date in the autumn. Therefore, my Lords, I have not one word of objection to offer to the conduct of the noble Earl in putting this Motion down on the Paper to-day. On the contrary, I welcome the opportunity of making more clear what apparently was left, no doubt owing to imperfections on my part, in some doubt upon that occasion. The noble Lord who has just addressed us devoted a good deal of his observations, in a kindly though critical way, to that speech, and he compared me to Dr. Pangloss as having on that occasion preached the philosophy of "the best in the best of all possible worlds." I have, I confess, not too distinct a recollection of all that I said on that occasion, but I do clearly bear in mind that I most emphatically stated that the idea of any mercantile transaction in respect of honours—anything like the sale or barter of honours—was a despicable thing and must be abhorrent to any right-minded man. The noble Lord may say that that was a general enunciation of principle, and that in the other parts of my speech I failed to act up to my general professions of virtue. The noble Earl, Lord Loreburn, in his remarks drew attention to one observation that fell from me upon that occasion. He did not quote it quite correctly. The word that he used this afternoon was "objectionable." I said that I did not see that there was anything dishonourable in the position to which he was referring; and what I meant was that if Parties are an essential feature in the Parliamentary life of a country like our own—and I agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, in thinking that they are—then to support your Party and its principles is not a dishonourable but an entirely honourable and legitimate use of wealth. All, I think, will agree with me so far. And, further, I said that to argue that such an application of wealth should be a bar to the receipt of any honour at the hands of the Crown would be not only impracticable but unjust. That was my proposition. I remain impenitent upon the matter, and I do not think that as a general proposition it is one which many of your Lordships will be disposed to dispute. I do not want, however, to weary your Lordships by dealing with anything that I said on a former occasion. What your Lordships want to know is, What is the attitude of the Government towards the proposals that have been made and the speeches that have been delivered this afternoon? I cannot fail to have been very considerably impressed, as must every one of your Lordships have been, with the almost complete unanimity of opinion that has prevailed this afternoon. Behind every speech, although couched in different language and expressing sometimes different attitudes towards the ease, there has lurked the deep-seated conviction that there does exist a scandal, that this scandal is injurious to the standards of public life in this country, and that it would be desirable—if not in the exact form suggested by the speakers who have addressed us, at any rate in some form—to know that the Government mean, so far as their responsibility is concerned, to set their face against the continued existence of such a scandal. I was particularly impressed with what fell from Lord Sumner. The noble Lord, speaking with all the detachment of the Cross Benches and the judicial mind, but agreeing with the general sentiments of previous speakers, said that he would not quarrel so much about the particular words of the Resolution that might be adopted so long as some practical assurance was given that the Government were in accord with the sentiments of the House. And it is in that spirit that I will deal with the Motion of the noble Earl as it stands upon the Paper. I have been to some extent anticipated in this task by the speech which was delivered by the noble Marquess who is now seated upon the Cross Benches, Lord Lansdowne. The Motion on the Paper commences with a preamble. Whether it is customary or desirable or not to ask your Lordships to agree to a preamble, I offer no opinion. I look to the words of this particular preamble. Let me just read them—
I note two points about that preamble. The first is this. Although the noble Earl, Lord Loreburn, speaks of Ministers without any more precise definition, it is clearly to Prime Ministers alone that he can refer." That this House, convinced that Ministers have in recent times advised His Majesty to confer honours and diginities upon persons who have given or promised money to Party funds as a consideration therefore …"
I think I said that.
That is so; because they are the only Ministers who are responsible for conferring honours and dignities. Therefore the charge, if it is a charge, relates to four men—the only four men now living who have filled the post of First Minister of the Crown. They are Lord Rosebery, Mr. Balfour, Mr. Asquith, and the present Prime Minister. And the House is asked to express its conviction—a very strong word—that those four high officers of State have acted in a certain manner. I am quite certain that the noble Earl, in framing his Resolution, did not mean to level any charge against those statesmen; but I cannot help thinking—and I believe the impression occurred to Lord Lansdowne also—that if this House were asked to pass the preamble in its present form, it would amount to a very serious imputation upon the honour of the particular statesmen to whom I have referred.Then, further, the noble and learned Earl asks us to state that "the House is convinced." I remember that on the previous occasion when Lord Selborne moved his Motion he used much more moderate language. He spoke of "a widespread belief "; he spoke of "general public uneasiness," or used words of that description—
"It was alleged."
That was more cautious language. It was language which I endorsed. I think I said at the time that there is a great public uneasiness; I think at the time I admitted that there is a widespread belief; and those were words entirely within the limits of prudence and moderation. But your Lordships' House this afternoon is asked to say that "it is convinced." If such a very strong term is to be employed, one is entitled to look into the nature of the evidence. I listened with great respect to the evidence that was brought forward by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, this afternoon. It was evidence of most imprudent conduct, but it was not evidence of the sale, of honours by Ministers. It was evidence, in two cases, of great folly on the part of persons, either seeking honours for themselves or endeavouring to get commissions for procuring honours for others; and in the two other cases I think I am right in saying that it was evidence of conduct which we should all deeply deplore on the part of the Party Whips. Who the Party Whips in question were I do not know. The noble Earl did not tell us, and I shall certainly not inquire. But there is nothing in that evidence to lead the House to give its vote this afternoon in favour of a Resolution that it is "convinced" that the four Prime Ministers to whom I have referred have acted in a particular manner. Even in the case mentioned by Lord Dartmouth—and the same remark applies to the other cases—the goods were not delivered across the counter; the transaction was not completed; and the gentleman to whom he referred became a Peer in return for meritorious public services without being called upon to give anything in return. I should feel very reluctant, therefore, to ask your Lordships to agree to pass the preamble of this Resolution in its present form.
I do not think it is fair for the noble Earl to read into the carefully considered language of the preface something which is really not there.
I am delighted to hear from the noble and learned Earl that he did not intend it to be there.
It is not there.
But I am bound to say that I saw it there, and that the present Prime Minister saw it there when the matter was placed before him. Lord Lansdowne saw it there, as is evident from his speech this afternoon. I submit that, in these circumstances, to ask your Lordships to go out of your way to express your conviction that certain public men have acted in a certain way, to express that conviction without direct evidence, without evidence that would convince anybody, is an act which you would be unwise to perform, and one which, with all respect to the noble and learned Earl, I am somewhat surprised that a great lawyer and a great Judge like himself—than whom nobody knows better what is evidence and what it ought to be—should ask your Lordships to accept. However, that is an affair of the preamble, and the preamble is not the important matter.I turn now to propositions (1) and (2). Before I deal with Number 1, will the noble and learned Earl pardon me if for a moment I revert to an incident in the past? The noble and learned Earl this afternoon has worn the mantle of impeccable virtue, and I do not deny that it sits very properly on his shoulders. But while I was listening to Lord Loreburn I could not help remembering an incident that occurred in this House a few years ago. It was on August 10, 1911. It was a dramatic occasion. It was a critical day. It was the last night of the debate on the Parliament Bill. There rose from this Bench the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, speaking on behalf of the then Government, and he told your Lordships' House that the Prime Minister of that time had received the assent of the Sovereign to the creation of a large number of Peers—a number of Peers large enough to override any possible opposition to the Parliament Bill. It was generally understood that the number of Peers so contemplated might reach even the number of 300 or 400. It was, I believe, a matter of common knowledge at the time that two lists had been drawn up. The first was a list of Peers, 100 to 150 in number, who were to be appointed straight away in order to defeat the machinations of the Opposition; and if that number proved ineffective a further batch was to be appointed to drive the blow home and to reduce your Lordships' House to impotence. I remember very well that the noble and learned Earl at that time sat upon the Woolsack. He was a member of that Government. He was a party to that transaction. As I listened to him speaking to-night, I could not help wondering if the obligation had at that time existed which the noble and learned Earl is anxious to enforce in this suggestion Number 1, how he would have composed the public statement to be laid on the Table of this House, or to be published in the Gazette, of the reasons for which these honours were recommended to the Crown. If the truth had been told, I think the noble and learned Earl, or any member of that Government, would have found great difficulty in saying that those honours had been conferred for definite public service of the high and honourable character about which we have heard so much in your Lordships' House to-night. If the truth had been told, the public statement made here or elsewhere would have had to be that these Peerages were conferred for the willingness to give a vote for a purely Party measure. In other words, the Peerage would not have been given for a contribution in money to a Party, but for the giving of a mere Party vote. I venture to say that, had that been done, it would have been a transaction far more open to reproach and far more pregnant with future mischief than any which the noble Earl now condemns. And, indeed, in this avalanche of prospective Peers—from whom we were happily saved—I wonder if it would have been possible in every case out of the 400 for the Prime Minister to state on his honour to the Sovereign that no contribution, direct or indirect, had been made to Party funds. That is merely a little reminiscence, and I hope the noble and learned Earl will pardon me for having introduced it. I pass now to the suggestion itself. The suggestion is that a definite public statement should be made that, in these happier and purer days, we may be able to conform to a higher standard of honourable practice. Well, my Lords, I said last time—and Lord Stuart of Worthy questioned me on that point that such a statement is drawn up now. He seemed to think it is confined to the position and dignity of the individuals concerned. That is not the case. A statement is drawn up, and if your Lordships follow an Honours List and read it in the newspapers you will see a statement of the services for which the honour is conferred.
No; that is not so.
The noble Lord speaks with authority as the proprietor of a great newspaper, but I believe I have read it myself in the daily newspapers.
It is not the case that any official statement is issued with the Honours List or circulated to the newspapers. The Press agencies send out details as to the lives and as to the merits of various persons in the Honours List, but no official statement is issued.
That is not my impression. I do not quite know what the noble Lord means by an official statement. My impression is that a statement is drawn up and given out from Downing-street, and I think I have read it in the noble Lord's newspaper. However, the suggestion made is that that has not been enough, and that we ought to go beyond it. On the last occasion, I think it was the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who said "Why don't you publish this List in the London Gazette?" To-night, the noble Marquess said, "Why not lay it on the Table of the House?" I do not know which is the better method of the two, but I am rather alarmed at the length of the document that would be required in either case.The fact is that the words of the noble Earl really carry the matter rather further than I think he or his friends desire, when they say that when any honour or dignity is conferred a definite public statement of the reasons for which it has been recommended to the Crown shall accompany the notification of the grant. I wonder what they actually have in view. I believe what they have in mind are such honours as a Peerage, a baronetage, a knighthood, or a Privy Councillorship. And upon the question of Privy Councillors, may I say, in reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Bryce, that I do not think he is quite correctly informed as to the numbers of the Privy Council. It now numbers 300, and has stood at nearly the same figure for the last ten years, and I do not think there has been that increase which he seemed to postulate in his remarks. Am I right in thinking that this is what the noble Earl and his friends desire—that this statement should be made in all cases, or do they wish that it should only be made in the cases which I have mentioned? I Because, of course, there will be honours for services in connection with the war, which it is quite certain will be enormous in number.
Those are all excluded, I think.
No, they are not excluded, because there are rewards given to thousands of persons of every class and degree in this country rendering services in connection with the war. No doubt it would be quite easy to say the reward, whatever it is, is given for services in the war. But does the noble Earl really mean that a statement should be made in all those cases and laid upon the Table of the House?
I have said "make a declaration to the Sovereign."
I am talking about Resolution Number 1.
I think a statement should be made in every case.
I am trying to find out for my own guidance, and the guidance of the Government, the nature of the cases in which it is desired that a statement should be made. It is, of course, difficult to settle the matter by dialogue or conversation across the House. Assuming that the Government are quite willing to carry it out, noble Lords should favour me with their own views as to the best method of carrying it out, and as to what extent the range of it should extend.
My Motion excludes soldiers and sailors.
But in the case of the war there will be thousands of munition workers who are neither members of the Army nor of the Navy. Now I come to proposition Number 2. Can we accept this part of the Resolution? It differs materially from the Question which was put by Lord Selborne in August last, and I think the change is due to the recognition on the part of particular noble Lords of the force of some of the arguments that were pressed against the Question as it then stood, for we now have introduced into the Resolution of Lord Loreburn the phrase "payment to Party funds." To that extent I think the Motion is a better one, and much less open to criticism than was the Question of Lord Selborne three months ago.I listened, as the House must have listened, with great interest to what fell from Lord Lansdowne, speaking with his great authority and experience on this matter. The proposal is that a declaration should be made to the Sovereign by the Prime Minister, and that this House should lay down—that one House of Parliament should lay down—that it is the duty of the Prime Minister to make such a declaration. I think the House is quite right to feel an interest—a great interest—in the attitude and conduct of the Prime Minister, and to give to him an indication of what its views in this matter are; but I am not certain that the House would be well advised to state what the Prime Minister ought to do in his interviews with the Sovereign. That seems to me a most unusual and unwise attempt to interfere in the relations between the First Minister of the State and the Sovereign whom he serves. When the Prime Minister goes to the Palace to see the King, whether he goes to see him upon public business of any sort or for the special object of recommending honours to him, he goes as confidential adviser of the Sovereign, and what passes within those doors nobody has a right to ask or to know. If he goes to recommend to the Sovereign the appointment of a Bishop or of an Ambassador, I understand that his honour is supposed to be beyond suspicion; but if he goes to recommend any other dignity to the King his honour is suspect and he is to support his honour by affidavit. Lord Salisbury, in the last debate, said the idea was that the Prime Minister should give his word of honour as a gentleman to the Sovereign. I must confess I think that your Lordships would go somewhat beyond what is wise or desirable in the case if you laid down any such rule of action. The moment the Prime Minister has entered the Palace doors, I do not think we have anything to do with what there passes; and I should be disposed to ask your Lordships to agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, in thinking that that particular suggestion might well not be pursued. Now we come to the suggestion of amendment made by Lord Lansdowne. I hope he will correct me if I do not quite accurately state what he suggested to your Lordships. As I understand, in proposing the omission of the words about the declaration to the Sovereign, in which I concur, he suggested that Resolution Number 2 should run as follows—
Those are, I think, the words which the noble Marquess has suggested. Your Lordships may quite fairly vote for those words, and I think, on behalf of the Government, I may quite fairly accept them. After all, is it not clear that at the bottom we all of us have the same thing in view? We want to stop what is commonly called the prostitution and degradation of honours. I agree with those who say that it is beside the point to be arguing now, as some of us (perhaps even as I myself) have argued in the past, the extent to which the present practice differs from that of the past, or is superior or inferior to that of the past. Given the existence of the scandal, we want to stop it, and the particular form of the scandal we want to stop is this. You want to prevent the case in which there has been any bargain or consideration in return for which a man receives his honour. The way you think best to achieve that is by indicating to the Prime Minister the manner in which he can best stop it by his own action. Is not that what we are all agreed upon? Whether it should be made by a declaration to the Sovereign or not is a matter on which I should disagree, for the reasons I have stated. With the broad proposition itself, that it is desirable that the Prime Minister should satisfy himself that no payment is directly or indirectly associated with the honour, I agree. If Lord Lansdowne moves his Amendment in the form which I understand him to recommend—that is to say, the Motion of the noble and learned Earl omitting the preamble, containing No. 1 in its present form and No. 2 in the amended form which I read out to your Lordships—I shall be quite prepared to suggest that it should meet with your Lordships' acceptance." That the Prime Minister, before recommending any person for any such honour or dignity, should satisfy himself that no payment or expectation of payment to any Party fund is directly or indirectly associated with the grant or promise of such honour or dignity."
My Lords, the noble Earl opposite and I have been as it were yoked together in the course of this debate for the reason that, as Leaders of the House at different times, we have had to deal with this matter. I hope, therefore, I may be allowed to say a few words in support of the appeal which he has addressed to the House for the passing of the Motion in a somewhat amended form. I am quite certain that everybody in the House thoroughly appreciates the motives of my noble and learned friend opposite and the other noble Lords who have taken an interest in this Question, and I should be exceedingly sorry, as I am sure the noble Earl who leads the House would be, if it were to be supposed that either of us had in the speeches we made on a former occasion adopted anything like a cynical attitude on this matter, or had desired to minimise its importance, or indeed to deny the existence of an evil.At the same time I do feel that it is desirable not to speak in terms of exaggeration of this matter, and I say it for this reason. I do not think all the sympathisers with my noble friend outside the House have entirely kept their heads over it. I have seen leading articles in newspapers of great repute in the last few days which have spoken of the general corruption of English life as evidenced by this supposed frequent sale of honours. It is almost implied that of all countries, either in Europe or elsewhere, political life in England is the most corrupt. That is entirely untrue, and the people who write these things, if they take the trouble to inquire, must see that they are untrue. I believe that, whatever may be the case on this particular matter, public life in England is on the whole cleaner than it is in any other country. Therefore to speak as though public life generally was a sink of corruption is to say what is not true. I think your Lordships will see that people outside will ask whether it is possible, if there is so much general corruption in this matter of honours, that there is not a good deal of political corruption generally. It would hardly be possible that the distribution of honours should be, if not uniformly, at least generally, founded on these base considerations and that the rest of public life should be pure. People would very soon ask, How about Office? Is that ever paid for? If honours are supposed to be generally paid for, it may well be supposed that subscriptions to Party funds guide Prime Ministers in their distributions of places. That is why I think it is necessary, while admitting an evil, that we should not speak of it in exaggerated terms or as though it was anything like a uniform practice. Of course, that is no reason why we should not try to amend defects where defects are shown to exist. I confess that I agree with what has fallen from the noble Marl who leads the House on the subject of the preamble. What he says occurred to the Prime Minister and to Lord Lansdowne also occurred to me, and it is this—that any person outside reading these words in this form would naturally conclude, without knowing much of the circumstances, that an imputation was made against the Prime Ministers concerned. Now in the last five and twenty years, as a noble Lord points out, there have been six Prime Ministers. Only four of them are here. These can speak for themselves. Rut the honoured names of those who have gone deserve even more consideration from us, and I therefore beg the noble and learned Earl not to press these words, or, indeed, to begin by any preamble at all. As regards Number 1, there again I am in agreement with the noble Earl who leads the, House. I do not think that it would be considered necessary that every time any order or decoration is conferred by the Crown an elaborate account of the circumstances which had caused it to be given should be published. Put with the general sense of that paragraph I entirely agree. I also feel that Lord Curzon's suggestion on Number 2 is one which your Lordships would do well to adopt. I entirely agree with what fell from him regarding the inadvisability of introducing the person of the Sovereign into a declaration of this kind. It cannot be necessary to carry out the purpose of the Motion, and it is, I think, undesirable in itself. The, only suggestion I should make is that instead of using the words "payment to any Party funds" the noble and learned Earl should use the words "payment to any political fund." The term "Party funds" has become almost technical. It is confined to the particular sum of money which is subscribed and understood to be under the management of the Patronage Secretary. Rut there are a great many other funds of a political character, leagues and societies of all kinds, and I do not think that if any one desired to evade the Resolution as worded it would be difficult for them to do so. They could ask for subscriptions to the Free Trade Union, the Tariff Reform League, the Eighty Club, or the Primrose League.
"Party or political "—that would do.
I should be very glad if my noble and learned friend would accept that change, which I think would be an improvement. Of course, our one object is to prevent those occasionally mysterious elevations, either to the Peerage or to other positions, of which the explanation is not obvious to the public, and I confess I am disposed to associate myself with my noble friend Lord Bryce in what he said about the Privy Council—to this extent, that apart from great numerical additions to that body it is a body the sanctity of which ought to be most specially maintained. Of all honourable departments in this country it possesses a peculiar character of its own which ought to be most jealously safeguarded.With regard to this and all these other matters it surely comes to this. It is not a question whether a man has subscribed to this or to that particular fund; it all conies to the question of the character of the man who is to be ennobled or advanced. If his character is high, and he is generally recognised to be a fit person for the honour, nobody cares whether he subscribes half a million to the Party funds. If, on the other hand, he is not a person who in general opinion ought to be a member of the House of Lords or a baronet or a knight, the mere fact that he has not subscribed to Party funds will not make his position any better, or, indeed, justify the Prime Minister of the day in advancing him. If we could stop Prime Ministers advancing any one who is not of high character—the main thing to do—we should be very glad, and I am sure everybody in this House would be glad to take such a step. We cannot do that. This we can do, and it covers a part of the ground, but does not, I am afraid, cover all the ground. I am glad, indeed, that the. Motion is to be passed, and I trust that my noble and learned friend will agree to it in the form in which the Government are willing to accept it. I suppose I ought not entirely to pass by without notice the allusion which the noble Earl who leads the House made to the debate on the Parliament Bill, in which I was able to take only a limited part myself for reasons of health. The statement of what might have occurred, made by the noble Earl who leads the House, must make both himself and the whole House quite as glad as I have always been that the majority did not get their way on that occasion.
My Lords, I think your Lordships are to be congratulated on one fact, and that is that there is a very great body of opinion in favour of abolishing this discreditable state of things, and that the Government have made a notable advance in opinion since we had the duty of discussing this matter in the summer. But the Government still make difficulties. I do wish they would not make difficulties about this question. What is the source of this hesitation, this reluctance? What is the difficulty? We have a mischief, it is admitted; it is proved up to the hilt; yet the Government say there are little difficulties here and there. The obvious thing for the Government to do is to accept the Resolution. There may be some little verbal changes, but instead of accepting the Resolution they make difficulties. They are shocked at the outspokenness of the preamble. I would assure them that these are days when we must be outspoken. We have now not to split hairs and hang upon little verbal differences. We have to speak to the democracy, and the democracy expects us to speak in language which can be understood.If we are convinced that this evil exists, why in the name of all that is wonderful should we not say so? It seems to me perfectly simple. The noble Earl who leads the House, and other noble Lords whose opinion we treat with profound respect, say that the preamble may be all right, but that the mass of the people would think it means something which it does not say. I do not understand why a different meaning from what it says should be attributed to it. It says two things—that your Lordships' Mouse are convinced that money has been given for honours, and that Ministers have advised that the honours shall be given. We do not say that the Prime Minister of the day has been engaged in a corrupt transaction. The noble Earl who leads the House drew in solemn tones, with his voice sinking into his boots, an awful picture of the charge of dishonour we were launching against four living Prime Ministers. I have not heard in the public Press or elsewhere that the four living Prime Ministers have turned a hair up to now. They do not protest.
The House has not carried the Motion.
This matter has been before the public some little time.
The Motion has only been down on the Paper for a week.
But the question was dealt with in the summer. I am asking the ex-Prime Ministers to say whether they are dreadfully shocked.
I have, asked one, and I do not think they are. I ask your Lordships not to treat in a tragic spirit the warning of the noble Earl who leads the House. Everybody knows what takes place. I do not want to repeat it. Everybody knows that Prime Ministers are fully aware that something of the kind is going on, but they are never told the truth. It is kept away from them. Of course, the noble Earl no longer remains under the impression which he was under when he last addressed your Lordships upon this question, that the evil did not exist. He now recognises that it does, because my noble friend Lord Selborne has quoted an actual case.
When the, noble Marquess rises at the end of a debate it seems to be a matter of dialogue between him and me. I never said on the previous occasion that the evil did not exist. All I said was that, personally, I had no evidence of its existence other than that of public rumour. That was my case. To that I adhere.
I hope the noble Earl has now become convinced that it is the case, and that light has at last broken in upon his mind. I say, therefore, that the preamble admittedly states a case which all of us know to be true—namely, that people have given a consideration, and that they have been given the honours. We do not attribute any bad motives to the Prime Minister of the day; we merely state that this is the conviction of your Lordships' House. I think it is impossible to escape from the conclusion that what we state is the truth.Let us go on to the Resolution. I understand that the noble Earl hinted at certain difficulties—difficulties which he thought might have arisen in the great crisis of the Parliament Act—but that he does not in the main object to the first Resolution. He thinks there might be a little difficulty in applying it to a very numerous class of honours given during the present war to civilians who are not Civil Servants, but he finds no other difficulty. I do not think that is a real difficulty. Broadly, we may say that, if anybody receives an honour, somebody ought to be able to say why he receives it, and what the good reasons for its bestowal are; and the only question is to have those reasons printed in public. Whether they are printed in the Gazette or in Papers laid before your Lordships' House is a matter of indifference. The point is that when anybody receives an honour there ought to be some good reason for its conferment. Let us print what the good reason is. I pass to the second Resolution. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne said, I think, that it was too rigid. I believe he used the word "rigid "; he knows I do not want to misrepresent him. The truth is, my Lords, that the working of the Resolution depends upon the honour and good faith of the Prime Minister of the day, and on nothing else. Are we not to rely upon that? Is there anything outrageous or out of the way in relying upon the honour of the Prime Minister of the day? We cannot, of course, bind him. Supposing he was a scoundrel, he might go to the Sovereign and say there had been no pecuniary consideration. The Sovereign, naturally, would accept it, and our expedient would fail. But we are prepared to trust the Prime Minister of the day. I should have thought that that was a very proper proceeding, not open to any condemnation of the noble Earl. He tells us, his voice sinking again deep down, that we must not pass the portals of the Palace. What is there wrong in our saying that the Ministers representing the democracy of this country are to assure the Sovereign of a certain fact? The noble Earl says, "You do not ask the Prime Minister to do it when he is recommending for the appointment of a Bishop." No; but who has ever suggested that that is a subject of a corrupt transaction, or ever has been in recent times? Of course, there would be no reason for such a thing. But we are satisfied on the evidence which has been laid before your Lordships' House that the evil does exist in the case of honours. This appears to me, my Lords, to be a perfectly straightforward proposition. Why should not the Prime Minister of the day be asked to assure the Sovereign that there has been no transaction of an undesirable kind? My noble friend says he would accept a truncated form of the second Resolution. He would accept a form which leaves out the declaration. I want to know, when he says he accepts it, How far would that go? Does he mean that by his (Lord Curzon's) statement in the House of Lords the Prime Minister binds himself in every case to be satisfied that there has been no payment of the kind of which we complain? Does he speak in the name of the Prime Minister when he says he will satisfy himself?
I am speaking on behalf of His Majesty's Government.
I want to know whether the noble Earl says that the present Prime Minister binds himself to be satisfied in every case, before making a recommendation of an honour to the Crown, that there has been no payment of the kind of which we complain?
I must protest against this form of cross-examination across the Table of this House. The noble Marquess is addicted to it in all his speeches on these occasions when he becomes a little excited, and scolds us as if we were a lot of naughty schoolboys whom he was keeping in order.
Yes, my Lords, if, is the, case. This is not the first time. I have been perfectly frank and perfectly courteous to your Lordships' House. I have said that, if Lord Lansdowne carries his Amendment to a Division, I, on behalf of the Government, accept it. The implication from that is obvious to your Lordships' House, and I decline to be cross-examined about the particular attitude or conduct of a particular Minister.
I am sorry if I have erred. I hope I have not deserved the rebuke which the noble Earl has inflicted upon me. If I have been guilty of conduct which is not sufficiently deferential to any member of your Lordships' House I humbly apologise. I deeply regret it. I have no desire whatever to do that, and I earnestly hope the noble Earl will accept my apology. But we are dealing with a serious matter of business, and I wanted to know exactly what the declaration on behalf of His Majesty's Government amounted to. The noble Earl will not accept the form in which I put it. I am very sorry, for he leaves us no course open except to go on with our Resolution. We are bound to stand between the democracy and this great evil, and we thought we had found a method of doing so very moderate in character. We only ask quite humbly that the Prime Minister should give a declaration to the Sovereign he serves and the people he represents that there has been no such payment. The noble Earl says he will not be cross-examined on such a subject. I am very sorry. I see no course open except to go to a Division. We cannot but insist that, in the preamble, we are stating what is a fact of which all your Lordships are convinced. We cannot believe that the two Resolutions which the noble and learned Earl put before your Lordships are anything but legitimate remedies for an admitted evil. There might have been other remedies suggested. The noble and learned Earl himself referred to them, but we deliberately laid them aside and took the most moderate remedy we could find, and submitted it, I hope temperately, to your Lordships, and we ask your Lordships to give us your support in the Lobby.
My Lords, I was in hopes that we were arriving at a point which would very decidedly promote the course which the noble Marquess has at heart, but which he has not at heart more than I have—that is, the elimination of the element of corruption from the bestowal of honours. Some people say it is a feature of Party government. It is nothing of the kind. It is an excrescence, a foul excrescence upon Party government, and if the people of this country thought that Party government was identified with the sale of honours they would begin to think twice about the propriety of keeping up Party government. I feel that as strongly as the noble Marquess or any of my noble friends who are associated with him.I put it to my noble friend that it is not quite right to say that the. Government have made difficulties in this matter. I listened most attentively to all that was said by the noble Earl who leads the House, and I confess I thought that his speech was perfectly conciliatory, that he showed that he had in view the same objects that animate the mover of this Motion and those who support it, and I do most respectfully ask my noble friend to reconsider what he has said as to pressing this matter to a Division. The objections which the noble Marquess has to what was suggested by Lord Lansdowne and adopted by the Leader of the House referred to the preamble. Now the noble Marquess says that the preamble has nothing in it that is not true. But it is not the whole truth; and the statement that this House is "convinced that Ministers have in recent times advised His Majesty to confer honours and dignities upon persons who have given or promised money to Party funds as a consideration therefor" would be read everywhere in the country as a Resolution by this House that recent Prime Ministers had acted improperly in that matter. Of course, we know, from what my noble and learned friend who moved this Motion has said, that he does not intend to impute anything of the kind. All that he intends to impute is that Prime Ministers have been misled on some occasions into advising the conferring of honours on persons who should not have received them. But that is not how this would be read, and your Lordships would not be consulting the dignity of this House if you resolved in the terms of this preamble. My noble friend's objection relates also to Lord Lansdowne's point, with which the Leader of the House concurs—that the second Resolution should be amended. As proposed to be amended it would read as follows—
My noble friend says, "We must have a declaration made by the Prime Minister to the Sovereign." To my mind the reasons given by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, and by the Leader of the House against such a declaration are conclusive. When the mover and supporters of the Resolution are on the point of getting a step forward in the direction of purity in the bestowal of honours, why should we quarrel with the question whether there should be a declaration—a declaration to which there are, to my mind, very solid objections? I hope that my noble friend will think better of it, and not insist on prosecuting this war to the knife." That the Prime Minister, before recommending any person for any such honour or dignity, should satisfy himself that no payment or expectation of payment to any Party or political fund is directly or indirectly associated with the grant or promise of such honour or dignity."
My Lords, I want, if I can, to clear up what seems to me to be a misunderstanding. My noble friend Lord Salisbury asked the Leader of the House what action he proposed to take if this Resolution was carried. I understand the noble Earl to say that he is prepared to accept the Resolution on behalf of the Government of which he is a member—that is, the Government presided over by the Prime Minister; and surely the inference from that is that the Prime Minister and his colleagues would abide by the terms of the Resolution.
|Wellington, D.||Bryce, V.||Lamington, L.|
|Lincolnshire, M.||Colvilie of Culross, V.||Montagu of Beaulicn, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Hood, V.||Parker of Waddington, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Balfour, L.||Rayleigh, L.|
|Camperdown, E.||Beresford of Metemmeh, L. [Teller.]||Redesdale, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)|
|Durham, E.||Carnock, L.|
|Hardwicke, E.||De Mauley, L.||Sumner, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Sydenham, L.|
|Loreburn, E. [Teller.]||Farrer, L.||Weardale, L.|
|Russell, E.||Kenry, L. (E. Dunraven and Mount-Earl.)|
Did he say so?
That was said, I think—essentially that.
That was exactly what I said, almost totidem verbis.
I have only two things to add. The first is that I entirely object to the language of the preamble being treated as making an imputation which I have not made, which is not in the language of the preamble itself, and which nobody thought of. The second thing is that I deeply regret that I could not personally agree to what my noble friend Lord Lansdowne suggests, because I believe that this is a great and a dangerous evil, and it is necessary to make it perfectly clear that the Prime Minister is expected not only to give honest advice but to inform himself beforehand so that he may be satisfied it is so.
Is any Amendment moved?
I move my Amendment.
It has been moved to omit from the preamble the words from "convinced" down to "as a consideration therefor" inclusive. The Question is whether the words "convinced that Ministers have in recent times advised His Majesty to confer honours and dignities on persons who have given or promised money to Party funds as a consideration therefor" shall stand part of the Motion.
Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 34; Not Contents, 48
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain.)||Herschell, L.|
|Finlay, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Cross, V.||Hylton, L. [Teller.]|
|Curzon of Kedleston, E. (L. President)||Knollys, V.||Inehcape, L.|
|Knutsford, V.||Kintore. L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.) (L. Privy Seal.)||Milner, V.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Peel, V.||Muir Mackenzie, L.|
|Marlborough, D.||Atkinson, L.||Newton, L.|
|Camden, M.||Blyth, L.||Pirrie, L.|
|Crewe, M.||Cheylesmore, L.||Ranksborough, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Colebrooke, L.||Rathmore, L|
|Chesterfield, E.||Colwyn, L.||Ribblesdale, L.|
|Dartmouth, E.||Courtney of Penwith, L.||Roundway, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Digby, L.||Southwark, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Dunedin, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Verulam, E.||Elphinstone, L.||Stuart of Wortloy, L.|
|Faringdon, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Farquhar, V. (L. Steward.)||Harris, L.||Teynham, L.|
Resolved in the negative.
Then it was moved, That paragraph No. 2 of the Resolution be amended so as to read as follows—
That the Prime Minister, before recommending any person for any such honour or dignity, should satisfy himself that no payment or expectation of payment to any Party or political fund is directly or indirectly associated with the grant or promise of such honour or dignity.—( The Marquess of Lansdowne.)
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Then the Resolution, as amended, agreed to.