Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/33

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Modern Functions of the House.

occupy the position which is assigned by all the best political writers and thinkers to a Second Chamber, namely, that of being a check upon the Lower House. Of course this is not the whole of its functions. It is true that it has not the special prerogatives and peculiar authority which is possessed by the Senate in America, as, for instance, the right of vetoing all appointments to offices made by the President. But we ought never to forget the useful part which the House of Lords takes in private Bill legislation, nor the services which its members who are in the Ministry render to the country in the different departments of the Government, and in the management of the concerns of the nation at home and abroad. Nor should we lose sight of the value of its debates on colonial and foreign affairs in elucidating the facts of the situation, and ascertaining the policy which ought to be adopted. But on important questions it has now for a long time been recognised that the will of the country at large must ultimately prevail; and when that will is clearly and unmistakeably expressed, the House of Lords ought to defer to it, and does, in fact, always sooner or later do so. But this, be it observed, is a very different thing from saying that the Lords ought always and in all matters to defer to the will of the House of Commons. That House, immediately after a general election, and especially as to subjects which were under discussion during the election, must be regarded as an undoubted exponent of the sentiments of the nation. But it by no means necessarily remains so after three or four years have gone by, when public opinion has changed, when the constituencies have been altered by the death of old electors and the registration of new voters in their place, and when subjects are brought forward which were not even alluded to at the general election. Our Radical friends would be the first to deny that the sentiments of the country were represented by the House of Commons during the fifteen months which preceded the entire reversal by the General Election of 1880 of the proportion of the two parties within its walls. Suppose, therefore, that in the course of 1879 the Lords had adopted the Radical view on some Conservative measure, which had been sent up to them from the Lower House, would they have acted rightly or wrongly, constitutionally or unconstitutionally?

Nor, again, does it follow that because the country has expressed generally its desire for a particular measure, it