§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question ["24th June], "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 H. Campbell-Banner man.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ *Mr. ARTHUR LEE (Hampshire, Fareham)
I have been forced to the conclusion that there are many who are in doubt as to whether or not this Resolution should be treated seriously, and who are inclined to treat it with a levity which I am sure must be depressing to its authors. I am aware that no less an authority than the Prime Minister has described the merriment with which it has been received in some quarters as "mirthless laughter." The right hon. Gentleman might have completed his fanciful picture by saying that it had been received by his own followers with 1158 hollow jubilation. At any rate, if the mirth on our side is forced, and if the gloom on his side is feigned, then the occasion has revealed a wealth of histrionic talent which has lurked hitherto unsuspected in our midst. But I propose to treat the Resolution with all seriousness and with that respect to which its long period of gestation and the responsibility and dignity of its sponsors entitle it. The Resolution itself is of very little consequence, of course, were it not for the legislative proposals which arc to follow it, and we respect it not so much for itself as for the display of physical force which we must assume is marshalled behind it. Until the Bill is introduced the Resolution itself is hardly worth the attention of the House. It is merely in the nature of an I O U issued by the Government in acknowledgment of its debt to its more truculent and impatient supporters, or it may be likened to a lurid and eye-arresting poster, with which the theatrical managers of the Party are placarding the hoardings in order to distract attention from the failure of the piece that is now running, and to excite anticipations of a more successful melodrama in the coming season. The wording of the Resolution is curiously involved: it seems to exhibit what scientists call "irregular crystallisation," a phenomenon which generally results from a state of extreme internal tension. That makes it all the more interesting, and I think, therefore, it is worth while examining it a little carefully. The first two lines, if intended to suggest that the present House of Commons is a true reflection of the will of the people, are singularly misleading. The Prime Minister yesterday quoted Burke, who he said had eulogised the House of Commons as being the "express image of the nation." I hope the Prime Minister does not consider the House of Commons was the express image of the nation in Burke's time, nor is it anything like it to-day. Even immediately after the last election the composition of the House of Commons bore very little relation to the true state of Parties in the country, and it bears even less resemblance to it now. This is no mere expression of opinion on my part, it is a question of arithmetic which may be demonstrated by the contemplation of half-a-dozen figures. Liberal votes (including constituencies in which there were no 1159 contests) showed a majority over Conservative votes, at the general election, of only 13 per cent., but in the House of Commons there is a Liberal majority over Unionists of 60 per cent. There are 387 Liberal Members to 158 Unionist, or a majority of 229, whereas, according to the number of voters, the Liberals are entitled to a majority of only seventy.
§ *MR. ARTHUR LEE
I am taking the facts as they are according to the present franchise; the hon. Member would surely not wish me to establish a new franchise for the purposes of my own calculation. I say that the present position of the House of Commons was a caricature of the state of political feeling, even at the time of the general election, and it is even more so to-day. The second part of the Resolution is not a very ingenious or honest paraphrase of the Government's intention to introduce single chamber government; no pretences at qualification can possibly make it anything else, and there is, I believe, not the slightest chance of the country being deceived as to the real issue by any of these verbal disguises or by parading the Prime Minister's illusory safeguards for the protection of the people. The Government have had various possible alternatives for dealing with this problem. They might have effected a reform of the constitution of the House of Lords—a course which I myself believe in—but then they would be faced by the fact that the reformed and reconstituted House of Lords would necessarily be a stronger and more influential body than the present House, and would demand and be entitled to a larger share in the Government of the country. It is obvious, therefore, that that line of procedure would not commend itself to them. Then there arc various alternatives which may be generally classed under the head of the "referendum." We listened to a very interesting speech last night from the Under-Secretary to the Home Office, in which he condemned the referendum as impracticable because, he said, the people would be quite unable to understand the legislative proposals of the Government. And yet this is the Government which claims to be interpreting the will of the 1160 people in the measures which it is introducing! But the Prime Minister condemned the general principle of the referendum on quite different grounds, because he said it gave to the Lords a right they should not possess of demanding that any question in dispute should be submitted to the people; he said, in effect, that it amounted to a usurpation of the Royal prerogative. I should like to ask how many times the House of Lords has forced a dissolution, at any rate since the Reform Bill of 1832. As far as I know, no such case has occurred, and at any rate this usurpation of which the Prime Minister complains has not existed in his lifetime or that of most hon. Members of this House. Then the Under-Secretary made considerable play on the argument that it was a strange coincidence that the House of Lords had never rejected any Conservative measure during the last thirty years, and he asked if this was a case of "telepathy." Well, I do not think it necessary to seek any such elaborate explanation as that. I am not in the secret of Cabinets, but I think the natural explanation is that when the Unionist Party is in power it is the habit of the Leaders of the Party in the Commons to consult the Leaders of the Party in the Lords as to their views before introducing Bills. [Ironical cheers.] I am aware that hon. Gentlemen opposite think the other House has no right to have views in regard to legislation brought before Parliament. But that opinion does not prevail on this side of the House, and that is possibly a simple explanation of the phenomenon to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Then the Government had another obvious alternative, and that is the swamping of the Unionist majority in the House of Lords by the creation of a sufficient number of Liberal Peers. That is the policy not of abolishing, but of replenishing the House of Lords. It has been, I believe, the policy of the Liberal Party in the past. Since the Reform Bill successive Liberal Prime Ministers have created 250 fresh peerages, considerably more than the Conservatives. The result has been most disappointing. It has been like pouring water through a sieve. Out of that band of stalwart Liberal Peers fifty or less have remained true to the faith of their creators. The 1161 present Government, however, commenced by renewing this process of creating peers, and up till now the sieve has held water. At the same time the policy of replenishment is not generally popular on the other side of the House, although I believe there is a small, but influential section of the Prime Minister's supporters—gentlemen who have spared no effort or expense to prove their devotion to the cause—who strongly hold the view that it would be a brilliant and artful stratagem to introduce them into the Upper Chamber so that, like the Greek warriors secreted in the horse before the walls of Troy, they might issue forth to harass the enemy from within. It is unfortunate, but a little significant, that this debate has been so timed as to be concluded before the auspicious occasion of Friday next, as before that date it will be impossible for this House or the country to judge whether the urgent advice of these deserving gentlemen has or has not prevailed. Personally I hope it will have, because it is always refreshing to see merit rewarded. At the same time I think that the hesitation of the Prime Minister is only natural, and I understand, for example, he only hesitates to promote the hon. Member for Sutherland to the other House because of his fear that by some subtle process of alchemy his stalwart principles may by his passage into the rarer atmosphere of the House of Lords be transmuted into some vicious form of Toryism tainted with militarism, extravagant finance, and goodness knows what. I do not think the Government is likely to proceed far with this policy of replenishment. The only remaining solution is the abolition of the House of Lords and the establishment of Single Chamber government. That is the course to which the Government have definitely committed themselves. They may pretend that their Resolution does not say this, but it means it, and even though they are proposing to embalm the corpse instead of cremating it, it will none the less be dead, and they will have secured full control of the property of the deceased. What it comes to is this, the House of Commons has only got to say twice or thrice that it wants a certain thing and it is to become law. This is quite a new theory, that because a foolish demand is repeated twice or thrice it thereby becomes endowed with wisdom 1162 and invested with inviolable sanctity. The Prime Minister in his outline of the proposed legislation told us about these periodical conferences which are to take place before a Bill will be re-introduced, but I venture to say that these are not safeguards—they are mere banderillos which the Government propose to stick into the House of Commons Bull, in order to excite it to the requisite pitch of fury before it is let loose in the national china shop. And, moreover, this power increases as Parliament draws near to its latter end, so that the further the House is out of touch with the electorate the more omnipotent it becomes. During its final session a House of Commons would have unfettered power to decide on the spur of the moment, and with an eye to the general election, what shall prevail. Could anything be more dangerous to the Empire or the community than the giving of such a power to the House of Commons when in the throes of dissolution? The Government's proposed remedy is perfectly intolerable, but you say the grievance is real and must be redressed. What is the grievance after all? It is that the House of Commons is not allowed to have its own way in everything. What popularly elected Chamber in the world has its uncontrolled way in any important country? I have heard it stated that in no democratic country would the people tolerate the limitations placed upon the power of the House of Commons by the Upper Chamber. The Prime Minister yesterday dismissed the analogies of Continental Parliaments and said they were not really democratic Parliaments.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Sir H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN, Stirling Burghs)
I said there were some autocratic Governments in which the autocracy had supplemented itself with an ornamental representative body.
§ *MR. ARTHUR LEE
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can apply that commentary to the case of what is generally looked upon as the greatest democracy in the world, the United States. In the United States the House of Representatives has far less power than the House of Commons under present 1163 conditions, and yet it is far more representative of the people. In the first place, it has to be re-elected every two years. There is an automatic scheme of redistribution consequent upon the increase of population and there is also payment of members, which hon. Members opposite think would be productive in this country of more democratic representation. But is this democratic people's House in America entrusted with unrestrained power? No; its every action is subjected to the revision and approval of the Senate. It has not even the financial independence possessed by this House. It is true that Financial Bills must originate in the House of Representatives, but they can be amended, and are frequently amended, in the Senate, and the Senate itself can initiate Pension Bills and Bills dealing with salaried officials. It may be said that the Senate is a democratic body. It certainly is an elective body, but its political complexion does not necessarily agree with the political complexion of the House of Representatives, and it is not democratic in the ordinary sense.
§ *MR. ARTHUR LEE
Yes, it has been Republican in its politics for a long time past, but it is a wealthy body and has even been somewhat irreverently styled "the Millionaires' Club." It is elected certainly, but by the State Legislatures, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite are in favour of a Second Chamber I would like to ask if they would like one elected or nominated by the county councils, for that would be the analogy. In the case of the American Constitution even the two Houses together are not invested with full power, because all their Acts are subject to the approval or the veto of the President. This is no mere form, because this veto has been not infrequently exercised in recent years, and although it may be over-ridden by a two-thirds vote in both Houses that expedient has seldom been put into practice. The President's veto, like the veto of the House of Lords, is of a purely negative character. But beyond all this there is a further safeguard in the shape of a check upon rash legislation. Above all, and above Congress and the President is the Constitution, that Magna Charta of 1164 American liberties, under which any individual, or any section of opinion which considers itself aggrieved by the legislative action of Congress, can appeal to the Supreme Court. Even if the action of Congress is unanimous that individual or section of opinion can go to the Supreme Court, and if that Court finds that the Act of Congress is contrary to the Constitution it becomes null and void. Perhaps I may be permitted to tell the House of a somewhat interesting case which occurred in my own personal experience at the instance of a near relative of my own. It occurred some years ago when the United States Congress instituted the income-tax. The right to levy that tax was contested by this relative of mine. He went to the Supreme Court, and that tribunal by means of arguments which I neither appreciate nor understand, decided that the tax was contrary to the Constitution and was therefore null and void. The result was that the American Exchequer was compelled to refund 45,000,000 dollars which it had collected up to that time. Think of any individual citizen in this country having the power to appeal to the Courts against the decision of both Houses of Parliament and getting a tax repealed and the money refunded. It may be said that this too rigid Constitution of the United States can be revised, but in practice it cannot be revised. I remember discussing this question with the celebrated speaker of the House of Representatives. Mr. Thomas B. Reed, and he said that although the Constitution of the United States can never be changed it can be stretched. It has been stretched by the Supreme Court when the national interest demanded it. A legal alteration of the American Constitution cannot be made except by the votes of three-fourths of the States in the Union. That is indeed an elaborate safeguard. But the Prime Minister now proposes to remodel our ancient Constitution and give us the embryo of a written one, which he proposes to write himself, and all on a wintry June afternoon. It is the most amazing proposal ever made in the history of the British Parliament. The American Constitution may have been badly designed, but it was at any rate deliberately designed after full consultation and with the advantage of a 1165 clean slate on which to write. If the Single-Chamber Government which the Prime Minister now proposes is so democratic and so desirable in the interests of a free people, why did the founders of that great Constitution so emphatically reject the idea? Why has every other country since also rejected it? The hon. Member for Denbighshire the other day quoted a passage from an American newspaper condemning the House of Lords. I propose to quote a somewhat higher American authority, that of a man who is perhaps the greatest statesman that country has ever produced. I refer to Alexander Hamilton who, when speaking against a single Chamber at the Convention in Philadelphia, said—Give all power to the many, and they will oppress the few. Give all power to the few and they will oppress the many. Both, therefore, ought to have the power, that each may defend itself against the other. To the want of this check we owe our paper money, instalment laws, etc. To the proper adjustment of it the British owe the excellence of their Constitution. Their House of Lords is a most noble institution.[Ironical NATIONALIST cheers.] Hon. Members below the gangway may ridicule that, but it was made by a statesman belonging to a country to which they do not hesitate about appealing when they require assistance for their cause. [An HON. MEMBER: What is the date of that speech?] The date is 1783. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh, oh ! "] The Prime Minister yesterday quoted Burke, and if he was justified in falling back upon the opinions of the past I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite will not deny me the same privilege. Let us see what Alexander Hamilton's argument is. He says—Having nothing to hope for by a change, and a sufficient interest, by means of their property, in being faithful to the national interest, they form a permanent barrier against every pernicious innovation, whether attempted on the part of the Crown or of the Commons. No temporary Senate will have firmness enough to answer that purpose.If hon. Members opposite think that the wisdom of Hamilton is a little out of date I would appeal to another well-known authority who makes this interesting statement—It is an interesting commentary on the tendencies of democratic government that in 1166 America reliance is coming to be placed more and more (in the nation, in the State, and in the city) upon the veto of the executive as a protection to the community against the legislative branch. Weak executives frequently do harm, but a strong executive has rarely abused popular confidence. On the other hand, instances where the executive, by the use of its veto power, has arrested mischiefs due to the action of the legislature are by no means rare. This circumstance leads some Americans to believe that the day is not far distant when in England some sort of veto power or other constitutional safeguard must be interposed to protect the people against a hasty decision of their representatives.That is not the statement of Alexander Hamilton but a quotation from the work of a democratic statesman who until a few months ago adorned the Front Bench opposite and who is now His Majesty's representative at Washington. The framers of the American Constitution foresaw and provided against the dangers of the popular House grasping at supreme control, and the policy of the framers of that Constitution has been endorsed and strengthened by the spirit of the American people to-day. I do not advocate the copying of the American Constitution in this country. I believe it is much too rigid. I believe it gives insufficient power to the people's House, but if it represents the extreme of caution on the one hand, I am justified in saying that the Prime Minister's proposals represent the extreme of recklessness on the other. In this Resolution and the Bill that is to follow it the Prime Minister is grasping at supreme and uncontrolled power in the State. By virtue of his position he necessarily at present controls the majority of the House of Commons. He is now endeavouring to cancel and destroy all existing checks on the action of that transient majority. He told us yesterday in an eloquent passage that he and his Party needed no shelter from the people. I think that possibly he may later on. But that is not the point. It is the people who need shelter from him. He is endeavouring to deprive the people of their last safeguard against the caprices and depredations of an uncontrolled popular House. This is the naked essence of the Prime Minister's proposal, and when it is understood by the people, as I earnestly trust it will be—[Cheers]—that is a wish which is apparently shared on both sides of the House—when it is understood by the 1167 people I believe they will reject it with an emphasis which will scatter the Liberal Party to the four winds of heaven. We on this side, therefore, will, I think, be the last to complain of this Resolution, or of the reckless enterprise on which the Government is embarking, because I do not believe there is any issue upon which we can appeal to the judgment of the country with so much confidence or greater certainty of success.
§ *THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir JOHN WALTON, Leeds, S.)
The hon. Member who has just sat down in his concluding words spoke the language of prophesy. The Liberal Party are to be scattered to the four winds of heaven, and in some remote future he foresaw a new function for the Party of which he is a member. They are to save the people of this country from a Liberal Government which has been elected to represent them. The Prime Minister is to be prevented by the hon. Member and his friends from acting treacherously towards those who have elected him to office. The hon. Member detained us at some length with a review of the American Constitution. Among all the various checks which the United States have set up against an arbitrary democracy his researches did not lead him to the discovery of any chamber enshrining the hereditary principle. While the hereditary principle remains a dominant factor, or, at all events, a strong, if not a dominant, factor of our Constitution it will be hard for the most ingenious constitutionalist to find any parallel between the written Constitution of the United States and the slowly evolving modern developments of the Constitution of this country. The hon. Member tells us that we ought not to proceed by Resolution.
§ *SIR JOHN WALTON
Well, I gathered that the hon. Member said so. It has been suggested that a Bill should be at once tabled. If the hon. Member does not take that view, it is certainly a criticism which has been made. I know no other constitutional method of proclaiming the constitutional privileges of this House except by Resolution. It 1168 was adopted in 1678 and it was renewed in 1860, and unless you suggest a Bill which either House may throw out, there is no machinery by which we can express our opinions as to the limit of our powers other than that which the Government has now adopted. The hon. Member has revived the suggestion which was made, I think, by some of my hon. friends on these benches that the difficulty might be obviated by a reform and a strengthening of the House of Lords. Let me point out that the language of this Resolution is entirely consistent with any measure which has for its object the strengthening of that House. You may strengthen the House of Lords as much as you please, but you do not, by increasing its power, obviate the danger of friction with this House. You rather increase the tendency to difference of opinion and the obstinacy with which that opinion may be held by the other Chamber, if you give it representative elements or strengthen the way in which it is composed. This Resolution does not propose to introduce any remedy for such a state of things. It contemplates a division between two Members of the Constitution for which there is no other solution proposed for the consideration of this House except that embodied in this Resolution. [Cries of "No.",] Well, I think I shall establish that proposition to the satisfaction of murmuring critics later on. First of all, what is the source of this difficulty? The British Constitution is a compact which has two marked peculiarities. In the first place, the first member has no voice in our legislature until the other two members are agreed, and in the second place there is no arbitration clause by which these other two members can be brought into harmony. You, therefore, have an element of discord with regard to legislation for which there is no solution provided. There is no ground on which they can meet, and from which their united voice can be expressed, before legislation can be obtained. The hon. Member for the Fareham Division has already referred to the various schemes which have been put forward in order either to bring this House to submission, or to enforce acquiescence upon the House of Lords. Either there must be action against us at the instance of 1169 the House of Lords, or there must be action against the House of Lords. It has been said that within the sphere of legality, this House supporting a Minister with the approval of the Crown, might increase the Members of the House of Lords sufficiently to enable the controverted legislation to pass. It has been sail on the same advice that the Crown might refuse to issue writs to the majority of the Peers who would otherwise be entitled to take part in the deliberations of that House. There is still a third and more desperate remedy darkly hinted at by Constitutional writers, namely, that this House might refuse to grant Supply. Well, these methods violate the practice of the Constitution. Lord Lyndhurst in the House of Lords pointed out that it would be well within the province of the King to call up a troop of His Majesty's Guards and confer a Peerage upon every Member of that body. But he indicated that it would be unconstitutional, because, although strictly within the limits of legal right, it would be entirely against the spirit and practice of our Constitution. The same observation applies with equal force to the other two expedients I have, suggested. Therefore, the remedy of bringing pressure on the House of Lords does not solve the difficulty or remove the friction, because there are constitutional safeguards which prevent that remedy being adopted. A short time ago I was addressing my constituents in Leeds. I indicated those revolutionary methods as a last and desperate resource of a popular body which is being kept in check by the hereditary Chamber. You may have unconstitutional action defended where it is a reprisal against unconstitutional action that has been adopted; and against unconstitutional action of the Lords in regard to the popular House there might be much to be said in defence of conduct equally unconstitutional on the part of the people defending their constitutional rights. I was subjected to newspaper criticism which took the form of sensational headlines, providing attractive posters, and no doubt increasing temporarily the circulation of the organs that resorted to that method of criticism. I take no notice of such criticism, but even the Leader of the 1170 Opposition affected the view that the Liberal Government seriously advocated a revolutionary policy in regard to this question, and he paid me the doubtful compliment of drawing a parallel between myself and one of the most odious and sanguinary of the statesmen of the French Terror. It may be that his estimate of myself was just. If I am a fit agent for revolution, I think he is an ideal instrument for putting one down. If he contemplates with satisfaction my officiating at the guillotine in Palace Yard, acting against the aristocracy which is warring against popular rights, I can contemplate with equal certainty the right hon. Gentleman turning the artillery against the people at the barricades who are seeking to assert their rights against the House of Lords. Our view in regard to this matter is that the true line to adopt is not the line of menace or of violence, but the line of constitutional action. In the long struggle between a privileged House and a popular Assembly there has been a series of victories which, step by step, have involved concessions by the aristocracy to the people which have slowly made us the freest democracy in the world. I have pointed out one solution, a solution involving the straining of the constitution in order to bring pressure to bear upon the House of Lords. What is the alternative solution? If the Lords mutilate the Bills of the Commons, or cast them out without consideration, if they allow themselves to be actuated by Party feeling, then their action is unconstitutional. What is the basis upon which the House of Lords rests on the constitutional theory? Is it that they possess an inherent legislative wisdom? Is it that there, is a kind of hereditary transmission, a kind of aristocratic faculty for legislation? If that is not the true view, what is the true view? Lord Coke tells us that when the King issues his writ to a Commoner and that writ gives him a right to sit in the House of Lords his blood becomes ennobled. But if he were ennobled for life only, he had no right to sit in the House of Lords and therefore did not get legislative endowment. Historically, as the hon. and learned Member for Oxford University said, the House of Lords is representative. He said it was representative now, but the only reason 1171 he gave for that opinion was that it was a body of rich men who had seen something of life. But in earlier days in our history the House of Lords was truly representative. It was then an Assembly of the great feudatory lieges of the Crown; when you had Earls who were not mere Peers, but who held great offices of State, with wide powers of territorial administration; when you had Barons who were charged with the defence of the realm; when you had Bishops and Abbots possessing wide jurisdiction, and in that way acting on behalf of large sections of the population; when the burdens of the community were cast directly upon those great feudatories and indirectly upon the large classes under them; then the House of Lords had something more than the mere blood-ennobled theory to justify their exercise of legislative rights. They acted in a high sense as a representative body. But where is that title now? The hon. Member for Salford made an amusing speech in order to establish that the present House of Lords to a large extent consisted of the recipients of rewards for political services or of the favours of a Minister and of their descendants. The peerage was hereditary because the descent of land was hereditary. Even the offices in State and Court in those days were hereditary. The King's cup-bearer, steward, butler, and even the scullions in the Royal kitchen were hereditary posts. We only hear of these hereditary offices on such occasions as a Coronation. The House of Lords has entirely changed its character in recent years, and one looks about in vain to find any solid justification in reason or in constitutional theory for the position which, by some process of survival, they still hold in our Constitution. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London told us that the House of Lords has no absolute veto, acting in their own wisdom, upon the legislation of this House, but a sort of judicial function to step in between the representatives of the people and the people who sent them to ascertain what really is the popular will. I should like to know where is the constitutional authority for such a doctrine. We say that the people's wishes are what we interpret them to be. "No," said the right hon. Gentleman, "nothing of the sort. The House of Lords is entitled to step in and 1172 decide whether what you do or do not do expresses the wishes of the people." I say again, that there is no such constitutional doctrine. How can the right be defended to interpose between the people who send us here and ourselves some alien authority? Who made the House of Lords a judge and a ruler over us? The right hon. Gentleman said that what the House of Lords has to discover is not the popular will at any particular moment of time, because the popular will changes. He told us that we represented the interests of generations unborn. We are the heirs of the ages and the fathers of time. Then said the right hon. Gentleman, every elector whose will they wished to ascertain must act and speak, not only for himself and the interests of his time, but apparently in the interests of posterity, for whom he is a trustee. That creates a sort of political entail with a life estate subject to the most amazing restrictions ever yet known in conveyancing law. Curiously enough, the hon. Member for the University of Oxford, who is a constitutional lawyer of considerable repute, and has written works of high authority on the Constitution, adds to the difficulty of estimating the period during which the popular will must be gauged, because he told us that it changed every three weeks, and that this House does not represent the constituencies for more than three weeks after a general election. Well, it is impossible to resist the comment that, if that is true, there must have been a long era of misrepresentation before the last general election. What I want to know is, by what alchemy are the Lords to find out what the popular will is? What are the arts, what the necromancy, that they are to use? My right hon. friend the Prime Minister hinted at the difficulty. In the first place, there is no authority for the proposition; in the second place we are not enlightened as to the method by which that inquiry is to be pursued; and in the third place the House of Lords is conspicuously lacking in those qualifications which one would look for in an Assembly charged with a duty of that kind. Is this function to be intelligently performed? If so the House of Lords will have to approach it in a judicial spirit. Justice is represented blindfold. Does anybody suppose that the House of Lords are not very wide awake to the interests of their own 1173 friends? Justice holds the scale; but, with the Tory Party in one scale and Liberal legislation in the other, what chance has Liberal legislation? I can imagine the tribunal which would have to settle that question and decide the issue aye or no. Do the people want this Bill? I can imagine their mooting in one of the committee-rooms of the House of Lords known as the Moses Chamber because it is associated with the name of a great lawgiver. There they would have Lord Lansdowne, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London, and probably the principal Conservative Whip, whose moderate expressions on politics entertain us, and whose stimulating Whips add to the gaiety of politics. That admirable judicial tribunal will solemnly meet together to decide the issue, aye or no. Do the people want this Liberal Bill? Is there any doubt about the result? Why, it would be a tribunal for the massacre of Liberal legislation under the forms of justice and law. I can think of no parallel except a committee of some secret society. It can be demonstrated that the action of the House of Lords in regard to that issue has been, must be, and would be influenced by Party considerations; and Party feeling is a dangerous solvent of the judicial faculty, We are asked to entrust to the House of Lords the decision of a question which ought to be solved in a spirit of strict impartiality, with a wish to be guided by true wisdom and justice, although the history of last session and the principles of human nature satisfy us, that, instead of those fine qualities being present in such an inquiry, the issue will appeal to all the weaknesses of human nature, and be determined by the inclination to assist the political interests of the majority of their body. We were told that the House of Lords in passing the Trade Disputes Bill and rejecting the Plural Voting Bill showed that they were above Party spirit. There is a Member of the House of Lords for whom I have the profoundest respect. He is the late Lord Chancellor, Lord Halsbury, and I had the pleasure of listening to a speech of a very vehement character by the noble Lord, in which he denounced the Trade Disputes Bill. In his peroration he told us that the Bill would enthrone tyranny and strangle liberty. But he concluded by saying that he would not vote against it. Why? 1174 Was it because he thought the people wanted it, or because it was a useful measure? No. It was because if he voted against the Bill he would separate from and cease to be acting with his own political friends who had not divided against the measure when it was in the Commons. The House of Lords is acting in precisely the same way. It is Party spirit which has invaded them. They are within the organisations of Party, and the effect of placing in their hands judicial functions of this kind can only lead to injustice and produce results which will be resented by the people of the country. What is the scheme of this projected Bill? We are told that the result of it will be to create one Chamber only. I strongly quarrel with that construction of it. I say that the result of it will be simply to declare the true Constitution of this country, and the true constitutional position of the House of Lords. Look at what the great writers on the Constitution say upon this subject. Great writers on our Constitution, in defining the true sphere of the Upper Chamber, have said that it has the power to amend, the power to check, the power to correct, the power to delay, and the power to secure that there shall be full consideration and deliberation before a proposed measure passes into law, and there the definition ends. This Resolution provides ample scope for the exercise of those functions, and so it simply defines what is the true constitutional practice. Twice the House of Lords will have a Bill before them three times they will have a conference. During that period we shall all be in touch with our constituents and the newspaper Press, in so far as nowadays it is intelligent and impartial, will be discussing the question whether or not the Government are justified in forcing this measure after its rejection, and whether or not there is a strong popular feeling in its favour. The position of a Bill after it is once rejected will be very different from that of a Bill when it is first introduced. The question for the Ministry of the day will be whether they are justified in pressing the Bill upon the House of Lords after they have expressed a strong opinion against it, and their decision will be taken after they have ascertained what is the real trend of popular opinion on the subject. I submit that the machinery of 1175 this Resolution provides ample opportunity for such steps to be taken as will enable the representatives of the people to come to a conclusion whether or not they will be straining their mandate in forcing a Bill through; and if they face that responsibility there ought to be no power in the Constitution to control their giving effect to that conviction. If they act wrongly they can be called to account, and if the period of the life of a Parliament is reduced to five years they will have to give an account of their stewardship within a shorter time than at present. This provision shows that in bringing this Resolution forward it is our sincere and anxious wish to provide a practical solution for this question. There is precedent after precedent which shows surrender of power by the House of Lords and the acquisition of power by the popular Chamber. Throughout history the tide has ebbed from the House of Lords and has set towards the House of Commons. The House of Lords can no longer make or unmake Ministries. No statesman when he accepts service under the Crown pauses to consider whether he will have the confidence of the House of Lords or not. No Ministry thinks of resigning because the Upper House has censured its action. While the House of Lords are heaping compliments upon Lord Milner and are approving his policy, the House of Commons are giving a Constitution to the Transvaal and beginning the repatriation of the Chinese. The House of Lords cannot preserve a single tax, however necessary they may think it. They struggled hard to keep control over the Press by means of the paper duty, and the Press to-day are subservient enough to support them in this struggle against the popular Chamber. The House of Lords cannot resist a tax which may reduce their resources enormously—almost to penury. They have already lost control over financial legislation. We are told by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford University that they have given up the right to initiate legislation of first importance. It is only one step further to ask them to give up the right to veto it. This Resolution has been introduced in no unfriendly spirit towards the House of Lords. It does not seek to destroy the Upper Chamber or its position in the Constitution—it seeks to define its sphere in a way that will tend to its preservation. It seeks to 1176 indicate the lines upon which it may long exist and may long discharge useful and legitimate functions as a Chamber of review. But if the Resolution is not approached in the spirit in which it is proposed, those who attack it must face the responsibility. If they flout it, if they disparage the motives of those who have introduced it, if they turn contempt upon the representatives of those in whose name the Government are acting, then the future of the House of Lords will far more probably be indicated by the Amendment which is to be moved below the gangway than by this Resolution. I and I believe my colleagues are anxious that the House of Lords shall retain a position in which it can exercise its functions usefully and pay proper respect to the behests of the popular will. If this view actuates the more sober and prudent counsels of that body then this Resolution will tend to harmony and will put an end to friction. But if it is not treated in that spirit, then history may read in the language of this Resolution the handwriting on the wall of the Upper Chamber, and the handwriting will be that of the House of Lords itself.
§ LORD R. CECIL (Marylebone, E.)
I recognise in the speech to which we have just listened a strong family likeness to that in which the Resolution was introduced last night by the Prime Minister. They both began with malevolent condemnation of the House of Lords and denunciation of the hereditary principle, and concluded with the assertion that the speakers are in no sense hostile to that Assembly, but merely desire to define its position in the Constitution. The Attorney-General referred to his speech at Leeds and he seemed to feel a little sore because there had been quoted against him a phrase to the effect that the House of Lords cannot be dealt with without a revolution. I cannot think the Attorney-General is wise in rejecting that interpretation of his Leeds speech, because revolutions are not necessarily made with rifles and bayonets. A revolution means a complete change in the Constitution of the country, and I have no doubt that the Resolution submitted to the House by the Prime Minister involves a revolution in the Constitution of the country. The Attorney-General introduces into this 1177 question of revolution the connotation that it must be accompanied by menace or threats of violence, but that is not so. The hon. and learned Gentleman made a great attack on the House of Lords because he said, it was completely different now from what it was originally, and he indulged in a very eloquent defence of the feudal system. He said that so long as the Lords were the persons who provided for the defence of the country—
§ LORD R. CECIL
They did not pay the taxes wholly. He makes a great mistake if he thinks they did. He said that so long as the Earls who exercised a kind of military jurisdiction, and the abbots and bishops who had an ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the whole country, attended for those considerations, they were all light and nothing could be said against so admirable a body. It was only when the hereditary principle was introduced that they became indefensible. But that was introduced, I think, in the reign of Edward I., so that they became indefensible some little time ago.
§ LORD R. CECIL
I do not wish to disagree with the Attorney-General more than I can help, and I agree with him in this, that the House of Lords were originally distinguished because they rendered great public services, Imperial and local, to the country, and it was largely on account of those great services they retained the confidence of the country. Very largely that is true at the present day. [Laughter.] I am glad to hear that laughter, because it shows that hon. Members are attacking men of whose character they are ignorant. No one who knows anything of the country life of this country will doubt that, taking them as a body, the House of Lords have discharged important public duties, discharged them gratuitously, and set an example, in my judgment, to the whole of the civilised world, of gratuitous services rendered because they regarded it as part of the duty they owe to their country. For my part I entirely assent to the proposition of the Attorney-General that those who are prepared 1178 to render gratuitous services to their country are entitled, at any rate, to the respect of the country. The Resolution before the House contains a major premise, a minor premise, and proceeds to a conclusion. Its major promise is that the will of the people shall prevail. I do not quarrel with that except to the extent that I do not think the truth is very happily expressed. The "will of the people" is one of those phrases which are very useful on the platform, but one which is, I think, not often used with a very definite idea of its meaning. Because after all the "will of the people," in the sense of the whole people, does not exist. Nobody pretends that the will of the people of this country, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, coincides on every question. It is a mere abstraction, a mere confusion, to talk of the will of the people. But it does imply a real moaning, and the real moaning is the will of the majority of the electorate, which is a very different thing from the will of the people. Hon. Members from Ireland will assent to that proposition, because in Ireland no one pretends that the will of the people prevails. You must limit it in that way, and in that way I assent to the proposition that it is desirable that the will of the people shall prevail. Then I come to the minor premise—and here I think I quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman—that the will of the people as expressed by the decision of this House shall prevail. It seems to me to be so astonishing a proposition that I have difficulty in believing it. The will of the people is not expressed by a decision of this House. No one believes for a moment that it is. [Cries of "Oh."] Does any hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that any of the opinions of this House express the will of the people I Nothing of the kind. It is the merest legal fiction. How often does it happen that the decision of a Committee of the Whole House is reversed on Report? Do both those opinions represent the will of the people? Of course not. How about the late Parliament? Did that represent the will of the people? [An HON. MEMBER: "Not at the end of it."] When did it cease to represent the will of the people? I remember reading night after night in that brilliant organ of the Liberal Party, the Westminster Gazette, references to what was called a "Khaki election."
§ LORD R. CECIL
That is cheered by the hon. Member for Stoke. What did that mean? It meant that the Parliament had been elected upon a single issue, and did not represent the will of the people on any other issue. Then what nonsense it is to talk of the will of the people being expressed by the decision of this House. I am prepared to go further. I am prepared to maintain that the decisions of this House do not represent the opinion of this House, and I do not believe anybody thinks they do. Look at the decisions we come to under the guillotine. It is notorious that Ministers congratulate themselves on the fact that they have not to face certain Amendments, that they will not be discussed, that they will fall under the guillotine, and thus the Government will escape a great danger. That is only one instance. The real truth is that in the House as it exists and is at present constituted the decisions do not represent the opinion of the House, but the opinion of the Cabinet. The truth is—and I wish the Secretary of State for India were in his place, because he would be the first to recognise the truth of what I say—that in other days when Members were sent as envoys from their constituents to do the best they could for their constituents they were not bound to surrender their own view to the constituency. And this is why I wish the Secretary of State for India was in his place, because in a well-known passage in his Life of Burke he quotes a statement of Burke that he would never surrender his opinion and judgment to his constituency.
§ LORD R. CECIL
True, even in those days he lost his seat. What is the state of things now? We are now told that the sole duty of a Member is to vote with his Party. [Cries of "No."] Hon. Members do not agree with that, neither do I, but it is clearly laid down.
§ LORD R. CECIL
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consult the Patronage Secretary? That is the truth; let us face it, and recognise what the whole truth is.
§ LORD R. CECIL
I admit there are exceptions and I hope there always will be. I ask the House seriously to consider the working of this principle. The Cabinet comes down and presents a Bill to the House. That Bill is not passed because the majority agree to it, but because the majority must not, politically, vote against it. Everybody knows that on every Government measure every point is passed by the pressure of the Government on its supporters in the lobbies. Therefore, when you say that in future the will of the majority of the electorate shall prevail, it is really carrying (I do not wish to use a hard phrase) British self-deception too far to say that these decisions represent the will of the people or of this House or of anybody but the Cabinet.
We all agree that the great object of statesmanship is that the will of the people should prevail in the sense I have described. I believe that has been the object of statesmen for many years, long before this Government came into office; and they have devised from time to time different plans for securing that the will of the people should prevail. The plan now in existence is this. You have your House of Commons elected for a certain term in order to give stability to the Government, and you have the Second Chamber, whose object and duty it is, if they think the measure is one not approved by the country, to refuse to accept that measure until an opportunity has been given to the country to express its opinion. That is the working of the present Constitution, and that is and must be the working of any Second Chamber. It is, in other words, a kind of power of referring a matter to the country. I do not deny myself that it is open to criticism as it at present works. In the first place, it is no doubt a clumsy method—that of appealing to the country. The only way you can do it is by dissolving the House of Commons, and requiring every Member to seek re-election. I myself 1181 think that a very clumsy way of ascertaining the opinion of the country on a particular question; I admit that fully. But there is a more serious charge brought against the system. It is said that it operates one-sidedly, and that under the existing Constitution, if the Party to which I have the honour to belong produced some great constructive measure, as to which there was a real doubt whether the country approved, there would be no security that the House of Lords would require the opinion of the country to be taken upon it. But may I remind hon. Members that the Party on this side of the House is or ought to be essentially a Conservative Party. In my judgment it ought not to embark on great legislative experiments. I do not think that is its true function in the State. I know there have been distinguished statesmen who have taken a wholly different view of its functions; but I think if this Party became a rival of the Liberal Party, by a great constructive policy of its own, it would be very difficult to defend the Second Chamber which was prepared to accept one side's constructive measures and not the other's. The defence of the House of Lords must be that it is a conservative body. I agree in that fully. I think that the case is made out to some extent for securing that if the House is misled by its political opinions into passing a great constructive measure, some plan ought to be devised whereby the country should have a right to call upon the Legislature to consult it before that great constructive measure becomes law. What is the device that we recommend and which would accomplish all these objects? It is a device which was sneered at by the Prime Minister as a foreign device—the referendum. Just see how it works. It gets rid of the clumsiness at once, though I do not say it is absolutely simple; it gets rid of the clumsiness to a large extent. A measure is sent by the House to the other House, and after a discussion, or a conference if you like, the House of Lords is unable to accept it. The House of Commons settles the final form which in its view the measure should receive. And if the House of Lords is unable to accept that, then the country is asked to say aye or no, whether the 1182 measure in that form should become law. That is the skeleton scheme. That is the way it would work here and in the country, and I believe it is substantially the way it is worked in other countries. That would dispose to a very large extent of the clumsiness. Then as to the contingency that the House of Lords would check great constructive measures. I think that there ought to be for a certain body of electors, say one-fourth of the electorate, power to petition in such a case that the measure should not be passed until it had been referred to the people. That also is a foreign device. In that way I believe you would secure to a very large extent that legislation should be in accordance with the will of the people. For my part I should be very glad to see some such proposal as that carried into law. I observe that the Under-Secretary for the Home Department in his interesting speech yesterday objected to this proposal, because he said it would give undue power to the wealthy, who would be able to organise in such a way that they would be able to reject every measure submitted. What a commentary is that on the will of the people! Still, I admit that there is something in the objection, and I would have any change of the kind I suggest strengthened by a far-reaching Corrupt Practices Act. The other objection raised is that the issue would be so very difficult to the electors, but I really have the greatest difficulty in understanding what is meant by that. What is the issue submitted to the country at the general election? Why, it is an issue as to the merits of half-a-dozen Bills, complicated by every kind of personal question, and every kind of personal abuse. It would be far simpler to submit, aye or no, do you want the Plural Voting Bill or the Education Bill, than to put before the electors an issue as to half-a-dozen measures embracing the policy of the Conservative Party on the one side or of the Liberal Party on the other. The solitary criticism that I have heard on this proposal is that of the Prime Minister, who says it is a foreign device. I do not think that a very powerful criticism, with the greatest respect to the Prime Minister. Certainly we know that the proposal of the Prime Minister 1183 is quite free from that objection. I venture to say that the proposal to pass a Bill after repeated conferences is one that has never been made in any other civilised country of the world. May I call the attention of the House to the working of the Prime Minister's proposal? He suggests that first the Bill should be passed in the ordinary way, that is to say, under the guillotine. Then it is to be sent up to the House of Lords, who, it is assumed, will disagree; whereupon a conference is to take place. Four Members of this House are to go up the Lobby, and four Members of the House of Lords are to come down the Lobby, and they are to meet in some intervening space. What is the purpose of the conference? It is, as far as I can understand, to enable the four Members of this House, in a brief interview, to convince the four Members of the other House of their grievous sin, because it is quite plain that four Members of the House of Lords could have no chance whatever. Just conceive the Liberal Party submitting to the dictation of the House of Lords. Of course, they would never be able to face their constituents or even their obedient Party if they did such a thing. They would be called upon in every tone and by every newspaper to stand fast by the decision of the Commons. The conference would be a mere futility. What happens next? Back comes the Bill to the House of Commons, and either in that form or some other, it is passed by a somewhat accelerated procedure, I do not quite make out how much faster, but a little faster. There is another conference. Again the four Members of the House of Lords and the four Members of the House of Commons meet; there is a private conference, but this time it is abundantly clear that the House of Lords has nothing to expect, because whatever happens no further change is to be made in the Bill, if I rightly understand the Prime Minister's proposal. Therefore, this conference is absolutely confined to convincing the Members of the House of Lords of their wickedness in opposing the House of Commons. Then the Bill comes back here once again, and this time is passed with lightning rapidity; no discussion, no debate; through it goes; why, I cannot conceive; through 1184 the legislative machine it goes once again, and then these four devoted Members of the House of Commons make one last effort to convince the four devoted Members of the House of Lords. Really, is it worth while submitting a proposal of that kind? That is what I believe the Attorney-General describes as an arbitration clause. The Attorney-General has great skill, but I must say I should immensely enjoy having such an arbitration clause in any contract to which I was a party—to have the arbitration three times.
§ LORD R. CECIL
No doubt that is what the Attorney-General meant. One of two things must inevitably happen. Either the passing and re-passing of the Bill, which had already been fully discussed presumably, is to have some effect, or it is not. If it has some effect it will be immediately denounced by the Prime Minister and by the Attorney-General as an encroachment on the supremacy of the House of Commons; the Prime Minister would not have to alter a single word or sound of the whole of the earlier part of his speech; he would be enabled to denounce the then condition of affairs in exactly the same way as he denounces the present condition of affairs. And so would the Attorney-General. The hereditary principle would be untouched, and all that elaborate talk about people being born with a talent for legislation would be just as good then as it is now. Why, such a guarantee as that would not stand a fresh breeze, much less a storm. They would all be swept away instantly. For my part I would rather have no guarantees than guarantees of that description. Though it is a very old metaphor to say that a rotten fence is much worse than no fence at all, yet it is a true one. It is far better that the people of the country should know the worst, that they should know exactly what they are doing, that they should know that they are electing a Single Chamber with no checks upon its decisions, than that we should have those miserable safeguards which the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General 1185 have sketched. I should very much prefer the clear issue suggested by the Labour Party. It is far better, if that is the real opinion of the House, that they should say it boldly, and submit the issue to the country that they are in favour of the abolition of the House of Lords. Let that be the clear issue. Remember that from this time to the next general election this is the only question in which the country will take an interest. You may produce, if you like to trifle with your character for sincerity, your Licensing Bill or your Education Bill, or any other Bills; but if you believe that the country want this great and revolutionary change in the Constitution, the country will think that you are merely trifling with their ideas if you proceed on the humdrum round of ordinary legislation. Let the issue with regard to the House of Lords be submitted clearly to the country. Let it not be confused with the misleading verbiage and empty ceremonial suggested by the Prime Minister. Let them ask the country boldly and clearly—" Are you in favour of the abolition of the Second Chamber altogether?"
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
I am not a believer in the hereditary principle. But as I listened to the great speech of the Member for East Marylebone, I had to admit that the mantle of his great historic ancestors has descended brilliantly upon my noble friend. I may also add that the speech of ray noble friend also suggests to me an Oxford don of the 13th or 14th century arguing 20th century questions. I have intervened at this stage because I do not represent any section of opinion which has yet been voiced in this House upon this question. This is, in the opinion of British Members of Parliament, a very great Party debate. To me it is something far more. I belong to no British Party, but on this issue I am here speaking not as a Party man but as an Irishman, and as a representative of the feelings of the Irish people. There was an expression used yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London to which, after twenty years experience in this House, I take absolute exception. He said, "We all must admit that politics is a game." There are a number of men in this House to whom politics is not a game, but a 1186 great religion, and to whom the advancement of the liberty of their fellow subjects is everything. If politics is a game then, in Heaven's name, what are the stakes? Are the stakes human lives, human liberty, and human justice? I wish to say just one word in defence of an absent man, Mr. Bryce. Every time during the life of this Parliament when the question of the House of Lords has come up for discussion Mr. Bryce has been trotted out as a supporter of the House of Lords, and as a great Radical who is a Second Chamber man. His views were referred to yesterday by the late Prime Minister and by the hon. Baronet the late Secretary to the Board of Education, and to-day Mr. Bryce has again been quoted by the hon. Gentleman who opened the do bate in a very interesting and well-digested speech. This is what Mr. Bryce said for himself on the 17th of May, 1879—We think that any hereditary House must be a weak one, and we would rather have no Second Chamber at all than a weak one. We say that to have a stick which breaks in your hand when you lean on it is worse than having no stick at all, and if I had to select between the present House of Lords and one Chamber I should prefer one Chamber.It is to declare the opinion of the Irish Party that I venture to intervene in the debate. The first person to raise in the House of Commons the question of the reform of the House was Daniel O'Connell, but his was only a voice crying in the wilderness. We have got in Ireland a body called the United Irish League, and the executive of that body on Tuesday last passed a Resolution on this subject in which they affirm that they recognise in the House of Lords a body of irresponsible legislators invested only through the accident of birth with power which they have invariably used in a way which has shown them to be the implacable enemies of Irish rights and liberties. They further declare that the Lords have always treated every measure of conciliation and justice towards the Irish people with contumely and contempt, and that—While holding ourselves independent of all British Parties, and acting solely in the interests of Ireland and the advancement of the principles of liberty, we welcome measures for the reduction of the subordination of the will of the people to the House of Lords.With regard to the Resolution which the Prime Minister has moved, the hon. Member who opened the debate to-day spoke of 1187 it as savouring of the ludicrous, but it is nothing of the kind. A Resolution of this kind if it never is embodied in an Act of Parliament, or even if its substance is never placed on the Statute Book, will still have an immense effect, because it is the first Resolution of its kind in the whole history of Parliament. Resolutions have been passed before on the motion of unofficial Members of the House of Commons with reference to curtailing the privileges of the House of Lords, and it is surprising how this matter has grown and magnified during the last two years; but this is the first time in the history of Parliament that the Executive Government have moved a serious Resolution which if carried into operation will mean practically the abolition of the veto of the House of Lords. If it is simply passed and goes no further it will still remain on the Journals of the House, a bright example to others in the future, and I doubt whether, in the case of a change of Government, anyone will have the temerity to move that it should be expunged. Therefore any measure you may introduce to bring the House of Lords into accord with the House of Commons will have the hearty sympathy and support of all who wish that the will of this House should prevail in legislation which the people of the country desire. It is not consistent with the dignity, the manhood, and the intellect of hon. Members that they should be treated like schoolboys. We come here and slave day after day, moulding measures into the form desired by those whom we represent, and then when our Bills are sent to another place they are so amended as to be greatly impaired or they are kicked out altogether. The wonder is that you have borne this so long. I should have expected you to be quick to resent treatment of this kind, but I am afraid you are not half so nimble-witted as you ought to be. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London challenged the Prime Minister yesterday to mention any Bill of first-class importance which the House of Lords had thrown out in late years with the exception of Home Rule Bills. I do not know how the right hon. Gentleman proposes to meet that challenge, but I can meet it easily. I will simply state what Ireland has to complain of. First of all, there was the Catholic Emancipation Bill, a measure of 1188 importance not only to Irish Catholics but to English Catholics and English Nonconformists. That measure was passed by this House and twice rejected by the House of Lords. Pitt made the great promise that England and Ireland should be governed by equal laws. In the agitation against the Union from the time of O'Connell down to the present day the Irish people have always asked for the equalisation of the laws of England and Ireland. First of all, they asked for the equalisation of the franchise between England and Ireland. Although Ireland is a poor country and England a rich country, the Irish franchise for fifty years was higher than the English franchise. On three occasions the House of Commons passed a measure to remedy that inequality and the House of Lords rejected it. The municipal franchise in the Irish cities was very much higher than the English municipal franchise. No fewer than five times were Bills passed in this House with the sanction of the Government in regard to that matter, and on each occasion they were rejected by the House of Lords. These were all measures of first class-importance. When my right hon. friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland was about to bring forward the Evicted Tenants Bill, I asked whether it would be like the Evicted Tenants Bill of 1894, and he replied that it would be ejusdem generis. It was reported in the Press that it would be just and generous. The Bill of 1894 was passed through the House of Commons, its provisions being in accordance with the advice given by a Commission headed by one of the most illustrious lawyers of his day, Mr. Justice Mathew. That Bill was thrown out in the House of Lords, and yet there are some people who look upon the House of Lords as a wonderful place where detached beings, utterly exempt from human prejudices, arrest the unwise measures submitted to them by this House. They seem to be regarded as so many angels sent down for our good. It is said that Bills are sometimes passed through this House in a rush, and that hon. Members are subject to the fits and gusts of passion, and that it is valuable to have such a Chamber as the House of Lords to deal with such measures. The Criminal Law Procedure Act of 1887 was one in which the English 1189 Liberal Party took the greatest interest. They took an interest in it out of kindness to Ireland, and also from the instinct of self-preservation, for they knew pretty well that if things of this kind could be done in Ireland they might also be done in England. That measure is known to the Irish representatives as the Jubilee Perpetual Coercion Act. The Bill was brought forward in the second session of a new Parliament in which there was a Tory majority. It is no exaggeration to say that at the election not a word about coercion for Ireland was heard on any platform. The Government of the day had no mandate whatever. They had a mandate the other way. They were elected to grant equal laws for Ireland, and not to impose coercion. When the Bill was passing through Committee Lord Weymouth, now the Marquess of Bath, took a yellow poster out of his pocket and read out the words: "Vote for Weymouth and no coercion." That was the appeal which had been made to his constituents at the election. One of the most curious things of all was that, on the day of the Second Reading of the Bill, the Piggott forged letter appeared in The Times. It afterwards appeared from the evidence given at the Parnell Commission that the letter was printed in order to affect the vote on the Second Reading. When Mr. Parnell stood up to deny the authenticity of the letter the then Chief Secretary who was addressing the House refused to give way, and Mr. Parnell's denial did not appear in its integrity in the English Press. When that Bill was passing through this House free use was made of the guillotine. I remember Sir Charles Russell stood at the Table protesting that a promise had been given which had never been fulfilled, and it has not been fulfilled from that day to this. The Bill was bitterly contested, and the proceedings in this House lasted five or six weeks. Having been forced through the House with the aid of the guillotine, it was sent to the House of Lords. If the Lords had exercised their function as the guardians of the interests of future generations, they would have taken care that a measure which was to coerce not only the present generation, but future generations, was fair and equitable. That Bill by which jury trial was abolished, and by which new offences 1190 were created, was not subjected by the hereditary House to the revision it ought to have received. Tribunals were set up under the Act in which the magistrates were merely the creatures of the Crown. One man who had been dismissed for fraud was appointed a resident magistrate. The Bill received First, Second, and Third Reading in a few hours at one sitting of the House of Lords. What is to be said for a Second Chamber which performs its work in that way? What becomes of the hereditary wisdom in such a case as that? The fact is that there is no revision in the House of Lords when a Tory Government is concerned. Certainly there is none when Irish legislation is concerned, if it is proposed by a Tory Government. I am sorry that the late Prime Minister is not here, because although he is not a gentleman of a very ardent temperament, I should like to say something which might appeal even to him. There was another Tory once Prime Minister who knew how to manage the House of Lords. I refer to the Duke of Wellington. He has left a document which is familiar to every student of constitutional history, showing how he managed the House of Lords. He was a Tory of the best kind. When Catholic emancipation was proposed, he opposed that reform, but when he found that Irish soldiers cheered O'Connell the Liberator, he quickly altered that opinion. The Catholic Emancipation Bill, which the Duke of Wellington had bitterly opposed, was passed by the House of Lords. The Duke was an old strategist, and he did his best to save the Lords from themselves. In a letter written in April, 1844, he gave advice to Lord Stanley as to how he was to proceed in connection with the repeal of the Corn Laws. He said—Although I disagree with the Government measures, knowing what the House of Lords in now, knowing that it no longer reflects the will of the people, I have done my best with a considerable amount of management to bring them into line with popular opinion in order to preserve them.The late Prime Minister did not take the advice of his godfather, the Duke of Wellington, but in language which could not be misinterpreted told the House that although the Liberal Ministry were supported by a general majority of 350 over his followers, he would go to another place and defeat the decision of the 1191 House of Commons; and by doing that he lured the other place to destruction. The late Prime Minister attributed the preservation of Ireland to the rejection of the Home Rule Bill of 1893 by the House of Lords. If Mr. Gladstone had had his will on that rejection there would have been an appeal to the country, but, by the dilly-dallying of certain gentlemen, that was prevented, and the result is that we are only at the stage we were thirteen years ago, when Mr. Gladstone was overborne in regard to what he wished for as to how the House of Lords should be dealt with. The English Radicals have some representatives in the House of Lords; but there is not a single representative of the Nationalists in that Chamber.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
He is not a Nationalist and he does not want to be in the House of Lords. The Irish Tories have twenty-eight representative Peers in the House of Lords—all of whom are Irish landlords of the Clanricarde type. It is a very remarkable fact that not one hon. Member has ventured to say that the House of Lords have a right to dictate your legislation here, to throw your measures out, to treat them with contempt, while Tory measures are passed automatically, or to erect barriers against Liberal measures, because they are the sons of their fathers. We do not view the ludicrousness of this, because we have got accustomed to it. It has been said by some hon. Members that Englishmen dearly love the House of Lords. I will examine in a general way as to the origin of some of these Peers. If I said all that I know in regard to them outside this House I might be subjected to prosecution by the Society for the Discouragement of Vice. I can consider nothing more cowardly or unmanly than to throw in anyone's teeth his antecedents. It is our glory here that every man stands on his own merits and that, however humble his origin, if he has ability he can rise to the highest honours. But when you come to this, that we are told that the Peers must revise the laws passed by this House, that they are the guardian angels of the people, that they are the trustees of 1192 posterity because they are the sons of their fathers, then we may inquire who their ancestors were. To begin with the Dukes. There are four of them whose ancestors must have been very precocious, because one was created a Duke when he was three years of age, and another when he was twelve years of age; and they rose to that position by the merits or demerits of Charles II. of blessed memory. Do you think it right that the descendants of these gentlemen should legislate for you and thwart your legislation because they are the spurious representatives of the divine right of royalty that was kicked out of the country? Another branch of the Dukes owed their position to the robbery of all the abbeys and the priories of the Catholic Church. I do not say whether that was right or wrong, but it should not have been used to give a hereditary right to sit in the House of Lords. There was another branch of the Peers who owed their position to royal favouritism or to honest purchase. Then William III. of glorious, pious, and immortal memory conferred a dukedom on a man named Bentinck, but before it could be conferred a special Act of Parliament had to be passed in order to naturalise him in this country, and the descendant of this noble Duke, who was of Dutch origin, the Duke of Portland, was the most bitter anti-Boer in this country in the recent war. Edmund Burke described the Duke of Bedford of his day as the great leviathan of pluralities. I come down to the time of the Georges. George III., who lost us America, created 388 Peers, who were described by Lecky as respectable nonentities, for their support of the policy of the Crown. Next come the peerages of our own day. What about the brewers who have got peerages, men who have brewed as much ale and porter as would float ten ships of war. They had no great ability about them except that of flatulent pockets; but no sooner do they get into the peerage than you find them with an ancestry that would take all the shine out of the blood of the Howards. I will say nothing about the military Peers; but as to the political Peers, Lord Clive, like Lord Curzon, obtained an Irish peerage because he had purchased seven seats in the House of Commons; and he was disappointed 1193 because he did not get an English peerage. During the Chinese debates it was pointed out, that in China they did not ennoble a man for special service but his ancestors! A great many men who are made Peers to-day are the shunted twaddlers of politics; the wall-flowers of the political ball-room who are obliged to retire gracefully. My recollection of twenty years in this House is that the Lords are the shunted dowagers of politics and the wall-flowers in the political bowl. [Laughter.] All these things create laughter, but although they are very ridiculous they are infinitely mischievous. But if they are ludicrous they are also true. This is the very best House of Commons that has ever been elected in the whole history of Parliament, and I do not include in that description only those hon. Gentlemen who agree with me and the Labour Party and the Irish Members, because I see there are yet elements of earnestness in the younger Tory Members. But how are you to begin to reform? How are the leaders in the Executive Government of this country, under whom some of us will not flinch, to deal with this situation? Are you going to think of the constituencies and those who come after you? If you are going to do a man's work to put down this indignity and make the world better than you found it, why not rise to the height of your strength and brush away all impediments of a gingerbread character! Let us all direct our attention to this urgent matter and say we will not allow any man merely through the accident of birth to thwart our wishes and stand between us and the desires of the people. Speaking with some little knowledge of Cabinet dissensions, and I daresay there have been dissensions in the present Cabinet, I believe that if we support them we shall bring this glorious campaign to a triumphant conclusion.
§ MR. ARTHUR HENDERSON (Durham, Barnard Castle)
I rise to move the Amendment standing on the Order Paper in my name which runs, "The Upper House, being an irresponsible part of the legislature, and of necessity representative only of interests opposed to the general well-being, is a hindrance to national progress and ought to be 1194 abolished." The first observation I have to make is that the longer we listen to the debates the more convinced we must become that the position of the House of Lords as it is to-day is absolutely indefensible. If there was any doubt in our minds upon that point before, I think after the excellent review of the House of Lords to which we have just listened all doubt ought to be removed. We can congratulate ourselves, therefore, that we have had the opportunity of listening to the speech of the hon. Member for West Donegal, as he has refreshed our memory in regard to the position of our hereditary Peers. All this explanation makes it very much easier for me to put the proposition contained in the Amendment, but before proceeding to state my case I should like to make a very brief reference to the plan of the Government as unfolded to us in the able speech of the Prime Minister yesterday. I have examined the plan which he submitted as carefully as I can in the very short time at my disposal, and having regard to the whole circumstances of the case, I have been compelled to come to the conclusion that it is altogether too cautious, too moderate, and far too considerate for those against whom the Prime Minister made out such an excellent case. Applying the right hon. gentleman's scheme to the circumstances of last session, I may point out that it was the first session of a new Parliament, and happily the driving power of the new Parliament was such as to produce an output of legislation not only in quantity but in quality that, I believe I am right in saying, exceeds anything which has taken place in any session of Parliament in the lifetime of any single Member of this House. Supposing that this excellent plan of the Government had been in operation last session, I should like to ask what would have been the result. Let me take for instance the three measures in which many of us were most keenly interested the Trade Disputes Bill, the Amendment of the Workmen's Compensation Act, and the Education (Provision of Meals) Bill. I know that every one of those three measures would have been a subject of conference had the system now proposed been then in operation. I do not doubt 1195 that if this machinery gets into working it may facilitate the passage of some simple uncontroversial Bills, but I have the strongest conviction that it will be the means of hindering the passing of progressive legislation in general. I know I may be told that had this scheme been in operation a Bill very closely associated with the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Government Bench might have been after all his tremendous efforts passed into law. I may be told that if there had been this machinery the Government plan in regard to education would ultimately have been successful. Yes, but what I want to ask is this: Supposing the right hon. Gentleman had been successful, and I think he himself would make this admission, he would only have been successful in getting a Bill passed on to the Statute-book which would be far out of harmony with the pledges which the Government had given to the country and with that which the supporters of the Government were entitled to expect. [An HON. GENTLEMAN: You would not have got a stronger Bill.] All I can say is that if we did not get a stronger Bill there would have been more compromises than there were before the Bill left this House, and if we are going to have more compromises in regard to our Bills as the result of the conference, its establishment will not be the least concession. I say that is a fatal argument to my mind against our too readily adopting the scheme which is put before us by the Government. It has been suggested that after a little time the House of Lords will tire of this method of proceeding, that after a session or two they will hesitate to put the provision in force, and that the necessary Bill referred to yesterday when it becomes law will enable the Government to put on the Statute-book any Bill they wish. That to my mind is a delusion and a snare. I do not think the recent history of the other House justifies our concluding that after a year or two they will cease to resist legislation, and I am strengthened in that opinion by the character of the legislation which we hope this Government may be able to send to the Upper House before it again goes to the country. There never were such demands as there are to-day for advanc- 1196 ing social and economic legislation. We are recognising that social problems must be dealt with and are realising that economically and industrially there is much that the worker should receive at the hands of the Government. There is nothing that leads me to suppose that when we get these advanced measures the House of Lords will be more anxious to let those measures pass than they have been to pass other measures that have been sent up to them from this House in days gone by. For these not altogether unimportant reasons we look with some suspicion on the scheme unfolded by the Prime Minister in his speech of yesterday. Now I want before passing away from the scheme to urge the Government to reconsider the position, and see whether it is not possible to reduce the amount of time that may pass between the first disagreement between the two Houses and the final passage of the measure into law. That in my opinion is essential if we are to pass through both Houses legislation that is commensurate with the present needs of the people. Let us try to look at this scheme from a practical standpoint. Suppose in the first three sessions of a new great radical democratic Parliament we are engaged as we were last session with important controversial measures. Take the Trade Disputes Bill, the Workmen's Compensation Bill, and the Provision of Meals Bill and the Scottish Land Bill. Suppose the House of Lords seeks to avail itself of the right you are able to confer upon it by this scheme to put the conference machinery into operation on all those four Bills, how far are we going to be from the end of the third session of the new Parliament before those measures pass on to the Statute-book? But that is not all. What about the next two years? I hope hon. Members, and especially those who like ourselves came flushed with our promises of industrial and social reform, will ponder carefully over this. What about the last two years of the quinquennial Parliament? To what can we turn our attention during those two years? We cannot turn our attention to great controversial measures, because if we send up such measures in the fourth session of the Parliament there will not be time for 1197 them to run to the final period when the command will go forth that if the House of Lords opposes the Bill again it will pass without them. I allow therefore if we are going to have this scheme of a quinquennial Parliament, and I hope we shall have it—I should be prepared to go further and vote for a triennial Parliament, especially if we do not have a House of Lords—let us be very careful that we are not establishing a scheme that will restrict the activity of Parliament to three years of the quinquenial period. That is one of the most serious issues involved in the scheme, and I think I am right in saying that the Prime Minister is the last man to view such a situation with feelings of satisfaction. Having made this not unfair criticism on the Government scheme, I desire to bring to the notice of the House the alternative scheme contained in our Amendment. I have said that the Government scheme is cautious and moderate. I am afraid I cannot claim that for the scheme I am about to try to justify. But there is this about it—it is understandable, it is definite, and it is radical. It seeks by the plainest, the most complete and logical method to make the will of the House of Commons supreme. There is an almost unanimous opinion that the hereditary principle that obtains to-day ought to be ended, but we want to go further. We want to put an end, not only to the hereditary principle, but to the life of any Chamber which is irresponsible, which is not responsible to the nation. It may be asked why do we, representing labour, take the responsibility of moving this Amendment. We do so because organised labour has its own definite and ever-increasing indictment against the House of Lords. The record of the other House so far as organised labour is concerned is altogether bad. Organised labour remembers that the Upper House resisted a Bill for the protection of the lives of our women and children in the mines from 1842 to 1872. We recognise the attitude taken up by the other House towards the principle of compensation. We remember their making the principle of picketing an offence in 1872. Organised labour remembers the record of the Upper House on the Load Line and 1198 Merchant Shipping Act which was destined to do something for the sea-men. We remember their mutilation of the Employers' Liability Bill in 1893–4, and their practical rejection of the Railway Servants Bill in 1893. But let me come a little nearer the present Parliament. Can we forget their treatment of what we know was a measure for the prevention of the importation of alien labourers during the progress of a trade dispute? Their policy on that occasion is the more difficult to understand when we remember that in the last session or the last but one of the old Parliament the Government of the Party for whom the House of Lords is so pleased to act passed an Aliens Bill which they claimed they passed in the interests of the working man. But how inconsistent is the claim when we remember that at the very time organised labour asked for assistance for British labour the House of Lords refused it, and threw out the Aliens Prevention Bill! The reason given by Lord Londonderry was as follows—There might perhaps, in the future, be a strike in some great industry with which was associated the welfare of the whole people, and in such a case would it be wise to forbid the introduction of men into the country who were to keep the industry going?At the time when the workmen needed protection the noble Lord thought of the rights of capital and forgot the wrongs of labour. Then we do not forget their treatment of the Provision of Meals Bill, a Bill for which we were responsible, and which was so successful that it went through this House with almost unanimous consent. The Amendment which caused its mutilation in the other House was the exclusion of Scotland. We had the satisfaction that when the same Amendment was moved by an hon. Member above the gangway, the force in favour of the Amendment was so small that Mr. Speaker asked those in favour of the deletion of Scotland to stand up, and the number that responded to his invitation was ten. The principle was laid down that Scotland should be included in the Bill, and rightly so. How could it be otherwise in face of the testimony of the Medical Officer for the City of Edinburgh that half the children of the 1199 slums were being compelled to attend school in an underfed condition? The Bill went to the other House, and the Amendment so unanimously rejected by the Commons was accepted by the Lords. No; it is scarcely correct to say it was accepted by the Lords, because the vote was twenty-nine to nineteen. Twenty-nine against nineteen had the power to take over this Bill, supported by the unanimous voice of the House of Commons, which on this point we claim to be directly representing the people before whom we have so recently been, and to leave out Scotland from the scope of its provisions. That is part, at any rate, of the great indictment preferred by the Labour Party against the House of Lords; and with such a history as it possesses we have no hesitation in accepting the following definition of its position—During the past 100 years the House of Lords has never contributed one iota to popular liberty or popular freedom, or done anything to advance the commonweal. During that time it has protected every abuse and sheltered every privilege; it has denied justice and delayed reform; it is irresponsible without independence, obstinate without courage, arbitrary without judgment, and arrogant without knowledge.It is some time ago, I admit, since those words were uttered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, but they very correctly describe our opinion to-day. With such a House as is in those words accurately described, what is the method proposed by the Labour Party for dealing with it drastically? We are proposing a method that has long been settled and adopted by the organised labour of this country; whether it has spoken through the Trades Congress or through labour demonstrations, the voice of organised labour has been emphatically in the direction of this Amendment. After the rejection or the mutilation of the Employers Liability Bill there was held a great demonstration, admitted by The Times newspaper, I believe, to have been one of the greatest labour demonstrations ever held in Hyde Park, at which the following resolution was carried—That this meeting, representing the organised industries of the United Kingdom, condemns the action of the House of Lords in stultifying the decision of a majority of the 1200 directly-elected representatives of the people in the House of Commons upon the Employers Liability Bill. This meeting also calls upon the Government to reintroduce the measure at once to test the ultimate decision of the House of Lords, and to take steps for the entire abolition of the House of Lords, and thereby to deprive the Peers of the power of opposing the national will.The Trades Union Congress in the following year, 1895, carried the following—That this Congress is of opinion that the representative character of the House of Commons is impaired, and its decisions rendered nugatory by the power of the House of Lords, and with a view of maintaining inviolate the supremacy of Parliament, this Congress calls for the speedy abolition of the Second Chamber.This was seconded by my hon. friend the Member for South-East Derbyshine. The Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Congress took this matter up very seriously at that time, and, if the House will bear with me, I will read a brief extract from the manifesto of that Committee, which was sown broadcast on that occasion. In that manifesto, which was issued in February, 1904, they say—What use to you is the right to vote? What does it avail you that a majority of the elected representatives of the people decide in your favour, whilst a privileged class are permitted to make a mockery of the most extended franchise and all representative authority? It is now necessary for you to decide whether you will tamely submit to this contemptuous treatment or will determine to teach the House of Lords that they cannot oppose your will with impunity.I need hardly say that this manifesto was signed by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, by the hon. Member for Wansbeck, and the hon. Member for Finsbury. Not only is this the policy of organised labour, but there are others who have made themselves responsible for suggesting a similar course of action. I will just trouble the House with this quotation before I conclude. One right hon. Gentleman who happens to adorn the front Opposition bench at the present time is responsible for having said the following—He saw on some banners the words they must ' Mend or end the House of Lords.' There were some institutions not worth mending. They were radically bad; they were founded on wrong principle. It was easy, however, to say, 'end them,' but how were they to do it? He believed one way was to stop their wages. A week ago, when there was 1201 a Vote of £41,000 towards the maintenance of the House of Lords, twenty-three of them went into the Lobby against the proposal.The same Gentleman said on another date—For his part he was no reformer of the House of Lords. He demanded its total abolition as a legislative assembly.These opinions are the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham. I feel I ought to apologise for having detained the House so long, but I would say, in conclusion, that we feel very strongly that everything which the Government has advanced against the Lords is true. We have endeavoured to supplement the opposition to the Upper House because of the treatment which the organised workers have received at its hands. What we have to ask ourselves is this: Against a House such as the House of Lords, with such a history, meting out as it has done such treatment to the working classes, can we justify the scheme of the Government, which, as I am afraid it will do, may place the House of Lords in a stronger position than they are in to-day? The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in a speech recently deplored the fact that the Cabinet had always to keep in their minds the possibility of how their Bills would be treated by the House of Lords. But surely, if you put this scheme by Bill upon the Statute Book, you invite the House of Lords to interfere with every Bill. We feel that, if this scheme is sanctioned by the House, it is an invitation to the House of Lords, if they care to do so, to put the machinery which you propose into operation against every Bill. What is going to be the result? First of all, the character of a Bill must be altered, or legislation must be made more moderate in order to meet with their approbation. In the second place, during the whole of the proposed process, we are delaying legislation, whereas the country has endeavoured, by sending a great Government with a great majority to this House, to secure legislation of a social and industrial character in greater quantities than we have hitherto received. Instead of that being done, I am afraid that this very machinery will prevent the passing of the legislation we desire. 1202 Therefore, we are compelled to the conclusion that there is a much better way, a much more effective way, a way which will operate with greater speed for making the will of the House of Commons supreme, and through the House of Commons the will of the people, and that is not by tinkering and mending, but, as we state by our Amendment, ending the House of Lords. I beg to move the Amendment.
§ MR. MACPHERSON (Preston)
I feel that the House will extend to me that indulgence which it always gives to a Member who addresses it for the first time. I rise to second the Amendment moved by my hon. friend, and to all intents and purposes it would be wearying the House to labour the point much further. I have listened carefully to what my hon. friend has said, and I realise that he has stated from our point of view practically everything that can be said in relation to the matter. He has built up our indictment, and therefore I propose for a few moments to turn to some other aspects of the case. The Amendment is clear, it is definite. It puts on record, in the concluding words of the Prime Minister's speech yesterday, that "this House shall rule." We listened to the Prime Minister's speech, as we have listened to the speeches made from that side of the House to-day and yesterday, and almost every speech could be used to build up our case for the total abolition of the House of Lords. The Prime Minister yesterday demonstrated beyond all doubt that if the House of Lords ever did possess any power as a revising Chamber that power has now passed away, and we ourselves had witnessed it, for we have seen Toryism carried so far as to kill any legislation proposed from the Ministerial side of the House. As a representative of the working classes I say there are plenty of things before us which demand legislation. I know that any Bills presented to this House, unless there has been a direct agitation for those Bills in the country, have little chance of passing the House of Lords. I know there is the case of the Trade Disputes Bill, and probably the Labour Members ought to criticise the Lords more kindly because we are the only Party of which they 1203 have shown any fear. Nevertheless we Labour Members realise that the House of Lords have always been our enemies, and are our enemies to-day. We know that in whatever path we desire to strike out for freedom there they stand blocking the way, and it is time the people of this country took the matter into their own hands and politely put them out of the way of the path of progress. The taunt was made yesterday that the present Government are not sincere in this effort to deal with the Lords. May I remind the Ministerial Party that we are only a small Party in this House—there are only some thirty of us, but we represent with candidates defeated under our auspices nearly 500,000 voters, all of them independent voters? I desire to draw attention to the fact that this 500,000 workers are contributing their money to our upkeep, and they are keeping an eye upon the legislation of the country. As has been forcibly demonstrated by my hon. friend, wherever trade unionists have gathered together any Resolution dealing with the House of Lords has always been passed with absolute unanimity. Therefore, I think I can reasonably claim that the 500,000 voters which we represent are watching the Government, and they will judge whether they are sincere or not. If they go back to the country without something accomplished in this direction they will be slaughtered in the same way as the Tory Party was slaughtered in 1906. I will not detain the House further. I wish formally to second the Amendment which has been moved by my hon. friend, and I thank the House for the courtesy it has shown in listening to my remarks.
In line 1, to leave out all the words after the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'the Upper House, being an irresponsible part of the Legislature, and of necessity representative only of interests opposed to the general well-being, is a hindrance to national progress and ought to be abolished.' "—(Mr. Arthur Henderson.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ *MR. MITCHELL-THOMSON (Lanarkshire, N.W.)
Yesterday I listened 1204 to the Prime Minister with the greatest interest, and there was no portion of his speech which interested me more than that in which he said that in moving his Resolution he spoke under a sense of the greatest responsibility. I am sure there are no hon. Members sitting on this side of the House who would in any way underrate the responsibility which is laid upon the right hon. Gentleman and upon his Party for the course they have chosen to take in regard to this question. It is a curious commentary on the sequence of events that in the year 1884 and 1888 Motions should have been made of a similar character suggested by Lord Rosebery with the universal approval of the Liberal Party of that day, and that to-day the Liberal Party should be found actually opposing the institution of an inquiry into the necessity for a reform of the other place, and that in spite of their opposition this inquiry should be actually at this moment going on under the guidance of the ex-Prime Minister of the Liberal Party himself. That is a somewhat curious instance of the irony of events. Now what is the ostensible reason for which this Resolution is being moved? What is the charge against the Second Chamber? We are told that the House of Lords oppressed the people, and that is the sum and substance of the charge. Hon. Members below the gangway declare that it is no wonder the House of Lords oppresses the country, because it is an irresponsible body founded upon an absurd hereditary principle. I am inclined to agree with the Prime Minister that it is hardly relevant upon this Resolution to discuss at length the composition of the House of Lords, because what we are really inquiring into is the conduct of the House of Lords in discharging its functions. The House of Lords, however, is not built up upon hereditary principles, but upon history. There is a large portion of the Second Chamber—and I do not mean the Lords Spiritual—who are Peers in the first creation and who owe their position in no sense of the word to the application of the hereditary principle. If you take the House of Lords at almost any period of its history during the past fifty years, you will find that there was always a large proportion who did not hold their 1205 positions owing to the accident of birth. We have been told that the House of Lords is not a representative body. I am afraid the word "representative" is a somewhat difficult word to define. I think, however, that I could point out that our Second Chamber to-day fulfils one condition of a representative assembly which is not fulfilled by this House. So great an authority as Sir Erskine May laid down that it was an essential thing in the case of a representative assembly that the record of its debates should be accessible to all and that every word spoken should be spoken to the city and the world. I think his actual words were that—Owing to the publicity of its debates there is present, as it were, the entire people to assist in the deliberations of Parliament.I put it to the House, not in any controversial spirit, with regard to the representative character of the House of Lords whether, judged by this test, as it is at present constituted, it is not more representative than those Committees which have been constituted in this House under the new régime. The Prime Minister quoted in his speech the words of Burke, and I would like to give the opinion of the same authority in a passage following that quoted by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the representative character of the House of Lords. Burke said—For it is not the derivation of the power of that House from the people which makes it in a distinct sense their representative. The King is the representative of the people, so are the Lords, and so are the Judges. They are all trustees of the people as well as the Commons, because no power is given for the sole sake of the holder, and although Government certainly is an institution of divine authority, yet its forms and the persons who administer it all originate from the people. A popular origin cannot, therefore, be the characteristical distinction of a popular representative. This belongs equally to all parts of Government and to all its forms.After all the real charge laid against the Second Chamber is that in exercising its functions it is oppressing the people. That is a matter which it is obviously appropriate that should receive serious and careful consideration. I want first of all to say frankly that there is nothing impossible in that charge, because it has repeatedly happened in the history, not merely of this country, but of other countries, that the Second Chamber has 1206 oppressed the people, and that one estate in the Constitution has sought to aggrandize itself at the expense of the others. The optimates of Venice and the Whig Peers in the first half of the eighteenth century combined against the people to set up the tyranny of an oligarchy. The nobles of France and the Holy Roman Empire combined against the Crown with resulting disintegration of these Empires. That, however, to-day is not the question we have to consider, and it would be no argument to say that because King John oppressed the people the monarchy should be abolished, or that, because this House in the time of the Great Rebellion and the Interregnum oppressed the people, its abolition is desirable. The question to be decided is whether the Second Chamber now is oppressive. Let us see what that accusation means. It is not pretended that they are in any way copying the nobles of France and the Holy Roman Empire. It is not contended that they are lacking in national or Imperial spirit. It is not contended that they desire to do anything to disintegrate the Empire. Such a contention would not hold water for a moment. Even hon. Members opposite will admit that whatever the House of Lords lacks it does not lack broad and Imperial views in matters of Imperial policy. Even Liberal Imperialism, that plant of tender growth, flourishes and blossoms in that serene atmosphere. Nor is it pretended that the Second Chamber, like the Venetian nobles and the Whig Peers of 1719, are trying to make themselves a close corporation. On the contrary, it has already been pointed out as a charge against the Second Chamber, not that it is too much of a close corporation, but that it is too easy of access, and by a curious process of argument those hon. Members who make that charge would prefer, if oppressed, that it should be by some one with the blood of Vere de Vere than by one who, rising by his own merits, has succeeded in reaching high office in the State. I do not profess to follow that argument. What is the real charge that is laid at the door of the Second Chamber? It is that it oppresses the people because it resists their will as expressed by their elected representatives when those representatives happen to be Liberals. 1207 In other words, it is resisting what the Liberal Party believe to be the will of the people. That was the charge made at Plymouth at the outset of the campaign by the Prime Minister. He said it is Liberalism that is at stake—not the people that is at stake. In short, this reform of the Constitution is being proposed not for the safety of the people, but confessedly nakedly, unashamedly, in order to strengthen the position of the Liberal Party. As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman yesterday raising his voice in lamentation over his innocents that have been slaughtered by the Lords—though indeed he seemed to weep more sorely for the step-child that survived—I expected him to conclude with a paraphrase of that finest of all funeral orations that was delivered at Gettysburg. Let us here highly resolve that these dead "shall not have died in vain," and that government of the Liberals by the Liberals for the Liberals "shall not perish from the earth." What we have to inquire into, after all, is whether it is absolutely certain that the will of the elected representatives is the will of the people. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen opposite generally accept that doctrine. If they do, it is a somewhat curious commentary on their own conduct in connection with their proposed land legislation, because it is part of their machinery to send down Commissioners to dragoon the popularly elected representatives of the people on the county councils into compliance with the views of the Government of the day. If they do hold that doctrine, it would be well to consider whether it should not be applied in more ways than one. If it is to be held that after an election the majority of the Members of this House give a true representation of the will of the people, then something will have to be done to devise a remedy for the curious anomaly by which everyone who sits on these benches represents something over 16,000, and everyone who sits in other parts of the House represents about 7,000 electors. There are, no doubt, occasions when a special mandate on a special subject is given by the country to Parliament. The people say to Commons and Lords, "This is our will, execute it." On no occasion has a special 1208 mandate of that character been permanently resisted by the Second Chamber. The Lord Advocate admitted as much at Plymouth when he said that the House of Lords had never resisted a popular measure nor insisted on an unpopular one. In truth the Second Chamber is being attacked, as all Second Chambers, whether nominated, elected or hereditary, in other countries are always attacked, on the ground that it retards legislation. Of course it retards legislation, for that is its proper function. If a Second Chamber is not to act as a check upon the first it has no raison d'être, and it is of no use. I do not say that in a Party spirit. It is a constitutional commonplace. As far as I can make out, the real complaint about the action of the Second Chamber is that it has arrogated to itself, to use the Prime Minister's words, the right to force an appeal to the people. The right hon. Gentleman said that was an entirely unconstitutional doctrine—I think he said it was a doctrine not known to the Constitution. He did not cite any constitutional authority for his proposition; but I make so bold as to say that the doctrine is neither novel nor unconstitutional. It was insisted upon forty years ago in the debates on the Irish Church Bill. I cite the authority of Mr. Bonamy Price, a constitutional writer, who during the Irish land law debates was commended to the attention of the House and the country because of the peculiarly detached character of his opinions. This is what he says in regard to the functions of the House of Lords—To balance and regulate the political movement of the nation—to test by temporary resistance the sincerity and strength of the will which demands a change; to make legislation take its stand as the good sense and ultimate judgment instead of the momentary desire of the country, and to give continuity and stability to the general policy of the nation.I have done more in respect to this doctrine than the Prime Minister, for I have brought up one constitutional authority, impeccable and impartial, to testify that this conception of the functions of the House of Lords is neither novel nor unconstitutional. After all, what does it all come down to? We are actually told by the Party opposite that their proposition is that the Party which, by hook or by crook, manages to secure a majority in this Chamber on a measure 1209 on which ex hypothesi the people have the very strongest convictions should hesitate to take the risk of confronting the electors at the polls. I do not necessarily mean that there should be a general election. I mean testing the opinion of the people by election or referendum. I understand that both of these methods are rejected by the Party opposite. What is the consequence? Suppose you eliminate the right of the House of Lords to challenge the decisions of the House of Commons, the House of Commons becomes absolute. Moreover, if this Resolution were translated into a Bill the power of the Second Chamber would be confined to the limits of a Parliament, and these limits are of course at the discretion of the Government of the day. Hon. Gentlemen opposite contend that Parliament towards the end becomes more or less unrepresentative. If that is the case, the curious anomaly would arise of the House of Commons having complete control of legislation, not at the beginning of its career, not in its youthful manhood, because then by the circumambulatory process which has been proposed, its powers are curtailed, but when it has begun to be unrepresentative. The new Commons are fettered. The dying Commons are supreme and their will is to prevail instantly. That is a perfectly logical and reasonable deduction from the proposition which has been made. The second deduction is this. If this Resolution is passed why have a Second Chamber at all? If I understand hon. Gentlemen opposite, their view is that if the Second Chamber agrees with this House it is unnecessary, and if it differs it is mischievous. Sir Henry Maine, discussing that point of view, said it reminded him of what happened on an historical occasion when the question of burning or not burning the Alexandrian library was under consideration. The Caliph Omar settled the matter by stating that if the books contained in the library agreed with the Koran they were unnecessary, and if they disagreed they were impious and ought to be burned. So the Second Chamber is regarded by some hon. Members as either superfluous or impertinent. I ask why is it that in all constitutional countries a Second Chamber has been found 1210 necessary—in the federal Kingdom of Germany, in the federal republic of the United States, in the unitarian Kingdom of Italy and the unitarian republic of France. And yet in none of these countries is their constitution so elastic as in this country. I have tried, at all events, to argue this question, although I do not suppose that I have convinced many Members opposite. I suppose that many hon. Members opposite will still say that the Lords ought to be mended or ended; but the question is, which is to prevail—the writing on the wall of the hon. Gentleman below the gangway or the writing on the slate of the Government. That will solve itself when we go into the division lobby. The action of the Government lays them open to a certain amount of suspicion. They say that it is impossible for them to go on legislating so long as the Second Chamber reject or mutilate their measures; but they still go on with their legislation, and therefore ex hypothesi go on wasting time, before they proceed with their open attack against the House of Lords. I am bound to say that in the light of recent events in Lincolnshire and elsewhere, there may be something in the proverb that a burnt child dreads the fire. I do not wonder that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite rather shrink from the fiery furnace of a general election, but if they hesitate they can hardly hope to escape the suspicion that they are bringing forward this Resolution at the present time for the purpose of masking the heat test. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister is doing a disservice to his Party, because he is taking a course which has not the support of all the Members who sit behind him, as the Amendments to his Resolution on the Paper show; and it is a course which did not commend itself to the leaders of Liberalism in the past. In the crisis of 1860 Lord Palmerston said—and this is the last quotation I will make—I do not think we should have raised ourselves in public estimation, I do not think we should have done anything towards maintaining effectively those rights and functions which belong to us, if we had thrown into these Resolutions anything likely to prove the commencement of hostilities with the other branch of the Legislature.
§ *CAPTAIN KINCAID-SMITH (Warwickshire, Stratford-on-Avon)
No one can complain that the Amendment proposed by the Labour Party is in any way indefinite; they regret anything in the way of the reform of the House of Lords and want to go in for the abolition of the House of Lords, lock, stock, and barrel. But anyone would imagine from the first part of the speech of the hon. and learned Attorney-General that he was in favour of the Amendment, but in the second part of his speech he was at great pains to point out what were the responsible functions which would still remain to the House of Lords. When the Prime Minister put down his Resolution a great many Members did not know what it meant; but I do not see that there is any real difference between the plan proposed by the Government and that outlined in the Amendment. If you vote for the Resolution you in fact practically vote for the Amendment which is proposed from the Labour Benches, because you say that the House of Lords as a revising body shall cease to exist. But the House of Lords must essentially be a body of opportunists whose duty it is to give any legislative proposal sent up to them consideration in accordance with what they consider to be the wishes of the country and not in accordance with their own private opinion. The Resolution does not deal with the constitution of the House of Lords; it only deals with the relations between the two Houses of Parliament. I know that some hon. Members would not reform the House of Lords. Some would wish the referendum. Some would wish for an elected Second Chamber. Personally I believe that the House of Lords are quite sagacious enough to reform themselves so as to give themselves the maximum of moral weight and authority in the country. The Prime Minister and other Members on this side of the House spoke often of the will of the people, and that the will of the people must prevail. I cannot conceive anyone getting up to deny that the will of the people must prevail. But the point is, does the will of the people always coincide with the legislative proposals of the Cabinet? Has the Cabinet always interpreted the wishes 1212 of the people in any particular legislation they propose? The Prime Minister's Resolution means that when a conflict arises between the two Houses under no circumstances shall there be given to the electorate an opportunity of saying whether the Cabinet have in their legislative proposals correctly interpreted their wishes. I am only a new Member of the House, but it seems to me that it is useless for anyone to say that the Government of the day, even when supported by a large majority, must always be right in their interpretation of the will of the people and that the House of Lords must always be wrong, and that the electorate should never have an opportunity of saying which is right and which is wrong. It is the duty of the House of Lords to revise or reject measures which they think are not in accordance with the prevailing opinion of the people. If they make a mistake they will have to bear the penalty. [An HON. MEMBER: What penalty?] Abolition, of course. Prove that they are wrong, and then bring in a Bill to abolish them. But unless you prove that they are wrong I do not believe that the country will allow this scheme to be carried through. Take the Education Bill. No one will contest that the vast majority desire that all clerical control of the schools shall cease; but I do not think that there is much hostility among the people to Church denominational teaching, and I am convinced that the wishes of the people were not correctly interpreted in the Government's Education Bill as originally introduced. The Leader of the Opposition reminded the House of the great powers which this House has, uncontrolled and unchecked by the House of Lords, in regard to naval and military and other expenditure and in regard to administration. Take another power which this House possesses of carrying into effect its will in such matters as the granting of Constitutions to the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. There are many Members on this side of the House who would have liked to have seen it possible for the House of Lords to intervene, and who would have welcomed the interference of the House of Lords in regard to those Constitutions with a view of making them more favourable to the 1213 British subject and bringing them into accordance with the wishes of the British people of that country. My chief reason for opposing this Resolution is that I can quite conceive that Labour Members opposite may in the future adopt a different attitude on Imperial questions from that which they had taken up in the past. I cannot help thinking that they may get tired of being looked upon as the natural allies of small sections on the Liberal side who have peculiar and advanced opinions on various subjects, who when trouble arises in our native dependencies invariably seem to think that British administrators are always at fault and always in the wrong; these I am convinced are not the views of those who send Labour Members to this House. I am not the least afraid of their socialistic programme, but combined with a more rational attitude on Imperial questions, with a strong and steady support of Imperial interests. I dread the support their predatory and socialistic programme may receive in the country. We cannot calmly look forward to a Cabinet reflecting the views of those who hold such opinions. There are hon. Members who wished to see the Education Bill, the Plural Voters Bill, and the Scottish Land Bill amended by the House of Lords. Surely they are not going to support this Resolution, by which they will practically acquiesce in the abolition of the. House of Lords. I regard the Government Resolution as practically the same as the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Barnard Castle Division, and I am opposed to both of them. I think hon. Members who vote for this Resolution will give a vote which they will profoundly regret in a comparatively short period of time and no matter how many quotations you may make from the speeches of the Prime Minister, no matter how much dialectical skill you may bring to bear on the matter, you cannot rid yourselves of the accusation that you have voted for one Chamber. If the Prime Minister knew how many of his followers at one time or another have said "Thank God, we have a House of Lords," he would not have brought forward this Resolution with the confidence he professed yesterday. I am told that many of those who vote against this Resolution and legisla- 1214 tion of this sort will lose their seats. That time will show, but personally if seats are to be retained by voting for a Resolution which one thinks is against the best interests of the country I for one shall decline to pay the price.
§ *MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
I am not surprised, after listening to the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, that we hear accusations on the platform that the Liberal Party are no more progressive in their tendencies and aspirations than the Party opposite. A more reactionary speech coming from a Member who professes to support His Majesty's Government I never listened to. The hon. Member for North-West Lanark argued in his speech that because the House of Lords had never set itself permanently against the will of the people, therefore we had no ground of complaint against them. You might just as well say that if a ruffian meets me on my way home to-night and assaults me and breaks my arm, but does not permanently incapacitate me, I have no ground for complaint against him, as say that we have no ground of complaint against the Lords for delaying the legislation which is justly demanded by the nation. The hon. Member says that if the House of Lords does wrong you can punish them. You can penalise them. In what way? Have they not again and again been convicted of wrongdoing? On their own admission they have stood against legislation which the country demanded until we have been brought almost to the verge of social revolution. What opportunity have we had for bringing them to trial up to now? This is the first time in which we have had a responsible Government bringing forward legislation to help us to deal with the block which confronts us in another place. I think that nobody can deny the importance of the Resolution, and, I would certainly be the last to deny the importance of the issue. But I sincerely hope that now we have put our hand to the plough we shall go forward. Nothing gave me greater satisfaction and pleasure in listening to the admirable speech of the Prime Minister yesterday than when he said that whatever might be the attitude of the House of Lords 1215 to this Resolution, whether they took it lying down or otherwise, the Motion, so far as the Government is concerned, is to be translated into a project of law. It is no use to take off your coat in a matter of this sort if after a short scrimmage you make matters up again. I hope in this case it is to be a fight to a finish. No self-respecting Government and no Government claiming to be a democratic Government, it seems to me, can do anything but accept the challenge they have had thrown down to come to close grips with the House of Lords when it resists the will of the people. If we are to admit their claim in the slightest degree then there is an end to representative Government. The House of Lords strikes directly at the House of Commons as a representative institution, therefore their claim is not to be tolerated for a moment. The Leader of the Opposition, in his speech yesterday, spoke of a school of Radicals who put social legislation in their speeches, but never anywhere else. I thought that was a rather dangerous observation to come from anyone in the position of the late Prime Minister, and I could not help wondering whether he had in his mind what occurred in 1895. The whole programme of his Party and of himself in particular was based on the policy of social legislation. One of the prominent pieces of legislation shown in that programme was old age pensions. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in 1895 were not unwilling to trade on the misfortunes of the poor by offering if they received their votes to provide them with old age pensions. What happened? Those who sat in this House at that time will remember that when we pressed the right hon. Gentleman on that subject his reply was—If a promise is given to a person who does not seek for its fulfilment I do not see why it need be fulfilled.That was not a social reform in the programme of the Radicals. There was no such declaration made on their part at that election; and here I should like to say that if a Radical Government gives pledges which they are not able to fulfil it is because of the standing block and menace over the way. You talk of the House of Lords as a Court of Revision; 1216 it is nothing of the kind. The House of Lords as a Court of Revision does not exist during the time a Tory Government is in office. It is only when you have a reforming Ministry in office that the House of Lords becomes an active interferer in the country. One hon. Member reminded us of the fact that every legislative assembly in Europe—I am not sure that he did not say in the world—had a Second Chamber. I dare say that is true, but it has often been said that this is the mother of Parliaments, and if that is true I can only say of other countries which have followed our pernicious example that they have followed our bad example, but that there the members of the Second Chamber have had the good sense not to throw themselves across the will of the Representative Chamber. The hon. Member for the Eccles all Division twitted the Party on this side of the House with the fact that since the year 1830 we had created 286 Peers, while the Party opposite had created only 181. But is not the parent to be allowed, to correct its own child? If we have created such a number of Peers, surely we are not to be denied the power of parental restraint and correction. That is all we propose to do by the terms of this Resolution. It is suggested that the Prime Minister's Resolution is practically a declaration for a single legislative Chamber. In my opinion that is not so; I wish it were. I have never concealed my views upon this subject. I am now, and always have been, ever since I entered public life, an advocate for a Single Chamber; and my hon. friend the Member for Barnard Castle is quite right when he quoted my name as being one of the signatures to the trade union manifesto for the abolition of the House of Lords. But I do not, and, cannot, exclude from my mind all that is involved in a Single Chamber. With a Single Chamber, legislation would certainly not be so rapid in its passage through the House as my hon. friend seemed to think it would be. If you have no Second Chamber to revise and examine the legislation sent up from this House you are bound to give greater time and facilities for debate in this House. Those who took part in the deliberations of this House when the late Sir William Harcourt was carrying through his great project of national finance will remember 1217 the time that had to be given to the discussion of that project, which was carried through without a single application of the closure. Why was that? It was because we all realised that the project was great in its incidence; that it could not be amended by the other House, and that therefore, it was bound to have the fullest consideration that this House could give it. If you have a Single Chamber—and I shall vote for the Amendment—although the Amendment does not involve a Single Chamber arrangement, it will abolish the hereditary arrangement—if we are to have a Single Chamber arrangement, I ask hon. Members to consider whether we shall not be bound to give more time to the discussion of legislative projects in this House. The hon. Member for Aston Manor last night said that this House was becoming less and less efficient to pass and discuss first-class legislation. I have had the honour of sitting in six Parliaments, and I do not know any one that was more efficient than this. Instead of being less competent it is more competent. What we are deficient in is time for the proper consideration of legislative projects. That involves consideration of a question which I think the hon. Member would not be able to agree upon. It involves the consideration of a scheme of devolution, which he and the Party opposite are not prepared to concede. I most cordially support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Barnard Castle, and will vote with him, but I shall do so in no hostile spirit towards the Resolution of the Government. I think the time has come when the claim of the House of Lords should be seriously considered by the House and the country. We have limited their interference in every direction with finance, foreign policy and treaties of peace, and the question of war. The only sphere of operations in which we have not been able to limit their action is in domestic affairs, and affairs which affect the well-being and happiness of the people of this country. That is the sphere in which they were still permitted to interfere and in which they are the least qualified to interfere. What measures do they ever take to make themselves acquainted with the wishes and desires of the people? How often do they 1218 come into contact with the people? Yet we are compelled time after time to go to the country and spend considerable sums on elections in order to find out what are the wishes and desires of the people. But what matters it after all the spending of all this money, or whether the present Prime Minister sits on the right or left of Mr. Speaker, so long as the Leader of the other Party can call in that section of the Carlton Club that sits over the way, and command it to do his bidding? I appeal to the Government strongly to go forward with this project which they have now put before the House and country. I do not urge them to do it at once. There is time enough yet. There are a good many things which I think this House can do before we go again to the country.
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.