Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/13

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THE HOUSE OF LORDS & THE NATION.


The question in dispute.The recent action of the majority of the Peers, in declining to read the Franchise Bill a second time while the Government Redistribution scheme remains altogether undisclosed, has been made the occasion of an outcry against the present constitution and powers of the House of Lords. Some of those who join in it clamour for the total abolition of the House, while others are content to insist on its thorough reform, and on a considerable curtailment of its powers. It is not the first occasion in our history that this outcry has been heard. As is well known, the last time that it was seriously raised was during the agitation which preceded the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832. There is a singular contrast between the circumstances of that epoch and those of the present day. Then it was the party of reform who pressed upon the Peers "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill." Now it is the Peers, who, in requiring that the plan for the extension of the franchise shall be accompanied by the scheme for the redistribution of seats, are insisting on the measure, the whole measure, and nothing but the measure. On the other hand, the motto of the Government policy is in fact, at present, "the part, the little part, and nothing but the part."

It is not difficult to decide on which side lie right and reason. We need only refer to the words uttered five-and-twenty years ago by that great authority on the subject of reform, Mr. John Bright, when he laid it down as a maxim of universal application, that it is the duty of Englishmen to repudiate without mercy any Bill of any Government, whatever its franchise, whatever its seeming concessions may be, if it does not contain provisions for a redistribution of seats.

The Lesson of the CommonwealthBut the political power of the Peers had been assailed before the present century. In January, 1649, the House of Commons passed a resolution that the House of Peers was useless, dangerous, and ought to be abolished; and in the spring of that year, within four months after King Charles I. had been brought to