Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/16

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12
The Questions to be Solved.

purpose; but Mr. Gladstone is careful, whenever the opportunity offers, to express, in replies to deputations and correspondents, his conviction that the labours then bestowed on the matter were a failure, and that the mode of conducting business in the Lower House requires to be reformed in a yet more trenchant manner.

There is an old proverb which directs us where to assign the blame when a workman complains of his tools. It would seem to apply with even greater force, if the workman continues to complain after he has attempted to mend and sharpen them. Moreover, when the workman laments that he cannot get through his job, and yet never resorts to the sharp edge which he himself forged for the purpose, the suspicion cannot help being awakened that he is purposely abstaining from using it with a view to persuade a credulous nation that he requires a yet keener weapon, with which they would be unwilling to entrust him unless they were persuaded that it was absolutely essential. Whether or not this was Mr. Gladstone's design in refraining from putting in force the clôture during the wearisome hours which were wasted on Supply by Irish Members towards the end of July and beginning of August in the present year may be a matter of conjecture. But the fact remains that, notwithstanding his own amendments of it in 1882, he has denounced the present procedure of the House of Commons no less clearly than his followers have condemned the existing powers of the House of Lords.

The questions to be solved.Of course, if the continuance of these powers is fatal to the best interests of the country, we must not be deterred from endeavouring to abolish or restrict them by the risk that we may at the same time damage the political fabric of the Lower House. But the existence of this risk is an additional reason why, before joining in the campaign against the Peers, we should pause and ask ourselves seriously and anxiously whether by doing so we should be taking a course calculated to further the welfare of the nation. The questions to be solved are two in number:—(i.) Is the maintenance of a second Legislative Chamber of any kind desirable? And (ii.) if it is, is it expedient that the present House of Lords should be continued as the Second Chamber, or should some assembly differently constituted be substituted for it? It is proposed in the following pages to discuss these questions in the order in which they have been mentioned, with a view to arriving at a sound conclusion on the whole matter.