§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Sir H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN, Stirling Burghs)
I rise to move, "That, in order to give effect to the will of the people as expressed by their elected representatives, it is necessary that the power of the other House to alter or reject Bills passed by this House should be so restricted by law as to secure that within the limits of a single Parliament the final decision of the Commons shall prevail." In moving this Resolution we are following the notable precedent of the. famous Resolutions of 1678 and 1860; and I hope our method of procedure will commend itself to the House. The other day I spoke of this Resolution, in some conversation of a casual kind across the Table of this House, as a preface to something that was to come later. The passing of a Resolution by this House, even if it be tacitly accepted by the other House, does not have the effect of law, and it is laid down in this Motion that its objects are to be secured "by law." Other Resolutions have, as we are aware, been accepted in the sense that they have been acted upon. But in the present instance, whatever the disposition elsewhere may be, the objects which His Majesty's Government have in view appear to us, as at present advised, to call for statutory definition. Before I sit down I shall submit to the House the broad lines of the plan which at a later period will, according to our intention, have statutory form given to it; and the Government will exercise their own discretion as to when that Bill will be introduced. In the meantime we desire to test the opinion of the House, and to make sure before any further step is taken that we have the House of 910 Commons behind us. In that case, holding as we do that this House, and this: House alone, is qualified authoritatively I to express the sentiments of the country, we shall be enabled to go forward with that confidence of the country as well as of the House of Commons. We are not at this moment, happily, in the throes of an active actual conflict with the other House, and it may perhaps be contended—I have seen it contended—that this is not, therefore, the proper time for bringing forward such a Resolution as this. I think entirely otherwise. I think it is an advantage that we should approach this great constitutional question without passion, and that we should discuss it in an atmosphere in which we can deal with it on its own merits. There is one other preliminary word perhaps which I may say before I proceed to the main question in reply to criticisms directed against us on account of our supposed dilatoriness in this matter. I do not think any harm has been done to either House. No practical inconvenience, and certainly no disrespect or lack of consideration, has been either intended or conveyed towards the other House; and let me point out that the little delay which has taken place has been in accordance with the advice kindly tendered to us on the first day of the session by the Leader of the Opposition, when he said we should reflect at our leisure on this great constitutional issue; and it is also in consonance with an Amendment formally moved and debated and voted upon from the front bench opposite, in which we were warned against setting aside the work of social legislation in order to take up the question of our relations with the other House. I, therefore, do not think that I need make any apology for the time or occasion on which the Motion is' being brought forward.
My Motion affirms the predominance of the House of Commons as the representative House of Parliament, and I submit that in spirit and in fact that is a strictly true constitutional proposition. I may claim for it, up to a point, the adhesion of the Party opposite and of the House of Lords itself. The supremacy of the people is admitted in theory even by the House of Lords. It is admitted that the will of the people— that will upon which the poet tells us our Constitution is broad-based;—is in 911 the long run entitled to prevail. It is admitted even by those whose natural leanings and proclivities would lead them to a very restricted order of representative institutions. To that extent, therefore, we are seemingly at one. How, then, is that will of the people to be got at and ascertained unless you take the view of the elective House as expressing it? The supremacy of the people in legislation implies, in this country at any rate, the authority of the Commons. The party for which I speak has never swerved from that position, and unless you are going to fall back upon some foreign method, such as the referendum or the mandate or the plebiscite, or some other way of getting behind the backs of the elected to the electors themselves, such as was advised by both the first and third Napoleon—unless that is the example you are going to follow, then there is no course open but to recognise ungrudgingly the authority which resides in this House, and to accept the views of the nation as represented in its great interests within these walls. The Resolution embodies, therefore, a principle the logic of which at any rate is accepted by both Parties and both Houses—the principle of the predominance of the House of Commons.
But let us be quite clear as to what we mean by predominance, and especially what we mean by the ultimate prevalence of the House of Commons. We do not on this side of the House mean an abstract, a deferred supremacy; that is not what we mean by the supremacy of the House of Commons. We do not mean a supremacy that comes into play after one or two or more appeals to the country, before which a determined resistance of the other House will give way. That is not what we mean by the supremacy of the House of Commons. That arrangement does not in the least fulfil the requirements of the Constitution. Where we differ, therefore, is as to the point at which the authority of this House becomes effective. But, at any rate, let us be quite clear about this, that the House of Commons is acknowledged on all hands, with certain reservations in the House of Lords, but without reservation at all, so far as I am aware, in the writings of any high constitutional authority, as the final court in which the will of the nation is declared. I do not base my argument upon the ad- 912 missions or statements of those writers to whom I have referred, or on any authorities whatsoever. We do not require to do so. The principle which forms the core of our Resolution is implied and expressed in the very existence of this House of Commons. It works in every fibre of our political being, and if the authority to speak for the nation is not to reside within these walls, if that authority is to be usurped by the non-elective House, it follows that our representative institutions must take a secondary place, and we shall have to abate our claim to be the foremost among free and representative communities.
Now I have to ask the House to consider how this great principle is applied in practice. What meaning does the supremacy of the House of Commons convey to the minds of the House of Lords? In first place, it is matter of common knowledge that its working varies according to circumstances. When their own Party are in power— that is the Party to which the vast majority of the Members of the House of Lords belong—they recognise without reservation, they even make what I would almost call indecent haste, to recognise this supremacy. There is never a suggestion that the checks and balances of the Constitution are to be brought into play; there is never a hint that this House is anything but a clear and faithful mirror of the settled opinions and desires of the country, or that the arm of the executive falls short of being the instrument of the national will. No, Sir; the other House, in these circumstances, may be said to adopt and act upon the view of the inherent authority of this House, which was expressed by Edmund Burke in these words —The virtue, spirit, and essence of the House of Commons consists in its being the express image of the nation.I know of no instance under a congenial régime, that is to say, not in recent times, when the House of Lords seriously challenged the decisions of this House, except—it is rather comical—in the solitary case of the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill; on two separate occasions this House has passed this Bill when the Conservatives were in power—a private Bill it was—and on both occasions the other House rejected it. It is almost refreshing to come upon this marked 913 action in the revising House. But certainly the supposed characteristic of a single chamber system of Government which prevails in Unionist times has never been broken by any hint or suggestion that the Government and the House of Commons should go to the country and ascertain what the people were thinking. That is a novel innovation. I will deal with that. It now seems to be in everybody's mouth. If we look upon this controversy as a warfare, I should say that this is the last ditch in which the final struggle is expected to take place. But the relations such as I have spoken to, the accounts such as I have given of the state of things that goes on when a congenial Government is in power, cannot be contradicted. These are the plain and acknowledged characteristics and facts of the state of things which prevails. Of course, we know the explanation given by hon. Members opposite. It is a little difficult because I do not know what to call the Party opposite. I am always anxious to call people by the name they prefer. If we call them Unionists—in the first place, we do not allow the truth of the name, but putting that aside and out of courtesy giving them their own title— if we call them Unionists, the title is, after all, a mere fugitive and evanescent battle-cry, and we want something more descriptive of the abiding Party in this country which asks, in matters of legislation, for pause and deliberation. "Unionist" does not express that; and "Conservative" is equally inappropriate, because we should be prepared to say that we are conservative in this matter. Then "Tory" will not do, because they do not like to be called "Tory" ["No, no."] Some do not, and some do; but I am certain of this, that the old Tory Party would be astonished if they found what successors they have got. Then "Protectionist" will not do, because they are not ripe for that. So, I must be excused for not knowing what to call them. But many of them are ready with an explanation; and I have no doubt it is hovering on the lips of many hon. Members opposite. "Why should the Lords interfere, "they will say, "when there is no mischief afoot, when the innovator and the conspirator are keeping quiet; why should they interfere when the Commons are only turning out year after year, in very small quantities, safe, well-sounding, 914 harmless, inoperative Bills? Why should they assert themselves, when the great institutions of the country are in no danger, and when the special interests of the class from whom the Lords are mostly derived are being well guarded?" This is the explanation, a charming explanation, only it is a pure figment of their imagination, because the most dangerous times politically have generally been those in which this state of things has existed. My own recollection of the last Government, as we saw it some, of us in the last House of Commons, was not at all of this honest and sober-going character. I should have said, although I may not be absolutely impartial, that so far from not requiring the attention of the Chamber which claims to check hasty and ill-considered action, the late Government stood in great need of some such service. The whole course of their conduct, the character of their legislation, their extraordinary fiscal antics towards the end, called for the utmost degree of watchfulness that the Constitution can provide. Startling and unannounced innovations in a reactionary direction in respect of licensing, of education, and of fiscal policy, need surely to be watched quite as closely as innovations, or, as we should think, "reforms," in the other direction. Yet all these adventurous and reckless undertakings passed unchallenged, and the House of Lords contented themselves in the dog days each year with registering the decrees of the Government of the day. I call upon the House to witness the transition that takes place the moment a Liberal House of Commons comes into being. A complete change comes over this constitutional doctrine of the supremacy of this Chamber. They rested and reposed on its supremacy during the period I have been dealing with. Now they challenge it; and it becomes a deferred supremacy—a supremacy which is to arrive, it may be, at the next election, or the election after that, or may be never at all. Suppose a difference to arise between the two Houses, not the existing House of Commons but some future one is to prevail. What is the good of electing us to the House of Commons? [Ironical Opposition Cheers.] What is the good of electing Members of either side to the House of Commons, if the opinion of the House of Commons is to be of no account? If the House of Lords knows better than 915 the House of Commons, what is the good of the House of Commons? I do not know, I never have known, and I have never been able to discover, by what process the House of Lords professes to ascertain whether or not our decisions correspond with the sentiments of the electors; but what I do know is that this House has to submit to carry on its existence in a state of suspense, knowing that our measures are liable to be amended, altered, rejected, and delayed in accordance with the mysterious intuition, almost divination which enables the Lords to keep immediate touch with the electors during a Liberal administration. It is a singular thing, when you come to reflect upon it, that the representative system should only hold good when one Party is in office, and should break down to such an extent as that the non-elective House must be called in to express the mind of the country whenever the country lapses into Liberalism.
Then there is another matter closely connected with this upon which I must say a word, and it will be a frank word. The situation, as the House knows, has been aggravated by the part taken by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He speaks for a comparatively small minority here, and he has affected to dispose of the other House for the purpose of dominating us in a manner that I venture to say is without precedent.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)
Would the right hon. Gentleman quote any statement of mine which bears out in any degree that statement?
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
We have only to go back to the month of December last year. I cannot conceive of Sir Robert Peel or Mr. Disraeli treating the House of Commons as the right hon. Gentleman has treated it. Nor do I think there is any instance in which, as leaders of the Opposition, they committed what I can only call the treachery of openly calling in the other House to override this House. [Cheers; cries of "Withdraw."] These great statesmen were House of Commons men. I venture to say that if Bills were mutilated and rejected elsewhere when Sir Robert Peel sat upon that bench, it was not done at his instance. The right 916 hon. Gentleman's course has, however, had one indisputable effect. It has left no room for doubt, if it had ever existed before, that the second Chamber was being utilised as a mere annexe of the Unionist Party. The right hon. Gentleman seems to call for some instance. The whole of his proceedings at that time were an instance. We saw him, who was in somewhat depressed and reduced circumstances, blossom out into extraordinary life and vigour when he realised the power which his peculiar intercameral powers have given him. One begins to doubt, in fact—I certainly doubt— whether he or his Party have ever fully accepted representative institutions. If they ever did bring themselves to conceive of this House as representing the opinions of the people, they belied it by the qualification that such opinions are not settled opinions. It comes to this—that no Liberal Government ever could represent the settled opinions of the electors because, apparently, if their minds were not unsettled, they would never dream of sending a Liberal Government to power. Therefore it comes to this—that a non-elective House is called into action and a barrier is set up across our path, and this theoretical predominance of the House of Commons becomes the practical predominance of the House of Lords. The Leader of the Opposition very clearly expressed in a few words not very long ago his view of the change which supervened with a change of administration, and I will quote his words in order that he may have them before his mind. Speaking at the beginning of November of last year, he said that the House of Lords was regarded by every man of sober thought, irrespective of Party, as the one barrier that exists between the-folly of our present governors and the great interests which in an unhappy moment have been entrusted to their charge. That is the transformation which the doctrine of the ultimate supremacy of this House undergoes when in an "unhappy moment"—what is that?— a general election which sent him and his supporters flying—that is the transformation which the doctrine undergoes. It becomes the doctrine of the fortunate barrier. Nothing about supremacy. It is a barrier. We may be very foolish persons, as he says—[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear"]—there is one of his. acutest followers who agrees with him— 917 but we have not got to such a depth of folly as to adopt his theory of the relation between the two Houses. One thing stands out from this review which I think is entirely necessary, although it occupies a good deal of the time of the House, in order that we may appreciate the position. The House will agree with me that one of the most striking characteristics of the attitude of the other House towards the House of Commons is its variableness. The right hon. Gentleman, as I have said, encouraged us to reflect on the issue which has been forced upon us. Has he reflected upon this particular element in it? Nothing in the relations of the two Houses is more deserving of his reflection —for, after all, a bicameral system which only acts periodically is an institution which appears to me to stand in sad need of justification.
Now I come to another question which we have to ask ourselves, and that is: What is the nature of the authority under which the other House, during its intermittent period of activity, claims to override and suspend the decisions of this House and to afford it a merely nominal and deferred predominance? What are the grounds on which the Lords intervene? There is no occasion to go back very far. Before the Reform Act there was really no question of this kind before the country, for this reason: Both Houses were in the habit of working together in the interests of the existing state of society, which was very far from being a democratic state, and any tendency to independence on the part of the House of Commons was held in check by the fact that there were some 300 votes in this House under control of the Members of the other House. There was, therefore, in these circumstances, no particular occasion for a veto. Nor do I propose to go over subsequent history—a dismal history in this respect, in which beneficent measures were flouted or rejected or mutilated and violent hands laid upon them by the other House. Their actions are all of a piece, and I think we may be quite content to take the most recent instances as a pattern and example of what has been happening ever since the Reform Bill was passed. We take them because we have them fresh in our minds. They happened under our eyes in the present Parliament, which has not had a long life yet. These events, marking as they do, in my opinion, the 918 climax of this long series of rebuffs put upon this House, and through this House upon the electors, embody in themselves in a sufficiently striking manner the claims that are really put forward to stultify the action of the Commons. When you find a general election like the last treated as mere irrelevance, and a House of Commons which returned with an unexampled majority regarded elsewhere as a body devoid of real vitality and vital authority, I say we then have to look upon its claims with a stronger feeling, because they are put forward with a degree of violent aggressiveness which compels us to challenge them. If we are concerned at all with the authority of the House of Commons—and I trust that everyone within these walls is concerned—it is impossible for us to let this pass. I therefore take the actual cases within our own immediate experience as the touchstone of the claims of the other House. The first thing I would point out is that the merits and demerits of the Bills that we deal with are not in question at all. The Education Bill and the Plural Voting Bill may be-thoroughly bad Bills in the estimation of hon. Members opposite and of the right hon. Gentleman at the winding of whose horn the portcullis over the way comes rattling down. If the country shares the view of the right hon. Gentleman, it is not there (the Front Opposition Bench) he would be, but here. But let hon. Gentleman observe that the other House, when it proceeded, within twelve months of the election, summarily to dispose of these measures of ours, did so, according to its own account, not on their merits, but because it claimed to know the mind of the country. That was the plea that was urged. "Your Education Bill," they said, "does not square with the professions of the people or the desires of the people, and as for your Electoral Reform Bill, it ought to be part of a larger scheme of reform such as the country desires." Of course, they dwelt on the vicious qualities of our poor Bills. So they did in the case of the Trades Disputes Bill, which was an even blacker and more iniquitous Bill than they were. But they passed this Bill, and they rejected the less infamous Bill; and they were strictly logical in so doing. By that I mean that the reason they gave was an intelligible reason. They professed to be satisfied that a powerful section of opinion demanded the one Bill, and they pro- 919 fessed to be unsatisfied that the others were so demanded. They acted on their own judgment. Their whole case rests upon that. And I may add as a subsidiary reason that in the case of the infamous and iniquitous Bill it was considered desirable to exercise some circumspection. We all remember the words of Lord Lansdowne that they were passing through a period when it was necessary for the House of Lords to move with great caution. Conflicts and controversies might be inevitable. Let their Lordships, as far as they were able, be sure that if they were to join issue they did so on ground which was as favourable as possible to themselves— not to the country—in the interests of good and sound legislation. In this case he believed the ground would be unfavourable to the House. So they passed that most iniquitous and dangerous and disastrous Bill. They made friends with the mammon of unrighteousness with a view to maintaining themselves in their own habitation. Therefore, in addition to this intermittent action we have to take note of this further singular fact that the powers of that House are avowedly exercised without reference to the merits of what is sent up to it, and on the ground that we, who are the representatives of the people as the result of all our elaborate electoral machinery, are incapable of speaking and acting on their behalf. Such a claim will not stand a moment's investigation. The Constitution knows nothing of this doctrine of the special mandate, nothing whatever. It is an invention apparently of the Lords, designed to afford them some kind of shelter behind which they may get rid of the Bills they dislike. Now, I am anxious to make this matter clear, because it is important to my proposition—namely, that the relations of the Houses call for definition and if the action of the House of Lords is based on assumptions which are fatal to a true representative system, then the question of how far they are entitled to push such action surely requires serious consideration. If this House was elected on a mandate for this or a mandate for that, or a mandate for the other, I could understand, even if I did not approve of, the process of sifting and trying our decisions in order to see whether they corresponded with what passed at the elections. In its absence 920 such a claim becomes grotesque. Yet how seriously is it urged. We are invited to go to the country ad hoc to test whether the other House or this House is right whenever we come to a deadlock. We have not been elected on any such system as that. We were elected to carry out certain broad principles, and yet, forsooth, we are to go back, and be re-elected on Bills and on sections of Bills and subsections of Bills if we are to convince the other House. I shall have a word to say directly on this demand for a dissolution, but I want first to say how glad I am to be able to claim the right hon. Gentleman opposite as a sworn foe of the doctrine of the mandate. He has described it as fundamentally essentially a vicious theory. "You could not work Parliamentary institutions," he says, "on that principle at all." [Opposition Cheers.] Yes, but it is on that very principle that the House of Lords arc working. Why has the right hon. Gentleman not warned the House of Lords that they are pursuing a course under which, as he says, Parliamentary institutions cannot be worked at all, and that they are seeking to inveigle us into an unconstitutional and vicious system? It is strange that when they challenge us because we have not got a mandate for this, or that we have misread a mandate for that, or that we must go to the country for a mandate for the other thing, the right hon. Gentleman sits quietly and allows them to flounder into the morass.
The next question I have to ask is, by what title does the other House claim to refer the House of Commons to the country? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that. I have never myself seen any explanation, or understood how a doctrine so fantastic could gain even a momentary currency. The Liberal Party has never for a moment accepted the view that the non-elected, unchanged, in dissolvable, irresponsible House is entitled to suspend a threat of dissolution over our heads; nor have they regarded the pretension so advanced as affording any sort of ground for the action taken under cover of it. Let the House consider what weight can attach to a theory which has never been put into operation, which has never been recognised by one 921 Party in the State, and which has never been held over the heads of the other Party in the State. And then I must say that this assumption of the right to force a dissolution is a usurpation of the Royal prerogative. It is a device for turning the House of Commons into a subordinate House, because the Lords are well aware that, in declining to accept their bidding, we have no remedy against any changes, delays, or rejections that they may inflict upon our measures. Well, holding us in this vice, and taunting us with the cry: "You have the country; why do you not go to it?" they have a free hand as against this House. Well, what is the use of our going to the country? If the Lords will not believe the elections of 1906, neither will they be persuaded though the wishes of the people are expressed in ten elections in a year. And then, I will ask, is this House satisfied, is any one satisfied with it? Is it fair—I will not say fair to the Liberal Party, because I think there is a great tendency, which, I think, is not quite dignified in the House of Commons, to treat politics as a game—but is this playing the game fairly? Putting the Liberal Party aside, is it fair to the House, is it fair to the electors? [An HON. MEMBER: No.] Is it right that the Constitution should be strained in this way in order to suit the convenience or exigencies of a particular Party? If hon. Gentlemen were in our place, and if there was as overwhelming a Liberal majority in the other House as there is an overwhelming Unionist majority, would they sit down quietly under the mutilation and rejection of their measures? No; I give them credit for something more spirited. And is there to be found a single observer or student, be he ever so convinced of the necessity of a bi-cameral system, who will maintain that this state of things, persisting as it has done all these years, is satisfactory? Our proposal is to define the relations between the two Houses in such a way as to provide that within the limits of a single Parliament a measure supported by a majority in this House shall prevail.
Now I come to the outline of the plan which the Government propose. It is proposed that, if a Bill is sent up to the other House, and in the result the two 922 Houses find agreement impossible, a Conference shall be held between Members appointed in equal numbers by the two Houses. The conference will be of small dimensions. Its proceedings will be private, and its object will be to enable each Party to negotiate and to seek for a common measure of agreement which the Government might find itself able to adopt. There is nothing novel in this proposal, because the two Houses formerly did meet in conference; but there were certain inconveniences in the procedure, and, whether it was due to the fact that the Commons were expected to go into the other House bareheaded, and to remain standing, or whether it was due. to the obvious practical difficulties of arriving at any decision at a joint meeting carried on by a large number of persons in this singular manner, no Conference has been held since 1836. Informal conferences between members of the Government and Opposition in the two Houses have, of course, not infrequently been held since that date, and sometimes good results have followed. But what the Government proposes is that statutory provision should be made for such meetings in the event of disagreement, and that the Conference should occupy a, definite place in the transactions between the two Houses. Supposing, then, the Conference to be unproductive. The Bill—either the same Bill, with or without modifications, or a similar Bill with the same object—might at the discretion of the Government be reintroduced after a substantial interval; and by a substantial interval I have in my mind a minimum of perhaps, six months, unless in cases of great urgency. This Bill would be passed through its various stages in the House of Commons under limitations of time—limitations of time adapted to the requirements of the case—discussion being restricted, so far as possible, to the new matter, if any, introduced. The Bill would then be sent up again, so that the other House would have a second and ample opportunity of considering it. If there was still a difference between the two Houses, a Conference might again be summoned. Supposing this time an arrangement again failed, this second Bill would be re-introduced and passed swiftly through all its stages in this House in the form last agreed to, 923 and sent to the other House with an intimation that unless passed in that form it would be passed over their heads. Yet again there would be a Conference, and a further effort to agree. Now the House will see that the plan which I have sketched gives ample—some will think too ample—opportunities for discussion and reflection, and that it provides full room in the intervals for consideration by the country. And we are convinced that it leaves no opening for hasty or arbitrary action. It seems to me that it provides what we regard as indispensable if the Legislature of this country is to be maintained in a condition of effective equilibrium—the power, namely in the last resort to make the decision of this House prevail. Opinions may differ as to whether this is the best method, but His Majesty's Government believe it to be practical, just, convenient, and effectual. I hope, therefore, that it will not be said that under our plan the other House will be debarred from exercising its due share in our Parliamentary deliberations. [OPPOSITION cries of "Oh!"] That is the last accusation that can in justice be alleged of a scheme under which there will arise three opportunities for debating a Bill, in addition to the Conferences to which His Majesty's Government attach the greatest importance. Certainly the members of the late. Government and their friends are the last people in the world to bring any such accusation. I have looked into the return of Bills sent up to the other House under their Government, and I find that four days were given by the Lords to the Irish Local Government Bill—or rather I should have said four days were given to the Lords for the Irish Local Government Bill; one day for passing through all its stages the Factory Act, 1901, a measure of more than 100 clauses; eight days to the Education Bill, 1902; six days in August, to the Irish Land Bill; and five days in August to the Licensing Bill. It has been the invariable practice with the late Government to send up a heavy batch of Bills at the very last moment to be dealt with in the course of a day or two immediately before the rising of Parliament. The truth is that for many years past they have made no pretence of paying much respect to the other House.
924 Here is a most important point. It may be said that it. will be in the power of an effete Government in the last years of an effete Parliament, when the sentiment of the country may have become cold, or, at least, uncertain, to carry things with a high hand, and in such circumstances any amount of deliberation and consultation would fail to prevent rash and arbitrary measures being taken. It is quite true, Sir. that we have known cases where an effete Government, trading on the initial strength it had lost, has dragged out an undesirable existence amid the flickering activity which we associate with the exhausted candle. But no one can say that that is a favourable moment for legislation. Therefore, I have to state that we are strongly of opinion that the way to guard against such an evil is the Very simple way of shortening the duration of Parliament. This reform can be justified on other and broader grounds. But I am here speaking of it only in face of this particular matter with which my Resolution deals; and we consider that the undoubted danger that the House of Commons, with the increased power which we claim for it. might for some years of its life have its genuine representative character impaired, can be best guarded against by a more frequent reference to the electorate. This is, as is known, no new proposal. Most of us on this Bench have voted for quinquennial Parliaments, and we believe that the reduction of the period of Parliamentary existence to five years will add vigour, freshness, and life to our Parliamentary system. There are, indeed, very vague, and, I think, not very well-informed proposals for a foreign institution, called a referendum, whereby a particular Bill can be submitted to a special vote on the part of the electors of the country. I see the strongest objections to any such proposal. The necessary isolation of the subject from the whole range of political feeling is wellnigh impossible; it is inconsistent with, and, in my opinion, destructive of, Parliamentary government as we understand it; and it has the peculiarity that you would be introducing a new element into our Constitution which would never come into play while one order of things was represented in the 925 Government, but when Liberals were in a majority would be employed for the purpose of flouting and defeating the Government of the day, the majority in the House of Commons, and the electorate itself.
Let me point out that the plan which I have sketched to the House does not in the least preclude or prejudice any proposals which may be made for the reform of the House of Lords itself. The constitution and composition of the House of Lords is a question entirely independent of my subject. My Resolution has nothing to do with the relations of the two Houses to the Crown, but only with the relations of the two Houses one to the other. At present we are face to face, as I have shown, with the ultimate supremacy of the House of Lords. I see that this is the theory almost nakedly put forward by some of those gentlemen in the Press who are good enough to tell us what we ought to think and what we ought to do. They evidently have in their minds as a model some of those Continental States whose system is essentially and fundamentally autocratic, but in which the autocracy ornaments and supplements itself with a representative body, useful for occupying public attention and for hammering out the details of legislation, but bearing much the relation that the kitchenmaid does to the cook. The House of Lords, according to this theory, is to be the cook. Sir, the House of Commons is spoken of by these instructors of the public in language of formal, guarded, traditional respect, but is treated as a wayward, impulsive body allowed to do useful work and on occasion to have its fling, but to be pulled up by the House of Lords as soon as it ventures inroads upon the pet prejudices and interests of that which used to be the ruling class in this kingdom. Sir, we have not so learned our existing Constitution. We have perfect confidence in the good feeling, the good sense, the wisdom, the righteousness, and the patriotism of our country. We need no shelter against them; we have no fears of them; and, therefore, we would invert the rôles thus assigned to the two Houses. Let the country have the fullest use in all matters of the experience, wisdom, and patriotic industry of the 926 House of Lords in revising and amending and securing full consideration for legislative measures; but, and these words sum up our whole policy, the Commons shall prevail.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, in order to give effect to the will of the people as expressed by their elected representatives, it is necessary that the power of the other House to alter or reject Bills passed by this House should be so restricted by law as to secure that within the limits of a single Parliament the final decision of the Commons shall prevail."—(Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The very last words that fell from the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman indicate sufficiently the difference which lies between us. His contention, expressed with considerable reiteration in the course of his speech, is that any House of Commons, elected at any particular date, is competent within the term of its own existence to deal with the whole interests of the State and modify them completely, without further reference to the people who gave it birth. He lays it down categorically in the last sentence he uttered that it is the House of Commons alone whose rights and privileges we have to consider. I venture to consider that we might occasionally think of the people. The real and only problem which ought to be before the minds of those who are engaged in dealing with the Constitution of a free country is how the continuous will of the people—the interests of the existing generation and the interests of generations to come—can be best considered. And it is to that problem alone that I shall endeavour to direct the attention of the House to-day in the few observations I have to make upon the right hon. Gentleman's proposals. The right hon. Gentleman interpolated into his attack upon the House of Lords a personal attack upon myself, and he went the length, I think, of accusing me of treachery. He certainly used a very strong adjective in dealing with what he supposed to be my conduct in November and December last year. I am not going to delay the House with a personal 927 defence—I do not think any defence is required. All that I did is before the public; the course which the House of Lords took is before the public; and, unless all the information which I have obtained—and I have taken considerable trouble to obtain information with regard to the action of the House of Lords on the Education Bill—is wholly erroneous, the country, so far from agreeing with the violent epithets used by the right hon. Gentleman, seems to think that the Amendments which the House of Lords put into the Education Bill greatly improved that measure. It was, I know, the right hon. Gentleman's fond belief that if the House of Lords amended the Education Bill the whole country would be in flames. Every indication we have, not merely from the character of public meetings, but from the character of county council elections, even in Wales, proves conclusively that, so far from the country being in flames, the heated words of the right hon. Gentleman could not even raise the damp tinder into the slightest smoke. In fact, when he was attacking the House of Lords on a recent occasion I could not make out whether he was more angry with the Lords for having modified the Education Bill or for having passed the Trade Disputes Bill. His indignation at that Assembly for having consented to pass into law a measure which they did not like really betrayed him into vehemence of expression which even their modifications of the Education Bill did not provoke. But I do not want to delay the House with any defence of the action of the House of Lords in the last Parliament, still less with any defence of myself. The right hon. Gentleman has an extraordinary gift for using language the violence of which is in strange disproportion to the effect it produces.
But, coming to the large question raised by the right hon. Gentleman's speech, what was his central contention? I put aside the athletic argument—the contention that it is not in the rules of the game that the House of Lords should favour one Party more than another—for I think that, although the right hon. Gentleman has often used that argument, he himself is rather ashamed of it. He does not think it is of much value for his purpose. He complains, as 928 the captain of a football team might complain, that on changing at half-time he always found the wind had changed with him. After all, we have not got to look at politics merely as a game, and there are very much more serious issues at stake than those suggested by this particular part of the argumentation of the right hon. Gentleman. His main contention was that the House of Commons by the Constitution has a predominant position, and that, having a predominant position, it follows as a logical consequence that any Bill which it desires to pass it has the right to make law in the course of a single Parliament, whatever the other House may do. Let us examine this contention. I do not at all deny that this House is the predominant partner. By the practice of the Constitution it undoubtedly is so. But just see how great are the powers that this House possesses which the other House neither possesses nor makes any claim to. We must always remember that the most important decision the country makes at the election is who shall control the administrative machinery and the general policy of the country. That decision the House of Lords neither claims to touch, nor can touch. The Government of the clay, the House of Commons of the day, would treat with derision any vote passed by the House of Lords condemning a particular Ministry or a particular member of a Ministry. They would not suggest for a moment that such a vote carried with it either the resignation of the Government or the Minister, or a dissolution or any consequence whatever except a mere statement of opinion on the part of then-Lordships that they disapproved of a Ministry to whom this House gave its confidence. That after all. is the greatest of the powers which this House possesses. We can put an end to a Government; we can bring a Government into being; we can destroy the career of a Minister; and we can pass a vote of censure which carries with it an immediate resignation. We have our hand upon the administrative machine to this extent at all events—that we cannot prevent a Government doing that of which we disapprove; we can afterwards punish it for having done so. It is true that the Administration is in many particulars far out of the reach of the House of Commons and ought to be. 929 The House of Commons cannot make a treaty; it cannot prevent the Government making a treaty; if it could would the New Hebrides Convention ever have been made? It cannot prevent the Government making war; it cannot prevent the Government making peace or exercising any one of these great administrative responsibilities. All it can do is afterwards to pass some condemnation upon the Government. In passing that condemnation it takes into account not merely the particular executive transaction, but whether upon the whole it desires to see the Government retained in office or not; and the House of Commons will constantly condone actions of which it disapproves simply because it does not wish to dispossess the Government of office. In that sense the Government always possesses the confidence of the House of Commons. It is true confidence is used in a highly technical sense. It is the sort of confidence which a man in the street engaged in a street row has in an old umbrella, not because it is a good weapon, but because it is the only weapon available—the only instrument he can use. In that sense the Government always has the confidence of the House of Commons. But it does not matter in the least whether it has, or has not, the confidence of the House of Lords. The Government being de-pendent upon the House of Commons and having control of what legislation shall be initiated, this House of Commons practically entirely controls the sort of legislation which the Government of the day shall bring in. There again the House of Lords neither has nor claims to have any influence. The House of Lords can bring in Bills and pass them through all their stages in their own House, but if they do not happen to meet the favour of this House those Bills go no further, and there can be no intererfence with, after all, what is the greatest prerogative of the Government and the majority in this House—namely, deciding what subjects shall be touched and what not touched. We all know that the power of the House of Lords, thus limited, and rightly limited as I think, in the sphere of legislation and administration, is still further limited by the fact that it cannot touch those money Bills, which if it could deal with, 930 no doubt it could bring the whole executive machinery of the country to a standstill. The conclusion which I want to press upon the House, and which is all-important in this matter, is that under our existing system you have two Chambers which are not of equal power, which are not of equal authority, which cannot come into serious conflict in the whole field of administration, in the whole field of the initiation of legislation, or in the whole field of that legislation which deals with finance. Of course, these things being true, it is true that the House of Lords is a subordinate partner to the House of Commons.
We all being agreed that the House of Lords under our existing system occupies a very subordinate position, the question is whether that position, subordinate as it is now, shall be made yet more subordinate by the House of Lords being deprived altogether of the power of preventing a particular House of Commons, elected at some particular conjuncture, from doing everything it wishes, not merely in the sphere of administration, where you must leave it to the Government of the day for good or for ill, but doing whatever it likes in the sphere of legislation, where you may in one day, or at all events in a few weeks, upset institutions which have taken centuries to rear and which once destroyed can never be replaced. That is really the problem before us. Nobody can put the House of Lords on an equality with the House of Commons. Some of us think—all of us, I believe, on this side—that you must have, within the limits of the Constitution some authority which shall be able, not to resist the will of the people, but to See that the will of the people is obeyed what I may call the consistent and persistent will of the people, not the will of the people as exhibited at a particular moment and in a particular place, because we are all agreed that the people make mistakes. [Interruption.] Are we not all agreed about that? We on this side thought the people made a great mistake in January, 1906. ["Oh."] Yes; but then hon. Gentlemen opposite thought they made another great mistake in 1900— they have always said so. Not only that, but they have also said that in 1900 931 the people made a decision which their more sober reflections have induced them to abandon. I have heard hon. Gentlemen below the gangway urge that contention; they hold that in 1900 the people of this country by an immense majority declared a war to be just and necessary, and that the present majority of this House thinks it both unjust and unnecessary. [MINISTERIAL cheers.] Very well, then, we, are all agreed. There cannot be a more important issue. [A LABOUR MEMBER: We were jockeyed into it.] Is there never to be any jockeying in the future? Let it be called jockeying if you please; it is no difference to the argument. If jockeying was possible in 1900, it may be possible two or three years hence. The truth is, we always think when we are in a minority that the other side have been jockeyed into their place, and when we are in a majority they always think that we have been jockeyed into it. We are all agreed about the fact of the people making mistakes, usually at every alternate election. The question is, and really the only question, whether we should or should not follow the universal example of every civilised country, and take care that there are some great constitutional interests which are put above these alternating fluxes and refluxes of public opinion, and in regard to which change, when it takes place—and changes are necessary—shall really be of that kind from which there is not likely to be a repentance. Of course, too, it would be very desirable if you could have that in the region of administrative action; but that is not possible; and it is far better that the Government should have the power to make mistakes than that it should have no power at all in the region of administration. I have no admiration or liking for those institutions—and there are many—in which there are so many checks and counter-checks contrived for the executive authority that really rapid and efficient executive action is impossible. When you come to matters of legislation time ceases to be of the essence of the question in most cases. In matters of administration time is of the essence of the question—in matters of legislation it is not. It is important 932 that a community whose history has gone back through many centuries, and is, I hope, going forward many centuries, should pause and delay before taking some great decision by which its whole future will be imperilled. I gather from the right hon. Gentleman that he thinks this is a very undemocratic way of looking at the matter. What is a democratic way of looking at it? I understand the democratic theory of government to be that those who are concerned with the decision should be the people who make it; and as far as that can be attained I, at all events, desire to see it attained. But who is concerned with the decision which we make when a great constitutional issue is involved? Is it the particular Parliament? Are the particular male adults in a given year who have got the given qualifications the only people whose interests are concerned? Those adult males are, in the first place, the heirs, and, in the second place, the trustees of many centuries; and it is preposterous to say that we should so frame our Constitution that the holders of power for the moment should be regarded as in every respect the irresponsible managers, not only of their own affairs for the moment, but of the affairs of their country for all time. Because, remember, there are many things which can be done which are irreversible when you are dealing with great growths in the region of politics; just as when you are dealing with them in the region of nature you cannot replace that which you destroy. You may pull down a building and erect another exactly like it; you cannot cut down a tree and say, "To-morrow I will have another tree in its place." So it is with an institution. You are absolutely bound to see that no hasty decision shall upset in one reckless hour interests which have been slowly and painfully built up by our predecessors, and which our successors never can replace. Therefore, I say, you must in this country do what every other country has done, what some other countries have done with over-caution and over-care, see that there is some permanence and continuity in your institutions. I am no favourer of perpetual entails, I do not 933 wish to see the institutions of this country in any particular stereotyped and perpetuated for all time, made absolutely petrified and immovable, as, for instance, the institutions of the American Commonwealth are, or almost are, under the peculiar regulations of their Constitution. But while I do not wish to imitate the immovable conservatism of the Republican institutions of America, I think we should be perfectly insane—setting aside not only the lessons of our own history, but of every other history— if we did not so arrange our Constitution that when the people decide upon a change it shall be after the most mature consideration, after the thing has been weighed and looked at from all sides, and after it has been considered in isolation from all those perturbing considerations which operate at a moment. It is folly to call that antidemocratic; on the contrary, it is democracy properly understood. It s government of the people by the people—[An HON. MEMBER: For the people?]—and for the people. Not by the people for the people living under one Parliament, be it of seven or five years duration, but by the people for the people for generations. If the interests we had to deal with were the interests of a particular set of electors at a particular time, let them manage or mismanage their own affairs as they please; but let us take care that as interests far beyond their own immediate and personal interests are confided to them, they should exercise the great duties thrown on them with full responsibility and full knowledge after mature reflection. Let us not hand over, as the right hon. Gentleman propose.? to hand over, to a House of Commons elected, it may be in some moment of passion, like 1900—[MINISTERIAL cheers]—like 1906, the eternal and perpetual interests of the country.
The right hon. Gentleman has laid down a principle that as this House represents the people, and as the Government represents this House, so we are to regard everything that the Government of the day does as in itself impeccable, as if it had the inherent right of uncontrolled management of the national destinies. All that is really not relevant to the actual facts of popular government as 934 we know them. It is only in a technical sense that the House represents the people, if you mean by the people the settled views of the people over, let us say, thirty years. It is only in a technical sense that the Government represents the House. When, you get a technical representation by two removes everybody knows, and nobody better than the present Government, that it takes much less than five years possibly for a Government to get out of touch with those who put it in office. If it be true, and I am sure it is true, that you must find some machinery, I may call it an averaging machinery, for seeing that on matters of permanent interest it is not a particular Parliament which decides, can you have a better machinery than that which is provided by the Constitution in the shape of this subordinate Assembly of the House of Lords? I say subordinate because I am certain that, even if you abolished the House of Lords, the country would insist on finding a substitute; and I do not believe any substitute you could find would fulfil the qualification which the Lords possess. What is that qualification? It is that it has no temptation and no desire to contest the primacy with this House. But if you chose to abolish the House of Lords, and if you chose to find other machinery for ensuring some form of stability for our social and constitutional structure, you would have to find it in an elected body of some kind or another. There are many analogies to be found in the constitutional experiments of Europe, and I understand that some theorists in this House, who believe in what they call the electoral principle, think that it would effect great improvement in the House of Lords. I think it would be a great deterioration of that Assembly wish its particular purpose to fulfil in the Constitution. I think the House of Lords, or the Second Chamber, let us say, if it really had an elective basis, would inevitably find itself in conflict with this House, not merely with regard to legislation, which is relatively a secondary matter, but in connection with those administrative responsibilities. In regard to these, at present there can be no conflict, because the House of Lords does not pretend to have its hand upon the throttle of the administrative machine 935 and never attempts to do what we have a right to do in this House, to criticise efficiently the Administration of the day. But would the state of things last, even for a quinquennial period, if you had an elected Second Chamber? An elected Second Chamber would, of course, at once say, "We derive our authority, like the House of Commons, from the community, of which we are, therefore, immediate trustees. Just as much as the House of Commons has, we have a right to determine whether the Ministry has or has not our confidence, or the confidence of Parliament," and there would at once be introduced a collision of interests which might bring all your machinery, administrative and legislative, to a deadlock. That, of course, is more or less prevented in America by the election of a Government which is not dependent for its existence on either House, but lasts its term of four years. But in this country, accustomed as we are to see the daily dependence of the Government of the day upon deliberative Assemblies, a Second Chamber which could claim to derive authority from the people, as this House claims to derive authority from the people, would contend with us for some control over the constitution of the Ministry and some control over the uses to which the Ministry to which they gave their confidence put its powers. I think that would be a very great deterioration in our present system. The immense merit of our present system is that parties change, Governments change, policies change, but there never can be a deadlock in our administrative machine. Money can always be voted, the Government can always remain in office as long as this House gives them continuity of power, no matter what the House of Lords may do; and I should never be a party to a change which would make the House of Lords a partner on equal terms with ourselves and which would enable it to do that which I think only one Assembly can do with advantage, which would introduce friction into the great work of Government, and which would be a great loss to the flexibility, the adaptability, and the rapidity of the working of our institutions.
Now, when all is said and done, what is the motive of the right hon. Gen- 936 tleman? HE has been good enough to attribute all sorts of dark motives to me. He will, therefore, not complain if I try to examine his motives. It is no light thing for the responsible Prime Minister of the day to attempt to make a fundamental and vital alteration in the Constitution. He must have, or he ought to have, profound reasons of State for doing it. He must find the machine unworkable as it is. He must be able to look back upon the past and say such and such disastrous consequences have followed from the present state of affairs. I wish the right hon. Gentleman had given us more details in regard to the disasters which have followed from the present state of things. He skipped lightly from the beginning of time to the first Reform Bill, and still more lightly from the first Reform Bill to last year; but in this agile procedure he never made any reference to the greatest attempt at constitutional change which has been made in our time. That, of course, was Mr. Gladstone's attempts to establish Home Rule in 1886 and 1893. Home Rule may be right or wrong. I am not going to argue that question. But it would be a very great constitutional change. It would fundamentally alter the relations between Great Britain and Ireland; and even those who believe in it most firmly, and who look forward to it with the most sanguine confidence, must admit that it would carry in its train a whole series of consequences, which it is quite impossible for any prophet, however endowed, adequately to foresee. Caution, therefore, is eminently required in making such a change as this. Our existing institutions have not prevented Home Rule. Home Rule may come. But they have ensured that Home Rule shall not, at all events, be carried in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman wants to carry everything in future. If ever there was a decision of the country upon Home Rule, surely that decision was taken, first in 1886, and secondly in 1895. The decision may have been wrong, but that decision in 1895 absolutely reversed the decision which the House of Commons had come to in 1886 and 1893 respectively.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE, Carnarvon Boroughs)
The Home Rule Bill of 1886 did not pass the Commons.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It was adopted by the Government of the day dependent upon the House of Commons. That is quite as good for the purpose of my argument. But if you quarrel with the Instance of 1886, let us confine our attention to 1893. The election which followed in 1895 showed that the people, perhaps mistakenly—I am not arguing that— were not in favour of Home Rule. Now, let us examine how Home Rule would have worked under the right hon. Gentleman's plan. He says he is going to introduce quinquennial Parliaments, and thinks by that means the House of Commons will never be out of touch with the people. But the House of Commons which was dissolved in 1895 only lasted for three years. It therefore fell far short of the quinquennial term, upon which the right hon. Gentleman relies for this perpetual co-ordination between the views of the House of Commons and the views of the people. And yet the people stated as decisively as they could that the House of Lords had properly exercised in the greatest of all cases the functions entrusted to it by the Constitution. Had the right hon. Gentleman's so-called reform been in existence in 1893, Home Rule, I presume, would now be law— perhaps to the benefit of the community, but certainly against the will of the people. Is it possible, with that instance fresh in our memories, to say that this change, whatever its other merits may be, is intended, in the words of the Resolution, to "give effect to the will of the people"? If those who framed this Resolution had in their minds recent history in which they themselves were personally engaged, this Resolution is hypocritical on the face of it. It is intended not to carry out the will of the people, but the will of the House of Commons of the moment. Am I not, then, justified in repeating the words with which I began my speech, that the right hon. Gentleman when he talks about the people is thinking rather of the House of Commons, and that it is our business to think rather of the people than of the House of Commons?
But this does not exhaust my criticism of the right hon. Gentleman's 938 motives. He has no claim, or even the pretence of a claim, to be carrying out the will of the people by this Resolution. It is his own will that he wants to carry out. I think the facts go further than that. The right hon. Gentleman belongs to the school of Radicalism, which holds as inveterate superstition and prejudice that the one object you should always be driving at is not to bring in good legislation, but to alter the legislative machinery. Social legislation appears in their speeches, but it never appears anywhere else. Go back over the history of the Radical Party, and you will find a very ancient superstition and a very venerable one—you will find that whenever they come into power, whatever be the plea upon which they have come into power, they immediately set to work upon some manipulation of the legislative machinery of the country; and when they are asked to bring in some Bills which are to change the lot of the people of this country they will hesitate. ["The Scottish Land Bill."] Exactly. They bring in measures such as the Scottish Land Bill, a measure to which, in their collective capacity, they have never given a moment's thought, and which is already a by-word and a derision among the nation. But I will explain to hon. Gentlemen opposite interested in the Scottish Land Bill how it comes about. The right hon. Gentleman talks as if a quarrel with the House of Lords is forced upon him by something which the House of Lords have recently been doing. Any attentive student of the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman or of those of his colleagues, or of the election addresses of some of them—for instance, that of the President of the Local Government Board, whom I do not see in his place—must be perfectly well aware that there was a set determination to pick a quarrel with the House of Lords long before the House of Lords did anything. The policy of filling up the cup has been in the mouths of all hon. Gentlemen opposite. What has been the result? They have not brought in measures to be passed; they have brought in measures to be rejected. They have not desired to bring in Bills which were so good that nobody could quarrel with them, but Bills so bad that no Assembly left to free discussion could 939 reconcile itself to passing them un-amended. That makes legislation extremely easy; and it makes quarrelling with the House of Lords still more easy. But easy as that policy seems, much as it saves any undue waste of brain tissue on the part of Ministers, I see no signs that it is carrying great favour in the country. I think the people see through this transparency. Many of them, I dare say, voted for right hon. Gentlemen opposite in the mistaken view that it was in the power of this Government or, indeed, of any Government, to carry certain schemes, or at all events to attain to certain objects which they had much at heart. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite gave them to understand that they had panaceas for all those evils if they came to office; but when they had to turn those panaceas from perorations into Bills they found it extremely difficult, if not in some cases impossible. Under these circumstances, it was far easier for the Government to try to quarrel with the House of Lords, to say to the people, "Oh, if you only knew what wonderful schemes we have in our heads, what admirable measures we have in our pigeon-holes! But there is the House of Lords, which will certainly reject them if we send them up." Great is their disappointment, almost unaffected, when the House of Lords passes a measure—not, indeed, the result of the brains of the Government, but the result of the Labour representatives—when the House of Lords, instead of doing what they were intended to do, does the opposite, then the right hon. Gentleman cannot control himself. Their flagitious, unscrupulous opportunism moves his wrath and arouses his indignation, and for the simple reason that the right hon. Gentleman's Bills, as I have said, were never brought in to pass, but to be rejected. ["Oh, oh."] And I think they were so drafted that there was great difficulty in some cases in not rejecting the Bills. I venture to suggest to the House that that is not the way to prepare a road for a great constitutional change. You ought not, if you find yourself impotent in constructive legislation, to turn round and try to curry favour with what you call the democracy by pulling down a portion of the Constitution. No; that portion of the Constitution, by 940 those insensible change; which have nude the British Constitution the most flexible and adaptable of all Constitutions ever tried, now fulfils functions which I believe must be fulfilled by some body in the State, and which I believe, for the reasons I have given, are fulfilled much better by an Assembly not elected, but which has, for historical reasons, a deserved prestige in the country —better fulfilled by such an Assembly than they could be by any cut and dried contrivance you might make on the model of Continental, American, or other Second Chambers. The House of Lords has grown up and modified its functions to suit modern needs. There was a time when it claimed, and really possessed, power equal to, perhaps in some cases almost greater than, this House. Those times have long gone by. By that insensible adaptation of means to end there is no claim of that kind put forward by the Second Chamber. We are left supreme in everything except in that one thing necessary in order that the people's will may be carried out to see that no rash changes are made which no future energy, patriotism, or industry can reverse, but which carry with them consequences of possibly the most deleterious character, and which would poison the future political life of the country to all time. Sir, it is not with such an institution we should hastily meddle. I do not admire the procedure of the right hon. Gentleman, that of bringing in an obscurely worded Resolution, and promising at some future period unspecified a Bill to carry it out. I think this Bill dealing with the House of Lords has not even precedence over the Education Bill, or the Licensing Bill, or any other of their measures. If you believe in these measures and think the House of Lords is going to reject them, deal with the House of Lords first. Why are we wasting a week of Parliamentary time over an abstract Resolution when the Government could have brought in a Bill or could have prepared a Bill to bring in early next year, and could have allowed us to proceed with their legislative programme contrived for this year? Sir, the whole thing is insincere from beginning to end. The right hon. Gentleman is treating the Constitution 941 of which he ought to be the guardian as a plaything of the moment, as a mere political expedient, as a means for electrifying and revivifying, if he can, the waning popularity of himself and his colleagues. It will serve no useful end; and even that relatively contemptible object which the right hon. Gentleman has in view will not, in my judgment, be fulfilled, as time will show when next he goes to that people in whose name he affects to speak in this Resolution, and whose confidence, if not already lost, he is losing every day.
§ * MR. SHACKLETON (Lancashire, Clitheroe)
I desire to offer a few remarks upon the subject of this debate. The right hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat has made one or two remarks to which I should like to reply. First of all, I should like to deal with what he said concerning panic elections. I think if ever there was a panic election it was in 1900, and the strange part of it is that every legislative proposal brought forward by the Party returned in that year was quietly acquiesced in by the House of Lords. Now we have a Parliament elected less than two years ago, which was looked forward to for two years previous to that, and still we arc to be asked to regard the decision of the people given in 1906 as being something which is not deserving of the consideration of the House of Lords. No statement could be further from the true facts of the case. The right hon. Gentleman said that the last election was a panic election and that it was necessary to have a House of Lords to protect us from the results of that election. Surely if the House of Lords was doing what is alleged to be its duty it would have resisted the legislation which followed the panic election of 1900. We have been told that we are wasting our time to-day. Some of us on these benches have thought that for a long time. We feel that so far as the country is concerned the sooner it does devote a little time to attempting to remove this terrible obstacle to all improvement in the condition of the people the better. It may have the effect of putting off other legislation for the time being, but it may make legislation quicker in the future. We are not now considering the question 942 of a Single Chamber as against two Chambers, but whether we are to go on for ever with an hereditary Chamber. Even the Leader of the Opposition has not attempted to defend the hereditary principle. I listened most carefully to all his references to the House of Lords, and he did not utter one single sentence in favour of that principle. The question is whether an hereditary and non-representative House shall be perpetual in this country. That is the situation we have got to face. I take no other text for my remarks than the words of the Leader of the Opposition, who said on 28th November—I do not for one moment believe that the Lords, in the exercise of the high functions entrusted to them by the Constitution, will waver in their duty. Their duty is not to thwart the will of the nation, but to see that its will is really and truly carried out.The House of Lords has no right to decide what is the will of the people. Can it be said that a non-representative body, composed entirely of gentlemen drawn from one class, is a proper body to decide what is the will of the people of this country? What are we here for? If we do not represent the will of the people it is time we came to some understanding as to what we do represent. But a mere assertion of that kind is not sufficient. That argument has gone for ever and a determined House and a determined people will refuse to allow a non-representative body drawn entirely from one class to decide what is the will of the people. In the early days there were struggles between this House and the other; I read the other day that in 1648 a debate took place as to whether Black Rod should be the supreme person. Black Rod had ordered certain people to be arrested, and in the end King Charles dissolved Parliament and took away from the House of Commons the right to have anybody put into prison. And what did the House of Commons decide? That "The House of Peers is useless and dangerous, and ought to be abolished." That is the view today of the hon. Members who are sitting beside mo, and they believe that the Government would have done better if they had proceeded on those lines. During the last hundred years the pages of our history are full of their actions against the people. In 1807 they started by throwing out a Bill appointing a 943 Committee of Council for Education. During the last century Bills for the benefit of the people were stopped and delayed. Question after question, such as Parliamentary reform, land reform, the Roman Catholic position, religious equality, municipal and educational reform, and legal, social and industrial measures might be quoted in which the House of Lords prevented the will of the people being carried into effect. Surely it is time that those who represent the people should challenge the right of the House of Lords to force the people to the verge of a revolution before giving way. The late Lord Salisbury in 1884 said—No great or even violent public pressure has been brought to bear upon us.Have we to wait until that violent pressure is brought to bear? It needs no revolution, and it ought not to need one. I trust that the discussion of to-day will set forth that the country intends that the decision of the representatives in this House from time to time shall be taken as the decision of the country. Hasty legislation has been referred to. Is there ever any hasty legislation of a progressive character? There may be some of a retrograde character. What reform have we to day that has not been talked about for years and generations before it has been embodied in an Act of Parliament? There is no chance in this country of hasty legislation, for all proposed reforms are subjected to long discussion in public before we hear of them in the shape of legislative measures. Illustrations could be given of cases in which the other House has delayed the changes in the law which the people desired. No bettor illustration could be given than that which took place between 1833 and 1857 in regard to Jewish emancipation. Majorities in this House on seven occasions were in favour of that reform, but the House of Lords refused to pass it. In the end, in 1858, the other House passed the Bill which conferred political freedom and equality on that class of our countrymen. The right hon. Gentleman the Loader of the Opposition said that the Government in introducing this motion was doing it for the purpose of hoodwinking the people, and that they did not mean to go on with legislation on the subject. I think the opposite is really the fact. We can only judge of the views 944 of Ministers by what they have publicly stated. It has been publicly stated that not only the present Cabinet, but previous Cabinets, and especially those of Liberal Governments, have had to redraft Bills and pare them down with the object of putting them in a form to pass in another place. I read the other day the following statement, made by the late Mr. John Bright on 10th July, 1884—There is no man who has been a member of the Government of this country who has not felt, in discussing the measures of the Cabinet, that there was always in front a net with very small meshes indeed, and that after a measure was produced which the Cabinet thought necessary for the time and the purpose, it was pared down and again pared down, in the hope, often the futile hope, of securing the assent of the Lords.It is because we believe to-day that the Cabinet is paring down measures which we want that we are so determined to help the Government to deal with this question. There is no doubt that the country is losing through Bills being introduced in this House in a less advanced state than the needs of the people require, and in a less advanced state than they would be but for the fear entertained that they would not pass the House of Lords. The hereditary principle is indefensible from every point of view of public policy. The fact that it is not defended is its best and greatest condemnation. If it is good, why not apply it to other governing bodies and the various forms of business? Why should Parliament be the only place where the hereditary principle is applied? How often have we hoard business men whom we have known refer in sorrow to the inclinations of their sons? The big businesses set up by the fathers have been lost under the management of the sons. Is that not so in regard to Parliamentary affairs as well as anything else? Surely the time has come when the right to govern by birth should be abolished in this country. A caustic writer puts it in this way—We allow babies to be earmarked in their cradles us future law-makers, utterly regardless as to whether they turn out to be statesmen, or fools, or rogues."'That is exactly the situation put in blunt language. No one in this House will attempt to defend the hereditary principle. The action of the House of Lords last session has been referred to. 945 The Leader of the Opposition made special reference to the course taken by the Lords in regard to the Trade Disputes Bill. I do not think it rests with the representatives of the Tory Party in this House to claim very much credit for the action of the House of Lords on that measure. If they had had their way in this House, the House of Lords would not have had the chance of acting as they did. I would rather attribute the action of the House of Lords on that occasion to the ordinary human feeling of fear. The Leader of the Tory Party in the House of Lords stated that the Bill was "calamitous, unjust, and tyrannical." When I heard that statement all the credit I was pro-pared to give to the Tory Party in regard to the passing of the measure disappeared. I should prefer that those who use language like that in regard to the work of this House should them-selves be compelled to appeal to the people. The Education Bill has been referred to. I will not go into that subject, but I should like to refer to one little Bill in which my friends and I took an interest, namely, the Education (Provision of Meals) Bill. I remember that an hon. Member above the gangway moved the omission of Scotland from the operation of the Bill. The Amendment scarcely got a seconder and it was defeated almost unanimously. There was no argument why Scotland should be excepted. There was no reason why the children of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, and Aberdeen should not have the privilege of meals as in the case of English towns. The House of Lords took upon themselves to say that Scotland should not be included in the Bill. Then there was the Aliens Bill, a small measure which was passed by this House without opposition, but which was rejected by the other place. That was a measure which would have put into operation the principle advocated by right hon. Gentlemen above the gangway in regard to the protection of our workmen against the competition of aliens. The House of Lords came to a decision which made it impossible to go further with that Bill. Another Bill which more than anything else raised the issue between this House and the House of Lords was the Plural Voting Bill. That was a Bill which, in my opinion, ought never to have been touched 946 at all by the House of Lords. It simply dealt with the method of electing this House. It did not interfere with the constitution of the House of Lords. If they claim the right to reject a measure which applies solely to this House surely we have a right to say "If you interfere with us, we have as great, or a greater right, to interfere in the constitution of your place." I am old enough to remember that on a previous occasion I had the honour, along with my hon. friend the Member for Sowerby Bridge, to carry a banner in 1884 in a campaign against the House of Lords. We wore in earnest then, and we are doubly in earnest now, and I trust that whatever else may be said the taunt of the right hon. Gentleman will not hold true that His Majesty's present advisers are simply using this as a rod herring. I trust that they mean serious business. The recollections of 1884 are not very pleasant to some of us. There was a great opportunity then, and the country was ripe for legislation in regard to the House of Lords. I believe that in 1893 the mistake that was' made was that there was too much made of "mending" and too little about "ending" the House of Lords. I know the opinion of working men fairly well, and I am confident that they are not in favour of any truckling or mending. What they are in favour of is an ending process, judging from the expressions of opinion given at conferences and other congregations of men. They are not in favour of any mending because they believe that would mean that the Lords would have greater power to interefere with measures sent to them from this House. If there is to be a revising Chamber, let it be on different principles altogether from the present House of Lords. I hope, therefore, we in this House shall determine to put our shoulders to the wheel in this matter. On behalf of my friends and myself I have put down an Amendment. I hope the House will pass that Amendment. We shall do our best to persuade the House to do so. If defeated we shall still support the Government because we acknowledge the principle which is included in their Resolution. But in regard to the propositions which have been put before the House by the Prime Minister, let mo say this, I think them far too generous. It appears to me that once a measure is 947 rejected, if it goes a second time that ought to be sufficient. Why take up the time of the House in sending it back to the Lords a third time when you have the people behind you, and when you are certain that your decisions are those of the country? That is the only criticism I make at the present time. I think if the House of Lords gets two opportunities of considering a Bill that should be enough.
§ * MR. RIDSDALE (Brighton)
I rise to address the House on this occasion from a rather different standpoint from that of the last two speakers, and even different from the standpoint of the Leader of my own Party. In my opinion it is extremely dangerous that this House should have what I am afraid I must still look upon, even after the explanation of the Prime Minister, as really uncontrolled powers of legislation. If I may be allowed to say so, what I think is really at the root of the whole difficulty in this matter is its Party character. There is not a single individual sitting on these Benches who has not felt, and who does not still feel keenly, the circumstances in which this House was placed by the rejection of the Education Bill and the Plural Voting Bill. Some of us think that proper use was not made by the other House of its revisionary powers — that they were exercised not in an impartial, but in a Party spirit. It is that Party spirit we are trying to get at the root of, and I ask the House on so important a matter as the British Constitution to raise itself above more Party issues and Party recriminations. The Prime Minister's Resolution is based on the assumption that the will of the House of Commons represents the will of the people. We all, I think, agree that the will of the people should be paramount; but it is essential that we should be quite certain that we know what the will of the people really is. We know how elections are conducted throughout the country. It does not by any means follow that a candidate who is returned at the head of the poll is elected by a majority of the people. If you have three or four candidates, as you have at the present moment at Jarrow, is anybody going to say that the Member who is returned at the top of the poll represents the voice of the constituency? He may not have polled more than one-third of the votes, and yet 948 he will come to this House and exercise his vote and use his voice as expressing the will of his constituents. You cannot say that any hon. Member here represents the views of oven the majority of his constituency. You may have men representing not a constituency, but some particular organisation. They will be the paid representatives of that organisation, although they are elected by the constituency, and they will vote as the delegates of the organisation. I cast no reflections on any body of men in saying this. But it is obvious that nobody can say, when you have a body of Members who are to a certain extent under the control of outside organisations, alien to the constituency, that when they vote in the House of Commons it is by any means certain that they voice the will of the constituency or that of the people. In all probability—as shown in the division list—it is the voice of the outside organisations that is being carried out. Again, in cases such as those, where you have a body of hon. Members subsidised by organisations which exist for the purpose of giving force to their own views, these Members will use more than ordinary diligence in enforcing on the Government the particular views of the organisations of which they are delegates. That is my experience in the short time I have been in the House of Commons. Then if this House is to represent the will of the people, surely the first step that should be taken is to have a redistribution scheme and equal electoral units, otherwise it would not be very difficult to construct a division list which would show an absolute majority in the House which represented an absolute minority in the constituencies. Could a division in such a case be said to represent the will of the people? Then, unfortunately, though we live under a system of Party Government, the number of Parties in the House is not limited to two. We have a large, well-organised— at least until recently it was so—third Party; and I am not sure that there is not a fourth Party. And where you have a political system with two large Parties in the House each of which is occupied in finding occasion to thwart the operations of the other, the course of either will be mainly determined by the smaller bodies. The larger body may be forced into adopting a course in regard to certain measures and politics in order 949 to secure the support of the third Party which they would not have adopted of their own free will. In that case the legislation will not be the legislation of the largest Party, but the legislation dictated by the small Party. We saw that in the case of Home Rule. When Party Government can be reduced to such a state it cannot be said that the legislation passed by this House necessarily reflects the will of the people. As to the scheme of the Prime Minister, so far as I can understand it, we are first of all to pass a measure through this House; it is then to go to the House of Lords, and if the Upper House rejects it there is to be a Conference. It is then to be sent up a second time, and if an agreement cannot be come to with the Lords there is to be another Conference. If the second Conference is futile, then it is to be sent up a third time and if again rejected after conference with the Lords, the Bill is to be passed by the Commons over the heads of the Lords. All that will load to a terrible waste of time, oven with the application of the closure. Again, what is to be the limit of time for the Conferences and what power is there to be in Conference to check obstruction? It seems to me that we have not got at the root of the question by the Prime Minister's scheme; and that we should be forced in the long run to go to the country to get an emphatic decision on any important measure from the people of the country. Another point which I wish to make is that the time chosen to bring forward this Resolution is inopportune. If it was to be passed it should have been hot-foot on the rejection of the Education Bill and the Plural Voting Bill when there was a good deal of simmer in the country against the action of the Lords. There might then have been some chance of getting a public backing for the Prime Minister's proposal. But we have spent six months on legislation of a totally different character, and it is absurd to say that we are going to tackle this huge question of the alteration of the Constitution of the country by the more excitement caused by a three days sitting of the House of Commons and by various strong speeches by Ministers and others. I deny that it is possible for any Minister to make speeches, however eloquent, which will stir up the feeling of the country against the House of Lords and in favour of the Premier's Resolution. 950 Then by what means is it that the will of the people is to be expressed when this House, after certain procedure, sends up to the other House some measure to be finally passed over the heads of the House of Lords? Is it to be by a majority of two-thirds of this House or by a majority of a single vote that this House is to overcome the Lords I Again, there is very grave doubt whether the schemes of the Government will not put the Crown into an invidious position in regard to the legislation passed by this House. If the Upper Chamber is not to have the power of expressing a veto you will have intrigues—you will have the Party which has been disfranchised by your Bill using all its influence to obtain the assent of the Crown to a veto on a measure introduced into this House. I venture to think such a position would be an extremely grave one. It would be a fundamental alteration of all our present ideas of the position of the Crown and the uses and functions of this Chamber. But I would also point out that if you are going to throw an added responsibility like this upon the Crown, it follows of necessity that there must come added power; and this Motion, if given effect to, means, of a natural consequence, strengthening the powers of the Crown. I would now point out again that this does not go to the root of the evil or remove, in any way, what is the whole origin of the difficulty in view, and I would ask those of His Majesty's Ministers I see on the Front Bench if they could not turn their attention to some scheme for doing away with that hereditary principle—which I detest—banishing the Spiritual Lords from their places in the Upper House, and having some representation in their stead of life Peers, elected, it may be, by the various learned bodies of the Kingdom, Chambers of Commerce, and, last but not least, by the various self-governing Colonies. But one of the main reasons for which I object to this scheme of the Prime Minister is that it offers no power of amalgamation in the future by which representatives of the Colonies may be brought in to our deliberations. It is quite certain that so long as this House has entire control of the finances of the nation no representatives of the Colonies can sit in this House, because you would then 951 get representation without taxation, and you would have two sets of representatives sitting side by side, and voting, one of which would not suffer from any taxation that might be imposed. I for one did hope that the Upper Chamber might serve as a nucleus of a scheme by which our Greater Britain might be represented in the Parliament of the Empire. I did hope we might Psee life eers elected by our great dependencies, and then we should not have the anomaly, which at present exists, of so large a portion of the Empire having responsibility without representation. It is a most dangerous condition, and one which I hope, ere long, to see removed. In conclusion, I would appeal to the House. We sit here, the heirs of great traditions, built up under the shadow of the British Constitution. I would ask the House, not lightly or without due consideration, to make a change in that glorious structure, under which the wide Empire and the great liberties of our British subjects have been brought to their present state.
§ MR. REMNANT (Finsbury, Holborn)
The hon. Member who has just sat down would find many on his own side of the House to agree with him in what he has said. The Resolution as moved by the Prime Minister seems to me impossible from the constitutional point of view. There can be no doubt that, constitutionally, the House of Commons has no more right to limit the legislative power of the House of Lords than the House of Lords has to limit the legislative power of the House of Commons. A Resolution proposing to limit the power of the other House will thus be merely a piece of waste-paper. The late Mr. Gladstone, in his last speech as Premier in the House of Commons, on 1st March, 1894, said—It is not with the House of Commons to pronounce a judgment on this subject. The House of Commons is itself a party in the case.…The House of Commons could not be a final judge in its own case. It is the authority of the nation which must in the last resort decide.The substantial question raised by the Government is whether or not a temporary majority of the House of Commons arc to be made absolute masters of our 952 legislation. It is ridiculous to suggest that any effective check on the Commons could be maintained if the right of appealing from the House of Commons to the country were superseded by a right of appealing from the House of Commons to the House of Commons itself. The late Lord Salisbury wrote in the National Review, December, 1894—Such an arrangement—the childish proposal that the 'veto' of the House of Lords shall be taken away, while it is still to remain a legislative assembly—would be as much government by a Single Chamber as if the Second Chamber were abolished.Our institutions—principally because we have no written Constitution—provide singularly few safeguards against the dangers of political instability, and by concentrating the whole power of Parliament, as the present Government desire, in a single Chamber we should give up our only means of securing revision of hasty and ill-considered legislation. It is quite possible for a Bill to pass through all its stages in the House of Commons by the votes of a majority who have been returned by a minority of the electors, an event which is pretty certain to happen frequently in the present Parliament. We have no system of proportional representation, and the present distribution of seats is notoriously unfair. So, again, a Prime Minister may obtain a majority in the constituencies on one issue or set of issues, and use the majority so obtained to carry measures which have not been before the country at all. The history of the Home Rule question affords a conclusive argument for the maintenance of the effective legislative power of the Second Chamber. In 1886, Mr. Gladstone nearly succeeded in carrying the Home Rule Bill, which had not been before the country at all at the general election of the previous year. In 1893, the Home Rule Bill was actually passed by the House of Commons, rejected by the House of Lords, and at the following general election in 1895 rejected by an overwhelming majority of the electors. This year we were threatened with a Home Rule Bill, or at least a measure intended to pave the way for a complete Home Rule Bill, although leading Members of the present Government repudiated Home Rule in their speeches to their constituents. When 953 considering proposals for organic changes in a Constitution that has endured for many centuries, and should endure for many centuries to coma, we must look not merely to the events of yesterday, but to the general course of history. English history speaks eloquently in favour of the House of Lords. The abolition of the House of Lords was the cause of the hydra-headed tyranny of Barebones' Parliament, and of the Rump. In the reign of James II., the House of Lords took a larger part than the House of Commons in resisting the Royal tyranny. In the early part of the eighteenth century, the House of Lords again and again took the Liberal side against the bigotry of the House of Commons in the debates on the Occasional Conformity Bill. Towards the close of the same century, in 1783, the House of Lords threw out—to the delight of the country, as shown in the ensuing general election—that monumental piece of Whig jobbery, Fox's East India Bill. Let not hon. Members flatter themselves that the dangers of bygone years are no longer to be dreaded because there is no longer a Whig oligarchy to be resisted. It is easy to imagine circumstances under which the Radical plutocrats who finance the present Liberal Party might become a similar danger. The experience of England, the birthplace of constitutional liberty, is confirmed by the maintenance of strong Second Chambers in our own Colonies, in the United States of America, and in nearly all foreign countries, including France, the home of constitutional experiments, and Japan, the most progressive of nations, which has deliberately adopted in its present Constitution an Upper House containing a majority of members sitting by hereditary titles. It is not true that the House of Lords always takes the side of the Conservative against the Liberal Party. In the middle of the last century Parties in the House of Lords were very sharply divided, and on some very critical occasions Lord Palmerston commanded a majority over the late Lord Derby. No doubt it is true that in more recent years the Lords have come more frequently into collision with Liberal than with Conservative Governments (which is inevitable in a period of great political changes), but instances can be cited in 954 which, in recent years, the Lords have dealt severely enough with the Bills of Conservative Governments. Thus, in 1877, the Lords carried by a majority of sixteen, as an Amendment to the Burials Acts Consolidation Bill of Lord Beaconafield's Government, the principle afterwards adopted in the Burials Bill, although the House of Commons had rejected Mr. Osborne Morgan's resolution to the same effect by a majority of thirty-one in the previous year. And in 1889 the Lords made such Amendments in the Land Transfer Bill of Lord Salisbury's Government as caused the withdrawal of the Bill. The cases which figure so largely in Radical Party literature in which the Lords are said to have rejected useful measures fall mainly under two heads. Either they are instances drawn from the period following the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, when the House of Lords, in showing a strongly Conservative spirit, only echoed the views of men like the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, and indeed of an overwhelming preponderance of educated and thoughtful men in this country; or they are instances in which the Lords have merely delayed Bills that had previously been rejected again and again by the Commons. Take the case of the Ballot Bill which, as we are so often reminded, was passed in 1871 by the Commons and rejected by the Lords. The Commons had been debating this Bill off and on for forty years and had rejected it twenty-eight times. The House of Lords rejected it only once, in 1871, when it was sent up to them at the end of the session, and passed it in the following year. A Second Chamber, after all, ought to be a delaying power, and the Lords can hardly be criticised for taking two years to pass a Bill which the Commons had taken forty years to pass. Present circumstances call for measures not to weaken the power of the House of Lords, but to strengthen its composition. On the Conservative side, measures of the latter kind will be welcome. In this, as in many other matters, the Conservative Party are the champions of reform because they are the enemies of revolution.
§ *MR. BELLOC (Salford, S.)
If there is one phrase that has been used more frequently than another in the course of this debate it is a phrase that questions whether the Prime Minister's Resolution 955 is or is not representative of the will of the people. It is taken for granted that in this as in other matters the Government are no longer representative. Well, it is usual on the part of the Opposition to say after a certain interval that the Government in power has lost prestige. I am old enough to remember at least eight occasions upon which that has been said, if not with respect to eight Governments, at least with regard to eight policies, and I think I may say not only in regard to my constituency, but certainly in connection with constituencies of the most varied character in which I worked pretty heavily during the two years which preceded the election, that although this was not the one issue, there was not any issue upon which the people were more determined than that there should be a change in, and a change in the direction of weakening the power of, the House of Lords. There is certainly not a Member representing South Lancashire who could go back to his constituency had he in this respect failed in his duty. I do not desire to put the thing as strongly as it might be put, but rather to consider it carefully in its historical aspect, and to see what are the arguments—and they are apparently strong arguments—of the other side. In the first place, we need not consider the argument that has been adduced against the unicameral system. We are not deciding for or against the bi-cameral or the unicameral system. We are deciding in this Resolution what our opinion is— we need not yet consider the Bill that may follow—we are deciding what our opinion is on a crisis in practical legislation that is already considerable, and we are deciding it on the only lines on which it can be decided at all. And I think we ought clearly to understand that if the Liberal Government had not undertaken to ask for some change in the constitution of the House of Lords, most undoubtedly another Government —a Conservative Government — would have had to undertake this reform. It is pressing, it is being cried for, and it is a necessity. To turn to the historic argument, which is the first one with which I wish to deal. It has already been used to a slight extent, and will be used to a greater extent as the debate proceeds. It has been pointed out that our Constitution is of great antiquity, and that it is also very elastic and adaptable to 956 changed needs, and it will be pointed out that the House of Lords in the past has exercised in more than one period a very useful function. When that is pointed out it is truly pointed out. It is perfectly true that throughout the English oligarchy of the eighteenth century, right up to 1832, the greater landlords in the Upper House considered more what were the needs of the people than the lesser landlords in the Lower. But those who use the historical argument hardly understand how the position of the House of Lords has changed during the last thirty years. Lot me turn to a very typical division which I have analysed. It has been alluded to already in this debate, and will be alluded to again before the debate closes. I mean the division on the Plural Voting Bill. Before you can discover by the present system of a single vote and a bare majority the will of the people, you must at least have one man one vote, or one family one vote. The Plural Voting Bill was intended to be a remedy for an evil which had so increased as to become an abuse. It was in the power of the House of Lords to amend that Bill, and I notice on reading the debate which took place in that House that the arguments brought against that Bill were mainly arguments for amendment, and not arguments for what followed, which was a complete rejection of the Bill. Who rejected it? 180 Englishmen—it would be outside the forms of order of this House to point out that several were not strictly of English blood—186 Englishmen decided between them that plural voting should continue, so that a largo number of constituencies should be represented, not by the will of those living in them, but by the will of others. We have many such extra-urban constituencies in South Lancashire. It was decided by 143 to 43 that plural voting should continue, by a majority of 100. It was a majority of the kind that we usually see in the House of Lords. There were ton dukes! May the day be far distant when any Duke should fail to do his duty in a matter of that sort. Everything in this world has its place and its nature, and I hope I shall never see a Duke voting for ending any political abuse whatever. Besides the Dukes there were 133 others who voted against the motion. I can perfectly well understand a Conservative of education, 957 intelligence, and patriotism saying to himself, "These 133 men form a sort of grand jury of the education and intelligence of the country." Certainly there are men worthy so to rank, and I may quote one name from among them, that of Lord Kelvin; but when you come to analyse the 133, you notice certain flaws in this "Grand Jury." In the first place, they are nearly unanimously of one religion. We are not a people of one religion. In the House of Lords the Anglican Church—I do not know what its numerical strength is in the nation, perhaps half—is represented in unanimity, save for the presence of a few Roman Catholic Peers. That is a first anomaly. A second anomaly is this, that side by side with the names of those who take part in the national life are the names of other Peers, names which, I confess, I could not place, and which I had looked up in books of reference, with the result that they still mean very little to me. Is it men of this kind that properly form a "Grand Jury of the nation"? The Solicitor-General has been blamed for saying that there are in the House of Lords nobodies who represent no one but themselves; of how many was not this a strictly accurate description? For what services had those Peers achieved their rank? Let me close what seems to me the worst and the heaviest point in this matter, and the point which now stands most clearly before the populace. The House of Lords is now largely recruited by purchase; so long as public honours are bought and sold I will say nothing. That public honours should be bought and sold is repugnant to a political idealist, but it has so many advantages, it has been pursued in many States with success, the system is now so rooted, and is so much a part of the whole social system, that, however it may provoke us, it may be actually beneficial that mere names should be bought and sold so long as the money is ear-marked for good public uses, but it is intolerable that the purchase money should carry with it the power of legislation. As everybody knows, it is difficult to eliminate the power of money from even a representative system. The hon. Member who last spoke directly alluded to the fact that under a representative system there must follow great power wherever money is concentrated. But that is a long way from the direct purchase 958 of legislative power. It would be out of order wore special names to be mentioned, still every man in this House knows what those names are; there is no doubt that this political truth is now the common property of the people of England; and, under these circumstances, it is impossible to defend the present right of veto of the Upper Chamber.
§ * MR. BUTCHER (Cambridge University)
The contrast is striking between the form of this Resolution and its substance. In form it merely provides a machinery for adjusting the relations between the two Houses. In substance it means nothing less than the abolition of the Lords as an effective part of the Constitution; for such an abridgment of the veto is in effect its abolition; and, as everybody knows, it is the power of the veto which constitutes the power of the House of Lords. Now, the Prime Minister dares not, apparently, say openly, "I am in favour of a single Chamber." I listened with expectant interest to his speech to find out whether he would so declare himself, and, if not, what kind of Second Chamber he favoured. His indictment, indeed, against the Peers pointed to the need of a reformed or reconstructed Chamber, but ho explicitly disavowed any such intention. Reform might hereafter come, but his modest proposal stopped short of that point. Yet he does not shrink from so curtailing the powers of the Upper House as to bring about its virtual extinction. "Mend the Lords afterwards if you please, but lot me end thorn first"—that is the gist of what he says. In passing I may note that when the right hon. Gentleman was pleading for the unlimited supremacy of the House of Commons, and prefaced his constitutional discourse by invoking the name of Burke, I said to myself, "The Secretary of State for India must wonder whether his ears are playing him false." Anyone who has ever read the works of Burke would have thought that ho was the one statesman whoso name should have been kept out of this debate by the Government. One remembers how Burke spoke of the checks and balances of our unwritten constitution, and of the delicate mechanism which can only be worked by a people with political tact and political sense, that has got behind it the traditions of centuries; one recalls 959 how he denounced all abstract formulae and the application of the rules of simple arithmetic to politics; and then, when we come to the proposal of the Prime Minister, and find that, in the name of Burke, he proceeds to submit a mechanical rule under which the House of Lords may veto a Bill twice, and have the privilege of sitting three times in conference, with a warning, before the last conference is held, to the effect, "If you do not pass this Bill it will be passed over your heads"—then one wonders how the name of Burke could with decency be invoked. If I remember aright, the phrase which the Prime Minister quoted from Burke was that "the virtue of the House of Commons lies in being the express image of the nation." That, no doubt, is the ideal of the House of Commons which is in the minds of all of us. The House of Commons ought as far as possible to be the direct reflection of the national will. But when Burke used these words, he surely would have been astonished if he had been told that on the strength of them a future Prime Minister of England would argue in favour of the abolition—for it is nothing short of it—of one part of the Legislature, and of the entire overthrow of the constitution. The Prime Minister did not tell us in so many words that he desired to have only a single Chamber, but the ten our and drift of his argument made it very plain that the Second Chamber was in his eyes unnecessary and unmeaning, and that he would gladly see it die of atrophy.
There is a famous saying, familiar to many in this House, which will illustrate the Prime Minister's attitude towards the House of Lords. At the time of the burning of the Alexandrian Library, the Caliph Omar, who ordered the burning, is recorded to have said, "If the books contained in the library differ from the book of the Prophet, they are impious; if they are the same, they are superfluous." And the saying took shape again at the time of the French Revolution, and was applied to this question of a Second Chamber. "If the Second Chamber dissents from the First, it is mischievous; if it agrees, it is useless." That, in brief, is the substance of the Prime Minister's speech when you look below the evasive and uncandid Resolution. Underlying the words which I have quoted, and underlying the speech of the Prime Minister, 960 is the assumption that a particular utterance is infallible. The utterance of the House of Commons is infallibly true on all occasions and on every question. Now even if we admit that Vox Populi is Fox Dei, it by no means follows that the House of Commons at a particular moment has rightly caught the people's voice. That voice at a general election is sometimes enigmatic. It is not one voice but many voices, a hubbub of voices. Like other oracles, the utterance of the people admits of various interpretations. But the contention of the Prime Minister is this, that the voice of the House of Commons is always the voice of the people, and that, under all conditions, the House of Commons is the sole index of the people's mind, the sole exponent of the people's will. Yet there is nothing more certain than that the House may misread, and has already more than once misread, the will of the nation. The function, therefore, of the Second Chamber is, in case of doubt, to go back to the supreme tribunal; and the real problem is not how to bring the House of Lords into harmony with the House of Commons, but how to secure that the voice of Parliament shall be the voice of the nation, and that the action of the legal sovereign, that is of Parliament, shall be in accord with the will of the political sovereign, namely, the nation.
Hitherto, I imagine, no responsible statesman in England has openly declared himself in favour of a single Chamber. Look at the example of other European countries. I think I am right in saying that there are only three which have not some Second Chamber, and all of these not so long ago formed part of the Turkish Empire:— they were not brought up under happy political auspices, and they here fell into a natural, if excessive, reaction against the undemocratic traditions of their past. It is notable, however, that all the great democracies of history have been aware of certain defects to which they are liable—the ancient democracy of Athens no less than the modern democracy of the United States; and consequently they hedged round their constitutions with elaborate safeguards, some of them perhaps cumbrous and superfluous, against rash innovations. In no country in the world is a Second Chamber more urgently needed than in England. 961 Every other country has safeguarded the fundamental law of its constitution by various devices; some require a special procedure, others an exceptional majority to carry a constitutional amendment. But any transient majority of the House of Commons might, if this Resolution becomes law, enact changes which would subvert the whole constitution. Further, there are in England at this moment many wild schemes which, as yet, exist only in the form of pious sentiment, but which impatient reformers are eager to place upon the Statute-book. Nor can it be denied that in an ever-increasing degree candidates at general elections make promises in a light-hearted way, hoping and believing that they may never have to record their votes upon these questions in the House of Commons, or that if the questions corns up, they will be talked out as was the debate on Female Suffrage last session. Still such pledges are given, and it may rest with the House of Lords to undo the evil.
What then is the object of a Second Chamber? It is not that it may say "ditto" to the First. If so, it would be unnecessary. Its object is that it may sometimes dissent from the first—that there may be not invariable agreement, but occasional disagreement, and that through the discussion of these differences the permanent mind of the nation may be discovered. It is true, the Lords make mistakes—I do not see why the Commons should have a monopoly of error. But the result of these mistakes is at the worst delay, friction, some collision, a short postponement, nothing more; never a permanent thwarting of the settled will of the nation. But mistakes made by the Commons, if the Resolution is carried, may be mistakes that will do irrevocable and irreversible harm. Let me take two critical instances of the action of the Lords in our own time, cardinal examples of what the Lords have accepted and what they have rejected. The first is the case of the Irish Church Bill in 1869. They felt strongly against that Bill, but the principle had been submitted beforehand to the country, the verdict of the country was in its favour, and the Lords accepted it. The second instance has been more than once alluded to this afternoon—I mean the Home 962 Rule Bill of 1893. The Lords rejected that Bill because it had never been before the country. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh, oh!"] No, never. And when the country was asked to give its verdict, its verdict was adverse. This generation owes a debt of lasting gratitude to the House of Lords for saving us from that supreme disaster. Let me direct the attention of the House to another point. In the historical retrospect to which we have just listened it seems to be overlooked, that in the last thirty or forty years silent changes have come about in the Lords' own view of their functions and rights. These have been modified, not by direct enactments, but by tacit rules, by unwritten understandings, and by responsible utterances of great statesmen, such as Lord Salisbury, in their own Chamber. Never was there less danger than at the present moment of the Lords thwarting the settled will of the people. The Lords, after all, are not fools. They are not pedants who cling to outworn traditions. They are not impervious to the signs of the times. They are not unversed in affairs. Many of them mix in public life, and are in close touch with public bodies. Indeed, though the House of Lords is not an elective, it is in a high degree a representative Chamber. The Lords recognise that there is a point at which they must give way to the House of Commons. At what point? When it is clearly shown that the House of Commons represents the deliberate judgment of the nation. How do we know when this point has been reached? What is the test? The Government prescribe an unbending rule. The Lords must not resist beyond the limits of a single Parliament. But no mechanical test is adequate. You must look at all the circumstances of the case. The fact that the House of Commons has passed a measure once or twice is one circumstance. If it is passed by a large majority, it is a weighty circumstance, not lightly to be set aside. It is a prima facie indication of the people's will. But it is only one circumstance, it is not a final and decisive fact. There are occasions on which the House of Lords ought to pass a measure even of far-reaching change which has been sent up to them only once, when the judgment 963 of the country is mature and the way has been prepared for it; and there are other occasions when the Lords ought to reject a Bill which has been twice passed, a private Member's Bill, for instance, which has been hastily snatched up by the Government and forced through the House of Commons without due deliberation. The Prime Minister has taunted the Lords with passing Bills which they regarded as bad and rejecting others which they thought less bad; but in doing so they were only acting on the sound principle which I have indicated. In short, any rigid formula is wholly affected to define the relations between the two Houses. Perhaps the nearest approach to a rule is this—that the vote of the House of Commons must on no account override the veto of the Lords until the issue has been submitted to the country either by a general election or by the introduction of the Referendum.
It is quite true that if the Lords strained their powers to the uttermost there would be a deadlock from which there would be no constitutional escape. Bagehot once wrote, "If ever the House of Peers goes it will go in a storm"; but it will not be a storm in a teacup such as sprang up last session, such, too, as the Prime Minister is seeking to revive this afternoon. So long, however, as the Lords hold fast to the great principle that their true function is to be the guardians of the nation's rights, they stand in no peril. For myself, I desire to see the House of Lords reformed by the introduction into it of fresh elements of national life. I wish it were more representative than it is, more efficient, and more impartial. But even an un-reformed Second Chamber is a far less evil than an autocratic First Chamber: and thus much is certain, that the country will never consent to the Lords being deposed in order to set up the uncontrolled supremacy of the Commons.
§ * MR. DUNCAN SCHWANN (Cheshire, Hyde)
Anyone who rises to address the House on the Resolution now before it must do so with a deep sense of responsibility at the issues involved. If he be a new Member, and, as in my own case, one who has not addressed this Assembly before, he will be overwhelmed 964 with diffidence, diffidence due to that modesty which distinguishes all young politicians, and with a reluctance at intruding in a debate concerning the future of a body of which he has been only a short time a unit. Many of these who have already spoken have sat for a long time in this Assembly. They have become as much a part of it as the mace. They are steeped in the traditions of the spot where they have passed so many years, and the language they have used, whether it has been that of criticism or praise, has been language animated by affectionate knowledge of the subject of their speeches. If they have championed the cause of this House, they have championed what is a part of themselves. It has been as if a man were to sit in judgment on the doings of his own right hand. As a consequence a certain lack of perspective has been involved, from which all hon. and right hon. Members in some degree must suffer. Even the newest and youngest of us are inevitable sufferers. We are too much actors in the drama to be impartial spectators of the events crowding the stage. We are self-centred and absorbed in these social problems for which we seek a remedy. Especially do we, on this side, suffer from this lack of perspective, because our whole interest centres in this Chamber. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, like a ventriloquist, can speak in both Chambers with one voice. He shouts in the other place what he can only whisper here. But to the supporters of the Government utterance is denied elsewhere than here. Absolute here, we are impotent where the right hon. Gentleman is all-powerful. While the existence of another place is a reality always before his thoughts and those of his followers, we, on this side, only learn of its existence in the last weeks of the session. We regard it as the peasants of Styria regard the vampire, stealing from its grave to feed on the life blood of Liberal Bills for a short space, and then to return from its unhallowed feast to its unknown resting place. We feel that we are grappling with a phantom, unreal, unsubstantial, unsatiable. This feeling of unreality is confirmed by a visit to the debates of their Lordships' House. To cross the Strangers Lobby is to go into another world, divorced from contact with the realities of existence that preside over this busy, 965 bustling place. I remember one beautiful April day I went out from Rome to visit the tombs of the Christians. The Campagna was overflowing with the gaiety of spring. The joy of life was everywhere apparent. But when I descended into the vaults of the catacombs I went from life to death, from light to darkness. The lively folk on the great highway were gone, and in their place graves yawned; I was surrounded by dissolution and decay. The sensations that filled me when I experienced that sharp contrast are exactly those that assail all who cross the lobby into the other place. Instead of a Chamber animated, alive, filled with men who speak with all the authority of their fellow-countrymen who elected them, one is confronted by long rows of benches on which scarcely a score of noble legislators slumber. The speaker of the moment appears like the ghost of the dead past—returned to lament over the progress of the present. There are no constituents behind him to give weight to his words. He represents acres, not men. In the atmosphere of that Chamber one feels irresistibly that medievalism is the prevailing note; that there all enthusiasms must perish, that all causes end at last in disaster, and that disillusionment is the lot of man. Standing before the bar of the other place, I have felt like Kip Van Winkle in the Catskill Mountains. I have left the ordinary world of endeavour and achievement to find myself in the company of those dwelling for ever in the twilight of an earlier age, ignorant of the aims and ideals which animate their visitor. I am confident that many here have felt the same. What, Mr. Speaker, is the constitutional theory of the relations between the two Houses? Briefly it is this. This House exists to ascertain roughly, what public opinion decrees should be the legislative task of Parliament—roughly, because the Party spirit which is the determining factor in our political strife acts as a film to distort and cloud the reflection of that public opinion. On the other hand, the House of Lords exists to maintain the balance of the constitution, to check any proposal which might upset the nice adjustment of the whole, and introduce unstable elements. It has a duty to hold the scales of justice even for every class, and to temper the wind of 966 Party passion to the shorn lamb. Such is the relation occupied by the two Houses in the theory of the Constitution. What about the reality? No one, not even hon. Members opposite, can say that the practice of the other place is in accordance with that theory. We have heard much to-day, we shall hear more, of that practice. I will not enlarge on that line of argument except to tell the House an experience that befell me. When in the autumn of last year the Education Bill had gone up from this House to the other place, and a large number of Peers hurried to take part in the proceedings there, I happened to be watching their arrival. The door-keeper, whose task it was to keep watch and ward over the entrance to the Chamber, was so obviously unacquainted with a large number of the noble legislators that I inquired the reason of his embarrassment. "Many of their Lord-ships, "he replied," have not attended here since there was last a Liberal Government in power." During the eleven years of Tory rule during which these noble Gentlemen had not thought it necessary to attend he had forgotten their faces. I want to know this. Why have they hurried down to resume the performance of duties neglected for eleven long years? What inducement can there be for them to assume again the robes of statesmen? What new interests have arisen to claim their attention that did not of old need their protection? Have problems appeared on the political horizon which only they can solve? Has the nation so imperatively summoned them to the judgment seat that they have thin cast aside seclusion and ease to obey it-s call? Everyone knows that they have come to defend one interest, and one interest alone, that of the class to which they belong. How is it that in the present position of the House of Lords constitutional theory and practice are in such sharp antagonism? How is it that the relations between the representative and the unrepresentative Chambers are so strained? I believe it to be largely due to the complete change in the composition of this House, owing to the successive extensions of the franchise since 1832; the entrance into this place of the working classes; and the consequent dissolution of the alliance that of old existed between the two 967 Houses, an alliance that was natural when both Houses were practically representative of one class, and one class only. I hope the House will pardon a very brief historical retrospect, in order that I may establish this point. During the eighteenth century the Members of both Houses were drawn from a few great families. The only political struggle that went on was whether the Whig families or the Tory families should have the larger share of the spoils. But though Whigs and Tories might quarrel about office amongst themselves, both Parties and both Houses were united in defence of the same interests, and in preserving for one privileged and exclusive class, the landed class, the monopoly of power it had held for centuries. The Industrial Revolution, however, ushered in by the inventions in close succession of the spinning-jenny, the "water frame," and the steam-engine, poured money into the pockets of the commercial classes, and thus undermined the hitherto undisputed prestige and influence of the landed classes. They demanded a share of power, and they obtained it by the first Reform Bill. With the middle-class House of Commons thus created the House of Lords proceeded to ally itself, some hundred fresh Peers being created from the ranks of the commercial magnates, a process thus leavening the other place into sympathy with the middle-class aims of the House of Commons. The landowners endeavoured, and endeavoured successfully, to find a common ground on which conflict between property in land and property in commerce might take place as seldom as possible. But the working classes were not disposed to regard this bargain as the last word in electoral justice. They were sharing in the growing wealth of the country, and they demanded a share in the making of laws. By the Reform Bill of 1884 they obtained that share, and the last election saw their representatives invade in large numbers the House of Commons. But no influx of working-class representatives into the House of Lords has taken place, as happened in the case of the middle classes, or can take place under our present system. Confronted with new rivals in the person of the artisan and the agricultural labourer, the Peers have met their demands for an equal share of legislative power with a blank refusal. The working classes are resolved 968 to secure that share, unfettered by any restrictions imposed by a Chamber to which they are denied access by social traditions and distinctions. This Resolution is framed with the object of seeing that they shall obtain it. They have entered the House of Commons by peaceful means, the polling-booth and the ballot-box. They will enter the other place by the methods outlined by the Prime Minister. The House of Commons has been successively the stronghold of the aristocracy and of the middle classes. It has now capitulated to the democracy. But the way of entry was open. A class only require the key of the franchise to obtain admittance. There is no such entrance into the House of Lords. The House of Lords must of its own will recognise the changed conditions outside its walls. It must see itself that there are other rights to defend than those of property, other interests with which to concern itself than those of land. As the giant Anttæus drew renewed vitality in his struggle with Hercules each time a fall brought him into contact with the Earth, his Mother, so the House of Commons gains strength and vigour from each appeal to the electorate, and revives its power as a representative body. The House of Lords is denied such independent increase of power. It can only gain prestige by the representative force of its actions. It must comply with the expressed will of the nation, not thwart it. The majority in this House is the embodied will of the nation. By this Resolution we are determined to bend the stubborn resistance of the other place to the will of the majority here, bond it once and for all.
§ * MR. EVELYN CECIL (Aston Manor)
What we complain of is that the present Liberal majority in the House of Commons does not represent the will of the people. We, on this side of the House, deny that the Liberal Party at present is an embodiment of the national will. We believe that there is a much wider national will which cannot be represented by a temporary majority here. That is the real distinction between the views of the Prime Minister and those on this side of the House. I gather that the object of this Motion is to wreak the vengeance of the Government on the House of Lords for throwing out their Education 969 Bill and the Plural Voting Bill. I think the Government might as well wreak their vengeance on the Irish National Convention for rejecting their Irish Council Bill. I maintain that this is a mere sterile Resolution, simply meant to waste time, and to lay the blame on the House of Lords for the failure of the Government in other directions. In considering this Resolution there are two alternatives, either that the Government intend to mend the House of Lords or to end it. I listened carefully to the Prime Minister to try to discover which of these alternatives the right hon. Gentleman really desires, but he was studiously ambiguous as to his intentions in the future. I am, however, disposed to believe that the right hon. Gentleman much prefers ending to mending, and, for this reason, that the Government are afraid that the mending policy will add to the strength of the House of Lords and to the diminution of the strength of the House of Commons. On the other hand, the policy of ending would be to make this House almost omnipotent. Members of the Conservative and Unionist Party are perfectly willing to adopt some measure to improve the constitution of the other House. It would have been far more practical if the House had had from the Prime Minister what is his view, for instance, of the appointment of more life Peers, which many of us think would be a valuable change and would increase the practical efficiency of the Upper House. Neither have we heard a single word about creating eminent Colonial statesmen to be life Peers, and men who have gained distinction in the different professions All we are favoured with is this vague and blustering Resolution which the Prime Minister has brought forward. The House would have been willing to discuss some of the points raised by the Amendments on the Paper from both sides of the House. Amendments are given notice of to make the House of Lords more elective. It is only proper to remind hon. Members that to make the House of Lords elective, or partly elective, involves admitting that Chamber to a much stronger claim in the appointment of Ministers than at present, and to control over Money Bills. It would have a right to infringe on what we now consider the privileges of this House in many directions; and I rather think that 970 any elective basis would strengthen the Upper House in a conservative direction and would tend to clog and delay legislation rather than to push forward the drastic measures which are desired by hon. Members opposite and below the gangway. The Prime Minister only touched very lightly on the question of the referendum in order to discountenance it. I am not altogether surprised at that. I can quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman is not much enamoured of that policy. It has been tried in Switzerland. Radical statesmen in that country thought if they could send their measures to a referendum of the whole electorate they would be passed with flying colours, but when it was put in operation, ever after the measures had been passed by the Federal or Cantonal legislatures, the nation did not give effect to them, with the result that the referendum can only be considered completely successful by those who wish for as little legislation as possible, and that it is a bitter disappointment to its authors. If the Prime Minister's speech means anything, he aims at the total abolition of the House of Lords, and constituting this House as a single Chamber. But experience of other countries shows that a single Chamber is not at all a desirable system. The only country in Europe which has a single Chamber is Greece; and I do not suppose that, however friendly we may wish to be with Greece, we should in the least desire to imitate that system of Government so far as we have been able to see it in operation. I know that some of the States in America adopted the single Chamber system— Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Vermont. It was tried for varying periods—the longest for fifty years—but in the end they relapsed into a bi-cameral system. Mr. Bryce, in his history of the American Commonwealth, said that in the American States the division of the Parliamentary Government into two co-ordinate bodies had been found to be absolutely necessary. That is a very valuable opinion coming from so eminent an authority, and one who commands the respect of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Again, if we had here a single Chamber we should have no such checks upon it as they have in the United States by means of the Supreme Court. It is said that this House always represents the will of the people; but 971 instances have been given when a temporary majority of this House has proved to be entirely at variance with the views of the country. Suppose this House had an autocratic power when the two great Parties in the State were nearly balanced, hon. Gentlemen below the gangway from Ireland would hold the balance and might insist upon supporting a Government which was clinging to office by the skin of its teeth so as to secure the passing of such measures as a Home Rule Bill. The Prime Minister's scheme would become ridiculous. What is the use of three successive conferences between the two Houses simply to threaten the Lords? And if the representatives of the Commons gave way in any material particular, a Radical majority in the Commons would cry out that the will of the people had been betrayed. How would that advance matter? Yet presumably the Prime Minister contemplates such a state of things occurring in the future with equanimity, and if he does not do so with his eyes open, I can only say this Resolution was very ill thought out. Then there is another reason against making this Chamber as all-powerful as hon. Members opposite desire to see it. This House is becoming less and less competent to discuss first class measures. We have over and over again of late seen the closure applied oftener than ever before, and when it is borne in mind that this year the introduction of the closure by compartments upon an important measure of the Government came as early as the 6th of May, I am astonished that this session should have been chosen to put forward a Resolution to curtail discussion in the Upper House. There is no doubt that this House, by a system of closure preventing debate on first class measures, and discussion on what I might call first class Amendments, is destroying its own power. It is not right that important Amendments such as were brought forward on the Education Bill last year and the Territorial Forces Bill this year should go to the Upper House practically undiscussed or summarily rejected. Yet that is what has been constantly occurring, and if that system is to continue surely it is the more necessary that there should 972 be a full control or power in the Upper House to alter or discuss such Amendments or such Bills. One of the misfortunes, an inherent imperfection, of the system of this House is that its policy is not consistent and steady. The inherent nature of this House is that its power should swing like a pendulum from one side to the other. If you want to regulate that power and keep a steady and consistent policy for the country as a whole, separate and apart from party politics, it is absolutely essential that you should have another Chamber that should be able to regulate and restrain the swing of the pendulum, and even delay legislation, in order that the people should be able to decide upon it. It is complained that the second Chamber delays legislation, but as my hon. friend the Member for Cambridge University has said, if the second Chamber does not exist for the purpose of delaying legislation I do not know what it exists for. It is intended to be a check to enable the whole machinery of the State to work quietly and smoothly,—not by violent swings of the pendulum, but by the steady and gradual movement of national progress. The Prime Minister says the House of Lords is dangerous because it desires to force a dissolution which it has no right to claim. My reply to that is that it never has claimed that right, and that it does not now claim it. I was astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman maintain that the House of Lords could force a dissolution. We have not maintained such a thing on this side of the House, and I think if the right hon. Gentleman had studied the speeches of Leaders in the House of Lords for years past, he would find that the Upper House had steadily disclaimed that they had that power. That is a futile reason for bringing in this Resolution to-night. The House of Lords does not profess either to have the power to force a dissolution or to pronounce upon any measure an irrevocable decision. All its past history has shown that if it believes the nation really desires a particular measure, it never interposes an irrevocable decision. I do not think any Member on the other side of the House can point to a case where the House of Lords has permanently 973 declined to pass a Bill where it has been clearly proved that it was desired by the people. The Prime Minister is now on the horns of a dilemma. He does not know whether to be angry because the Upper House does not pass his Bills, or because they pass them too soon. He was very angry because they threw out the Education and Plural Voting Bills; he is apparently equally angry because they passed the Trade Disputes Bill, for he had hoped that they would reject it, and that that would give him another handle against them. But because the House of Lords thought there was a mandate given for the Trade Disputes Bill at the general election they on the contrary passed it, and the right hon. Gentleman is angry because they did so. I very much doubt whether, if a much more drastic reformer than the right hon. Gentleman was to come to deal with this question, he would not be more likely to turn his attention to this House than to the other. The more this House renders itself practically incapable of doing its business the more obvious it becomes that it is here that we require an alteration of the Constitution rather than in the other House. And I cannot but regret that the Government should have thought it necessary at this period of the session to bring forward such a Resolution as this when so many other pressing political matters need to be considered by the country: and there is a financial crisis going on to which I should have thought the whole attention of the Government might well be directed. It is an astonishing thing that the Prime Minister should choose this moment to come forward and waste the time of the House with a Resolution of this character which can but be futile, feeble, and fatuous, and which will only lead to a useless academic discussion.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has expressed the readiness with which he would have entered into the consideration of any proposal for the improvement of the Second Chamber. I can only express my astonishment that during the last twenty years in which his Party were in power they neglected so thoroughly the opportunity they enjoyed to reconstitute the Second Chamber 974 with which they themselves arc in sympathy. Anybody, like myself, who believes in a representative Second Chamber, will never cease to think that one of the greatest lapses of duty of hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were in power was that they never made the slightest attempt to deal with this matter, and only threw cold water on any suggestion that was made. One of the reasons of the constitutional difficulty in which we find ourselves is that hon. Gentlemen neglected to remodel the Second Chamber with which they themselves agree. With respect to the Resolution with which we are now dealing, its terms are that the power of the Second Chamber must be diminished and that within a couple of sessions this House should have power to pass legislation over their heads. That is virtually single Chamber Government. For myself I think there is a great deal to be said in favour of single Chamber Government, and I prefer the Amendment of the hon. Member for Clitheroe to the Government Resolution. But I think a Chamber like our own, possessing virtually single Chamber powers and confronted by a sham Second Chamber, is much more likely to abuse its responsibilities than is a Single Chamber. So far I am with my hon. friend opposite. I think the result of leaving the Second Chamber in the position suggested by this Resolution would be that it would be very likely to excite the resentment, and be more inefficient to act as a revising authority of the work, of this House. Not only do I prefer the Amendment of the hon. Member for Clitheroe, but I am afraid I prefer all the Amendments on the Paper, except that of the hon. Member for Sheffield, to the Resolution. The real question after all is not merely what is the relation between the two Houses? It is a question of effective machinery for legislation. The aid of the Lords, which is still to be invoked, is of little use without the reconstruction of the Second Chamber. The House of Lords practically ceased to exist during the time the late Government was in power. They could pass Licensing Bills, Chinese Ordinances, and Education Bills, all of which were the worst measures which had ever been passed by a Government of this country—they could pass those measures without the slightest opposition from 975 the House of Lords. And what happened then will happen again, and the House of Lords as it will remain under this Resolution will be perfectly useless and powerless to protect us from the evils of Conservative legislation. My idea is a reconstituted Second Chamber which, should be as representative of trade unions as of property and as representative of our local authority as of our dominions beyond the sea.
§ And, it being a quarter past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further proceeding was postponed without Question put.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.
§ As amended, considered; to be read the third time.