HC Deb 04 August 1893 vol 15 cc1381-96
MR. STOREY () Sunderland

said, he rose to move— That it is desirable in the public interest and for the promotion of necessary legislation that any Bill which has twice passed this House, but has failed to pass elsewhere, should become Law if with the support of the Government of the day it shall again pass through the House of Commons in the same Parliament and should receive the assent of the Crown. In proposing this Resolution he founded himself upon two propositions: In the first place, our Government had existed for more than 500 years, and had lasted so long because the political genius of the people had altered and developed it to meet the varied needs and desires of each succeeding generation; and, secondly, because present circumstances made it absolutely necessary there should be a further development.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


said, he proposed to establish these two propositions by drawing the attention of the House to the remarkable changes that had taken place so far as two of the governing powers of the State were concerned—he referred to the Crown and the Commons. Now, as to these two essential portions of the Government there had been remarkable changes, and changes in the direction of development. The Crown remained, but its claims and powers had been modified in all directions. The Crown once claimed to rule by right divine; now it was content to reign by right of Parliamentary arrangement. Of old it claimed to initiate Rills, and all the two Houses had to do was to assent to them; now the initiation of Bills remained with the two Houses, and assent rested with the Crown. Of old the Crown claimed to tax without the consent of Parliament; now Parliament taxed without consent of the Crown. Of old it claimed to imprison without law; now no one could be put in jeopardy —in this country, at any rate—but by due process of law. Fifthly, the Crown down to 1780 claimed to choose Ministers; nowadays that duty rested with the House of Commons. Of old the Crown claimed to veto Bills; now the Crown practically assented to the Bills passed by the two Houses of Parliament becoming the law of the land. He thought, therefore, he was correct in saying that the Crown had there been popularised. It had lost in power, but had gained in popularity by adapting itself to the ideas and to the needs of the present time, the keynote of our political philosophy being that the Crown existed for the people and not the people for the Crown. How was it with Parliament? Had there been change there, and had been development? In the process of centuries the House of Commons had there taken to itself the power of the purse, by which it controlled the Government of the country, the rise and fall of Ministries, and the Dissolution of Parliaments. The Commons claimed—and he trusted they would sustain the claim—to determine, through the action of Ministers, the time of Dissolution, refusing to concede to any power outside the walls of this Chamber the right to say when the Commons should go back to the country. These were remarkable changes, but not more remarkable than those which had been made in the Constitution. It could not be said by any man who would read history aright that up to 1832 the Commons of England represented the people of England. He had a curious analysis which had been made of the House of Commons as it existed in this country in the year 1816. In that year —the year after the great French War—there were 658 Members of that honourable House, and of those 301 were elected by the direct choice of the Members of the House of Lords, 117 were elected by gentlemen in the House under the control of Members of the House of Lords, 14 Members were elected directly by the Crown, and of the whole 658 only 171, or a little over one-fourth of the whole, could be called the Representatives of the free and independent electors of the country. The Act of 1832 made a difference, as did the Act of 1867 and the Act of 1884, and in the last-named year they came to this position for the first time: that, broadly, they could say that the House of Commons represented the large proportion of the grown men of the country, and there were many who thought that until the Commons were elected by all grown-up people, each possessing one vote, we should not have come to the end of the chapter. Now, he thought he had established the proposition that enormous changes had been made as to the position of the Crown and as to the position of the Commons. The Commons stood now representative in the main of the Bill. The Crown stood now as the honoured servant of the people. How was it with the House of Lords? Had there been any development there? No. Whilst the Crown had been popularised, and whilst the House of Commons had been popularised, the House of Lords had exhibited not progression but retrogression. Originally summoned as of grace by the Crown, noble Lords now claimed to be summoned as of right. Secondly, in its origin and its early history, the House of Lords was non-hereditary in the main, but it had become hereditary in the main. Of old it contained a majority, sometimes of one political Party and sometimes of another; but now the great majority of the Peers was of one political Party, and the House had degenerated into a Tory Club. The House of Lords claimed now to possess the power of permanent veto—a power which the English Commons would never permit to be exercised by a King, and yet one which was claimed to be exercised by the 500 kinglets of the other House. And now the Leader of the other House had for the first time claimed the power of decreeing when, and how, and where the Dissolution of the House of Commons should take place. He called this not progression but retrogression, and he invited the House to consider that, whilst the House of Commons had popularised itself by bending to and placing itself in accord with the will of the people, and had thereby become more powerful than ever, the other House had retrogressed until it had lost all touch with popular feelings and wishes. We had a House elected by the people and a House not elected by the people, and what was the result—what was the result upon the Crown? Why, that it could not depend upon both Houses being in harmony with the nation's views at any time. They had the spectacle of gentlemen agreeing to a Bill who did not themselves think it was good for the nation. The consequence was that the Crown could not obtain the counsel and assistance of the wisest and best and most experienced of its subjects. The House of Lords put forward a claim to review the work of the House of Commons, and when objection was taken to their doing so they pleaded time and usage in their favour. But in 1641 the sturdy Parliamentarians informed the King that they could not admit time and usage as pleas in support of encroachments upon the liberties of the people. He should be inclined in 1893 to say that when they had popularised the Crown and popularised the Commons they should do their best to bring the House of Lords in line with the popular inclinations and desires of the times. What was the complexion of the other House—which claimed to decide, and to decide permanently, what should be the fate of Bills in the House of Commons? He found that the House of Lords consisted of five or six Princes of the Blood, 26 Bishops and Archbishops, 16 Scotch Peers, 28 Irish Peers, four or five Law Lords, and about 470 other gentlemen. The Bishops and Archbishops represented the Church of England. But the Church of England did not stand alone—there were other Churches as great and as pious and as useful, and yet they were all without representation in the House of Lords. The Scotch Representative Peer did not represent the Scotch people, nor the Irish Representative Peers the people of Ireland. It was, however, a far more serious thing that the House of Lords, which in the old days contained a fair proportion of all Parties in the State, and which—notably in 1688— honourably distinguished itself by standing on the side of the people, was now entirely a Tory Assembly. No Liberal measure of importance could be passed through it. The House of Lords did not reflect the changing opinions of the people of England, sometimes Whig and sometimes Radical, and sometimes Tory. Whatever the opinions of the people might be, the House of Lords remained representative of the Tory Party only. The House of Lords claimed to exercise a perpetual veto—a veto being a thing which the House would never accord to Kings. A suspensory veto they had, but the House of Commons had always resisted the attempt of the other House to say that the House of Commons should not have its way. And it was now too much for these 500 kinglets to claim the right to say that such and such a thing should not be. There were hon. Members listening to him who would say that this never happened in practice. But he would undertake to prove before he finished, by reference to historical facts, that that did happen in practice, and that the House of Lords had claimed, and successfully claimed through a whole generation, to prevent the House of Commons, which represented the people, from carrying out the views at which it had arrived. It was said at the present juncture that the House of Lords would compel this House to dissolve. Well, without entering into controversial matter, he desired to say that it must lie apparent to everyone who chose to consider the matter from a political point of view that the House which held the purse possessed a strong weapon; but the Body which had the power to dictate to the House which held the purse possessed the stronger power, and would lie master. He apologised for having expatiated on these points, but he wanted to show that the general run of events as to the Crown had been to bring it into accord with the people, and the general run of events as to the Commons had been to make the House really representative of the people, whilst the general run of events and the claims on the part of the other House had been to put them out of harmony with the people, and to bring them into antagonism with the other two powers which governed the country. Surely it was an anomaly to have, on the one hand, the Crown depending on the people, and, on the other, the unelected House of Lords, which was not dependent on the people, saying that it would choose its own time to accede to what the Commons had agreed to and what the Crown was willing to accept. But the answer to that was plain. The answer, in English, was—"Well, it is an anomaly, but from a commonsense point of view does it work?" A Member of the House the other day said to him—"Whenever I am told here that a thing is an anomaly, I vote for it straight away, because I know that of all things an Englishman loves, the thing he loves dearest is an anomaly." Certainly it was an anomaly that they should possess a House of Lords thus constituted. Did it work? If he thought it did, he would sit down—because he was an Englishman himself, and he frankly admitted that he did not care twopence whether a thing was an anomaly or not if it practically worked for good and improved the condition of the people of the country. Did it work? Yes; the arrangements between the Lords and Commons at the present time worked. They worked to prevent or delay all reform, to produce weak and insufficient measures on the part of the Liberal Ministries, and to keep the House of Commons for ever spending its time and strength in amending what had been badly done. Mr. John Bright had said, near the end of a long life of usefulness— I am scarcely able to discover one single measure important to English freedom which has come from the voluntary consent and good will of the Lords. ["Oh!"] He was tempted to say, by that expression of dissent from hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), whose absence he deplored and whose support he had naturally expected, not very long ago said— The atmosphere of the House of Lords is detrimental to Liberal legislation. The Bills which we have prepared with so much care and labour meet in these exalted regions with a most inhospitable treatment. They are frequently massacred; they are frequently maltreated, and they are generally so mutilated and disfigured that they are past all recognition. That, he took it, was literally true. The answer given was that the House of Lords passed the Bills at last. But how "at last?" Hon. Members in the House of Commons spent their energy; they spent their strength and intellect year after year in trying to give effect to the principles which they believed in; but the Bills passed by them were thrown out again and again in another place. And still they were told that the House of Lords passed the Bills at last. Well, he should be able to show before he had done what that "at last" meant. What did that mean? He was tempted to ask the House what was the use of a Second Chamber? There were some hon. Members near him who did not believe in a Second Chamber. He did not know that he disagreed with those hon. Members; but he would, for the moment, argue as though a Second Chamber was necessary. What was the use of a Second Chamber? Its use was to review the hasty—it might be the ill-considered—legislation of the House of Commons. Lord Salisbury had said about a year ago of the House of Lords— All it does is to suspend a matter for the decision and solemn judgment of the country. He agreed with Lord Salisbury that this was the duty of the Second Chamber. If we had a second House of that kind he, for one, would never make any complaint whatever. Then Lord Salisbury said— No one can assert that the House of Lords has ever attempted to set up any other opinion as supreme in this country except the opinion of the nation itself. Well, of all the shocking utterances ever made by a noble Lord, he had never heard one to exceed that. Was the statement true in fact? The House of Lords had never, in 60 years, passed a complete and sufficient measure. It had persisted in obtruding its own ideas and prejudices into every measure passed by the Commons. He had taken the trouble to extract the history of a few of the measures that had been passed, or attempted to be passed, in the last 60 years. Out of about 50 cases, he had extracted 12 relating to all sorts of things and all portions of the population. He would take first the case of Irish municipal reform. In 1837 the Commons passed an Irish Muuicipal Reform Bill, and they passed it again in 1838 and in 1839. Yet, in 1893, Irish municipal reform still remained unachieved. Next there was the case of Irish laud. It was in 1843, when he was three years old, that the Devon Commission reported on the condition of Irish laud, and claimed that there should be immediate reform. In 1845 Lord Stanley, afterwards the Earl of Derby, passed through the Commons a Bill for compensation for Irish tenants. In 1854 a similar Bill was passed by a private Member, and it was not till 1870 that his right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) was able to pass his moderate and insufficient Bill, nor till 1881 that it could be said that the Commons had really made an honest effort to deal with the question of Irish land. So that there was a period of 56 years as to the Irish municipal franchise, and one of 25 years as to Irish land, between the time when the Commons first passed a Bill and the time when a measure was passed by the Lords. Then there was Catholic Emancipation. The Commons passed a Catholic Emancipation Bill in 1821; the House of Lords could not or would not pass it till 1829, and why it passed then history recorded. That was a period of eight years. A Bill for the abolition of University tests was passed by the Commons in 1834, and again in 1868, 1869, 1870, and 1871. In 1871 the other House pleased to pass it. The period between the first time when the Commons passed the Bill and the time when the Lords passed it was 37 years—the average life of a man. A Bill for dealing with Irish tithes was passed by the Commons in 1837 by a majority that must make the mouth of the Chancellor of the Exchequer water —a majority of 229 to 14. The other House could not be induced to pass the Bill till 1858—a period of 21 years. The Commons passed a Bill for the abolition of Church rates in 1855, and again in 1856, 1858, 1860, 1867, and 1869. In 1869 the other House registered the decree that the Commons had so long ago made, and after a period of 14 years Church rates were abolished. Then there was the case of the Burials Bill, which simply claimed that Nonconformists should be buried as decently as their neighbours. The Commons passed the Bill in 1873, and it was not till 1880—seven years after—that the other House could be induced to pass it. The Commons passed a Bill to relieve the Jews of disabilities in 1833; but the other House could not be induced to register that decree till 1858—a period of 25 years. In 1792 the Commons resolved in favour of the emancipation of slaves, and it was not till 1807–15 years later—that the other House could be brought to adopt the same view as the elected Representatives of the people. It was the Christian law in this country for a long period that a man who stole 5s. from a shop should be hanged. In 1810 the Commons passed a Bill putting an end to this enormity; but it was 10years later before the other House could be persuaded to adopt the same measure. Then there was the case of public education. In 1807, on the proposition of Mr. Whitbread, one of the most honourable Members of Parliament that ever existed in this country, a Bill was passed providing for the education of the common people. That Bill was defeated in the other House twice, and when Lord Brougham brought into the other House a Bill for a similar purpose it was only admitted to a First Heading. It was not till 1870 that the other House could be induced to act with the Commons in making provision for public education. Lastly, he must instance what was, he thought, the most atrocious case of all. He hoped the House would not laugh when he gave the familiar instance of the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill. The Prime Minister described the successful opposition to that Bill many years ago as ruinous. That Bill had been before Parliament for nearly 50 years, and although it had passed the Commons seven times and had received the support of the Commons in one form or another 18 times, the Lords—and principally the Bishops— still stood in opposition to so simple a reform. The House of Review ought to be a House which reviewed and amended and, after a decent interval, passed; but the other House, through all its history, had been a House which retarded and destroyed, and, where it could not destroy, mutilated, the best efforts the Commons were able to make. This being the history of the past, what did the House and the Government expect would be the history of the future? There were great measures to pass. There was a Home Rule Bill. Would the Home Rule Bill be treated differently from other measures? There were some things that Radicals like himself cared for more even than for Home Rule. There was the question of the English laud. Did anybody believe that the House of Lords, as at present constituted, would act differently as to laud reform than it had done in the past? There was the question of religious equality. Would the other House treat that question differently from the way in which it had treated other questions? As it was in the beginning, and was now, so it ever would be unless a radical change were effected. He saw an hon. Member near him who said that the change he proposed was a very weak one. He did not agree with his hon. Friend. He thought he would be in Order in asking what were the remedies his hon. Friends proposed. One man said—"Abolish the Lords." That would be no better than a revolution. [Sir R. TEMPLE: Hear, hear!] A revolution in this country was not effected in a short period without the effusion of blood; and he was sure that neither the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Temple) nor himself was inclined to shed any blood in this matter. They would not even descend to fisticuffs. Joking apart, he asked the House to consider what was the remedy. Not only Radicals, but many worthy Conservatives, would admit that the want of relation between the Commons and the Lords was an undesirable thing. He would like to know how the Lords were going to be abolished? He was not going to run his head against that wall, if he could find any other way out of the difficulty. He knew what the old-fashioned prejudices of Englishmen were. There was nothing that was more truly said about his unfortunate countrymen than that they "dearly loved a lord." He would point out to his Radical friends that if they did achieve the abolition of the Lords they could not get much further, because they would be face to face with a much more difficult problem. Were they going to have a Second House or not? If not, they would find a great many people against them, and if they were they would make masters for themselves instead of servants. His hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) said that his remedy would be to make Peers. Let the House just think of it! In 1832 the Reform Bill was passed by threatening to make 40 Peers. He wondered how many Members of the House would be prepared to make the number of Peers that they (the Radical Party) would consider necessary. If they took the 550 Peers, 500 would be found on one side and 50 on the other. Did anybody want to make 500 Peers? He frankly confessed that he would not make 500 Peers, even if they were all like the hon. Member for Northampton. He would, of course, trust the hon. Member himself; but if he had a son they could not say what he would do, and the last state of the other House might be worse than the first. Another proposal was that the Crown should summon only such Peers as it willed; but there might be difficulties about that proceeding, and his own remedy was preferable to either. Suppose the House of Commons passed the Home Rule Bill this year, and the Lords threw it out. If it went up from the Commons to the Lords a second time and was again rejected, it would then, under this proposal, pass into law upon receiving the assent of the Crown.

An hon. MEMBER

How about the people?


said, he had, perhaps, been unfortunate in his selection of a Bill; but he would take as an illustration the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill. Could any hon. Gentleman give any sufficient reason why that Bill should not pass into law? Other Bills had taken 10, 20, 30, and even 40 years to pass; and, on the average, no Bill of any importance passed under five or six years. Therefore the proposal did not seem to be unreasonable. His proposal would be a great relief to a Liberal Ministry and a great advantage to this House. The present arrangement was historically bad. The House of Commons was in touch with the people, and was obliged every few years to go to the people; and it might, therefore, be trusted to provide the laws which the people needed. Ministers, however, could not settle their Bills according to the wishes of the people or the desires of this House; but they had to make those Bills small and weak, so that they might not offend the prejudices of the other House. The result was weak legislation here and obstruction there. The time of the House of Commons was spent in amending the bad measures that had been passed, and the suggestion he made to his Radical friends and to the Liberals of the country was not that they should spend their strength in attempting to abolish the House of Lords, but that they should put before the country in the old English common-sense fashion his simple, practical, and sufficient remedy, which was that when this House had twice passed a Bill and the House of Lords had twice thrown it out the other House should be left out in the cold; and the will of the people expressed in this House, joined with the will of the Crown expressed in the signature of the Act, should conclude the legislation. He did not wish to monopolise time, as many others would desire to speak; but he would conclude by stating that the present system, being historically bad, involved weak legislation, obstruction, and the spending of time in passing Amending Acts. He had pleasure in moving the Resolution— That it is desirable, in the public interest and for the promotion of necessary legislation, that any Bill which has twice passed this House, but has failed to pass elsewhere, should become Law if, with the support of the Government of the day, it shall again pass through the House of Commons in the same Parliament and should receive the assent of the Crown.

MR. SNAPE () Lancashire, S.E., Heywood

said, he rose to second the Resolution, and he did so because it was, he thought, the only practical measure of reform that was at present within the reach of the country. The hon. Member had pointed out that although since 1832 there had been a number of valuable reforms, there had been practically no reform in the procedure and constitution of the other House; but he had omitted to state one reform. Until 1868 the other House had the power of voting by proxy; but in that year a Standing Order was passed which suspended that power, and it could not be revived unless by Motion after two days' notice had been given. Another change had been made in the early constitution of the House of Lords which had led to the evils of which complaint was now made. The Peers had originally been summoned from time to time by the Crown, but they had no right to sit in succession; and it was not until after many centuries of its existence that the House of Lords passed a Resolution, in which this House had no part, decreeing that in future the eldest sons of Peers should succeed to their fathers, and from that Resolution all the evils had flowed. The only justification for the exercise of the veto over this House was either that the power was exercised by a superior body, or else that it had been exercised in such a way as to make the continuance of that power desirable in the future. But the exercise of that power in the past by the House of Lords, instead of justifying its continuance, demonstrated the necessity for some such alteration as that proposed by his hon. Friend. In illustration, he would refer to the opposition with which the House of Lords had, year after year, met the Jewish Disabilities Bill, and also the Bill which opened the Universities for the admission of Nonconformists. Since the latter Bill was passed in 1871, the majority of the distinctions even at the older Universities had been won by Nonconformists. The action of the other House had been to deprive the House of Commons of the services of many men of the Hebrew faith, and also of Nonconformists, who might have rendered service to their country in this House. The only other justification for the continued exercise of the veto by the House of Lords would be that they were a superior Body. But the men who occupied the Benches of the other House did so, not because they could point to any superiority, but because they were the sons of their fathers, though they might have inherited none of the distinctions which their fathers had acquired. Besides, the House of Lords was altogether out of touch with the people. They all remembered the notable expression of the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. J. Morley) when he said that the House of Lords would have either to be mended or ended. He never heard those words uttered before a Liberal audience that they did not interrupt the speaker by saying that it must be ended, not mended. They would remember what had occurred on a London Bill not long ago, when a great Municipality, which wished to have its interests represented on a Conservancy Board, was obstructed by the Lords, and a Conference was necessary after the Commons had disagreed with the Amendments sent down to it. The three years which the Amendment would give the House of Lords would be sufficient time to enable them to point out any defects which there might be, if defects there were, in the measures which might be sent up to them. It was essential that any Assembly which claimed the right to legislate for the people should be "broad based upon the people's will." The existence of the House of Lords could only be justified by bringing its powers into more harmony with popular and democratic rights. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) was not present now, but in 1885 he expressed his views upon the character of the other House by saying "the other House is a permanent Conservative or High Tory Committee." Since that time the right hon. Gentleman had passed over to the other side, and now, no doubt, he wished that the House of Lords should remain a permanent Conservative Committee, in order that it might oppose the legislation which the country demanded.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is desirable in the public interest and for the promotion of necessary legislation that any Bill which has twice passed this House, but has I failed to pass elsewhere, should become Law if I with the support of the Government of the day it shall again pass through the House of Commons in, the same Parliament and should receive the assent of the Crown,"—(Mr. Storey,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

MR. DARLING () Deptford

said, that if what had been stated in the course of the Debate as to the views and wishes of the Radicals in the House and in the country was accurate, it was perfectly obvious that this Motion ought to be rejected. According to the statements of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, their constituents and the Radical Party generally were in favour of ending the House of Lords rather than mending it. And yet they came forward with a Resolution for the purpose of mending it. They were, therefore, not carrying out the wishes of those whom they represented, and no worse offence could be committed according to the Radical creed. But what was really the meaning of the Resolution? Here was a proposal that where a Bill had twice passed the House of Commons and had failed to pass the House of Lords, if it again passed this House and had the support of the Government, it should become law straight away if the Crown assented. There might have been no discussion on the Bill. If the Bill had secured the assent of the present Government, in all human probability it would be a Bill that had not been discussed, because when Bills were discussed the Government became by no means enamoured of them, and they changed them or withdrew them; but so long as they were not discussed, or some portion of them had not been discussed, that portion was pretty sure of having the support of the Government. Therefore, the Resolution was suggested to the hon. Member for Sunderland and his friends by their passion for passing into law measures that had not been discussed. They knew the difficulty of passing extreme measures if discussion was permitted; and, therefore, they desired to curtail the rights of the chief deliberative Assembly in the Kingdom, as the easiest way of getting Radical legislation or Irish legislation into the shape of an Act of Parliament. The hon. Member for Sunderland was in favour of one Chamber only.


I never said so; but I will not deny it.


said, he had gathered from the hon. Member's speech that he was in favour of one Chamber only. If he was in error he was sure the hon. Member would contradict him. As the hon. Member favoured a system under which there should be only one Chamber, of course he was anxious to do all that he could to weaken and bring into contempt the House of Lords. The hon. Member had referred to the period when the Peers and the Commons sat in one Chamber together. If they were to have but one Chamber was it to be a Chamber of that kind? The hon. Member condemned the encroachment of the House of Lords. What was this Resolution but encroachment? Even if they went back to the time of Edward II, they would not find that the House of Commons ever had the power of passing Acts of Parliament without the assent of the House of Lords. How did this House get its power? It got it by encroachment.


It got it as the Representatives of the people.


said, no one would venture to deny that the House of Commons did not represent the people on the great question of the day, and yet it was proposed that this House should encroach on the powers of the House of Lords, which did represent the feelings of the people on the great issue of the day, which the Government would discover whenever they chose to take the opinion of the country upon it. If nothing could justify encroachment, how could the hon. Member justify this Resolution, which was an encroachment on the powers of the House of Lords?


All power rests with the people. This House represents the people, and as their powers must be the powers of the people, all they have cannot be an encroachment on anybody.


said, it was true that all power rested with the people, but with the people as represented in the Legislature, composed of the Queen, the Lords, and the Commons. All power did not rest with the people, if the people meant those who broke up Tory meetings and attended Radical gatherings.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,

House adjourned at twenty minutes before Eleven o'clock till Monday next.