Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/34

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Modern Functions of the House.

would therefore necessarily approve of every clause which the Bill embodying that measure contains when it leaves the Lower House. The Peers may, therefore, reasonably claim liberty to make amendments in the Bill, without being accused of thwarting the will of the people. How far they should carry this liberty, what measures they are bound to consider as indisputably approved by the country at large, and what, on the other hand, they may consider as coming to them under circumstances which render the question of that approval doubtful, it is, of course, in many cases not easy to decide. Infallibility is not to be found in any body of men, any more than in any individual man; but it may be safely said that, if an error is to be made, it is far better for the Upper House to err on the side of caution in the matter, and to reject for a time a measure of which the country does in reality approve, than hastily to pass a Bill which, though carried in the House of Commons of the day, does not represent the true sentiments of the nation. For the evil occasioned by the latter course would be difficult, if not impossible, to remedy; whereas a mistake of the former kind merely involves a brief delay, since, if the country really shows that it is bent upon the measure passing, the Lords will withdraw their opposition to it. It is better in every way that the chariot of national progress should move slowly and surely rather than hastily and inconsiderately. No one wishes it to stand still; but if it is violently pushed forward with sudden and irregular plunges, it will unquestionably be sometimes pulled back with no less spasmodic jerks. Hitherto we have happily experienced no reactions of this kind. When a Conservative House of Commons succeeds a Radical one, there is no idea of reversing the measures which were passed in the previous Parliament. Why? Because those measures are stamped with the sanction of both parties, owing to the Conservative House of Lords having given to them an assent which was, at any rate in theory, voluntary. And here we see the evil which would arise from any such rule as that the Lords should not have power to reject a second time a Bill sent up to them from the Lower House. A Radical measure passed over their heads by the operation of such a rule as this would have been passed by one party in the State alone. When, therefore, the Conservatives came into power they would have a clear right to repeal the measure, and it would be surprising if they did not exercise the right. The same evil would arise if we had no Second Chamber, or if the