§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith) moved, "That the action of the House of Lords in refusing to pass into law the financial provision made by this House for the Service of the year is a breach of the Constitution and a usurpation of the rights of the Commons."
§ We are met here this afternoon under circumstances which are unexampled in the history of the British Parliament. Nearly ten months ago the Sovereign, in a paragraph in the gracious Speech from the Throne, addressed to the House of Commons, and to the House of Commons alone, invited us to make provision for the heavy additional expenditure which is due to the necessities of social reform and of national defence. In a Session, which, if not for the actual length of its duration, certainly for the strenuousness of its labours, is, I believe, almost without a rival, we have addressed ourselves to that task. Never in the history of this House have more time and labour—rarely, if ever, have so much time and labour—been given to the construction and to the consideration of any proposal as were given to the Budget of this year. Never, I would add, has the process of deliberation and amendment been more free and untrammelled. Never has more consideration been given to everything that was put forward in the way either of suggestion or of criticism. When a short 547 time ago the Finance Bill received its third reading, and as it left this House, it represented, I believe, in a greater degree than can be said of any measure of our time, the matured, the well-sifted, the deliberate work of an overwhelming majority of the representatives of the people, upon a matter which, by the custom of generations, and by the course of a practically unbroken authority, is the province of this House and of this House alone. In the course of a week, or little more than a week, the whole of this fabric has been thrown to the ground. For the first time in English history, the grant of the whole of the Ways and Means for the Supply and Service of the year—a grant made at the request of the Crown to the Crown by the Commons—has been intercepted and nullified by a body which admittedly has not the power to increase or to diminish one single tax, or to propose any substitute or alternative for anyone of the taxes. The House of Commons would, in the judgment of His Majesty's Government, be unworthy of its past and of the traditions of which it is the custodian and the trustee if it allowed another day to pass without making it clear that it does not mean to brook the greatest indignity, and I will add the most arrogant usurpation, to which, for more than two centuries, it has been asked to submit.
§ Before I come to deal with the terms of the Resolution which I am about to move, I think it is right, and indeed necessary, that I should invite attention for a few moments to the actual situation which has been created by the proceedings of the House of Lords. The Budget Resolutions and the Bill founded upon them authorised some 10 or 11 separate and distinct taxes, counting for these purposes the three Land Taxes as one and the Death Duties as one. They are either the renewal of expiring taxes, such as the Tea Duty, or the enhancement of a number of existing duties, such as the Duties on Spirits and Tobacco, the Income Tax, and the Death Duties, or Duties imposed for the first time, such as the Land Taxes. It was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, and it is abundantly proved, that the whole of the proceeds of the whole of these taxes were needed in order to make good the estimated deficit of the year. Not one penny of them can be spared. Then, moreover, let it be remembered all these taxes, except the 548 Licence Duties, the Stamp Duties, and the Land Taxes, have been collected at the new rates ever since the dates specified in the Resolutions on the assumption, justified if ever any assumption was, that the taxes authorised by Resolution of the House of Commons would be clothed in the same Session by legislative authority. For the first time that assumption has been defeated by the action of the other House. The Session is closing without a Finance Act. The process of compulsory collection of the taxes voted is suddenly arrested, trades affected are thrown into temporary confusion and embarrassment, and, until fresh Parliamentary provision can be made, the necessities of the State which this taxation was designed to meet, can only be fully supplied by resorting to the borrowing powers conferred by the Appropriation Act.
§ I am not in a position to give any precise figures to-day. I hope that what I may call the ultimate and irrecoverable loss to the State may not be very great, but so far as the present financial year is concerned, it is obvious, whatever course is adopted, that the result of the action of the House of Lords must be to create a very large deficit, a deficit swollen by the cost of the borrowing operations, which otherwise would not have been necessary. I think it is fair, at any rate it is charitable, to assume that not one in 10 of the 350 Gentlemen, who, the ether night, threw over the finance of the year, realised the actual mischief which they were doing. But they acted, or ought to have acted, with their eyes open. More than two months ago, speaking at Birmingham—the ground having already been carefully surveyed by the officers of the Government—I purposely referred to this topic. I did not, indeed, then entertain except as a bare possibility, the hypothesis of the adoption by the ostensibly responsible Leaders of the party of the desperate, counsels which have since, unhappily, prevailed. But I did think it right, when there was already vague talk and gossip about the possible rejection of the Budget, on that, occasion to indicate in general terms the nature and extent of the confusion which would result, in language not of menace, but of warning. That warning has been unheeded, and the consequence is that there lies to-day on the shoulders of the House of Lords the sole and undivided responsibility for the embarrassment, the confusion, the administrative and political chaos, the loss to the Revenue, and the increased indebtedness 549 of the country. The situation is not of our creating. But it is our duty, although it is not of our creating, to do what we can, without any infringement of the law or of constitutional principle, to mitigate its hardships and its inconveniences.
§ I may be pardoned—perhaps it is not altogether relevant, or indeed relevant at all to this Motion—I may be pardoned if in passing, I refer at this point to two suggestions which have been made, proceeding from very opposite quarters, and both of them I think, for obvious but very different reasons, untenable. The first is that the Executive should continue to demand and enforce the new taxes sanctioned by Resolution notwithstanding the prorogation of Parliament. It is frankly admitted by those who put that suggestion forward that it is a revolutionary proposal. It would certainly bring anyone who adopted it into rapid collision with the courts of law, and it does not commend itself to the judgment of His Majesty's Government. The second suggestion, which, as I say, has proceeded from a very different quarter, is that here and now, before the present Session closes, the Government should bring in a new Budget and submit it for approval or rejection to the House of Lords. Well, I ask first of all, what is this suggested new Budget to contain? Are we going to enter upon an inquiry—a, very laborious and lengthy process it would be—as to the different degrees of objectionableness of our various taxes to the different minds of the 350 Gentlemen who the other night disposed en bloc of the whole financial arrangements of the year? I have not studied the Debates as carefully as some people seem to have done, but from such cursory perusal as I have had the opportunity, of making I came to the conclusion that there was not a single one of our proposed new taxes, except perhaps the Duty on Motor Spirit, in which the keen scent of one or another of the Tory spokesmen could not detect the fatal and poisonous taint of Socialism. But our objection—the objection of those who sit on this Bench—to any such proposal does not arise and very certainly is not confined to the difficulty of carrying it out: it goes very much deeper down. It would be a pretty pass indeed for the House of Commons if, after having for the first time been offered by the other House the indignity of the summary rejection of the whole of the financial arrangements of the year, it were then to stoop spontaneously 550 to the humiliation of presenting to the same House, for its criticism and sanction, an amended Budget, pruned and trimmed and refurbished to suit its scruples and to meet its tastes.
§ I see that Lord Lansdowne, and I think Lord Cawdor, were gracious enough to offer us, in anticipation of the performance of this task, their loyal co-operation. What they say, in effect, is this: "We do not like your first Budget, the one on which you spent some six months of your time. It had rather too Socialistic a flavour for us, and so, after a week's tournament of oratory, we have thrown it upon the rubbish heap. We—though some of our so-called followers do not—we know the state of chaos and confusion which our action, if something is not done, must immediately lead to, and that, for many reasons, we shall be glad to avoid; and we say you Gentlemen of the House of Commons will be good enough in the month of December, in order to get us and the country out of the mess which we have deliberately created, you will be good enough, if you please, to dish up something that we can stomach, and we can assure you that you will find that we have, in the circumstances, quite an easy and acommodating palate." No Minister who ventured to make such a proposal to the House of Commons would deserve, and certainly no Minister would retain for five minutes, the confidence of this Assembly. It would be, in fact, a recognition of the right of the House of Lords not only to reject, but also to amend the financial arrangements of the year.
§ I dismiss these impossible suggestions, and I come to the course—the only course—which, in the circumstances, it is open to the Government, without either breaking the law or sacrificing constitutional principle, to pursue. That course is to advise, as we have advised the Crown, to dissolve this Parliament at the earliest possible moment. His Majesty has been graciously pleased to accept that advice, and the result, I trust, will be that the new House of Commons will assemble at such time as to make it possible for it to provide, both retrospectively and prospectively, for the needs of the current financial year. If we are fortunate enough to enjoy its confidence, its first act will be to reimpose, as from this week, all taxes and duties which were embodied in the Finance Bill, and to validate all past collections and deductions In the meantime, all persons desiring to do so may deposit with the proper officers the appropriate 551 duty at the rate so sanctioned, and full instructions and information will forthwith be issued by the Departments concerned. The House will pardon me for interposing that brief reference to the practical situation, because I have not thought it irrelevant to the Motion, and it certainly is of interest and importance. But I go on now to say that the purpose of my Motion today is not to complain of the financial and administrative hardship which the House of Lords has so heedlessly inflicted upon us; still less is it to defend, as against the criticisms of Noble Lords in another place, the principles and methods of the Budget. That is, in our view, a matter for this House, and for this House alone, to decide.
§ No; mine is a totally different purpose It is to ask the House, in vindication of the first principles of the Constitution, and in assertion of its own immemorial rights, to enter a prompt and solemn protest against the whole proceeding. We live in this country, and we have lived for centuries past, under an unwritten Constitution, although some signs in the sky would seem to portend that that happy state of things is not likely long to last. It is, of course, true that we have upon the Statute book great instruments like Magna Charta itself, the Petition of Rights and the Bill of Rights, which define and secure many of our rights and privileges; but the great bulk of our constitutional liberties—and, I would add, of our constitutional practices—do not derive their validity and sanction from any Bill which has received the formal assent of King, Lords and Commons. They rest upon usage, upon custom, upon convention—often of slow growth, in their early stages, not always uniform, but which in the course of time have received universal observance and respect; and let me point out further, it is an essential incident of such an unwritten Constitution that there should be powers which are legal powers—legal powers in the sense that their exercise cannot be questioned in any court of law, yet which, in the course of time, and by the effect of such usages as I have described, first of all came to be fitfully and intermittently used, and finally in the progress of our development became dormant, moribund, and for all practical purposes dead.
§ A familiar illustration of this, well known to everybody, is the Veto of the Crown. There is nothing whatever to prevent me or any other Minister from advising His Majesty to-morrow to refuse 552 his assent to a Bill which has passed through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords; and, if His Majesty were to take that advice, and so refuse his assent, that Bill could not take its place on the Statute Book, and would not have its effect in law. I think, however, the Minister who gave that advice would deserve to be impeached, although, in point of law, the right of the Crown to veto a Bill is just as unquestionable to-day as it was in the time of Queen Elizabeth. But 200 years of disuetude and contrary practice have made it a legal right not constitutionally exercised or followed now. I saw a speech the other day—I think by the Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain)—in which he derided the distinction which my Noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor had drawn between that which is legal and that which is constitutional, and said that the antiquarianism and the pedantry of lawyers left him quite cold. It was pedantry of this kind—the pedantry which realises and dwells upon the distinction between the genius and the spirit of our Constitution on the one side, and the bare and barren letter of the law upon the other—it was pedantry of this kind which made and saved the liberties of England. It was pedants, like Pym and Seldon and Somers, who rescued this House largely through the power of the purse from the domination of the Crown. We need not be ashamed to be called by the same name and to bear the same reproach if, acting in the same spirit and using largely the same weapons, we put an end to the usurpations of the House of Lords.
Tried by the test which I have been endeavouring to describe—the test of usage, the test of convention, the test of unbroken understanding, does not the recent action of the House of Lords in rejecting the Finance Bill deserve the description which I have given to it in my Resolution? Is it not a breach of the Constitution? No one will deny that the House of Lords has a technical right to reject a Finance Bill or any other Bill. I certainly am not in the least concerned to deny that there have been cases in the old days in which this House has acquiesced, though rarely without protest, not only in the rejection, but in the amendment of Bills which were concerned with the taxation of the country. For the most part these cases were trivial, and even trumpery in their character; but ever since 1628—I do not need to go further back than that to establish constitutional
usage—when by the advice of the greatest lawyers of that day the mention of the Lords was deliberately omitted from the granting words in the preamble of Supply Bills, this House has asserted, with evergrowing emphasis, its own exclusive right to determine the taxation and the expenditure of the country. The demand, as I pointed out already, in the speech from the Throne for Supply, is made every year by the Crown to the Commons, and to the Commons alone, and the answer to that demand comes from the Commons, and from the Commons alone; I will not weary the House by citing authorities; but I will quote the words of one who is entitled to rank among the greatest of all of them—a man who earned for himself by his services to this House and to his country in his day the title of the great Commoner—the first William Pitt. He stated in words which have become classic:
Taxes are a voluntary grant and gift of the Commons alone, and the concurrence of the Crown and the Peers to a tax is only necessary to clothe it with the form of law.
That exactly stated the case as it was then, and as, 130 years afterwards, it remains to-day. Within the practice of our own time there is one case, and one only, in which the House of Lords has ever attempted to interfere with the financial functions of this House. That is the familiar case of the Paper Duty in 1860, where, the House of Commons having sanctioned the repeal of the tax, the House of Lords refused to give its assent to the repeal. The Commons took swift and summary vengeance. In the following year they passed the same tax, in company with a number of others, as part of the general financial arrangements of the year and the House of Lords acquiesced, and from that day to this has never attempted again to question the sole and exclusive competence of this House in matters of supply. That was the case of a single tax. Such a step as has now been taken that the whole finance of the year, some ten or eleven taxes, are rejected en bloc, is without the faintest shadow of a precedent in the whole course of our Parliamentary history. A year ago, indeed, I may say, until about six weeks ago, whatever expressions may have been used from time to time by one statesmen or another as to the technical and legal rights of the House of Lords, what I have been saying during the last 10 minutes would have been looked upon as a truism. It would have been universally admitted as a correct and entirely unexaggerated statement of our constitutional practice. I need not go
further back in support of that proposition than two years ago, in the month of June, 1907. In that month my predecessor, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, proposed, and this House carried, a Resolution in favour of limiting the veto of the House of Lords on legislation, a Resolution which remains recorded in our journals, which it is quite unnecessary at this moment to reaffirm. But in the course of that Debate not even the most tenacious stickler for the extremest view of the privileges of the House of Lords claimed, and not the most uncompromising critic of the House of Lords thought it necessary to deny, the alleged right which is now put forward. I am quite content to take upon that point the statement of the right lion. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition. I will read his words, because no language more germane to the topic which we are considering to-day could possibly be cited from any speech which has been delivered in our time. The right hon. Gentleman said this on 24th June, 1907:—
We all know that the power of the House of Lords"—
he speaks of some limitations which are not material—
is still further limited by the fact that it cannot touch those Money Bills, which, if it could deal with, no doubt it could bring the whole executive machinery of the country to a standstill.
I pause here to make two observations. I assume that if you cannot touch a thing you cannot kill it. That is my first observation, and the second is that the right hon. Gentleman showed, as might be expected of him with his large administrative experience, a prophetic insight into what would be the result of the House of Lords touching a Money Bill, if it were so ill-advised as to do so, that it would bring the whole executive machinery of the country to a standstill. How does the right hon. Gentleman go on?
The conclusion which I want to press upon the House, and which is all important in this matter, is that under our existing system you have two Chambers which are not of equal power, which are not of equal authority, which cannot come into serious conflict in the whole field of administration, in the whole field of the initiation of legislation, or in the whole field of that legislation which deals with finance.
As the result of our constitutional usage the House of Lords was in a position of admitted, if you like, inferiority, or, if you like, limitation or incapacity, with regard to certain matters of which finance is one, which made it impossible to come into serious collision with the House of Commons. In other words, in regard to such matters as that, the will of the
House of Commons must, according to constitutional practice, be supreme. I do not want any higher testimony than that. Of course, we shall be interested to learn how, if at all, and for what reasons, the right hon. Gentleman has modified the view which only two years ago he authoritatively expressed. I am not going to discuss in reference to this unprecedented act the merits of the Finance Fill with the House of Lords, but I think it is only right and fair before I bring my case to a conclusion that I should examine such justifications as have been put forward for the action which has been taken. In the first place, I have seen it suggested, with, I think, increasing faintness of conviction, that this Bill was not a Finance Bill at all, and that, therefore, the constitutional rule does not apply. That, of course, is one of the most, absurd contentions which has ever been advanced by a bankrupt controversialist. Here is a Bill of nearly 100 clauses, which imposed 10 or 11 different sets of taxes. I will undertake to say there was not a single clause which was not relevant to its primary and governing purpose, namely, the raising of revenue. The only argument ever suggested in a contrary sense is as to the somewhat elaborate provisions which were made for valuation; and in regard to that I may point out again, what has often been pointed out before, that if you are imposing a new set of taxes upon a new taxable subject you will be guilty of, at any rate, unbusinesslike conduct if you did not provide adequate machinery for assessment and collection, and my right hon. Friend in this respect was only following the precedent set up by Sir Robert Peel in. 1842 in the Income Tax Act, of Mr. Gladstone in 1853 in the Succession Duty Act, and by Sir William Harcourt in the Finance Act of 1894.
§ But there is another reason which is put forward by way of justification which I think demands rather fuller scrutiny. The House of Lords, or their apologists, tell us that they have not rejected this Bill. All they have done is to refer it to the people. I want to examine this doctrine of the power or the duty of the House of Lords to refer certain sorts of Bills to the people a little more closely than has been done, at any rate in this House. What does it amount to? Hitherto, when any Government has received the assent of the House of Commons to its financial resolutions, it has been assumed on all hands 556 that in substance they would pass into law. Taxes have been paid, received, collected, even demanded, on the strength of these Resolutions. What would be the case if this precedent of a reference of the Finance Bill to the people is once adopted and acted upon? No Government will be safe—when I say no Government, of course I mean no Liberal Government—in following what has hitherto been the universal practice. Of course, it cannot tell whether the House of Lords may not, late on in the summer, or even as this year late in the autumn, be minded at the last moment to refer the whole of these taxes to the people. When you come to analyse it it means that the House of Lords will have the power to compel the Executive of the day to adopt one of three courses—firstly, to submit a new Budget to the House of Lords to meet with their approval; secondly, to send up again, and perhaps time after time, their old Budget, with no provision in the meantime, or no adequate provision for the financial necessities of the State; or, finally, to advise the Crown to dissolve Parliament.
§ These are entirely novel claims, and they ought not to be allowed to pass without clear, emphatic, and immediate protest. On what are they founded? They are founded, as I say, on what I believe to be an entirely novel assumption that the House of Lords has the right, if it does not like a Bill, to compel a reference to the electorate. I assert, on the contrary, two very simple propositions. The first is that the presumption always is that the House of Commons, freely chosen by the people, represents the will of the people; and the second is that there is no presumption of any sort or kind as regards the House of Lords. I would say, parenthetically, I am quite willing and anxious, so far as the House of Commons is concerned, that that presumption should be strengthened and reinforced by shortening the duration of Parliament, and therefore, by a more frequent contact between the elected body and the electorate; but this new-fangled Cæsarism which converts the House of Lords into a kind of plebescitory organ is one of the quaintest inventions of our time. Let us see what it is. I will try to put the theory as plausibly as I can against myself. The theory is that the people require to be protected against their own elected representatives, especially—may I not say exclusively?—when the majority of those representatives happen to belong to the Liberal party. By whom is the protection to be afforded? 557 In what quarter is it to be found? Here the theory goes on that Providence, as in so many other ways, has been exceptionally kind. It has supplied us with exactly the kind of thing we want for the purpose by an unforeseen and unforeseeable evolution in our ancient House of Lords.
§ It is true that at first sight the uninstructed observer of an Assembly, which is composed in the proportion, I suppose, of somewhere between 20 and 10 to one of members of a single political party, might not seem to be pre-eminently qualified to exercise a, judicial or quasi-judicial function; but here again Providence steps in, and it would seem that either at birth, or, as the ease may be, upon creation of a peer, who receives a patent of peerage, there descends upon the favoured individual what I may call a kind of instinct of divination which enables him at all times thereafter to discern to a nicety, provided always that a Liberal Government is in power, the occasions and the matters in regard to which the people's representatives are betraying the people's trust. We are sometimes told by sceptical people that the age of miracles is past. If the theory which I have just been endeavouring—I hope without exaggeration—to enunciate is anything like true, then the whole British Constitution depends on the off-chance of a succession of miraculous events.
§ The truth is that all this talk about the duty or the right of the House of Lords to refer measures to the people is, in the light of our practical and actual experience, the hollowest outcry of political cant. We never hear of it, as I pointed out, when a Tory Government is in power. It is never suggested when measures are thrust by a Tory majority by the aid of the guillotine and the Closure, and all the rest of it, through this House—measures which, unlike every one of the governing provisions of the Budget of the present year, have never been approved or even submitted to the electorate. It is simply a thin rhetorical veneer, by which it is sought to gloss over the partisan, and in this case the unconstitutional, action of a purely partisan Chamber. The sum and substance of the matter is that the House of Lords rejected the Finance Bill last Tuesday, not because they love the people, but because they hate the Budget. [An HON. MEMBER: "And fear the brewers."] This Motion, which I am now about to propose is con- 558 fined in terms to the new and unprecedented claim made by the House of Lords to interfere with finance. But I am sure, in fact I know, I am speaking the mind of my colleagues, and, I believe, of the great bulk of those who are sitting on this side of the House, when I say that it represents a stage—a momentous and, perhaps, a decisive stage—in a protracted controversy which is drawing to a close. The real question which emerges from the political struggles in this country for the last 30 years is not whether you will have a single or a double chamber system of government, but whether when the Tory Party is in power the House of Commons shall be omnipotent, and whether when the Liberal Party is in power the House of Lords shall be omnipotent.
§ We are living under a system of false balances and loaded dice. When the democracy votes Tory we are submitted to the uncontrolled domination of a single Chamber. When the democracy votes Liberal, a dormant Second Chamber wakes up from its slumbers and is able to frustrate and nullify our efforts, as it did with regard to education, as it did with regard to licensing, as it has done again this year with regard to measures for Scotland, and with regard to finance. I cannot exhaust the list; it would be too long. They proceed to frustrate and nullify the clearest and most plainly expressed intention of the elective House. The House of Lords have deliberately chosen their ground. They have elected to set at nought in regard to finance the unwritten and time-honoured conventions of our Constitution. In so doing, whether they foresaw it or not, they have opened out a wider and a more far-reaching issue. We have not provoked the challenge, but we welcome it. We believe that the first principles of representative government, as embodied in our slow and ordered but ever-broadening constitutional development, are at stake, and we ask the House of Commons by this Resolution to-day, as at the earliest possible moment we shall ask the constituencies of the country, to declare that the organ, the voice of the free people of this country, is to be found in the elective representatives of the nation.
§ Mr. A. J. BALFOUR
The more important portion of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just slat down was devoted, and most properly devoted, to the defence of the Motion he has put upon the Paper. There was, however, another portion of the speech on which I am bound to say a few words before I come 559 to that part of the controversy which is really what interests and moves the House. The right hon. Gentleman dealt with what he called the gratuitous confusion which has been thrown into the practical administration of our financial system by the recent action of the House of Lords. I do not myself see that the practical confusion is greater or different from the confusion that would arise if the Budget itself had been rejected on the third reading by this House. Of course, I entirely agree that, in the House, as it is composed at present, rejection on the third reading was practically outside possible politics; but, still, the rejection of a Budget on its third reading or the end of a Budget at an earlier stage is neither outside practical politics, nor is it unexampled in comparatively recent history—I mean the history which many of us remember and in which I myself took a part; and I do not see that the rejection by the House of Lords, be it right or be it wrong—that is a point to which I will refer later—would in any respect as regards its effect upon our finances be any greater than that which would result if a Budget were rejected in some of its later stages in this House. Nor do I believe, as far as I can discover, that the confusion in the present case, or indeed in any of these cases, is really of a very formidable character.
The right hon. Gentleman has given a sketch of a plan by which he thinks that that confusion can, at all events, be minimised. The essence of the plan as I understood it was that when he came back to power or when we came back the taxes now in force should be made retrospective over the period during which they had not legal validity. That seems to me a very proper course for the Government to take. I do not know whether it is the best course. I would have thought myself that there was a better course. But that is a course which may obviate inconvenience which would arise to those engaged in trade, which would arise, say, for example, if the tea duty had not been collected. I daresay it will be sufficient. If the Government refuse to legislate now on the subject I do not think they can do better than make the suggestion which they have made, and any support which I can offer in that respect I shall afford if I am returned in the next House. Whether it will be my business to offer to the right hon. Gentleman my assistance or his business to offer me his assistance is a point upon which I forbear to enter. There is 560 in my opinion a better course which the Government would have done well to adopt in connection with the so-called financial confusion. They might easily, as I think, have made perfectly adequate provision by legislation for the legal collection of taxes up to some date which would enable the next Parliament to deal with the financial situation just as they found it, and the only reason given by the right hon. Gentleman for not adopting that course was that it was an indignity to which neither he nor his colleagues nor this House would stoop. We have the Government choosing between what they call, though why I cannot conceive, a course which would involve stooping and involve an indignity to their own pet vanities. We have that on the one side, and we have on the other the advantage of stopping what they represent as the possibility of considerable inconvenience and hardship to the trade of this country. They prefer the inconvenience to the trade of this country, and I confess that my opinion of their statesmanship is not raised thereby.
However, it was not on that portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech that the House concentrated its attention, nor is it on that part of his speech that I mean to make such few observations as my physical condition will allow. The right hon. Gentleman and his party have a perfect passion for these abstract Resolutions. They bring them forward at intervals; they bind nobody; they help nobody; they hurt nobody. I doubt whether they encourage anybody, and I am sure that they do not frighten anybody. Least of all, are these Resolutions likely to prove formidable to enemies or encouraging to friends when they are made by the last dying breath of the House of Commons, which will not, I gather, be in existence a very few hours hence. These deathbed threats, these loud thunderings of indignation on the part of a body which is going to cease to exist before two more suns have risen—[An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I may be wrong. I thought there was going to be a Dissolution at the earliest possible moment. I should have thought that nothing in the whole range of literary or rhetorical effort could be much more impotent than a Resolution proposed under these circumstances by this House of Commons with death staring it in the face. I must say that I have another ground of objection against this Resolution. I greatly regret that we should go down, so to speak, to our politi- 561 cal friends uttering so gross a misrepresentation of the Constitution of this country. I really think that our last act might be more dignified than the misrepresentation of the whole course of constitutional history in this country. The right hon. Gentleman moved easily and quickly through large spaces of English history. He went back to 1628, and he came down to the Paper Duties. Did he give a single argument indicating that the course which the House of Lords has recently pursued is a course which in the language of the Resolution is a breach of the Constitution and a usurpation of the rights of the Commons? The right hon. Gentleman really never touched that point. He based his observations, as I understood him, upon a distinction between that which is technically within the law and that which is substantially within the Constitution, and he said that he did not deny that rejection by the House of Lords was technically within the law. He did deny that it in no substantial sense was within tie limits of the Constitution. I think the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong, not in drawing a distinction between that part of our Constitution which is written on the Statute Book, and that part of our Constitution which is not written on the Statute Book—of course there is that distinction—but within the Constitution, which is not written on the Statute Book, there are some things which are technically possible which substantially nobody would recommend. There are other things which are done every day, and there is a third class, belonging neither to the first nor to the second class of things—things which certainly ought not to be part of our every day practice, but which are clearly within, not merely the written law of the Constitution, but within its spirit, interpreted in any broad and statesmanlike way.
I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman should have so deliberately ignored some of the points which he must know lie on the very face of this constitutional discussion, and which are of vital importance to a proper understanding of it. Take so important a point as this, that the House of Commons, with whom rested originally the most precise statement of the claims of this House as we, the House of Commons, chose to interpret them, as against the Lords, admitted, in terms, that the House of Lords had a right to reject. They said: "You cannot originate; you cannot modify; we admit you can reject." If the very original Resolution on which 562 all our claims are based, the very history in which it is embodied, bears on the face of it that admission, gratuitously made by the House of Commons, why are we to go back on that, and why are we now to alter, not the written law, but the substance of the Constitution in a manner never contemplated by those who originally started, and did more than any others to carry through the distinction of function which nobody denies, and I am the last to deny the distinction of function which does separate this House from, the other House in the matter of financial arrangements? The right hon. Gentleman tells us that there is an unbroken tradition under which the House of Lords has never rejected the financial proposals of the year—has never interfered, never' abolished the financial arrangements of this House for the year. How long has that unbroken tradition continued? It evidently could not go back before the period when all our provisions for taxation were embodied in one Bill, and that is within the memory of men living. I am not sure that there are not men sitting in this House at this moment who were Members of this House when it was first made. What is the use of talking? Go back through the English Constitution to all the precedents of the centuries and you will not find a precedent. The English Constitution did not begin in 1860 but before that. It is quite true that the Budget embodying the taxes of the year was never rejected, because there never was a Budget Bill embodying them; it is an entirely modern invention, modern in the sense not merely measured by the antiquity of the British Constitution, but modern as measured by the ordinary standard of human life and human experience.
Therefore, to claim tradition for this is to ignore the very fundamental fact under which we have endeavoured to deal in the past with our financial necessities. The second point of the right hon. Gentleman was this. He said if you admit that there is, in addition to certain things which are forbidden by the Statute law, other things which are technically possible and which are forbidden by unvarying custom, is not this one of them? If hon. Gentlemen consider that argument they will see how utterly empty and vain it is. Manifestly the rejection by the House of Lords, or—the right hon. Gentleman does not like the word—the statement of the House of Lords that they do not think the Bill ought to pass until it is submitted to the people, 563 undoubtedly a statement of that sort, an arrangement of that sort, is one which must be of rare occurrence. ["Why?"] Some hon. Gentlemen may think differently; they may think it should be of annual occurence. In my opinion it is not a part of our ordinary procedure. It is, from the very nature of things, exceptional, and because it is exceptional naturally it is rare; because the occasions of its exercise must be exceptional, therefore they must be rare. You have no right to claim the rarity, which is an essential part, as showing that the power itself ought to fall into desuetude. I hope those occasions will be very rare; I also hope the power will never be abandoned; I do not think it will ever be taken away. There was one part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech with the general spirit of which I sympathise. He indicated—I did not take down the exact language; he used as he always does, words admirably chosen to express his meaning—that you must judge these constitutional questions when you are not dealing with a formal, written Constitution, in accordance with broad issues, broad views of public policy, and broad views as to the development of great and free institutions. I agree with that. He abandoned, for the moment, and rightly abandoned, the attitude of the mere historical investigator, and he tried to consider the question, as it ought to be considered, in its broader aspects.
I think he should, before he went to that part of his subject, have reminded us how many of his own colleagues have told us—I only mention this again to put it on record—and have deliberately laid down, that the powers which the House of Lords have recently exercised are powers, not of which they were merely technically possessed, but of which they had a substantial user. Mr. Gladstone laid it down, Lord Spencer laid it down, Lord Ripon laid it down, the present Lord Chancellor laid it down, and these were all Gentlemen who had served with the right hon. Gentleman in Cabinets, who had been his colleagues, who had been great authorities in the party of which he is now the Leader, and I say one and all have laid down in terms a proposition which makes absolute nonsense of the Resolution which he is now asking this House to stultify itself by putting for a few hours upon our journals. I revert to the broader question which the right hon. Gentleman has raised. He spent much invective, some of which I thought a little cheap, in de- 564 nouncing the principle and practice of an hereditary Chamber. I am not going to trouble myself on the present occasion to deal with the question of whether in this country at this time you can very greatly improve, in your Second Chamber, upon the hereditary principle. I am by no means certain that if some of the theoretical politicians below the Gangway, to whose logical souls the very word "hereditary" is objectionable—I am not at all sure that if they were concerned in making a Second Chamber on non-political principles whether they would not make one which this House would find a much more formidable difficulty than the hereditary Chamber which they now find it so easy to deride. But, at all events, for the moment and until you have a better the House of Lords is the Second Chamber. It performs, ill or well, in this country the functions which every Second Chamber in all other countries, in all other large and complex civilisations, performs. I gather there are some hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House, and I am sure there are some on this side of the House, who do not like a Second Chamber, who would be happier with a Single Chamber system, or think they would, and perhaps look forward some day to be in a position to put this country in the solitary, and I think it would turn out to be the not enviable position of being the one great civilised community trying that system. May I ask the Government whether they at all differ from Mr. Bryce's view on this subject? He is our Ambassador to the United States of America, and he was lately a Member of the present Administration. He lays it down that the need of two Chambers is an axiom of political science based upon the belief of an innate tendency of one Assembly to become hasty, tyrannical, and corrupt, a tendency which can only foe checked by the co-existence of another House of equal authority. I do not want another House of equal authority, but I agree with Mr. Bryce, and I respectfully but humbly join myself with those who regard it as an axiom of political science that a Second Chamber is a necessity.
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL rose.565
§ Mr. BALFOUR
In the "American Commonwealth." If it be true that a Second Chamber is required because a single Chamber has a tendency to become "hasty, tyrannical, or corrupt," I would ask how far you think it wise in the interest of the country to clip and curtail those powers which that Second Chamber now possesses. I have a perfectly clear conviction in my own mind that the powers which the House of Lords possess at this moment are not excessive, and that the efforts you have so recently been making to curtail them, not only partake of pettiness in their character, but are extremely inconvenient and detrimental to the public interest. You, Sir, are obliged from that Chair to administer the traditions as they have been gradually stretched and stretched by your predecessors in regard to what does or does not constitute a breach of the privileges of this House in connection with ordinary legislation; and I think you will find that the House of Commons is now driving its use of those privileges to a point which will react upon its own legislation, and can have no good effect from the public interest at all, which looks too often like an exhibition of mere petty spite, and which certainly seriously cripples, or, if it is permitted to go on, will seriously cripple the utility of the Second Chamber in regard to matters which are often of no party controversy at all. Like so many of our other Parliamentary institutions created for quite another purpose this claim of privilege is now often used merely to get a Minister in charge of House of Lords Amendments out of a difficulty to find a reason for rejecting them—a reason which it would be very difficult indeed to find if he could not take refuge in this time-honoured resource—and nothing could be more comic to any one who looks into it than all these expedients of printing in italics and red letters as used to be the case, and then if the Government like an Amendment they move to waive your privileges; if they do not like an Amendment they get out of their difficulty by the very simple expedient of leaving it to the Chair. But these things are relatively small, though I believe they are doing a great deal of harm to your legislation. There are other things which are bigger, and observe I am now dealing with the argument of the right hon. Gentleman that we must look at the development of the Constitution and of constitutional work as a whole. Observe there are changes going on in our flexible Constitution, both in this House and out 566 of it. Is this House what it was, let us say, in 1678, or at any other date you choose to name? We see day by day that the exigencies of Debate compel successive Governments to draw tighter and tighter the limitations on our discussions, until it is not so much a single Chamber which you are trying to institute—a single Chamber discussing and passing Bills and representing its constituents—but it is a single Chamber managed by a single Government, and not discussing at all.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd-George)
What about the Budget?
§ Mr. BALFOUR
Yes, the Budget was discussed. That is about the only Bill, I think, which has been discussed. The right hon. Gentleman interrupts me quite courteously, but he does not see I am trying to deal with the whole position of the Second Chamber leading up to the conclusion which I had formed with regard to the wisdom and the statesmanship of the Resolution you are asking us to pass, and I say that changes going on within these walls alone make it obligatory upon us to see that this or some Second Chamber should not be shorn of those powers which, I think, are absolutely necessary, if measures are to be discussed, to be made workable and to form a coherent body of legislation, and if they are in any reality and in any truth to carry out the wishes of the people of this country. That brings me to the essential point of this controversy: Has the House of Lords, in declaring that the constituencies must be consulted on this measure, gone beyond the functions which we ought to leave to a Second Chamber however rarely it may be proper that they should be exercised. That is the real point. That is the point which statesmen have got to determine. That is the point which the country will have to determine. On that point I individually have no doubts whatever. May I, in explaining why I have no doubts, invoke the authority of the First Commissoner of Works? The First Commissioner of Works delivered an address on the views of the Government with regard to the House of Lords and the relations that ought to subsist between the House of Lords and this House. It is published in a leaflet which I have in my hand. The First Commissioner of Works says at the end of his speech:—I have given you the steps in the procedure that you must take, and I have shown that it will take 567 nearly, if not fully, two years to finally compel the acceptance and to pass into law a measure of which the peers disapprove.That is under what I think may be called Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerinan's plan. The First Commissioner goes on:—You will also notice under our proposed limitation of Parliament, to quinquennial periods no hotly contentious measure can be passed under these conditions except those which have been originated——?I call attention to these words—in the first three years of the Parliament when the House of Commons is fresh from the verdict and mandate of its constituents. You will thus practically arrive at a system of triennial Parliaments formatters of acute party contention, while there would still be two useful years remaining for those many minor bill valuable measures which, though not unopposed, are yet certain to pass after Debate and a reasonable amount of amendment.That is the extremely ingenious plan of the Cabinet. You will observe that it combines what they call the advantages of the triennial system with the advantage of the Government holding office for five years. First, you have three years of a stormy youth, of stress, of the sowing of wild oats. Then the House settles down to respectable middle life, marries, so to speak, and carries out useful work for the family. What is all that based upon? It is based upon the old Radical view to which the First Commissioner of Works and his colleagues still adhere, that after three years you have no mandate, as the phrase goes, for controversial work at all. You are only fit to do useful work then, for controversial work three years is enough. We have already had more than three years, and how comes the First Commissioner of Works to have made himself a party to bringing forward after the three years which is required by the true, sound Radical doctrine—of three years' controversial work with the people behind you, and two years' useful work with nobody behind you—how has he come to reconcile that with the fact that he has brought forward the most controversial measure that could possibly be imagined in the fourth year of his office. Manifestly, by the theory of the Government themselves, they still hold to the triennial Parliaments which, like the destruction of the House of Lords was part of the Newcastle programme in 1891 with the modification I have described, and the whole reason for adhering to it is that after three years very serious controversial matter ought not to be brought forward unless the constituencies have been consulted. If that is the Radical theory—and it must be if the First Commissioner represents, as 568 he does, the Cabinet in, this case—then I wish to ask, and I wish to go back to the fundamental crucial question: Is the Second Chamber doing its duty when a controversial measure is brought forward at a later period than the three years, and on which you raise new and grave issues, and on which the country never was consulted, and on which it is extremely doubtful what view the country will take, and when the Government themselves are bringing forward schemes for altering their relationship between the two Houses, while they practically admit that no Government after three years is fit to bring forward measures of first-class controversial character? In my judgment nothing could be plainer, not merely upon our principles, but upon good, sound, Radical Newcastle programme, triennial Parliament principles, than that the Second Chamber, if the Budget be really exceptional—and that is not denied—and if its principles be really of a kind which are novel, and on which the country has never ben consulted—and that is not denied—then it follows conclusively that the Second Chamber is doing that very function which it is called into being to do, which requires that the people of the country shall offer their opinion upon the great controversy between the two houses. The Prime Minister poured contempt upon the theory that this was a method of consulting the country. He said that it was only a method of rejecting the Budget. Is it not plain that if the country are passionately desirous of getting the Budget they will get it just as much after the recent vote of the Second Chamber as they would have done if the Second Chamber had passed it? Has not the Prime Minister himself told us that the very first thing ho will do—I do not remember what the phrase was—I think it was if he got the chance—that the very first thing he will do if he gets the chance is to reintroduce, without, I presume, the alteration of a comma, the Budget, as it was passed by this House? That is what he is going to do. Very well. If he comes back to enjoy a second triennial term of that jubilant confidence of which the First Commissioner of Works speaks, no doubt he will do it, and no doubt the Budget will pass—[Several HON MEMBERS: "Why?"]—of course. I can hardly believe there are any Gentlemen here who cannot give the answer themselves to the question which they put, but if there are any whose other avocations prevent them giving much atten- 569 tion to this point, I would suggest to them that, when the House of Lords say that before the Budget was passed into law it should be submitted to the judgment of the country, if that judgment is of a clear and explicit kind, and retains the right hon. Gentlemen opposite in power, of course the question is settled. That, in my opinion, is exactly what a Second Chamber is there for. It is there carrying on the very duty of which Mr. Bryce speaks, when he says that an assembly, if left unchecked, may become hasty and tyrannical in its action. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "And corrupt."] Well, we have not got to that point yet. [An HON. MEMBER: "Wait for Tariff Reform."]
If I am right in saying that that is the result of the action of the Second Chamber, it is not correct to confound the process of rejecting a Bill simpliciter with the process which the House of Lords pursued. The course which the House of Lords have pursued is one strictly in accordance with the whole theory of the Second Chamber as it is and as it ought to be understood in these modern days, and my personal belief is that the country takes my view in this matter. I do not believe they think that the House of Lords have gone beyond their duty. I do not believe they think that the House of Lords are putting their hereditary privileges between them and the satisfaction of their desires. I do not believe they are so stupid as to think that. The people who think that are those who never get beyond the ground of legal constitutional history, who never look at facts as they actually are in the concrete world in which we live, who are incapable of seeing that a reference of this kind of great and new financial principles to the country, so far from being an interference with the true growth and movement of democracy, is a security, and, in my opinion, the only security, that the growth of democracy will not be accompanied by that very kind of abuse by which Democracy itself ultimately suffers and perishes. I understand that you are going to try to persuade the people of this country that they are suffering some wrong, some terrible indignity, by having their opinion asked about the Budget. I have often watched those amiable and peaceable processions which on Saturdays and Sundays go to Hyde Park and other places of public resort in order to advance their particular views, carrying banners on which you will find the concentrated essence of the doctrines of the political party to which they happen to belong. 570 Shall we have a new banner for a new situation? I could easily compose one.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I do not know that I could frame one of equal brevity dealing with the existing situation, but I suppose the sort of banner of which I am thinking would consist of an appeal to the democracy——
§ Mr. BALFOUR
An appeal to the democracy in some such terms as these: "The Lords have insulted you by asking your opinion. Take care to give such a vote that your opinion will never be asked again." That is the policy of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Their policy, as I understand, is to get into power on what they call a great wave of popular feeling—how excited we need not too closely inquire. Having got in, they admit that they have only three years in which the strength of that wave may be regarded as unspent. In the fourth year let them introduce a controversial Budget; let them pass it on the ground that the British Constitution says that the House of Commons, and the House of Commons alone—[Several HON. MEMBERS: "You said it"]—may initiate money Bills; then, supposing another Chamber sees in this Bill, rghtly or wrongly, new principles of far-reaching consequence, on which the democracy has never been consulted, if it sees in them great changes and germs of changes greater still, of which the democracy know nothing, or of which they knew nothing when they returned that House of Commons; and if the second Chamber, in the exercise of its undoubted constitutional rights, says, "Here has arisen one of those rare cases in which the people, and the people alone, can decide whether they will go upon this new path or whether they will not," then we are to be told, forsooth, in the interests of democracy, in the interests of freedom, in the interests of liberty, in the interests of representative institutions, in all those great and sacred interests, "let us take care that the tyranny of no future House of Commons shall, under any circumstances, be interfered with, even by the most constitutional and most moderate action of the second Chamber." In pursuing this path I am sure you are not pursuing the path of true democracy. I do not believe you are pursuing the path of true popularity. But whether I be right or whether I be wrong in those two 571 statements, I shall never waver in the belief that in the exercise of its power—a power which, I grant, has been rarely exercised, but which has never been abandoned—the Second Chamber have shown a perfectly clear and sound instinct of what it is the duty of a Second Chamber to do; they have done it fearlessly, and I believe they will be supported by the country.
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON
I ask the indulgence of the House while I endeavour to put before it this unusual situation as it appeals to myself and my colleagues upon these benches. At the outset, let me say that we whole-heartedly give our support to the Resolution proposed by the Prime Minister, and we fully support it as a declaration condemnatory of the action of the House of Lords. In supporting this Resolution I want to put as clearly as I possibly can what is our actual position so far as the entire situation is concerned. It will be remembered that two years ago, when the Government produced their scheme for dealing with the House of Lords, I had the honour of submitting, on behalf of my colleagues, the following Amendment: "That the Upper House, being an unrepresentative 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." That was our position stated and voted upon three years ago. Has anything since taken place to induce us to modify that opinion? It appears to us that the Constitution and the history of the House of Lords, compelling us as it did on that occasion to take up this position, only require to be emphasised at the present moment. We then considered, and we consider now, that the continuance of a part of the Legislature constituted as that is is not only absurd, but logically indefensible.
What, then, can we say to the House of Lords in view of its latest position? Surely the grounds for taking the most drastic action are stronger to-day than they have ever been before? What is the real position that this House of Commons is confronted with? For six months—as the Prime Minister has very clearly pointed out—this House has been endeavouring to formulate a scheme of finance to meet the necessities of the present year. Rightly 572 or wrongly, a great majority of the Members of this House are of opinion that the Finance Bill, destroyed by another place, but represents the proposals which are adequate and fair for their purpose. Further, the Budget proposals in our judgment represent a scheme which, notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said, is acceptable to the great majority of the people of this country. As we have heard, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway dispute this position, and they support the House of Lords in, their attempt to force an election in order that this dispute may be settled. May I not very pertinently ask this question: Is it not possible that the House of Lords is likely to be wrong in taking up this position, in coming to the conclusion that the majority of the House of Commons do not represent in this matter the will of the people? Have we not, I say, the right to assume that they may be as far wrong on the present occasion as they were in 1902 and 1904?
I think it would not be difficult to substantiate the point that they are much more likely to be wrong now than they were on the two occasions which I have mentioned. For let us never forget—and this point has been very freely alluded to on the floor of the House during the last four years—the Government of 1900 was a single-issue Government. I think that is an important item to be kept in mind in the consideration of the present situation. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member of the City of London himself in 1900 stated, that was an exceptional election. It was practically a single-issue election. Yet, what did we find? Notwithstanding that very serious admission, the House of Lords assumed that the majority in the House of Commons, elected on the war issue, were right in saddling upon the rates, for the first time in the history of this country, the expenditure connected j with Church Schools. They assumed in 1904, when they upset the system that had operated in the issue of licences, and destroyed the discretionary power of the magistrates that had obtained for something like a century, that the majority in the House of Commons on those two occasions was right, and they supported them. But they were wrong in coming to that conclusion, as the unmistakable defeat, of that Government showed at the subsequent general election. I repeat the question: Is it not possible that they are as far wrong in assuming to-day that the majority of the House of Commons, in 573 regard to the finance proposals, do not represent the will of the people, as on the two occasions to which I have referred?
Again, I would like to ask what does the claim, which the House of Lords by its decision makes, really mean? It means, in our judgment, that the House of Lords, no longer content with a long and disgraceful record of obstruction, of mutilation and destruction in regard to legislation, through which they have politically defrauded the people of this country of many of the fruits of self-government; no longer content with this position, they have become emboldened to try their hands, as the Resolution before the House suggests, at the usurpation of the rights of this House in regard to questions of finance. In order to do so they have, in our judgment, subverted the principles and methods of the Constitution. Where, I should like to ask, does such a position as they have taken up lead us? It leads to a position absolutely foreign to all rights and powers of self-government. It establishes an uncontrolled force, antagonistic to democratic thought and tendency. It constitutes a power which might be used in the future to unmake this House, no matter how recently it might have been sent here by the electors of the country. It gives a power to the House of Lords to say who shall be taxed and how they shall be taxed. But, as the right hon. Gentleman has very fully emphasised, it is asked, "Why do you object to our action when we only desire to take the judgment of the people?" Sir, that is in my opinion one of the hollowest and most hypocritical subterfuges that has ever been associated with the political life of this country. This pretext in my opinion is altogether too flimsy and it really ought not to require exposure. Moreover, the pretext is supported by an amount of cant and humbug only equalled by the audacity of its authors. It is altogether too late in the day for the House of Lords to begin to profess a concern for the aspirations and wishes, or profess an anxiety to learn the mind, of the common people of this country! Had the history of the House of Lords never been written they might have fooled the people in this way. But I have no hesitation in saying that long ago they were weighed in the balance and found wanting. Nothing that they can now do can ever retrieve their unforgivable past. Whilst claiming to be the bulwark of the Constitution, they have shown themselves ready not merely to 574 strain the Constitution, but to break it. They are not merely prepared to aid and abet revolution; they are actually daring to precipitate it.
Many people in recent years have been afraid lest the demonstrations on Tower Hill and those great processions of the workless army on the Embankment might lead the people to revolt. No, the revolt is not coming from that direction. It is not the voices of the multitude of the unemployed into whose souls the irony of want and suffering has eaten that have initiated this revolution. It has come from the representatives of privilege and vested interests. This was the indictment that I had the honour to prefer two years ago: the indictment of the House of Lords blocking, ay, and even destroying, some of the most important measures that the democracy of the country were interested in. That indictment has been added to during the past two years, and this, the latest position of all, in our opinion but reaches the great climax. We on these benches are delighted to learn officially this afternoon that the Prime Minister and his colleagues, feeling that this position can no longer be tolerated, have determined at the earliest possible moment to test the question as an appeal to the people. In conclusion let me say: Thank heaven the jury on this occasion cannot be packed. I sincerely trust it will not permit itself to be either fooled or bribed. These conditions being forthcoming, the people will not merely declare the opinion expressed in the Resolution now before the House. I believe they are prepared to go further. I believe, to use the phrase that has been used more than once in this regard, the cup has been filled to overflowing. They are prepared, if they have the opportunity, not merely to condemn this usurpation of the rights of the Commons in regard to finance. They are prepared to condemn the menace: this constant menace to their liberties must go. My last word is that if we on these benches can lawfully assist in getting from the people an emphatic verdict, all the power that we possess will be used in that direction.
§ Mr. H. BOTTOMLEY
Reluctant as I am to interfere with the desire to bring this historic discussion to a close in a formal manner after the principal speakers, the official Spokesmen, of the three or four parties have spoken, I cannot help thinking that this is a situation in which the private Member is as vitally interested as is the occupant of either of 575 the Front Benches. We are on the eve of an admittedly very tremendous crisis. As usually happens when hostilities have commenced the original cause of the quarrel is soon forgotten. I ask myself whether, as soon as this crisis develops, we shall not in the country be really discussing, not the limited question of how far a particular action of the House of Lords at this moment is an insult to the dignity and prerogative of this House, but a particular compound question: First of all, whether this House should be the supreme authority in matters of finance; and, secondly, whether the legal right which admittedly now exists in the other House to reject financial measures should be put an end to, and, incidentally, whether the composition of that second House should not be so altered as to give it a greater hold upon the respect of the people than it possesses to-day. It is from that point of view, and with great respect, that I venture to submit to the House that this Resolution does no take the right shape. I do not think that the man in the street, whom we specially represent, will differentiate between legal right and constitutional right, and I cannot help feeling that when the responsible Minister of the Crown comes to the House and says there is a conflict between, the law of the country and the Constitution of the country that it is the duty of the responsible Government to remove that conflict. Therefore, I venture to submit that this Resolution should have taken some such form as this: "That in the opinion of this House the legal right at present subsisting in the House of Lords to reject money Bills should be abolished, and that the Constitution of the House of Lords should be so remodelled as to introduce into it something of the elective principle." The Prime Minister, in a speech which, if I may say so, electrified the House, made a deep impression upon every one of us who heard him, gave an historical review of the situation. He said that since 1628, owing to the action which was then taken—or, at least, I understood him to say so—that these words in money Bills which required the consent of the other House, had been deliberately omitted. I listened with interest to that declaration. I remember a few weeks ago I ventured to submit an Amendment to the Finance Bill to omit those words in the enacting Clause which in express terms asked, not only for the consent, but for the advice of the other House, and you, Mr. Speaker, ruled that, 576 as that was the immemorial practice, the omission could not be made. I do not know whether the Prime Minister, in the course of his busy life, overlooked the fact that what I call the preamble, and what lawyers call the enacting words of the Finance Bill, ask the Lords, not only for their consent, but for their advice in this matter. I venture to say that the time has come when, if the Constitution has established the fact that neither their advice nor consent be any longer exercised, these words should be omitted altogether from the enacting portions of this Bill. It is like as if you were to say his Satanic majesty that he must not use his pitchfork, but he may still keep it in his possession.
I think the man in the street will ask what it is he is to vote about. The mere fact that the dignity of the House of Commons has been outraged is relatively a small matter. The Prime Minister said something about political cant—a phrase which was cheered very heartily upon this side of the House. I do not think any party in this House should talk too glibly about that. The present Government has a majority of over 300 by the accident of the polls; the Liberal party polled about 200,000 more votes than the party opposite, so that if there was proportionate representation their normal and natural majority would be something like 34. Therefore let us not talk too much about political cant. The man in the street will want to know what he is fighting for. He will be told by hon. Gentlemen opposite there is no question about it but that the House of Lords has a legal right to reject this Bill, and we say by constitutional practice that right ought not to be exercised. I think the man in the street will say if they ought not to have the legal right then it ought to be taken away from them by statute, and that these words ought to be taken out of the Finance Bill assuming them to have that right. But what I rose for was simply to say that, looking at the matter from the commonsense point of view, as a plain man of business, I think the issue would be more clearly cut if we went to the country with a definite Resolution, which would ask for amendment and would say that in a country governed by popular election as we are, this Assembly, as the elective Assembly, should be supreme in finance, and that the legal power now admittedly residing in the Lords to reject the Finance Bill should be taken away from them, and 577 that that House should be so constituted as to give its revising powers respect and esteem in the minds of the people of this country. That being my view, I regret the Resolution is not more wide. As far as I am concerned, if the Lords put their hands upon one or two spots in this Bill and said "These are not finance; this is bad," I should have supported them. The Prime Minister said there was not one of the Clauses in this Bill that had not reference to the raising of money. He was there throwing over one of his colleagues, who said that one of the main objects of the Bill was the promotion of temperance. That was not finance. If the Lords had said, "We advise you to leave out this particular clause or that particular clause," I would have supported them in that action,
§ but as they had taken upon themselves the responsibility of rejecting en bloc the finance proposals of the Government, I shall, of course, go into the Lobby and vote for this Resolution, although regretting at the same time that it does not cover a much wider question as to the action of the House of Lords in refusing to pass into law the financial proposals of the Government.
§ Question put, "That the action of the House of Lords in refusing to pass into law the financial provision made by this House for the service of the year is a breach of the Constitution and a usurpation of the rights of the Commons."
§ The House divided: 134. Ayes, 349; Noes, 134.581
|Division No. 920.]||AYES.||[5.25 p.m.|
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Cawley, Sir Frederick||Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford|
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Chance, Frederick William||Gooch, George Peabody (Bath)|
|Adkins, W. Ryland D.||Channing, Sir Francis Allston||Greenwood, G. (Peterborough)|
|Agar-Robartes, Hon. T. C. R.||Chectham, John Frederick||Greenwood, Hamar (York)|
|Agnew, George William||Clough, William||Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)||Griffith, Ellis J.|
|Alden, Percy||Collins, Sir Wm. J. (St. Pancras, W.)||Grove, Archibald|
|Allen, A. Acland (Chrischurch)||Compton-Rickett, Sir J.||Guest, Hon. Ivor Churchill|
|Allen, Charles P. (Stroud)||Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Gulland, John W.|
|Armitage, R.||Corbett, C. H. (Sussex, E. Grinstead)||Haldane, Rt. Hon. Richard B.|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Hall, Frederick|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry||Cory, Sir Clifford John||Hancock, J. G.|
|Astbury, John Meir||Cowan, W. H.||Harcourt. Rt. Hon. L. (Rossendale)|
|Atherley-Jones, L.||Cox, Harold||Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil)|
|Baker, Joseph A.||Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Hardy, George A. (Suffolk)|
|Balfour, Robert (Lanark)||Crosfield, A. H.||Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Worcester)|
|Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight)||Cross, Alexander||Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)|
|Barker, Sir John||Crossley, Sir W. J.||Hart-Davies, T.|
|Barlow, Sir John E. (Somerset)||Curran, Peter Francis||Harvey, A. G. C (Rochdale)|
|Barlow, Percy (Bedford)||Dalziel, Sir James Henry||Harvey, W. E. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Barnard, E. B.||Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)||Haslam, James (Derbyshire)|
|Barran, Rowland Hirst||Davies, Ellis William (Eifion)||Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)|
|Barran, Sir John Nicholson||Davies, M. Vaughan (Cardigan)||Haworth, Arthur A.|
|Beale, W. P.||Davies, Timothy (Fulham)||Hazel, Dr. A. E. W.|
|Beaumont, Hon. Hubert||Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Hedges, A. Paget|
|Beck, A. Cecil||Dewar, Sir J. A. (Inverness-sh.)||Helme, Norval Watson|
|Bell, Richard||Dickinson, W. H (St. Pancras, N.)||Hemmerde, Edward George|
|Belloc, Hilaire Joseph Peter R.||Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)|
|Benn, Sir J. Williams (Devonport)||Dobson, Thomas W.||Henderson, J. McD. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Benn, W. (Tower Hamlets, St. Geo.)||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Henry, Charles S.|
|Bennett, E. N.||Duncan, J. Hastings (York, Otley)||Herbert, Col. Sir Ivor (Mon. S.)|
|Berridge, T. H. D.||Dunn, A. Edward (Camborne)||Herbert, T. Arnold (Wycombe)|
|Bethell, Sir J. H. (Essex, Romford)||Dunne, Major E. Martin (Walsall)||Higham, John Sharp|
|Bethell, T. R. (Essex, Maldon)||Elibank, Master of||Hobart, Sir Robert|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Ellis, Rt. Hon. John Edward||Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H.|
|Bottomley, Horatio||Erskine, David C.||Hodge, John|
|Boulton, A. C. F.||Essex, R. W.||Holland, Sir William Henry|
|Bowerman, C. W.||Esslemont, George Birnie||Holt, Richard Durning|
|Brace, William.||Evans, Sir S. T.||Hooper, A. G.|
|Branch, James||Everett, R. Lacey||Hope, John Deans (Fife, West)|
|Brigg, Sir John||Faber, G. H. (Boston)||Hope, W. H. B. (Somerset, N.)|
|Bright, J. A.||Falconer, J.||Horniman, Emslie John|
|Brocklehurst, W. B.||Fenwick, Charles||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey|
|Brooke, Stopford||Ferens, T. R.||Hudson, Walter|
|Brunner, J. F. L. (Lancs., Leigh)||Fiennes, Hon. Eustace||Hutton, Alfred Eddison|
|Brunner, Rt. Hon. Sir J. T. (Cheshire)||Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Hyde, Clarendon G.|
|Buckmaster, Stanley O.||Freeman-Thomas, Freeman||Idris, T. H. W.|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Fuller, John Michael F.||Illingworth, Percy H.|
|Burnyeat, W. J. D.||Fullerton, Hugh||Jackson, R. S.|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Furness, Sir Christopher||Jardine, Sir J.|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Sydney Charles||Gibson, J. B.||Jenkins, J.|
|Byles, William Pollard||Gladstone, Rt. Hon. Herbert John||Johnson, John (Gateshead)|
|Cameron, Robert||Glen-Coats, Sir T. (Renfrew, W.)||Johnson, W. (Nuneaton)|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Glendinning, R. G.||Jones, Sir D. Brynmor (Swansea)|
|Causton, Rt. Hon. Richard Knight||Glover, Thomas||Jones, Leif (Appleby)|
|Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)||Nussey, Sir Willans||Stanger, H. Y.|
|Jowett, F. W.||Nuttall, Harry||Stanley, Albert (Staffs, N.W.)|
|Kearley, Rt. Hon. Sir Hudson||O'Donnell, C. J. (Walworth)||Stanley, Hon. A. Lyulph (Cheshire)|
|Kekewich, Sir George||O'Grady, J.||Steadman, W. C.|
|Kelley, George D.||Parker, James (Halifax)||Stewart, Halley (Greenock)|
|King, Alfred John (Knutsford)||Paul, Herbert||Stewart-Smith, D. (Kendal)|
|Laidlaw, Sir Robert||Paulton, James Mellor||Strachey, Sir Edward|
|Lamb, Edmund G. (Leominster)||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)||Straus, B. S. (Mile End)|
|Lamb, Ernest H. (Rochester)||Pearce, William (Limehouse)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Sunderland)|
|Lambert, George||Pearson, W. H. M. (Suffolk, Eye)||Summerbell, T.|
|Lamont, Norman||Philipps, Col. Ivor (Southampton)||Sutherland, J. E.|
|Layland-Barratt, Sir Francis||Philipps, Owen C. (Pembroke)||Taylor, Austin (East Toxteth)|
|Lea, Hugh Cecil (St. Pancras, E.)||Pickersgill, Edward Hare||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Leese, Sir Joseph F. (Accrington)||Pirie, Duncan V.||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Lehmann, R. C.||Pollard, Sir George||Tennant, Sir Edward (Salisbury)|
|Lever, A. Levy (Essex, Harwich)||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||Tennant, H. J. (Berwickshire)|
|Lever, W. H. (Cheshire, Wirral)||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)||Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.)|
|Levy, Sir Maurice||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)||Thomas, Sir A. (Glamorgan, E.)|
|Lewis, John Herbert||Priestley, Arthur (Grantham)||Thomasson, Franklin|
|Lloyd-George, Rt. Hon. David||Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Radford, G. H.||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|Lupton, Arnold||Rainy, A. Rolland||Tomkinson, Rt. Hon. James|
|Luttrell, Hugh Fownes||Raphael, Herbert H.||Toulmin, George|
|Lyell, Charles Henry||Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (Gloucester)||Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander|
|Lynch, H. B.||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)||Verney, F. W.|
|Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)||Rees, J. D.||Villiers, Ernest Amherst|
|Mackarness, Frederic C.||Rendall, Atheistan||Vivian, Henry|
|Maclean, Donald||Richards, Thomas W. (Monmouth)||Wadsworth, J.|
|Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.||Richards, T. F. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Walker, H. De R. (Leicester)|
|Macpherson, J. T.||Richardson, A.||Walsh, Stephen|
|M'Callum, John M.||Ridsdale, E. A.||Walters, John Tudor|
|McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)||Walton, Joseph|
|M'Laren, H. D. (Stafford, W.)||Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)||Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|M'Micking, Major G.||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Maddison, Frederick||Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Mallet, Charles E.||Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Manfield, Harry (Northants)||Robinson, S.||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Mansfield, H. Rendall (Lincoln)||Robson, Sir William Snowdon||Waterlow, D. S.|
|Markham, Arthur Basil||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)||Watt, Henry A.|
|Marks. G. Croydon (Launceston)||Roe, Sir Thomas||Wedgwood, Josiah C.|
|Marnham, F. J.||Rogers, F. E. Newman||White, Sir George (Norfolk)|
|Mason, A. E. W. (Coventry)||Rose, Sir Charles Day||White, J. Dundas (Dumbartonshire)|
|Massie, J.||Rowlands, J.||White, Sir Luke (York, E.R.)|
|Masterman, C. F. G.||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Whitehead, Rowland|
|Menzies, Sir Walter||Russell, Rt. Hon. T. W.||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Micklem, Nathaniel||Rutherford, V. H. (Brentford)||Wiles, Thomas|
|Middlebrook, William||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Molteno, Percy Alport||Schwann, C. Duncan (Hyde)||Williams, W. Llewelyn (Carmarthen)|
|Money, L. G. Chiozza||Schwann, Sir C. E. (Manchester)||Williams, Sir Osmond (Merioneth)|
|Montagu, Hon. E. S.||Scott, A. H. (Ashton-under-Lyne)||Williamson, Sir A.|
|Morgan, G. Hay (Cornwall)||Sears, J. E.||Wilson, Hon. G. G. (Hull, W.)|
|Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)||Seaverns, J. H.||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.)|
|Morrell, Philip||Seely, Rt. Hon. Colonel||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)|
|Morse, L. L.||Shackleton, David James||Wilson, J. W. (Worcestershire, N.)|
|Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Shaw, Sir Charles E.||Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)|
|Murray, Capt. Hon. A. C. (Kincard.)||Sherwell, Arthur James||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Murray, James (Aberdeen, E.)||Shipman, Dr. John G.||Winfrey, R.|
|Myer, Horatio||Silcock, Thomas Ball||Wood, T. M'Kinnon|
|Napier, T. B.||Sloan, Thomas Henry||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Newnes, F. (Notts, Bassetlaw)||Snowden, P.|
|Newnes, Sir George (Swansea)||Soames, Arthur Wellesley||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Joseph Pease and Captain Norton.|
|Nicholls, George||Soares, Ernest J.|
|Norman, Sir Henry|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Carliie, E. Hildred||Dickson, Rt. Hon. C. Scott|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major||Castlereagh, Viscount||Doughty, Sir George|
|Balcarres, Lord||Cave, George||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Du Cros, Arthur|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (City Lond.)||Cecil, Lord John P. Joicey-||Dumphreys, John|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Cecil, Lord R. (Marylebone, E.)||Duncan, Robert (Lanark, Govan)|
|Banner, John S. Harmood-||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Worc'r.)||Faber, George Denison (York)|
|Baring, Capt. Hon. G. (Winchester)||Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Faber, Capt. W. V. (Hants, W.)|
|Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N.)||Clark, George Smith||Fardell, Sir T. George|
|Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks||Clive, Percy Archer||Fell, Arthur|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Clyde, J. Avon||Fletcher, J. S.|
|Bellairs, Carlyon||Cochrane, Hon. Thomas H. A. E.||Forster, Henry William|
|Bignold, Sir Arthur||Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Foster, P. S.|
|Bowles, G. Stewart||Courthope, G. Loyd||Gardner. Ernest|
|Bridgeman, W. Clive||Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.)||Gibbs, G. A. (Bristol, West)|
|Brotherton, Edward Allen||Craig, Captain James (Down, E.)||Gooch, Henry Cubitt (Peckham)|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||Craik, Sir Henry||Gordon, J.|
|Butcher, Samuel Henry||Dairymple, Viscount||Goulding, Edward Alfred|
|Gretton, John||MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh||Salter, Arthur Clavell|
|Guinness, Hon. R. (Haggerston)||M'Arthur, Charles||Sandys, Col. Thos. Myles|
|Guinness, Hon. W. E. (B. S. Edmunds)||M'Calmont, Colonel James||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)|
|Hamilton, Marquess of||Magnus, Sir Philip||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley George D.|
|Hardy, Laurence (Kent, Ashford)||Mason, James F. (Windsor)||Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, E.)|
|Harris, Frederick Leverton||Meysey-Thompson, E. C.||Smith, F. E. (Liverpool, Walton)|
|Harrison-Broadley, H. B.||Middlemore, John Throgmorton||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)|
|Hay, Hon. Claude George||Mildmay, Francis Bingham||Stanley, Hon. Arthur (Ormskirk)|
|Heaton, John Henniker||Morrison-Bell, Captain||Starkey, John R.|
|Hermon-Hodge, Sir Robert||Newdegate, F. A.||Staveley-Hill, Henry (Staffordshire)|
|Hill, Sir Clement||Nicholson, Wm. G. (Petersfield)||Stone, Sir Benjamin|
|Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Nield, Herbert||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Hunt, Rowland||Oddy, John James||Talbot, Rt. Hon. J. G. (Oxford Univ.)|
|Joynson-Hicks, William||Parker, Sir Gilbert (Gravesend)||Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Lanark)|
|Kennaway, Rt. Hon. Sir John H.||Parkes, Ebenezer||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Kerry, Earl of||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)||Tuke, Sir John Batty|
|Keswick, William||Peel, Hon. W. R. W.||Walker, Col. W. H. (Lancashire)|
|Kimber, Sir Henry||Percy, Earl||Walrond, Hon. Lionel|
|King, Sir Henry Seymour (Hull)||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp||Warde, Col. C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|Lambton, Hon. Frederick William||Pretyman, E. G.||Williams, Col. R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Lane-Fox, G. R.||Randles, Sir John Scurrah||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Lee, Arthur H. (Hants, Fareham)||Remnant, James Farquharson||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Col. A. R.||Renwick, George||Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George|
|Long, Col. Charles W. (Evesham)||Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)||Younger, George|
|Long, Rt. Hon. Walter (Dublin, S.)||Ronaldshay, Earl of|
|Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Ropner, Colonel Sir Robert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Sir A. Acland-Hood and Viscount Valentia.|
|Lowe, Sir Francis William||Rutherford, John (Lancashire)|
|Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. Alfred||Rutherford, Watson (Liverpool)|
§ ADJOURNMENT.—Resolved: "That this House do now adjourn till to-morrow, at Two of the clock."—[Mr. Joseph Pease.]
§ Adjourned accordingly at Thirty-five minutes after Five o'clock until to-morrow (Friday) at Two p.m.