Front Page Titles (by Subject) 280.: THE HOUSE OF LORDS  GLOBE AND TRAVELLER, 9 OCT., 1835, P. 3 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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280.: THE HOUSE OF LORDS  GLOBE AND TRAVELLER, 9 OCT., 1835, P. 3 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE HOUSE OF LORDS 
Leaders on the House of Lords had appeared on p. 2 of the Globe and Traveller on 29 and 30 Sept., and 1, 2, 3, 7, and 8 Oct., 1835. The British Upper House attracted Mill’s attention as well as the public’s at this time; see his letter to Tocqueville in September (EL, CW, Vol. XII, p. 272), his “Postscript: The Close of the Session” (CW, Vol. VI, pp. 312-17), and, continuing his argument, No. 281. This letter is headed as title, with the subhead: “To the Editor of the Globe.” It is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A letter signed A. on the Reform of the House of Lords, in the Globe of 9th October 1835”
(MacMinn, p. 45).
I am about to address you on a subject which is at this moment engaging the attention of the whole nation, which will never again cease to engross all minds until it shall be set at rest, and which has been treated by none of the organs and directors of public opinion with so much judgment and wisdom as by your journal. I need not say that I mean the Reform of the House of Lords. And I could not help beginning by expressing the admiration which I feel for the spirit in which you have discussed this question, because I am about seriously to controvert some of the opinions which you have recently put forth in regard to it.
You have very wisely deemed it to be no longer a question whether any reform is needful in the Tories’ house, nor whether that reform should amount to a thorough change in its constitution. These are now evident. We are free to constitute our second chamber in the best manner; and we have only to inquire what the best manner is—conformity to received ideas and feelings being of course one of the elements of which the excellence of this, as of any other political institution, is composed, but by no means the sole, or even the principal element.
Various plans have been proposed for so improving the composition of the Upper House that it shall no longer make a practice of thwarting all the popular measures of the Lower.
The first is, a large creation of Peers. But this seems to be at length generally given up. It would swell the house to a bulk altogether unsuitable for deliberation; and as the new members would, from the very moment of their elevation, be placed in exactly the same misleading position as their predecessors, the remedy would have to be repeated at every new advance of the public mind, and would therefore be altogether nugatory.
All other plans seem to resolve themselves into one or other of these two:—To make the House of Lords a senate for life, named by the King; or to make it a representative body. You, Sir, have suggested, as preferable to either, a scheme which (pardon the expression) appears to offer an infelicitous combination of both.
You propose that the Upper House should consist of 200 members—one hundred to be named for life by the King, the other hundred to be elected for a term of years by the Peers themselves, as the representative Peers of Scotland and Ireland are now chosen by the collective peerage of those ancient kingdoms.1
You have proposed arrangements which would prevent the Tory majority of the Peerage from engrossing the whole of the representative portion of your proposed Upper Chamber.2 The Whig minority would obtain a certain number of representatives, but of course nothing like a majority.
On the first introduction of your plan it would, no doubt, if the Whigs remain in office, effect the desired change in the politics of the body. The Tories would indeed have a large majority of the hundred representative Peers; but a still larger majority, or the whole of the Peers for life, named by a Whig ministry, would of course be Whigs.
Suppose, however, either of two things: It is generally believed that the Tories, now and at all times, are only prevented from making a fresh trial of the people’s patience by their own conviction that the opportunity would be of no service to them. But suppose that immediately after the passing of the House of Lords’ amendment act, the Tories should be brought into power for the sole purpose of selecting the 100 Peers for life out of their own body. The Tories would then become even more predominant in the House of Lords than at present. They would nominate the whole of the life Peers, and a large majority of the representative ones.
Or, dropping this hypothesis, let us suppose that no such unfortunate occurrence of circumstances takes place, and that the Whig ministry obtain the nomination of the whole 100 Peers for life. What kind of persons will they be likely to nominate?
I maintain that they will nominate almost exclusively the most aristocratic and least popular among the considerable members of the Whig party. In the first place, the nomination of such persons is most conformable to the received idea of a Second Chamber, which, it is always understood, ought to be of a more Conservative character than the Lower House, whose supposed democratic and innovating tendencies it is intended to restrain. In the next place, it is a supposition probable in itself, and borne out by experience in a neighbouring country, that a ministry will usually nominate to the Upper Chamber those among their adherents who have least chance of being elected to the Lower. Those who can find seats in the House of Commons are for the most part likely to be of more use to their party there than elsewhere; especially if they be men of popular talents. In France, a peerage is the ordinary consolation tendered to a ministerial deputy who has lost his seat and sees no probability of getting another.
I am, therefore, entitled to assume that the Peers for life would chiefly consist of that portion of the Whig party who have most in common with the Tories—who on questions on which their party is divided, such as the corn laws, the taxes on knowledge, the ballot, triennial parliaments, and many others, would be most likely to take the unpopular side; and who, on any schism which, on these or other questions, might take place in the Whig party, would be most likely to join the Tories. If the reform of the House of Lords on a plan similar to yours had taken place two years ago, the men most likely to have been selected would in great part have belonged to the class of public men who have since been called the Waverers.
For these reasons, it appears to me inevitable that a time would soon come when a large majority of the Peers for life, by whatever ministry nominated, would be again in open opposition to the spirit of the Lower House. Another modification, therefore, in the House of Lords would be necessary; and your plan does not provide any means by which an adequate one could be made.
On your plan the number of Peers to be named by the Crown is limited to a hundred. This list would of course be filled up immediately. No means, therefore, would exist of modifying the spirit of this part of the body, except by the slow process of supplying the vacancies caused by death or resignation. The Crown and the House of Commons could only break a hostile majority by operating upon the other half of the body, the representative portion.
Now, of this portion, while the peerage is Tory, a very large majority would consist of Tories. The only means, therefore, of restoring harmony between the two branches of the legislature would be to create new Peers equal in number to almost the entire British Peerage augmented by that of Scotland and Ireland.
It is true, that to so extensive a creation the objection would no longer exist of its rendering the Upper House too numerous for deliberation. The creation of Peers would then be a creation of electors only, not of representatives. But though free from this objection, would not so great an addition to the body, liable also to be continually repeated, so lower the value and importance of the peerage, that no minister, with the feelings and opinions of nearly all the present generation of public men, would choose to have recourse to it?
And besides, this remedy, even if resorted to, might not accomplish the desired object. On your plan the minority of the peerage would have the power of returning some portion of the representative Peers; indeed, if not, the show of representation would be a mockery; the representatives would either represent the present Tory body exclusively, or the Crown exclusively. Let us say, then, that even after so large a creation of Whig Peers, the Tory body, who now predominate in the peerage, would still be represented by a portion, say one-third of the representative peerage; all, therefore, which ministers would have accomplished by even so great a change in the composition of the collective British peerage would be to get two-thirds of the 100 representative Peers on their side. Now, if it should happen, which it very well might, that from any of the causes to which I have already alluded, more than two-thirds of the Peers for life, who compose the other 100, should turn against them, they would not, even by such a strong measure as that which I have supposed, have obtained a majority of the whole body.
For these and other reasons, I conceive that the plan which you propose for the re-organization of the Upper House could not be permanent, and would only prove the commencement of a series of successive modifications, which would end in leaving us without any Upper Chamber at all. As it is the second blow which makes the quarrel, so it is the second change which destroys confidence in the permanency of what is established, and creates general instability. It is therefore of the greatest importance that when we once touch an institution we should mend it thoroughly, so that it shall not require to be touched again.
In a future communication I will, with your permission, state the reasons I have to urge in favour of the plan which, of all yet proposed for the reform of the House of Lords, appears to me the most likely to be capable of being permanently adhered to.
I have the honour to be, Sir, yours respectfully,
[1 ]Globe and Traveller, 1 Oct., p. 2.
[2 ]Ibid., 7 Oct., p. 2.