Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/25

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Advantages of an Hereditary House.

all, expect their members to take an active part in the proceedings of the House, by asking questions, if in no other manner, and the members do not disappoint their constituencies, the wheels of public business are inevitably retarded. Let us imagine the same state of things introduced into the Upper House, the slow progress of measures through it which would be the consequence, the small divergencies which would arise on almost every subject between the two Houses, the bandying backwards and forwards of Bills, and the conferences between the two Houses, which would take place for the purpose of settling the points in dispute, and some idea may be formed of the degree of benefit which the country would reap from substituting an elective Second Chamber for the present House of Lords.

Advantages of an hereditary House.Instead, therefore, of craving after imaginary improvements, which a closer inspection reveals to be impracticable of attainment, and, to say the least, of but questionable benefit if we could attain to them, let us inquire whether there are not, after all, advantages in the state of things which we actually have. If we do, we shall discover benefits in the much-maligned hereditary constitution of the House of Lords which escape the superficial survey of the Radical mind. We must first recollect what this hereditary constitution is not, as well as what it is. It means the descent of the title and legislative seat of each Peer to his heir, and so on from generation to generation; but it does not mean that the Peers form an hereditary caste by themselves, with class privileges and class prejudices distinguishing them from their fellow countrymen. So far from this, the younger children of Peers and their descendants are commoners, with no political privileges or legal rights above those of the humblest subject of the realm. Nay, more, the eldest son himself is only a commoner, like the rest, until his father's death. The same holds true of all the children of the Sovereign, except the eldest son and eldest daughter, who have by law special privileges.

It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the beneficial effect of this feature of our Constitution in banding all ranks together, and preventing the growth of an exclusive nobility out of sympathy with the rest of the nation. Without this feature it may be at once admitted that an hereditary peerage would have been a curse to the country, but tempered by this feature it is, as we shall proceed to show, a blessing. In the first