Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/21

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17
Two Salient Features.

his writ of summons at the beginning of a Parliament, and that the House will not proceed with business if any Peer is denied it. Since that time the alterations in the constitution of the House of Lords have been five in number, (i.) By the Act of Union with Scotland in 1706 there were added to it sixteen representative Peers for that country, to be chosen at the commencement of each Parliament by the Scottish Peers, (ii.) The Act of Union with Ireland in 1801 made a further addition of twenty-eight representatives of the Irish peerage. These, however, are chosen for life, (iii.) Since the beginning of George III.'s reign, the number of lay Peers has been more than doubled, so that it now exceeds five hundred, (iv.) Notwithstanding the increase in the number of bishoprics during the present reign the number of spiritual Peers has been reduced. The Irish bishops have ceased to be members of the House, and the number of the English episcopal seats has been kept stationary, the prelates (except the two Archbishops and the the Bishops of London, Durham, and Winchester, who sit at once) succeeding to them, as vacancies occur, in order of seniority, (v.) In 1876, provision was made for increasing the judicial strength of the Upper House by the appointment from time to time of four law lords of appeal in ordinary, who enjoy the title of Baron for life, without transmitting it to their heirs, and are entitled to a seat in the Upper House as long as they continue to exercise their judicial functions.

These changes, however, have not substantially altered the composition of our Second Chamber; and it may be truly affirmed that, just as our present Sovereign can trace back her lineal descent to Cerdic, who founded the kingdom of Wessex in 519, so the House of Lords, as it now exists, is the modern development, through an unbroken succession, of the Witenagemot of Wessex of the sixth century, which, as already mentioned, became, upon the consolidation of the Heptarchy, the Witenagemot of England. It is thus something like 1,300 years old, or more than double the age of the House of Commons.

Two salient features.Shall we then retain this ancient institution or substitute some other for it? To decide this we must consider what are its characteristic features, and what it would be possible to have in their place. The two salient and counter-balancing principles in the present constitution of the House of Lords are, on the one hand, the hereditary descent of its seats, and, on the other hand, the