§ Postponed Proceeding on Amendment 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 Henry Campbell-Bannerman.)
Which Amendment was—
To leave out from 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)—instead thereof "—resumed.
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
*MR. FENWICK, resuming, said
I am sorry that I had not an opportunity of uttering another sentence, and I should have concluded. Let me say that I do not personally put any pressure on His Majesty's Government to proceed immediately with this project. I conceive that there is much useful legislation that they can do, and which in all probability the House of Lords may not be disposed to interfere with, but by all means, having put our hands to the plough, do not let us draw back at all until we have made a complete settlement of the true and proper relation which ought to exist between this House and the other House of Parliament.
§ *SIR FRANCIS POWELL (Wigan)
I wish to say a few words on this subject which of course interests me as much as it does other Members of the House. I greatly rejoice that we have had the interposition of the two hon. Gentlemen below the gangway, who put before us a clear, fair, and what the late Mr. John Bright called a "square," issue. The question before the House is whether we are to have a Constitution of one Chamber or one of two Chambers. I was greatly surprised to hear so high a constitutional authority as the Attorney-General refer to the action of the House of Lords on the paper duty. He must have forgotten that in addressing the House of Commons he was not addressing a jury, because he endeavoured to raise a prejudice against the other Chamber on the ground that they had opposed the paper duty for social reasons. The fact of the case is that in the House of Lords the duty was retained for a year because at that time, in the estimation of great financial authorities, the income of the State would not bear the loss of £1,000,000. This estimate was confirmed by experience; but in the following year the resources of the country were more abundant, the £1,000,000 could be afforded, and the House of Lords without any he station whatever repealed the duty. Coming to more recent times, I might refer to what occurred last session, reference to which has been made. No one can complain with any reason or 1220 justice of the action of the House of Lords with reference to compensation to workmen or with reference to the Trade Disputes Bill. I greatly regretted the action of the House of Lords in regard to the Bill for the provision of meals for children in schools. I supported that Bill, and I hope that I did something towards carrying it through this House. But I cannot forget that the House of Lords were supported in their action by the almost unanimous vote of nearly all the school boards in Scotland, those school boards being representative bodies. I think it is rather hard on the House of Lords that they should be blamed for following the lead of the great representative education authorities of Scotland. I will not endeavour to go back on the long story of the supposed misdoings of the House of Lords. I hope that I may be allowed to say, with every respect to what is the opinion of the Labour Party, that they are hardly entitled to expect the House of Commons and the House of Lords to bow before them, and accept all their wishes without debate or controversy, or without delay. I hope that I may be allowed to make that observation, because hon. Members below the gangway know that I have assisted them on former occasions, and I may be able to render them the like service in the years to come. We have to deal now with the question of a single Chamber. This old country has a long history and an infinite variety of interests, and when it is proposed to have a single Chamber, I challenge anyone to show a single instance in civilisation where a single Chamber has continued during any length of time worth reckoning, or where it has given satisfaction or commanded confidence. I believe that no such instance exists. But this I do say, that before a Bill of this kind is brought before the House, such cases, if there are any, ought to be cited in its support. This old country is not like a new colony, where you take a desert island and fertilise it. This is not a country where you may try any experiment you please, changing and modifying, and waiting the results. Here our institutions are so deeply seated, they are so fixed in the affections of the people, that it is both rash, and, I think, foolish, to endeavour to create in this country an institution so 1221 novel to civilisation as a single Chamber. I confess I was somewhat surprised to hear the citation by the Prime Minister yesterday of the Resolution passed in the republican times of this country. I think that the right hon. Gentleman fixed his eyes too much on one Resolution of the Commonwealth period, and he did not consider what was the result of that Resolution. There was one instrument which we see in this Chamber every day, namely, the mace. The result of that Resolution was that the mace for a time had an ill fate, for it was sent off in the most unceremonious manner by Oliver Cromwell, not to reappear until the House of Lords reappeared. We know well enough, without going into details, the history and the troubles of those times after the passing of that Resolution. The country then had to deal not with one Parliament after another chosen in the same fashion according to our modern usage, but with Parliament after Parliament, each more strange than the last; and the Long Parliament of Oliver Cromwell was sent to the country in the manner which I have described, and which caused the mace to be sent out of the House too. I do not wish to dwell on the Constitution of the United States, but having given some time to the study of the subject I would beseech hon. Members, if I may say so, to devote their time and industry to a study of that most interesting Constitution. Each State in America has its own legislature, but the Constitution limits the powers of the State legislature to a very remarkable degree and extent. The effect of it is that any drastic change made by the State legislature cannot be carried out without an amendment of the Constitution, which amendment can only be accomplished with some difficulty and with full discussion. I do not wish to-night to make any remarks of a theoretical kind upon democracies. We know that a monarchy requires checks. An aristocracy requires a check. That which a wise country will do is to devise some check which will save the democracy form its own excesses, give them time for consideration, and prevent those rash proceedings which certainly do occur in every Assembly, whatever its constitution may be. There is another considera- 1222 tion which has occurred to me. I do not know how far I carry the sympathies of the House with me, but I confess that I do view with very great dread indeed the limitation of debate. I believe that limitation is a great danger to this country and is going to bring forth issues of serious moment. What system we shall have if the Lords are abolished it is not for me to say. There is, however, one method, that of proportionate re presentation, which I am perfectly sure will, in the next few years, undergo a discussion of a most practical character. I am very much inclined to think that we can only be secured from this violent oscillation of public opinion by some system of proportionate representation. I will not pursue that subject to-night, but in the future those who are working in favour of this new system must give the most careful consideration to this part of the case. There is another method to which reference was made by the Prime Minister yesterday, and that is the referendum. We already have that system in Switzerland. I will not dwell upon this system now, but I should like to read one extract from a text-book which I think is worthy of the attention of the House. It is from Adam and Cunningham's "Switzerland"—Extreme measures, whether radical or reactionary, have no chance whatever of being accepted by the people, who, while in a manner fulfilling the functions of a Second Chamber, have infinitely more weight than such a body usually possesses, even if it be thoroughly representative and chosen by universal suffrage.That is a most remarkable comment upon the system of referendum. There are two remarks more which I desire to make. These are the British Isles, but the British Isles are not alone concerned. We have Colonies, and we must cast our eye, when we change our system of government, upon the Colonies, and we must be quite sure that any instability or want of firmness in our institutions here may not do much to weaken the confidence of the Colonies in the Mother Country. We have also to remember that we are not solitary as regards the Colonies, and we are still less solitary as regards the continent of Europe, the shores of which are within sight of our own. If we have an uncertain Government here which changes from one extreme to the other the confidence in the 1223 Government of the country will be greatly impaired, and we shall fall, as no patriot desires we should fall, in the confidence and respect of other nations. I am glad to have had this opportunity of making these few simple observations, because I believe that the problem which has been introduced into this House is one of a most gigantic character. I sometimes think that those of us who have been engaged in legislative work for a long time, and have had our thoughts deeply engaged on the subjects which have come before us, do not always sufficiently consider the result of our own action. The question which is now before us is one respecting which we must look forward to the most distant future. It is an occasion when we must look around to foreign countries and across distant seas, and it is not until we have considered all these relations as well as our own concerns at home that we shall be able to arrive at a conclusion worthy of this country, and worthy of the great difficulties with which this and every constitutional problem must necessarily be intermixed.
§ *MR. AGNEW (Salford, W.)
As this is my maiden speech, I must ask the kind indulgence of the House in the few words I am about to say. I feel that we have had no defence from the Opposition side of the House of the extraordinary position in which we find ourselves in regard to our relationship with the House of Lords when a Liberal Government happens to be in power. The Leader of the Opposition yesterday claimed that the House of Lords always did its duty. He justified their position by the rejection of the Home Rule Bill which was brought in by the Government of 1892, and claimed that upon that occasion the Lords represented the will of the people. It ought to have occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that, in the first place, the Parliament of 1892 was returned by a very narrow majority, and the divisions which took place in this House also had very narrow majorities. Therefore, much as the Liberal Party regretted the rejection of the Home Rule Bill they accepted it as part of their destiny. Compare that state, of things with the position in 1906, when the Liberal Party was returned to power with an unprecedented majority, 1224 when two Bills, about which there had been so much discussion, were rejected by the Lords, notwithstanding the large majorities by which they were passed through this House. I do not think that there is any analogy at all between the two cases. Surely it cannot be contended by the Opposition that the Education Bill of last year was not thoroughly discussed and digested in the country, because the country had the four years which intervened prior to the passing of that Bill to form their opinions as to the wisdom of that measure. [OPPOSITION Cries of "No."] The Education Act now in force was passed in 1902, and the general election took place in 1906, and therefore, the country had ample time to consider the working of that measure. In my county, at any rate, I know that this was the great question before the electors, until the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham entered upon his fiscal expeditions. Up to that period it was the Education Bill, and that only, which excited the people. My hon. friend the Member for Clitheroe said yesterday that even with a single Chamber there would be no tendency to hasty legislation. If my hon. friend was referring to projects started by the Liberal Party and the Labour Party I can thoroughly agree with him. I do not think, however, that it can be contended that that should be accepted as a universal proposition by the House. I remember that the 1900 Parliament passed a measure which was hasty and ill-considered, and I cannot understand why the House of Lords in its wisdom did not, at any rate, send that Bill back again to be reconsidered by the. House of Commons. The Bill I am alluding to is the Licensing Bill. I was under the impression that the Bill was really brought forward in consequence of certain elections which had taken place just about that time, and which brought a certain amount of fear to the mind of the right hon. Gentleman who was then Prime Minister. Certainly no explanation has yet come from the Opposition as to why the House of Lords, acting as a revising Chamber, did not then exercise its powers, whilst on the two occasions last year they did. The noble Lord the Member for Marylebone was quite can did in 1225 his speech, for he admitted that the House of Lords was a Conservative body, and he said that if the Conservative Party in this House adopted a constructive policy we Liberals should have reason to complain of the Lords' unfair treatment. Now the late Conservative Government certainly promoted legislation of a kind, but the Education and Licensing Acts are regarded by the people as being of a destructive, rather than a constructive character, and yet were accepted at once by the House of Lords. I think it must be generally admitted that the House of Lords has long ago ceased to be impartial. Probably it was impartial in the old days of Whigs and Tories, but those days have gone by, and at the present moment the House of Lords is out of touch with the great masses of the people. How the Upper Chamber can claim, in any sense whatever, to understand what the will of the people is I am utterly at a loss to understand. I know that there are honourable exceptions, but there are a large number of Peers who not only do not know what the desires and aspirations of the people are, but who take no interest whatever in public affairs. And yet when a wicked Liberal Government brings forward some measure distasteful to the Tory Party, all those gentlemen come up from the country, absolutely regardless of the public interest, to vote with their leader against Liberal measures, just as the clergy rush up in flocks to outvote the tutors at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford University said yesterday that the Prime Minister desired the supersession of the House of Lords as a legislative Chamber. I do not think that we on this side of the House need to be very much frightened about that. Personally, I am not frightened. We have already restricted the House of Lords very much in its power of legislation, and I desire to go a great deal further. I cannot say that I agree entirely with the view taken by the Labour Party on this question. I am still a Second Chamber man. but I do not want a legislative. Second Chamber. The hon. Member said it was equivalent to voting for abolition of the House of Lords. I think the same argument might have been employed 250 years ago when the 1226 question of finance was entirely removed from the purview of the other Chamber. I have no fear whatever on that score, and if it is a matter of going on as we are doing now, or resolving to have one Chamber, I would prefer the latter course. I think it is quite possible that legislation will enable us to have a Second Chamber with only a limited veto. I should like to see noble Lords elegible for seats in this House. That has been the wish of some of them, and I am sure that those whose opinions are worth having would be welcomed here. At any rate, after a contested election, I should say that they would know something of the desires of the people, and that is a claim which they cannot make at the present moment. If any noble Lord would go to my constituency, he would get a very clear and definite idea of what the people want on this great question. I am not talking now of unreasoning and unthinking people, but of working men who have reasoned out the question for themselves, not in consequence of the events of last year, but during the last twenty years. One of the first questions which I was asked when I presented myself as a candidate for the district I have the honour to represent was: "What is your opinion on the question of the veto of the House of Lords?" I am perfectly sure if I had not stated that I was opposed to the present veto, and in favour of only a very limited veto, I would not have been accepted as a candidate, notwithstanding my views in regard to free trade, education, and Chinese labour. The question of the reform of the House of Lords was handed on to us by that great constitutionalist, Mr. Gladstone, eighteen years ago, and I look upon the bringing forward of this Resolution as the commencement of the duty laid upon us by him. I am not afraid of the outcome. The hon. Baronet the Member for Wigan, for whose opinion on many points I have the greatest respect, seemed to think that we were going to have no Second Chamber if we adopted this Resolution. I think that opinion can be attributed to the usual fear entertained by the Conservative Party when any change is proposed in the Constitution of the country. The hon. Member for Cambridge University said the Lords always gave way when it could be shown that the House of Commons 1227 represented the deliberate judgment of the people. It has been asked—Who is to decide what the deliberate judgment of the people is? I can conceive of no other means of discovering that fact except a general election. You probably do not discover it at a by-election, but surely at a general election you get at the desires and the will of the people. At the last election the people sent a majority of Liberal and Labour Members here in order to achieve certain things, one being a change in the constitution of the House of Lords. We are just as much within our rights in saying that the veto of the House of Lords should be restricted now as our ancestors were in taking away financial questions from the consideration of that House. It must be admitted that as times change our Constitution must change with them, otherwise it would be all the worse for the Constitution. I think we must admit that the House of Lords must become a diminishing power in the Constitution. It is bound to be so in the natural order of events. I say that we the Liberal Party who support the Resolution of the Prime Minister are the true Conservatives in the highest sense of the word. I am entirely opposed to a man having the power to legislate merely because he is the son of his father. I recognise, however, that that is not a question which falls under this Resolution. I can only trust that noble Lords will themselves come to the decision that the hereditary principle must for once and all be stopped in regard to the other House. I shall vote for the Resolution with the greatest possible pleasure without any fear of any untoward event happening in our old country. I thank the Prime Minister for bringing forward the Resolution, and I trust that it will be followed by legislation at no distant date.
§ *SIR HENRY KIMBER (Wandsworth)
We have before us two remedies for a supposed malady of a constitutional character. The diagnosis of the two doctors is agreed upon, but the remedies are very different. The remedy prescribed by the Prime Minister is to treat the patient as one who has no reason, or who has been bereft of reason, and to put him in confinement so that he may thereby be prevented from taking any deliberative action in the affairs of the State. 1228 The remedy proposed by the other is of a more Draconian character, and that is his immediate extinction without a hearing, without trial, and without mercy. There is this in common between the two proposals. They base their propositions on the will of the people. In those days the people are supposed to have control of their own affairs. It is recognised that they have the right to control their own affairs, but they do not actually possess the power. I would ask the Prime Minister if he were here whether, in the terms of his Resolution, he does not require to assume as a postulate that the will of the people is expressed by their elected representatives in this House. In effect, it says, Let it be assumed that the will of the people is expressed by the representatives of the people sent to this House. The Amendment of which I gave notice, but which on account of the order of the proceedings it will not be possible for me to move, propounds two propositions. One is that the present Parliament, expressed by a simple majority in this House, does not necessarily represent the will of the people. [Laughter.] Well, we shall see, and I am going to quote very high Liberal authority in the argument I am going to put before you. The Leaders of the Liberal Party in this House legitimately boast of having 512 supporters. The opposite Party have the remainder. But by what votes in the country were they elected? About 6,000,000 out of the 7,500,000 electors of the country voted at the last general election. The 512 representatives who are supposed to form the Liberal Party were elected by 3,400,000—I am stating round numbers for convenience, but I have the exact figures here—which gives an average to each Member of 6,629. The 158 members of the Unionist Party were elected by rather over 2,500,000, which gives an average of over 16,000 voters to each. It will be seen if that number of votes had been equally distributed among the Unionists and the Government Party, instead of the Government Party having the majority of 354 of which they boast, they would just have a majority of ninety-four. I am endeavouring to be fair. What is the effect of that upon the majorities of the Government? The Government claim that they do represent the majority 1229 of the voters in the country, but they represent different majorities from that which they are entitled to represent in divisions. It will be seen that the difference between 354 and ninety-four is 260. Therefore, it is an unreasonable argument to put forward that in every division in which the Government can boast of a majority they represent the will of the people as distinguished from the will of the House. If you deduct 260 from 354, you may have a chance of having an approximate idea of the will of the people outside. I have taken the trouble to analyse all the divisions in which the Government have obtained a majority since 24th May. There have been sixty-seven divisions, in none of which the Government attained a majority of 260, and in thirteen they only obtained a majority of 200 or more. I think I am entitled to say that that is not an expression of the will of the people, for they were really in a minority. I do not say this as a mere Party argument. An anolagous thing happened at the general election in 1886, when the advantage was on our side; and so it has happened at every general election for the last forty years. Therefore the least I can say is, that the will of the people is not certainly expressed either by the method of representation in the House, or by the divisions taken in the House. It is easy to make your conclusions right by framing your premises as you please, but is this the way in which the will of the people can be represented in this House, and on which a vast change should be made in our Constitution which has existed for many centuries to the great advantage to the State? I am convinced that if there was a proposition submitted to the country that the House of Lords should be abolished an immense majority would be found against it. But secondly, it is not only in this Parliament, but in any Parliament elected with our present conditions of representation that the will of the people cannot be really represented. Let me give a few facts which are incontrovertible, and which have been placed by me before the country in a variety of ways. There is great disparity in the constituencies in the country. For instance, there are three 1230 constituencies which send only three Members to this House, while there are thirty-five constituencies which have rather a less number of electors than the three constituencies I have mentioned but which send thirty-five representatives to this House. Is that represention of the people? Is it fair that one constituency with 47,000 electors should send the same number of representatives to this House as another constituency which had only 1,500 electors? Can the result of that be said in any fashion to represent the will of the people? Take the broad facts. Under our present representation one-half of the electors in the country are only allowed to send 225 representatives, while the other half send no less than 445 Members to the House of Commons. It is quite true that the political questions which divide Parties do not divide constituencies in precisely the same way. How can it be said that there is any proportion between the divisions in this House under any circumstances which corresponds with the proportion of the people outside? One other fact. There are 670 Members in this House. One-half, 335, represent 5,100,000 electors, the other half represent 2,300,000 electors. How can it be said that these represent the will of the people? I submit that it can be said with certainty that this House does not represent the will of the people, and that the Prime Minister's proposition based on that postulate vanishes into thin air. I contend that our present representative system in this House ought to be reformed; and that that reform ought to precede any attempt to tinker with the ancient Constitution of this old country. It is admitted on the other side that the House of Lords is useful for the assistance it gives in legislation; it has been attacked because it has not done what it was constitute I to do. It cannot be asserted for a moment that the House of Lords has violated any part of its duties in amending or rejecting any Bills we send up to them. The raison d'etre of a second House is that it may differ from the lower House. If always bound to agree, why is it wanted to examine questions at all? This outcry against the House of Lords is merely vindictive. There are many unworthy Members in the House of Lords, just as 1231 there may be unworthy Members in this House, and in all other classes of society; but if the Votes and Proceedings of the House of Lords are looked at, we cannot detect any signs of interference by unworthy Members in our legislation as a whole. I believe that the country has never had any reason to complain on that score. At all events, the question contained in the Prime Minister's proposition should not be decided until the House of Lords itself takes into consideration whether it can reform itself, or until the representation in this House is reformed.
§ MR. J. M. ROBERTSON (Northumberland, Tyneside)
Many Members on the Liberal Benches would agree with the hon. Member for Wandsworth as to the necessity for a measure for redistribution; but that is no argument against the pressing and more important needs of a measure for muzzling the House of Lords. All measures of reform cannot be carried together; one thing must be done at a time. When one hears arguments like that one recalls the phrase uttered by the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone that if in a few years hence we discuss this question of the abolition of the House of Lords we shall be trifling with our character for sincerity. The question is whether the other side have any character for sincerity left to trifle with. I think there is a great deal to be said for the referendum, but I think the Prime Minister has in view a different kind of referendum from that cherished by the noble Lord Possibly he would have a referendum with the House of Lords left in its present position, so that the referendum would never be employed against a Conservative Government.
§ LORD R. CECIL
If the hon. Member had done me the honour to listen to me he would remember that I said that the subject he is now dealing with should be provided for.
§ MR. J. M. ROBERTSON
If the noble Lord means that the referendum should be applicable to every measure I retract what I said, but so long as the House of Lords subsists in its present form the referendum would be very unsatisfactory. The Amendment proposed by my hon. friend the Member for Barnard Castle 1232 has our greatest sympathy. But suppose we declare that the House of Lords should be abolished, how much nearer are we to abolishing it? The hon. Member seems to think that by sounding his trumpet outside the walls of Jericho he will cause them to fall down. But they will not do so, and the practical advantage, therefore, seems to be on the side of the Resolution proposed by the Prime Minister. We must take into account the warning which the Prime Minister uttered, and I hope the hon. Member will take it to heart. If, then, I support the Resolution it is from no lack of hostility to the institution which the hon. Member wishes to get rid of. The noble Lord the Member for East Marylebone has expressed a preference for the Amendment, doubtless because he thinks that the tentative, gradual, and conciliatory method proposed by the Prime Minister will lead to effective action, whereas a declaration that the House of Lords should be abolished would leave us where we are. In a discussion which has ranged over all the aspects of the case one is bound to come to the question of the purpose for which a Second Chamber should exist and the justification for a Second Chamber. The Leader of the Opposition, with a good deal of cynicism or a good deal of candour, declared that the will of the people of this country could never be known. The question raised by "the swing of the pendulum" only doubles the difficulty. Supposing there is the swing of the pendulum, it is impossible for us to get the benefit of the return of the pendulum, because the other side of the House by means of the Lords prevent us from doing so. The Leader of the Opposition claims that the House of Lords opposes destructive measures; but the impeachment is that it is always ready to pass any measure, constructive or destructive, sent up by one Party, and that the Conservative. But in spite of this claim that it opposes destructive legislation, by its aid one of the most flourishing of the country's democratic institutions—the school board—has been destroyed without notice. Therefore, we say that the Upper Chamber does not represent either of the two mediums between the extremes of the swing of the pendulum. It is perfectly true that a great deal of nonsense has been talked about the will of the people. There is, 1233 in one sense, no such thing as the will of the people, but there is such a thing as a balance of the will of the people, and the only way in which you can get that balance is by providing the best machinery, but quite a different machinery from that provided by the House of Lords. It has been said by the hon. Baronet that the House of Lords did represent the will of the people in rejecting the Home Rule Bill; but if he had carried his investigations further he would know that it is not possible to find out the will of the people so long as you have the system of plural voting which the House of Lords seeks to conserve. The plural votes at the 1895 election more than wiped out the majority by virtue of which it is claimed that the rejection of the Home Rule Bill by the House of Lords was in accordance with the will of the country. If you really reckon by votes there is no reason to doubt that the majority of the people of this country have always been in favour of Home Rule, and if the rejection of the Home Rule Bill is the only justification which hon. Members can offer for the House of Lords that justification disappears altogether. I grant that the hon. Member for Lanarkshire had a case when he sought to set up proportional representation. Other hon. Members have Amendments on the Paper to the same effect, and I think the Party opposite would be well advised if, instead of defending the indefensible, they were to argue seriously for a system of proportional representation. The idea of a Second Chamber depends upon feudalism, and I should like to say a word upon the question of whether we should have a Second Chamber at all. New Brunswick has abolished its Second Chamber without injury, and I think Ontario and British Columbia never had one. The institution of a Second Chamber in most cases is a pure superstition, based upon the practice of our Legislature, where its survival is purely fortuitous. It is practically a device to thwart democracy. The British Constitution in time of European turmoil presented a stable quality, and as other States were unstable they assumed that it was because they had not a Second Chamber. The Second Chamber is, however, in most double-chambered States a superfluity. There is one absurdity inherent in the idea of a Second Chamber that it is not 1234 democratic. This was pointed out by John Stuart Mill, who, came to the conclusion that the true check upon a Chamber representing the power of the people must lie in the Chamber itself. If there is proportional representation so much the more easy is it to get a proper representation. I know that I am arguing in advance of opinion. But surely if the democratic Chamber is made the sole chamber, the sense of responsibility, not only in the Member himself, but in his constituency, will be raised, and the consequence will be to secure, on the one hand, a more careful choice of representatives, and, on the other hand, a more careful deliberation among Members sent to this House. The hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division said that if you have a single Chamber you must leave more time for deliberation, but if you have a single Chamber you will have more time to deliberate, because the Opposition of the other House will be destroyed and the time saved.
§ MR. LYTTELTON (St. George's, Hanover Square)
In the able speech to which we have just listened the centre of this subject was struck when the hon. Member denounces the necessity of the Second Chamber at all. I must admit that the particular instances the hon. Member gave us, which are against the entire experience of the civilised world, namely, the instances of the Legislative Assemblies of New Brunswick and British Columbia, were not very convincing when considered in relation to the very wide experience which we have received from the past in this matter. They do not at any rate convince me when I put them alongside the remarkable admission made by the Attorney-General that this country is at present the freest democracy in the world. Are you prepared to interfere with the security of the present constitution in this drastic way in order to give still greater freedom to this democracy? The moment for proposing this very serious change is singularly inopportune. The House of Lords have shown themselves not opposed to wise changes, and a Committee of the Lords, with Lord Rosebery in the chair, is now sitting to consider the improvements which might be made. The Government proposal is a most extraordinary one, having regard to the state 1235 of affairs. The Government proposes to leave the House of Lords with all the anomalies, which undoubtedly exist, and to tear away from them the responsibility which is the guarantee of their character. As to the sacred character of these conferences, that is a strange way of dealing with these questions. When once issue is joined the struggle ought to take place, if at all, in the light of day and not in the dark. But, further than that, surely once the issue is joined between the two Houses, effective criticism is quite useless if all power to enforce that criticism or to bring it to a test is taken away. Under the guise of moderation the Prime Minister's proposal is intended to hoodwink the public into the belief that no serious and drastic change is before them. These methods were attempted in the Irish Bill, but they deceived nobody, certainly not the Irish. I trust the present methods of bringing this great constitutional change before the country will not deceive anyone here. Everybody agrees that our Constitution is all-powerful so far as it has power to reflect the truest, soundest, and most permanent aspirations of the democracy when they are found in the verdict given in the various elections. But the fluctuations of public opinion as shown in general elections are of the most extraordinary kind. On every occasion the electorate is rent by contending motives and conflicting interests, and the only thing certain is that the electorate will not, as a whole, go very long the same way. These fluctuations are inevitable. They are within the experience of every man in the House. They will always continue, and I do not think it will be possible for anybody to say that an opinion that may be held for one period of five years will be held by the electorate during a subsequent period of five years. But these fluctuations should if possible be excluded from the State. If these violent fluctuations and oscillations of opinion took place in the State no one would deny that they would destroy its credit, impair its influence abroad and in the Colonies, and weaken its authority at home. In fact, if the liberty which the people have of expressing their opinions at general elections was really to influence the whole policy 1236 of the State it would justly be called in the words of a great philosopher—Not true liberty, but the desolate freedom of the wild ass.The House of Lords, as everyone must recognise, has its faults, but there is a note of stability and continuity in it. I think everybody will say that we ought to have some institution in this country, some portion of the Constitution, which should be effective to carry into the future some, at any rate, of the traditions of the past, traditions that we do not wish to part with. We ought to have some institution which should be the custodian of our traditions and customs, that ought to be kept clear from the strife and aims of the hour; and if the House will reflect for a moment they will see that at present we have no other resource than the House of Lords. Surely it is vital that hon. Members should have something alternative to suggest in view of the circumstances. I think that we ought to remember that the nation is composite in its constitution, and its great interest is to enlist, not one, but all classes, in its service. The best strength is to be obtained by drawing the best qualities of all classes of the country into its service. I say that it is an excellent thing, which ought to be borne in mind in considering this large constitutional question, that much of our progress is derived from the varied services which are rendered by the different classes. The United States, though they have succeeded in many things, have lamentably failed in enlisting the assistance of the leisured and cultured classes, the most educated classes, not to say the richer classes, in their service. British institutions have been singularly successful in that particular matter. There are dangers which were pointed out by the hon. Member for Salford, and I freely admit that there are dangers in the very great ascendancy of wealth even in this country. Those dangers have exhibited themselves in the most lamentable manner in the United States.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (Mr. MORLEY, Montrose Burghs)
was understood to dissent from the observation that the cultured and educated 1237 classes did not take part in public life in the United States.
§ MR. LYTTELTON
I do not say that there is a want of culture among those who take part in public life in America; it would be very impertinent of me to do so; but I say that as a general rule—I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for India is in agreement with me, but I am entitled to make the statement without, at any rate, interruption—as a broad rule the United States have not been successful in enlisting in the Senate and in Congress the best educated and most efficient men belonging to the nation. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentle-man does not share that view, but I think, speaking with due deference to him, that what I have stated is very generally admitted. ["No."] Of course, I do not for a moment deny that there are many excellent and great exceptions to the general rule. It is easy, perfectly easy, to deride primogeniture, heredity, and title. Any of those things are easily made to look absurd by those who argue that we could do as well without them. But I submit that though logic may be on your side in that matter, we have on our side all the history. Whatever may be said on the subject of primogeniture and heredity, historically it has been a very practical device to get the best use you can out of the upper classes. In the United Kingdom money and titles and position have always been regarded as carrying with them, and it is so today, the obligation of public service. In the United States I venture to say that that is not the rule; whereas it is the tradition of old English families to serve the State, the traditions of the best of American families is commercial ascendancy pushed to a very far extent. Public service in America takes the form of the gift of large sums of money—cheques, no doubt, very handsomely and very freely given. But I think that the nation which depends on gifts of money for service has no security that such service will continue to be rendered, whereas the State which relies on the recognition of the obligation to render loyal public service is in a sounder and better position. The Attorney-General derided the existence of a permanent opinion in the country separate and distinct from that which is promulgated at general elections, and he 1238 said, moreover, that the Lords were not in the least qualified to judge of that opinion even if it existed. First, I would say, though I admit that it is a difficult thing to get at, that this separate opinion does exist. I say that there are certain great principles which are settled in this country, which have passed into general acceptance, and are quite different from those fluctuating and oscillating opinions which are evident at the time of general elections. There are certain questions which, no doubt, the public think deeply upon, and which they think permanently upon, and the real function of a Second Chamber is to judge rightly when the public are really possessed of one of those strong and permanent opinions, and to give effect to it if it is in consonance with the decisions given by this House. Nobody can question that this is an extremely difficult thing at which to arrive, but I am perfectly certain that any such Second Chamber must be judged according as it arrives at the solution of that question generally. It has been observed on several occasions in this debate that the Lords are absolutely incompetent, by reason of their position, to give any true opinion on the permanent and settled convictions of the country. I do not think that such an argument can stand the test of facts. In the first place those who have had long experience of public life and of the work connected with the Government of the country know that there is hereditary skill in dealing with political questions. It is therefore a delusion to suppose that the House of Lords in great matters is not at any rate well qualified by reason of the occupations of its various members to judge of the position in these matters. Take for instance the number of Peers who have served in this House. In the House of Lords there are 166 men who have served in the House of Commons, 172 who have served in various offices of the State, nearly 200 who have served in the Navy or Army, twenty-six Judges and eminent lawyers, twenty-nine Colonial Governors and Ministers, and 140 mayors and county councillors. Of course, a proper allowance must be made for duplication; what the figures show are the numbers of different qualifications of the Members of the Home of Lords, and after you make the necessary deductions, there still remain a large number who have not only large experience in public 1239 affairs but have been selected because of their services in this House, and because of their knowledge, as mayors and county councillors, of local government, to take their place in the House of Lords. I venture to think that that body, constituted as it is, must be regarded as well qualified to judge of the permanent opinion of the country—indeed as well qualified as any body which could well be conceived. I admit the difficulty of the task, but how often have the House of Lords gone wrong in discharging it? Extremely seldom. If the last twenty or thirty years be taken, I think it will be found that there are only three important cases that can be referred to. It is rather soon to judge whether last year they were right or not in amending the Education Bill. I have my own firm opinion on that matter; but if you test public opinion by the declarations of public meetings held in regard to the matter, I think you will say that the Lords were in the right. If I may use Oliver Cromwell's expression—There was a great hubbub in this House, but not a dog barked outside.But I will turn away from the Education Bill and the action of the Lords with regard to it as one that I have no right to dogmatise upon, because it is not yet finally concluded. If we turn from that question to the subject referred to by the hon. Member who preceded me, namely, the question of Home Rule, I think he was wrong in saying that the decision of the country was not conclusively in favour of the judgment exercised by the Lords. The hon. Gentleman certainly cannot be a consistent supporter of the right hon. Gentleman if he says so, because not merely was their decision affirmed in the election of 1895, but the question of Home Rule was wrecked by the action of the Liberal Party, who went to the country in January, 1906, and did not dare to place Home Rule before the electors as a part of their programme. We, therefore, do not merely think the decision of the House of Lords has been acquiesced in for nearly seventeen years, but we have the great representatives of Liberalism who sit opposite to me not venturing to go to the country and explain what some of them say was their own true opinion. The country had not accepted Home Rule, and they did not dare to put 1240 forward as a substantive part of their policy that which the House of Lords had rejected and which rejection the country endorsed. There is only one other matter which. I need to mention. It is said that there is no penalty upon the House of Lords if they make a mistake. My own strong opinion is that if the House of Lords were to go wrong on several occasions their position could not be satisfactorily maintained or justified in this House. If the House of Lords was constantly making mistakes in pronouncing upon those highly conjectural problems nobody could say that they would be a satisfactory Assembly. My submission is that the past has shown that the Lords have generally been right in deciding upon those problems.
§ *THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. CHURCHILL, Manchester, N.W.)
A fatality seems to associate me with the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. Whether I have had occasion to address the House on the subject of South Africa or Newfoundland, it has almost always been in reply to a speech of his. Even when we discuss the distant New Hebrides, outside the authority of the British Empire altogether, there is the right hon. Gentleman. And now, when the Under-Secretary for the Colonies is permitted to return to the congenial atmosphere of domestic affairs, the right hon. Gentleman again presents himself. I do not think, however, that I have any reason to complain, because the House will admit that when the right hon. Gentleman intervenes in our debates he always speaks with moderation, and addresses himself to the real arguments which underlie the ordinary commonplaces of Party controversy. The right hon. Gentleman has made a speech devoted to the great constitutional issues which are raised by the Resolution and the Amendment before the House. I will not venture at any length to follow him or my hon. friend the Member for Tyne-side who preceded him into an abstract constitutional discussion, because, after all, we have an extremely practical issue before us, and I would like to say a few words from the rule-of-thumb point of view. It seems to me that this great constitutional question must be looked at from 1241 three points of view. First of all, there is the issue between the two Houses; there is the issue between the two political Parties; and then there is the national issue. The quarrel which is now open between the House of Lords and the House of Commons arises from two events—the general election of 1906, and the rejection of the measures of the new Liberal Government, culminating in the destruction of the Education Bill by the House of Lords at the end of that year. Either of these events is memorable in itself, but placed in juxtaposition and considered together they have a multiplied significance. The general election of 1906 was the most vehement expression of public opinion which this generation has known; and that expression of public will was countered in the December of the same year by the most arbitrary and uncompromising assertion of aristocratic privilege upon record. Let the House think of it. The process of the election of Members of Parliament is extremely elaborate. The candidates go about the country for two or three weeks saying all they have to say for themselves in the different constituencies which they are contesting; at the end of that most exhaustive discussion there is an elaborate process of voting; the returns are counted with the most scrupulous care; and as the result 670 Members, representing 6,000,000 of voters and many more who take a deep interest in public affairs but have no votes, are returned to the House of Commons in the name of the people of Great Britain and Ireland. The new Parliament assembles. Scarcely any question at the election was more a test question, so far as the supporters of the Government are concerned, than the question of the amendment of the education system of the country. A Bill dealing with education is brought forward as the principal measure of the first session of the now Parliament. Weeks are occupied in its discussion. It represents the fulfilment of the election pledges of every hon. Gentleman who supported it. The Bill is supported by perhaps the largest majority that ever sent a Bill from this House to another place; it was not a revolutionary Bill, to turn the world upside down and inside out; on the contrary, it was a Bill which, if vitiated in any respect, was vitiated by the element of compromise. Immense 1242 concessions were made in it, and rightly, I think, to conscientious and agitated minorities. It was a Bill which so moderate and consistent a statesman as the Duke of Devonshire, of whoso ill-health the House learns with grave concern, urged the House of Lords to pass into law. Sir, the Leader of the Opposition told us the other day that it was the habit of His Majesty's Government to introduce Bills which they did not mean to pass. No one—not even the right hon. Gentleman himself—can say that the Government have not earnestly desired to pass the Education Bill. Every concession that could be conceived was made, but to what purpose? After the House of Commons had humbled itself before the House of Lords, after we had gone to the extreme limit of concession which self respect, which a proper sense of the dignity of this House, and a due observance of the pledges of the Liberal Party permitted, the House of Lords curtly, bluntly, uncharitably, and harshly flung the Bill out in our faces, mutilated and destroyed. I do not wish to import an element of heat into this discussion, but I respectfully submit to the Conservative Party that that act on the part of the House of Lords places them in a new position—a new position in the sense that never before had their old position been taken up so nakedly, so brazenly, and so uncompromisingly. It is true that we have this excuse put before us with much suavity of language in these debates—we are told that the House of Lords seeks to interpret the will of the people, and it is explained that by the will of the people what is meant is the persistent, sub-conscious, and permanent will of the people, as opposed to any articulate expression of that will. The right hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition told us that what he meant by the persistent will was the will of the people expressed continuously over a period of thirty years. That is what he called "democracy properly understood." From the House of Commons point of view, having regard to that part of the question which concerns the issue between the two Houses, we repudiate emphatically the claim of the other House to what the French call faire l'ange—to "play the angel," to know better than the people themselves what the people want, to have a greater authority to 1243 speak in the name of the people than their representatives sent to Parliament by the elaborate process I have described. I say that to dispute the authority of a newly-elected Parliament is something very like an incitement to violence on the part of the other House. [A laugh.] The noble Lord laughs, but we are anxious to convince him and his friends that we are in earnest. We go through all the processes which the Constitution prescribes, we produce an enormous majority, and we express the opinion of that majority, but still the noble Lord and other noble Lords less intelligent, but more remote, tell us that they are not convinced. What steps do they suggest that we should take in order to bring home to them the earnestness of our plea? What steps do they suggest that the people should take in order to assert their wishes? I hold entirely by what I said that to dispute the authority of an elected body fresh from its constituents is a deliberate incitement to the adoption of lawless and unconstitutional methods. I say that the assertion which the House of Lords made at the end of last year is an intolerable assertion, and on the whole I believe the country is altogether unprepared for it. I confess, if I may hazard a personal opinion, that I wonder it was thought worth while to risk an institution which has lasted so many centuries in the very skirmish line of Party warfare. I am aware there is a special reason for the temerity of the House of Lords. It is not a very complimentary reason to the Members or the leaders of the late Government, but their position is that the Conservative Party cannot be worse than they are. No matter what they do, nor how they are hated or reprobated by the country, they cannot possibly occupy a more humiliating and unpleasant position than they did after the last two years of the last Administration. Consequently having reached the low water mark of political fortune they think they can afford to be a little reckless, and that at the very worst they will be returned in their present numerical proportions. That is a very natural explanation of their action; but if we for our part were to accept the assertion lately made by the House of Lords—an assertion which is the furthest point to which aristocratic privilege has attained in modern times—that assertion itself would 1244 become only the starting point for a whole new series of precedents and of constitutional retrogressions; and worse than that, if by any chance, having raised this issue, we were to be defeated upon it, if having placed this Resolution on the records of the House we were to fail to give effect to it, and we were to suffer an electoral reverse as the conclusion of it, then I say goodbye to the power of the House of Commons. All that long process of advance in democratic institutions which has accompanied the growth of the power of the House of Commons, and which has also been attended by an expansion of the circles of comfort and culture among the people of this country—all that long process which has gone steadily onward for 200 years, and which has almost exclusively occupied the politics of the nineteenth century—will have reached its culmination. It will have come in contact with that barrier of which we have heard so much in this debate. The tide will have turned, and in the recoil of the waters they will gradually leave exposed again, altered no doubt by the conditions of the age, all the old assertions of aristocratic and plutocratic domination which we had fondly hoped had been engulfed for ever in the flowing waters.
The hon. Member for Fareham to-day made an interesting speech in which he included a valuable disquisition on the American Constitution. I noticed that the hon. Member rebuked some of those with whom he acts for having received this debate with something like a flavour of levity, and he was quite right. I think hon. Gentlemen opposite would be well advised to treat this Resolution seriously. This Parliament is still young, but there are some things at which they have laughed which have already become accomplished facts. I could not have during the past eighteen months listened to their taunts about the permanence of Chinese labour without reflecting now with satisfaction that Chinese labour is going. Yes, and other people may follow. Let me say this in reference to the Amendment which was moved by the hon. Member for Barnard Castle, and which was seconded in a brief and powerful speech by the hon. Member for Preston. We are only at the beginning of this struggle. We are not necessarily committed to every detail of the proposal; we are 1245 opening the first lines for a great siege, we have to sap up to the advanced parallels, to establish our batteries, and at no distant date open our bombardment. It may be many months before we shall be able to discern where there is a practicable breach, but the assault will come in due time. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said he welcomed this contest with great confidence. I wonder if hon. Members opposite realise, to use an expressive vulgarism, what they are "letting themselves in for" when this question comes to be fought out on every platform in every constituency in the country? They will not have to defend an ideal Second Chamber; they will not be able to confine themselves to airy generalities about a bicameral system and its advantages; they will have to defend this Second Chamber as it is—one-sided, hereditary, unpurged, unrepresentative, irresponsible, absentee. They will have to defend it with all its anomalies, all its absurdities, and all its personal bias; they will have to defend it with all its achievements that have darkened the pages of the history of England. And let me say that considerable constitutional authorities have not considered that the policy on which we have embarked in moving this Resolution is unreasonable. Mr. Bagehot says of the House of Lords:—It may lose its veto as the Crown has lost its veto. If most of its members neglect their duties, if all its members continue to be of one class, and that not quite the best; if its doors arc shut against genius that cannot found a family, and ability which has not £5,000 a year, its power will be less year by year, and at last be gone, as so much kingly power is gone—no one knows how.One of the speakers on the other side—I think it was the Leader of the Opposition—suggested that we are guilty of insincerity in bringing forward this Resolution. But what is the position of the Conservative Party when they attempt to defend the House of Lords? They are always telling us to imitate the Colonies; they are always telling us that we ought to adopt the fiscal systems and other methods employed in the self-governing Colonies; 1246 but what is their view of the relations which are held between the two Chambers under the bicameral system in the Colonies, and as established by their own Australian Commonwealth Act in the last Parliament. By that Act they have given power to the Lower Chamber to over-ride the Upper Chamber under certain circumstances. Imitating them and following in their footsteps we have adopted the plan in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony Constitutions. The Commonwealth Act says that when the Chambers differ they shall meet together, and that the majority shall decide, measures being taken, however, that the numbers of the Upper Chamber shall not be such as to swamp the opinion of the Lower Chamber. The Leader of the Opposition asked a Question yesterday as to whether the people are not often wrong, and he proceeded very characteristically to suggest that he always considered them wrong when they voted against him. I am not prepared to take such a rough and ready test of the opinion and of the mental processes of the British democracy as all that. I should hesitate to say that when people pronounce against a particular measure or Party they have not pretty good reasons for doing so. I am not at all convinced that in 1900 the people were wholly wrong in saying that the war should be finished— by those who made it. Even in the last election I could, I daresay, find some few reasons to justify the decision which the people then took; and I say that if we should be so unfortunate in the future as to lose that measure of public confidence so abundantly given to us, then I shall not be too sure that it will not be our own fault. Certain am I that we could not take any step more likely to forfeit the confidence of the people of England than to continue in office after we have lost the power to pass effective legislation. I will retort the Question of the Leader of the Opposition by another Question. Has the House of Lords ever been right?
§ *MR. CHURCHILL
Has it ever been right in any of the great settled controversies which are now beyond the reach of Party argument? Was it right in delaying Catholic emancipation, and the removal of Jewish disabilities? Was it right in driving this country to the verge of revolution in the effort to secure the passage of reform? Was it right in resisting the Ballot Bill? Was it right in the almost innumerable efforts it made to prevent this House dealing with the purity of its own electoral machinery? Was in right in endeavouring to prevent the abolition of purchase in the Army? Was it right in 1880, when it rejected the Compensation for Disturbance Bill? I defy the Party opposite to produce a single instance of a settled controversy in which the House of Lords was right.
§ *MR. CHURCHILL
I expected that interruption. That is not a settled controversy. It is a matter which lies in the future. The cases I have mentioned are cases where we have carried the law into effect and have seen the results, and found that they have been good. Let me remind the House that, but for a lucky accident, but for the fact that Letters Patent can be issued by the Crown and do not require the assent of Parliament, it would very likely have been impossible for this Government to have made the constitutional settlement in the Transvaal and in the Orange River Colony, because probably, upon the instigation of some noble Lord, like Lord Milner [Cries of "Oh"]—it surely is not insulting to Lord Milner to mention his name ["Hear, hear,"]—upon the instigation of some noble Lord, the Constitutions would have been mutilated or cast out by 1248 the House of Lords, and the Executive Government would have found itself responsible for carrying out the government of Colonies on lines of which it wholly disapproved, and after their own policy had been rejected. But there is one other feature in the House of Lords which the Conservative Party will have to exercise their ingenuity in defending in the next few years—I allude to the presence in that body of those interesting Lords Spiritual. By what violation of all ideas of religious equality the leaders of one denomination only should be represented I do not pause to inquire; but no doubt when such very delicate and ticklish questions as Chinese labour and the prevalence of intemperance, and great questions of war and the treatment of native races beyond the seas come up, it is a very convenient thing to have the Bishops in the House of Lords in order to make quite sure that official Christianity shall be on the side of the upper classes.
I proceed to inquire on what principle the House of Lords deals with Liberal measures. The right, hon. Member for Dover says they occupy the position of the umpire. Are they even a sieve, a strainer, to stop legislation if it should reveal an undue or undesirable degree of Radicalism or Socialism? Are they the complementary critic—the critic who sees all the things which the ordinary man does not see? I say that the attitude which the House of Lords adopts towards Liberal measures is purely tactical. When they returned to their "gilded Chamber" after the general election they found on the Woolsack and on the Treasury Bench a Lord Chancellor and a Government with which they were not familiar. When their eyes fell upon those objects there was a light in them which meant one thing—murder; murder tempered, no doubt, by those prudential considerations which always restrain persons from acts which are contrary to the general feeling of the society in which they live. 1249 But their attitude towards the present Government has from the beginning been to select the best and most convenient opportunity of humiliating and discrediting them, and finally of banishing them from power. Their treatment of the Trade Disputes Bill constitutes the gravamen of the Government's charge against the House of Lords. Lord Halsbury described that Bill as outrageous and tyrannous, and said it contained a section more disgraceful than any that appeared in any English Statute. On what principle did they pass that Bill if it was not the principle of political opportunism and partisanship? What safeguard will such a Second Chamber be to the commercial interests of this country? Is it not clear that they are prepared to sacrifice, if necessary, what they consider to be the true interests of the country in order to secure an advantage for the political Party whose obedient henchmen they are? The Trade Disputes Bill was a very inconvenient measure for the Conservative Party to leave open, because so long as it was left open a great mass of democratic opinion was directed against them. And so it was passed. On the other hand, the Education Bill was very inconvenient for the Liberal Party to leave open, because they are supported by Catholics and Nonconformists, and to bring in an Education Bill to satisfy those two extremes is not to solve a problem, but to solve a double acrostic. That Bill was not passed. Upon a measure which it would be inconvenient to the Liberal Party to leave open the House of Lords rejected all compromise. That I suppose is what the Leader of the Opposition called an averaging machinery, I press these points in order to justify me in making this statement, that the House of Lords as it at present exists and acts is not a national institution, but a Party dodge, an apparatus and instrument at the disposal of one political faction; and it is used in the most unscrupulous manner to injure and humiliate the opposite faction. When hon. Gentlemen 1250 opposite go about the country defending a Second Chamber, let them remember that this is the kind of Second Chamber they have to defend, and when they defend the veto let them remember that it is a veto used, not for national purposes, but for the grossest and basest purposes of unscrupulous political partisanship,
I have dealt with the issues between Houses, and I come to that between Parties. Great changes in a community are very often unperceived; the focus of reality moves from one institution in the State to another, and almost imperceptibly. Sometimes the forms of institutions remain almost the same in all ceremonial aspects, and yet there will be one institution which under pretentious forms is only the husk of reality, and another which under a humble name is is in fact the operative pivot of the social system. Constitutional writers have much to say about the estates of the realm, and a great deal to say about their relation to each other, and to the Sovereign. All that is found to be treated upon at length. But they say very little about the Party system. And after all the Party system is the dominant fact in our experience. Nothing is more striking in the last twenty-five years than the growth and expansion of Party organisation, and the way in which millions of people and their votes have been woven into its scope. There are two great characteristics about the Party institutions of this country: the equipoise between them, and their almost incredible durability. We have only to look at the general elections of 1900 and 1906. I do not suppose any circumstances could be more depressing for a political Party than the circumstances in which the Liberal Party fought the election in 1900, except the circumstances in which the Conservative Party fought the election of 1906. At those two elections, what was the salient fact? The great mass of the voters of each political Party stood firm by the standard of their Party, and although there was 1251 an immense movement of public opinion, that movement was actually effected by a comparatively small number of votes. I do not wish to push the fair-play argument too far, because I fully admit the justice of what the Prime Minister has said that politics must not be approached with an air of levity, but in dealing with this case in the country I should be sorry to cut myself off altogether from the rough and ready sense of fair play which is so pronounced among all classes of our fellow countrymen. When Parties are thus evenly balanced, to place such a weapon as the House of Lords in the hands of one of the Parties is to doom the other to destruction. I do not speak only from the Party point of view, although it explains the earnestness with which we approach this question. It is a matter of life and death to Liberalism and Radicalism. It is a question of our life or the abolition of the veto of the House of Lords. But look at it from a national point of view. Think of its injury to the smooth working of a Liberal Government. At the present time a Liberal Government, however powerful, cannot look far ahead, cannot impart design into its operations, because it knows that if at any moment its vigour falls below a certain point another body, over which it has no control, is ready to strike it a blow to its most serious injury. It comes to this, that no matter how great the majority by which a Liberal Government is supported, it is unable to pass any legislation unless it can procure the agreement of its political opponents. Observe the position in which the present Executive Government is consequently placed. Take only the question of the passive resistance. The action of the House of Lords at the present time forces the Executive Government to lock up in prison men with whose action they entirely sympathise and whose grievance they have faithfully promised to redress. Such a position is intolerable. Indeed, I am sure that if the right hon. Gentlemen opposite would only utilise that valuable gift of putting themselves in imagination 1252 in the position of others, they would see that no honourable men could continue to occupy such a position except with the one single object of putting an end to it for ever. Much might be said for and against the two-Party system. But no one can doubt that it adds to the stability and cohesion of the State. The alternation of Parties in power, like the rotation of crops, has beneficial results. Each of the two Parties have something to give and services to render in the development of the national life, and the succession of new and different points of view is a great and real benefit to the country. The advantage of such a system cannot be denied. Would not the ending of such a system involve a much greater disturbance than to amend the functions of the House of Lords? Is there not a much greater cataclysm involved in the breakdown of the constitutional organisation, of democracy, for that is the issue which is placed before us, than would be involved in the mere curtailment of the legislative veto which has been given to another place? I ask the House what does such a safeguard as the House of Lords mean? Is it a safeguard at all? I allude here to the argument of the Leader of the Opposition. He professed to deplore this agitation because he thought the House of Lords ought to remain, weak as it is; and he was afraid that our agitation might do something to awake the slumbering giant, and awake him in a stronger and more effective form than at present. It is quite true that great powers are already possessed by the House of Commons. It has finance under its control, it has the Executive Government; the control of foreign affairs, and the great patronage of the State are all in the power of the House of Commons at the present time. And let me say that if you are to proceed on the basis that the people of this country will elect a mad House of Commons, and that the mad House of Commons will be represented by a mad executive, the House of Lords is no guarantee against any excesses which such a House of Commons 1253 or such an Executive might have in contemplation. Whatever you may wish or desire, you will be forced to trust the people in all those vital and fundamental elements of government which in every State have always been held to involve the social stability of the community. Is the House of Lords even a security for property? Why the greatest weapon which a democracy possesses against property is the power of taxation, and the power of taxation is wholly under the control of this House. If this House chooses, for instance, to suspend payment to the Sinking Fund and to utilise the money for any public purpose or for any social purpose, the House of Lords could not interfere. If the House of Commons chose to double taxation on the wealthy classes, the House of Lords could not interfere in any respect. Understand I am not necessarily advocating these measures; what I am endeavouring to show to the House is that there is no real safeguard in the House of Lords oven in regard to a movement against property. But surely there are other securities upon which the stability of society depends. In the ever-increasing complexities of social problems, in the restrictions which are imposed from day to day with increasing force on the action of individuals, above all in the dissemination of property among many classes of the population, are the real elements of stability on which our modern society depends. There are to-day, unlike in former ages, actually millions of people who possess not merely inert property, but who possess rent-earning, profit-bearing property; and the danger with which we are confronted now is not at all whether we shall go too fast; no, the danger is that about three-fourths of the people of this country should move on in a comfortable manner into an easy life, which, with all its ups and downs, is not uncheered by fortune, while the remainder of the people shall be left to rot and fester in the slums of our cities, or in the deserted and abandoned hamlets of our rural districts. That is the danger with which 1254 we are confronted at the present moment, and it invests with a deep and real significance the issue which is drawn between the two Parties to-night. It is quite true that there are rich Members of the Liberal Party, and there are poor men who are Members of the Conservative Party, but in the main the lines of difference between the two Parties are social and economic—in the main the lines of difference are increasingly becoming the lines of cleavage between the rich and the poor. Let that animate and inspire us in the great struggle which we are now undertaking, and in which we shall without rest press forward, confident of this, that, if we persevere we shall wrest from the hands of privilege and wealth the evil and ugly and sinister weapon of the Peers' veto, which they have used so ill so long.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Campbell)—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow.