Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/19

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15
The Composition of the House of Lords.

the answer to our first question ought to be in the affirmative, and that a Second Legislative Chamber of some kind is not only desirable but essential.

Our second question is open to more difference of opinion, and requires to be considered at greater length.

II.—IS IT EXPEDIENT THAT THE PRESENT HOUSE OF LORDS SHOULD BE CONTINUED AS THE SECOND CHAMBER OF THE PARLIAMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM?

In order to arrive at a right decision upon this question, it behoves us to inquire into (a) the Constitution of the House, and the advantages or disadvantages which are consequent upon it; and (b) the benefit or otherwise which the House, as actually constituted, has conferred on the country during the course of our history.

(a) The Constitution of the House.

The Composition of the House of Lords.In considering the constitution of the House Lords, it is important to bear in mind that this constitution does not owe its origin to any cut-and-dried scheme or any carefully concocted design. It is the product of events, and only reached its present condition after the lapse of centuries. It possesses, in fact, that feature of natural growth, as opposed to artificial construction, which has distinguished all our institutions from those of foreign countries, and goes far to account for their superior permanency and stability. The existence in the early German tribes of select councils, as well as general tribal assemblies, has been already pointed out. When the tribes of Angles and Saxons who settled in England first formed themselves into kingdoms, their councils developed into witenagemots (assemblies of the witan, or wise men). Upon the consolidation of the Heptarchy into one kingdom, under the sovereign of Wessex, the Witenagemot of Wessex became enlarged into the Witenagemot of all England, and was composed of the lay nobles and the bishops, abbots, and priors of the realm. The Witenagemot survived the Norman Conquest, but it was thenceforth called the Great Council. The right to attend it was at first possessed by the lay and spiritual heads of the counties—the counts or earls, and the archbishops and bishops—and by such other laymen and