Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/32

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Modern Functions of the House.

often hurry through the Bills which come up to them from the Commons, is that the Government have persistently refrained from initiating in the House of Lords measures which might well have been discussed there in the first instance, and are in the habit of sending up from the Commons such a crop of Bills at the close of the Session that the Peers are unable to bestow upon each the time and attention which it requires. It should be observed, however, that the charges of unduly altering the Commons' measures, and of not vouchsafing to them sufficient consideration, are mutually destructive of each other. Lastly, if, out of deference to the House of Commons, the Peers consent to pass a measure of which they do not thoroughly approve, they are sneered at by the Prime Minister as wanting in courage and chivalry,[1] while if they do maintain their opinions against those of the Lower House, when they have all right and reason indisputably on their side, an outcry is raised that their powers must be curtailed, or even their House itself abolished.

Modern Functions of the House.Let us now turn away our attention from this babel of discordant clamourings, and enquire what are the true functions of the House of Lords under our Constitution as it has been developed in modern times. The inquiry is rendered difficult by the fact that we have no written Constitution to consult, such as exists in the United States and now in France, as well as in other civilised nations in which a constitutional form of Government has been an acquisition of recent date. The glory of our Constitution is that, though never committed to paper, it has been maintained almost inviolate from generation to generation, developing with the development of the nation, and changing just as much as the changes in the condition of the nation require, and no more. In the course of this development and change the House of Lords, which was originally the chief legislative assembly of the country, has come at length to
  1. On August 11, 1881, Mr. Gladstone, speaking in the House of Commons on the subject of the Irish Land Bill, said:—"The courage of the Party opposite was such that they divided valiantly against the second reading in the House where they knew their division could not have the smallest effect; and in the House where they knew that if they divided against the second reading the bill would have been thrown out, there their courage failed them. The chivalry of the minority of this House was not reflected in the action of the majority of the other."—"Hansards. Parliamentary Debates," vol. 264, col. 1570.