§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
rose to move the first of three Resolutions of which he had given notice, and which are as follows:— 1384
- "1. That the right of granting Aids and Supplies to the Crown is in the Commons alone, as an essential part of their Constitution; and the limitation of all such Grants, as to the matter, manner, measure, and time, is only in them."
- "2. That, although the Lords have exercised the power of rejecting Bills of several descriptions relating to Taxation by negativing the whole, yet the exercise of that power by them has not been frequent, and is justly regarded by this House with peculiar jealousy, as affecting the right of the Commons to grant the Supplies and to provide the Ways and Means for the Service of the year."
- "3. That, to guard for the future against an undue exercise of that power by the Lords, and to secure to the Commons their rightful control over Taxation and Supply, this House has in its own hands the power so to impose and remit Taxes, and to frame Bills of Supply, that the right of the Commons as to the matter, manner, measure and time, may be maintained inviolate."
said: Sir, I rise upon an occasion which undoubtedly will rank as one of the first importance among those which have arisen in regard to our form of Parliamentary proceedings, because there can, in my opinion, be nothing more important to this House; there can be nothing, I think, of greater importance to the country than those questions which relate to the respective rights, privileges, and practices of the Houses of Parliament. But, Sir, before I address myself to this subject, I wish to perform what I consider to be a duty—to call the attention of the House to that Report which has been presented to them by the Committee whom they appointed to investigate and examine the Journals and authorities bearing upon the question—a document, I think, containing a summary of Parliamentary lore that will prove a lasting source of advantage to the House in regard to the history of its proceedings. And, Sir, I should fail to express what I am sure is the opinion of the Committee, of which I was a Member, if I did not state to the House how thankful they felt; how very greatly they were indebted to the right hon. Member for Cambridge University, who was the Chairman of that Committee, and to those officers of this House who gave us their willing and assiduous assistance in the performance of our labours; and I am satisfied that the House will respond to the Committee in returning their sincere thanks and acknowledging their obligations both to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, and to those officers of the House by whom we have boon so ably aided.
Now, Sir, the question at issue involves 1385 considerations of the utmost constitutional importance. Our constitution consists of authorities separate from, and independent of, one another; each possessing rights and powers which it may exercise upon its own authority. In the earlier periods of our history that was not the case. If, indeed, we go back to very remote periods, we shall find that the Lords—that is the Barons—were powerful enough to overrule the Crown, and by their exertions, by their courage, by their perseverance, by their spirit, and by their patriotism, they obtained for us the great and fundamental charter of our liberties. Then came a conflict between the Crown and the Barons, which lasted for a great length of time; but the Crown in the end prevailed, and established an arbitrary power, which ground down and controlled the liberties of the nation until at last it became an intolerable burden to the people. The extreme exercise of an excessive power created resistance. The nation rose against the Crown, and in withstanding its arbitrary authority, it not only overthrew the Crown itself, but involved the other estates of the realm in its ruin. Well, Sir, the humour of the country did not long adapt itself to that state of things. The power of the Crown was restored, but it was restored only to be again abused. That abuse of authority again produced its natural result. The Crown was once more overthrown—that is to say, those who exercised the authority of the Crown were overthrown by the very excess of their power, and their unchecked and uncontrolled exercise of it. Then came about that state of things under which we have since so happily lived and flourished—under which, I may say, this nation has enjoyed a greater amount of civil, political, social, and religious liberty than, perhaps, ever fell to the lot of any other people in the world. But how has that result been accomplished? Not by vesting in either of the three estates—the Crown, the Lords, or the Commons—exclusive or overruling power over the others. It has been brought about by maintaining for each its own separate and independent authority; and also by those three powers combining together to bear and forbear, endeavouring by harmonious concert with each other to avoid those conflicts and clashings which must have arisen if independent authority, and independent action had been exerted by each or by all. The consequence of this has been that which we now so fortunately see around us.
1386 Well, Sir, I say that each estate of the realm retains its power. Each of the three retains the power of originating laws, and each possesses the power, in common with the other two, of rejecting laws when proposed for their acceptance. It is generally supposed that the power of the Crown to reject laws has ceased to exist; but that is a fundamental error. That power survives as before, but it is exercised in a different manner. Instead of being exercised upon the laws proposed for the Royal Assent, it is exercised by anticipation in the debates and proceedings of the two Houses of Parliament. It is delegated to those who are the responsible advisers of the Crown; and it is therefore not possible that a law passed by the two Houses should be presented to the Crown, and should then by the Crown be refused. And why is this? Because it cannot be imagined that a law should have received the consent of both Houses of Parliament, in which the responsible Ministers of the Crown are sitting debating, acting, and voting, unless those who advise the Crown have agreed to that law, and are, therefore, prepared to counsel the Sovereign to assent to it. What would he the consequence if that course were not pursued? Why, Sir, if a law were passed by the two Houses against the will and opinion of the Ministers of the day, those Ministers must naturally resign their offices and be replaced by men in whose wisdom Parliament reposed more confidence and who agreed with the majorities in the two Houses. If that were not the case the two Houses would very soon intimate to the Crown their opinion in regard to those advisers, and would not leave any choice as to the hands in which the confidence of the Crown should be placed.
I say, then, Sir, that each branch of the Legislature retains its respective power of rejection. But the Commons House of Parliament have claimed from time immemorial particular privileges in regard to particular measures. They have claimed—and I think justly claimed, as is stated in these Resolutions—the exclusive right of determining matters connected with the taxation of the people. We (the Commons) have claimed to ourselves the right of originating such measures. We have denied to the Lords the right of originating such measures: we have, moreover, denied to them the right of altering or amending such measures. And both these assertions of right we have the power to enforce; because, in either case, Bills ori- 1387 ginating or amended in the Lords must come down to this House, and this House then has the opportunity either to confer with the Lords, thereby endeavouring to persuade them to give up their alterations, or to reject the Bill. In either alternative we have in our hands a clear, plain, straightforward, and direct method of giving effect to the claim or right which properly and legitimately belongs to us.
But, Sir, in those memorable Conferences which took place between both Houses of Parliament in the year 1671, it was admitted by the Attorney General, on behalf of the Commons—and for his conduct on the occasion of those Conferences he was thanked by this House on the ground that he had satisfactorily maintained its rights and privileges—it was admitted by the Attorney General that the Lords, although they could not originate and could not amend, had nevertheless the power to reject, money Bills. That admission, however, was no great concession, because, as I have stated, a Bill rejected in the other House at once disappears. It does not come back to this House again; and therefore no direct or immediate action is possible on the part of the Commons in regard to a measure so rejected in the Lords. Consequently, in admitting, as the House of Commons did at that time, and afterwards in the year 1678, that the House of Lords have the power of rejecting "in the whole" as was the expression used, this House only admitted that which it would be difficult to deny, and that with regard to which, if denied, there would be no direct manner of giving effect to the denial.
Thus, then, matters have stood since that period. A great number of cases, indeed, have arisen in which Bills connected with taxation and impositions upon the people, having been amended by the Lords and returned to us, have here been immediately rejected in some instances, as is recorded, with marks of contumely, or Conferences have taken place upon them, by means of which the Lords have been induced to depart from their decision. In other instances, again, where the Amendments of the Lords have been merely verbal and unimportant, or only such as were calculated to further the intentions of this House, those Amendments have been adopted in other Bills sent up to the House of Lords which have accordingly been passed by that Assembly.
But, Sir, the cases to which I am now adverting relate to Bills which have for 1388 their object the imposing of taxes. The present case is of a different nature. It is the case of a Bill repealing a tax; now, when you admitted the right of the Lords to reject Bills, if that concession were not accompanied—as it was not—by any limitation as to the kind of Bills to which the admission applies, you can only by argumentative and abstract reasoning establish a distinction between one set of Bills, and Bills of a different description. But in fact, although we contend—and I think, justly contend—for a right which is closely interwoven with the constitutional history of the country—although we contend for the right of originating measures for the grants of supply, or of shaping them according to our belief of what is for the public interest, yet, nevertheless it is well known that the Bill so prepared and framed by us cannot pass into law without the assent of the Lords; and it is clear that an authority whose assent is necessary to give a proposal the force of law must, by the very nature of things, be at liberty to dissent and refuse its sanction. To take from the Lords the power of dissenting to a Bill to which their assent is now required, you would need an Act of Parliament to which they must themselves be parties, or you must by a revolutionary proceeding subvert our existing Constitution.
But, Sir, if we look to that large number of precedents in which the Lords have returned to us with Amendments Money Bills which have been sent to them from this House, and in regard to which conferences took place by means of which the alterations thus made were either rejected or agreed to, we shall find, as I have said, that that long string of precedents relates almost entirely to Bills imposing taxes; and even in the great precedent of 1671, upon which the conference was held, and by which a mutual right of rejection was conceded, that conference originated in the Lords trying to diminish a tax which which was proposed to them. It did not arise in a case similar to that which has recently occurred, in which the Lords refused their consent to the repeal of a tax. Then, Sir, I say that the great bulk of this series of precedents is somewhat besides the question which has given rise to the search of the Committee. There are, however, precedents which boar directly upon the point at issue; because we find that between the year 1714 and the present 1389 time there have been about thirty-six cases of Bills for repealing duties or imposts of some kind or other, which have been sent up to the Lords, and have been rejected by them, or at least have not come down to this House again. So far, therefore, as these precedents go, it may be contended that they are authorities upon which the House of Lords may ground itself to justify its recent proceeding. Nevertheless, Sir, if you look at them you will find that the Bills which were so rejected were Bills involving taxes either of small amount, or connected with questions of commercial protection, or of public policy of some kind; so that in fact it may be said that in these cases the rejection of the Bill arose not so much from the determination of the Lords to continue the imposts upon the country as imposts, but rather from their differing in opinion with the Commons as to some question of national policy with reference to which these taxes or imposts were to be continued or repealed. This also may be said with regard to those taxes, that none of them were at all to be compared in amount to the revenue which was involved in the Bill for the repeal of the duties on paper.
Well, then, Sir, admitting as I think we must do, that technically, in point of fact, we have never questioned the right of the Lords to reject Bills of that nature, yet the present case assumes a character somewhat different from that of any of the precedents, because we have maintained in word, and we have also maintained by action, that it rests with this House to frame the Supplies of the year, and to consider and determine with regard to the aids and Supplies of the year what taxes shall be imposed, and what shall be remitted, and also what shall be the proportion between imposition and remission, and what shall be the nature of the arrangements. It is our privilege to combine the whole into one scheme, and when that scheme is so framed, it certainly is not consistent with the exclusive functions of this House that any material portion of it should be rejected by the other House, so as to alter and entirely vary the bearing of all the financial arrangements.
The question is, was that done by the House of Lords upon the late occasion. One must admit, I think, that in principle it was so. It cannot be denied that the repeal of the paper duty did form one important element in the plan of 1390 finances which was sent up by this House to the Lords, and if everything had remained as it was when that plan was framed, the refusal of the Lords to pass that remission of duty, they having agreed to pass a Bill adding to another tax, would have deranged the combination of finance which, upon a balance of remission and imposition, had been thought by this House to be good for the interests of the country, and sufficient for the Supplies of the present year. At the same time, Sir, as we have admitted, that in those thirty-six cases of rejection to which I have alluded, a question of policy was allowed to enter as an element into the decision of the House of Lords in those cases, now it is not easy to affirm with certainty what were the grounds upon which the House of Lords may have acted in any one of those cases; but looking at the manner in which in those instances questions of taxation were combined with other questions of policy, it is fair to assume that in those cases the rejection of the Bill did not arise simply from the refusal of the Lords to relieve the people from a certain amount of burden, but was partly dictated by the belief that the arrangements with which the abolition of that burden was coupled was not for the public advantage, and therefore they rejected the Bill with which it was connected.
Well, Sir, can the same be alleged in the present instance? I wish to put that as fairly and as impartially as I can. This is a question in considering which I think that party feelings ought to be cast aside. It is one in which higher and larger interests than those of party are concerned, and in which the course that the House may now take will be a precedent to guide future Parliaments; and, therefore. Sir, I think that in considering this matter one ought, as far as possible, to place oneself in the position of an impartial spectator, and to state fairly and honestly that which may be said upon each side of the question.
I cannot here allude to anything that may have passed in debate in the House of Lords. That is not consistent with our Orders; that is not our function; but looking broadly at the matter I do not believe that if, under ordinary circumstances, this House had determined that a certain tax ought to be repealed, and had sent a Bill to the House of Lords for that purpose, that House would have rejected such a measure. If it had been shown that there was an excess of taxation which 1391 pressed heavily upon certain interests of the country, that the revenue raised by it was unnecessary, or that a better arrangement might be made by transferring the burden to some other interest that could bear it better, I do not believe, judging from what has happened on many former occasions, that the Lords would have taken the step which they recently took. We know, Sir, what an immense amount of taxation has been repealed by the two Houses of Parliament since the end of the war in 1815, and in no one instance, that I am aware of, did the Lords dissent from the decision of the Commons as to the relief of the country from burdens which were thought to be no longer necessary. Therefore I cannot bring myself to believe that the Lords, in the step which they have now taken, intended to enter on a course, their progress in which, if they did enter upon it, it would be the duty of this House to resist by every constitutional and legal means which are at our command. I mean that I do not believe the House of Lords intended to take the first step towards a partnership with this House in arranging the Budget of the year, in fixing the measure, the manner, the time, or the amount of aids and Supplies, which it belongs solely and exclusively to this House to determine. If we believed that such was their intention, and that this is only the first step in such a course, then, Sir, I say that it would become us to resolve in our own minds to take those measures which are in our power to defeat and frustrate it; but until we have some more decided proof that such an intention was entertained, I would adjure the House to content itself with the record of that declaration which is contained in the Resolutions, which I have had the honour to lay upon the table, and not, without being driven to it as a matter of necessity, to enter upon a formal conflict with the other House of Parliament.
But, Sir, I ask have the Lords received no encouragement from this House to take this particular step? The Bill for repealing the Excise Duties on Paper was brought into this House under circumtances which were materially and notoriously altered when its rejection in the House of Lords took place, and although its second reading was carried by a majority of 53, its third reading was passed by a majority of only 9.
Well, Sir, if it had gone to the Lords with an equally large majority upon the 1392 third reading as upon the second, I do not believe that they would have done otherwise than pass it; but they saw—although they may not have known it officially, it was a matter of public notoriety when our proceedings were laid upon their table—they saw that during the interval between the second and third reading the opinion of this House appeared to have undergone considerable alteration. The majority of 53 upon the second reading of the Bill was reduced to 9 upon the third reading. Were not the Lords, therefore, entitled to think that the opinion of this House upon this question was not so strong as it had been? Then, as far as they could judge by public opinion, they might legitimately infer that which the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury has since confirmed by the Estimates laid on the table of the House, that that which we had a right to expect would not take place with regard to the balance of income and expenditure had taken place; and might they not think that it would be wise to give this House time for reconsideration, with a view to see whether that amount of revenue, which was justly thought to he unnecessary when the financial arrangements for the year were made might not, by altered circumstances, the occurrence of which it was beyond our power to control, become a source of income which it was desirable to keep up for the year, rather than to make up for it by transferring to other interests the burden which had been long borne by that industry and that interest of paper manufacture which was affected by the duty.
Well, Sir, stating, as I trust, the case impartially upon both sides, while on the one hand I think the House would have been right to have resisted any attempt on the part of the Lords to enter into a partnership with us with a view to determine the financial arrangements of the year—while I think that by so doing they would be stepping out of their province and departing from the line of constitutional right which the history of the country has assigned them—yet on the other hand, if it can be believed, and I am led myself to think so, that they were not actuated on this occasion by any such intention, but by motives of policy dependent upon the circumstances of the moment, I think it would not be wise for this House to enter into a conflict with the House of Lords upon a ground which may not really exist, but to satisfy themselves with a declaration of what are their 1393 own constitutional powers and privileges, reserving to themselves the exercise of that power, which they have within their own means if any case should arise, if that opinion which I have expressed should not be confirmed; and if a deliberate course should be pursued of changing the whole system of constitutional proceedings in regard to taxation—I say, Sir, that if that should arise we will determine to use those means which I am convinced we possess and which are quite sufficient to restrain or to prevent any such inroads on the constitutional privileges of this House. Many may think that the last Resolution is too vague, and that it does not distinctly point out the method by which we might enforce our constitutional rights and privileges in the event of an attempt being made to invade them. But there are many ways in which, upon such a case arising, we should be able, first by argument, ultimately by the exercise of our own authority, to prevent such an encroachment upon the constitutional functions of this House. If, Sir, such a mad course were to be adopted by the Lords, it would not be by a Resolution entered upon our Journals; it would not be by commencing a scolding match with the other House; it would not be by impotent words laid on our table that our constitutional rights could be vindicated. No, Sir, it would be by action, which we should not be slow to discover the mode of taking; and I have not so mean an opinion of the powers of this House and of the weight of public sentiment—which would be declared emphatically in such a case—as to believe that we should be reduced to that condition in which the Commons of 1671 represented themselves to be when they said, that their right to originate and grant aid to the Crown was the only poor thing they had to proffer for the acceptance of their Sovereign. The House of Commons stands now in a very different position from that in which it has been at other periods of our history. The course of events, the extension of representation, the diffusion of knowledge, the power of the press, and the effect of public opinion have been such that this House is daily increasing in its power instead of diminishing in that respect; and therefore, Sir, so far from feeling any apprehension that the Lords may be able to usurp our legitimate functions, I am convinced that if we pursue a steady, dignified, and consistent course—if we abstain from anything that may 1394 savour of passion or aggression—if we stand upon and maintain our own rights, using, when necessary, the means belonging to us of making those rights respected, we shall be able, whenever our real functions are deliberately invaded, to protect them in the face of day, and with the full approval and sanction of the country.
I say, then, Sir, that these Resolutions are adequate to the present occasion. They declare in plain language what our constitutional functions are—rights and functions which I may say are interwoven with the whole course and history of this country, which no man can deny, which will not be denied, I venture to say by any single individual in the other House or in any part of the country. The Resolutions moreover point out that if our rights should be invaded we have within our own hands the means of resisting such invasion. I think, Sir, it would not have been becoming or even decent upon an occasion on which there was an appearance at all events of an intention to invade our functions—it would not have been right or decent for this House to have remained absolutely silent. Such a silence might have been construed into a yielding of rights and functions which we mean steadily to maintain in our own hands. On the other hand, Sir, I think we should not have raised ourselves in public estimation: I do not think we should have done anything towards maintaining effectively those rights and functions which belong to us if we had thrown into these Resolutions anything likely to prove the commencement of hostilities with the other branch of the Legislature. It is of the utmost importance in a Constitution like ours, where there are different branches independent of each other, each with powers of its own, and where cordial and harmonious action is necessary, that care should be taken to avoid the commencement of an unnecessary quarrel. The party which acted otherwise would, I consider, incur a very grave responsibility. I will not believe that it was the intention of the House of Lords to do so. Some may think that I entertain too favourable a view of the conduct of that House, but I say that if we have not proof sufficient to satisfy us that the rejection of the Paper Duty Bill was the first step in a new system of constitutional conduct, we had bettor, instead of involving ourselves in an unnecessary quarrel, pursue the policy which we now recommend for the adoption of the House. I think that course is a 1395 dignified one. I think, too, it will be efficacious. I am convinced in my own mind that these Resolutions, going forth from this House will be a sufficient warning to guard against any occurrence in future to which we might fairly take exception. We are not prepared to undo that which has been done. Perhaps in ordinary times, under ordinary circumstances, we might have advised this House to pass again the Bill which was rejected by the Lords, to return it toties quoties, if you will; to suspend all other business till it was passed, and by the exercise of those means which we have in our own hands, to render it necessary for the Lords to give way. But, Sir, the circumstances of the moment do not render that course of action desirable; and that being so, I say that unless we felt at liberty to return the Bill in some shape or other, and to insist in the present Session upon the repeal of the paper duty, we ought to take the course which it is my duty to recommend for adoption.
And, Sir, in conclusion, I would only urge upon the two houses the advice which a great authority in Parliamentary matters—Mr. Hatsell—has embodied in two passages of his well-known work. I would say to the Lords,The conclusion to be drawn from all these transactions is that it should be the endeavour of each House of Parliament to take care in their proceedings not to transgress those boundaries which the Constitution has wisely allotted to them, nor to interfere in those matters which by the rules and practice of Parliament in former ages are not within their jurisdiction, for the rights and privileges of Parliament are interwoven with the earliest establishment of government in this country.Sir, I would recommend that passage to the consideration of the House of Lords. To the House of Commons I would venture to suggest another passage from the same author. I would say to them,The sole and exclusive right of beginning all aids and charges upon the public, and not suffering any alteration to be made by the Lords, is sufficiently guarded by the claims as here expressed, and it does not seem to be either for their honour or advantage to push the matter further, and, by asserting privileges which may be subjects of doubt and discussion, thereby to weaken their claim to those clear and indubitable rights which are vested in them by the Constitution, and have been confirmed to them by the constant and uniform practice of Parliament.I think, Sir, that to refuse the Lords the right of rejecting Bills which go up to them for their assent, would bring us under the meaning of the passage I have just 1396 read. But I do not believe that the House would be disposed to follow that course. I am inclined to think that this House values highly the existence of that harmony which it is essential should prevail between the two branches of the Legislature: and if at all times that ought to be the ruling feeling of the House, I am sure there is nothing in the present aspect of affairs out of the kingdom—there is nothing, I repeat, Sir, in the general aspect of affairs in Europe and in the world which should lead this House to think less highly of the importance of a harmonious union, or to dispose them to exhibit to foreign nations the lamentable and humiliating spectacle of a disunited Legislature, of a divided people, and of internal conflicts at a time when it is desirable for the dignity, honour, and interests of this country that we should manifest to all nations a harmonious unity of action among all the estates of the realm for the common welfare of the country. I now beg, Sir, to move the first Resolution:—
Motion made and Question proposed,
That the right of granting Aids and Supplies to the Crown is in the Commons alone, as an essential part of their Constitution: and the limitation of all such Grants, as to the matter, manner, measure, and time, is only in them.
§ MR. COLLIER
Mr. Speaker, it appears to me that the first Resolution which has been proposed for our adoption by the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government is sufficiently explicit. It declares that which the House of Commons has many times declared before, and it appears to me that the declaration is on a fitting occasion. But I cannot compliment the noble Lord on the perspicuity of the two following Resolutions. I am not sure whether, from these two Resolutions, it is to be collected that the House of Commons has or has not a right to complain of the proceedings of the House of Lords in respect to the rejection of the Bill for the repeal of the paper duty.
Sir, I rather collect from the last of these Resolutions that we have cause to complain, because if we have not a right to complain of the proceedings of the House of Lords, I hardly know upon what principle it is declared that we are to take proceedings to prevent the recurrence of a similar proceeding on the part of the House of Lords.
Now, Sir, I have given notice of an Amendment which would have remedied any ambiguity in these Resolutions. My 1397 Amendment was to this effect:—that the House of Lords, by rejecting the Paper Duty Repeal Bill, had committed a violation of constitutional usage. I used no hard words; I implied no strong expressions; but it appeared to me that they had done one of two things—either that the House of Lords had committed a breach of constitutional usage or that they had not. If they had not, I do not know what reason we have for a Resolution at all. If they had, I do not see why the House of Commons should shrink from expressing our views and declaring so.
Sir, it was my determination to have proposed a Resolution then containing a definite expression of the opinion of this House. As, however, I find that the opinions of many hon. Members around me are in favour of a unanimous vote, and that I should be running counter to the feelings of the House if I were to propose that Resolution, I feel that it would not be desirable that I should take any course which might prevent that unanimous decision to which the House wishes to come.
But, Sir, perhaps the House will permit me, having been a Member of the Select Committee, and having considered the subject and given it some attention, to state very briefly the views which I entertain upon the subject now under discussion. Not one word will I utter in this discussion, I promise the House, in the slightest degree disrespectful to the House of Lords upon this occasion.
Now, Sir, all who are moderately well acquainted with the history of this country are aware that we owe to the House of Lords no small portion of our freedom. They have privileges as valuable and as dear to them as our own; their privileges are as dear to them as are the privileges of the House of Commons to the House of Commons. But while we respect their privileges we are bound to assert our own, for we hold them, not only for ourselves, but we hold them in trust for the people of England.
Now, Sir, I will state at once to the House what it is I am prepared to maintain with respect to the recent vote of the House of Lords.
Sir, I do not mean to assert that the vote of the House of Lords was illegal, but I do assert that it was opposed to constitutional usage. I assert that it is a breach of that tacit understanding which regulates the functions of the two Houses of Parliament, without the maintenance of 1398 which the constitution cannot work. And, Sir, I may in one moment illustrate the difference between that which is legal and that which is constitutional.
Now, Sir, no man will dispute the legal right of the Crown to veto any Bill or any number of Bills; but will any man tell me that if the Crown vetoed every Bill which is passed by the two Houses during the Session, let me ask whether any man would say that such a course would be constitutional?
Sir, upon the subject of the difference between what is legal and what is constitutional, I will at once quote an authority which I am sure will be respected by hon. Gentlemen opposite if they will do me the favour to listen to me. It is the authority of Lord Lyndhurst on the occasion of the discussion in the House of Lords on the Life Peerages Bill. Lord Lyndhurst upon that occasion insisted as against the Crown that although there may have been a strict legal right, still the exercise of that right was unconstitutional; and I pray the House to hear what was said by Lord Lyndhurst upon that occasion, which explains more clearly to my view the difference between what is legal and what is constitutional. Lord Lyndhurst says,—I hear it repeated that this is part of the prerogative of the Crown, and that the Crown may legally appoint a Peer for life. Assuming that to be the case, it does not follow that every exercise of such a prerogative is consistent with the principles of the Constitution. The Sovereign may, if he thinks proper, by his prerogative create a hundred Peers with descendible qualities in the course of a day. That would be consistent with the prerogative, and strictly legal; but everybody must feel, and everybody must know, that such an exercise of the undoubted prerogative of the Crown would be a flagrant violation of the principles of the Constitution. In the same manner, the Sovereign might place the Great Seal in the hands of a layman wholly unacquainted with the laws of the country. Other cases might be adduced, but these already cited are sufficient to establish the principle which I maintain.And, Sir, Lord Lyndhurst concludes with these words, to which I pray the particular attention of the House.Every person who has studied the Constitution of this country, and who is at all conversant with the principles on which it is founded, must be aware that one of its principles is long continued usage.Sir, the same argument was used by another noble and learned Lord, who, as against the Crown, quoted this maxim,Leges per consuetudinem abrogantur.Sir, I will now call the attention of the House to a Resolution of the House of 1399 Lords with respect to the conduct of this House, which directly illustrates the position which I now put before the House.
Sir, in 1702, in a Bill called the Land Tax and Irish Forfeiture Bill, we had inserted a provision creating an incapacity in the managers of the Excise from sitting in Parliament. Now we had a right to do that; there can be no doubt whatever that we possessed a legal right to do that, but the House of Lords passed this Resolution—That the annexing any clause or clauses to a Bill of Aid or Supply, the matter of which is foreign to and different from the said Bill of Aid or Supply is Unparliamentary, and tends to the destruction of the Constitution of the Government.Now, Sir, I say that if the House of Lords could assert as against the Crown the distinction between that which is legal and that which is constitutional, they cannot complain that the same distinction is asserted against them. The House of Lords were perfectly right—there was such a distinction. Our Constitution is not founded in any code, nor written in any book; happily, I say you do not describe the Constitution by defining the precise legal and technical rights of any one branch of the Legislature—for any one branch of the Legislature, by insisting on no more than its legal and technical rights, without transgressing any positive law of Parliament, may upset the whole balance of the Constitution. The three bodies politic, if I may use the expression, are not retained in their orbit by any force which it is possible with mathematical precision to define. Their harmonious action was secured by a tacit understanding which regulates the motion of each, which, though the least palpable, was one of the most essential elements of the Constitution, and when any one of them deviates from the course prescribed by that tacit understanding, the whole Parliamentary equilibrium was disturbed.
Now, Sir, having established the difference between that which is legal and that which is constitutional, forgive me for a moment reminding the House of the precise effect of that which the House of Lords have done.
Sir, the House of Commons have passed a Budget, one main feature of which was the repeal of the Paper Duty, and another main feature was the increase of the Income Tax. There were several divisions in this House upon the question as to whether the Paper Duty should be repealed 1400 and the Income Tax increased, and many hon. Members voted for the increase of the Income Tax, upon the express understanding, if I mistake not, that the Paper Duty would be repealed.
Now, Sir, the House of Lords have accepted so much of the Budget as increased the income tax, but they have refused so much of the Budget as repeals the paper duty; and I do assert that this is a course which they have never taken before. I say that there is no precedent for it; I say that it is an interference with the right of the Commons to regulate taxation which the House of Lords until the year 1860 never has attempted.
Now, Sir, let us see what the effect of this would be if the Paper Duty Repeal Bill had been intended to take effect at once. The duty would have been actually taken off, and the effect of the vote of the House of Lords would have been that a tax being taken off, it would have been re-imposed, and that for the first time in the history of our Constitution.
Sir, the vote in the House of Lords has been defended, not upon the ground suggested by the noble Lord (alluding to the Earl of Derby who was sitting in the Peers' gallery,) but it has been defended upon the ground that the House of Commons did not take sufficient care to provide proper supplies for the exigencies of the State. It has been said that the House of Lords took a more comprehensive view than the House of Commons. [Cheers from the Opposition.] I quite understand hon. Gentlemen opposite maintaining that view of the question—that the House of Lords looking to a possible deficit this year, and a possible deficit in the next year, and the year to come—[Cheers from the Opposition.] I am glad that I am right in the view I take—that the House of Lords differing from the Crown and differing from the Commons, undertook to supply a million and a quarter more than the House of Commons thought necessary to supply.
Sir, I cannot accede to the doctrine broached by the noble Lord that the constitutional right of the House of Lords to deal with the Bill depends upon the amount of majority. I know of no constitutional maxim that if a Money Bill has been carried by a majority of 50, the House of Lords has no right to deal with it, but that if passed by a majority of ten they have a right to deal with it. That is entirely new to me.
Now, Sir, that then is the effect of the 1401 argument of the noble Lord. The course pursued by the House of Lords has unquestionably taken everybody by surprise.
Sir, I will now proceed to inquire whether this proceeding of the House of Lords is or is not consistent with constitutional usage, and before I come to the precedents to which I will invite the attention of the House very shortly, I wish to remind them of what is familiar to them, but which from its very familiarity may not present itself to their minds. It is hardly necessary to remind them that this House alone is addressed by the Crown on the question of Supplies. Whether or not at the conclusion of the present Session, Her Majesty will thank the House of Lords for not consenting to the remission of taxation, I do not know, but it seems to me to be a matter of courtesy that Her Majesty should do so.
Sir, Money Bills are sent back to this House instead of being presented by the House of Lords to the Crown, and above all (and to this I beg to draw the particular attention of the House), the Votes of the House of Commons with respect to Supplies have been treated for a great length of time as practically final and conclusive.
Now, Sir, if the House will allow me I will read a short extract from Blackstone (and there was no greater lawyer than Blackstone), written more than a hundred years ago, in which it appears that the confidence of the public in the Votes of this House was then old. Blackstone writes this:—The Resolutions of this Committee (Ways and Means) when approved of by a Vote of the House are generally esteemed to be as it were 'final' and 'conclusive.' For though the supply cannot be actually raised upon the subject till directed by an act of the whole Parliament yet no moneyed man will scruple to advance to the Government any quantity of ready cash on the credit of a bare Vote of the House of Commons, though no law be yet passed to establish it.Now, Sir, I ask would Blackstone, the most accurate of writers, append this passage if the House of Lords had ever dealt with this? I quote the passage as a commentary upon the precedents, and I say that Blackstone would never have appended this passage if there had been a precedent at all in point on the recent proceedings of the House of Lords.
Now, Sir, having called the attention of the House to a passage from a great lawyer, perhaps I may be permitted to call the attention of the House to the opinion of 1402 the greatest of statesmen, Lord Chatham. It is an extract from his speech on the subject of the taxation of America. Lord Chatham says:Taxation is no part of the governing or legislative power. The taxes are a voluntary gift and grant of the Commons alone. And I pray the attention of the House to this distinction. In legislation the three estates of the realm are alike concerned; but the concurrence of the Peers and the Crown to a tax is only necessary to clothe it with the form of a law. The gift and grant is of the Commons alone. In ancient days the Crown, the barons, and the clergy possessed the lands. In those days the barons and the clergy gave and granted to the Crown. The property of the Lords, compared with that of the Commons, is as a drop of water in the ocean; and this House represents these Commons, the proprietors of the lands. And those proprietors virtually represent the rest of the inhabitants. When, therefore, in this House we give and grant, we give and grant what is our own. The distinction between legislation and taxation is essentially necessary to liberty. The Crown and the Peers are equally legislative powers with the Commons. If taxation be a part of simple legislation, the Crown and the Peers have rights in taxation as well as yourselves.And I pray the attention of the House to the prophetic passage in conclusion. He says:Rights which they will claim, which they will exercise, whenever the principle can be supported by power.Sir, to the last Lord Chatham maintained that, although we had a right to legislate for America with respect to all other questions, even with regard to the regulation of trade, although it might incidentally involve taxation, we had no right to deal with questions of pure taxation, on the principle that taxation and representation went together.
Now, Sir, this is the creed in which we have all been brought up. Sir, it is the faith in which the country have acted; and the House of Commons, acting on this faith, have in the present century voted a large quantity of revenue, which was formerly annual, but which they made perpetual, on the understanding and belief that the House of Lords would never interfere to prevent the grant. Sir, I am satisfied that we never should have voted the Sugar Duties and Malt Duties as permanent duties, if we had believed that we, the grantors, giving a voluntary grant, should not be permitted at any time to change our minds; and the House of Lords, who have repeatedly said that we, the House of Commons, were the sole judges of the matter, the manner, and the time, would in- 1403 terpose, and say you, are not the judges of these things, and we will interpose to prevent you exercising your own judgment as to the time for which these taxes will be taken.
Sir, I think I may instance the very appointment of this Committee, as a proof that every one was taken by surprise at this vote of the House of Lords. I hear it said occasionally, "Oh, the House of Lords have done no more than they have been accustomed to do; they have just as much right to reject this Bill as the Bill for the Abolition of Church Rates, or any other Bill." But if this proceeding was altogether analogous, why was not the Motion of the noble Lord for a Committee to search for precedents opposed; a precedent, be it remembered, which the House of Commons has never taken, except upon very grave occasions, when its liberties have been seriously endangered, either by the Lords or by the Crown?
Now, Sir, having made these observations, if the House will permit me, I will now refer to the precedents; and I promise them that if they will give me their patience a very short time, I will not abuse that patience; I will go through the precedents as briefly as possible; and I shall be able to classify them, and very shortly to deal with them; but it is absolutely necessary to do that. These precedents must be explained; these precedents, as they stand alone, would entirely mislead the House.
Now, the Committee, of which I was a Member, have not thought it necessary to go back before the year 1628. And probably the House will think that a wise step, for the greater number of the most important precedents have occurred since that time; and unquestionably it is most important to ascertain what has been the practice since the Revolution, when the Constitution may be said to have been finally settled. Let it always be borne in mind, that if the Revolution settled the Constitution, it settled it upon the old foundations. The Revolution introduced nothing new; it merely restored what was old. It is true that the foundations of our liberty had been undermined; but still the old and solid masonry remained, and is distinctly visible; and it is because the fabric of our Constitution has been erected upon these foundations that it now stands.
Sir, one of those main foundations was the exclusive right of the Commons to tax the commonalty of England; and it may 1404 be well to establish, if, indeed, there be a question of it, that this is not a comparatively new right set up by the House of Commons; it is not the consequence of usurpation, but it is as old as the existence of the very Commons themselves.
Now, Sir, without discussing the obscure points in the early history of this country, I will make this remark—that the Commons appear to have broken the egg fully fledged with all the powers of taxation. Their powers of taxation were coeval with their existence, and they were called into existence as instruments of taxation. I find in the 9th of Edward II., this extract in the Rolls of Parliament. I will not fatigue the House by reading any lengthened passages; but I think it necessary to read some passages. As early as the reign of the 9th of Edward II., I find this entry in the Rolls of Parliament:—Cives, burgenses et milites de comitatibus qui venerunt ad Parliamentum concesserunt domino Regi in auxilium expeditionis quere sui Scot quintain decimam, bonorum mobilium civium burgensium, et hominum de civitatibus, burgis et dominiis Domini Regis in regno suo.Now, Sir, it is important that the very next entry to this is that of an Act in which both Houses concur, enabling the King to raise troops; but the grant of money was from the Commons alone. In this reign, in the next of Edward III., in the next of Richard II., and in the next of Henry IV., the Commons have asserted again and again their right to the exclusive taxation of the Commonalty. I know that in ancient times the House of Lords taxed themselves, and the clergy taxed themselves up to the reign of Charles I., in Convocation; but the exclusive right of the Commons to tax the people of England was coeval with their very existence. They soon became assured of those rights, and they insisted on conditions in the reign of Richard II., which is stated by Hallam in his Middle Ages:—The Commons refused to grant a Supply except upon the condition that the King would pardon the insurgents; and thereupon a controversy arose between the King and the Commons, and the King eventually gave way.There a controversy had arisen between the King and the Commons, and the King eventually gave way. That was a case in which the House of Lords was in no way concerned.
Now, without going at length through the earlier reigns, it may be enough to say that through the reigns of the Princes of 1405 the House of Tudor, the rights of both Houses of Parliament were, to a great degree, in abeyance, both Houses being overawed by the Crown. But neither in the reign of Henry VIII., nor in that of Elizabeth, did the Crown ever venture to dispute the right of the House of Commons to tax the people to the extent to which it was disputed by James, and subsequently by Charles I. But the right to tax had always been valued by the Commons more than all their other rights put together, and they have always regarded the struggle for the right of taxation as a struggle for their own existence.
Now, Sir, having thus rapidly given a sketch of the previous periods of history before the Report (I am very unwilling to occupy the time of the House; I assure them that I will not do so longer than is absolutely necessary), I now come to the year 1640, when Pym asserted the rights of the House of Commons, and I venture very shortly to say that Pym insisted upon no new right; but he insisted upon a right which had existed for centuries before. I beg to call the attention of the House to what took place upon that memorable occasion. The Lords sent a message to the Commons to this effect. They intimated very politely at first that it would be desirable to begin with Supply before anything else; but they accompanied that message with these memorable words, to which I beg to call the attention of the House. They say:—Upon all these considerations, although my Lords would not meddle with matters of subsidy which belong properly and naturally to you; no, not to give you advice therein, but have utterly declined it, yet being members of one body, &c., they have declared by vote that they hold it most neceesary and fit that the matter of Supply should have precedence over any other matter or consideration whatsoever.Sir, the House of Lords, in 1640, declared that they would not meddle with subsidy; not so much as even to give advice. But the House of Lords, in 1860, have done a good deal more than give us advice. They have not only taken on themselves to advise, but they have also taken on themselves to correct. Upon that occasion to which I refer, Pym vindicated the rights of the House of Commons. He said:—Your Lordships have been pleased to affirm that the matter of subsidy and Supply naturally belonging to the House of Commons, your Lordships would not meddle with it; no, not so much as to give advice. But," he continued, "if you have voted this (referring to their vote), you have 1406 not only meddled with matter of Supply; but as far as in you lies, have concluded both the matter and order of proceeding which the House of Commons takes to be a breach of their privilege.If the House will now kindly give me their attention for a few minutes, I think I shall be able to show that there are none of the precedents quoted in the Report of the Committee to which I am about to address myself at all applicable to the recent proceedings of the House of Lords. Those precedents are divided into two classes—where the Lords have amended the Bill, and where they have rejected the Bill. And this I must say, that if the question had been whether the Lords had a right to amend instead of rejecting, I should have had more difficulty in dealing with the precedents, because there are far more precedents for amending than for rejecting Bills. It ought to be borne in mind that the House of Lords never relinquished the right to amend. They asserted it as strongly as they did the right to reject; more so, in fact.
Now, Sir, if the House will permit me, I will proceed to deal with the thirty-four precedents relating to the rejection of Bills repealing or altering a tax. I have classified them, and I think I shall be able to state the effect of them very shortly. Let it always be borne in mind with respect to those precedents that the House of Commons does not dispute, and never has disputed, the right of the House of Lords to deal with all questions independent of taxation. All that the House of Commons maintain is that taxation is our province. We have never said that if a Bill concerning the Church, for example, or concerning highways, incidentally imposed a tax or contained taxing provisions, that, therefore, the House of Lords have no right to deal with it. If we did so, we should arrogate to ourselves a most unconstitutional power, and should be encroaching on the proper functions of the House of Lords. But I shall be able to show the House that these precedents do not contain a single case in which the Lords have rejected a Bill repealing or altering a tax upon purely financial grounds. Five of the precedents (I will go through them very shortly) relate to religion—the Gaol Chaplains Bill, the Roman Catholic Land Tax Bill, the Tithes (Ireland) Bill, the Personal Tithes Abolition Bill, and the Church Rates Abolition Bill. These all relate to religion, and I may state that several of these are what are called "tacks," that is, 1407 provisions were added to them which the House of Commons had, strictly speaking, perhaps, no right to add, and relating to matters other than taxation. I find, for example, that the Gaol Chaplains Bill was an Act relating to the salaries of clergymen, and giving justices of the peace the power of dismissing officiating chaplains in Houses of Correction. There can be no doubt that the House of Lords had a perfect right to deal with that Bill.
Now, Sir, I come to six other Bills. I have disposed of five. Six other Bills are the Highways Bill, the Highway Penalties Bill, the Sale of Game Bill, the Court of Session (Scotland) Bill, the Tolls on Steam Carriages Bill, and the Rating Stock-in-Trade Bill. All these Bills involve questions of policy of various descriptions relative to the regulation of highways, the sale of game, the relief of the poor, &c.—questions with which this House never asserted an exclusive right to deal. Eighteen other Bills relate to the regulation of trade, and I say that the House of Commons have never arrogated to themselves the exclusive right to regulate any branch of trade. The House of Lords might have thrown out a Bill concerning the corn laws when that Bill was sent up to them, that being a question with which they had a perfect right to deal. It was a question of free trade and of protection. The distinction suggested by Lord Chatham should be clearly borne in mind with reference to this point. "You may tax the Americans," Lord Chatham says, "for the regulation of trade, but you must not tax them for fiscal purposes." The House of Lords have a perfect right to interfere with Bills for the regulation of trade, but they have no right to interfere with money Bills. Now, the Woollen Manufactures Bill was a question of protection to trade; the Irish Cattle Importation Bill and the Irish Tallow Bill were questions of justice to Ireland. The Anglesea Copper Mines Bill was a question of protection. The Thread Lace Bill involved the protection of the lace manufacture of the country. The Foul Salt Bill—salt used for manure—the Brass Exportation Bill, the Corn Regulation Bill, the Coasting Trade Bill, which has been quoted, and which is what is called a "tack"—all these Bills contained regulations on a variety of subjects with which the House of Lords had a perfect right to deal. The Duties on Coals in Wales Bill was a Bill regulating the coasting trade. Then there is the Worts Bill, 1408 and I dwell upon this for a moment, because it has been quoted, I am informed, in "another place" as a precedent. In 1841 the price of corn was very high, and the question was whether facilities should be given for distilling from molasses—a question between the West Indian interest on the one side, and the farmers on the other, and it was so argued in the House of Lords. That, therefore, was a question of free trade or protection. We then come to the Manure Carriage Bill and the African Goods Bill, after which comes the celebrated Stone Bottles Bill, which, I believe, is the main foundation of the recent proceeding of the House of Lords. I happen to have the preamble of the Stone Bottles Bill, or rather of the Bill subsequently passed, which will show the meaning of it. The preamble expressly recites.Whereas, for the protection of the glass manufacturers of the United Kingdom, it is expedient to repeal the said duties and drawbacks, and to impose other duties, &c.And I may make this observation with respect to this Bill and a great many others, that there were always fifty other provisions besides those. This is a Bill which contains a great variety of provisions of all sorts, and finally there is the preamble to which I have just called the attention of the House. That, therefore, was a Bill for the protection of a trade with which no one disputed the right of the House of Lords to deal. Then we have the Inland Coals Bill, the Inland Navigation Bill, the Tobacco Growth (Ireland) Bill—all Bills relating to the regulation of trade.
Sir, I have thus disposed of three groups containing respectively five, six, and eighteen of those Bills. I now come to five which cannot be disposed of upon similar grounds. Two of them are Customs Officers Fees Abolition Bill—one for England, the other for Ireland. These have been quoted as precedents directly to the point, and which justify the course adopted by the House of Lords. I maintain that they have nothing whatever to do with the question. They were Bills for the purpose of preventing Custom House officers from levying gratuities on persons who had to deal with them. They involved no tax whatever on the public, nothing relating to a tax upon the public, either the levying it or the taking it off. They were simply Bills containing certain criminal provisions preventing Custom House Officers from exceeding their duty. There is another Bill—the Tobacco Duties Bill 1409 —which I may confess, when I first looked at it, rather staggered me. Here, I said, is a Revenue Act—an Act for repealing duties on tobacco and snuff, and granting new duties in lieu thereof. This clearly is a fiscal Act. But I looked at the second Bill which passed, and the former Bill which it was to explain and to amend, and I find that the Bill which it explained and amended contained no less than 177 clauses regulating the whole of the tobacco and snuff trade between America, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland, prescribing the tonnage of vessels, the size of casks, the forfeiture of vessels, respecting warehouses, the right of entry of Custom House officers into the premises of private persons, the jurisdiction of justices, &c. This, then, constitutes no precedent at all. This was one of those Bills which nobody in his senses ever denied the right of the House of Lords to deal with, and which I am astonished to find quoted as a precedent.
Now, Sir, I have, I am happy to say, only two left. I now come to the Wine Merchants Bonds Bill, and the Tobacco and Wine Merchants Bill; and here we are getting "small by degrees and beautifully less." These precedents are so small that Mr. Hatsell does not think it worth while noticing them, and they are hardly worth quoting. A few wine merchants petitioned to be relieved from the interest on bonds which they had given for duties. They had paid the principal, and they wished to be relieved from the interest, and the question was whether a clause in an Act of Parliament then existing was sufficient to enable the officers of Customs to remit the interest. That was the question. The House of Lords differed from the House of Commons upon that subject. Thus I have disposed of these two Bills which are perfectly frivolous questions, and have nothing whatever to do with this subject. They were so small that we need not be surprised even if the Commons did not watch them very closely. They could not always be awake to their rights in regard to such questions. Perhaps the principle de minimis non curat occasionally prevailed.
Now, Sir, I have gone through the whole of the precedents which have been quoted of Bills altering or repealing taxation which had been rejected or postponed by the House of Lords. And allow me to observe with respect to them that several of them were dropped by the Government, 1410 one or two in consequence of the lateness of the Session, one or two in consequence of Amendments in Committee. But if the House will favour me with their indulgence for a very few minutes longer, I will proceed to deal with another class of Bills, namely, Bills imposing a tax; and I shall show that here all precedents are equally irrelevant. I shall be able to go through these in a very few minutes if the House will be good enough to follow me, and they are far less in number than the others, The Worsted Yarn Duties Bill was a question of protection to the worsted trade of this country. The Tobacco Trade Bill—(and if the House will allow me I will refer to the preamble of the Bill) if any one does not know what a "tack" is, he may learn from this—contained provisions for encouraging the tobacco trade, for disposing of goods in Her Majesty's warehouses, for the making of linen in Scotland, provisions with regard to Customs officers, to enable the Bank of England to lend on South Sea Stock, for the relief of Sir J. Lambert and others, and a variety of other heterogeneous provisions.
Now, that is gravely quoted as a precedent. If the House of Commons chose to send up such a hotch-potch as this, the House of Lords had no other course but to reject it. Again, the Pawnbrokers Regulation Bill prescribed a great number of regulations with respect to pawnbrokers' tickets, and the lodging of them, and a great number of things of that kind, but before a certain date we can find no Bills. I cannot tell you precisely what the Bill was, but it appears to have related to the regulation of the trade. There are a hundred clauses prescribing all sorts of regulations with which the House of Lords had a perfect right to deal.
It has, moreover, been just suggested to me with perfect truth, that before a certain date we cannot find the Bills, and we cannot therefore tell precisely what some of them were. The Raw Silks and Velvets Bill was a most clear "tack," for besides imposing additional duties on the importation of raw silks and velvets, it had clauses to prevent the unlawful combination of workmen employed in the silk manufacture. That is a totally different question.
It was never alleged that the House of Lords had not the right to deal with a Bill relating to the unlawful combination of workmen. I need hardly mention the case of the reward to Dr. Smith. Then there is the Bill with regard to Phillips's powder 1411 for the destruction of insects. I can only say that if the House of Commons were inclined to fight with the Lords they would hardly have done battle with Phillips's powder. Then there is the Lotteries Bill, involving penalties under the criminal law, and even inflicting in some cases the penalty of death. The Cocoa-nut Duties Bills were precedents which were strongly relied upon, I understand, by a great authority in "another place." I maintain them to be as irrelevant to the question as any paper which may happen to he on that table. The question involved was the charging of duty on foreign cocoa-nuts imported into the British plantations, but the Bills also contained provisions regarding the removal of sheep from Southampton and Portsmouth to Cowes; the removal of sheep and lambs and other goods under certain regulations between those ports free of cocket or bond, empowering licences to be granted to open boats of certain descriptions and subjecting boats and vessels of certain build to forfeiture. Here was a case in which, by the Standing Orders of the House of Lords, they were bound to reject the Bill. I say that these Bills have nothing to do with the question. With regard to the Lotteries Bill proposed by Mr. Pitt in 1790, I have taken some pains to inquire into this subject, and I must express my sincere thanks to the Chairman of the Committee who gave me some information upon the subject of this Lotteries Bill; that Bill contained clauses inflicting a penalty for advertising illegal lotteries, and among other things contained the punishment of death for certain forgeries. The obnoxious clause relating to the penalty for advertising having been 6truck out the Bill passed, containing precisely the same amount of supply as before. It was not thrown out on any question of tax or expenditure. It was not rejected as part of the Budget, or upon the ground that the House of Lords differed with the House of Commons upon the subject of the amount of Supply, but it was rejected on account of one of the criminal provisions which it contained. The Malt Duties Bill has also been quoted which was rejected on account of its being a "tack," according to the Standing Order of the House of Lords. Then there was the Extra Post Bill for regulating the postage of Great Britain, the Corn Bill, involving the question of Protection, and then comes the Corn Bill of 1827, introduced by Mr. Canning, and 1412 altered in the House of Lords by an Amendment proposed by the Duke of Wellington, and subsequently dropped. Another Bill containing the same provisions for a limited period was sent up again and again to the House of Lords. And if the House will permit me, I will read what Mr. Canning said upon that occasion. Mr. Canning said,I presume the House of Commons is not so reduced as to abjure what its Members have declared to be necessary principles, rescind its deliberate Resolutions, and throw away as waste paper that Bill which they have so long and so carefully considered, merely because in a certain assembly, which for many reasons is entitled to respect, it did not happen to be received with that courtesy which might have been expected.And then Mr. Canning continued,If there be a single spark of pride or of shame in the House you will not submit to it.Now, Sir, I will only refer to one more question on which the House of Lords have exercised, or rather have attempted to exercise, such a power. It was in the case of the soap duties in 1853. The House will perceive a very remarkable difference between the tone of the House of Lords in 1853, and in 1860. The Soap Duties Repeal Bill went up to the other House. Lord Ellenborough proposed a Motion to the effect that it be put off for one week; no more than that was at that time contemplated. Lord Aberdeen on that occasion asserted the constitutional doctrine, and I beg to call the attention of the House to his words. The postponement had been proposed on the ground that the money might be wanted for the Russian war, which was then impending. Lord Aberdeen on that occasion said—If the greatest calamity that could befall this country should be imminent, why, even then, he did not think it was the duty of the House of Lords to interfere and prevent the relief afforded to the people by the repeal of those duties.He went on to say:—If it should so happen that the House of Commons should determine that this country should be placed in a state of war, the House of Commons would undoubtedly find the means of carrying it out.Lord Derby upon that occasion used very different language from that which he so recently employed. Lord Derby said:—The Opposition were not disposed to bring this House into collision with the House of Commons.So that his Lordship clearly thought at that time, that taking a certain course 1413 would bring the Houses into collision. That statement, therefore, shows where, in the present instance, the collision began. His Lordship goes on to say:—His noble Friend did not ask them to refuse their assent to the measure, but to be quite satisfied before they passed it that the circumstances were the same in which the House of Commons were placed when they thought it expedient to take off this amount of taxation. Would it not be prudent to keep the amount in hand in order that the House of Commons might have an opportunity of judging whether, under the new circumstances, they could afford to dispense with this tax? It appeared to him that a short delay was the course dictated by prudence and sound sense.Acting upon the suggestion of the noble Lord, it was moved that the Bill be put off for one week, but that was negatived without a division. The House of Commons at that time understood that it was not prudent to put off the Bill.
Now, Sir, I am sure I have to thank the House for the great patience with which they have listened to my somewhat dry speech. I have now gone through all these precedents, not perhaps at so great a length as I might have done, or ought to have done, but as fully as I thought proper or decent. The conclusion seems to me to be this—that it does not appear, at all events affirmatively, that the House of Lords have on any occasion, either rejected a Bill imposing a tax, or repealing a tax, upon purely financial grounds. I know that it was admitted in one of the conferences by the then Attorney General, Sir Henry Finch, that the House of Lords has the abstract right to reject a Bill. The question was not then one of rejection, it was one of alteration; but the Attorney General merely discussed that question in argument, which he might safely do, that they had the power which in his time they had never exercised, as far as I know, for these precedents, which begin in 1773, do not show a single instance in which that power has been exercised.
Now, Sir, it behoves us to consider the consequences that will arise from the adoption of this course by the House of Lords, from the assumption of these new functions by them. The immediate result must be that on no future occasion can a tax be remitted, or a tax be levied upon the vote of this House. It will be necessary for merchants before making their arrangements to ascertain, if possible, what may be the views of their Lordships upon the subject of taxation as compared with ex- 1414 penditure, and whether or not the Bill is likely to pass that House. And, Sir, great inconvenience must arise to the public from such a state of things. Those only who are acquainted with the mercantile world can know the vast amount of inconvenience that would arise from the postponement of the settlement of the Budget. If the Budget is not to be considered as settled when it passes the House of Commons, and has to go through a new ordeal in the House of Lords, many grave and most important results must ensue. It will create a disturbance in our commercial relations of which we cannot foresee the consequences. If the House of Lords are to assume this power, it would seem to me that they should be furnished with the Estimates for the purpose of giving consideration to the question—Estimates, be it remembered, which they have many times applied for, but which have always been withheld from them. Indeed, upon one occasion, on the House of Lords asking for the Estimates, Mr. Pitt, with great complaisance, but with great firmness, withheld them. If the House of Lords are to assume this new function, it would seem desirable for the future that the Estimates should be laid before them. It might be advisable for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to sit in the House of Lords, and it might be enough for this House if the Budget were explained to us by the Secretary of the Treasury.
Sir, it does seem to me that this vote of the House of Lords—although I take it, as I have assumed it from the beginning, to be legally and technically right—is productive of more disturbance to the constitutional functions of both Houses than any proceeding which has taken place in our times. I trust that the noble Lord at the head of the Government is right in supposing that the House of Lords do not intend to proceed in this course, but it will be necessary for this House to take care that they shall not be able to do so. If necessary we must alter the course of our proceeding, and the very necessity of considering whether or not we ought to alter it is a conclusive argument that something new has been done. I believe that a great responsibility lies on us. It is all very well to say that the country is apathetic. The country can distinguish between the paper duty and the constitutional question. The country is not so stupid as is sometimes represented. No questions can he more distinct than whether the House 1415 Lords is financially right, and whether they are constitutionally right. If they happen to be financially right the more the danger—the danger that those who do not distinguish clearly in questions which are essentially different may accept a present benefit at the expense of a permanent evil. But, Sir, I am satisfied that the eyes of this country are upon this House. We must look well what we do. Remember we have rejected the Reform Bill. [Cries of "No, no!"]—we have virtually rejected it, and we have thereby refused the extension of popular rights. It remains to be seen how far those to whom popular rights have been promised by statesmen on both sides of the House will rest satisfied, if, in addition to withholding popular rights, we show ourselves inclined to abandon those which we already possess. If we show ourselves careless guardians of those rights, depend upon it that we shall entirely and irrevocably forfeit the confidence of the country, and the forfeiture of that confidence will, I believe, more than anything else, give an impetus to that democratic and dangerous reform which is dreaded by all who value the institutions of the country.
Sir, in conclusion, (and tendering to the House my sincere thanks for the indulgence which they have shown me) I am satisfied that we shall not part with our right of taxation. The exclusive right of taxation is the life blood of the House of Commons. The principle of taxation being co-ordinate with the representation is the most vital element of the Constitution. But should the time ever arrive, and I trust that time may be far distant, when the House of Commons shall bate one jot or tittle of its privileges in respect to the sole and exclusive control of the finances, I say from that day we date the decadence of the Constitution of this country.
§ MR. CONINGHAM
Mr. Speaker, I have listened with great attention to the speech of the noble Lord, the First Lord of the Treasury in bringing forward these Resolutions on the part of the Government, and I very much doubt whether that speech will be received throughout the country with the same degree of favour which it seems to have met from the Opposition benches. For my part, I cannot help thinking, nay, I am firmly convinced that the determination of Her Majesty's Government to do nothing but place a mere dry and idle record upon the Journals of this House as an answer to the vote of 1416 the House of Lords, is calculated to prove fatal to the Administration. I am satisfied that no Government can last under the contempt to which it must inevitably give rise on the part of the country at large, while the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton stands forward in this House as the defender of the rights and privileges of the House of Peers instead of being the defender of the rights and privileges of the House of Commons. The noble Lord seems to forget that every word that he has uttered in palliation of the conduct of the other House of Parliament, was in reality casting a censure upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the body who sit beside him.
Sir, it is not a financial question, as has has been said before, which we have to consider. It is a great constitutional question whether the people of this country by their representatives are to maintain their ancient rights and privileges, which is to tax themselves by their representatives, whom they have sent into the House of Commons.
Sir, I can state to the House that I have recently met my constituents upon this very question, and I venture to tell hon. Members who would be inclined to jeer at my statements, that the constituency which I have the honour to represent is fully as enlightened and as intelligent a constituency as that of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, and I believe that their opinions are but a type of the opinions of the majority of the people of this country. You talk of the apathy of the people of this country! For my part I am prepared to deny that that apathy exists, and I will venture to tell the hon. Members of the Government as well as the hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Opposition side of the House, that they are tampering with very dangerous elements when they venture to bring the rights and privileges of an irresponsible House into direct collision with the rights and privileges of the representatives of the people. You think that by passing this Resolution you have disposed of the question. I can tell you that the debate which is taking place this evening, will create an agitation such as you have not seen for many years. ["Oh, oh!"] I imagined that the proceedings of this House were regulated by order and the rules of courtesy. It is not by rude interruptions that I am to be put down, and I intend to be heard and to state what I have to say. I am an independent Member of 1417 this House, and a real and genuine representative of my constituents. I am not the representative of a rotten borough, but I am the representative of a large and enlightened constituency. [Interruptions.] It is not, I say, by idle clamour and interruptions of that kind that I am to be put down and silenced. I am acting upon my right and privilege in now addressing this House, and this is not the first time that I have received those rude and idle interruptions, which I will venture to say are most unwarrantable and most unjustifiable. I have never trespassed unfairly or unduly upon the time or patience of the House whenever I have spoken. I have, on the contrary, endeavoured always to adhere closely and rigidly to the question at issue, and I do certainly appeal to the hon. Gentlemen who sit on both sides of the House, to at all events give me a fair hearing when I come upon an important occasion of this kind to express my sentiments in a manner, I trust, like a Gentleman and a Member of Parliament.
Now, I can assure the House, Sir, that I do not wish to trespass at any length upon its patience. I think that fully enough has been already said upon this question. I think that an immense amount of time has been lost in the idle search that has taken place for precedents. I know well how that search will end; but before I sit down I cannot but enter my deliberate protest against the decision which has been come to by Her Majesty's Government, who have contented themselves by simply placing this unmeaning (for it is unmeaning) platitude upon the Records of this House. If there should be a division upon the present occasion, I should certainly vote against placing any such idle record upon our Journals which is calculated to bring the House of Commons into contempt—it is barking when we do not intend to bite. I am of opinion that the Petition which was presented to this House this evening by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) should be again presented to this House; and if it should be so presented, and if the Paper Duties Repeal Bill should be again brought forward, I am sure it will be passed by such a commanding majority in the House of Commons as shall compel the House of Lords to pass it likewise. I moreover warn the House of Commons that if they turn a deaf ear to the voice of the people, that voice will 1418 be raised in no unhesitating accents, and that when the hon. Members of this House go back to their constituents, those who have failed in this great crisis of our constitutional history to do justice to those constituents who have sent them here to represent their rights and to defend their just and ancient privileges—I say, Sir, that I feel that confidence in the honesty and clear-sightedness of the constituencies of this country that they will not send those, who fail in a moment like this to do their duty, back to the House of Commons again to betray the rights and privileges of their constituents.
§ MR. VINCENT SCULLY
Sir, I have listened with great attention and great admiration to the speech which has been addressed to the House by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth (Mr. Collier), but although I agree with the entire of what my hon. and learned Friend has stated, I apprehend at the same time that he did not arrive at a right conclusion. If you read over these Resolutions which are now before the House carefully, as I myself read them over most carefully before I came here, I think you will arrive at the conclusion at which I have arrived. I may also add, that I have carefully gone through all the precedents which have been laid before us, and the conclusion I have come to is, that these Resolutions are in substance all that the House of Commons can do at the present stage of the proceedings. I, for one, do not consider these Resolutions as at all final and conclusive; I consider, on the other hand, that they may be regarded as only the first step in the initiation of a much bolder course. I apprehend that it will be quite open to the hon. Member for Brighton, who has just sat down, to take a much bolder course when these Resolutions have been put to the vote and passed.
Now, Sir, to refer at once to the Resolutions, because it is those that we have here to deal with. The first Resolution is a mere transcript, as I read it, of the Resolution that was passed by this House in the year 1692. The words appear to me to be identical; they are given in this printed Report of the Select Committee on Tax Bills, and hon. Members therefore may readily refer to them. As I said just now, the first Resolution proposed to the House by the noble Lord at the head of the Government is an exact copy and transcript of a Resolution which was come to in 1692 by the House of Commons, and which was 1419 then handed to the House of Lords. In the year 1692 the House of Lords did not sit down tamely under that Resolution, but they then thought it necessary to come to an equally strong Resolution; in fact, they thought it necessary to give the House of Commons of that day a Roland for their Oliver—at all events they did not think proper to sit quietly down under that Resolution. I find this passage:—After several conferences, Mr. Attorney General reported that their Lordships did not insist upon their proviso. Reasons assigned by the Lords: 'That they can by no means agree to what was offered by the House of Commons at the last Conference because, besides many precedents in former times in taxing themselves for their personal estates, they have had a very late one in the Act intituled, An Act for raising Money by a Poll and otherwise towards the reducing of Ireland and prosecuting the war against France, wherein they did nominate Commissioners of their own for taxing their personal estates. And because they conceive that the making of amendments and abatements of rates in Bills of Supply sent up from the House of Commons is a fundamental inherent and undoubted right of the House of Peers from which their Lordships can never depart; they have therefore thought themselves obliged to assert it upon this occasion. But considering that a difference between the two Houses upon this Bill may create such delays in the passing of it as would be of the most fatal consequence in the present conjuncture, the Lords have not thought it convenient at this time to insist upon their provisos.A Committee on that occasion had been appointed by the House of Commons to draw up reasons, and the reasons to be assigned were,—That the right of granting Supplies to the Crown is in the Commons alone, as an essential part of their constitution; and the limitation of all such grants as to the manner, matter, measure, and time is only in them, which is so well known to be fundamentally settled in them, that to give reasons for it has been esteemed by our ancestors to be a weakening of that right. And the clause sent down by your Lordships to be added to this Bill is a manifest violation thereof.And then the reasons of the Lords follow, which I have already read to the House.
Now, Sir, that occurred in the year 1692. We had thus, to a certain extent, been allowed to establish a precedent in our own favour, but there is the assumption of authority on the part of the House of Lords which, as far as I can make out from reading these Resolutions (and I have, I assure hon. Members, read them very carefully), is a direct assumption; it is an assumption of authority to that extent, that is, as regards the right to interfere in an important matter of taxation upon purely and exclusively financial grounds. 1420 I cannot find that the question is carried to a further extent, and I certainly do not find that the House of Lords ever imagined in that day that they had a right to amend or to reject any Money Bill from the House of Commons. That question had never arisen, but the debate has now arisen, and the question before the House is whether they have a right to reject the Repeal of the Paper Duties Bill; a Committee has been appointed for the purpose of searching for precedents, and the Report of that Committee is before the House.
Well, now, Sir, I look upon that first Resolution as a very valuable one. It raises the question of the right of the House of Lords to interfere. The House of Lords must either have taken some active steps against this Resolution, or they must have fought the battle. If, however, they have taken no steps in the matter and have done nothing, it is perfectly clear that we have got a step in advance. If they do take a step in advance, we may possibly come in collision. But then there are two other Resolutions, which are very vague.
Now, this being the state of affairs, I do not see what more we can do. These Resolutions are merely the assertion of our rights. The oldest precedent to be found in this very valuable Report contains the same sentiment. It is, that these proceedings of the House of Lords are not to be brought into action, are not to be brought into precedent, against the House of Commons. I see that quoted here in page 8 of this most valuable Report, and I will give to the House the exact sentence from the Report, in order that there may be no mistake upon the subject. It says that these proceedings of the House of Lords at that timeAre not to be drawn into a precedent by which the House of Commons would be bound." [It is a precedent in the year 1407]—"neither in this present Parliament nor at any time hereafter.Now, Sir, I do not for a moment say that these Resolutions of the Government might not have been framed in terms more clear and precise. I do not say that they might not have been framed in more terse, clear, and cogent phraseology by many hon. Members who are now sitting around me. I flatter myself that I could have put them into more clear and bright language than that in which they are framed. However, Sir, there the Resolutions stand, and they must be judged of and decided upon as they stand, and I leave that matter by 1421 stating that I think I could have thrown them into more severe and striking language. If the Government does think fit to assert the right of the House of Commons, and the House of Commons supports the Government, I apprehend that that will be sufficient. The House of Lords have found means to enforce their rights in cases where the House of Commons were utterly at variance with them in the House of Lords. I have found a precedent which does not appear in this printed Report of the Select Committee which has been presented to the House, but it is connected with one of the matters which is referred to in the Report of the Select Committee. I have no doubt whatever that if the Government think fit to assert the right of the House of Commons to pass the Repeal of the Paper Duty Bill and the House would support it, the Bill would be carried. The House has the means of enforcing such a course, even if they were in the wrong. There is a precedent with regard to this point which, as I have already said, is not quoted in the Report. It relates to the Irish Cattle Importation Bill in 1758. That Bill was sent up from the House of Commons to the House of Lords, who ordered it to be postponed, which in point of fact amounted to its rejection, and it was afterwards rejected. But I find in the year 1766 a very distinct precedent, which is not given in this collection of precedents. But it appears that a direct and distinct contest arose upon this very question in the House of Lords, and after several pitched battles on the subject the House of Lords were obliged to give way, although they had declared the importation of Irish cattle a public and common nuisance. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth quoted the precedent to which I refer from Cartes Ormond, as extracted from The Irish Land Question, by Mr. Vincent Scully. The battle between the two Houses of Parliament upon the Cattle Importation Bill ended by the House of Commons forcing the House of Lords to accept the measure in its integrity, however unjust, and also to swallow the obnoxious word "nuisance." If, therefore, the House of Commons were to be again driven into a contest with the House of Lords, I have no doubt as to which of the combatants would come out successful. The House of Commons came to a certain Resolution, and the House of Lords came to a counter-resolution; but I take these two Resolutions to amount to this, that they 1422 would not draw this misbehaviour into a precedent. They said, you shall not make a practice of it. That is what we say to the House of Lords now:—Although you do this now, we will not allow you to make a practice of it; we will assume your right. Like the lady who allowed her admirer to take a liberty with her on condition that he would not make a practice of it, so the House of Commons should give the House of Lords to understand that what they have done in this instance must not be converted into a practice.
Now, Sir, all I can say with respect to asserting the privileges of the House of Commons, although I gave no vote on the question before and deliberately left the House—indeed, I was not able to make up my mind upon it—all I can say is, that if it is necessary to assert the privileges of this House upon the question of taxation and finance, so much do I think that it is their interest—the existence of this House depends upon the question of taxation—that I shall unquestionably, without the least hesitation, vote for the repeal of the Paper Duty Bill, and that it should be sent back to their Lordships in order that we may assert our rights. It is to be recollected that our very existence depends upon that—our very existence depends upon the power of taxation which is vested in this House, and in this House alone. That power rests with us, and with us it ought to rest if we are to have any weight or importance with the country. When these Resolutions which have now been proposed by the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government were first talked of, I imagined that on this occasion we were to have only a consistent finale to all the other shams, the very numerous shams, which we have had from the beginning of this Session, and of which this Session has been fruitful; but having now carefully examined the whole of the circumstances of the case, I do not see how Her Majesty's Government can well do more than propose the Resolutions which have been submitted for our consideration, thus leaving it open to the House of Commons to take such further and stronger action as it deems necessary under all the circumstances which have taken place. Under all the circumstances of the case, I think it better that the House should adopt these Resolutions, and I hope that they will carry them.
Mr. Speaker, that one branch of the Legislature should in- 1423 vade the privileges of this House, may or may not excite our surprise, but that hon. Gentlemen opposite—although those hon. Gentlemen opposite have not expressed up to this time an opinion upon this subject—and whose cheering and significant cheering, and counter-cheering to-night it is altogether impossible to misconstrue, should volunteer to abet and encourage this invasion, either in this House or out of doors, I must say surpasses all previous experience of their occult policy.
Now, Sir, I ask this House, what is the aim of hon. Gentlemen? I ask this House is the aim of those hon. Gentlemen further to humiliate and degrade this House in the eyes of the country at large? Surely, we have had enough of that in one Session of Parliament. If hon. Gentlemen suppose that the debate upon the Reform Bill has tended to raise this House in public estimation, or that the means to which they had recourse in order to defeat that Bill have inspired their constituents with any deeply-rooted idea either of the dignity of this House or of the feelings of hon. Gentlemen, I ask, have these things inspired the constituents of hon. Gentlemen with any high idea of their sincerity? I ask, do hon. Gentlemen ever read the public press? I ask do hon. Gentlemen now wish still further to lower their position in the eyes of their constituents and of the country at large? I think that there is a growing suspicion which pervades all ranks of society. I think there is a feeling which pervades every class of opinion in this country that this House is becoming contemptible. Hon. Gentlemen sneer, but I do assure you that it is my firm conviction that it is a feeling which is very prevalent throughout all classes of the State.
Now, Sir, the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government has spoken about inaction and forbearance on the present occasion. For my part, I am quite sure that I should be the last man to criticise anything that the noble Viscount has said; but let me ask the House, whom do we sit here to represent? I ask the House do we sit here to represent people intolerant of aggression and insult, or a people who lick the hand that smites them? That is the aspect which the present state of things presents to our view.
Now, Sir, when this question first came before the public, it may he said that the public did not at first perceive how grave was the issue that had been raised between the House of Commons and the House of 1424 Lords. Great efforts were made to jumble together two questions totally distinct—namely, the merits of the Paper Duty Repeal Bill, and the infringement of the privileges of this House. Great endeavours were used to lead on the public mind from the question really at issue to questions affecting the expediency of proceeding. But, Sir, I believe that when the people shall have had time thoroughly to appreciate the wrong which has been done them, I may almost say the danger which has beset our whole representative system. I believe that there is no event which shall occur for many years which shall tend more to disperse that political indolence and apathy which has been the stronghold of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The compromising aspect of affairs both at home and abroad alone serves to show on how slender a thread hangs that political apathy among the people in which hon. Gentlemen exult; and, Sir, I do think that the aspect of things generally is not very encouraging to those who build so much upon what they call the public indifference and apathy. Abroad, we have the perpetual menace of European war—at home we have the very prosperity, upon which some of us perhaps depend, threatened; a gloomy responsibility is beginning to exhibit itself, and trade itself begins to languish. Under these circumstances I say again how slender is the thread of that political apathy among the people in which hon. Gentlemen so much exult!
But, Sir, those efforts were at first successful, and we were reluctant to believe at this time of day that this House would have been subjected to so incredible an usurpation as this.
Well, Sir, to revert to the question which is more particularly before the House, you appointed a Committee for the purpose of searching into precedents. That Committee has reported. Has that Committee, I ask, found a single precedent? In point of fact, is not the result of the labours of that Committee this, that this act of the House of Lords amounts to an act of attempted taxation without representation?
Now Sir, this taxation without representation is a thing which is not altogether new in our constitutional history. It is only new when it is attempted by the House of Lords. Upon three occasions within the last two centuries and a half there have been attempts to tax the people without their consent, and all these at- 1425 tempts have been unfortunate. The first resulted in the decapitation of one King; the deposition of another, and the loss of our American colonies were the results of three former encroachments of this kind—and the third marks what Mr. Burke has called the era of calamity, disgrace, and downfalls which no feeling mind can contemplate without being struck with—it was our attempt to tax the American colonies.
Sir, upon that occasion it was contended that the great bulk of the people not being represented in Parliament had always been taxed without their own consent. It was alleged that the East India Company had been taxed—it was alleged that the Bishop of Chester and the Bishop of Durham had been taxed. How was it that Lord Chatham, who at that time occupied a seat in this House, disposed of these flimsy artifices to lead the public mind away from the real question at issue? Sir, Lord Chatham upon that occasion said that he came not armed at all points with law cases and Acts of Parliament, but he took his stand on the well-established constitutional principle that British subjects could not be justly taxed without their consent, and I would venture to submit to the House that this is a ground on which, upon this occasion, we might dare to meet any man.
But, Sir, since I have quoted Lord Chatham I shall proceed, with the leave of the House, to refer to another speech of that celebrated statesman upon the American question, and there Lord Chatham says, that to tax America is contrary to every principle of the British Constitution, and I will venture to submit that these words of Lord Chatham apply with peculiar force to that which is the very essence of the subject at present under discussion.
Now, it has been said that these rights are imperilled by precedents? What are those precedents? Upon what occasion have the circumstances of the cases been identical? In the case of any of the precedents to which reference has been made, upon what occasion has a large and important remission of taxation, forming a portion of the financial scheme of the year, (and it is not contended for a moment, that the instance before us has injured in any way any branch of industry)—upon what occasion has such a remission of taxation been rejected by the House of Lords?
But, Sir, a precedent to be a true prece- 1426 dent not only requires that the circumstances should be identical but it also requires that the question of right shall have been raised and discussed. But is it pretended that in any of these cases of precedents referred to that the question of right was ever raised at all? They maintained that the right to tax themselves was a right which was imperilled by no precedent. On the contrary, the perusal of the Report of the Select Committee proves this. The Report of the Select Committee proves that the House of Commons was at all times and in all vicissitudes most vigorous in defending this one great and cardinal privilege. On that ground, therefore, which has been adopted by the House of Commons under all circumstances and in all ages, I do earnestly hope and trust that this House is now about to take its stand. But we are told by hon. Gentlemen, perhaps not within these walls but outside the House, that if a precedent do not exist, now is the time to make one. So it was said in the reign of Charles the First, and so thought Charles the First, and he made a precedent which will endure as long as history is read; and so again thought King James the Second who contributed his precedent. So again thought the political ancestors of the hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Opposition side of the House, when, against the solemn prayers and entreaties of the political progenitors of liberal Members, they proceeded to tax America, and lost her.
Now, Sir, these are the great precedents of taxation which have been attempted without the consent of the people, and they are precedents which overwhelmed with execration those who made them. In supporting the House of Lords I maintain that they would be following in the same footsteps, but I do earnestly hope and trust that the House of Commons will not relinquish their right unless it should please them that the symbol of their high privilege should once more become a bauble.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
Sir, with all dues ubmission to you, and to the House in general, I cannot help thinking that on the present occasion the House cuts but a very humiliating figure.
Sir, the noble Lord who moved these Resolutions, and certainly they are not Resolutions which are—. . Sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.The noble Lord has made a speech which if it means anything at all is, in the shape 1427 of a defence of the House of Lords, nothing more than an attack upon his own Ministry. The noble Lord was followed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth, and I must say that to my mind, and I think to the mind of the House generally, the speech of that hon. and learned Member did credit to him as a lawyer and honour to him as a statesman.
Sir, I did expect after that speech that some hon. Member on the other side of the House, well fitted for the task, would at least have paid the House, if not my hon. and learned Friend, the compliment of answering that lucid speech, which I think has exhausted every argument upon the question. I lamented to find that after all that research which my lion, and learned Friend exhibited, and all the pains-taking labour which he had evidently given to the subject, that speech was not followed by any conclusion. It appears that my hon. Friend's Motion has been withdrawn totally unknown to me—but I am told at a meeting of the great Liberal party—[Interruption]—the hon. Gentleman said so—I am in the recollection of the House—the hon. Gentleman certainly said so. Of whom that great Liberal party consists I am at a total loss to conjecture, but I think that, however distasteful it might be to be beaten upon a division, that the hon. Gentleman was bound, after having exhausted that subject in every way, to have brought his arguments to a direct issue. However inconvenient it might have been to have been beaten on a division still I think that his speech was unanswerable, for I heard no answer or no attempt at an answer—I think he was bound to have brought his arguments to a conclusion.
Now, Sir, this question has been, I think, very much mixed up into two parts. I mean the financial and the constitutional question. As to the repeal of the paper duties I was from the first hostile, and I never gave a vote for any measure which I considered more rash, reckless and improper. Sir, I mean that particular repeal of the paper duties; but at any rate this House did not consider it in that light, they repealed the paper duties, and when it is said that the fifty-three majority on the second reading had dwindled down to nine on the third reading that is no argument for the House of Lords. It is sufficient for the House of Lords to know that we repealed that paper duty in this House by a majority. Then we come to the constitutional question. I am averse to the re- 1428 peal of the paper duty, I might perhaps think that as far as common sense is concerned the House of Lords have acted rightly, but it was strictly unconstitutional. No one has attempted to answer my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth, who has shown, and shown conclusively, that all the precedents adduced in "another place" are just worth nothing at all.
Now, Sir, I believe that this House of Commons is living in a fool's paradise. We are thinking that the people of this country are paying no attention to our proceedings, and we talk of their apathy. There may be something in their apathy at the present moment, but I believe that that apathy may be very nearly allied to contempt. Does the course which they have taken, not only on this occasion but upon another occasion, did their shuffling conduct with regard to the Reform Bill conduce to the credit and respect of the constitutional Government? The noble Lord coming here and making, I admit, a very adroit, a very clever, and a very satisfactory speech as far as both sides of the House are concerned—it would be all very well if there was no public out of doors watching our proceedings. What are the Resolutions which have been proposed to the House—what will the public say? The noble Lord talks about our taking a dignified course, the Resolutions may be dignified, but they are not drawn with grammar. How can the House—how can those hon. Gentlemen who sit there in solemn silence as if they were really attending the funeral of the British Constitution—how can they reconcile themselves on the score of dignity with the grammar of the third Resolution? Will they not stand up for grammar? How can they pass such a thing as this Resolution? Really, Sir, I will not insult the House by reading it. I may say that several hon. Gentlemen have been to me to ask me what it means, and I will tell you for what it is meant. It is meant to patch up some discord, and so eager and willing are the Government to patch up these differences that they have not scrupled to pen and offer for our acceptance an un-grammatical Resolution. However we may throw dust in each other's eyes we cannot throw dust in the eyes of the constituents of this country.
Now, Sir, I had no intention whatever of mixing myself up in this debate until I heard the excellent speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ply- 1429 mouth; but I certainly should deem myself s unworthy of holding a place in the House of Commons if I did not rise as soon as I was able to testify my thanks to that hon. and learned Gentleman who at least has shown himself to be a worthy British Member of Parliament, and who has given utterance to truly British sentiments in a way which redound to his credit, and I think to the honour of this House.
§ MR. EDWIN JAMES
Sir, I am not at all surprised that no Member on the opposite side of the House has taken part in this discussion, because if I had advocated the same policy as they do—namely, to support the House of Lords in this, which if it is their abstract right I cannot help believing is a great stretch of their prerogative, I too would have remained perfectly silent and have allowed such a Resolution as this to pass.
Now, Sir, I agree with my hon. Friend, the Member for Liskeard, that the Resolutions which have been proposed by the noble Lord at the head of the Government do not appear to be—sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,And following up the quotation from Shakspeare I may add, nor of—Enterprises of great pith and momentWith this regard their current turns awayAnd lose the name of action.Now, Sir, beyond all question, a more lame and impotent conclusion could not by any possibility have been derived from any Resolution that could have been proposed to the House, and I do venture to think that as leader of this House, to whom the honour of the House is confided, the noble Lord at the head of the Government was the proper person to have come forward as the vindicator of these rights and privileges. Mr. Pitt came forward with a Resolution for that purpose, and on the last occasion, when the privileges of the House were affected, in the case of Stockdale v. Hansard, the noble Lord the Member for the City of London asserted the privileges of the House, as leader of the House of Commons. But, Sir, upon other grounds than as leader of the House, and the person entrusted with their confidence, it was the duty of the noble Lord at the head of the Government to come forward and vindicate their privileges. The conduct of the House of Lords has paralyzed the whole or a great portion of the financial policy of Her Majesty's Government, and these Resolutions appear to me rather to be intended as a 1430 compromise of opinions in the Cabinet than a dignified vindication of the policy of this House. They are surely not dictated by regard for the policy of the country.
Now, Sir, I quite concur in the tribute of admiration, I quite agree with the praise which has been accorded by the hon. Member for Liskeard to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth. My hon. and learned Friend has exhausted the question of privilege, he has exhausted the whole constitutional question, and I therefore do not propose to trouble the House with any remarks upon it. But, Sir, in withdrawing the Amendment of which I have given notice, I wish to state distinctly that I did so in order to throw the whole responsibility on the Government who have assumed it, and who in the most sorry manner have proposed to vindicate the privileges of this House. This is no question of party politics, this is no question of policy at all. It is not a mere question which side of the House is to occupy the Treasury Bench; a more vital question, compared with which all questions of policy sink into utter insignificance, is involved in the discussion of this evening. Our system of taxation has been, as everybody who is acquainted with the constitutional history of this country knows, the battle-field of the liberties and privileges of the House of Commens. Everybody knows that the most eloquent speakers, and the ablest of writers, hare struggled and have suffered for that cause; and when these events become history it would be a degradation to the Government of the day that they allowed impunity to that which, being a stretch of prerogative had become an usurpation, and satisfied themselves with a meagre and paltry Resolution.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, before you put the question, I wish to take the liberty of addressing a few words to the House with reference, in particular, to an expression which has been used (and, I must say, not unnaturally used) by the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down. It appears to me to be the determination of one moiety of this House that there shall be no debate upon the constitutional principles which are involved in this question, and I must say that, considering that Gentlemen opposite are upon this occasion the partisans of a gigantic innovation—the most gigantic and the most dangerous that has been attempted in our times—I may compliment them upon the prudence that they show in re- 1431 solving to be its silent partisans. Now, Sir, I should like to know with what language and in what tones those Gentlemen who assume the name of Conservative politicians would argue in support of a great encroachment by one House of the Legislature upon the other. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Liskeard, that there are two questions involved in this matter, the question of the repeal of the paper duties (I am glad to see that there is some tendency to a movement on the other side)—the question of the repeal of the paper duties and the constitutional question respecting the rights of the Houses of Parliament. I join, I must confess, in the just compliments which have been paid to the temperate argument which was made by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth; and I frankly own that it appears to me that he does not deserve the censure bestowed upon him by a subsequent speaker for the withdrawal of his Amendment, and that upon grounds which I will venture respectfully to state to the House.
Now, Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down, says that the Resolutions proposed by the Government are a poor and paltry compromise in the Cabinet. Now, the question comes to be, in the first place, What is the language, and what is the purport of the Resolutions that are before the House? Well, in view of those Resolutions as they stand, I am bound to say that I cannot refuse to them a cordial support, because they contain a most mild and temperate declaration in conformity with the speech of my noble Friend who moved them; they contain, at any rate, in themselves a most mild and temperate declaration, but at the same time an intelligible and firm declaration—as far as verbal expression goes—of the rights of the House of Commons. It has been justly said that, if the rights of the House of Commons are to be vindicated, the question has to be considered whether they are to be vindicated by words, or to he vindicated in action. So far as the vindication by words goes, that proposed by Her Majesty's Government is, I think, a good and a sound vindication; hut, in answer to the challenge of my bon. and learned Friend, the Member for Marylebone, a challenge which he has a perfect right to deliver, I do not scruple to say that, in my opinion, this House would do well to vindicate and establish its rights by action; and without in the least degree imputing blame to, or finding fault with 1432 the terms of the proposal of the Government, I reserve to myself entire freedom to adopt any mode which may have the slightest hope of success for vindicating by action the rights of this House.
Now, Sir, I do not think that at this moment the question of precedent requires to be further argued. In the presence of various Members of the Committee who sit on the other side of the House, the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth has, with great conciseness, but at the same time with great clearness, and I think with conclusive force, gone through the list of these pretended precedents, and has shown that there is not one of them that affords a rag or a shred of covering for the recent proceeding of the House of Lords. Now, Sir, do not let us be lost in discussions about the mere privileges of this House. The privileges of the Houses of Parliament are the formal dress in which their real rights are shrouded. Your privilege goes far beyond the essential limit of your rights. Your privilege covers in name twenty things with regard to which you cannot establish a substantial claim. You would not, until lately, allow the House of Lords to interfere with a fee; you would not, until lately, allow them to interfere with a local rate; you would not allow them to interfere with a penalty; and absolutely of those supposed precedents which have been printed—and properly printed, perhaps, by the Committee—as bearing on this constitutional question, of those supposed precedents some relate to measures which do nothing more as regards their substance than prohibit the import or export of some article; but because the violation of the law was attended perhaps with a penalty, perhaps with a forfeiture, they are paraded as questions affecting the privilege of the House of Commons. Now, Sir, I am not finding fault with the course taken by the House of Commons, which has found it expedient to assert its privilege largely, in order that it might stand rigidly upon that precedent where substantial rights were involved. The House of Lords, too, has pursued the same course—and, I think, with equal wisdom—for these privileges of the House of Commons are not admitted by the House of Lords. In the year 1640 the House of Lords did make a declaration which undoubtedly condemns as strongly as any Member of this House could wish it to condemn the late Act of the House of Lords in rejecting the Paper Duties Bill, because they did 1433 then state that they would not meddle, no, not so much as to advise, in the matter of Supply, which belongs properly and naturally to us. But at the time they made that declaration they did it because they had, in fact, another form of innovation in view. On that great occasion, in the first Session of the short Parliament of the spring of 1640, they had an object in view, which was to constrain and coerce this House to give its attention to matters of Supply before matters of grievance, and it was in order to carry that point that they made this large admission, that they would not so much as advise in matters of Supply. The House of Lords failed in carrying their point, and they never repeated that admission; on the contrary, they entirely withdrew it, and in the year 1671, as well as upon subsequent occasions, they asserted largely their right to deal with matter of Supply, sometimes in broader terms, sometimes in narrower terms. Sometimes they said generally that they could not be ousted of that right; sometimes they claimed merely a right to abate a tax; sometimes they referred in particular to those cases in which considerations of trade were involved, and said that at any rate they were as good judges of the interests of trade as were the House of Commons; but since 1640 they never made any admission; on the contrary, in 1671 they entirely withdrew the admission which they had made of the privileges and rights of the House of Commons. Therefore, Sir, if we look at the theory of this case, the two Houses are absolutely at variance. With limited exceptions, introduced into the case by recent modifications of our own Standing Orders which have taken place within the memory of some of us, the two Houses are, if we look at the question abstractedly, at absolute variance. The House of Commons claims by its privilege everything wherein money is mentioned; the House of Lords recognizing by no act of its own any distinction, but also claiming a legislative power without limits. It is quite a mistake to suppose that the House of Lords has ever made the admission that a Money Bill cannot originate there. By practice a Money Bill does not originate in the House of Lords; but there is no admission that a Money Bill cannot originate there. Just in the same way there is no admission on the part of the House of Lords that a Money Bill cannot be amended there. Strange to say, some great doctors of the Constitu- 1434 tion are reported to have stated on a recent occasion that it was a principle admitted on all hands that no Money Bill could be amended in the House of Lords. Why, Sir, on the contrary, not only is there nothing in the rules of the House of Lords, so far at least as the researches of the Committee have gone, to prevent such amendment, but it is actually the fact that the cases of amending Money Bills in the House of Lords are more frequent than those in which such Bills have been rejected by that House. The truth is, I apprehend, that under cover of these broad, and in themselves, perhaps, untenable and extravagant, doctrines of privilege, the House of Commons formally claiming everything, and the House of Lords formally conceding nothing, under cover of that apparent conflict, there has been a real, and until the present time an unbroken, harmony for 200 years. The secret of that harmony is that both Houses by these claims, apparently so conflicting, have meant the same thing. The House of Commons, by its privileges with respect to Money Bills, has meant to reserve to itself the integrity of the taxing power; and the House of Lords, by declining to admit the claim of the House of Commons, has intended to preserve to itself an effective means of preventing the House of Commons from forcing upon it other matters of general legislation under cover of Money Bills.
Now, Sir, I have just made a statement which sounds like an authoritative exposition of the practice of the Constitution; but, of course, I mean it only as an assertion which is to be tested by the evidence of facts and documents. Let any Gentleman review the entire list of these precedents, and see whether every one of them does not completely coincide with the principles I have laid down. There is not, as far as I know, a single case upon record since the present system of taxation was established until the Paper Duties Repeal Bill of 1860, in which the House of Lords has attempted to interfere with the taxing function of the House of Commons. Therefore, Sir, when it is said that we are to maintain our essential privileges inviolate, what I ask myself, and what I ask myself in vain, is, what are the essential privileges of the House of Commons which it is intended to maintain inviolate, and which are not violated by the rejection of the Paper Duties Repeal Bill? It appears to me that the origination of a Bill for the imposition of a tax, or the amendment of a Money 1435 Bill is a slight thing compared to the claim to prevent the repeal of a tax.
Sir, I have said that the precedents are entirely adverse to the step which has been taken. The mode in which many of these pretended precedents have exploded has really been almost ludicrous. I may refer to one case, and it will be the only one with which I shall trouble the House—it is the case of the Excise duty upon stone bottles. A Bill was introduced to "repeal the duty upon stone bottles, and to grant other duties in lieu thereof." Such was the title of the Bill. It was quoted as an instance of the House of Lords interfering to arrest the repeal of a tax. What did that Bill do? In the first place, it was a Bill which had not a fiscal, but a political object—that object being protection. But, besides that, though it is true it repealed the duty upon stone bottles—as whenever we alter duties we always begin with repealing them—yet it imposed upon stone bottles a duty double that which it repealed. It was not a Bill of repeal at all in any intelligible sense of the term, but a Bill to double the duty upon stone bottles. The precedents, I repeat, are entirely to the effect which has been substantially stated by my noble Friend—that is to say, they do not cover, in the substantial and essential points, the act that has now been done, because none of them were interferences with the taxing power of this House. Some of them were interferences with Bills that had a preamble of Supply; but these were Bills which were prepared for objects other than those of taxation. Taxation was incidental; those other objects were the main purposes; and the House of Lords justly declined to part with its jurisdiction over matters of legislation and policy, on account of the privileges of this House with respect to money.
But, Sir, I am bound to say that, even if the precedents were otherwise than they are, it seriously requires the consideration of this House whether its own essential functions are to be maintained or not. I do not deny, as responsible for the finances of the country, that the sum of, perhaps, £700,000, which will be brought into the Exchequer by the continuance of the paper duty between the 15th of August and the 1st of April, is exceedingly acceptable, provided it be honestly obtained. But, Sir, I must confess that although no person is more likely than myself to be liable to the influence and seductions of money, yet there are other things that are more valu 1436 able even than £700,000. I believe that the question, whether the exclusive power of taxation is to rest with the House of Commons, is a question of ten—nay, a hundred times greater importance and value than the continuance of the paper duty. I have said that there is no instance in which, when this House has intended the repeal of a tax, the House of Lords has interfered to arrest it. Some Gentlemen have said that on the present occasion the House of Commons was very foolish, and the House of Lords very wise; that the House of Commons made a great and undue sacrifice of public revenue; and the House of Lords interposed to arrest the House of Commons in its career of extravagance and improvidence. That is the allegation. But without entering at this moment into the argument, with respect to which, however, I am prepared to maintain all that I have maintained on previous occasions, I want to know whether that really is the Constitution under which we live? The House of Commons cannot be infallible in matters of finance any more than in other matters. No doubt the House of Commons may make errors, of which I shall give you an instance presently; but I wish to know whether those errors in matters of finance are, or are not, to be liable to correction by the House of Lords. If they are, what becomes of your privileges? Why does the House of Lords ever differ from us? No doubt because it thinks we have committed an error, and it can suggest an improvement. That is perfectly legitimate; but the question now raised is whether that power of review which is exercised by the House of Lords in all matters of general legislation is likewise to be extended to finance, and whether the function of the House of Commons in imposing and repealing taxes is to be divided as to its exercise and the responsibility which it involves with the House of Lords. I think this case, besides the positive illustration of precedents, is susceptible likewise of negative illustration. The argument is that the House of Lords has interfered to correct the folly of the Commons in giving away revenue which was supposed to be required for the purposes of the year, or rather for the purposes of future years, because, in point of fact, it does not seem to have been stated that the revenue was required for the purposes of the present year. It will be required, or other money in lieu of it will be required, for the purposes of the year; and 1437 I do not at all disguise the difficulty in which this House is placed when it has to vindicate its privileges and insist upon its Vote on the one hand, and to receive a considerable addition to the income of the year on the other. But, Sir, what I want to say is, that the House of Lords has not upon former occasions considered itself to be charged with this responsibility. In 1853, a Bill for the repeal of the soap duties was passed at a considerably later period of the Session than the day on which the Paper Duties Repeal Bill was rejected. That Bill was passed at a time when, undoubtedly, the prospects of the country with respect to the probability of war with Russia had become such that there was very serious alarm, and a very general belief that war would be encountered, and that a great increase would be made to the burdens of the country. I am sure that those Gentlemen who recollect the circumstances of the month of July, 1853, will concur in the statement I have just made. If I remember right, the Emperor of Russia had already occupied the Principalities; several debates had taken place in this House; considerable excitement prevailed in the public mind; various Peers in "another place" actually urged the probability of war as a reason why the soap duties should not be repealed. I think I may say that the Government of the day would not have proposed the repeal of the soap duties in July had it not been a proposal to which they felt themselves pledged by their previous proceedings, and by the sanction which the House of Commons had given to it by its vote. But the House of Lords at that period passed the Bill for the repeal of the soap duties, and entirely declined the plea which was urged even for a short delay in the consideration of the measure.
Now, Sir, why did the House of Lords do that? If I remember rightly, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich, and others, exercising the privilege of fair criticism on the acts of the Government, complained greatly at the time of the loss of revenue. They used just the same epithets then that we hear now. They asked what could he more unwise, more reckless, more improvident, more profligate, than to part with the revenue from the soap duties at the opening of a probable war in Europe. Yet, although a war with Russia was likely, I presume, to impose much heavier burdens than a war with China, the House of Lords entirely declined to meddle with a matter 1438 in regard to which they felt they had no responsibility. In accordance with the sound doctrine laid down by the Prime Minister of the day, they declared that it was the act of the House of Commons, and if Ways and Means were wanted to carry on the service of the country, on that House would rest the responsibility of providing them.
Now, Sir, there is a view of the matter which I should have thought would have suggested itself to those who have directed the Councils of the House of Lords. When the House of Commons entertains financial proposals, it must hereafter look, not only to their merits, but to their probable popularity. They must recollect that there are those lying in ambush for them who will be ready to interfere at the proper moment. If it chance that in considering the claims of various taxes for reduction, they make that choice which, according to their judgment and conscience, they believe to be for the good of the country, rather than that which will probably meet the popular view, they must bear in mind that there are those who will take advantage of their having acted on their conscientious convictions, and who will use the opportunity to reject the repeal of the tax. That is the very case which has happened this year. After it had been determined that a certain amount of taxation should be remitted, the question in the first place for the Government, and in the second place for the House of Commons, was, whether the paper duties should be repealed, or whether a reduction should be made in the duties on sugar and tea.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
My noble Friend is quite right. The tea duties were discussed; though, I think, in consequence of the state of affairs with China, the sugar duties had rather the preference given to them. The Government certainly were well aware that the paper duties constituted an impost which had no great hold of the mind of the general mass of the consumers of the country, and I believe the House of Commons was perfectly well aware of that too. But the Government, and as I apprehend the House of Commons, thought that, under the circumstances, probably greater good would be derived from the repeal of the paper duties than from the reduction of the sugar duties, because though it would less commend itself to the popular 1439 mind, the benefit which, through the medium of an extended trade, it would confer on the population of the country would be greater. The hon. Member for Liskeard says, he thinks the repeal of the paper duties a very bad measure, though I believe he did not vote against it. Now, I doubt very much whether he would have ventured to say that of the reduction of the sugar duties. But our proposal of that measure which, though less popular, we deemed more beneficial, was strongly resisted, and led the House of Lords to deviate from the course it had pursued, without interruption, for nearly 200 years. I want to know what is to be the influence of this consideration upon those who are hereafter to frame the financial proposals of the country? Surely, it was for the interest of the House of Lords to give us every encouragement to avoid that temptation to which, being under the influence of popular feeling, we are naturally exposed, to choose not the best but the most popular measure. We did resist that temptation; and what is the lesson the House of Lords has taught us? Did it not at once seize the opportunity of resisting our proposal under shelter of the popular feeling?
Now, Sir, I said that this case was capable of negative as well as of positive illustration, and I have shown in the case of the soap duties of 1853, which was, in most respects, a parallel; and, where not a parallel, a still stronger case, the House of Lords wisely left to us the responsibility of providing the Ways and Means to meet the necessities of the year. But I will show you, Sir, another instance by travelling a little further back. In the year 1839 the Budget was presented at the usual period of the year in which the expenditure and revenue of the country were as nearly as possible balanced. At a later period a measure was proposed, which I regard as one of the happiest and most advantageous measures that has marked the happy reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, I mean the measure for reducing the postage duties to the uniform rate of a single penny. The Post Office at that time returned a clear net revenue of £1,400,000 or £1,500,000 a year; and it was perfectly obvious that the reduction of the rate of postage to a penny, whatever might be its ultimate results, would have the immediate effect of sweeping away the whole of that net revenue from the country; and so it proved. Although that beneficial repeal has been worth five times over all the revenue we 1440 lost, yet at this day, after twenty-one years, our revenue has not been entirely replaced. In that year, 1839, the House of Lords, almost for the first time in its history, succeeded in obtaining a copy of the Estimates, with the help of a compliant Chancellor of the Exchequer; and much good it did them, as you will say when you hear the result. That Estimate showed them that there was no surplus. In sending up the Bill to the Lords, the Commons distinctly acknowledged that it would create a deficiency in the revenue; and, by a Special Resolution, pledged themselves to provide for that deficiency in the following year: there was, therefore, no dispute whatever that this measure would produce a deficiency. Why, then, did not the House of Lords interfere upon that occasion? They passed that Bill without difficulty or dispute, without raising the financial question at all; and, strangest of all the strange occurrences of that remarkable year, the man who sent up to the House of Lords that Bill for creating a deficiency in the revenue of the year was Mr. Thomas Spring Rice, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. The very same Gentleman, unless the almanacks deceive us, who, having since obtained the title of Lord Monteagle, is reported to have played a leading part in advising the House of Lords to take upon itself those functions which, if ever they were to be used at all, ought to have been used in 1839.
Now, Sir, I keep to my pledge, and will not enter into the details of the precedents. If a challenge proceeds from the other side—if it is contended that in the catalogue before us there are cases analogous to the present—and that the House of Lords have ever before attempted to exercise the functions of the House of Commons—we shall have other opportunities of meeting and contesting these allegations—but for the present I content myself with stating that there is no colour of precedent for such proceedings. Sir, I beg the House to believe that this is really a matter of great importance. Since the Peace of 1815 £78,000,000 of taxes have been repealed. All the Bills that have repealed that amount of taxation have been accepted by the House of Lords from the House of Commons, upon the responsibility of the latter; and only now, when we come to the seventy-ninth million, has the House of Lords thought fit to interfere, and establish a new precedent. For my part, I cannot but feel that this is a time when men are little apt and dis- 1441 posed to deal with abstract principles; and those assertions which our forefathers made of their rights we now think of little value or consequence compared with obtaining a few hundred thousand pounds. It may be that my views on this subject are little compatible with the tendencies of the age; but I confess I cannot bring my mind to take that view. I do regard the whole rights of the House of Commons, as they have been handed down to us, as constituting a sacred inheritance upon which I, for my part, will never voluntarily permit any intrusion, or plunder, to be made. Sir, I think that the very first of our duties, anterior to the duty of dealing with any legislative measure, and higher and more sacred than any such duties—high and sacred though they may be—is to maintain intact that precious deposit. I concur, Sir, in every word of the Resolution proposed by my noble Friend, which we have in our hands; but I respectfully reserve to myself the freedom of acting in such a way as shall appear (if any such way should appear) to offer any hope of success in giving effect, by a practical measure, to the principle contained in that Resolution.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has directed an attack upon Members of the Opposition; but I am at a loss to understand why he assailed us, and why he did not rather attack the Members of his own Administration. Sir, I invite the attention of the House to the course which this debate has taken. The conduct of those with whom I have the honour to act has been remarked upon because they did not stand up to resist the speech and Motion of the noble Viscount. Now, I am as ready to enter upon a debate as any hon. Gentleman opposite. I came down expecting to find upon those benches sincere men, uncompromising patriots, who would not be content with empty speeches, but who would follow up their words with action. But what, Sir, was the first thing that took place? The noble Lord, the Member for Marylebone, the stern asserter of the privileges of the House of Commons, rose, and amid derisive cheers, made an appeal to the hon. Member for Finsbury to be so good as to withdraw his Amendment, lest the happy unanimity of the House should be disturbed by the independent Motion of an independent Member. That hon. Member, who spoke with his usual inimitable wit, yielded to the soft eloquence of the noble Lord, and with- 1442 drew his Amendment. That, Sir, was the first scene we witnessed to-night. Then the noble Viscount at the head of the Government rose, and, to do him justice his speech was everything that could be desired. I never beard the noble Viscount speak to more advantage. I think it was a satisfactory speech for the position in which he stands; and I only regret it did not produce an impression on his refractory Chancellor of the Exchequer. The noble Viscount put the question fairly and temperately; he spoke as became the First Minister of the country, that is, in the spirit of the Constitution. It was a speech in favour of peace, in which, while the noble Viscount asserted the rights of this House, he declared with equal good sense and truth that the House of Lords during the last fifteen or twenty years had not been acting in an unpatriotic spirit, or in any way to provoke the opposition of this House. Sir, the precedents in favour of the action of the House of Lords were too many to be resisted; and although they might not he held to be in point, according to the logic of a special pleader, yet they satisfied the Prime Minister, whose speech was repugnant to that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Well, Sir, we had then several speeches from Gentlemen who asked us why we did not attack the noble Viscount, and why we did not resist his speech when there really was nothing to resist, and why also we did not argue when there was nothing to argue. Our answer is that we did not oppose the noble Viscount because he conceded (if he had not, we should quickly have opposed him) the right of the House of Lords to do what they did according to the law and Constitution. Sir, distinctly and emphatically the noble Viscount admitted, as he was bound to do (unless indeed he was a rabid revolutionist) the right of the House of Lords to resist the repeal of an Act of Parliament. The noble Viscount thereupon counselled the House to pursue a moderate, and wise course, which was, I admit, entirely satisfactory to our feelings; and furthermore, I venture to say that it will be satisfactory to the country. The noble Viscount recommended a course that was becoming his high position, although it had incensed his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer. And what followed? I had still hopes (for making speeches unless they are followed by action is a thing detestable) that the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Plymouth, would have per- 1443 severed with his Motion. That hon. and learned Member I observed was prepared with oranges, and I thought we were to have a debate. I could not believe the whisper of some of my colleagues that the hon. and learned Member, surrounded as he was by the zealous advocates of popular rights, and backed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham and by the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone, would withdraw his Amendment. That hon. and learned Gentleman thus admitted that he had no arguments to convince the House that his Amendment ought to be admitted. The hon. and learned Gentleman certainly made a speech to which I did not pay the same attention as if I had thought the hon. and learned Gentleman had been in earnest. If I had thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman would have asserted by a division the principle of his Amendment I should have been glad to grapple with him. Then what happened next? Without being disturbed by any speech on this side of the House, and without a word to excite his irritable temperament at the present moment, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer sprang from his seat and attacked the Opposition benches for being silent in regard to what he announced as a gigantic innovation. Now, Sir, I put it fairly to the country to contrast the right hon. Gentleman's speech with what he must consider the miserable Resolution of the noble Viscount. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer believed the tenth part of what he spoke, if he really thinks the House of Lords has been guilty of a gigantic innovation, and that the privileges of the House of Commons have been assailed, why with manly courage does not the right hon. Gentleman carry out his view into action? Why does the right hon. Gentleman say he cordially approves of the speech of his noble Friend, and why does he adopt his Resolution when every Member who spoke upon those benches, or who cheered the right hon. Gentleman, appeared to agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield in thinking the Resolution worthless, pitiful, and contemptible? The hon. Member for Huddersfield heaped every epithet of scorn and contempt upon the Resolution. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, too, in a tone of virtuous indignation, which I hope was not affected, declared that the House of Lords had been guilty of a violent aggression upon the privileges of this House, that it was the 1444 duty of this House to be zealous and active in the assertion of its rights; and then the right hon. Gentleman came to this lame and impotent conclusion, which received the cheers of his hon. Friends below the gangway, "I approve of every word that my noble Friend the noble Viscount has said." [Cries of "No, no!"] I say, "Yes." Is there no inconsistency too gross for you to approve of? Are you satisfied with the speech which has just fallen from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman? If the right hon. Gentleman believes what he has said, why does he not act? I respect a Radical who acts up to his radical opinions. I respect the Conservative who acts up to his Conservative views. I have a sincere respect for a Constitutional Whig, like the noble Viscount, who asserts his principles. But, Sir, I have no respect for a politician who pretends that the great interests of the country are at stake; who asserts that, the House of Lords have not the power which they have exercised, and who yet says that this Resolution satisfies his scrupulous mind. Now, Sir, what is that Resolution?That although the Lords have exercised the power of rejecting Bills of several Bills relating to taxation by negativing the whole, yet the exercise of that power by them has not been frequent, and is justly regarded by this House with peculiar jealousy, as affecting the right of the Commons to grant the Supplies, and to provide the Ways and Means for the Service of the year?Now what does that imply? Why is it not opposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite? It admits the power vested in the House of Lords, declares that the Lords have exercised that power, does not complain of the exercise of that power, does not deny their right, but says that the exercise of that power has always been regarded with jealousy by this House. Contrast that Resolution with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says, that the time for action is come; but what action, Sir, does he propose? Why does he not announce it? What is the use of these vague words? If we are to commence the battle in defence of the Constitution, the sooner the better. The revolutionary movement could not be in better hands than in those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He asks why do the Lords interfere in this particular, having so seldom interfered before? My answer is that they have seldom had to deal with such a financial Minister and such a state of affairs as on the recent oc- 1445 casion. The right hon. Gentleman created a deficiency, and alarmed the House and country as to the state of the finances. He proposed by repealing an Act still further to reduce the financial resources of the country. The right hon. Gentleman's Bill for that purpose was rejected by the House of Lords; and I fairly and frankly admit that the House of Lords meant thereby to rebuke his policy, and to deny its soundness and wisdom. I believe that in the present aspect of affairs the proceeding of the House of Lords was an act consistent with the highest sense of duty and the loftiest patriotism.
Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman says, that there is no precedent to justify what the House of Lords has done. Without, Sir, wearying the House by going through the detail of precedents, I need only state that, in the other House, a set of men who have built up the fabric of our jurisprudence, a noble work, whose business of life has been to examine precedents and understand their principles and application, the deepest thinkers, the most consummate lawyers, and some of the best writers and thinkers in the kingdom, as well as those who have devoted their time to financial matters, joined with others in condemning the policy of the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We are told that it was an act of presumption on their part; but the precedent of 1671 shows that the Lords acted within their competence on a recent occasion. In that year the Lords inquired if they were not allowed to institute, alter, or amend a Money Bill, what were to be their privileges? To that question the House of Commons emphatically replied as follows:——"Tour Lordships' first reason is from the happiness of the Constitution that the two Houses are mutual checks upon each other. Answer.—So they are still; for your Lordships have a negative to the whole.Nothing, Sir, could be more explicit than that. [A Voice: "Read on!"] I will read on, but that makes the matter still worse for you. The precedent then proceeds as follows:—But on the other side it would be a double check upon His Majesty's affairs, if the King may not rely upon the quantum when once his people have given it; and therefore the privilege now contended for by your Lordships is not of use to the Crown, but much the contrary.Then again:—If the Lords may deny the whole, why not a 1446 part? Else the Commons may at least pretend to bar a negative voice. Answer—The King must deny the whole of every Bill, or pass it: yet this takes not away his negative voice. The Lords and Commons must accept the whole general pardon, or deny it; yet this takes not away their negative. The clergy have a right to tax themselves; and it is a part of the privilege of their estate. Doth the Upper Convocation House alter what the Lower grant? Or do the Lords or Commons ever abate any part of their gift? Yet they have a power to reject the whole. But if abatement should be made, it would insensibly go to a rising, and deprive the clergy of their ancient right to tax themselves.The Commons, Sir, I believe, have by encroachment deprived the Lords of rights anciently possessed by them, have stopped them from amending and altering, leaving them the power, however, of negativing the whole. If you want authority on this point I refer you not so much to law books as to a book written by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University on the connection of Church and State. The Lords do not claim the right to institute, abate, or alter, but to negative the whole: and the right hon. Gentleman uses these words in the work which I have referred to:—The Members of the House of Commons have the exclusive right of passing money Resolutions, and of introducing and altering Money Bills. But no such Resolution can I passed—that is to say, no money can be given by the House of Commons except upon the motion of the Crown, to which the initiative is reserved and no Money Bill becomes law unless it receives the assent of the Upper House and of the Crown in its legislative capacity.Sir, in another passage the right hon. Gentleman says:—The immediate power of granting money is divided between the executive and the popular portion of the Legislature; and only by annual statutes is the House of Lords, with its own consent, limited in its means of intervention to a subsequent stage.Now, Sir, unless you abolish the House of Lords, it is impossible to deny to that assembly the right either to pass or reject any Bill submitted to its consideration. It has been said that there is no instance where the proposition to repeal so large a sum has been rejected by the House of Lords. Nevertheless, Sir, a great principle is not to be made dependent on a particular amount of money, but on the reason of the thing, and on the law and Constitution of the land. Why, this matter, about which you are making such a fuss, has been discussed by one likely to produce an impression on the minds of hon. Gentle- 1447 men opposite. I always like to quote a Whig against a Whig. This great privilege you boast of has been discussed by the late Lord Macaulay. He says:The privileges of the House of Commons—those privileges which in 1642 all London rose in arms to defend, which the people considered as synonymous with their own liberties, and in comparison of which they took no account of the most precious and sacred principles of English jurisprudence—have now become nearly as odious as the rigours of martial law. That power of committing which the people anciently loved to see the House of Commons exercise is now—at least when employed against libellers—the most unpopular power in the Constitution. If the Commons were to suffer the Lords to amend Money Bills, we do not believe that the people would care one straw about the matter. If they were to suffer the Lords even to originate Money Bills, we doubt whether such a surrender of their constitutional rights would excite half so much dissatisfaction as the exclusion of strangers from a single important discussion. The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm. The publication of the debates—a practice which seemed to the most liberal statesmen of the old school full of danger to the great safeguards of public liberty—is now regarded by many persons as a safeguard tantamount, and more than tantamount, to all the rest together.So much, Sir, for the value of the privilege. But as to its legality, what is the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer? He says that a Bill to repeal a tax is to be viewed in a different light from any other Act. Where, in the Constitution is his authority for that statement? The cases stated in the Report on the table are all the same in principle, and opposed to that view. The hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side seem to have arranged not to venture to move even the mildest Amendment, and the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone has withdrawn his accordingly pigmy Amendment. After the speech of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has addressed the House con furore; and if that be a specimen of the manner in which the Ministers conduct themselves when alone it certainly is not a proof of their being a very happy family. Every word of the right hon. Gentleman was levelled at the noble Viscount; all his arguments were directed against the noble Viscount; and all his assertions were contrary to the modest, wise, and constitutional statements which the noble Viscount laid down. Amid the cheers of a section of the House the right hon. Gentleman exclaimed that the time for action was come. Then why do not 1448 you act? Permit me to say that if you expect really to produce that impression on the mind of the public out of doors which you say you are producing, you must go beyond mere assertions; for unless you do something no one will believe you. We have had hon. Gentlemen in succession standing up in this House, and saying, "I am told by the Minister to withdraw my Amendment, and I do so because I find it will give him some little trouble." You may think that in doing this you are producing a splendid effect on the minds of the public; but the public is too discriminating to be deceived by such a transparent device. You have abandoned an Amendment that would have fairly raised the question of privilege. I should have been glad to see that question raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Plymouth; but he withdrew his Amendment, and in doing so condemned his speech, for what is the use of a speech when there is nothing to propose. I readily admit that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth was in a difficulty, for certainly there was a general feeling in the House before the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke that the Resolutions of the noble Viscount should be passed with unanimity. The noble Viscount produced that desire for unanimity by his good sense, and by the moderate and satisfactory speech he addressed to the House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is, I believe, smarting under the rebuke he has received from the other House. He is smarting under the disappointment and defeat that his rash and reckless financial policy entailed on him; and hence that most unlucky speech he has delivered to-night. The hon. Member for Birmingham, and those who sit near him cheered the right hon. Gentleman; but what do they expect him to do? I, Sir, shall certainly not be surprised at any course the right hon. Gentleman may take. He denounced the income tax, and he doubled it. He denounced loans to carry on war; but now I suppose he means to have a loan to carry on a war. He denounced the war with China; but now he must have a loan to complete that war. He is a Member of a Government that supports the abolition of church rates; and he is the representative of the University of Oxford. Reverting for a moment to the great question at issue, I say it is as clear that the House of Lords has the power to reject a Tax Bill, as it is that you have the power to propose it. I 1449 ask whether the American Senate has not the power to reject such Bills?
§ MR. WHITESIDE
The hon. Member for Birmingham says they, the Senate, are elected; but his observation proves nothing. The men who framed the American Constitution were wise and good men.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
They were men of our own race; they were wise men; and they framed the Senate with such powers as would enable it to guard against the rash legislation of the Lower House, and against reckless interference with the finances of the country. The Senate curbs and checks the proceedings of the President and the Lower House, should occasion call for it. Then, will it be said, Sir, that the power exercised by the Senate in America is not to be exercised by the House of Lords in this country,
§ MR. WHITESIDE
Then, Sir, let the Gentlemen who cry "hear, hear," enter into a conference with the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and produce a measure that will revolutionize the country. Let them produce something that is tangible, and we will be prepared to meet it. The Resolutions of the noble Viscount have been spoken of as weak platitudes, but they are at all events agreeable; there is nothing venomous in them; they contain an admission of the rights of the House of Lords, and therefore they are not objectionable to us. But, Sir, if there be a body of men who desire to strip the House of Lords of the power which they have exercised so wisely and so well, then I say to them, instead of mere assertion,—instead of declaiming against that which declamation will never prevent,—proceed to action; introduce your measure; let us have open, manly discussion, and an honest decision as to whether we are to live under the ancient Constitution of this country, or whether that Constitution is to be revolutionized or destroyed.
§ LORD FERMOY
Sir, I certainly must say that I had no intention whatever tonight of taking part in this debate had it not been for the inquiry which was made of me by my right hon. and learned Friend, I say that I should not have taken any part in this debate had it not been for the pointed allusion made to me by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who seemed very angry at something which I had done in reference to this matter. Now, I cer- 1450 tainly have not striven to please the right hon. Gentleman; and, indeed, could I but have foreseen that the course which I had taken would have-put the right hon. Gentleman in such a fury as he has exhibited himself in to-night, it certainly would have been an additional reason for taking it on that occasion.
Now, Sir, I am not aware that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has any right to advise what he calls the great Liberal party in this House or anywhere else, and therefore we do not consider that he is the proper party to consult as to the course which we ought to pursue.
Now, Sir, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is angry that we are not going to have a division upon the present occasion; but, Sir, I must be permitted to say that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants a division he can have it himself by voting the negative to those Resolutions; but we thought it would be better, although those Resolutions do not go as far as we wish them to go, yet, nevertheless, as they travel a certain distance on what we consider the right road, we thought that it would be better for the interest of the Liberal party that those Resolutions should be passed without dissent, and unanimously by this House.
Now, Sir, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has alluded to the second Resolution which has been placed before the House by the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government. But now, I ask, Sir, why did the right hon. and learned Gentleman pass over the first Resolution? The first Resolution is a clear declaration of our rights and privileges in this House. That is a clear declaration, that you say in us, and in us alone, is the power of voting and controlling the Supplies.
Now, Sir, I think as a member of the Liberal party that it is a good step to get Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to assent to that proposition, because that proposition is in itself a foundation and a starting point from which we may take, and from which we, I trust, will take, ulterior measures.
Now, then, Sir, with respect to the second Resolution. If I had had the honour of being consulted as to the drawing of the Resolutions I would have said it was a thing into which we had better not enter. But then the third Resolution, although it does not go so far as we think it ought to go, and although it does not wind up as I 1451 think it ought to wind up, by calling upon the House for deeds and not words, by calling upon the House for action and not inaction, still, I say, the third Resolution points out how we can preserve our privileges for the future, and pointing that out, I think it also shows how we may restore our rights for the present if we choose so to do. But, Sir, I think it is a great point to have the approval of Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who were wanting their dinners. We have heard a great deal of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Pakington) who sat down and talked about Resolutions at public meetings, and at public dinners. On the Liberal side you had something done; but you had great dinners, great speaking and great declamation on the side opposite. Now, I saw and read an account of a great dinner at Willis's Rooms, at which the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) made a very excited and a very powerful speech. New, in that speech the right hon. Gentleman tells us that there were heaps and heaps of precedents. I will not venture to use the right hon. Gentleman's exact words, because I dare say he has a much better recollection of them than I have; but at all events the general impression was from what he told the meeting that there was precedent upon precedent, which would be stated here for the purpose of showing that the act which the House of Lords have done is no invasion of the privileges of the House of Commons.
Now, Sir, I think that after you have assented to the first Resolution which has been proposed by the noble Lord you will find it very difficult to proceed with respect to the second Resolution. You will recollect that there has been a public dinner on one side, and it will appear from what was there stated that there is no end of precedents, and that this is not an infringement of our rights and privileges; and therefore I say. Sir, that reserving to ourselves as Members of the independent Liberal party in this House the right to take some other measures after we have carried those Resolutions, reserving, I say, to ourselves the right to take any other steps which we may choose to take—I say, that in taking that course we are neither abandoning our principles as public men, nor taking an imprudent part as a party in allowing those Resolutions to pass after being assented to on both sides of the House.
1452 Now, Sir, I certainly cannot leave this subject without saying that, although I approve, so far as they go of the Resolutions, I am very far indeed from approving of the speech of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, by whom they were introduced to the House and brought under our consideration. I must be permitted to say that I think that a speech less calculated to give confidence to the Liberal party in this country than that speech of the noble Lord could not possibly be made; and, Sir, I entirely assent to the assertion which was made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last—namely, that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer answered the speech of the noble Lord at the head of the Government; that is a true proposition. I say that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was a complete and a convincing answer to the speech of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and I think that, great credit as the speech of the Prime Minister does him, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer does him immense credit.
Now, Sir, the right hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last—and he is an open and undisguised speaker on all occasions—he says fairly and above-board—"I admit that the act of the House of Lords was a direct censure upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer." Well, now then, I ask, Sir, is not that at once admitting the whole question? Is not that at once admitting that the House of Lords claim the right of revising our Budget? If you submit to that quietly, delegating to the House of Lords the whole control of the financial operations of the country, because if the House of Lords censure the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a financier, and reject his Bill, which is a portion of his Budget, it follows that the Lords are taking this course—they deal potentially with the taxes and with the finances of this country.
Now, Sir, it has been said to-night by some speaker on this side of the House, especially by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Liskeard, that the remission of the duty upon paper is a measure which ought not to be approved of. I think that the whole question has been well put by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I mean the question in a financial point of view, if I 1453 may so say—between the House of Lords and the House of Commons; but, Sir, I deny altogether, for one, the right of the House of Lords to consider this question in a financial point of view. If it was a matter political, no doubt they have a right to have a voice; but in a financial point of view I deny that they have any right whatever to interfere in any way whatsoever, either by way of approval or by way of rejection.
Now, Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last certainly never attempted to question one of the precedents laid down in the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth. I say, Sir, that no one on that side of the House has ventured or tried in any way whatsoever to shake the arguments of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth. I say that no one has ventured to attempt to shake a single proposition which he laid down; and I think that the whole force and reason of the argument went to prove, no matter how far back you went in the history of this question, you have not been able to put your finger upon any one single precedent at any time which would serve to show that the House of Lords have been allowed to interfere potentially in a matter which was purely financial.
Now, then, Sir, the precedents upon which they have acted were of a mixed character; they were something political—something political mixed up with every one of them. They were all relating to small matters; but in no case, I assert, have the House of Lords been able to put their finger upon a case in which they have been vested with a pure and simple control of the money.
Now, Sir, I do hope and trust that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich will favour us, if he has them, with some of his precedents; and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us some of those precedents that he produced at the dinner at Willis's Rooms. I am very-sorry indeed to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman from the subject upon which he is occupied at present, but he hears me, I have no doubt, and perhaps he will make some answer to the observations which I am venturing to address to the House.
Well, now, Sir, I was glad to find by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he at least has some feeling in common—I 1454 think a great feeling in common, with the really Liberal party in this House. I beg to assure the House that I do not wish to use that word offensively to hon. Gentlemen opposite. I borrow the phrase from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin, who has just sat down. He calls us the Liberal party, and I might accept the appellation; but I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has something in common—I cannot help thinking that he has a great deal in common—with us.
Now, Sir, I must freely and frankly tell you that in my opinion the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is, I must admit it, as different in character and in principle from the speech of the noble Lord the Prime Minister as white is different from black. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Whiteside) will take that admission; but I admit, and I admit frankly, that it is very agreeable to me that it is so, because I dissent from the principles of the Prime Minister, and I entirely adopt, and so do all my hon. Friends around me, or, to a great extent, their principle. I have no doubt that some of them do not; but we below the gangway fully and entirely adopt the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer: and if there was nothing else to prove that on the present occasion we have acted prudently, I think in not introducing any division upon this question, and the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman is a complete vindication of our course in that respect.
Now, Sir, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if it meant anything meant this, that he dissents altogether from the proposition that the House of Lords have any right to interfere with the taxation of this country, and that when that principle has been laid down he will be prepared (this is my version of the speech)—he will be prepared at the fitting time and on the first occasion to take action upon it.
Now, then, that, Sir, is the great want of the Resolutions, namely, that they laid down sound propositions, but that they do not propose to do anything. Now, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is, I augur, that he is prepared to supply that want, and that want is that you should do something to restore the rights of the House of 1455 Commons that have been invaded. It appears to me that the only simple thing to do would be to take some other means, and that a speedy means, of dealing with this question. There are many ways in which that may be done. The third Resolution shadows that out. The third Resolution says that we have the power of framing the means, of Supply. The third Resolution says that we have the means of dealing with such a tax as this, and I think that that would be the proper course for the Liberal party to take; and the only reason why we do not take it at present is this, that I think it a great advantage that we should have both sides of the House agreeing to the first proposition—namely, that the right of voting taxes lies with this House, and with this House alone.
Now, then, Sir, I am told that there is one great difficulty with Her Majesty's Government in taking a decided opinion upon this subject, and that is, that a majority of this House possibly would not re-affirm the repeal of the duty on paper. Now, Sir, that is a proposition to which, I for one, cannot assent. The history of the repeal of the paper duty is this:—On the second reading of that Bill, issue was taken:—Will you have an addition of a penny income tax, or a repeal of the paper duties? Now, upon that occasion all parties made every exertion. We thought there was a clear issue. The issue was taken, will you have an additional penny income tax, or will you have a repeal of the paper duties? And what was the result? The result was that this House decided by a majority of over fifty that we would repeal the paper duties, and that we would have a penny additional income tax. Now, what was the result of that? The result of that was that afterwards upon short notice with tripping much I certainly think on this side, and probably on the other side, they may or may not, but at any rate without those general notes of preparation which are sometimes sounded by both parties, we came to another division. In that other division, no doubt, there was only a majority of nine; it ought to have been eight, because one Gentleman voted by mistake. However, there was a majority of only nine; but that is easily accounted for. Many of my hon. Friends would have been here to vote, I have no doubt, if they had thought it was to have been a real vote as to whether you would repeal the paper duties or not. There was, 1456 for instance, the hon. Member for Birmingham. By some chance, by accident, I suppose, the vote of the hon. Member for Birmingham was not recorded on this occasion, and the same was also the case with respect to other hon. Members. I say this, Sir, that the real, decided opinion in this House was upon the second reading of that Bill, when there was a majority of over fifty, and that the other, as far as the third reading is concerned, was merely what I may call a stolen march, and was no test whatever of the real opinions of this House.
Now, then, Sir, I say that that being so, I for one do not at all assent to the proposition that if you come again to this House and test its opinion you would not have pretty nearly the same number, namely, a majority of 50. As far as I am concerned I see nothing whatever in the state of the country to induce hon. Gentlemen to change their minds upon that subject. It has been stated to-night by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that after all, in point of finance this matter in dispute between us is not a million and a quarter. As regards the exchequer, although it is a million and a quarter, as regards taxation in one sense, as regards the tax upon paper, it is merely a duty of £700,000, because it goes from April to September. Now, let us argue it in this way. Could that have exercised a serious influence on the minds of hon. Members in this House? Could, I ask, that sum of £700,000 have exercised any serious influence upon the minds of hon. Members in giving their votes? It is really and truly only a question, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of £700,000; and is it possible upon a question, upon a sum so small as that, that hon. Members who had declared it was right that the paper duty should be repealed—I ask, would they be deterred from voting the way they did before, and vote in a different way? I should say certainly not. Therefore I say, Sir, that that is a bad reason for the Government not taking action on the present occasion. I am one of those who are probably more disposed to be sanguine upon matters of this kind than I ought to be. But I cannot help thinking—I am impelled to think—that we ought to take action. I think, Sir, that when we affirm those Resolutions we ought to take a further step; and I am ready to join anybody in this House who will put the question to a test; 1457 but, as I said before, I think we are acting prudently on the present occasion. You do not often have an opportunity of drawing Gentlemen opposite in voting upon a question of this kind, in joining them in assenting to the three propositions, especially the first, as laid down in the present Resolution, namely, that the broad and simple question in this House is this, that in this House lies the sole power of deciding the amount, the manner and the time at which the taxation of this country should be levied. When we have assented to that principle it will be time for us to take a further step in the matter, and to call upon the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to give effect to the principle which he has laid down this night in that speech which he has delivered. I think that we ought to call upon him to take the further step to resist this gigantic innovation, as he termed it, which has been made upon the House of Commons by the House of Lords.
Now, Sir, I humbly but confidently submit to the House that the only way to do that would be to send up the Bill for the Repeal of the paper duties. Again at any rate we will call upon him to carry out the principle he has laid down to-night, and I really do believe, from the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken tonight, whether he be in office or out of office, I say that I believe he will be prepared to vindicate those principles, and in conclusion, asking the indulgence of the House for having detained them so long, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman, not only on the part of a large number of hon. Friends in this House, but on the part of the great body of the people out of doors, that if he is prepared to lead us, we are prepared to follow him.
§ MR. DILLWYN
Sir, I do not think, as far as I can understand this matter, that it is necessary to discuss the question of precedent or of legal power in the House of Lords to do what they have done in respect to the rejection of the Repeal of the Paper Duty Bill. I do not wish to go into the question of whether they have the power to do so, but at the same time I cannot help thinking that the House of Lords have acted on this occasion in an unconstitutional and dangerous manner. I wish rather to go into the question of what course it is the duty of the House of Commons to take under the present circumstances; and what is the object of the 1458 House of Lords in the course which they have adopted. That, I apprehend, is rather a difficult matter to determine. I will merely say in passing that the Resolutions which have been proposed by the noble Lord at the head of the Government for our acceptance and adoption seem to me very like the preamble of a Bill without any clauses whatever attached to it. For my own part, I do not see any very great amount of good in them, because they are not followed up by any enacting clause whatever. But what I wish, as I have already said just now, to point out to the House is my view of the conduct of the House of Lords with regard to this question, what is their object in taking the course which they have done?
Now, Sir, I have been but a short time a Member of this House, not more than five years, and I, of course, cannot shut my eyes to the many occurrences which have taken place during that time bearing upon the question as, I think, now before the House. When I first entered this House, some five years ago, it appeared to me that on some occasions the question was not so much one of the privileges of this House, but rather was one of how far the House of Lords would go without our insisting upon our privileges. I have frequently seen the House of Lords encroaching upon the privileges of the House of Commons, as far as I could collect from the course which they have thought it necessary to pursue. As one instance of their encroachment upon what I consider the privileges of this House, I allude to the case when we discussed the Resolution for admitting Jews into this House. At that time I put a notice upon the Paper with reference to this subject; but I believe it is a general understanding that we should not discuss or interfere with proceedings going on in that House, and I believe it is a general rule with them that they should not discuss or interfere with proceedings going on in the House of Commons. I remember when I proposed a Resolution to emphasise what I consider to have been, and what I still consider to be, our undoubted privilege with regard to the admission of Baron Rothschild into this House, and with regard to the admission of Mr. Pease on a former occasion—I recollect, I say, that the House of Lords, with indecent haste, as I thought, did encroach upon our privileges; they did discuss that question. Now, with regard to the House of Lords, I believe that their 1459 main object in rejecting the Paper Duties Bill is not so much to encroach upon the privileges of the House of Commons, or to act from motives of prudence, but that they acted as they did with a view to deciding what party should govern the country. My view is that the House of Lords were actuated by a desire as to who should sit upon the Treasury benches, and not as to whether the course which they adopted would be beneficial to the country at large. When I first came into this House one of the first questions discussed here was that regarding the qualification of Members for seats in this House, and I voted in the majority—that is to say, for doing away with the qualification. I remember that I was talking to a young Member about how I should give my vote, and his telling me that I was a Radical, and so on; but, at all events, that was a matter of little or no consequence to me. However, I thought that the qualification of Members to sit in this House might be very well done away with, but there was an end of it. The abolition of the property qualification of Members was certainly not to the liking of the House of Lords, but directly it was proposed by Lord Derby's Government they assented. Had it been proposed and carried by a small majority here (that is the order of the day now), no doubt the House of Lords would have thrown the Bill out.
Well, then. Sir, there was another subject to which I have already adverted which was brought forward. The other question to which my attention has been particularly called was the Jew Bill—a Bill for the admission of Jews into Parliament. Then the same course of procedure was adopted, which, after being repeatedly rejected by the House of Lords when proposed by a Liberal Government on this side of the House, was passed directly after a Conservative Ministry came into power. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House objected to that measure very strongly, and said that it would unchristianize the country. It went up to the other House, and it was rejected; but directly hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House got into power, the House of Lords passed this measure with a great deal of latitude. It seemed to have been admitted that it was a bungling, bad measure, but nevertheless it was adopted; it was passed; and so it would have been with regard to the question of Reform. The House of Lords hate Reform; but no one can doubt that if the Gentlemen on the Opposition benches had succeeded in 1460 passing their Reform Bill the House of Lords would at once have assented to it, however much against the grain it would have gone. I think so. I have no doubt whatever that that is the course which would have been adopted by the House of Lords; and I venture to think that had the Paper Duty Repeal Bill that we are now discussing been brought forward and passed by the Opposition, judging from analogy and from what I have seen in other cases, I have very little doubt that Lord Derby's Government would have assented to it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, if he had proposed the repeal of the paper duty, no doubt the House of Lords would have been your very obedient servants, and would at once have passed that measure; and if that had been done you would not have had this question raised affecting the privileges of this House. That is my firm conviction and belief, wright or wrong, and I do not think that there is any very great deal of doubt upon that subject.
Therefore, Sir, I say that the decision of the House of Lords in this matter is that of attempting to dictate to the people who shall govern the country. The Lords, I say, would have agreed to pass the Reform Bill without demur as well as the Repeal of the Paper Duty Bill, thus sacrificing their own principles, and passing what might be considered objectionable measures on the condition that their nominees should sit on the Ministerial benches here.
Now, Sir, with respect to the constitutional question, if we have made a mistake in this matter so much the worse for us, and so much the better for those who he in wait for us, and who are seeking by every means in their power to trip us up. But, Sir, I deny that we have made a mistake, and I believe that the repeal of the paper duty is a beneficial measure for the people of this country, and if the same question arose to-morrow I should vote for the repeal of the paper duty.
Well, then, Sir, the question arises what ought we in the meanwhile to do for the purpose of asserting our privileges. I quite agree with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this conduct on the part of the House of Lords has been a most violent attack upon our privileges, and now that that attack has been made the question is whether we should adopt measures of retaliation. One measure that 1461 suggests itself to my mind is that we might send up a Bill carrying out our views in connection with Money Bills. I do not say that that ought to be done. We may again, as it seems to me, adopt another line of conduct; it may be more dignified not to adopt a measure of retaliation, but rather to adopt the policy of avoidance; and how are we to adopt that policy of avoidance? because it seems to me that we can do it. We may as we find that certain Bills of taxation—Bills for the taxation of the people—if we find that these Bills are rejected by the House of Lords we may be very careful in all matters of taxation to impose direct taxation, to the repeal of which the House of Lords will not be very likely to object. If the House of Lords endeavour to thwart this House in the repeal of taxes, such as that upon paper, one course is open to us, and I think that that course may be very easily adopted—namely, that of determining to carry out measures of direct taxation, the only and the natural consequence of such conduct on their part, because I apprehend it is the principle which, under such circumstances, ought to be adopted. If we, the House of Commons adopt this system of policy, if increased taxation is required, and we extend the Act of the Succession Duties, I do not very touch doubt that the House of Lords will readily concur with us in our views.
Now, Sir, in conclusion, I have only to say that although I very much disagree with the Resolutions of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and whose arguments were very lame in conclusion, and considering that the Resolutions of the noble Lord ought to have led to some more practical result than they do, I am nevertheless willing to give them my support. In the absence of any Amendment, although I should have preferred a course which would have led to some practical result—if any hon. Gentleman had proposed an Amendment I should have voted with him—but if there is no Amendment to be proposed I am willing not to give a negative, principally in consequence of the speech which has been made this night by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for which I beg sincerely to tender to him my thanks, my best and earnest thanks.
§ SIR JOHN TRELAWNY
said: Mr. Speaker, I do not rise for the purpose of prolonging this debate, although I should be very glad if it were to last for ten or 1462 twelve days, as I am of opinion that the country at large would then better understand the importance of the crisis.
Now, Sir, I will not attempt to support the Resolutions of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, because I will, as far as I am concerned, have nothing whatever to do with such a lame and impotent conclusion as the noble Lord seems to wish to be drawn from them. It is my humble opinion—nay, my firm conviction—that if the House of Lords have committed an aggression in respect to the privileges of the House of Commons, it is the duty of the House of Commons to meet them then not by mere words, but by acts which will speak for themselves. The truth of the case appears to be this—that the House of Lords have assumed to be Chancellors of the Exchequer, and that in the event of war and disaster overtaking this country, the whole responsibility for the future would belong to them and not to the House of Commons. I certainly shall be the last to deny that the House of Lords, the aristocracy of this country, have shown great qualities; but I have yet to learn that it can be said that there is financial ability among them.
Now, Sir, it is my opinion that the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton has not acted in a manner equal to the occasion, when this attack has been made upon our privileges by the House of Lords; and that being the case, I cannot support these Resolutions which have been proposed to us to-night.
I apprehend that the House of Commons is bound to defend its privileges, and means much more efficacious might be found for that purpose, such means, for instance, as refusing to vote the Supplies for the year. I have only this day heard an ominous hint that the House of Commons is to be asked for money in respect of the Chinese war.
Now, Sir, the noble Lord at the head of the Government, in order to prove that the House of Commons is not bound to follow the mandate of the House of Lords, might, without difficulty, have adopted the simple course of refusing, on the part of this House, to vote any Supplies until the wishes of this House in respect to the paper duty, and the wishes of the country at large have been made the law of the land. Instead, Sir, of adopting this plain and intelligible course, a futile and miserable proceeding has been had recourse to, and of which I decline to accept any portion of the responsibility.
1463 Now, Sir, the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, in the course of the observations which he thought it his duty to address to the House, appeared to me, and I dare say to hon. Gentlemen around me, to attack his own Chancellor of the Exchequer who sat by his side. Much reproach has been cast upon that right hon. Gentleman from all quarters; but he surely, under those circumstances, if for no other reason, might have looked for encouragement and support to the noble Lord at the head of the Government. But, Sir, so far from that being the course, the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton declared that the course which the House of Lords has adopted in reference to the repeal of the Paper Duty Bill, is to some extent justified on account of the impropriety of the Budget of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or, at least, by something in it which had been discovered to be wrong. ["No, no!"] Sir, I may not, it is true, be repeating the exact phraseology of the noble Lord; but, as far as the substantial confirmation of my statement is concerned, I shall simply appeal to the reports which will appear in the newspapers to-morrow morning. And here I may be permitted to say that the press certainly, to some extent, compensates for the loss of our other liberties; and among the things that it will tell us to-morrow will be, I doubt not, that the noble Lord at the head of the Government in some measure in the course of his speech implied a censure on the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in respect to the finances of the year, although I may have been wrong in the phraseology I used; but there is a press, and that press will, fortunately, make up for that loss of ours. Under any circumstances, I assert that the noble Lord at the head of the Government did, to a certain degree, imply a censure upon his Chancellor of the Exchequer. I understood the noble Lord certainly to do so; at all events, that was my impression at the time the noble Lord was making his speech, and, it is my impression still; and I say that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to have been defended by him, and certainly ought not to have been attacked by him. The noble Lord has certainly given the House credit, as it appeared to me, for the supposition that, under the circumstances, there is reason on the part of the Government to believe that the amount of paper duty will 1464 fall in very conveniently to the Treasury. In point of fact, instead of defending the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer against the House of Lords, the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton has defended the House of Lords against the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Now, Sir, as I said at the commencement of my observations, I did not rise for the purpose of protracting this debate, my object being simply that the country may at least come to know the vast importance of the course which the House of Commons is about to take, and that is the sole reason why I thought it right to address the House.
§ MR. J. L. RICARDO
Sir, I am most unwilling to say one word upon the subject which is now before the House; but lest my silence may be misconstrued, I will trouble the House with very few observations.
Now, Sir, I, for one, decline to accept the Resolutions which have been proposed by the noble Lord as a settlement of this important question. I look upon it that these Resolutions explain nothing; I look upon it that these Resolutions settle nothing; but I am happy to say also that I think they will prevent nothing. I anticipate (and I have no doubt whatever that I am right in my anticipation) (hat Resolutions will be placed before the House of Commons which will afford hon. Members an opportunity of fully expressing their opinions upon the constitutional question, and that the elaborate apology for the House of Lords which the Prime Minister has thought it necessary to make to this House, will not be at all accepted as a settlement of the question. I must confess that it seemed to me that the noble Lord at the head of the Government had no object in view but that of calming down matters and quietly passing over a difficulty; but I think these matters will not be passed over altogether be quietly as the noble Lord seems to consider they will be. If I believed that the result of this discussion would be the mere acceptance of the Resolutions proposed to us to-night; if I for a moment believed that the question would be disposed of by the adoption of the Resolutions; if I stood alone in the House of Commons, I would oppose these Resolutions; but it is because I believe that these Resolutions will not prevent the House of Commons from going thoroughly into the question, and from dealing firmly, honestly, and constitutionally with the subject, that 1465 I am willing to allow them to pass to-night, with the determination that the question shall hereafter be fairly raised, which is not to be done to-night; and that I shall then have an opportunity of expressing my views upon the whole question that is before us.
§ SIR CHARLES DOUGLAS
—Mr. Speaker, I can very easily understand the policy of abstaining from saying one word upon this question, after that which has passed in this House this evening, for I know that it is extremely difficult to say anything upon the question itself as regards the privileges of this House and of the other House of Parliament, after the speeches which were made by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Collier) who sat behind me, and by those hon. Gentlemen who have followed him with reference to what has taken place upon this important subject; but, Sir, I do not feel that I should be discharging my duty if I were to remain silent upon this occasion, having taken, as I confess I have, a deep interest in the question itself, and having considered, as I have, the Resolutions of the noble Lord at the had of the Government in every way that I could. I confess that I do believe that whatever may be the opinions and the feelings of any hon. Gentleman on either side of the House, be they the opinions so well exemplified in the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge or any other hon. Gentleman; it would, I say, be extremely difficult to frame an Amendment to which some well-founded objection might not be urged. I attempted to frame an Amendment, and I found that the only Amendment I could frame to my own satisfaction, did not meet with that general concurrence, without which, I should not feel justified in submitting it to the House. My view of the question now before the House is this—that the first Resolution is satisfactory, and the two last are inadequate, and that the question resolves itself into two points—one which is properly for the consideration of the Executive Government, and the other, for the consideration of this House; that for Her Majesty's Government is the question exclusively as regards the paper duties after the way in which the privileges of the House of Commons as I maintain have been violated by the House of Lords; and it seems to me that if this House does come to the conclusion that these Resolutions are to be unanimously supported, that it would be 1466 beneath the dignity of this House if they did not hereafter take that action which ought to follow, and, believing this, I am prepared to say that if this House shall give to these Resolutions that assent which I think they will give to them, that action ought to be taken by which this House will practically vindicate its privileges, and then it will be for the noble Lord at the head of the Government (if not for him it will for some one else) to vindicate the question of the paper duty itself.
Now, Sir, I believe that it would not have been very difficult to have met this question by some such means as have been alluded to in the Report proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge. I should like to see carried into effect a Standing Order that whenever a Bill is brought into this House again for remitting taxation, it should be incorporated in a Bill of Supply or appropriation. It is true that there may be objections to that course being taken; for it may be said that you have already the power, and I suppose it is to some such course that the last Resolution of the noble Lord points.
Now, Sir, with regard to the privileges of this House, and the way in which they have been treated by the House of Lords, I, for one, am ready to admit that the other House have the abstract right to reject the Paper Duties Bill or any other; but I also maintain that it is for this House to judge, and that exclusively, how the usage of that right is carried into effect by the other House of Parliament.
Now, I think, Sir, after having heard the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth go into all the precedents with that acumen and clearness which has received the approbation of all sides of the House, it would not be becoming in one who has no connection whatever with the learned professsion to venture to intrude my opinion upon those precedents, but at the same time I think I may venture to draw the attention of the House to the somewhat more popular view of the case as exemplified in that work which has now become a standing authority, and properly a standing authority in this House, and out of doors, to which comparatively very little allusion has been made, I mean Hatsell's Precedents. I think I can show to the House, by one or two extracts from those precedents, laying aside for the moment all the minor matters connected with this subject, the popular way in which this 1467 may be put, and I think I shall be able to bring conviction to the mind of every man, that my view is the true one.
But I beg in the first place to call the attention of the House to that particular precedent of 1772, which has been already alluded to in the course of this debate, and I trust that I may be permitted to read to the House that which has been said by Mr. Hatsell upon that subject. It is there said that the Amendment that was then proposed by the House of Lords was described by one of the speakers as—A flagrant encroachment on the privileges of the House, and as the Lords, forgetful of their duty, had interfered in raising money by inserting those words, he (Mr. Pownall) moved to reject the Bill.Now the difficulty with which we have to contend on the present occasion is, as to what course is to be pursued after the line of conduct which the other House has adopted. I think it is not consistent with reason to suppose that the House of Lords is not to have the power of amending or altering any Bill which may be sent up to them, but they have the power of rejecting that Bill in toto, because if they have that power, I want to know how it can be said that we have not been treated with contempt, when we have on various occasions protested against the course which they have adopted. I should like to know how it was that these matters were taken up and dealt with by our ancestors when the privileges of this House were interfered with by the House of Lords. Did they not treat with contempt a Bill, because it was amended or made better? How did they treat it on that occasion? Why, Sir, it was moved that that Bill should be rejected. It was seconded by a Mr. Whitworth, who said:—Though desirous of a good understanding between the two Houses, yet he seconded the Motion, as the Lords had violated a privilege which always had belonged, and he hoped always would belong to that House.And your Predecessor, Sir, the then Speaker declared that—He would do his part of the business, and toss the Bill over the table.That was the way, Sir—that was the mode in which the House on former occasions and in former times treated Bills that came down from the House of Lords amended. And why should they not so treat a Bill, when it has been rejected by the House of Lords altogether? Why 1468 is it, I ask, that you now propose to do nothing when they reject a Bill?
Sir, upon that occasion, in the course of that debate, there was a man who made a speech which I shall beg leave to quote, for there is scarcely a line of that speech that is not applicable to the present case; There was a man who made a speech, and no man's opinions and judgment were considered to be of more value than his; no man was more respected as a constitutional authority, and no man stood up more ably for the rights and privileges of this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham has been accused of being very severe upon the aristocracy and upon the House of Lords, but what, I ask, has been the language which has been used by this House when speaking of questions of this description? I will not indorse every word certainly of the language used by the hon. Member for Birmingham, but it is nothing when compared with that which I will adopt, of a man who in this House spoke on behalf of the privileges of the House of Commons. And what, Sir, said upon that occasion a certain high constitutional authority? [Cries of "Name, name!"] I will give you the name afterwards. [Cries of "Name, name!"] I will give you the name when I have told you what I have got to say. He says:—I wish that there was not only a good understanding between the Houses, but I also wish there was a good understanding in one of them, and I wish both for the same reason—the better despatch of public business * * * The Lords do not know what is going on in this House, and what is worse, they do not understand the principles of the Constitution. Sir, this privilege which they have now invaded is a known and avowed right inherent in this House as the representatives of the people. For what do the Lords say when they attempt to invade this privilege? Why they plainly say to us and to the people, you shall no longer tax (or remit taxation) yourselves. Can liberty exist if we allow them to lay their sacrilegious hands upon this Holy of Holies, this palladium of the Constitution? The most servile tool of the (Government) Opposition will not have the face to defend this encroachment. What was the cause of this strange proceeding? Shall we call it absolute ignorance of the Constitution or an insidious trial of our ductility and acquiescence? I have seen enough of their conduct to make me think the former not impossible, and I know too much the sympathy existing between them and the Opposition (Government) to deem the latter improbable. Suppose, then, we compound the matter and ascribe this attempt partly to ignorance of the Constitution and partly to (Government) Opposition management. In doing so I believe we shall not be much wide of the mark. * * * Though they frequently alter Bills merely to show their power we need not suffer 1469 them to proceed to the annihilation of all our authority.[Cries of "Name, name!"]
Sir, that Bill was treated in this way at that time. [Cries of "Name, name!"] It was Edmund Burke. The Bill was rejected nem. con., and your predecessor, Sir, tossed it over the table, several Members on both sides of the House giving it a kick as they went out. That, then, is the way in which that Bill was treated by our ancestors.
Now, Sir, it is because I believe that these Resolutions will enable us to take action, if you pass them, that they have my support, although they are not entirely such as I should be glad to see. I think the second and the third Resolution might have been amended; but unless you can amend them so as to have the unanimous support of the House, it is better to pass them as they stand. Believing, however, that these Resolutions will enable us to do all that is indicated by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that speech, than which there never was a speech delivered here more worthy of any man who ever sat on that bench, or more worthy of the high reputation of the right hon. Gentleman himself. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having made it. I shall support them. I thank my stars that I was so far fortunate as to hear it delivered, as it was, when so few Members were present; it recalled to me the days when I sat behind another statesman (Sir Robert Peel) who vindicated popular rights and popular principles. I have sat behind that statesman, when he sacrificed everything for the people and had my humble support, and I heard him vilified and abused then, as I hear the right hon. Gentleman vilified and abused in private now, because he is inclined to stand up for the privileges of this House. I say, Sir, that I had much satisfaction in hearing that speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I trust I shall have the opportunity of supporting him in the assertion of those popular rights which I believe to be no less important than those privileges of this House by a steady adherence to which public liberty can best be maintained, and public business be conducted with advantage to the State.
Sir, I feel that I ought to apologise to the House for having trespassed upon their indulgence at this length. For my own part, I believe that no precedent whatever can be found which, when it is fairly considered, 1470 can be held to justify the course which the House of Lords has taken by the rejection of the Paper Duty Repeal Bill, because there is no precedent to show that they have ever interfered with the financial arrangements of the year. It is admitted, moreover, that the House of Lords do not possess the right to amend Money Bills, and upon what ground, therefore, they can uphold the right of rejecting such Bills, I am at a total loss to understand. The House of Commons has always exercised the right of dealing with and regulating the finances of the country; they have always exercised that privilege and that right exclusively, and I trust that they never will allow any interference with it.
Then, I say, Sir, that if we can find no such right and privilege on the part of the House of Lords to act as they have done in the instance before us, it is right and proper that we should come to the conclusion that the rights and privileges of this House have been invaded by the House of Lords, in the course which they have taken here, and the usage of that right has never been exercised as to increase taxation or otherwise to regulate the taxation of this country. The House of Lords has interfered in a way which, by construction, may be considered as imposing a burthen upon the people. And now, Sir, let me tell the House what the popular view of Mr. Hatsell upon this subject is. I hope I have not wearied the House, and I promise you that I will detain you but a short time longer. I must say that I think the popular view of the case is to be found without going into the question of precedents at all. In page 14, of the same work I find the following words:—In whatever mode the Lords have at any time attempted to invade this right (namely, of granting taxes for the public service) the Commons have uniformly and vigorously opposed the attempt, and have asserted and maintained this claim through such a long and various course of precedents, particularly from the time of the Restoration, that the Lords have now for many years desisted either from beginning any Bill, or from making Amendments to Bills passed by the Commons, which either in the form of positive taxes or pecuniary penalties or in any other shape might by construction be considered as imposing burthens upon the people.If the recent act of the House of Lords is not one of imposing burthens upon the people, I know not what is imposing burthens upon the people. Then there is another passage which I am desirous of reading to the House. I find these words:— 1471Where the Bill or the Amendments made by the Lords appear to be of a nature which, though not immediately, yet in their consequences will bring a charge upon the people, the Commons have denied the right of the Lords to make Amendments, and the Lords have acquiesced.Why, Sir, if the House of Commons have denied the right of the House of Lords to make Amendments, and the House of Lords have acquiesced, there is an end of the matter. To say that the House of Lords, therefore, has a right to act as they have done, the thing in reason is absurd, and you can only proceed upon a strict technical legal view of the case, and nothing else. Then, Sir, it is stated that—In no case whatever will the Commons admit that the Lords may interfere in matter of duties, however trifling or remote that interference may be.Now, Sir, I submit to the House that the interference of the House of Lords in the present instance is an interference of the worst description.
Well, then, Sir, with these views I hope the House will allow me to say that I look forward with much satisfaction to the time when we shall be able to take some action in consequence of these Resolutions; but I must at the same time confess that I look back to the beginning of this evening with equal regret and sorrow to the speech which was then delivered by the First Lord of the Treasury. I only hope and trust that before this debate is concluded, now that that speech has been received by many hon. Gentlemen, as I understood it, that the noble Lord at the head of the Government will take the opportunity of showing he has been misunderstood on this side of the House, and of making an explanation that will be satisfactory to the Houset; all events, if not satisfactory, I think that the noble Lord should give some fuller explanation. I am quite aware that such explanation will not be satisfactory to the hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, who have maintained a silence upon this occasion, not a very dignified silence, I must say, and who have been content to rest their case upon the speech of the noble Lord. I hope and trust that the noble Lord will give some explanation of his speech, which has caused pain and disappointment, for the purpose of showing that he has been misunderstood on this side of the House; and in concluding my observations upon this very important subject, I have only now to thank the House for the attention with which they have listened to me.
§ MR. BUTT
I confess, Sir, that I should be very unwilling to give a silent vote upon a question of such magnitude as that which is now before the House. I should be exceedingly unwilling to acquiesce in this Resolution without stating to the House distinctly the grounds for the vote which I shall feel it my duty to give. A question more important than this, affecting as it does the privileges of this House, has never occurred, and I think that no more important subject can be broached than one affecting our privileges.
Now, Sir, I must confess that I should be disposed to accept the epithet which designates these Resolutions which have been brought forward by the noble Lord as "lame and impotent;" but I do not vote for them as being a conclusion and an end of this matter; on the contrary, I think that when hon. Gentlemen opposite come to read the third Resolution, if they assent to that passage, they are pledging themselves that this House is called upon for action. But, Sir, what does the third Resolution say? The third Resolution says, "That to guard for the future." Why are the words "for the future" inserted if it does not employ that there has been an undue exercise of right for the past?That to guard for the future against an undue exercise of that power by the House of Lords, and to secure to the Commons their rightful control over taxation and Supply, this House has in its own hands the power so to impose and remit taxes, and to frame Bills of Supply, that the right of the Commons as to the matter, manner, measure, and time may be maintained inviolate.Now, Sir, I cannot conceive a Resolution more distinctly declaring that some further action is called for by this House than the third Resolution which I have just read. But, Sir, at the present moment the only Resolution which is before the House is the first, and I cannot conceive that any person can object to that except on the ground that it is unnecessary; and if no infringement is made upon the privileges of this House, if nothing has occurred to call upon us to pass this Resolution, it is unnecessary, and, therefore, I say that it first declares that something has been done; and the second and third Resolutions place it beyond doubt that further action is to be taken; and it is, Sir, upon this principle, and distinctly, not as a conclusion, but as laying the ground for future action, that I shall vote for this Resolution. When I heard the noble Viscount's speech to-night I could not 1473 help thinking that he did not understand the House of Lords to have invaded the privileges of this House, but that, nevertheless, it was necessary that we should take some steps to warn them of the consequences of the course which they were pursuing. The argument of the noble Lord reminded me of the argument of the Welsh jury, "Not guilty, but don't do it again." The noble Lord appeared to me to say that the House of Lords were not guilty, but recommended them not to do it again. It is only in this view of affirming the principle which I apprehend no one will dispute, and in the view that these Resolutions will lead us to further notion, that I shall vote for the one which is now before the House. I should, as I said before, be very unwilling to give a vote without making this explanation. Let any hon. Gentleman rise up in his place and say that this Resolution does not bear the construction which I put upon it. I look upon it as a declaration that the House of Lords have infringed our privileges. Let hon. Gentlemen, if they like, get up and say that the House of Lords have not done that, and I can understand them; but I say that the House of Lords have infringed the privileges of this House. I say, Sir, most distinctly, that the House of Lords, and within the principles which has been laid down by their own advocates, have violated the privileges of this House. There are two principles involved here. Take the broad constitutional question, What are these two principles? One of them is that this House is the judge of the amount of Supplies to be granted to the Crown; and the other is, that it is for this House to judge how those Supplies are to be raised. Will any one tell me that the House of Lords, by rejecting the Bill for the Repeal of the Paper Duty, has not violated one or other of these principles; and if they have done that, then I say that they have violated the privileges of this House; they have, it cannot for a moment be denied, violated the constitutional privileges of this House.
Sir, the House of Lords appear to me to have no avowed defenders here to-night; but I should very much like to hear the arguments of any hon. Gentleman who will venture to assert that the Resolution now before the House does not declare that the House of Lords has infringed the privileges of the House of Commons. I shall vote for the Resolution as a declaration that the House of Lords has 1474 done this, and I am sure that many hon. Members arouud me will vote for it upon the same ground. It is true that the House of Lords may not have violated any technical privilege of the House of Commons, but, at the same time, they have violated one of our constitutional privileges. It has been admitted throughout, it has been conceded on all hands, that the House of Lords cannot adopt one part of a Money Bill and reject another part of the same Bill. In this case they have agreed to the imposition of an addition to the income tax, and they have rejected the repeal of the duty on paper which accompanied it, although in a separate Bill. If the two propositions, let me ask the House, had been made in one Bill, could they have adopted one and rejected the other? I shall vote for this Resolution beeause it is not a conclusion; but, in the first place, as affirming that something has occurred to make it necessary for the House of Commons to reiterate their privileges, and, in the second place, as affording the basis of future action.
Sir, I thank the House for having listened to these few observations of mine, but I did not think it right to give my vote without stating my reasons for doing so.
§ SIR JOHN SHELLEY
Sir, I will trouble the House with only half a dozen words upon the subject under discussion. There is, in the first place, one thing that strikes me as most extraordinary, namely, that it will, when this matter comes to be looked at hereafter, be thought a very peculiar circumstance—there will be no man who will say otherwise than this is a de-hate of the greatest possible importance, and yet, as far as we have gone, we have had only one single Member of the Opposition who has condescended to address the House, namely, the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the University of Dublin, who has given us any opinion at all. As far as I am concerned, Sir, I am much obliged to that right hon. Gentleman for the opinion which he expressed in one portion of his speech, for he stated that the course which the House of Lords had taken was, in fact, intended to be a censure upon the policy of the Finance Minister. That is proving the case of hon. Members on this side of the House, and that the House of Lords have gone beyond their power in so doing. Now, although only one speech has been made on that side of the House, I believe that that 1475 avowal which the right hon. Gentleman has made, will, out of doors, do very good service to those who hold the opinions which I entertain upon this subject. Upon this occasion I shall follow the course which has been taken by hon. Gentlemen who have preceded me. I believe, Sir, that, if we stopped at these Resolutions after passing them, we should disappoint the just expectations of persons out of doors. There is nothing in the Resolutions that any one could object to, except they do not go far enough. I do hope, and trust, and believe that some action will be taken upon them. I may state that I have had nothing whatever to do, as a Member of the Liberal party, with the withdrawal of any of those Notices. I came down for the purpose of supporting the Resolution which I found upon the paper to be proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Plymouth, and not having heard of his intention of withdrawing it, but having listened to the whole of his speech with the greatest possible delight, I was excessively shocked to find that, after his case had been so distinctly stated, he did not persevere with that Resolution.
Now, Sir, I think that the Resolutions of the noble Lord at the head of the Government would be extremely weak and extremely impotent as they stand; but I hope that, if the Liberal Members live till to-morrow, some new course will be chalked out for them. I certainly was most anxious to clear myself of having had any part in the withdrawal of the other Resolutions. I entertain a very strong opinion respecting the course which has been taken by the House of Lords, and I came down to the House prepared to give effect to my opinion by my vote. I was desirous of stating this, inasmuch as I know that the people out of doors would be extremely disappointed if the Liberal Members stopped where they were. I feel that the House of Lords, in this instance, has far exceeded their power, and that the more you look into precedents, the more any man of judgment must feel that there is no precedent for the particular course which the House of Lords has taken.
§ MR. STANSFELD
Sir, we have heard of the "masterly policy of inaction," and undoubtedly the silence on the Opposition Benches this night has put the Liberal Members of this House in a practical difficulty; for it is no easy matter for hon. Gentlemen to rise one after another to 1476 repeat the same tale and to put the same construction upon Resolutions which are supposed to be not altogether intelligible in their character. But, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman, the only Gentleman who has spoken on the other side of the House (Mr. Whiteside) made an appeal, almost a personal and individual appeal to us to show to him the reasons upon which we, from our point of view, should support these Resolutions,—I, and I dare say other Gentlemen, will rise for the purpose of responding to that appeal.
Now Sir, the first Resolution states in the very words of one of the old precedents, the supremacy of this House in matters of taxation and Supply, and I am perfectly content to rest the case upon those old precedents. It is impossible for me not to be satisfied with that Resolution.
Sir, the second Resolution is an equally correct one—the first Resolution was a correct statement of right—the second Resolution is an equally correct statement of fact. It states correctly and truly, and I am perfectly willing to make that admission to the House of Lords, that there have been a certain number of cases of Money Bills in which the House of Lords have exercised the right of rejecting them, and this House has allowed them to pass. I will presently take occasion to show the bearing or the want of bearing of those cases upon the matters under our consideration.
Now, Sir, if we come to the last Resolution of the noble Lord we find that that is as positive an assertion of a power existing in this House efficiently to assert their right, as the first Resolution is an immediate assertion of the existence of the right itself; and I am at a loss to understand how hon. Members professing to uphold and approve the course which has been taken by the House of Peers can consent to commit themselves to one Resolution which declares the possession of the right, and to another Resolution which assumes the possession of the power to enforce that right. The only fault I find with the concluding Resolution of the noble Lord is this, that it does not sufficiently point the moral which the circumstances of the case suggest.
Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman who has a great faculty of castigation, who has a great faculty of attacking those who differ from him, without laying down anything very positive or tangible himself, he 1477 has hardly told us anything, he has hardly expressed any opinion upon the question before the House. I tried to gather some expression of opinion from him, I do not know whether I have succeeded, but if I have gathered any expression of opinion from him, it appeared to me to be simply this, that the whole question resolves itself into one of legislative functions and powers. That the House of Lords possessed the power in point of fact to refuse their assent to any Bill, and that possessing the power ipso facto they possessed the constitutional right.
Now, Sir, if that was the statement as I understood it of the right hon. Gentleman, I think it would be evidence that he at once put himself and his party out of court, and at once solved the question against himself and against those who think with him, for there can be no question whatever of the existence of our power, if we choose to exercise it; and if the right hon. Gentleman will base right not on constitutional usage but upon the possession of power, why the power is ready to our hands if we chose in our own discretion to avail ourselves of it.
Well now, Sir, the noble Lord who moved the Resolutions which are now before the House made an undue admission as it appeared to me. The noble Lord said that it was undoubtedly true that the House of Lords had the right of rejecting all Bills sent up to them, and the noble Lord's argument, if I did not misapprehend it, went to this, that although this House professes of right a supremacy in matters of taxation and Supply, that although this House has from time to time thought it fit and necessary to assert that supremacy, that although as the noble Lord declares in his third Resolution, that we have the power and that we may at some future time choose to assert it to maintain that supremacy, still as we have not as in this case made use of that power, that there has been no infringement of our privileges and that there is no occasion for any strong expression of opinion against the course which the House of Lords have adopted.
Now, Sir, this argument appears to me, and I think I can show to the House, that it implies an abandonment of every constitutional right on the part of this House—that it admits the equal and co-ordinate power of the House of Lords,—and that it is an argument, therefore, if such be the truth, which coming from a person in 1478 the position and with the responsibilities of the noble Lord ought, in the language of our own precedent, "greatly to disturb this House."
Why, Sir, everything that the noble Lord appears willing to claim for this House would be conceded to it if we had the right to it. We should still have the right by virtue of the discretion vested in us of using existing powers,—we should have the right, if we chose, to refuse to accept Bills sent back to us with Amendments by the House of Lords. We should have the right to couple in our own Bills the revision with the imposition of taxes, and we should have the right in this way practically to control these questions of taxation and Supply. But the House knows perfectly well that the claims which it has been accustomed for centuries to assert have not been claims in the discretionary use of a co-ordinate power, but have been claims to the possession of a superior constitutional right which it is a breach of privilege on the part of the House of Lords even to attempt to infringe upon.
Now, Sir, if this be the case, I think the House is bound to come to the consideration of this question as a question affecting its own privileges and on the assumption that an infringement of those privileges has occurred.
Now, Sir, let me look for a moment into the spirit of those old precedents which have been laid before us, and by which we ought to be bound. Now the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) has been accused of attempting to make an unsound distinction between the practice of imposing taxes, and that of ordinary legislative enactments. But I am bound to say that the very first conclusion which a study of the precedents laid before us brought home to my mind was this, that had that hon. Gentleman been the most exact and the most profound of black-letter lawyers he could not have more accurately defined the question—he could not with a truer instinct have arrived at the true root of this matter.
Now, in order to understand this it is necessary to go back to the very highest precedent. It is not enough to go back to the date when the Journals of this House commenced—it is not enough to go back even to the salutary precedent of 1407. You must trace the history of our system of imposing taxes back to its very birth—and what is the first great fact that you will find there? You will find that the origin of taxes was 1479 not that they were impositions made by force of law, but that they were voluntary offerings, free gifts and grants proffered by each of the separate estates separately by itself to the service of the Crown. You have then in the first place at the very birth of your system a separate estate each having an absolute, each having a separate, each having an exclusive control over taxation as far as it affected itself, and my first impression is this that you will find nothing whatever in the precedents which have been laid before this House abandoning on the part of the Commons of England one fraction of that original, absolute and exclusive right. But, Sir, it was naturally impossible that such a system as this should practically work, and the claim to a preponderance in such matters naturally comes back again to this House as representing the bulk of the people and as being largely interested in all questions of taxation, and in the salutary precedent to which I have referred of 1407, you will find the Resolutions of the two Houses settled by what almost amounts to an Act of Parliament. It is settled and agreed that every aid and Supply was solely given by the Commons, the powers of the Lords being confined to simply assenting. If you look at the forms of the House you will find in 1628 the preambles of the Bills of Supply settled by you. You find the Estimates submitted only to this House—you find the Chancellor of the Exchequer always a Member of this House, and you find throughout the whole of those forms the evidence that to this House belongs all questions of taxation and Supply.
Now, Sir, I suppose it will be admitted that although a rapid sketch, this is an accurate and substantial state of our system of imposing taxes. It is true, as the second Resolution argues and states, that there have been a certain number of cases in which the Lords have rejected Money Bills, cases beginning from the year 1714; but it has already been clearly shown by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth and by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it has been already shown that in those cases it was not Supply, but that it was fiscal policy upon which the House of Lords were assuming to act. There can be no doubt that the House of Lords have a right to refuse their assent to any Bill sent up to them; the only question is this, whether such right can be constitutionally exercised in all cases. There can be no doubt, as I 1480 see this matter, that the House of Lords have the right to refuse their assent constitutionally to certain Money Bills, but I deny the right of the House of Lords constitutionally to refuse their assent to a Money Bill which is really a Supply Bill, and the rejection of which involves a revision of the Budget, of the Estimates, and of the Ways and Means.
Now, Sir, with reference to this class of cases I will ask leave to make two remarks to the House, repeating what has been already said by an hon. Member below me. In the first place the House is well aware that in all cases of Money Bills with which the House of Lords have chosen to deal, otherwise than by assenting to them, and of which this House has afterwards become necessarily possessed, that in all cases without exception, however trivial the amount, this House has jealously guarded its functions and its rights, and has not allowed such Amendments to be passed. And the other remark which I wish to make is this—that logically and substantially it is impossible to say that the total rejection of a Bill for the repeal of an existing duty is not a greater interference with our supremacy in matters of taxation and Supply than it would be to propose for our consideration some trifling Amendment upon such a Bill. If hon. Members are not prepared to admit the truth of that proposition, they will find themselves in this dilemma—in this case they will have on the one hand to contend that the House of Lords were in their own right in absolutely rejecting this Bill which proposed to repeal taxation of a million a year, but at the same time they will be forced to admit that had the House of Peers proposed only for our consideration to change by one day the date upon which that repeal should commence, that that would have been a high breach of the privileges of this House.
Sir, I now pass to what is as important a branch of this question, and that is to consider the exact nature and extent of the new claim and of the new precedent which has been attempted to be set up by the House of Lords. It is impossible to mistake the nature of that claim. By rejecting the Paper Duty Repeal Bill, the House of Lords claim to revise the Budget, and the Estimates which are not submitted to them—to perpetuate taxes against the consent of the representatives of the people, and indefinitely to increase Supplies unasked for by the Crown. But, Sir, if the 1481 reasons upon which that Act of the House of Lords was founded be wider than the Act itself, the precedent, if allowed to pass, will partake of the nature of those reasons, and will not merely be narrow and small as applied to the Act itself.
Now, Sir, it is not easy to refer within the rules of debate of this House to the reasons which may have induced the House of Lords to adopt the course which they have adopted. But the noble Lord who moved these Resolutions has told us, that there is no evidence of any disposition on the part of the House of Lords to erect this Act of theirs into a precedent. Now, I am prepared to contend that there is ample evidence of their intention to do that—and that there is that evidence—and to erect it into a precedent of wider scope than the present. We all know that the question of constitutional right, as distinguished from that of fiscal policy, was taken up in that House by a venerable and learned Lord, whose wise, profound, and accurate knowledge of Constitutional law, and whose absolute lucidity entitle us to treat his arguments as history will treat them, as a part of a precedent which the House of Lords are attempting to create. Now, we know the nature of the arguments of that noble and learned Lord. ["Order, order."] I will endeavour to obey the injunctions of the right hon. Gentleman. I believe I am at liberty to speak of what is notorious as having happened in "another place." We have heard arguments of this description. We have heard it said in behalf of the course of conduct which the House of Lords chose to adopt, that they were entitled to the exercise of every power which the forms of legislation placed at their disposal; but we have heard more than this—we have heard it also stated that the very rights which the House of Lords have conceded in past times to this House have been conceded, not as constitutional rights, but conceded simply as the possession on our part of superior force. Those arguments will be familiar to many hon. Members of this House. We have the House of Lords repudiating those former concessions, except upon the ground that they were made to superior force. Well, but we have also heard from another quarter that this could not be an invasion of the privileges of this House, because this House has still the ability, if it chose, to refuse to appropriate the source of Supply which the House of Lords had determined against our consent to maintain. 1482 Surely this made the matter glaringly worse, for the claim of the House of Lords thus interpreted amounts not merely to perpetuating a tax against the consent of the representatives of the people, but amounts to the claim to perpetuate such a tax without the assent or requirement of the Crown, when this House has the power, which it ought to exercise, of refusing to appropriate such Supply, and when the Crown has the right (and I trust it will exercise it) to refuse to touch such stolen goods, to refuse to accept a boon at the hands of the House of Lords, instead of at the hands of the representatives of the people, who have in this Session and in all times responded with such lavish generosity to all the demands made on behalf of the Crown.
Now, Sir, I ask, can the House consent to a claim of this description? Can the House consent to a claim on the part of the House of Lords to perpetuate all existing permanent taxes, although substitutes may be provided for them all, and to perpetuate them for no possible constitutional object, but only for the bare and reckless assertion of a right, which, if the question ever came to one of power, it is the easiest thing in the world for this House to defeat. I ask this House whether it be not true that the House of Lords has repudiated all former concessions, save on the ground of submission to superior force, and whether they have not challenged the supremacy of this House in matters of taxation and Supply, and I say that the question to-night is this—Will this House, or will it not, answer that appeal?
Sir, we have been told by the noble Lord that we must not be moved in this matter by any unreasonable or exaggerated estimate of its importance. I agree in that recommendation of the noble Lord, but from a very different point of view, and from very different reasons. In my opinion, we should be dwarfing the true proportions of this question if we were to look upon it as one which regarded simply our own collected personality, or as one dealing alone with our own rights, which we were entitled to maintain or surrender at our discretion, The rights with which we are dealing tonight are not our own, they are the rights of the people. And let hon. Members look to the language of those old precedents; they are the rights of the true Commons, they are the rights of the people of this country, of whom we are the 1483 Representatives, without whom we have no being, and which rights it is our duty and our special function to maintain and to defend; and what I ask the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth is this,—at what juncture in the history of this House is it that an endeavour has been made to tempt us from the performance of that duty? What has this House been about of late? One of its latest acts has been to refuse its assent to a measure having for its object the widening and popularizing of our electoral system. This House does not need reform, it says. It already fully represents the intelligence, the opinions, and the rights of the people of this country, and it represents them with an independence which might be vainly expected from a Parliament elected under a degraded suffrage. Now, I ask the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, what becomes of that plea of independence if we surrender rights which we have maintained for centuries, and what becomes of that claim already efficiently to represent the people of this country if we are about to surrender their very birthright, which has been committed to us for safe keeping and defence. Sir, some short time ago a Minister of the Crown rose in his place in this House to announce the withdrawal—under the pressure of a necessity for which he was in no wise responsible—a Minister of the Crown rose in his place to announce the withdrawal of a measure of Parliamentary Reform. An admirable discipline—such a discipline as we have seen a different example of to-day,—an admirable discipline restrained the rising cheers in the ranks of Her Majesty's Opposition. But, Sir, those who watched that scene as I did, might have perceived, as the announcement was being made, a smile of peculiar intelligence sweep like a sudden gleam of sunshine over the sea of faces which from those places looked expectant upon the noble Lord. A party ruse had been successful. Yielding to the tempting opportunity afforded by defections in the Ministerial ranks, and making use of the obstructive services of hon. Members who may some day or other find it no easy task to reconcile such services with the votes which repudiated as unworthy of consideration a former Reform Bill, and which ejected the former Ministry from office—yielding to such temptations, I say that a party triumph was sought and was gained. But what a triumph! and at what a cost! I confess, Sir, that it seems to me to marvel at the 1484 shallowness and at the heedlessness of a Conservative policy, whose very success consisted in the postponement of that question of Reform to those more troubled times of which the Conservative leaders were the first and the loudest to herald the approach, of which success was purchased at the very price of lowering the character of this House for earnestness and sincerity in the public mind.
Now, Sir, I ask whether we are to have a repetition of such a policy in order to gain a temporary party triumph for a special financial view, or, it may be, for the gratification of a passing reaction against a single person. I ask whether we are to witness a repetition of that policy, and whether the character of this House is to be again lowered in the public mind, and proof to be afforded out of doors that this House does not at present efficiently and with independence maintain the rights of the people of this country. I do trust that we are to witness no such policy. I venture to ask the House upon this great occasion to cast aside altogether party considerations and objects of minor importance. I ask them to rise to the "height of this great argument." Let the House remember that we are making history tonight. We are about to maintain or to surrender a part of the constitutional rights of the oldest, the freest, and the greatest representative assembly in the world. The precedent of 1860, whether we will or no—for good or for ill, to our honour or to our shame, is about to take its place in the inevitable historic page by the side of those older and greater precedents which have been laid before us, and which are the laurels and traditions of our past. I entreat this House so to act as not to tarnish those laurels. I entreat this House so to act as to be faithful to those great traditions, as efficiently to re-assert and to defend the rights of the people of this country, and to maintain the privileges and enhance the character and the dignity of this House.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I should be extremely unwilling, Sir, that the House should come to a vote upon this subject without expressing to the noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown, both upon my own part, and I am sure on the part of all hon. Gentleman sitting on this side of the House, our sense of the able, patriotic, and constitutional speech with which he has introduced these Resolutions to our consideration. And, Sir, when the hon. Gentle- 1485 man who has just sat down calls upon us to consider this question not in a party spirit—when he adjures us to rise to the "height of this great argument," and to divest ourselves of all party considerations in its discussion, I am gratified that it falls to my lot in the first sentence I presume to utter, to offer to the noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown, whose general policy I oppose, the sincere tribute of my adhesion on this occasion.
When, Sir, the real privileges of the House of Commons are assailed or questioned, I can tell the noble Lord, if he be then the leader of his party in this House, that he will not appeal in vain to us to uphold those privileges, or to support him in their vindication; as also I can with equal sincerity assure him, that if there be an attempt in the course of the proceedings of the two Houses of Parliament to raise some artificial agitation, occasioned perhaps by the necessity of satisfying the wounded vanity or gratifying the distempered ambition of some individual, the First Minister might appeal with the same success for us to support him under these circumstances, and vindicate that course which is necessary to uphold the welfare of this country. Sir, the noble Lord has tonight acknowledged—had it not been for circumstances which have since occurred, I should have said on the part of the Government—that the course taken by the House of Lords with reference to the Bill for the Repeal of the Paper Duties was one which the state of the law justified and authorized them to adopt. Now, Sir, if the law of the country justified and authorized such conduct on the part of the other House of Parliament, there is at once an end to any question of the privileges of this House. A privilege that cannot be asserted ceases to be a privilege, and is only a pretence; and those who remember what occurred only twenty years ago, when this House attempted to assert a privilege which was contrary to the law of the country, will not, I think, with any hope of success, counsel the House again to adopt a course which was replete with so much disaster, and so humiliating to the dignity of this Assembly.
But, Sir, the noble Lord was not content with simply acknowledging that the conduct of the House of Lords was justified by law; he has manfully confessed that it was sanctioned by policy. What then, is conduct justified by law and sanctioned by policy—is that conduct which 1486 you are compelled to admit is the observance of the law, and the pursuit of a course which policy approves, to be made the ground and basis of your calling upon us to assert that our privileges have been violated, and our due authority questioned? If the privileges of the House of Commons can only be vindicated by opposing that which law justifies and policy sanctions, I fear that we shall hardly be able to recommend to our constituents the character of those privileges, or to induce them to support them with the spirit which the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down contemplates and desires. It may be said, "If the conduct of the House of Lords in this respect be such as the Chief of the Government has thus publicly announced, what necessity is there for the Resolutions which we are to-night called upon to vote?" When this misunderstanding was first noticed in this House, had any one in authority come forward and laid before the House the nature of the case, and had indicated the precedents that had formerly been established and pursued, we might then have illustrated the present position of things, and have obtained facts and arguments to justify that illustration; and then, Sir, I do not think it would have been necessary for this House to come to these Resolutions. I think that if the question had been then debated with sufficient learning and deliberation—with sufficient calmness and clearness—we might then have avoided a state of affairs which all must confess to be unsatisfactory; but, Sir, when a perplexed House of Commons, rashly and hastily I think, determined to appoint a Select Committee to search for precedents—when you placed upon that Committee the most considerable Members of this House—when they devoted for that purpose all their energies and attention for a considerable period of time, and when they formally reported to this House the result of their investigation, it seemed to me impossible that this House should escape from a formal expression of the conclusions to which that investigation had led them; and I further think it was impossible, after appointing that Committee, that Resolutions for the acceptance of this House should not have been laid upon the table.
Now, Sir, what are these Resolutions? Under other circumstances I might be inclined to cavil at some of the expressions employed in these Resolutions. A word here and there might, I think, be critically noticed. The composition which has at- 1487 tracted the attention of some hon. Members, might be dwelt upon in the spirit of Aristarchus; but after the speech of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and after the large view which he has taken of the whole question, it would be quite unbecoming on my part to enter upon such verbal trifling.
There are, Sir, three Resolutions before us, I doubt not with a distinct purpose. The first is an assertion of our privileges, copied from ancient precedents in the Journals of this House, and claims the sole right of Supply to Her Majesty. That Resolution has been criticised by the highest constitutional authorities. Mr. Hallam, himself a high Whig, has noticed in his Constitutional History the very language which the noble Lord has adopted in his first Resolution; and he notices it as one that cannot be precisely vindicated or proved. That we have the "sole right of granting aids and Supplies to the Crown" which is the language, I think, of the original Resolution, and which is here equivalently expressed, is an assertion that cannot be maintained by a House which, when it carries a Bill of Supply, in that very Bill states that the Supply can only be granted with the assent of the House of Lords. But, Sir, it would be unwise at a moment like the present when, although our privileges may really not be assailed, many think, from the representations that have been made, that they are endangered, to make use of language which might be more accurately precise, but which, to the vulgar ear, might seem to make a modified claim of privilege compared with that put forth by our predecessors. Therefore, I think upon the whole, although precisely and critically you could not word for word vindicate the assertion which is embodied in the first Resolution, it is proper after all that we should adhere to that old language which was used on great, critical, and solemn occasions by our predecessors, and not seem to bate one single inch of the ground which has always been taken by this House on the subject.
In short, Sir, the first Resolution, as far as the constitutional, and I would say the classical, assertion of our privileges is concerned, is one with which I cannot in any way find fault. The second Resolution is an admission—to my mind a legal, proper, and constitutional admission—of the right of the Lords to reject Bills of Supply; and although there may be expressions in it 1488 which some may feel disposed to criticise, such as the statement that the exercise of the right on their part has not been frequent, as if in the nature of things it would be frequent, and that on all occasions such an exercise would be viewed with jealousy by this House, as if it ought not to be viewed with jealousy; still it appears to me that the second Resolution is one—containing, as it does, not a qualified, but an absolute acknowledgment of the right of the Lords to reject Bills "on the whole," the propriety of which could not by any one sitting on this side of the House for a moment be questioned.
I now come to the third Resolution, which seems to give such consolation to hon. Gentlemen opposite below the gangway. I have read the Resolution with the attention it deserves, and I find it embodies a suggestion made in the last two paragraphs of the draught Report of the Chairman of the late Committee upon Precedents.—That Chairman, whose ability the noble Lord at the head of the Government has candidly acknowledged, and whose moderate and safe opinions upon all political subjects must be admired, I think, even by those who do not agree with him. If hon. Members will only look at the two last paragraphs in the draught Report of the Chairman—paragraphs that were not admitted into the Report that was presented to the House—they will find the suggestions which form the gist and marrow of the third Resolution. We threw them out in the Committee, generally upon the ground that our expression of opinion should not be admitted into our Report, and those paragraphs expressed an opinion. There were, however, some Members of the Committee, to whom I shall not particularly refer, who were opposed to the admission of these paragraphs upon other and perhaps higher grounds. They thought they took too low and desponding a view of the privileges of this House. So, Sir, what with the general desire not to admit an expression of opinion on the subject, and the objection of some Members who thought that the view of those two paragraphs of the privileges of this House was of too desponding a character, these, as I thought at the time, unhappy paragraphs of the Chairman, were omitted. But little did I think that they would be so elevated in public, and even in Ministerial estimation, that they would become the basis of that third Resolution which, as I said before, has been the source of so much solace. 1489 I admit, under circumstances of some adversity to hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The House will see that I may be able, from my knowledge of the two paragraphs in question, to throw some light on those mysterious modes by which in the third Resolution we are told that we have it in our power to vindicate our privileges, and that, in fact, it will be our own fault if those privileges are ever successfully assailed. I may say; in passing, that it is rather unfortunate, considering the tone taken by hon. Gentlemen below the gangway, that they should find their only satisfaction to-night in a Resolution which, in vindicating their privileges against the rude assault of the Lords, admits that those privileges have been endangered by the laches and negligence of the House of Commons itself. The Chairman of the late Committee in those omitted paragraphs—the only paragraphs of his draught Report which expressed an opinion and afforded remedial counsel—showed that this House had unwisely parted with its due command over the annual taxation of the country by converting annual taxes into taxes for a term; and he indicated that there were modes by which we might vindicate our ancient privileges by including the whole financial system of the year in one Bill. But it is not the House of Lords that has converted our animal taxation into a permanent taxation. It is not the House of Lords that has made that dangerous assault upon the privileges of the House of Commons. It is the Ministers in the House of Commons that have made these proposals, and it is a willing House of Commons that has sanctioned them. Probably it may be said that they were Tory Ministers, who presumed to propose and who dared to accomplish such gigantic innovations. But it was nothing of the kind. The last and greatest innovation of the kind occurred under a Whig Ministry, presided over by a statesman who had the honour and, as I think, the high privilege of sitting in the House of Commons. The Chief Minister in 1846–7 sat in this House as the Chief Minister does now, and it was the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, whose devotion to the privileges of this House is not questioned, and whose reputation for constitutional learning and constitutional spirit all will admit—who in proposing that our annual sugar taxes, to the amount of more than £5,000,000, should become perpetual, himself, by that propo- 1490 sition lessened our command over the resources of the country, and diminished proportionately our ability to vindicate our privileges. I shall, however, do the noble Lord the justice to admit that, when he made that proposition he accompanied it by a distinct statement that he acknowledged the importance and absolute necessity of the House of Commons exercising a due and efficient control over the annual taxation of the country, though he thought there were peculiar reasons, and I admit them, in the state of the sugar trade at that moment. It was a moment when great changes were taking place in our Colonies, and when the question of protection to those Colonies had assumed a character that demanded the attention of this House—why the sugar duties should become a source of permanent taxation; and he added the declaration, if not the pledge, that he would substitute for that branch of taxation annual taxes to an equivalent amount over which the House of Commons should exercise its accustomed, and beneficial control.
Well, Sir, the noble Lord was never able while he continued Minister (although he was Prime Minister for six years) to fulfil that pledge. It has been my lot upon more than one occasion to call on the noble Lord to remember that pledge. I entirely acquit the noble Lord of any negligence in the matter; he yielded to the insuperable difficulties of the case. In this country there are not only constitutional Liberals, but there are commercial Liberals. The constitutional Liberals were ready to have a control over the annual revenue of the country. The commercial Liberals and many of those who now must loudly call upon us to assert the privileges of this House, exercised such a pressure over the Minister of that day that for commercial purposes the control of this House over its annual taxation was lost.
This, then, is one of the mysterious modes in which we are for the future to vindicate our privileges when they are assailed. But I ask the commercial Liberals whether they are prepared to allow the sugar duties, the tea duties, or the malt duties to become a source of annual taxation. I have no doubt the noble Lord and many of his colleagues who love commerce well, but who love the Constitution more, may be disposed, if the House would encourage them, to restore to it its ancient control over the revenue. But, Sir, I doubt very much whether the Gentlemen who 1491 have spoken so loudly this evening in favour of our privileges would be prepared to support a Minister who should propose this important change in the mode of levying the taxation of the country.
I now come, Sir, to the second method of defending our rights suggested by my right hon. Friend, and, I take it, adopted in the Resolution—that is by insisting that the whole of our financial scheme shall be embodied in one Bill. We do not—at least I for one and the Prime Minister for another—do not question the right of the House of Lords to reject such a Bill; but of course the responsibility of such a step would, under these circumstances, be greatly enhanced, and the difficulty of disturbing the financial arrangements of the House of Commons proportionately increased. For my own part, Sir, I have no objection to such a course; I should have liked, for example, that that course should have been pursued this year; I should have liked to have had the whole scheme of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in one Bill; I should have liked to have seen the additional two-pence of income tax set down in the same Bill that was to repeal the duties on paper. Such a proceeding would have afforded us, no doubt, an opportunity for deliberation very different from the manner in which the financial measures of the Government were carried in that unhappy first month of the present Session, which we all now so bitterly and deeply repent. Is there any one present who believes that the scheme of the Minister if embodied in one comprehensive measure would have met with success. No. Not even in the frenzy of March, when we were as mad as individuals sometimes are in that month—as mad as March hares—not even then would the scheme have been passed. There are the constitutional methods pointed out in this somewhat mysterious third Resolution which were copied from the draft Report of our right hon. Chairman. There are the two constitutional methods which afford such relief to the perplexed Liberal party. You want action—this is the action that awaits you. Of these two courses, one at least must be repugnant to your great principles, and the other destroys all the schemes of the Minister whom you particularly support. I see nothing to object to in that third Resolution, and for an additional reason. The principles and policy which I strove to assert during the whole course of the Committee are embodied and expressed in this Resolution. I tried with, 1492 I am glad to say, a majority of the Committee to vindicate the just privileges of the House of Commons. I tried to uphold the constitutional truths which rendered them independent of the other House of Parliament. I tried to recall to the attention of the Committee that in our modern practice the House of Commons had unfortunately lost its ancient and due control over the annual taxation of the country.
Well, then, if I find that this third Resolution expresses my views, why am I not at liberty to support it? It appears, however, that we are not to enjoy this privilege. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made a violent attack upon us because we support the Government. "It is outrageous," says the right hon. Gentleman. "What! does a party that calls itself Conservative presume to support a Government of which I am a Member?" "I call upon you," exclaims the right hon. Gentleman, "to interfere in this matter, because a gigantic innovation has been perpetrated."
Now, Sir, I listened with great attention, and with the utmost gratification to the mature speech which has fallen from the noble Lord the head of the Government, which commenced these proceedings, and which I accepted as the wise, calm, and ample declaration of a Cabinet that had carefully and deliberately considered this important subject. I heard from the noble Lord that the House of Lords had, in the opinion of the Government, not only acted in a manner by law permitted and justified, but in accord and consonance with no less than thirty-six precedents. Now, Sir, it seems extraordinary to me that a body that acted in accordance with the authority of no fewer than thirty-six precedents, that that conduct should be described very shortly afterwards by the colleague of the First Minister as a gigantic and dangerous innovation. But the noble Lord did more than this. He made this most important communication to the House—which I believe will be a source of great satisfaction and comfort to the country to-morrow—that it was not the intention of the Government to attempt to reverse the decision of the House of Lords with regard to the paper duty. But what says the Chancellor of the Exchequer? He says:—I am going to support the Resolutions which in my opinion are utterly unfit and inadequate, because I take them as I have taken other things before, in a non-natural sense, and because, inasmuch as they are utterly passive, it necessarily ensues that they are to be followed by action.1493 Now, Sir, I should like to know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or if not from him, not from some of his colleagues, because it is possible they may not agree with him, but from some more sympathizing Member of the House who may follow in this debate—I should like to know of what the action is to consist? what is the course contemplated, and what are the views to he accomplished? Because, I myself, though I am entirely approving of the course which the Government pursued, although I think the statement of the noble Lord was dignified, impartial, and statesmanlike, equal to the occasion, and one which will give satisfaction to the country, still I have that respectful sympathy for hon. Gentlemen opposite, which one cannot help feeling for men you are in the habit of acting with, although you may not share their opinions and agree with them exactly in the case under our consideration—I want to know what balm there is for their tortured feelings? I want to know whether they may not all this time be labouring under some temporary hallucination? I want to spare them the remorse of tomorrow, when, after having summed up the wonderful experience of this night they discover that they have received only a word and not a remedy, and that action, like the action of Demosthenes, thrice repeated, may mean nothing more than what I believe the correct Greek version expresses, namely, a skilful gesture.
Well, Sir, I maintain that the charge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is utterly untenable and has no foundation. I say with the views which we entertain, and the entire approval that we give to the course of the noble Lord, it was not our duty to oppose the Resolution which we wish to support. Leaving then the right hon. Gentleman answered, I think satisfactorily upon that point, let me for a moment contemplate the position of those whom I suppose I may still, if only in courtesy, call the great Liberal party. Now, Sir, the conduct of that party to-night, especially in the attacks they made on this side of the House—the repeated wonderment which they have expressed at our taking no part in the debate, when really we thought it might have been closed hours ago with the unanimous feeling of the House—seems to me very extraordinary, even if they themselves had been prepared to second their speeches by actions so much wanted. But, Sir, that does not appear to be the case. I remember very 1494 often in old days the ridicule that has been thrown on some unhappy Member who on an important occasion has given notice of an Amendment, and who when the House was full, and its pulse beat high, and the atmosphere was loaded with rhetoric and excitement, surprised the House by withdrawing his Amendment. I have always considered that one of the most perilous and perhaps one of the most absurd positions in which an hon. Member can be placed. But now there is not one but three. There are three Richmonds in the field. There are three Amendments, and strange to say, the same sad destiny to suicide which awaited them all. That three hon. Gentlemen should be rash enough to propose Amendments is strange; but that three Gentlemen having determined to take such a course should be equally prepared to follow it up by one that must cover them with absurdity, is perhaps one of the strangest events that ever happened in the House of Commons. But what are more wonderful even than the three Amendments are the reasons given for withdrawing them. They are Amendments to the Resolutions on the table of the House, and because, to use the language of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who belong to what is called the great Liberal party, the Resolutions are mean, impotent, express nothing, and are altogether so inadequate to the occasion that it is necessary to meet to-morrow to consider what is to be done, therefore they are going to vote for the Resolutions. That is a course which is extremely perplexing to comprehend. But see the aggregate of the circumstances that render the position of these hon. Gentlemen contradictory, inconsistent, incoherent, and I might even say absurd. It is that they have had the whole debate to themselves. It is not that they have not enjoyed the opportunity, that they have not availed themselves of the occasion to vindicate their course and to explain it, in the words of the hon. Gentleman who preceded me in the debate with absolute lucidity. Every advantage that men could have in demonstration, illustration, and repetition they have had, and the only consequence of the monopoly of the debate which a party professing free trade principles have enjoyed is that, being unaccustomed to monopoly, they know not how to deal with that portentous implement. Having, however, had the whole debate to themselves, and having conducted it with an ability still more remarkable, because they have not had the 1495 advantage of replying to any one, they have so managed affairs that they have brought forward three Amendments and withdrawn them because those Resolutions are in their opinion mean, inadequate, and imbecile. I forgot to do justice to the hon. Member for Banbury: for besides the three Amendments, the hon. Gentleman, with an ingenuousness which, considering the circumstances appeared to he marvellous—the hon. Member for Banbury informed us that he also had prepared an Amendment, but had not thought fit to place it on the table of the House. I think. Sir, the hon. Member must have blessed his stars for his prudence, and I think he has very good cause.
Now, Sir, I have touched with the impartiality which the noble Lord claimed for himself to-night on the unjust remarks on the conduct of Her Majesty's Opposition. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, not satisfied with answering the Prime Minister, fell foul of the Opposition, because they did not follow him and assist him in the unseemly fray. The organized opposition below the gangway apparently not yet experienced in opposition, trembling over their own Amendments and getting up successfully answers to themselves—not satisfied with the result of the debate, can do nothing else to get themselves out of the scrape, but turn round and abuse the Opposition on account of their silence. There are moments. Sir, when silence is, I think, the better part of valour. Fine things, indeed, might be said of the virtue of silence, and I recommend hon. Gentlemen to consult the Greek sages and Greek poets, and they will find how inconsistent is the course pursued by hon. Gentlemen opposite in their unauthorised attacks upon hon. Gentlemen here for their silence. But that attack never in my mind assumed a form of grosser injustice than in the speech of the hon. Gentleman who preceded me. He deplored the loss of the Reform Bill, and attributed that loss either to the silence or the speeches (for he spoke rather ambiguously) of the Opposition. And then the hon. Gentleman read us a great lecture, dealing with the future with all that liberality which distinguishes the prophets of the new school, and fastening on our heads the defeat of that measure of Reform, for the discomfiture of which he said the noble Lord the Member for the City of London was blame-less. But is it true that the Reform Bill was defeated either by the silence or the 1496 speeches of the Opposition? Why, there were troops of orators on the other side who opposed the Bill, and not the least eloquent of those who distinguished themselves on that occasion was a young Knight who won his spurs with great distinction, and who to-night maintained that reputation with an ability which I am only too glad to acknowledge. Who was that hon. Gentleman? It was the hon. Gentleman who preceded me in the debate. The hon. Member said he should vote for the Government measure, and he made an able speech to show that it was a most inadequate and injurious measure. I believe that the hon. Member has taken the same course upon both these questions. What the hon. Member wanted was something that would lead to action; and I think he will observe there will be about as much action on these Resolutions as there was on the late Reform Bill.
§ MR. STANSFELD
Sir, I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I feel it my duty to explain to the House that the right hon. Gentleman has misrepresented what I said on both the occasions to which he has been referring. It will be in the recollection of hon. Members who were present on these occasions that I said that I intended to support the measure of the Government, but that I went further than that which was expressed in the measure of the Government, and it will also be in the recollection of the House that I did not attribute the loss of the Bill entirely to the speeches of hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House, but I attributed the loss of that Bill partly to defections in the ranks of the liberal party. I only feel it an net of justice to myself to make this explanation in reference to the remarks which the right hon. Gentleman has just addressed to the House.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I confess, Sir, I did not expect to hear another speech on the Reform Bill in the present Session. I am sorry if I have misapprehended the hon. Gentleman, but it is not very material to the case.
Well, Sir, I venture to express the hope that I have stated the reasons which induce me and those who sit near me to give our cordial support to the Government on this occasion. It would have been just as well not to have had a Committee of precedents, and then we should not have needed any Resolutions. It is, however, of no use to regret the past. The Committee on their part have done their duty, and have 1497 placed before us a Report of great value. It will be an addition to our library, the value of which cannot be over-estimated; the Resolutions are a necessary consequence of that Committee. I think that these Resolutions express a temperate and wise course on the part of this House. If they vindicate the privileges of this House in language which may be criticised for its precision, but which is still language used by our predecessors on memorable occasions, and if they assert more than they practically maintain, I should still think it unwise to alter language of which the popular interpretation is one favourable to the maintenance of the just privileges of the House of Commons.
I think that the second Resolution, with all its qualified terms, admits distinctly and deliberately the power of the House of Lords to reject Money Bills; and no other power for a moment have I claimed. They have not the power to originate, alter, or amend Money Bills, but the power to reject Money Bills must be theirs, or the Constitution of England, of which we hear so much, must instantly change.
We have heard, Sir, very much of late of new principles of taxation of very dangerous import in my mind, but which, fortunately for this country, will no longer be submitted to a new Parliament elected by a new and inexperienced constituency. But, if new principles of taxation ever come into fashion, I will suppose for a moment the House of Commons passing a Money Bill which taxes at a higher rate the estates of the House of Lords. Are we to maintain that the House of Lords are not to have the power of rejecting that Bill, and that it may not alter or amend it. A Bill may then pass this House which lays a peculiar and large charge on the estates of the House of Lords, for such Bills have passed before, and we are now told that the House of Lords would be deprived of the security they possess against an unjust imposition of taxation which all feel to be the greatest grievance. I think the second Resolution, distinctly acknowledging the right of the House of Lords to reject Money Bills, is a Resolution which we, as a Conservative party, ought to support.
Then, Sir, the third Resolution, though vaguely, and from the nature of the subject, necessarily vaguely expressed, is only an intimation of a recurrence to those constitutional courses in fiscal subjects and money affairs which I think it would well 1498 become this Housed to consider whether it might not adopt. If any proposition of that kind be made to the House I anticipate from Gentlemen opposite much more opposition to it than from Gentlemen on this side of the House.
That, then, being the nature of the three Resolutions, I ask the House whether it is not our duty not only to support, but to support cheerfully the Minister who has proposed them, and who in making the proposition has made it in a spirit equal to the occasion, and free from all party and petty considerations? One observation has been made to-night which I cannot pass entirely unnoticed; for if the policy which many hon. Gentlemen opposite have recommended were to prevail, the critical influence of a Senate on subjects of finance would entirely cease, and it becomes a question whether the absence of such critical influence is in harmony with the rest of our Constitution, and might not be extremely injurious to the public welfare. The hon. Member for Birmingham was reminded to-night when my right hon. Friend spoke, that the Senate of America has the power of rejecting Money Bills, and not only that, but of altering and amending them. The hon. Member for Birmingham immediately said across the floor that that is an elected body.
Now, a very important consideration occurs. If it be advisable that some control, modified, and wisely fenced in as it is by the privileges of this House, should be exercised by what we call the Senate of this country over the popular branch of the Legislature with respect to money matters, are we to conclude that that control can only be entrusted to an elected Senate? Thus, the hon. Member for Birmingham and his friends have changed the issue before us, and what we really then have to consider is, if we have a Senate, whether it should be an elected or an hereditary one. Now, Sir, I am in favour of maintaining the hereditary Senate of this country, I would not entrust the large powers which the Senate of America possesses, and of which the hon. Gentleman reminds us, to any elected body. Whatever control the House of Lords possesses in matters of finance, I wish it to possess as an hereditary body, while we guard ourselves against any undue or unwise exercise of that control by the privileges of the House of Commons—privileges acknowledged for centuries, and which, whenever assailed, we find ourselves able to up- 1499 hold and vindicate. The test of privilege is that it can be asserted. The hon. Member for Birmingham will pardon me for this reference, because he told me that when it was said that he wanted to Americanize the institutions of this country he did not know what the expression meant. To-night the hon. Member has explained what he meant; it is a Senate that should be elected, and not hereditary; and now that the consideration of the question has been introduced, I trust that the House, by supporting the Government Resolutions, will show that it is prepared to uphold the privileges not only of this House, but of all the estates of the realm, which the Constitution has hitherto acknowledged, and under which this country has so eminently flourished.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
Sir, I must, in the first place, express, on the behalf of the Government, their gratitude for the support given by the right hon. Gentleman to my noble Friend's Resolution and speech; and, Sir, I may, at the same time, vindicate my noble Friend's speech and Resolutions from the interpretation which the right hon. Gentleman has been pleased to put upon them. Now, Sir, no doubt the right hon. Gentleman is in a position of considerable difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman, as a Member of this House, and as leading a great number of Gentlemen on the Opposition side, can hardly abandon any of the ancient rights or privileges of this House. But Lord Derby is connected with the right hon. Gentleman; and so, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman can hardly abandon Lord Derby in the course he has thought proper to pursue.
Now, Sir, in consequence of this position, the right hon. Gentleman, I think, has placed an interpretation on my noble Friend's words which they do not bear. The right hon. Gentleman said that my noble Friend had admitted that the act of the House of Lords, in rejecting the Paper Duty Repeal Bill, was not only justified by law, but by constitutional usage. My noble Friend must know the danger of candour exhibited towards an adversary; and a greater proof of that could not be afforded, than by what has taken place tonight. What my noble Friend said was, that with respect to the technical right of rejecting any Bill that may come before the House of Lords, there could be no question that that right belonged to the House of Lords. So far as the technical right goes, my noble Friend, no doubt, 1500 made that admission; but with respect to the policy, my noble Friend, going as far as possible in charity to the opposition which the Paper Duty Repeal Bill met with, said that he believed that the majority of the House of Lords that defeated that Bill, did not so because they wished to take a general power over the finances of the country, but because, in this particular case, they conceived themselves justified by policy. That was, I submit, Sir, giving them the utmost credit for the motives by which they were governed; but it was very different from saying that, in my noble Friend's opinion, policy justified the course pursued by the House of Lords; because, if that had been his opinion, the President of the Council would hardly have been the person to propose the Bill to the House of Lords. But the right hon. Gentleman, taking advantage of the statement of my noble Friend, has contended that not only was the House of Lords justified in what it has done within the technical confines of law, but also that it was justified by custom.
I must say, Sir, that for 200 years there is no instance of the House of Lords having exercised such a power as that which it exerted on a recent occasion. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Resolutions, and gave the House his own interpretation of them. The first Resolution points out that the right of granting aid and Supplies to the Crown is an essential part of the Constitution. The grants in aid to the Crown are not in this country in the form of imposing taxes. There is no power in the Crown of imposing taxes; neither is there any such power in the House of Lords: but there is in the Commons the power of granting a part of that which is their own. If that be the case, then, what a strange anomaly it is that from the 15th of August next a tax of more than £1,000,000 a year is to be levied, not on the authority of the Commons, or of the Crown, but on the authority of the House of Lords alone. The right hon. Gentleman says the second Resolution admits the power of the Lords to do what they have done; but at the same time it states that the exercise of that power has always been regarded with peculiar jealousy. Why, I ask, with peculiar jealousy? If the Lords have done what is quite right and usual, and if there be many precedents for what they have done, surely there is no reason for jealousy? But, Sir, we regard these acts of the Lords with 1501 peculiar jealousy, because they are not usual; and because they are not the proper functions of the Lords. The House of Commons have it in their power to reject the Mutiny Bill; and if we were to do so, no one could say we had gone beyond our powers; but that would be an act of very great indiscretion on our part, unless it were done under circumstances of overwhelming danger; such as the Sovereign attempting, by means of a standing army, to put down the liberties of the people. In such circumstances only would the Act be justifiable. That, Sir, is the way in which I view this Act of the House of Lords. It is one that could only be justified by very extraordinary circumstances. If this had occurred when the Duke of Wellington was leader of the House of Lords, I should have believed that there was in his mind some extraordinary case of necessity that led him to take such a course. He would only have been led to do it from what he considered the peculiar circumstances of the case; but as the House of Lords is now led, I have no such confidence. I believe, on the contrary, that this is a rash and unjustifiable proceeding, and which may be followed by others unless the House of Commons should interpose.
The right hon. Gentleman, moreover, says we rashly and hastily appointed a Committee to search for precedents. Then why did not the right hon. Gentleman oppose the appointment of that Committee? The right hon. Gentleman, seeing nothing extraordinary or unjustifiable in the rejection of the Paper Duty Repeal Bill, should have said that there was no call for the appointment of any such Committee. But he took no such course. The appointment of a Committee was in itself a declaration that something extraordinary and unusual had occurred, and that the House of Lords had stepped out of the usual path of the Constitution; but it is only now that we hear the right hon. Gentleman describing the appointment of that Committee as a rash and hasty measure. Certainly it was rashly and hastily done if it were true that the House of Lords have only done what is usual, and acted within the rule of the Constitution; for in such a case there could be no need for the appointment of any Committee. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) has animadverted on the circumstance that so much stress has been laid on the amount of the tax proposed to be remitted. Now, Sir, we can easily understand that on questions affecting a very 1502 small amount of taxation—as, for example, the duty on salt used for manure—the House of Commons may have allowed the interference of the Lords to pass on account of the insignificance of the sum; but when it comes to be a question of upwards of a million, we are bound to consider the question seriously. If the House of Lords reject a Bill for relieving taxation to the extent of £1,000,000, may they not do so to the extent of £10,000,000? And might they not have rejected the whole of the £70,000,000 of taxes that have been remitted since the year 1815? If the House of Lords have power to do that, then it is a total change in our Constitution. It would be an entirely new form of Government under which we now live, but one in which the House of Lords, having no representative character, would have the power of taxing the people; and it would be an overturning of the state of things that has existed not for 200, but for 400 years. The right hon. Gentleman says the last paragraph is, in fact, little more than the last paragraph of the Report as drawn up by the Chairman of the Committee. There is, however, I maintain, a great distinction between them. I myself found fault with the last paragraph of the proposed Report of the Chairman, because I thought it would have appeared to give up all our powers, and left the House of Commons in a state of dependency.
But, Sir, the Resolution, as it stands, affirms that this House has the power to guard for the future against an undue exercise of the power claimed by the House of Lords; that, in short, the power is completely in the hands of the House of Commons. That, of course, means a great deal. It means, Sir, that the House of Lords may, in the future, resort to an undue exercise of power; and that if they do, the House of Commons has the means to prevent that undue exercise of power. It would have been unwise to state in detail what are the means by which that power may be exercised. Some Gentlemen may have one opinion, and others another on this point; but it is quite clear that in one way or other the House of Commons has the means, when it thinks proper, to vindicate its rights and privileges.
The first question, Sir, with us is, whether the House of Commons has always had this control over the taxation of the country; and the second is, whether it is right that we should retain it. The hon. Member for Birmingham proposed to the 1503 Committee a statement that contained the usual practice. It is the duty of the Sovereign to ask for a Supply, and it is the duty of the House of Commons to furnish that Supply. The Speaker carries to the Sovereign, in the House of Lords, the Bill which provides for that Supply. Nay more, the House of Lords, on sending down for the Estimates, has been refused those Estimates by this House. A very remarkable case occurred in 1786, when Mr. Pitt was Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was proposed that a quarter of a million should be applied every three months to the redemption of the National Debt, and there was a question in the House of Lords whether any such surplus was likely to arise. It was argued that the real surplus of the year was not £1,000,000, but only £25,000; and it was said there, "In order to be able to judge of the matter, let us send to the House of Commons for the documents showing the expenditure and the income; the mode in which the £1,000,000 is expected to accrue, otherwise, instead of having a surplus of that amount, we may have a deficiency of more than £900,000 to make up." If the House of Lords had been made the judge of the expenditure, and of the sums necessary to be raised for the maintenance of the national credit, nothing could have been fairer and more natural than the proposal; but as soon as the message came to the House, Mr. Pitt proposed an answer by which this House refused to give any information.
I believe, therefore, that according to all former practice of the Constitution, the whole question of granting is in the House of Commons. As Lord Chatham said, "We give and grant what is our own." We balance the expenditure with the revenue. If the House of Lords have any doubt upon that, they ought to rely in confidence on the House of Commons that any such deficiency will be made good. That was the manner in which the Duke of Wellington and the majority of the House of Lords acted in 1839. A deficiency may be had for the House of Commons; it may be had for the Minister; but it was not for the Lords, upon their own calculation, to supply what they think a deficiency. But would it be any improvement for the House of Lords to have that power? The right hon. Gentleman opposite quoted a passage from Lord Macaulay, in which he expressed an opinion that that would not excite any great amount of discontent amongst the people at large. That may be quite true; 1504 but I do not think that such a change could exist for a year, nor for six months probably without exciting the greatest discontent. Suppose the House of Commons next year reduced the wine duties. The merchant would import his wines, great consumption would take place; but if the Lords were to say it is not fitting to make that change, and were to refuse to sanction it, the whole commerce in wine would be thrown into confusion. It is impossible that such things could take place without the whole commerce of the country being disturbed. I suppose it would hardly be said that we should not have a concurrent power, that the sole power of taxing should be in the House of Lords; but I believe, Sir, that that would be a far better change than that the two Houses should have a concurrent control of the finances. It is, therefore, not only true that with regard to all past time, ever since our Constitution was a Constitution, we have had this power of regulating the finances; but it is true likewise that if we were to part with this power—if the House of Lords were to be admitted into partnership in it, the consequences must be utter confusion in our finances. The remission or imposition of taxation would be in a perpetual state of uncertainty; each House would endeavour to take off the tax which was most unpopular, thereby to gain for themselves popular credit and applause, and the popular sympathies of the country.
Then, Sir, as to the question of the indifference of public feeling on this question, I say it is because our powers and functions are considered settled and safe, that so little alarm is felt as to our maintaining our rights against the Lords. It was only the other day that I read that when a question of privilege arose on Charles I. coming to ask for the five Members, some 5,000 men came from Buckinghamshire, in order to defend their Member against any breach of privilege in his person. The right hon. Gentleman the present Member for Bucks needs no such escort; he and the other Members of this House are quite secure in their persons. The difference is this—that at that time our privilege was supposed to be in danger; at the present time it is believed to be perfectly safe.
But, Sir, although that is the case, it is our business to see that there is not a change in the Constitution, according to which the power of the House of Commons to give, and grant, and regulate the 1505 finances of the country should be transferred from the House of Commons to the Senate, which is a non-elected body. That is not the case in America, because those who exercise the power there are either directly or indirectly representatives of the people or of those who represent the people. The only Constitution with which I am acquainted under which that practice prevails is the Constitution of Prussia, where the Estimates and the expenditure are laid before the Senate, and voted by them; but no such Constitution, of course, could be adopted in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman in the latter part of his speech alluded to some new plan of taxation, by which landed property particularly was to be made to bear the whole burden of taxation. Whatever plans of the sort may be proposed for the future, that, at least, is not the case of the history of the present year. What we have been doing for many years past has been to diminish the Excise and Customs duties, and, at the same time, to provide means for the service of the year to allow time for the Excise and Customs to recover themselves. So far from increasing direct taxes and diminishing indirect taxes, the Customs and Excise, which some years ago were £33,000,000, are now £44,000,000. That increase has shown the wisdom of the financial policy adopted for many years past by this House. Since the year 1815, we have got rid of the taxes on such things as salt, leather, candles, glass, soap, and other articles of general consumption, and, at the same time, we have increased not only the general productiveness of the revenue, but especially that part of it which is derived from indirect taxes. The abolition of the paper duty was a measure quite in conformity with the measures adopted in former years. It was a measure of the same nature as the abolition of the taxes on bricks, soap, and glass. It should have been adopted on the same authority as those measures, and if it had been, I have no doubt it would have been followed by the same results. We are, therefore, obliged to ask in what view of finance that measure was rejected. It cannot be because a deficiency was apprehended, because the Lords had not sufficient information on that point. They could not tell what would be the total expenditure voted for the year, nor what would be the total Ways and Means provided. It may be that the vote was given in another sense— 1506 namely, to put a stop to the wise and healthy measures of finance which have been adopted in former years, to prevent industry being relieved in future years, and to continue taxes on articles of consumption. If any disproportionate taxes had been proposed on land, there might, perhaps, have been some excuse. But there is nothing of the sort; and if this vote was given merely to stop the wise legislation which has been adopted in former years, to prevent us following the path which Sir Robert Peel asked us to follow, and to leave industry as much fettered as possible in future years, it is an additional reason for jealousy in this House.
The right hon. Gentleman at the end of his speech intimated that he should be ready to consider any plan by which the House might in future vindicate its powers of taxation. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will be ready to vindicate our powers. These Resolutions state moderately but firmly what those powers are, and what it is we shall endeavour to maintain. The right hon. Gentleman said, and said truly, that the speech of my noble Friend was, in part of it at least, statesmanlike, patriotic, and dignified. It was statesmanlike, patriotic, and dignified, because it met the case, and went no further than the occasion required, being intended to provide a remedy for the evil we have suffered, and a security against danger for the future. But my noble Friend did not attempt to thrust a defiance against the House of Lords, nor did he propose, by mere Resolutions, to enter upon a conflict with the other branch of the Legislature. However indiscreet the House of Lords may have been upon this occasion, it is our duty to continue in a calm and even course, and I should be very sorry that these acts should at all endanger or weaken the authority of the House of Lords—a great branch of the Legislature, highly important in its place, as I trust it may ever remain.
§ MR. BRIGHT
I am desirous of asking the noble Lord at the head of the Government when the debate will be resumed.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
In answer to the question which has been put to me by the hon. Member for Birmingham, I can only say that if the hon. Member is desirous of expressing his views upon the Resolutions which I have proposed, he is 1507 entitled to do so; and, under these circumstances, I propose that the debate be resumed this day (Friday).
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at a quarter after Two o'clock,