Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/28

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24
Limitation of Number Inexpedient.

Peer begins his political career in the Lower House during his father's lifetime.

It is no answer to say that these results are not found to occur universally. There would be no real advantage in their doing so. For it has been shown above that if every born Peer were a born legislator, the result, instead of being beneficial, would be disastrous to the nation. We should, then, indeed, have too many cooks spoiling the broth of the country's affairs. There are plenty of functions for public men to discharge outside the walls of Parliament; and we may be content if the hereditary principle gives us a certain number of statesmen, of whose services the country would not otherwise have had the benefit.

Limitation of number inexpedient.But if this is sufficient, the question next arises whether it would be desirable to limit the number of members of the Upper House, either by restricting the whole peerage, or by only permitting a fraction of Peers to sit in it. To this question a little reflection will enable us to answer emphatically, No. Neither course would conduce to the interests of the nation at large. In 1719 and 1720 attempts were actually made to limit the ranks of the nobility. It was proposed that the then existing number of 178 peerages should not be augmented by more than six, though the Crown was to retain power to create new peerages in the place of any which might become extinct, and, instead of the 76 representative Peers, 25 hereditary Peers of Scotland were to have permanent seats. This proposal, however, was wisely rejected. It was foreseen that it involved the danger of the Peers becoming crystallised into a narrow oligarchy, and that the country would sustain a positive loss if deserving individuals could not be raised to the peerage whenever their own merits or the public welfare rendered it desirable, without the necessity of waiting till a vacancy should occur in the ranks of the Lords by the extinction of a peerage. We may estimate what that loss would have been by calling to mind the many distinguished men of both parties, and of all occupations, with which the House of Peers has been enriched through the absence of any limit on its number.

The other scheme, that, namely, of only allowing a limited number of representative Peers to sit in the Upper House, has never been seriously put forward. It is open to grave objections, one of which has been already alluded to. Peers, sitting in the House on behalf not only of themselves, but also of