§ Postponed Proceeding on Question, "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," resumed.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (continuing)said
If the country and the Colonies were able to send representatives to the Upper House we should have a more representative Second Chamber. Its members should not be selected by the caucus which has come to have such disproportionate authority to public opinion. The power of the caucus is a thing of which I have had some experience both in organisation and in finance, and I say that the power of the caucus is increasing. The caucus has eliminated the free trader from one side of the 976 House as it may eliminate equally valuable elements from the other. A Second Chamber really representative of the nation and the Empire instead of one interest would have time to discuss legislation. We have an admirable system of Grand Committees, and we have the necessary institution of the closure. But it is essential in some form or other that the people should know how legislation is dealt with, and no vital principle should be left un-cussed: that is an ideal not arrived at at the present time in the working of our Grand Committees. This House has unrivalled prestige and force, but we should lose that if we submitted to the weaknesses which unlimited power brings with it, and which would certainly follow in the train of unlimited authority. That is a danger which I urge because of the unparalleled interests at stake in the British Commonwealth. The Resolution affords no solution to the Parliamentary difficulty of a House of Commons with absolute power and an illusory Second Chamber, and I feel that the real business before Parliament is to disencumber the Constitution of the wreckage of an hereditary Chamber and to secure an alternative in its place.
§ MR. SAMUEL ROBERTS (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
As I understand from the right hon. Gentleman, the object of the Government in introducing this Resolution is to ascertain the opinion of this House. I confess I was rather surprised to hear that, because we all know what the result of this debate will be. The Government are able to carry this or any other Resolution they choose to put. But what it is important to know, in our opinion, is what is the opinion of the country. This question has been put to the country on the platforms at the by-elections, and the Government have found that it has not created the effect that was expected. There is no doubt as to what the effect of this Resolution, if carried into effect, will be. It means the abolition of the House of Lords, of the Second Chamber, because the Prime Minister has told us that though there are to be two conferences between this House and the House of Lords, yet in the end, if the House of Lords does not agree with the decision of 977 this House, then this House will pass legislation over the head of the other House, and take the Bill up for Royal Assent. Therefore, it means the abolition of the Second Chamber. But is it not impossible to conceive the House of Lord condescending to occupy a position of this character? I cannot conceive that they would out of self-respect consent to occupy such a position. The right hon. Gentleman, I was pleased to hear when he introduced this Resolution, said he had no complaint against the House of Lords. previous to the year 1832. I think he was right in not trying to take his complaint further, because the House of Lords existed long before this House. For 200 years after the Conquest, they occupied this position, and when the representatives of the people took their seats, they took them by the side of the Lords, and the result was, as Lord Chatham once said, that we were indebted to the English Barons from Magna Charta downwards for our laws and our Constitution. I have in my hands a little book published by the Eighty Club called the "House of Lords and the Unjust Veto." It is an interesting little work, and I have taken the trouble to go through the chapter entitled" Bills mutilated and rejected. "But before I deal with that, as the Prime Minister makes no complaint of the House of Lords before 1832, I would ask the House to allow me for a few moments to deal with the details. Since that period in what proportion have Peers been created by the two Parties in the State? The hon. Member for Salford told us just now that Peers have been created by purchase. I do not suggest in what manner they have been created, but I find that since 1830, 238 peerages have been created by Liberal Ministries, whilst the Conservatives have only created 181. So that, although they now say the House of Lords is bad, and ought to be abolished, during the last seventy or eighty years they have been responsible for the majority of the creations in that House. There has been a great deal of talk against the House because in 1831 it rejected the Reform Bill by a majority of thirty-one. But that Bill was only delayed for a year. The Municipal Corporations Bill of 1835 the House I of Lords amended. 978 They introduced the element of aldermen. [AN HON. MEMBER: And they have been a nuisance ever since.] That may be so, but modern Parliaments have kept the principle ever since, and they have grafted it on to the local authorities because it insures a continuity of policy. The Bill for the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 was passed by the House of Lords the first time it was sent up. Then in 1860 this House was in favour of taking off the paper duty, and the House of Lords in the following year recoganised the rights of the House to do so, and the result was that the abolition of the duty was only postponed for a year. The Ballot Act of 1870 was only postponed for a year, because it was sent up at the end of the session, too late for the Lords to consider it. The Burials Act of 1880 was passed by the Lords on its first being sent up. The Irish Land Bill in 1881 was passed with some Amendments. The Irish Arrears of Rent Bill of 1882 was passed, the Franchise Bill of 1884 passed its Second Reading in the House of Lords with the condition that it should be accompanied with a Redistribution Bill. The. result of that was that a conference took place between the two Houses, and a most satisfactory scheme was drawn up by which 171 constituencies were disfranchised, and the seats were allotted so that the populous and increasing places in the country could have popular representation in this House. Was not that a proper thing for the House to do? The next Bill I come to is the Home Rule Bill of 1893. That was rejected by the House of Lords, and the country endorsed their rejection at the election of 1895. The country was with them, as it is with them to-day. The Parish Councils Bill in 1894, after considerable discussion, was a measure upon which the House of Lords gave way, and the Bill passed substantially as it went up. There, were two Bills last year which the House of Lords rejected, and which I believe are the main causes of this Resolution—the Education Bill land the Plural Voting Bill. We contend on this side of the House that in amending and rejecting those two Bills, the House of Lords acted in accordance with the will of the people, and the Government dare not consult the people upon one of them. ["No."] We have put it to them over 979 and over again—"Go to the country on the question."
§ MR. SAMUEL ROBERTS
You have been back long enough to have lost the confidence of the country, as has been shown by recent by elections ["oh,"] and as was shown by the London County Council elections. On the question of religious education, I believe the House of Lords were carrying out the will of the people that in every publicly conducted school some part of the curriculum of the day should be set apart for religious teaching. As to the Plural Voting Bill, the House of Lords only did with it what they did with the Franchise Bill of 1884, when they said: "No, if the House of Commons wishes to make an alteration in the principle of the franchise it must be accompanied also by a system of redistribution of seats." That is all the House of Lords did in 1884. And in reference to the Plural Voting Bill they did not say: "We will not listen to the principle of the measure, but we say that it must be accompanied by a proper system of redistribution. Redistribution is a very important question. Take five small Irish boroughs which have 13,576 voters; there you have one Member representing 2,700 voters, while Romford, in Essex, has one Member representing 47,641 voters, so that a voter in one of these five Irish boroughs has eighteen times the voting power of a voter in Romford. That is a thing which needs to be remedied. ["Why did not you remedy it?"] We introduced a Redistribution. Bill, but it was crowded out by the action of the Opposition; we intended to introduce a Bill last Parliament; but the present Government will not tackle the question, though they have the power to carry it out. I will not weary the House by asking them to listen to a long list of Bills which the House of Lords has passed. Mention has been made more than once this afternoon of the Trade Disputes Bill. Is not that evidence that though the House of Lords disliked the Bill very much indeed in principle, yet they were satisfied on the whole that the workpeople were in favour of it, and, therefore, they passed 980 it? Although this Resolution may and possibly will be carried by a large majority, yet I hope that on this occasion some scheme of reform of the House of Lords will be projected. A Committee has been appointed and I see by the papers that Lord Rosebery has been appointed Chairman of that Committee. We on this side are not opposed to reform of the House of Lords, and we will consider a scheme either by the way of the introduction of more life peers or otherwise. I think myself that it would strengthen that body. It would not be an unpopular measure with the Lords themselves, and we think that it might be a proper way to meet any objection that might be raised. But we say that on this occasion there is no real evidence or case that the House of Lords have resisted the will of the people. There were only two Bills that were dealt with or rejected last session, and we say that in those two cases the House of Lords were carrying out the wishes of the people. There is no case to go to the jury, but if there were we know what the verdict of the jury would be.
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)
This question is perhaps one of the most important that has arisen for many years, and everybody is alive to the important issues which may flow from it. I have listened with attention to the arguments of hon. Members on the other side, and I regret to find that it has been said more than once that the Government desire to waste the time of the House. I take it that when we are discussing a great constitutional question of this character we ought to be prepared on each side to allow that there is a definite purpose. We cannot, of course, agree as to the right method to adopt in order to solve this difficulty, but we ought to agree to approach it in a spirit which would make it impossible to attribute to one another motives of this character. One point has been made clear in the debate to-night, namely, that there is a spirit of agreement on the point that some alteration is necessary in the present conditions of the governing relations of the two Houses. Hon. Members on the other side have clearly indicated their opinion on this question. Everybody recognises that some change must take place in our 981 electoral machinery for legislation in this country if you are to proceed on right and reasonable lines. Another point which has been made by more than one speaker opposite against the Resolution, is that it means the abolition of a second Chamber. I am certain that the Government do not mean that. The Resolution seems to me to point the other way. Their desire is as far as possible to preserve existing conditions. It is not to make but to avoid conflict; and that, in my judgment, is the purpose of the Prime Minister. I am not going to criticise the details of the plan which has been so clearly laid before the House by the Prime Minister. I will only say that, in my opinion, perhaps the most useful provision in that plan will be found to be the arrangement with regard to the conferences between the two Houses. I know of nothing more likely to avoid conflict and to tone down bitterness of feeling than to bring representatives of both Houses together. I might express my own opinion that an arrangement might be made by which an equal number of Members representative of both Houses should constitute this conference, because it seems to me that you will be asked that there should be some relation between the political complexion of this House and the position of that body which forms the conference. But this proposal for a conference is evidence to my mind of the desire of the Government, as far as possible, to deal with this matter, not in a partisan manner, but with a most sincere desire to bring about such conditions as will avoid conflict and ensure the progress of legislation. But my main purpose in rising is to say how important this Resolution is to Wales, with whose opinion I am particularly acquainted. Perhaps the House will allow me to point out one or two distinctions between the conditions in Wales and the political conditions in England and other portions of the United Kingdom. I will only go back to the year 1868. The fact is that Wales from the year 1868, in the nine general elections which have taken place, has not altered her political attitude. While in the rest of the country there has been an alteration of the majority of the two Parties, the Liberal Party winning the election on one occasion and the 982 Conservative Party on the other, Wales, on the other hand, in each general election, has returned an overwhelming majority of Liberal representatives. Wales has, therefore, undoubtedly a grievance against the present condition of things in regard to the House of Lords. The House of Lords is always against one Party in this House and in favour of the other, but it becomes very much more serious when, as is the case with reference to Wales, the House of Lords is always against the opinion of the great majority of the Welsh representatives. I will only mention three great questions upon which the mind of Wales has been made up for the last forty years, namely, the necessity for legislation on the land question, on the temperance question, and on the question of disestablishment. Although at every election there has been an overwhelming majority of Welsh Members returned here to support reform on these questions, and to press their views on the mind of the Government, yet the people of Wales recognise that so long as the present condition of things exists with reference to the House of Lords, there is very little substantial hope of real progress being made Therefore the decision of the Government to proceed with this great constitutional question will be received with great satisfaction by the majority of the electors of Wales. In conclusion, I should like to emphasise that we cannot go on as we are. It is impossible for any man who considers this question reasonably to come to any other decision. There are on the horizon of the political firmament great questions arising having a vital connection with the social life of the country which must sooner or later be solved by this House of Commons. If anything can be done to bring about peace between this Assembly and another place, and to enable them to go on hand in hand with the work of reform, then the Government by taking this step will have earned the gratitude of generations to come.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
The hollow character of this debate is well shown by the fact that during the speech of the hon. Member opposite there has not been more than thirty Members present. If the character of the Upper House is such as has been 983 described by the Prime Minister, how comes it that so large a proportion of the Members of the Upper House have been nominated since the Reform Bill by Radical Prime Ministers? I think that is eloquent testimony to the constitution of the Upper House of Parliament. Nobody who examines that constitution will deny for a single moment that, if you take 100 Members of the House of Lords, it would be difficult to match them for experience, intellect, knowledge of affairs, and power of government by 100 Members of this House. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] This Parliament consists of an enormous proportion of new Members who have only been in Parliament eighteen months, and the majority of them have had no experience of public affairs in any shape or form. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Does the Prime Minister aim at the creation of a Senate like that of the United States, or that existing in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or any other of our Colonies? Does he aim at an elected Upper Chamber like that existing in France, Italy, or Spain? If we were to have an elected Upper Chamber it would certainly be stronger and more powerful than the Lower House. The Senate of the American Constitution has almost the free control, during the session, of the acts of the President, of Treaties with foreign Powers, and matters affecting the Army and Navy, with which the House of Representatives has no direct concern. In Australia we find exactly the same condition of affairs. Many hon. Members will no doubt recollect the services to Australia which were rendered by the Hon. James Service, who wrote an important essay upon the difference between an elected and a nominated chamber. He said—This apparently democratic provision proves in practice a source of endless trouble and conflict. The nominated council, liable to be modified like the House of Lords by new nominations, never proved long intractable to the ascertained wishes of the community. The elected council, on the contrary, assumes that it is the equal of the assembly, deriving its authority also from the ascertained wishes of the electors, and insists that to give way in a conflict with the other chamber is to betray its special constituents.That was the experience of a statesman who has had experience of both kinds of chambers, and an opinion like that from one of our own countrymen is a very valuable contribution upon this question. 984 There is no hon. Member here who can say that the last general election turned upon one matter. I have heard this question discussed repeatedly by Liberal Members among themselves, and they have never agreed upon any one single factor as having determined the result. It would not be right of the Upper House to endorse without discussion or examination a measure passed by this House, unless they felt sure that it represented the opinions of the community at large. It is absolutely essential that the freedom of discussing and examining any proposition sent to it by this House should be retained by the Upper Chamber. It may be that some reform is advisable. The debate on Lord Newton's Motion and the Committee now sitting may bring about a more satisfactory position of affairs, but there can be no doubt that the House of Lords is extremely popular among the great masses of the people. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Let hon. Members speak for their own constituencies and I will do the same. I think I have a right to give expression to what I believe to be the feeling of the majority of the electors in my own constituency. During the twenty-three years I have been a Member of this House I have never been subjected to any questions about the action of the House of Lords, which I am sure is an extremely popular body and has the full confidence of the people. If anyone is wanted to speak at a large popular gathering, do they write to Members of this House? No, they prefer a Member of the Upper House, I suppose for his personality, intelligence, and knowledge of affairs. There is one reform to which I would never consent, and that is that Peers should be entitled to sit in the House of Commons. If that were allowed we should be nowhere, and hon. Members opposite are well aware of that fact. Surely the Upper House is entitled to consider the way in which this House is formed? The great majority of hon. Members opposite represent almost an equal number of votes of both Parties, but I would remind the House that there were forty-seven seats won at the last election by only 1,800 votes. If there were only some system of proportional representation the number of. Members sitting upon these Benches would be very different from what it is in this Parliament. I only 985 desire to give expression to the general sense of the views which prompted my Amendment, and I will conclude by saying that I desire to support in the most earnest way the views which have been so ably and eloquently enunciated by the Leader of the Opposition, which I believe represent the feelings of the great majority of the people of this country.
§ * MR. TREVELYAN (Yorkshire, W.R., Elland)
I am bound to say that to a certain extent I agree with part of the last speaker's remarks. I think that in this country there are a large number of people who do not want to lose the Peers in their present social position. There are a great many who would like to retain them for the purpose of heading subscription lists, popularising prospectuses, and crowding bazaars. That is not the aspect of the question which we are discussing to-night. We are debating the political power of the other Chamber, and although there are many of us in this House who dislike almost equally the social position which title gives to the House of Peers, we are not at this moment discussing their social position. We are discussing exclusively their political predominance. I should like to say first, in regard to the conclusion of the Leader of the Opposition that the Prime Minister is not in earnest about social reform, that, although I do not profess to probe the motives which actuate the Government, I am perfectly certain about the motives of many of those who sit on this side of the House. I am certain that we do not hanker after this contest with the House of Lords. It was forced upon us. We hoped for an era of non-interference from the other House—hoped, I admit, against hope. We have not been as social reformers dissatisfied with the action of the Government. They have passed many social reform measures, such as the Trade Disputes Bill. They are passing land reform measures. The greatest of these social reform measures last year was the Education Bill—for education is a social reform—and it was instantly made impossible to pass the measure by the action of the House of Lords. From that moment most of us here felt that it was necessary that the Government should immediately tackle this question. We turn without regret to this constitutional 986 contest, because after the speech of the Prime Minister it is clear that it is to be a final fight, but we shall not think the time wasted if the result of the contest is to break the power for good and all of the House of Lords, so that reformers may not be diverted again from the congenial task of dealing with the social changes to which we want to devote ourselves. I think we turn to the contest, not only without regret, but without misgiving, because I cannot imagine one which is more politically hopeful for ourselves, I cannot imagine anything more strategically satisfactory than an assault on an indefensible and undefended position. The House of Lords is practically undefended. It is no defence of that House to make excuses for particular actions on their part. It is not a defence of a particular Chamber to say you must have a Second Chamber. You do not defend the institution unless you say that if you started afresh you would create something like that institution under the new circumstances. I do not think that there are any Gentlemen in this House who would venture to say that if we had to start afresh in this country we would start with anything like the hereditary chamber by which our action is now controlled. The truth is that the House of Lords is not defended, though it is accepted by the Conservative Party as a reliable piece of their Party machinery. The great Conservative leader, Mr. Disraeli, wrote "Coningsby" when he was a young man, and he put into the mouth of Mr. Millbank a statement of the position, part of which I will quote—Nobody wants a second chamber, except a few disreputable individuals. It is a valuable institution for any member of it who has no distinction, neither character, talents, nor estate. But a Peer who possesses all or any of these great qualifications, would find himself an immeasurably more important personage in what, by way of jest, they call the Lower House.Is not the revising wisdom of a senate a salutary check on the precipitation of a popular assembly?" said Coningsby.Why," said Mr. Millbank, "should a popular assembly, elected by the flower of a nation, be precipitate? If precipitate, what senate could stay an assembly so chosen? No, no, no! The thing has been tried over and over again; the idea of restraining the powerful by the weak is an absurdity. The question is settled.The arguments with which Mr. Coningsby answered Mr. Millbank are so weak and 987 perfunctory that it is evident that the writer considered Mr. Millbank was putting the right point of view. To us it seems that the time for change has come, because of the increasing divergence between the two Houses. It has now reached such a point that the recovery of even a partial understanding has become impossible. Every generation the two Houses have necessarily been drifting apart. At the time of the Reform Bill, and even after, the two Houses of Parliament, though chosen in different ways, consisted very largely of people of the same class and the same interests. The Members of the House of Commons were almost all wealthy men belonging to Whig or Tory families. What is the position now? The House of Lords remains practically the same as at the time of the Reform Bill, but the House of Commons has altered fundamentally in its constitution. To-day there are plenty of wealthy men in the House of Commons, but they are not the predominant people in this House. The predominant Members are mainly self-made men drawn from the commercial classes, and we see to-day a large number of men belonging to the labouring classes. The House of Lords is hopelessly different from the House of Commons, and it has become impossible for them in any way to coalesce. Therefore, we feel that the time has come to support the Government in the simple and effective plan by which they propose to establish the supremacy of the House of Commons during the Parliament for which it is elected. We are asked whether we will leave the House of Commons entirely unchecked by any Second Chamber. Does our Constitution at present show any inordinate dread of an absolute House of Commons? The very reverse is the case. The Leader of the Opposition himself, when speaking to-day, pointed out very justly that in all matters of administration the Government are free from criticism except the criticism of this House. He might have elaborated that argument, and pointed out that in all matters affecting the Army and Navy, education, and the whole finance of the country, the House of Commons is practically uncontrolled. The right hon. Gentleman might have gone on to say how foreign affairs are entirely controlled by the House of Commons. War, the 988 greatest and most irrevocable act of a Government, can only be challenged by the House of Commons, though, I admit more or less ineffectively. But no Government would dare to have a war unless it supposed that it had the House of Commons behind it, and no Government would care for the opinion of the House of Lords in such a matter. Again, in Colonial matters who would care for what the House of Lords thought? Even if they were all at this moment Milnerites, would that have led the Government to hesitate in granting the Transvaal Constitution? Colonial affairs are almost entirely in the hands of the House of Commons. Surely it is stretching things too far to say that in matters of legislation control of their action is absolutely necessary. The real truth is that the country is not frightened at allowing this House to carry on Imperial and Colonial affairs; and why? Because there is the most efficacious check they could possibly have in existence already—the appeal to the people at a general election. Take the story of the last five years. For three years there was a decadent and unpopular Government which passed unpopular acts and committed administrative enormities, and then came the general election, and the people at once administered the most summary check on political record. If the country chose to elect a Conservative Government in 1900, for my part, I cannot see the hardship of its having to put up with the typically Conservative performance of Chinese Labour. But now the check is operating in that matter, and the Chinese are all being repatriated and the Conservative policy reversed. In legislation, however, the check fails at present, because by the operation of the Constitution the people are denied the right to reverse in any way Conservative legislation, however, detestable it may be. The Education Bill of 1902 was detested, and the Parliament chosen at the general election last year would have set that right but for the intervention of the House of Lords. The House of Lords in legislation prevent the true play of the Constitution. They destroy, they do not keep the balance. They render inoperative the only true check which can teach Ministries and Parliaments who are their masters. To make that check a real one, we welcome the abolition of the veto of the Peers.
§ MR. C. DUNCAN (Barrow-in Furness)
I desire to take some small share in the debate, because it seems to me that we are coming to grips on a question which is of vital importance, not only to the political life of the nation, but also to the life of the toilers of this country. After listening to the debate, I venture to say that the only conclusion we can come to is that the House of Lords is indefensible. In no single speech has the House of Lords been defended as a House. All kinds of suggestions have been put forward in regard to its improvement. Many proposals have been made that new blood should be put into that Chamber, but in no single instance has any Member defended the House of Lords as an institution. We are developing on this question. As elections come and go the people who come to this House are gradually changing. At one time the great bulk of the Members came from one particular class, but slowly and surely Members are being returned to the House from a lower strata of life, the strata from which I myself come. They are coming in in increasing numbers, and I say that if this Government will not tackle this question there is an element outside the House which means business, and is determined that the voice of the people shall prevail, and that the Bills which the people desire shall be placed on the Statute Book. What the people of the country require in the Legislature is intelligence, and those of us who have been in the House of Lords, and listened to their debates, can say that there is no monopoly of intelligence in the Upper House. I venture to say that the level of debate in this House is higher and more incisive, that the points are more ably canvassed than in the House of Lords. The business ability of the House of Commons is infinitely superior to that of the House of Lords, with all their advantages of learning and in other respects. Hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about the great danger of rushing legislation through this House, but I think that that is a danger which is least likely to be experienced here. Many hon. Members came to the House with considerable experience of administrative government acquired in municipal life, and that, in my opinion, is one of the best signs that a new life has arisen to-day in this House. It is one of the 990 strongest reasons why the House desires to move with the times and to see measures of progress and reform passed. The men who sit on the Labour side of the House are men in touch with the people outside, and they know that the people desire the changes which have been brought forward in the House of Commons during the last eighteen months. I rejoice that I have lived to see this day, when the House of Commons has come into grips with those who have so long monopolised the power and authority of the country to the detriment of all thinking people who desire to see this country make the progress which other nations are making. Would anyone suggest for a moment that if the last general election had brought in the Tariff Reform Party that would not have been taken as the voice of the people? I say that it would. But it is only when you have a popular Government in this House that it is questioned whether it represents the voice of the people in the slightest degree. When you have a Conservative Government in power, however, all its legislation, whether it is liked or disliked by the people, is placed on the Statute-book. The Leader of the Opposition alluded to the recent South African war, and he seemed to think that that war was exceedingly popular in the country. Well, I for one do not agree with that opinion. I deny the right of the Leader of the Tory Party, or of the Liberal Party either, to pledge this nation to war without taking the opinion of the people upon it. It is mere claptrap to say that, after the country had been plunged into war, the people wished to see our troops successful. Why should they not, when their husbands, sons, and brothers were engaged in it? The Trade Union Congress on several occasions gave no uncertain sound against war with the Transvaal before it was declared, and that congress can speak with some authority, because it represents 1,500,000 of the cream of the working class population of the country. We are told that it was a miners' war. Well, we have seen how the mining magnates who brought about the war have been squeezing the miners out of the Transvaal! It is said, how is the will of the people to be ascertained? In my opinion only at the polls. When Liberal Bills are destroyed by the House of Lords, then we are 991 told that it is only the Lords who know what the will of the people is; but we never can ascertain how the Lords get to learn what is the will of the people. We working men through our organisations and by coming into close contact with the people can claim in an honest way to voice the opinion of the people. There was never a more bombastic claim in history than that of the Members of the other House that they in the slightest degree represent the opinion of the common people of this country. Supposing this House were to become an autocratic Chamber, many of the checks at present prevailing would still be in existence. Even in the case of the Education Bill there was a check in the action of the passive resisters who pursued a policy which was used many hundreds of years ago when people refused to pay their taxes. That is a check which we may have exercised again. Then there is the chock of a general election. Take the last general election with its clean sweep in regard to the Conservative Party. To say that, after all these men have with great toil and turmoil been brought to this House, the House of Lords of its own free will is to mangle and throw out the principal Bills of the session, brings the political life of the nation to a perfect deadlock. If we claim to be a democratic Assembly we should reflect the aims and wishes of the people, and I hope the time has gone by when the House of Lords is able to say to this House, "Thus far shalt thou go and no further." The only fault I find with the Party opposite is that they propose that whenever any legislation is passed in this House they should give the House of Lords three separate opportunities of discussing and rejecting their Bill. Having had some experience in this House of Commons, I know something of the ability of hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway to carry on obstruction, and I venture to say that if this Resolution is passed and the Government passes such a law as will make it operative, the House of Lords will then have the power to retard legislation in a greater degree than they have to day. Therefore I am prepared to go "the whole hog" like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham is in regard to tariff reform. I believe in the "ending" and not in the "mending" of the House 992 of Lords. Obviously it has no good qualities which one can detect; nothing but excuses and apologies have been given to us in regard to it, and all its apologists have been bound to admit that the House of Lords to-day does not represent the people of the country. All sorts of remedies have been suggested. It has been suggested that we should have men nominated for the House of Lords by this House, but I hope it may never be my fortune to be in their place. I think our experience of the Upper House has been that, instead of being a friend of the people and standing against hasty legislation, it has always stood against the people and defended its own particular interest.
§ * MR. HEMMERDE (Denbighshire, E.)
The hon. Member for Cambridge University quoted Bagehot as saying that when the House of Lords ended it would end in a storm. He might have quoted Bagehot further, and told the House how that eminent writer pointed out that the House of Lords had resisted every effort for reform of its constitution. We, however, as well as Bagehot, know that they have resisted every effort for reform and now when they are threatened with something in regard to which we may use a stronger word than reform we hear for the first time the suggestion on the other side that the House of Lords should be reformed. I think we may agree with the hon. Member for Cambridge University when he told the House that this was a serious Motion. He said in substance that it meant nothing less than the abolition of the House of Lords, but I do not think it means that, but that the House of Lords should be merely a revising Chamber. It means that if the House of Lords wants to be what history gives it no claim to be, the predominant partner in our Legislature, then there shall be an abolition of those claims for which there is no warrant. It has been pointed out how the House of Lords has changed in the last century. We have heard how a century ago the position of the House of Lords was not pre-eminently Conservative, but times have changed, and now that the forces of democracy are beating at the door and claiming that they should come into their own the Lords adopt a different 993 attitude. My colleague in the representations of Denbighshire said that Wales had demanded three great reforms, in regard to land, temperance, and disestablishment, and we find to-day that those are the three reforms against which the House of Lords most clearly sets its face, and in (setting its face against those reforms it is not defending the constitutional position. What it is really doing is defending vested interests, and it is defending vested interests which no assembly representative of the nation would defend. They are not defending vested interests in the land in the name of the farmers who get their living out of it, but they stand up against democracy to protect those persons who draw wealth from the land which they have never earned. One of the great things which this Government is pledged to deal with is land reform, and the Leader of the Opposition has threatened us with what will happen if they attempt to deal with the subject. The right hon. Gentleman knows that ho has told us again and again what we may expect in another place if this House attempts to deal with the subject of land reform. We also know what we may expect on the question of temperance reform. We shall be dealt with in the same way as in the case of land, although the wealth which a state-created monopoly gives to the drink traffic has boon taken from the nation. To talk about predatory instincts is absurd when we are only trying to prevent these interests from preying upon us, and putting into their pockets wealth which they have never earned. We find the same thing when we try to deal with the great drink interest as we find in the case of the land. Then we come to the great question of the Church, and there again we find ourselves up against another vested interest. There is really no ground for the suggestion that the House of Lords are defending the real rights of the people of the country. What has really changed is that The people are divided into two classes, one putting property before persons, and the other persons before property, and the party which juts property before persons is well represented in the House of Lords. What have they done to advance the well-being of the people of the country at all? What are the needs which the 994 country mainly wants supplied and which it showed at the last general election it wished for? It wants housing reform, but you will not got any Bill passed through the House of Lords in that direction. It wants temperance reform, land reform, small holdings, and old age pensions. These are the things which the country wants, and they are matters in which the House of Lords has never taken the smallest interest. We came into power with an overwhelming majority, and the first thing we hoar is that we as a Party are not really representing the people. How can you test the fooling of the people except by an election such as we had in 1906? Yet after winning that great victory, and only these who know the forces which the Liberal Party has to contend against in the country know what a tremendous victory it was, we find the very men here whom we met in the constituencies and dofoated—because before the writs issue the Members of the House of Lords take a conspicuous part in the elections—we find these very men set up as a barrier against our aspirations for the benefit of the country. I say that that is a most arrogant claim. We are told that other countries have worse Second Chambors than we have. It may be so, but no. country has a Second Chambor more unblushingly partisan. From the very moment of our victory we have heard what the House of Lords is going to do. Then the Government comes forward with this Resolution, and I think it goes as far as it can go and claims the right of this House to deal with the great conglomeration of vested interests in the House of Lords. The hon. Member for Clitheroe said it would take quite a long time to get a measure through if the House of Lords were given three occasions for repentance. I do not think it will take so very long. It will not take very much more than a year when all the proceedings contemplated by this Bill are carried through, and I shall not be very much concerned if it does take more than that, if we can secure the passing of our measures before each Parliament dissolves. One Member, I think the hon. Member for Sheffield, said that ho had never boon able to find out from any Member of the Liberal Party exactly on what particular question the Liberal Party was returned 995 at the last election. I do not think it would be very easy to say exactly upon what question they were returned, but I am certain that if there was one question more present in the minds of the electors than any other it was the utter incapacity of the late Administration to conduct the affairs of the country with sagacity or prudence, with dignity or oven honour, and yet we find these very people setting themselves up as judges of the popular will. Take the education question. Hon. Gentlemen opposite admit that two points were before the country, popular control and the abolition of tests for teachers. Can they suggest any more moderate Bill than that which was brought forward which will carry out these objects? Take plural voting, we hear to-day that the abolition of plural voting and the redistribution of seats must go together. When the late Government introduced their. Redistribution Bill they had not discovered the necessary interconnection between these reforms. The mandate theory sometimes secures lip-service from the House of Lords whether it is in regard to education or in regard to electoral reform, but the governing idea of the Upper Chamber is to protect the interests of the Tory Party. I came across an extract from an American writer which expresses this. The writer said—Speaking in general terms, there is no bribery in England. Up to very recently there could not very well be any, because the exploiting, wealth-holding interests not merely owned the Government but also were the Government. The only people, generally speaking, who wanted governmental favours and could not get them gratis wore the poor who had no money to bribe anybody with. This simple tact explains the. superior purity of English polities—which has caused so many American blushes. English landlords own half the Government as an hereditary right. The people may vole until they are black in the face without making the slightest impression upon the great land interest. It is quite as though Mr. Rogers and his heirs forever had a veto power over any legislation affecting oil, and Mr. Harriman enjoyed a like privilege concerning railroad laws. Had such an arrangement obtained during the last fifty years our politics would have been much purer in a certain technical sense; but, on the whole, the people would hardly have been as well off. Our railroads have spent money for corrupt political purposes. Possibly their capitalisation is to some small degree affected by such expenditures, which we call graft. The capitalisation of the English roads contains immense sums of which they were mulcted by the governing owners of the land. They do not call that graft in England; but it 996 comes to exactly the same thing for the people who pay the freight. The House of Lords is graft constitutionally established, robed and canonised.All this pretence about representing the people they know very well to be a pretence, because they realise they do not represent them any more than the Leader of the Opposition does. The Loader of the Opposition led a great party into battle and suffered the greatest defeat over known in a century and a half of English politics, but after having gone into the battle and sustained such a defeat as that he says we do not represent the people and sometimes he says we have no mandates. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR was understood to dissent.] Well, if he has not said it, Lord Lansdowne has said it, and many others of his followers. I say it is perfectly impossible to obtain a popular vote except by a general election. Hon. Members suggest to us, however, that we ought to take a general election every time we differ from them. They know that is perfectly impossible. They know that the question of expense makes a general election impossible just as much as it makes a referendum impossible. You cannot force a Party of poor people to go to the country or to have a referendum every time they come up against a vested interest. You cannot force this Party which is becoming increasingly a Party of poor men to take the opinion of the country again and again. We took the opinion of the country in 1900 and we were beaten, and then we took it in 190G and we were successful. Why should we not be allowed, therefore, to deal with the questions which we find facing us on every side, simply because this body, the House of Lords, forbids us to deal with them, or to deal with the questions of principle which are raised? It is because this Government has put its hand to the plough that I strongly support them to-day. I do not believe in the contention that the House of Commons wants checks on every privilege it possesses. I believe, as his been shown by experience in regard to other bodies, that the greater the responsibility entrusted to them, the better they will use their powers. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University talks about great changes being made which are irretrievable. They are not irretrievable. Surely there is "a certainty that if they are carried out by 997 Parliament and public opinion is against them the people will resent and even reverse any violent changes. I do not believe the House of Lords think that they know the will of the people. Their action is not dictated by such knowledge or by any political principle. All they know is that they have a grip on the Liberal Party, and that the one thing to unhorse the Liberal Party is to prevent it from doing democratic work. We cannot get along with this democratic work unless the power of the House of Lords is reduced. I know, as a result of travelling on political errands from one end of the country to the other, that the people demand these social reforms. I believe the Government are sincere in this matter, and I congratulate them on attempting to put their forces into battle array against an autocratic Chamber which claims, without warrant or honest belief, to have the support of the people whose claims and aspirations it is consistently thwarting.
§ * SIR WILLIAM ANSON (Oxford University)
The last three speeches have boon occupied with disparaging remarks about the House of Lords and the Unionist Party, but perhaps the House will permit me to come back to the dry constitutional aspect of the situation as it is proposed to be dealt with by the Prime Minister. The real interest in the debate is not so much in the Resolution before the House as in the Bill which has boon sketched out by the right hon. Gentleman as embodying his views of the purport of the Resolution. The Resolution of the House of Commons I do not think will do anybody any harm and may be taken merely as representing the salvage of the wreck of the Government programme this Session. The Bill which has been suggested is one of the series of drastic measures promised in the future; it gives a prospect of what we may have to be occupied in discussing during a number of months in the session of 1908, and it does something more than carry out the policy of the Government as suggested by the Prime Minister at the commencement of this session, when ho said he contemplated some readjustment of the relations between the two Houses which he expected would be carried out with reasonable harmony. The Bill suggested to us is not an improvement of 998 machinery. It is not a readjustment of the relations of the two Houses. It is simply and plainly a supersession of the House of Lords as a legislative Assembly. If the House of Lords do not carry out our will they are to be indulged with a Conference with Members of this House. If after this the Lords reject the Bill again it is to go back to them, and then there is to be another Conference. When the Bill comes back again to this House it is apparently to be discussed under the guillotine, because the Prime Minister told us that only the new matter would be allowed to be discussed and that it would be discussed as promptly as possible. [MINISTERIAL cheers.] I quite recognise the desire of hon. Members for short discussion when they happen to be in power. There are two things which suggest themselves incidentally. If you take away from the 600 or so Members of the House of Lords all that makes that House interesting as a legislative Assembly you will make it almost impossible to resist their claim to become candidates for scats in this House, and I am not sun; they may not prove formidable opponents at a general election to Members on the other side of the House. And again it is all very well to pass a quinquennial Act, but if this power is given to the House of Commons to carry its measures over the head of the House of Lords, what is the good of trying to set such limits on its power? When the period of five years is drawing to a close, and when the House is becoming less popular, what is to prevent its passing a Resolution to continue to sit or from passing a septennial or decennial Act?
§ * SIR WILLIAM ANSON
My hon. friend suggests centennial. Now there is the simple issue. You are practically proposing to make this a single Chamber Constitution. Are we in accord with the general experience in accepting a Constitution of that kind? I will venture to say that there is no civilised government which has not secured itself in some way or other from rash or hasty legislation by the popular Assembly, either by a written Constitution, or by a referendum, or by a Second Chamber—by one of those three methods which are 999 universally employed for protection against this undoubted risk. The object of a Second Chamber, as stated by an eminent Colonial authority is, to delay great changes until the will of the people has been permanently and conclusively ascertained We are not singular in retaining this precaution; we are rather singular in having so little precaution against violent and revolutionary changes. May I refer to other democracies and republics? Turn to the United States, and note the precaution taken against legislation which runs counter to the will of the people. The Federal Government is based on a written constitution and on two legislative Chambers, whose powers of law-making are defined and expressly limited by the constitution, and a change in the constitution can only be effected by something in the nature of a referendum. Not only that, but every State has a written constitution, and although the legislative powers of those States are unlimited, except in so far as the federal constitution prescribes, I may say that the tendency of the constitution is to add to the number of subjects which are excluded from the general legislative powers of the State, and in which the constitution requires that there should be a referendum to the people of the country. And not only that, but every State has two Chambers. Mr. Bryce, one of the chief authorities on this subject, says—The need of two Chambers has become an axiom of political science, based on the belief that the innate tendency of an Assembly to become hasty, tyrannical, or corrupt, can only be checked by the co-existence of another House of equal authority.He further states—That the only States that have ever tried to do with one House are Pennsylvania, (Georgia, and Vermont, each of which gave up the system, one after four years, the other after twelve years, and the third after fifty years.Turn to the constitution of the French Republic. There you have a Senate and a Chamber of Representatives co-ordinate in respect of legislative power, except that the Senate has no initiative in matters of finance. The power of demanding a dissolution of the Chamber does not rest with the Prime Minister, but with the President acting with the consent of the Senate. And the Senate, according to a recent authority, does very 1000 valuable work in correcting the over-hasty legislation of the Chamber, and, in case of disagreement, often has its own way, or effects a compromise. Lastly, I take the Australian Commonwealth. I think that the democratic character of the Australian Colonies can hardly be called in question. But there is a difference in the two Chambers of the Australian Commonwealth. The procedure is as follows:—The House of Representatives passes a proposed law, and if the Senate rejects or amends it in any way to which the House of Representatives cannot agree, the Bill drops for the time. It comes up again after three months, and if the Senate still disagrees the Governor may dissolve both Houses. If afterwards the same difference arises, and the disagreement still goes on, then the two Houses sit together and the opinion of the majority of the whole number prevails. There you have three great modern democracies, each of which guards itself against such legislation as might well be effected by this House of Commons, if it received the unlimited powers which are proposed to be given to it by the Primo Minister. I venture to think that there is nothing pedantic in looking at the actions, the law, and the practice of other constitutions as democratic as our own. If these safeguards are necessary for them, they are necessary for us. If they cannot trust a single Chamber, we may learn from them how to guard against the possibilities of a House of Commons whose powers wore limitless. But setting aside those examples, if we look simply at the proposals of the Prime Minister, these two questions arise. What are the faults of the House of Lords that they should be superseded and set aside in this way, and what is the claim of the House of Commons to arrogate to itself this unbounded legislative power? Now, I am perfectly ready to admit that the House of Lords has its faults as a Second Chamber; but it was never constructed to discharge the purposes of a Second Chamber in the modern sense; it is, historically, the estate of the baronage, a co-ordinate estate of the realm with the House of Commons. It has become a Second Chamber, I admit, and to my mind discharges extremely well many of the duties of a Second Chamber. I admit that it is too large, that it contains too many men who take no active part in polities, and that, 1001 like every Second Chamber that can be devised, it is conservative in its tendencies, because the very object of the existence of a Second Chamber is to preserve the nation from the over-hasty legislation of the other House. But I will undertake to say that the House of Lords has never crossed the will of the people where that will has been clearly expressed. Take any instance, since the Reform Act of 1832, which you may say is the beginning of our modern constitution. Take cases in which it was extremely possible that a majority of the House of Lords were not wholly in accord with the legislation that was passed. Take the disestablishment of the Irish Church, the Irish land legislation of Mr. Gladstone, the changes in the franchise of 1884–1885, or the Trades Disputes Bill of last year. On every one of these measures the country had clearly expressed its opinion. The Aliens Bill of last year, alluded "to by the hon. Member for Clitheroe, was not rejected by the House of Lords, it was not proceeded with because it was not taken up by the Government, or it might have been passed. Where there might have been irritation and delay before Bills had been passed, the ultimate result has been valuable, because the settled and permanent will of the nation has been ascertained, and a measures when it became law has been accepted as a final settlement by all parties. If there were no such certainty one House of Commons would undo the work of another, and there would be a legislative see-saw and lack of continuty which would be disastrous. There is to be borne in mind the monumental case in which the House of Lords understood the will of the nation better than the House of Commons. In 1893 it was the will of the House of Commons to pass a Home Rule Bill, and it would have gone on passing it under the scheme of the Prime Minister as long as that Parliament endured, But in 1895 it was plain that the will of the House of Commons was not the will of the nation. Which do you wish to see carried into effect? If you wish to see the will of the nation carried into effect, what steps will you take to see that that will is properly expressed? You claim that the majority of the House of Commons is finally representative during the duration of a Parliament of the will of the nation. So long as there are single-Member consti- 1002 tuencies, and until all elections take place on the same day, the House of Commons will not represent the country for more than a few weeks after a general election. Although a mandate is claimed by hon. Members opposite to deal with subjects mentioned by them on political platforms, what really determines at a general election apart from their promises as to the future and the misrepresentations of their followers as to the past, is that at a general election where there is a great turnover of parties, many people think that one party has had a long spell of power and that the other side should have a chance; and then you say that every measure you bring in and introduce into this House is expressing the will of the people. Why do you not take the measures which are open to you to ascertain the will of the people? The Under-Secretary for the Colonies wrote an article in the Nation in which he expressed his view as to the constitution of a second Chamber, and his view is not the view of the Prime Minister. The Under-Secretary thinks that the Ministry should constitute a second Chamber to suit their own purposes at the commencement of every Parliament, for he wrote:—Since the political supremacy of the House of Commons must be the vital characteristic of any Liberal scheme, we must reject with regret, but with decision, all proposals for enabling the House of Lords to force every Liberal measure to the test of a referendum. Such a provision would be contrary to the whole spirit of the British Constitution.The Under-Secretary for the Colonies maintains that the referendum is contrary to the spirit of the British Constitution. There is a curiously undemocratic ring about that. I thought the Party opposite were going to breathe a new spirit into the Constitution, but it seems that while we may abolish the House of Lords without a reference to the people, yet that to consult the people on any great legislative measure on which their opinion is not ascertained is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. I urge hon. Members opposite not to disguise the full effect of what is being proposed. The proposition is this—that when the House of Commons is once elected it shall do as it likes and that the people shall be powerless. You say to the people, "When you have once elected us the virtue is gone out of you; for five years we are your masters; at the end of that 1003 time you may enjoy a brief opportunity of expressing a will of your own." I doubt whether the country desires this great change, and I feel sure that when the matter is clearly placed before them they will express a very decided opinion upon it. If the Lords have traversed the will of the people, and resisted reasonable suggestions for a reform of that Chamber, then you may appeal to the country on those grounds. But what you are asking us to do is to forego the safeguards which all the democracies in the world have found to be necessary; and to leave nothing between the will of the House of Commons and the veto of the Crown. Put this question plainly to the country; you will get a clear answer and I have no doubt as to what the answer will be.
§ *THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL, Yorkshire, Cleveland)
Twenty years ago the Liberal Unionist party was formed, of which the hon. Baronet opposite was a leading Member. We were told in these days that, although the Members of that Party were obliged by their Unionism to ally themselves with the Conservative forces, they would not lose one jot of their Liberalism. We, who have listened to the hon. Baronet to night, find that not one jot or scintilla of his Liberalism remains. We find even the strange doctrine that the House of Commons is unrepresentative of the people, except for a few weeks after an election. It is true that we have had from the hon. Member, as well as from other speakers, including the Leader of the Opposition, much lip service to the doctrine of the will of the people, and, perhaps, the most interesting feature of the debate to-day has been the clear light in which this changed attitude of the Conservative forces of this country has displayed itself. There was a time when the Conservative theory was that democracy was unfitted 1004 to rule, that the masses of the people were uneducated, and that they were wholly unsuited to decide great questions of policy. Their opinion was that if the people had their way, property would be harassed, and that law and order could not be maintained. Now, as in 1832 and 1884, they hold these doctrines, but in these days of a widely extended franchise it is perhaps inconvenient to advance the min so crude a form. It would be awkward if hon. Members opposite were to go to their constituents and say, "You are merely an ignorant proletariat, and you are quite unfit to control the destinies of a great Empire. If you had your way uncontrolled by the aristocracy, property would be harassed at every turn and the country would be committed to the grossest injustices." Instead of that, whatever may be the feeling in their hearts, on their lips are expressions of abounding faith in the full principle of popular self-government. The democratic theory is admitted by the Opposition. They agree that the people are fitted to rule and ought to be supreme; but the loader of the Opposition holds that the truest instrument of democracy is a hereditary peerage. This is one of these hollow paradoxes which seem to be so dear to the heart of the right hon. Gentleman. In 1902 the right hon. Gentleman passed the Education Act which put sectarianism on the rates, protesting that it was a long step on the road to religious equality. In 1904, the Licensing Act, which restricted the control of the magistrates over the liquor trade, was claimed by him in this House and on the platform as a great and valuable temperance reform. The great protectionist campaign in which the right hon. Gentleman is now engaged is to promote the true interests of free trade, and now he is defending the House of Lords in order to secure government of the people, by the people for the people. But is it true that, according to the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, the House of Lords is 1005 the true interpreter of the will of the people? Did the House of Lords consider in 1902 whether the Education Act was desired by the nation or not, or whether Chinese labour in the Transvaal was opposed or approved by the people? When the Irish Local Government Act was introduced, that, of course, was in accordance with the will of the people for it was proposed by a Conservative Government. Had it been submitted by a Liberal Government, can anyone doubt that the House of Lords would have declared it to be contrary to the wishes of the nation? Would the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897, if it had been introduced by the Liberals, have reached the Statute-book? Lord Londonderry said at that time that he agreed with Mr. Asquith that, if the Party to which ho belonged had introduced the Bill, it would not have received forty-eight hours consideration by their Lordships. When the Conservative Party are again returned to power at some future, and I trust distant, date, and introduce a Bill for the establishment of compulsory military service, as they very likely will, does anyone imagine that the House of Lords will give, two minutes' thought to the question whether or not the measure is required by the nation? For over thirty years not a single measure, large or small, proposed by a Conservative Government has been either rejected or mutilated by the House of Lords. What a strange coincidence to find the Conservative Governments reading with such accuracy the mind of the people! No thought reader has ever been so marvellous in his achievements as the Conservative Party and the House of Lords have been according to the doctrine we are now discussing. By what telepathy are the House of Lords able to gauge the mind of the nation? As every one knows, there is no one so completely out of touch with the currents of thought moving in the nation as the average Member of the House of Lords. [OPPOSITION cries of 1006 "Oh, oh."] All this talk about interpreting the will of the people is a mere hollow pretence. It is not the real doctrine held by the Conservative Party. In 1846 the Duke of Wellington wrote to Lord Derby—For many years I have endeavoured to manage the House of Lords upon the principle on which I believe the institution exists in the Constitution of this country, that of Conservatism.As it was in the time of the Duke of Wellington, so it is to-day, the House of Lords always submits with the utmost docility to be managed by the Conservative leaders of the day. It is active or quiescent, it vetoes measures or accepts them at their bidding and to suit their convenience. The question which we are debating to-day is not whether the House of Lords or the House of Commons knows better the mind of the people. We are fighting the old battle that the Liberals of an earlier generation fought—the battle of democracy against privilege, of the nation as a whole against a ruling caste. The Leader of the Opposition said that, after all, the House of Commons was in reality the predominant partner, because it was able to control undisturbed all matters of finance and administration. For my own part I have been unable to see on what logical ground the Loader of the Opposition and his Party are prepared to say that it was right that the House of Commons should have uncontrolled command of finance and administration, and wrong that it should have the supreme voice in matters of legislation. Are we not fully convinced—the right hon. Gentleman himself admits it—that the country would suffer serious detriment if the House of Commons had not uncontrolled power over finance and administration? But in our Resolution we do not go so far in respect of legislation as the Constitution has already gone in regard to those two provinces of Government. We propose that the will of the House of Commons shall prevail, but only after a sufficient interval during which the opinion of the country can be shown. There are to be two or 1007 three opportunities for negotiation, for consideration, for delay, during which, if the country is opposed to the House of Commons, it can easily find the means to make that opposition felt. The hon. Member for Clitheroe is uneasy that the House of Commons might be compelled to waste undue time on these conferences. Three Parliamentary sessions, he feared, might be dissipated in this manner. It is true that from first to last they may cover a considerable period but when the details of the Government scheme are known, I do not think that the actual time which the House of Commons will be required to devote will be regarded in any way as excessive. Nor is there, after all, any satisfactory alternative to the scheme which the Government are placing before Parliament and the nation. The Order Paper contains a long series of Amendments suggesting all kinds of alternatives. Some are for the reform of the constitution of the House of Lords in order to make it more or less democratic. A reform of the House of Lords has always had great attractions for political theorists; it has had very few attractions for practical politicians. A reformed House of Lords would mean a weakened. House of Commons. It ought not even to be contemplated by Liberal politicians, so long as the veto of that Chamber remains. Only in one case should we be prepared to surrender the right of veto, to a reformed Second Chamber, and that would be if its constitution was so altered, its mode of; election made so wide as to render it as democratic and as representative of the people as the House of Commons now is. But such a Second Chamber would be identical with the First, and would therefore be superfluous. The hon. and learned Baronet appeared to me to throw out some hints that he would be prepared to regard with favour some adaptation of the principle of the referendum.
§ * MR. HERBERT SAMUEL
I understood the hon. and learned Baronet to look without disfavour on some foreign constitutions which contained the referendum principle. The noble Lord the Member for Marylebone has on the Order Paper a suggestion that the referendum is the right method of dealing with disputes between the two Houses of Parliament, and of settling their differences. And I am well aware that the referendum has received some support from several Members of the In-dependent Labour Party We regard the referendum as a wholly impracticable measure. You cannot in point of practice lay before the electorate all the points of difference which may arise between the two Houses. Suppose last year we had been pledged to take a referendum on the differences between ourselves and the other House, we should have had an appeal to the country not only on the Education Bill and the Plural Voting Bill, but on the question whether Scotland should be included in the Provision of Meals Bill, the Amendments made by the House of Lords in the Irish Town Tenants Bill, and a series of minute points of difference on the Agricultural Holdings Bill—half a dozen different questions with which the electorate would have found itself very puzzled to deal. It is not, Liberals believe, the function of the electorate itself to carry on the Government and to decide the details of Bills. It is the function of the electorate to decide the broad issues placed before it—the broad issues of general policy in question between parties. In Switzerland the referendum has been carried to such an extreme that the working of democracy is almost choked. A Bill of thirty clauses, perhaps, is sent to the cottage of every peasant, and the bewildered electors have to vote upon it as best they may. It is as absurd to lay Bills such as these before the people as to put technical points of law to a jury. I would point out also to Members on the Labour Benches and on the Liberal 1009 Benches, if there are any who feel some inclination to adopt the principle of the referendum, that it will practically mean all the machinery and expense of a general election every year, the result of which will be to give a still further advantage in politics to the forces of wealth and still further authority to those who control the Press, not always in the interest of the nation at large. The first to suffer will be the poorer Parties, such as the Labour Party, who already find it hard enough to raise the necessary funds to carry on their political propaganda. They will find it impossible from year to year to fight for their principles under a system of referendum. When we find men like the late Lord Salisbury, a resolute opponent of all self-government, a man of great political acumen in adapting means to ends, advocating the referendum as a means of settling disputes between the two Houses; when we find the noble Lord the hon. Member for Marylebone putting down an Amendment in that sense, and when we find men like Professor Lecky, a strenuous opponent of democracy, defending the referendum, I think that the friends of self-government may look upon it with suspicion. Then we are told that the right issue of a difference between the two Houses is a dissolution of Parliament, and an Amendment in that sense is standing in the name of an hon. Member. If the House of Lords were, as it is represented to be, wholly impartial, wise, and cautious, merely referring to the electorate great constitutional changes in order that they should not be adopted by an unrepresentative House of Commons, then we should not be able to offer any objection to this solution; but when the House of Lords is saturated through and through, as we all know it to be, with Party spirit, what does this scheme of a dissolution, whenever the two Houses disagree, mean? Put in its crudest form it means that when a Liberal Government is in office the Conservatives are to have the opportunity of turning them out once a year, but when 1010 a Conservative Government is in power the Liberal Government is to have the opportunity of turning them out only once in six years. As to the total abolition of the House of Lords, I know such a proposal will receive a sympathetic hearing from Members on this side of the House. But the Government is of opinion that that is too great a departure from the existing state of things for them to expect public opinion to support it. The only remaining possible alternative to the Government's plan is that things should remain as they are. After all, it is said the people always get their way if they are in earnest. It was so in 1832 and again in 1884. True, agitation, if sufficiently violent, will carry a Bill through the House of Lords. And that is what is meant by obedience to the will of the people—that if popular resentment is so strong as to endanger the existence of the House of Lords itself they are prepared to yield. And the procedure of forcing reforms through the House of Lords by moans of agitation cannot be adopted indefinitely. The people cannot be expected every few months to hold great demonstrations, and cry, "Down with the House of Lords." That, we are told, is the right method of governing the country. If it were carried into force, and year by year we did have such agitation when popular Liberal Bills were rejected, what a clumsy and barbarous method it would be after all to carry on the business of a great country. Instead of a smooth working legislative machinery we should have intermittently, spasmodically, bursts of tumult, agitation and violence as a normal feature of the Constitution. In any case, it is impossible the methods of agitation should over be effective for the carrying of minor measures into law. Suppose, for the sake of argument, the Irish Town Tenants' Bill in its original form was a good and useful measure, would it have been possible to raise any strong feeling in Scotland and England against the House of Lords because they mutilated the Bill? Then there is the Scottish 1011 Small Holdings Bill: would it be possible in England and Ireland to raise any strong feeling on that if it were rejected? After all, the bulk of our legislation consists of measures of secondary importance, and it is essential that there should be some method in the Constitution of carrying through the second House of Parliament these measures that do not rouse the passionate interest of the nation. We cannot remain as we are. It is not only the past, it is not only the present that are in question. All the future is at stake. All the Liberal Parliaments that are to come depend upon the issue of this struggle. Liberal Governments cannot for ever undertake the Sisyphus labour of rolling measures up the Parliamentary Bill for the House of Lords to roll them down again. We will not submit our legislation year after year to a body constituted as the House of Lords—a body of landlords set to judge of the issues between landlord and tenant, a body of Churchmen sitting as arbiters between Church and Nonconformity, a body of capitalists set to decide the issues between capital and labour. The present situation is intolerable and must cease, and the powerful speech of the Prime Minister to-day shows that the Government are determined it shall cease.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Arthur Lee,)— put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed to morrow.