§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. EMMOTT in the Chair.]
§ (IN THE COMMITTEE.)
§ The PRIME MINISTER
moved: "2. That it is expedient that the powers of the House of Lords, as respects Bills other than Money Bills, be restricted by Law, so that any such Bill which has passed the House of Commons in three successive Sessions and, having been sent up to the House of Lords at least one month before the end of the Session, has been rejected by that House in each of those Sessions, shall become Law without the consent of the House of Lords on the Royal Assent being declared: Provided that at least two years shall have elapsed between the date of the first introduction of the Bill in the House of Commons and the date on which it passes the House of Commons for the third time.For the purposes of this Resolution a Bill shall be treated as rejected by the House of Lords if it has not been passed by the House of Lords either without Amendment or with such Amendments only as may be agreed upon by both Houses.Less than a fortnight ago, on the question that we should resolve ourselves into Committee, I addressed the House at considerable length on the subject of this Resolution. I do not propose upon the present occasion, now we are in Committee, to make more than two or three very brief supplementary observations. The object of this Resolution, as I then explained, is to provide the machinery, simple machinery, for avoiding what our experience has shown to be a serious, and when a Liberal Government is in power I may almost say a chronic, Parliamentary evil—I mean a deadlock between the two Houses. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in following me upon that occasion, disputed the existence of the evil. He seemed to think these deadlocks of which I spoke were either the offspring of Radical imagination or the creatures of Radical perversity and wrong-headedness. That they are not the offspring of Radical imagination, perversity or wrongheaded-ness is sufficiently obvious to those of us who were Members of last Parliament. It 896 is quite true that we have no experience of Parliamentary deadlocks between the two Chambers in long stretches of our political history. I cannot recall such an instance during the ten years I sat in this House between 1890 and 1900. During that halcyon time people at home began to forget that there was such a thing as the House of Lords. To realise the urgency of the problem of the deadlock one has only to turn to the comparatively insignificant part which the functions and position of the House of Lords played in political controversy during the General Election of 1906, and the paramount, I might say the predominant part, which they played in the General Election of 1910. It was the experience of four years, and I do not think I exaggerated when I described it a moment ago as a continually chronic state for which a majority of this House, and we believe the majority of the people of this country, call for some effectual remedy. That is the first question we deal with in our domestic policy. What is the object of that policy? It is to secure that which I believe, theoretically and ostensibly, politicians of all parties and in all quarters of this House have every desire to secure, that which is the primary purpose of democratic Government, namely, the will and opinion of the majority of the people for the time being shall both in policy and in legislation prevail. That is what we believe in, and the machinery here suggested, although I do not for a moment hold it out as offering a final or adequate solution of the problem, but the machinery here suggested is at any rate an effectual palliative of the evils under which we have recently suffered. It brings about the desired object, or tends to bring it about, with the minimum of friction and change, and it is recommended for the consideration of the Committee. What will be the state of things supposing statutory effect is given to the Resolution which has just been read from the Chair? How will it affect the absolute Veto which the House of Lords now possesses in legislation? That Veto will remain untouched except as to measures in regard to which the presumption is overwhelmingly strong that the decision of the House of Commons expresses the opinion of the people.
I quite agree, and I acknowledged when I was speaking a fortnight ago in the Motion to go into Committee, that there are conceivable and, indeed, actual cases in which the decision of the House of 897 Commons does not necessarily, and, perhaps, does not even presumptively, express that opinion. You might have a case, a conceivable case, of what is called a scratch majority combined together under the coercion of party exigencies for a particular and transient purpose. You might, again, have a conceivable case, and I am not sure it has not occurred in our own time, of a crumbling and decaying majority which has lost all popular favour—[EARL WINTEETON: "Hear, hear"] —I see the Noble Lord's memory, and that of his friends, goes back to the year 1904—a crumbling and decaying majority, which has lost all touch with popular feeling, popular opinion, and popular will, and which seeks to take advantage of its waning powers for party interests in the last Session of an effete or moribund Parliament. These are conceivable cases. They are cases one of which, at any rate, has been exemplified in the very recent experience of many of us who sit here. I agree that the Second Chamber, even such a Second Chamber as the House of Lords now is, has its use, and ought to be allowed to exercise its powers to meet and prevent such an abuse of constitutional forms. It will be able to do so under our scheme. What is the effect of that scheme? You have a Parliament substantially curtailed and shortened in its duration—a Parliament the effective life of which, according to previous precedent, will not exceed four years—you have that shortened Parliament divided into two periods of legislative or potential legislative activity. In the first period—its first two years—in order that a measure passed by the House of Commons may overcome the Veto of the House of Lords and become part of the law of the land, it has to be passed in three Sessions; there must be an interval of two years between its first introduction and its final passage into law, and those two years will be preceded by a General Election, which, unless our popular democratic machinery is a mere cipher and sham, gives an enormous presumption that the Members of the House of Commons, fresh from contact with the constituencies, really represent their opinion and their will. What is the second period into which I have divided Parliamentary life in the new House of Commons under the shortened Parliamentary system. There, again, a Bill only passes into law as against and above the Veto of the House of Lords in three Sessions. The first two Sessions will be the Sessions of the expiring Parliament, and, before 898 the third Session arises, in which the final step has to be taken, there will be a fresh appeal to the people, and therefore the judgment of the new House of Commons may be fairly taken again as representing the opinion of the people.
I pass from the region of speculation, conjecture, and imagination into the more prosaic assumption of probability. What possible risk is there, under these conditions, of the House of Commons really distorting and perverting popular opinion? We are as anxious on this side of the House as are hon. Gentlemen opposite not to erect an independent power in the State which will be able to override and misrepresent the will of the people, and, under such conditions as are provided for in this Resolution, we believe that contingency to be very remote and so unthinkable that practically it is a negligable possibility. Again, let me point out 6hat the legislative measure which is to have advantage in the new Parliament must be the same Bill. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made some criticism the other day upon this question of identity. He asked what did we mean by the same Bill. As the last paragraph of the Resolution says, if Amendments have been made by the House of Lords in a Bill in the first Session when it went up there and when the Bill is reintroduced here, and these Amendments are accepted as an integral part of it, everybody will agree that, to all intents and purposes, that is the same Bill. There is no doubt about that.
I am disposed to think further that in the actual working of this system — I am referring to a statement made by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman when he brought in this Resolution three years ago—we might possibly find ourselves able when we are working the machinery of this Bill, to incorporate in some form or another a provision to the effect that, although Amendments are not actually agreed to by the House of Lords, yet, as the result of a conference between the two Houses—a conference held in conformity with Standing Orders or Rules which each House would be at liberty for itself to adopt—an agreement might be arrived at that in certain particulars the Bill should be introduced in a reamended form; but it might also, for this purpose, be treated as the same Bill. The right hon. Gentleman says that by requiring absolute identity in the Bill introduced for a second time and the Bill introduced in the previous Session, we 899 should be offering a premium to the Government of the day not to insert in its measure, after reflection and consideration, changes, Amendments, and improvements which possibly its own supporters, and certainly public opinion in the country, might desire. That I admit is the only really relevant or cogent criticism which has been addressed to this proposal. I admit that that might happen. On the other hand I am quite certain that the Government which was acting under this remodelled procedure for which this Resolution provides would have the strongest possible inducement to make its Bill in its original form as perfect as it possibly could. A good deal of the haste and precipitation now incident to legislation when it is first brought before the House of Commons would be avoided if the persons responsible for putting that legislation forward were conscious that, unless it was in a form in which it could be presented again twelve months afterwards it could not take advantage of the quickened procedure. Quite apart from that, I really cannot bring myself to think that a Government conscious of its responsibilities and responsive to public opinion would not, in the case suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, be prepared, if it was satisfied that the Bill originally introduced required much or substantial amendment to introduce it as a new Bill. In that case it would only lose one Session and the Government would still be able to pass it in the third Session and take advantage of the way of escape which this machinery provides from the absolute Veto of a hostile House of Lords.
We are told, and told with truth, that the machinery we are here proposing is without precedent. So it is. But where else would you find a Second Chamber like the House of Lords? I noticed the other day what seemed to me a very instructive incident in the proceedings of the French Legislature. There was a conflict at the last moment with regard to some provisions in the Budget between the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The Chamber of Deputies were asserting their right to resist any Amendments originating in the Senate which imposed new taxes. The Senate defended their constitutional powers to make such amendments, though they ultimately gave way. I observed that in the course of the debate somebody in the Senate said, "You are treating us as though we were the House of Lords." M. Rouvier, a French statesman who has been 900 Prime Minister as well as Minister of Finance, who was defending the prerogative of the Senate, said: "We, like the Chamber of Deputies, are elected by universal suffrage." Ours is a plan which has reference to evils which we actually suffer, and to a Second Chamber which actually exists. As I said a fortnight ago in introducing this Resolution there is considerable democratic authority and precedent for another mode of getting rid of deadlock between the two Houses of the Legislature, the method of the joint Session, which has been introduced in the Australian and South African Constitutions. As I said, speaking on the proposal of the hon. Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave), I am far from wishing that by anything we pass into law to-day we should prejudge that method of solution if and when we have a different Second Chamber to deal with. The Government have declared throughout that it is their view that the continued existence of the House of Lords as a Second Chamber on its present basis is an anachronism and an impossibility. It is an integral part of their policy—a policy which cannot be attained at a single step—to get rid of that anachronism. I said on 28th February:—These proposals with regard to the Veto, we are putting forward without prejudice, and in contemplation of changes in the constitution, structure and functions of that body.I said again, on 29th March:—I do not put forward the Resolutions and this one in particular, as a final or adequate solution of the problem with which we have to deal. That problem would still remain a problem calling for complete settlement, and in our opinion that settlement does not brook delay.The Resolutions, and this one in particular, deal with things as they are. We regard them as the first, most urgent, most necessary step if we are to emancipate the House of Commons from the thraldom—for it is no less—of the House of Lords. The Bill founded on these Resolutions—though we shall propose, in conformity with the declaration I have just read, and with other declarations made by my colleagues, to introduce words in the Preamble which will clearly indicate the need for change in the constitution of the House of Lords as a Second House, would, of course and of necessity in its operative clauses not travel any way beyond the Resolutions to which we are now asking the Committee to assent. But, as I said, if I may quote myself again:—We must take the House of Lords as it is. We must take the working of our Constitutional system as we experience it, day by day, year by year, Session by Session, Parliament by Parliament.901 It would take you a very long time, however excellent may be your intentions, and however great the degree of unanimity as to the direction of the change to set up a Second Chamber in substitution for the present. I do not think myself the task is insuperable. I think it is urgent. I believe in the necessity of a Second Chamber. I do not believe that even the limited power which this Resolution would continue to entrust to the House of Lords could be fittingly and efficiently exercised by a body constituted like that House. But we are confronted with urgent, practical necessities, and it is to get rid of a practical difficulty by a thoroughly practical means of escape that we offer this Resolution to the approval of the Committee.
§ Mr. WALTER LONG
I very much doubt whether anybody, whatever his political views may be, or however enthusiastic he may be on behalf of a reformed procedure, could listen to the grave and weighty speech of the Prime Minister without being struck by the strange sense of unreality in our proceedings, which has before been referred to both inside and outside this House. The Prime Minister, for instance, said there were circumstances under which the reforms to which we are asked to give our assent to-day would have a particular operation, and talked of a particular phase of Parliament when there was a crumbling majority; and when he concluded his speech by declaring himself as being in favour of a Second Chamber and his colleagues also, was anyone in this House ignorant of the fact that many of those who constitute the majority which is going to justify the proposals which the Government is making are not only not in favour of a Second "Chamber, but openly advocate its destruction and the creation of a single Chamber? They, while supporting the Government at this time, frankly say, "We want to abolish the Second Chamber. We do not care what comes after, but we wish to abolish it in order that we can get our way." Yet this is a majority which is not to be described as a crumbling or vanishing majority, but as one justifying the Government in making the most revolutionary change in the Constitution of this country which has ever been proposed. I think we have some title to complain of in the way in which the position of the Government, in many instances, changes from time to time. Certainly I do not think anybody on this side of the House who has followed this controversy up to 902 the present realised that there was a variation in the operation of this Resolution, if adopted, to so alter a Bill which became a matter of difference between the two Houses that it will be possible to agree upon changes to the Bill.
That, I think I am right in saying, is a new announcement, and one which has not been made before, involving a new plan; and I respectfully submit to the Prime Minister whether he and his colleagues have considered how a scheme of that kind would work. We are not regarding only a conflict between the two Houses and between the Leaders of the two Houses, and it is quite possible that some such arrangement could be arrived at as between them; but nobody knows better than the Prime Minister that by doing that he is going to ignore the private Member element in the House if an attempt is at once made to get the Bill through all its stages. The private Members, however, are entitled to have an opportunity of expressing their views and getting changes made, and, therefore, if the Bill is capable of amendment so that it shall be materially altered from its original form, you are, I venture to submit, prolonging the discussion on the second stage, and this does away with a great deal of the advantage gained by your first procedure. If, on the other hand, the second suggestion made by the Prime Minister be adopted, that you are to recognise that the changes are too great to make in the one Session, and the Bill is dropped that Session, a great portion of the time that you think you are gaining by this great change is lost, and the Resolution becomes not only dangerous, as we regard it as being at present, but also very unworkable.
The Prime Minister said very little to-day—he told us he had said most of that on the previous occasion—about the justification for this Resolution. He made a passing reference to the elections of 1906 and 1910, and he said that in the election of 1906 the House of Lords played no part, while in the election of 1910 they played a prominent part. But surely that was an announcement hardly worthy of the Prime Minister. Is it to be wondered at that there has come a change? Has he forgotten the Resolution of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, which declared war upon the House of Lords, and, therefore, is it a matter for astonishment that after this Resolution the position of the House of Lords in the election should be very different from that which it occupied in 1906? The Prime Minister made a statement, 903 which struck me as being rather ominous, that in the Bill which we hear a good deal of, but of which I predict that we shall see very little in this House, the reform of the constitution of the House of Lords was to be inserted in the preamble. I suppose that insertion will have attached to it about as much importance as there is to another phase we frequently hear of, that "the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament" is to be secured whenever the time comes for passing a Home Rule measure. I respectfully ask the Committee what it is that they really want and how are they trying to do it? We have been reminded of the circumstances which led to the election, and we have been told that there is a strong desire throughout the country for some reform. So far as we are able to ascertain what public opinion is—I do not say there are not those who are in favour of the abolition of the House of Lords, but I believe the bulk of those who in this country favour some reform of the House of Lords do it on the ground which the Prime Minister referred to when he was talking of the French Debate the other day. They have told Members of Parliament and candidates at public meetings that the authority of the House of Lords ought not to be respected because it is not an elected Chamber.
Has anything been done in these Resolutions to bring about that reform? Is there any attempt on the part of the Government to deal with that very thing which the people, so far as they have asked for anything in this respect, have asked for? And, on the other hand, are you not doing that which only a very small section of the people have asked for, most of those being people who desire the abolition of the Second Chamber, namely, paralysing and rendering impotent the Second Chamber before you proceed to reform it? Never was there a clearer case of putting the cart before the horse than in this instance, and never was there a case when it was more incumbent upon the Government, if they mean to deal with a grave question, to have dealt first of all with the constitution of the Chamber, and then with the powers which they propose to entrust to that Chamber. In my opinion, not only are the Government failing in this case to carry out the recognised real desire of the people, but the time they have selected to.recommend this reform to Parliament 904 is surely the most extraordinary moment that could have been selected. The Prime Minister talked of a crumbling majority and of the action of the House of Lords in regard to the Liberal party. He talked of the action of the House of Lords when a Liberal Government was in office. To what was he referring? I presume to the various Bills with which the House of Lords interfered during the late Parliament, the Budget, of course, the Education Bill, and the Licensing Bill. I am not selecting these three because they are specially favourable to my case, and hon. Gentlemen can throw in any more that they like. What has been the practical result of the last election as regards this House? We learn from day to day from the newspapers the various negotiations which are passing or are alleged to be passing to make the passage of the Budget a possibility. There is not a man in the House who is ignorant of the fact that the Government could not reintroduce into this new House the Education Bill that they attacked the House of Lords for rejecting. Could they reintroduce into the House the Licensing Bill about which they made so much clamour when the House of Lords rejected it?
§ Mr. WALTER LONG
All I can say is that if the Government really believe they could induce Parliament to carry legislation to which they attach so much importance as they attach to the Licensing Bill all the information which reaches me, all the information that is open to the ordinary individual, points in a very different direction. But at all events that is only one of the things. I say with every confidence that this points to the fact that the time the Government have selected for the introduction of this Resolution is one when the House of Lords has acted in a particular way, and when the result of an appeal to the country has been to show that the measures upon which the Lords so acted have not had the approval of the electors. What, therefore, is it that you are finding fault with the House of Lords for? What is it that you are seeking to effect by the Resolution? You are finding fault with the House of Lords, not because-they have acted contrary to the will of the people, but because thy have acted contrary to the will and the desires of the Liberal party, because you cannot get your way, and not because the will of the 905 people is not to be obeyed. Surely this controversy about the two Chambers has not arisen for the first time. We have heard of it at different times for many a year past. Surely there never was a moment so inopportune as this to reopen the controversy. The Government are endeavouring to punish the House of Lords because they thwarted the will of the Government and interfered with the plans of the majority of the Liberal party. The Prime Minister told us how he believed his scheme would work. I have had very considerable experience in this House, of which I have been a Member for thirty years, and whose proceedings I have watched very closely. I ask the Committee to follow me, and I will present what I believe is no imaginary picture. I believe it is what will happen in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred if a Resolution of this kind is adopted. I do not select these measures because they are specially favourable to my case; I do not care what measure is taken so long as the circumstances connected with its production and carriage are suitable for comparison. I will take the Bill which is most often referred to, the Home Rule Bill of 1893, which passed through this House and was rejected by the House of Lords. This is a case which would be covered by this Resolution, or the Resolution would be worthless. It was a Bill which sought to give a form of self-government to Ireland, and in regard to some very important provisions in it there was a very marked difference of opinion in many quarters among those who were supporters of the general principles of the Bill. The Bill was rejected by the House of Lords in 1893. Under this Resolution it would have been passed again in the House of Commons in 1894. The Prime Minister's plan under which differences over the Bill might be adjusted between" the two Houses would be absolutely worthless in regard to a measure like the Home Rule Bill, because the differences between the two parties were too acute and far too much matters of principle to make agreement possible. Therefore you would have passed the same Bill again in 1894.
You then come to the crucial Session of 1895, when the Bill is passed into law, of course under closure^ Resolutions and without discussion. If you are going to have prolonged Debate in these subsequent years, the whole value of your Resolution as a means of getting through business disappears. In 1895 the Govern- 906 ment went to the country, were defeated, and had against them a majority of over 100, and for several years afterwards they had but little chance of returning to office. If your Resolution is not meant to apply to important questions of this kind, to what is it meant to apply? I am not now dealing with imaginary suggestions. Surely this is a relevant fact. If similar circumstances arise, so far as we can judge by a precedent in the history of recent times, and if your Resolution were in force, would not the result of it be not to give effect to the will of the people, but to ratify and make statutory what the Government of the day and the party in office desire, and what the people when they were given the opportunity of considering would resent and reject?
Let me take a measure of a different kind, namely, the Workmen's Compensation Act. The Committee will remember the circumstances of the Bill of 1894, called the Employers Liability Bill. That Bill was passed through this House, and was dealt with in this way. The House of Lords introduced an Amendment which somewhat extended the measure by admitting the principle of contracting out. The Bill was sent back to this House, and the Government of the day thought the Amendment so restrictive that they preferred to lose the Bill altogether rather than agree to that Amendment. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] Yes, but what was the subsequent history of the Bill? In 1906, when the present Government were in office, an Act of Parliament was passed, and in that, subject to certain provisions and limitations—[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] I am dealing with the facts, and hon. Members who disagree with me can dispose of my argument when they come to reply. I am at present asking the Committee to consider the Resolution now before us from the point of view not of ordinary party controversy, and not from the point of view of one who believes that it will do great harm to the Constitution, but from the practical point of view of passing legislation through this House. The Liberal Government of the day rejected the Bill of 1894 because the Lords introduced an Amendment which admitted the principle of contracting out. Twelve years afterwards that principle, guarded I admit, but still in a most effective form, is to be found in the legislation of 1906, and yet if your procedure had been then in existence, that Bill in its original form would have been passed into 907 law. You have no right to say that what you did in 1894 was for the good of the people. It was because the Government of the day, and particularly the majority of the day, desired it, and I say that from either point of view this Resolution would not do what is claimed for it, while it would do immense mischief by the system which it proposes to adopt. I venture to say that I have, at all events, to some extent justified my contention that this procedure is not intended to effect, and is not likely to effect, that which everybody says ought to be given effect to, namely, the will of the people. It is procedure which, if effective at all, will enable the majority of the day to do what they think right at the moment by placing Bills on the Statute Book which the people of this country do not approve of.
There is another aspect of this case, which more closely still affects this House. The Prime Minister told us that in making his calculation he reckoned that in the first Session of a new Parliament some important measure would probably be introduced. We know from our experience that the procedure we adopt in order to carry an Act of Parliament is one which is very faulty, and to which, I believe, almost every Member of the House, wherever he sits, is in his heart opposed— I mean closure by compartments, which is adopted now in connection with almost every measure of first-class importance. What is to be the effect of this Resolution? It would be necessary in the first Session to introduce a Bill to which you attach immense importance. Does anybody believe that a new Government coming into office with new men fresh to their offices —however able they may be, but having a limited knowledge of the special demands and needs of the Departments they are called upon to administer—should be called upon to bring in some measure of vast and far-reaching importance? Why would it be necessary to do so under the new procedure? In order to get advantage of your Resolution, and that the measure may come up not for mature consideration, but that it may come up in time for passage at any cost in the limited time available for your legislation. Already by your procedure in this House you have done a great deal to deteriorate the legislation that is passed. Nobody doubts it. I do not think anyone on the Ministerial side of the House doubts the truth of that proposition. It is one which they them- 908 selves would advance if their position and ours were reversed—namely, that under the system of strict closure by compartments you get clauses into Bills which are not as perfect as they ought to be, or as they would be if the House had more time for their consideration. Now you are following out this procedure.
§ Mr. LONG
I never suggested that closure by compartments is anything, that the present Government are responsible for. That is not the point with which I am dealing. I am asking the House to consider what would be the effect of the proposed procedure on our legislation. If the hon. Member says that we invented it, I reply that may be true, but the Liberal Government have used it ten times more than we did. There is not much to be made out of that from the hon. Member's point of view. I am asking the Committee to realise that under closure by compartments you are sending Bills constantly out of the House which have not had the consideration here which they ought to have had. If it is of vital importance that the Government should introduce important measures in the first Session of a new Parliament I say many of them will not have the consideration given to them which they ought to receive. Does anybody doubt that the Education Bill of 1906, if it had been instroduced in the second or third Session of the last Parliament instead of the first would have been a very different one from what it was? I think no one can doubt that. Hon. Members know perfectly well that Bills hastily introduced, and to whose clauses there has not been given the time which ought to have been given, are more common in the first Session, yet under the Resolution now before the Committee it will be essential that legislation should be introduced in the first Session. The first year of a Government must obviously be the one in which" they will derive the greatest benefit from a Resolution of this kind.
I have already referred to the encroachments which have been made on the time of private Members. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that steadily private Members are getting less and less share in the business of this House. There never has been a Session since I have been in Parliament when they have had so little time as in this Session. Under the closure by compartments rules 909 they get less chance of exercising their influence upon Bills when they are passing through their different stages in this House, and yet hon. Members on the other side are going to give their sanction to the passage of a Resolution which will make things, bad as they are now, worse still. What is this Resolution to do? I defy anybody to deny what I now say. It is not going to give effect to the will of the people. It is not going to enable the will of the people to be supreme, but it is going to give the Government of the day and the party supporting them an amount of power which no Government ought to possess, and a power which will enable them to become despots if they are so minded. I believe anybody who will listen to the case will see that I am not exaggerating. I am not dealing with the imaginary results, but with the facts as they occur to us. Hon. Members who support this Resolution are going to make the position worse than it is at present. The Prime Minister talked about compromise arrangements between the two Houses. There is one case which many of us remember—the Reform Bill of 1884. There was a controversy over that measure as bitter as anything could possibly be. There were two views as to what ought to be done, and there was a temporary deadlock between the two Houses. There was none of the pettiness and trouble then which we now see. Lord Morley, in his life of Mr. Gladstone, tells us how that controversy was brought to an end. The conclusion of it all was that the arrangement arrived at is embodied in the Act passed about twenty-five years ago. The solution arrived at was based upon an agreement between the two Houses. I should have thought that was the example which the Government would take as a model for the new procedure instead of making this attempt to destroy the House of Lords altogether. The Prime Minister tells us that the House of Lords are still to have powers which they can usefully employ, and of which they have no cause to be ashamed. Does anybody think that the Lords when approaching the consideration of some great Bill will do so in the same useful manner, knowing that if their decision is adverse to the Government of the day they will be exposed to having their decision laughed at and thrown on one side, and that if the Government come into office again they will be able to carry the measure into law? "We have heard something this Session of log-rolling—of whispers and rumours and efforts made to 910 get this and that section of Members of Parliament into a particular Lobby. It has struck many of us as being very bad and regrettable, and we hold that it is a pity legislation should be passed in this way. But what will it be in future? If you get to work on a Bill brought in by a Government with a weakening majority, just enough to keep them in office, would you not get log-rolling ten times worse? It will be the object of those who want a particular Bill passed to keep the Government in office as long as they can in order that the statutory period may be arrived at which will enable them to pass it. Public opinion may have been aroused, by-elections may have been going against the Government of the day, but that will be all the more reason why you should not lose the fruit for which you have only got to wait until it is quite ripe: you only have got to wait a statutory period that something may become law. You will risk nothing. Every effort will be made to induce men of different views and with different objects to come together into the same Lobby in order that there may be some harvest for the Session or the Parliament drawing to an end. I venture to say that the influence of a Resolution like this on the life of a Parliament will not be for good, but will be for bad. I have tried to give some practical reasons why I believe this Resolution is altogether unsuited to our procedure, and for those reasons I for one shall certainly oppose it. I shall oppose it with all the strength in my power for another reason. I marvel sometimes when I hear the speeches made by right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite, in which they tell us, in reference to existing conditions, that there have been deadlocks and that a Liberal Government can do nothing. And yet when on other, platforms they are seeking to advocate Free Trade, they tell the electors that this country is the greatest, the most prosperous, and the wealthiest country in the world, and that there is no country to compare with it. I believe as fully as any man that this country has grown great, and I believe that her people do enjoy an enormous advantage, and I believe that not a little of these good results is due to the action of our Constitution as it has been. I do not deny for a moment that there is some room for reform, and it is not a little remarkable that the moment chosen by the Government is one in which the House of Lords has itself made definite suggestions. I do not deny that there may be necessity fox reform, but I do 911 believe, as I have said, that under our present system this country have grown great and strong and this people have prospered. I believe that by a Resolution like this you are striking a fatal blow at our Constitution, and therefore at our country; and holding that belief very strongly I shall resist and oppose this Resolution and this attempt not to reform but to destroy the House of Lords with all the strength that I have at my command.
§ Mr. BARNES
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, in his concluding observations deprecated a Government with a waning majority seeking by all sorts of wiles to prolong its own life over the two years necessary to get its Bills passed. I think that the right hon. Gentleman must have forgotten the circumstances of his own Government between 1900 and 1905. At all events, there was no necessity for the Government between 1900–5 to seek for anything of this sort, because they knew all the time that they had a Second Chamber at the other end of the passage which was in all respects exactly of the same character as the Government in office. Therefore that is sufficient answer on that particular point. The right hon. Gentleman, in his argumentative speech, opened up by referring to some Members of a party in this House which had demanded the abolition of the House of Lords, and said that they wanted the abolition of the House of Lords in order that they might have their own way. I think that that can only refer to those with whom I am associated on these benches. I take the liberty of saying to the right hon. Gentleman that that is not the reason by any means why we want the abolition of the House of Lords.
§ Mr. WALTER LONG
I was referring to the action of the Nationalist party in Ireland who have declared on more than one occasion that they desire the abolition of the House of Lords because they regard it as the only barrier to Home Rule.
§ Mr. BARNES
At all events, I might say that the cap fits us as well as the Irish Members, and though I know that the Irish Members have in their minds the abolition of the House of Lords as the preliminary to Home Rule, and that, therefore, in that sense the abolition of the House of Lords means their getting their way, yet, so far as we are concerned, we want the abolition of the House of Lords, not because we want our way, but because we want the 912 people to get their way. The more discussion and Debate I hear in this House on these attempts to mend the House of Lords, the more it seems to me they all strengthen the demand which we have now made, and which was made long before we came here, that the House of Lords should be ended instead of mended. The right hon. Gentleman has also said something about the Government having put the cart before the horse in defining the powers of the House of Lords rather than in altering its character and Constitution. The latter, as I understand him to say, should have come first. There is a sufficient answer to that in this, that the people at the recent election were not consulted about the alteration of the character and constitution of the House of Lords, but they were consulted as to whether or not they were in favour of these particular proposals now before the House. But I wish to go further, and, at all events, offer some word of warning as to what will await any proposal of the character suggested by the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the character and composition of the House of Lords. I take it from what he said that he and his party would be in favour of altering the character of the House of Lords so as to make it an elective Assembly. For my part, I think that that would be a remedy worse than the disease. I could understand an elective Assembly if you are going to have it of the same character as this, selected by the same people and over the same area; but in that event I do not see any use for it, because if this Chamber were elected at the same time it stands to reason that the other place would endorse the action of this place.
But that is not what is in the minds of the right hon. Gentleman and those who think with him. Probably they have in their minds something of the character suggested the other day by the hon. Member for Leith Burghs (Mr. Munro Ferguson). What he has in his mind is an elective Chamber, consisting of a limited number of superior persons, necessarily rich persons, who would represent constituencies of very much larger areas than those represented by the Members of this House. That would result in this, that the expenses incidental to an election in such a case would be such that the Second Chamber would consist, as it does now, to a very large extent, of plutocratic people, thinking in line with those Gentlemen who sit opposite, and therefore a body which might be expected and relied upon to do 913 exactly the same as that body does—that is to say, to oppose a barrier against the democratic forces of this country and in favour of the interests of rich people. The right hon. Gentleman mentions two Bills which he said rather illustrated the absurdity from his point of view of these particular Resolutions. He said that the Home Rule Bill, having passed the House of Commons in 1893, and having been rejected by the House of Lords, did not meet with the approval of the people in 1895, and that that Bill, under the operation of this Resolution, would, notwithstanding that fact, have become law. He Assumes that that would have been something contrary to the wish of the people. I deny it. I say that the people of 1895 did not vote against Home Rule. The people are always liable to be misled and confused and bamboozled. They are always liable to be confused when elections come round after a Bill has been adopted or otherwise by a previous Parliament, because there is the introduction of new issues which are of more interest and which affect the people in their everyday life more than that particular Bill. I remember the 1895 election. I have already mentioned one fact which I think was in the minds of the people more than anything else. That was the question of industrial depression at the time, and the question of unemployment, which was, I suppose, more acute then than ever before or probably ever since, up to last winter. The people in 1895 voted against the Government that had been in office from 1892 to 1895 very largely because of the inactivity of the Government in regard to the problem of unemployment, which they considered to be a matter of much more concern to them than Irish Home Rule was.
But there were also positive ideas in the minds of the people. The party opposite, probably quite sincerely, thinking that the defeat of Home Rule was an object of more concern to the country than anything else, made all sorts of promises to the electors of 1895. Among the rest is it necessary to remind the right hon. Gentleman of the promise made by the Leader of the Opposition at the election in East Manchester? Does he forget that the Leader of the Opposition, speaking not for himself only in his individual capacity, but speaking for the whole of the Conservative party at that time, definitely and specifically promised to the people of this country old age pensions; and yet we 914 know that for ten years after there were no old age pensions. But there was another thing that figured in the minds of the people in 1895, and which induced them to vote against the Government which had introduced Home Rule. The question of social reform was one which was present in the minds of the people. I suppose that for more than twenty years before we had had a Socialist agitation carried on for that purpose at street corners, in trades unions, or co-operative societies, or wherever two or three men could be got together; and the party opposite exploited, and deliberately exploited, that feeling by promising to bring in something in the nature of social reform. There, again, I say, was an issue in the minds of the people in 1895 which induced them to vote as they did, and which had the incidental effect of defeating Home Rule, yet was not a vote against Home Rule. The right hon. Gentleman also said that the Employers Liability Bill was so altered in character by the House of Lords that the Government of the day adhered to the Bill in its original form rather than accept the Amendments or alterations introduced by the House of Lords.
Therefore the Bill for the time being was lost. He argued that because the principle of contracting out was introduced into another Bill twelve years later, the measure might have been passed twelve years before if the House of Commons had accepted the advice of the House of Lords. I think it is not necessary to remind the right hon. Gentleman that the principle of the Compensation Act of 1906 was far different from the principle which was introduced by the House of Lords into the Bill twelve years before. The principle which that Assembly sought to introduce into the law was to enable individual employers, without any safeguard at all, to deprive the people of this country of the benefits of the Bill which the House of Commons intended that they should have; whereas the principle of only four years ago certainly embodied the idea of contracting out, yet at the same time secured for those under the contracting out schemes all the benefits of the Act of Parliament. The words were, "that the benefits shall not be, at all events, less than the benefits under the Act." Therefore I say it is altogether beside the issue to advance such an argument, and the House of Commons were acting in accordance with public opinion in 1894 in refusing 915 the Amendment of the House of Lords. The House of Commons four years ago also similarly acted in accordance with public opinion in accepting the contracting out principle, but safeguarding it in such a way as to make it altogether dissimilar from the ideas sought to be imposed upon this House years ago. I agree with the Prime Minister when he said that, even with the passing of these Resolutions, there is still too much power left in the hands of the House of Lords, irresponsible as that Assembly is to anybody, and having regard to its previous records. We on these benches have never left in dubiety what are our intentions. We are in favour of these Resolutions because they clip the wings of the House of Lords. We want to abolish the House of Lords—we do not see any need for an Assembly of that character. At all events, we do not want any House of Lords selected or elected over large areas, or selected in any way that we have heard of. We do not think that any such House of Lords would be a body reasonably calculated to prevent either the people injuring themselves or the House of Commons trying to injure the best interests of the country. There may be a danger of that sort, but the obvious remedy is to shorten the life of Parliament not merely to five years but even to a shorter period still than that. At all events that is our alternative. We, as well as hon. Members on the other side of the House, want only the will of the people embodied in legislation. We can see no prospect of the present House of Lords or any other Second Chamber that we have heard discussed improving upon the legislation likely to be passed through this House, and therefore we are in favour of its abolition. But we are also in favour of taking these Resolutions, and the Bill that will be founded upon them, as a means whereby the evil may be for the present lessened, and when the time comes for the discussion of these further proposals indicated in the speech of the Prime Minister to-day we shall give them our anxious and careful consideration in the light of the principle I have just enunciated.
§ Mr. LAWSON
On a point of Order. May I respectfully ask whether it will be in order to discuss under the Resolutions, Bills that contain matters foreign to or different from Money Bills, and which are really in form ordinary Bills?
§ The CHAIRMAN
What we have to discuss is this Resolution. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to advance an argument on a Bill then probably he could do so, but I could not tell him whether it will be in order or not until I heard what he said.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
I listened, as I always do, with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for the Blackfriars division of Glasgow, because he never fails to put clearly before us his own view. But in the particular speech he has made to-day did he not prove a little more than was necessary for his case? Did he not tell us that the people are often bamboozled and so uncertain at elections that they cannot be relied upon to make known definitely what it is they wish as the result of any particular election? Is that what the hon. Member really intended to prove in regard to the people whose interests he represents? Is that the respect he has for his fellow-countrymen and their methods during elections? The hon. Member proceeded to discuss the details of various Bills. What did he prove with regard to the mere expediency of having a Second Chamber or not? If he goes into details, if he shows that further consideration will lead to the introduction of any valuable element into a Bill which was not there before, what does the hon. Member do more than prove that consideration and reconsideration is the proper thing for good legislation, and not the rapid passing of Bills with as few safeguards as possible? The last part of the hon. Gentleman's speech was the most useful and most instructive of all—it was that part in which he distinctly stated his wish and upon what ground he supported the Resolution now before the House. There was no question in his speech of what we have been told by the Prime Minister and by other Members of the Government about strengthening, improving, and consolidating the power of the House of Lords. What the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division and his Friends wish is, what he told us perfectly plainly, namely, that the House of Lords should be abolished, and it is because these Resolutions in a certain way help in that direction that he and they are ready to support them. The first point on which it seems to me we can congratulate ourselves with regard to this Resolution is that we do not need to dwell upon precedents or the traditions of history. I agree completely with the view which the hon. Member for Leicester put forward in his very forcible speech the other night, that what we 917 have to look at is not so much precedents or traditions of history and the raking up of old records, as to what is really expedient in view of the present state of things to-day. There can be no question about precedents now; there can be no discussion as to what is the precise power of the House of Lords with regard to Fiscal Bills. It is quite plain now that you are taking away from the House of Lords the power which not the most extreme Member on the other side can for one moment deny that they at present possess. What are you doing, further, for the first time in the history of this country? You are introducing that which was a bane to our greatest political writer, Edmund Burke—a written Constitution. For the first time you are tying yourselves up by a written Constitution against which Burke often used all the battery of his eloquence and his philosophy. No one disliked it more; no one saw better than he how alien it was to our national character and traditions.
You are now introducing these violent changes for the first time. To do what? In most constitutions surely the object is to impose certain safeguards for restricting the powers of the Legislature, to keep them within certain prudent limits. But what are the first words which you are going to put into your written Constitution? They are words which will take away the safeguards which have hitherto existed by usage and tradition. You are taking a new step in our own history, a step never taken by anybody who has previously had a part in framing the Constitution. And why? You are doing it, we are told, to avoid a deadlock. We have heard a great deal about deadlocks. Surely the word "deadlock," in its ordinary sense, according to the usage of the English language, has a distinct meaning? A deadlock does not mean when two rival powers find themselves worsted. A deadlock means, if the English language has any meaning at all, when two rival powers get into grips with one another in such a way that neither one nor the other can take a step or do anything one against the other. That is a deadlock, and it is absolutely necessary that for such a deadlock, there should be an outlet. But is it a deadlock if for a certain time, it may be for months or weeks —in the present case it is only weeks—or even for two years, your effort, which you believe, to be according to the will of the people, is stopped? Is that a deadlock? It may be a useful way of putting it in a political controversy, but it is not the 918 meaning according to the English language or ordinary parlance. The whole history of our political changes goes to show that they have been attained by slow steps. Our grandfathers were not daunted because they were stopped for a year, two, three, or ten years, or even a generation. They believed that they had at their backs the support of the people, and it was because they were convinced they had that support they believed they would prevail against the House of Lords in the long run. And their triumph and victory were not the less because won after a hard struggle. They did not lose patience during the struggle, and stigmatise delay as a deadlock. Why make this important change in our Constitution at this moment? I do not say by whose fault it is, nor do I refer to one party or the other, but it is sought to make this change when it is perfectly certain that the power of the Cabinet, the Executive, and the bureaucracy has within the last few years become enormously strong. Debate has been stopped in our House, the closure has become more frequent, the guillotine is constantly in use. I am not going to quarrel about whose fault it is, or who are most responsible for this state of things. I blame both parties, and I am not disposed to follow with absolute submission the decree of one Front Bench or the other. I believe myself that any Minister who boldly set out and had courage enough to tackle the question, and appeal to the old sense of honour and of self-respect and of the dignity of this House, might be able without any long delay to cast aside these fetters on our Debates, and enable us to discard the use of the guillotine. Whatever may be the error, or the Tightness or wrongness of those occasions, one thing is absolutely certain that you are choosing this moment to take away the power of the House of Lords at the very time when your own power for Debate is most threatened, and is most curtailed, and well nigh abolished altogether. You are doing it also at a time when the power of the Executive as against the legislative power is getting greater and greater, and threatening even to swamp the liberties and free government by this House. The fact is you are asking this in the interests of what you call democracy.
If I may ask the question, what is it that hon. Members mean by democracy? Do they mean by democracy a settled form of government, or a certain popular element in the nation whose interests 919 have to be studied, or do they mean, what is the puniest and smallest of all, merely a. certain set of principles which they as a party happen for the moment to be advocating. I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's idea of democracy at this moment is the Budget and all that the Budget involves. The Chancellor of the Exchequer admits it. But what do you mean when you speak widely of having democratic influence in your legislation? It might mean anything of a great many things. Surely democratic influence means that you should give large powers to the people, that you should be sure that the people's will in the long run prevails, and that you should give to them, in their wisdom after careful concentration and consideration, the power of deciding the way in which they wish to be governed. It is not a question of the support of this party or the other, or that the House of Lords may happen for the moment to support, one particular set of Gentlemen sitting on the Treasury Bench, or whether one particular set of Gentlemen should form a Cabinet, or that their schemes should be for the time preserved. That is not the fixed interest of the nation, quite the opposite. But it is that the nation should have its own will and power, and that it should assert its will. How are you going to do that, but precisely in the same way that in the long run any nation, or any class, or any power asserts its will, namely, by having the opportunity of consideration and reconsideration, and not of being bamboozled, as the hon. Member for Blackfriars said— bamboozled into giving their votes in a certain way in the hurry and heat of one election. In order to give the people that sovereign dignity and supreme power and of carefully considering their decisions you must have a Second Chamber. You must have a Second Chamber that shall insist when perhaps the people have been bamboozled that that bamboozling shall not decide the fate of the nation for ever, and in order that the people may have, like any sane and wise authority, the power of thinking over again and not deciding in the light gusts of temper and even the caprices of one General Election. That is democracy, and that is what I assert and argue will be supported and increased and gain further dignity by the power of reconsideration which the Second Chamber now gives. 920 I do not presume to read history, for others can read it better than I can, but with all humility I would venture to point out these two salient features that have emerged from all my studies. The first is that each generation is apt to think that the opinions, that it seems to be captured by for the moment, are opinions that are gradually swelling, and that will always go on increasing in strength, that will perpetually live, and that will remain in generations hence; the other thing that history teaches is this, that there is nothing so certain as that the course of history moves by the pendulum, that views oscillate backward and forward, and that the fate of nations is moved by the ebb and flow of the tide, and not by a constant and unbroken stream. How do you know that the opinions you are so proud of to-day, and of whose triumph you are so certain, will be the opinions that will prevail a generation, aye, or half a generation hereafter? We have heard, for instance, a good deal about plural voting, and we were told that that was one of the wrongs the House of Lords perpetuated. Do hon. Members forget that only a generation ago two prominent advocates of plural voting were Mr. Bright and Mr. Cobden, who told their supporters over and over again that their duty was to create faggot votes and to multiply voters wherever they could? Where were faggot votes made use of less than a generation ago with such effect if not in the well-known historic election of Mid Lothian which Mr. Gladstone fought? You have forgotten all that, and in these days plural voting is a thing which it is considered necessary should be absolutely divorced from all Liberal ideas or from the tenets of the Liberal party.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
The hon. Member forgets that the Midlothian election was after the working people had received votes. Let me ask hon. Members, Suppose the House of Lords is abolished to-morrow, what about the complexion of your single Chamber? Do you think it will always be precisely the same, do you think you will always have a majority of 124 or varying between that and 350 which you had at the previous election? [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] You do not think so, but then is it not just possible that you may have a Second Chamber that may be of no use to you? If you do not have 921 a Second Chamber that is of use to you, what is your alternative for this unhappy country of ours but that we are to move from quicksand to quicksand, reversing from Parliament to Parliament our acts of legislation? Surely it is better for the interests of the nation as a whole that you should be content to move forward slowly and with caution, and that you should be content to have the system of consideration and reconsideration by which you would make sure that you are reaching most successfully the aim and goal you wish. Do you not press that rather than the alternative Parliaments legislating and undoing that legislation, one after the other and a system of turning your back upon what one Parliament has done, and keeping the nation in a constant ebb and flow of distraction, disturbance, and excitement. For those reasons I shall certainly vote against this Resolution.
Mr. NEIL PRIMROSE
I hope the House will extend to me that indulgence which it is accustomed to grant to Members who address it for the first time. My reasons for voting for this Resolution are quite plain. I am emphatically in favour of a Second Chamber, and I believe that if the House of Lords is not radically and thoroughly changed, the country will not want a Second Chamber at all. Further, I believe that a Bill which will secure that can only be passed by the conditions which these Resolutions will bring about. I hope that one day we shall see the House of Lords reconstituted in a manner which will give us a Chamber—which shall be fair, which shall not forward the aspirations of any political party, and which shall be free from the influences of any class or any particular interest, and which shall perform its functions under the inspiration, so far as human nature can be under that inspiration, of impartiality and commonsense. I understand that there are a few Members on this side of the House who support this Resolution from different motives. They support this Resolution because they hope that it represents the beginning and the end of the policy of the Government with regard to the House of Lords. I hope that those hon. Members are in a minority. I admit that that minority is very articulate, but, at any rate, I hope it is a minority, because as regards a Second Chamber I feel that we must consider two things. In the first place, a Second Chamber is required to check the depredations, if I may say so, 922 of the Conservative party; and, secondly, the hon. Member, who is opposed to a Second Chamber stultifies his own opinions, because he is practically declaring that for his political opinions and his political ideals time has no countenance as to the common sense or impartiality of those opinions. I think, and I have every ground for believing, that the Government policy is proceeding on the lines of some reconstitution of the Second Chamber. I am sure we all heard with great satisfaction the Prime Minister's speech to-day, in which he expressly stated that this was not a final policy. I read in the newspapers that the Lord Advocate, whose speeches receive so much attention on both sides of the House, is in favour of a Second Chamber. The Secretary of State for War, whose speech is in the recollection of every Member of the House, stated categorically that these proposals were not a whole policy in themselves, but would lead up ultimately to some change in the Constitution of the House of Lords. Lastly, but not least, there are the speeches of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Those speeches have been absolutely consistent. All through the election the right hon. Gentleman's speeches were on the lines of an elected Second Chamber, and I cannot believe that a Government which contains the Foreign Secretary and has never repudiated his views can mean to pursue a single-Chamber policy. If I may refer to one quotation from a speech of the Foreign Secretary, his famous sentence about "death, disaster and damnation," I would say that it may be necessary for a leader to lead his party to death, it may be necessary for some great principle to face overwhelming disaster, but there can be no cause or reason why a leader should lead his party to damnation. That implies an atmosphere of moral degradation which can be neither advisable nor heroic, and I think, if we leave out the other speeches; of Ministers, in that expressive word "damnation" the advocates of a Second' Chamber may find salvation.
With all sincerity I welcome these declarations from Members of the Government. I think there could be no policy more fatal to the country, or more suicidal to the Liberal party than the advocacy of a single Chamber. I know that Scotland is rather advanced on this point, but in English constituencies I think if; would be absolutely fatal to the Liberal party as a whole to try to win an election on lines such as those. I would take my own 923 Constituency as an example. I take it as an average Constituency, though naturally I think it is far above the average. No electors were more infuriated against the Veto of the House of Lords than were my Constituents. They considered that it was founded on a basis of injustice, and that it was exercised in a wanton and unconstitutional way. But throughout the election, on every occasion when the question was raised, they agreed that a Second Chamber was necessary. I support these Resolutions because I believe that the reasonable demand of the Liberal party for a reconstituted Second Chamber—and for myself no reconstitution can go too far— can only be satisfied by the condition of things which these Resolutions will bring about. It is because these Resolutions are a, means to that great end that I shall be glad to record my vote in their favour.
§ Mr. STEPHEN GWYNN
I think the Committee will agree that the speech to which we have just listened, with its distinction and charm, has gone far to convince us that, after all, there is something In the hereditary principle. I am glad that the hon. Member (Mr. Primrose) should recognise that the Veto Resolutions are a condition precedent to that scheme of reform which has been adumbrated under such distinguished auspices in another place. I think it is an evidence that the hereditary principle, perhaps, needs something to correct it, and that the influence of the hon. Member's constituents has been salutary in the extreme, and has added what was needed to a natural hereditary endowment. I am glad that in this Debate we are dropping the discussion of precedents. So far these discussions have naturally tended to a consideration of almost archaeological matters, and have therefore failed to recognise that we are virtually in the presence of a new set of facts as compared with the time from which those precedents were mostly drawn. In the present House of Commons, as in the last Parliament, there are lour parties, but of those only two have representation in the House of Lords. An Irish Member or a Labour Member in the House of Lords would be almost a contradiction in terms. That in itself goes to prove how wide is the cleavage between the two Houses, and how impossible it is that the old theory can be carried out in its fullness. We have corroboration of that in the fact that whereas there used to be talk about creating four or twelve 924 peers to turn the majority you have now to assume the creation of 400 or 500. It is quite obvious that the whole machinery has got out of gear, and I agree with the hon. Member (Mr. Primrose) that it will be a desirable thing to reform it once you have decided clearly how much you are going to allow that machinery to do and what is to be the limiting function of the House of Lords. I am not at all sure that the party which controls the Houee of Lords has the least desire to limit that power. On the contrary, they apparently seek to extend it. The right hon. Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain), speaking in the country on Saturday, declared plainly that the power of the House of Lords as a check ought, on the whole, to be extended. The hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bonar Law) the other day made the most remarkable assertion in the course of these Debates when he declared that in his opinion it should in future be considered right and expedient for the House of Lords to interfere directly in administration—that if they considered the Votes for the Army or the Navy insufficient they should throw out the Budget. That we are in the presence of a new state of facts is shown by the circumstance that there is now in the House of Commons a party which disparages the House of Commons itself, and which is determined, as far as possible, to limit its power. That, I think, never existed in the days when there was not that wide distinction between the Commons and the Lords indicated by the facts to which I have referred.
We are bound, therefore, to approach the whole matter from a new point of view. I have heard it argued that we on these benches cannot really be taken as opposing the Veto of the House of Lords on its merits, and that we are opposed to it merely because we want Home Rule. Surely the history of our party shows that we are essentially a democratic party. To all intents and purposes we have a large number of constituents in Great Britain who are undoubtedly democrats of the democrats, and from that point of view we represent democratic opinion on a purely British question. The Chancellor of the Exchequer earlier in the Session made a statement which I am sure would never have come from an English Minister. He reminded us that Scotland, Wales, and Ireland had a special interest in this question, and that is the aspect of the matter which I wish to develop. It practically comes to this—that the demo- 925 cracy of England, if sufficiently in earnest, if it feels itself sufficiently aggrieved, as in the case of the Trade Disputes Bill, can always force its will through, and that the House of Lords will yield not to conviction, but to the fear of the democracy at its own doors; whereas, in regard to legislation dealing with the interest of the smaller nations, the veto of the House of Lords is virtually absolute. This is proved by the case of Wales. For many Parliaments there has been practically a unanimity of opinion amongst Welsh Members in favour of Disestablishment in Wales. That is a question which appeals to us in Ireland, because we can see the effects of Disestablishment; and those of us who are Irish Protestants believe that an Established Church greatly mistakes its own interests in dreading disestablishment. But for Wales it is a national question, a question of strong national sentiment, and upon that matter Wales expressed practical unanimity by electing Members who were in favour of it. Someone has said that the Lords have never rejected a Welsh Disestablishment Bill, but everyone knows that in a matter of that kind the vote of the Lords is absolutely a foregone conclusion. No Minister could be expected to waste his time and his power in attacking a question which has not behind it all the forces of the democracy—such forces as the Lords fear—the democracy of England at their own door. Yet it is a national question for Wales, and it is national feeling that is set aside. I do not know whether hon. Members are familiar with an admirable article by Professor Dicey, a well-known Unionist, relative to the different measure of success of the Union with Scotland and the Union with Ireland. He points out in that article that one of the reasons why the Union of Scotland was so successful was that great national interests, feelings, and institutions, of which the Church is the chief, were preserved and safeguarded. In Wales and in Ireland national interests and national feeling have been set at naught. Still, we are told that this Parliament has become an Imperial Parliament. Surely, from the point of view of Members of the Unionist party, Imperialism, if it is to have any value nowadays, must realise that local sentiment, the sentiment of small -nationalities, and the national idea must be taken into account, and that the Empire must reconcile itself to the national idea. I claim that in the case of Wales and Ireland, and to some extent in the case of Scotland, the Lords have failed in that 926 respect, and have been a weak spot in your Constitution.
I come next to the case of my own country. It is noticeable in this controversy that the case for the Lords has largely rested upon the value of the service they did when they rejected the Home Rule Bill of 1893. I do not know whether all the Members of this House are equally convinced that so great a service was done at that time. I think some will agree with me that better work might have been done in Ireland during the last fifteen years if we had been set to do it ourselves. It has been argued, and I do not want to argue it now over again, by the Leader of the Labour party and also from these benches, that the rejection of the Home Rule Bill of 1893 was the rejection of the principle of Home Rule. It was far more than that. If ever there was a question before the electorate which had been thoroughly argued out it was this question of Home Rule, between the years 1880 and 1890, and the people gave a clear decision upon it; they decided with their minds fully instructed and fully alive to the issue; they decided for it, and a vote was given for it in the House of Commons, but the Lords rejected it. Then the attention of the people was distracted to other issues, and no Home Rule Bill has been introduced from that day to this, and yet no one will assert that in the meantime the demand for Home Rule in Ireland has weakened or abated, or that those of us who believe in the need for Home Rule will say that the need is less now than it has ever been. What has been the history of opinion upon that great question in the years since 1893? You have had again and again most remarkable expressions of opinion from your transmarine Dominions, those Colonies whose feelings and opinions hon. Members of the Unionist party profess to be so susceptible to and sympathetic with. Canada and Australia have declared in favour of Home Rule for Ireland. They know what it would be if they had the Veto of the House of Lords standing between them and their liberty, and that also makes them sympathise with the democracy of this country on the question now before us. Scotland is for Irish Home Rule, Wales is for Irish Home Rule, and Ireland herself has not changed and shows no signs of changing. But what of England? In the Parliament of 1906 there was a majority of 200 or 300 recorded in favour of the principle of Home 927 Rule for Ireland. In the election of that Parliament, although it is said we could hardly take the whole vote of the electors as a vote for Home Rule, the Unionist party on every platform told the people that if they voted for the Liberals they were voting for Home Rule. The case of Home Rule was identified with the Liberal party so far as the Unionist orators could secure. No doubt the Liberal party had decided that they would not risk a conflict with the House of Lords upon that issue, which was not an English issue, but was, to a certain extent, an alien issue, not directly affecting the people of this country. In the last election Home Rule was plainly put before the country. There could be no mistake about that. The result is that we have a majority in favour of it, and we have a British majority of sixty-two in favour of it, in spite of all the eloquence of the other side and all the vilification that could be invented. That represents the judgment of the people as expressed in this House of Commons. Let us go outside and see what the state of English opinion is upon this question. I am one of those whose duty it has been to try to focus English opinion upon it, and I have seen how the Irish Leader has spoken in all the great towns throughout England, and how everywhere he got an unanimous and enthusiastic welcome, and how multitudes of Englishmen came to hear him. It may be said that you can always get a party meeting to hear a famous speaker, but I would like to mention a curious fact that has come under my notice, and that is that in any of the universities of this country, so far as my observation goes, if you ask the young men, who make up the real life of these universities, to vote on Home Rule they will nearly always vote for it. I have twice over seen the matter discussed at Oxford, and once the eloquence of my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. John Redmond) persuaded the Union, the training ground of so many of the Members of this House, to vote for Home Rule by a majority of two to one—a majority of 150. Again, when there was another speaker there was a majority of 60, but there was a smaller House.
§ Mr. GWYNN
I went to speak in Cam-.bridge, and the Noble Lord (Viscount Castlereagh) also spoke, and the associa- 928 tions of his name, together with his eloquence, carried the day. I think there was a majority of three or four against Home Rule. It is quite true that on another occasion the Motion was only carried by a majority of one at Cambridge; still, even that was a change, because in the 'eighties and 'nineties there was no more chance of carrying the Resolution there than in the House of Lords. In my own college at Oxford—which is, I think, the most Conservative in that very Conservative University—I went down to speak, and I am glad to say the vote was two to one in favour of Home Rule. I remember that in the 'eighties I had to import my support of one speaker from outside the college. These things all indicate a movement of opinion. I do not think that is all.
Who are the people now who make up the Opposition on that side of the House? I am sorry the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. S. Storey) has just gone out, because I would like to ask him what he meant by an argument which he used in the Debate the other day. He was arguing that he had never ceased to be a Liberal, that the Liberal party was the party of progress, that Tariff Reform was a policy of progress, and that therefore every Liberal ought to be a Tariff Reformer. Somebody interrupted and said, "Tariff Reform is reactionary," and he turned round and asked, "What is Home Rule?" Home Rule may be a return in a way to a previous policy, but I think it is not fair to call it reactionary on that account. The hon. Member won one of the greatest victories for the Tariff Reform party in the recent election, and I take it that what he meant was that, though he has changed his view on economic questions, no change has taken place in his views upon the freedom of the nation for which he fought so long and with such great distinction. Who are the people in this country who are opposed to Home Rule? I see the hon. Member now in his place, and I hope I have not misrepresented him. I will take one instance, and ask the Committee to consider what happened in Manchester a few months ago when an Irish delegate from America came over and made his appearance in that city, where some forty years ago he was sentenced to be hanged. So far as I could ascertain there has not been in recent years such great popular enthusiasm shown in the streets of Manchester as there was on that occasion to greet the return of that man who risked his life to save his comrade, and who 929 used these words in the dock at Manchester, "God save Ireland," words which have become the watchword of our race and have gone over the hills and under the waters of the world. Surely that proves that there must have been a great change in the feeling of the people of England, certainly a great change in Manchester, when so much honour was accorded publicly to a returned Fenian. No one who faces the fact can deny that since 1893 there has been a great change in popular feeling in England on the Irish question. They have been very much influenced by the analogy of South Africa, and they have been influenced by the opinion of the Colonies. But who can believe that that change in the opinion of England has had any reflection in the House of Lords?
I am in favour of limiting the powers of the House of Lords for the sake of Scotland, because Scotland feels that she cannot allow the Lords to have the final word on Scotch questions. I am in favour of it also for the sake of Wales. I am to a certain extent a Welshman, though it is far back.
I am against the Veto of the House of Lords for the sake of Wales, but above all I am against the Veto of the House of Lords for the sake of Ireland. What has been the special function of the House of Lords with regard to Ireland? The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) said, as a sort of extenuating circumstance to the charge that the House of Lords had never altered Tory measures, that they had altered Irish Land Acts; but in what sense did they alter them? They altered them as they did the Evicted Tenants Acts that were passed with the consent and the concurrence of the right hon. Gentleman who was then the Leader of the Irish Unionist party in this House. They altered them in such a sense that Lord Clanricarde, against whom they were passed, was able to defy them in the Law Courts, and thereby to throw the people of Ireland, as the House of Lords has again and again done, back upon violence. That is the kind of sympathetic answer that the Irish cause has ever got from the House of Lords. They have always been the most anti-Irish element in Great Britain. Indeed, one has only to consider the case of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford, to whom I have referred, to understand how this looks to the people in Ireland and to 930 the people in England. Take the case of the Noble Lord and all he stands for. He is a typical House of Lords man. I do not agree with one of my hon. Friends, who declared that there was no reality in the hereditary principle. I believe there is a great deal in the hereditary principle, and I recognise in the history of certain families in the House of Lords an element which is very honourable to the public life of England—traditions of honourable service handed down from father to son. There is no family, I think, in which that tradition has been more honourably illustrated than in the family of the Noble Lord. But consider how the case looks to us in Ireland. What are our associations with that great family? The debt between Ireland and the Cecils is long and deep. It began with the very day of the foundation of the illustrious House: in the day when the policy of conquest in Ireland was changed for a policy of extermination, and for a policy of sweeping away the Irish race.
It is a desperate saying that it is human nature to hate those whom you have injured, but that is manifested in every utterance upon the Irish question by the heads of that illustrious and famous family. They mask their hatred with contempt, but hatred it is; but the national movement in Ireland lives in spite of them. That is the difference between the House of Lords as it looks to you, the people of England, and as it looks to us, the people of Ireland. And just because the House of Lords is the most narrowly English thing or institution you have, and responsive only to its own people, so it is unfit to have a Veto and a final vote in the legislation of this Imperial Parliament. I take it that a system of laws should be the crystallisation of the popular conscience conforming to it, rigid, but always capable of change upon the pressure of popular feeling. That has been the growth of your English Constitution —it has not been the way with us in Ireland. The House of Lords for us has always been like an iron barrier—it has eaten into our flesh—there is no such elasticity between the House of Lords and its Veto in the relation and the hopes and beliefs of the people of Ireland. For that reason the House of Lords has driven us back constantly in past centuries upon the councils of despair, and now we hold when, as I claim to have shown, we have convinced not only the people of this country but the people of the whole Empire of the righteousness of our cause, that it is a measure of public justice and 931 expediency that the House of Lords should no longer be a bar and a check, and that this inanimate Veto upon a reform, which embodies the whole aspirations and the whole striving tendency of our race, should be abolished.
§ Viscount CASTLEREAGH
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down can hardly escape suspicion of entertaining, with regard to the proposals now before us, some bias against the House of Lords. His concluding words point strongly to that conclusion. I was very sorry to see that one who is so fair-minded on these questions was inclined to allow himself to be carried away by his bitterness against the Chamber which he believes has stood in the way of Home Rule for Ireland. He alluded to the election of 1895, and it has also been alluded to on several occasions in these Debates. I am convinced, if democracy means anything whatsoever, the verdict given in 1895 by the people of this country was a verdict adverse to Home Rule. I do not think there can be any doubt in regard to that.
The Prime Minister in his speech today has hardly removed that atmosphere of unreality which I consider surrounds this present Debate. The right hon. Gentleman touched upon an aspect of the question which was certainly of an interesting character, and that was that he does not look upon these Resolutions as permanent Resolutions, but rather of a temporary character. That is a situation which we have been endeavouring for some time past to point out, namely, that this Debate has served to show that these Resolutions are supported by Gentlemen sitting in different parts of the House from entirely different points of view. Some Gentlemen are in favour of the absolute abolition of the Second Chamber; others are in favour of a Second Chamber; and another section goes so far as to desire a strong Second Chamber, but there is a concentration upon one point, and that is that those proposals should be carried. I cannot help thinking that in this development of opinion there is some ulterior motive, and this ulterior motive is to be found in the fact that it secures eighty votes from Members sitting on the Irish Benches in order to help to pass the Budget. I do not think it can be denied by those who have closely and carefully considered these Resolutions that they really mean single-Chamber Govern- 932 ment in this country. To say that you desire to strengthen the Second Chamber by the virtual removal of its powers is to circulate a fiction which I do not believe could deceive anyone. The Prime Minister to a certain extent elucidated the question when he told us that these arrangements were to be temporary arrangements. They are arrangements for a time, and they are meant merely to tide over the present moment. I am convinced, if you desire to constitute a Second Chamber, you will never find a body of self-respecting individuals to submit to such conditions as you are trying to impose upon them. You may certainly find a body to obey your behests, but such a body will neither command the attention of this country nor the respect of any civilised community in the world. The chief complaint against the Second Chamber is that it acts as a barrier in the way of Liberal legislation, and that while the Conservative Government is in power this Second Chamber adopts a somnolent and passive attitude to legislation. What is your remedy? Your remedy is to establish a Second Chamber during Unionist legislation. Your desire is to establish a Second Chamber during the Radical administration of exactly the same character as is to be allowed during the Unionist administration. Could there be a more fatuous proposal? The policy known as "filling up the cup" will be in the memory of hon. Gentlemen who have been any length of time in this House. I do not think many hon. Gentlemen on the other side, and certainly not the Chancellor of the Exchequer, disguised their ideas or intentions in regard to the policy known as "filling up the cup." I am perfectly certain, if we were conversant with the Welsh language, we would be in a position to produce far more instances of that policy than we are at the present moment. We know perfectly well what that policy was. It was to bombard the Second Chamber with measure after measure, one more impracticable and impossible than the other, in the hope that they would reject them. That was the case in regard to the Trades Disputes Act. It was a matter of the greatest possible disappointment that that Bill was not rejected by the House of Lords, because hon. Gentlemen opposite believed that it was a bad Bill, and that view was shared by the Government. They had a Bill of their own, and they were not in favour of the Bill brought forward by the hon. Gentlemen opposite. 933 We know perfectly well that the Trades Disputes Bill was one of the most important, if not the most important, that came before the electorate in 1906, and, although I did not agree with that Bill in any way, still there was a demand on the part of the electorate that it should be passed into law. It was passed into law, and I do not think that any evil has resulted from it.
This proposition which we are discussing to-day appears to me to occupy in the minds of the Government a position of primary importance from the time they have allotted to it in this Debate. Personally, I should have thought that once you removed the power of the House of Lords on the question of finance you would have taken the vitality out of it, and it would practically fall to the ground, but the Government think differently, and they have brought in this Resolution, to which they have given more time than to the financial Resolution. The question of the Executive and its relation to the House of Commons is touched very closely by this Resolution. At a time when there was, to a certain extent, freedom in this House, when the private Member was a little more than he is to-day, and not a mere cipher, when the Government was controlled and also represented by the party in power, I think something might have been said for this Resolution. But when Debate is more than ever restricted, when it is possible for the Government to be an oligarchy responsible to no one maintaining their power as long as they possibly can, I say that a Resolution of this kind is absolutely detrimental to the idea of party government in this country. In my opinion this proposition will result in nothing more than a farce of the most degrading description. What do we see now? The proposition is that should a Bill pass three times through the same House of Commons it shall then be sent to the Second Chamber, and that Chamber will have to pass it. At the present time First Readings of Bills in this House are, to a large extent, a matter of form, Second Readings are restricted, and the Committee and Third Readings are passed through this House contaminated and stultified by the action of the closure. When a measure has passed upon three occasions through this House what will be the result? It cannot be said that such a measure is desired or even asked for by the democracy of this country. In my opinion there are no guarantees and no safeguards that the democracy will 934 have any opportunity of deciding on this point. I do not think the insidious form of the disease which is represented by closure by compartments and the guillotine has been realised by those who have not previously sat in this House. The system has increased in a way which I am perfectly certain hon. Members would never have imagined. A Motion for the closure means that the Government have made up their mind as to the form in which the measure shall pass the House of Commons. They then fix the time limit and select one or two Ministers to take charge of the measure. I think that is a most dangerous attitude for a Government to take up.
In these circumstances, when a Bill can be passed through this House of Commons by the same majority—we must bear in mind that the party system is becoming stronger every day and party loyalty is more incumbent upon Members of the party than ever it has been before—it is quite possible a measure can be passed three times by a majority absolutely out of touch with the electors, and such a Bill might become law. We had a clear and conclusive instance of this in the last Parliament. In the month of November the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the majority in favour of the Budget expressed the will of the people of this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "So it did."] What has happened to 110 of those hon. Members who were loudest in support of the Budget in the last Parliament? They have been defeated, and others on this side have been elected in their places. An hon. Member opposite said the majority in favour of the Budget in the last Parliament was unprecedented, and he argued on that account that the Budget should pass. I think the last General Election has been conclusive on this point, because it is now well known that the Budget which the Chancellor of the Exchequer said represented the will of the people would not pass the House of Commons, and it depends on the communications between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the hon. Member for the City of Cork whether this Budget passes this House at all. I should like to allude for a moment to the position of the Crown with regard to a measure of this description. I do not view the position with complacency, because the question will not be dealt with by the democracy, but only by a section of it, and that section need not necessarily be a majority. This section will call upon the Crown under these circum- 935 stances to ratify the Bill passed by the House of Commons. That is a position which hardly any hon. Member of this House would desire to see this country adopt. I do not think it is a sound position, and it is not one which has been contemplated in this aspect, and should not be contemplated. It is, however, roost important to consider it in this light, and for these reasons I sincerely hope these Resolutions will not pass through the House of Commons.
The Noble Lord who has just sat down (Viscount Castlereagh), like a great many other hon. Members opposite, has endeavoured to justify the House of Lords in all it has done during the past year, but at the same time acknowledges—or, at any rate, most of the speakers who preceded him acknowledged—that it ought to be reformed. To me that seems rather puzzling. If the House of Lords is an ideal Second Chamber, why alter it in any way. I take a very special interest in this particular Resolution, because in the two years I have been in the House of Commons I have always considered this question to be one of paramount importance. I went so far at the beginning of the last Parliament to move an Amendment to the Address urging the Government to introduce a Veto Bill in the last Session. I was very much blamed on this side of the House for my action on that occasion, but in view of subsequent events I cannot say that I regret having taken that course, I think the whole situation would have been a good deal simpler if such a Veto Bill had been placed before the last House of Commons. I have not, however, got up to indulge in recriminations. On the contrary, I want to give the Government my heartiest and fullest support in the passage of this Resolution. I am very glad that the question of the reform of the House of Lords has been relegated to the Preamble of the Bill, and I could do without it even there. I do not think these Resolutions in any way prejudice the question of the reform of the House of Lords being discussed in the future. The reform of the House of Lords is a question which will probably be discussed at length. There are 670 Members in this House, and if you were to detach those Members who are in favour of keeping the House of Lords absolutely as it is at the present time, detach those who are in favour of single- 936 Chamber Government, and take the rest of the House and ask them to put on a sheet of paper their idea of a reform of the House of Lords, I venture to say you would not get two Members to agree. I have talked this question over with many of my Friends, and I have never yet found two schemes to coincide. We have not consulted the electorate on the subject. This is a very large question, which will take some years to thoroughly thresh out. In my opinion a democratically constituted Second Chamber would be a fifth wheel to the coach, whilst on the other hand the House of Lords, as it exists to-day, is a drag on the wheel of progress. When we are going up the hill of progress the drag is put on, and when we are sliding down the hill to reaction it is taken off.
The Leader of the Opposition said in the course of a speech he made in the earlier part of these Debates that the Liberal party, or the party of progress, had become revolutionary, and that was-why some check was necessary. I am too much of a Britisher to be frightened by this talk of revolution, in fact I am frightened more by the danger of reaction, because we have no check against reaction, and there is nothing to stop us going down the hill towards Protection, conscription and other evils with which the present Tory party are associated. I should like to compare these Resolutions with the Motion upon which they are founded which passed the House of Commons in 1907. There are some differences between the two. To begin with, the idea now finds favour that Bills which have passed in the last two or three years of one Parliament may be carried on into the next Parliament and passed into law should a General Election return the same Government into power. I heartily approve of this new idea, and I think it very greatly strengthens this Resolution. In the next place I find that conferences have not been mentioned, or at any rate they have not been touched upon with sufficient clearness in the course of these Debates. Conferences are not mentioned in the present Resolution, and I think quite rightly, because it would be a mistake to make them statutory. I think the result of a Bill founded on this Resolution would be to encourage conferences of an informal character and the formalisation of conferences would be a distinct gain. Everybody knows that now informal consultations of a private character take place when there is a very 937 great difference of opinion between the two Houses. Those representing the views of the two parties in the two Houses meet privately with a real desire to overcome the difficulty, and to arrive at a compromise where it is possible without any sacrifice of principle. I think such conferences are a good thing, because after all the object of the legislation of one party is not to steal a march over the other party, but is really to do what, according to its lights, it thinks is the best thing for the country. I believe informal conferences of this kind would be a gain, but hitherto these small consultations have taken place, and have seldom led to any good results, for this reason—that the representatives of the Government have gone there hat in hand, and the representatives of the Opposition and of the House of Lords have gone there as dictators, and have been able to press their view and to insist, because really they have got the whip hand, always being able to threaten the rejection of the Bill under discussion. In future to these conferences the representatives of the Opposition and of the House of Lords will come, as they should, not as dictators, but as representing the views of a subordinate branch of the Legislature. The Government representatives will be only too ready to meet them, and to prevent any difficulties on smaller matters where adjustment can be arranged; but it is too much to expect that a Government should sacrifice its principles to suit the convenience and the whims of a non-representative body. It is not that a Liberal Government claims infallibility any more than a Conservative Government. All they ask, in the name of common justice, is just to be treated with ordinary fairness. I do not use the word "fairness" as I might use it in speaking of a game. It is not a game between one party and another. It is really only right that each section of the democracy should be able—anyhow, to some extent—to express its ambitions, its wishes, and its views in the shape of legislation when it has the opportunity.
This particular Resolution strikes me in this way. We are trying to protest not so much against the actual Veto of the House of Lords on any legislation as against the frequency with which that Veto is being used, so that it is now becoming customary —and I suppose you would say therefore constitutional—for the House of Lords not to allow a single Session to pass without the exercise of its absolute Veto at least 938 three or four times. This is a growing arrogation of power which must now once and for all be stopped. I say it is growing, and I would like the House just to listen to a quotation from a speech of the Duke of Wellington, made in the House of Lords in 1846, on the repeal of the Corn Laws, when that Bill was before that House. The Duke of Wellington said:—I now ask you to look a little at the measure in respect of which you are going to give your votes this night; to look at the way in which it comes before you, and to consider the consequenses likely to follow your rejection—if you do reject it—of this Bill. This measure was recommended in the Speech from the Throne, and it has been passed by a majority of the House of Commons, consisting of more than half the Members of that House. My Noble Friend said that that vote is inconsistent with the supposed views of the constituencies by whom they were elected, but I think that is not a subject which this House can take into consideration, for first, we can have no accurate knowledge of the fact; and, secondly, whether it be a fact or not, this we know, that it is the House of Commons from which this Bill comes to us. We know by the votes it has been passed by a majority of the House of Commons.I ask whether that does not show a respect for the view of this House which is sadly lacking nowadays by the other House. So, gradually, the power has grown, and, if hon. Members will cast their mind back four years to the beginning of the last Parliament they will see the House of Lords began tentatively. The Education Bill of 1906 has often been mentioned. The House of Lords did not reject the Education Bill of 1906; they were quite ready to compromise on that Bill. There are a good many hon. Members who remember the particular night when the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, then the Minister for Education (Mr. Birrell) made a speech on the Lords Amendments to the Education Bill in which he was very conciliatory, in fact he was ready to make too many concessions, he was very conciliatory, and the general impression was that the Bill would pass. The Leader of the Opposition came into the House, and, by his speech, everybody knew that the Bill was dead. It was the Leader of the Opposition on that occasion who was the first to teach the House of Lords how to use its power of the Veto. I am not pretending to take this view of my own accord. The Prime Minister, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, at the conclusion of that Debate said:—If, contrary to our hope and desire, we are unable to obtain a permanent and workable solution of this long and bitter controversy, the responsibility for wrecking it lies with the right hon. Gentleman.And he pointed across the Table to the Leader of the Opposition. That was the beginning. Then they found they could 939 use this power with impunity. Gradually, they increased in boldness. I do not want to go through the record of those four years. The House will remember how gradually, little by little, their assumption increased. They treated Scotland in the most summary way. Scotland has reason to remember it, and Scotland, more than any other part of the United Kingdom, is thoroughly united on this question of the Veto of the House of Lords. Gradually they got bolder, until we get down to the Licensing Bill of 1908. There their boldness rather overstepped the legitimate mark. As everybody will remember, a large body of Noble Lords assembled at Lansdowne House. I think they assembled at twelve o'clock, and I believe no Noble Lord was inconveniently late for his luncheon. In that short space of two hours, they killed the Bill, which had been debated for thirty-one days in this House. It is not only Bills which they kill by rejection or by mutilation, but it is often Bills which they very much injure by amendment. After the rejection of the Budget, which had been debated here for seventy-three days, the net total of the work of this House, which may be said to have been thrown away, is that of 165 days of Parliamentary time. Those 165 days were devoted to measures which were rejected by the House of Lords. Mr. Gladstone very rightly said in the last speech he made in this House, in 1894:—The question is whether the work of the House is not merely to modify, but to annihilate the whole work of the House of Commons, which has been performed at an amount of sacrifice of time and labour, of inconvenience, and perhaps of health, but at any rate an amount of sacrifice totally unknown to the House of Lords.They pursued this wild and rather reckless course; they seemed not to realise the fact that they were heaping up an array of arguments and a case, an irrefutable and crushing case, against their power, their authority, and their very existence. This conflict which has arisen has become stronger as time has gone on till the rising tide of democracy finds itself up against this rock that is stationary and immovable. The interests of democracy and the interests of the Noble Lords in another place are coming into more and more direct conflict, and, unless this state of affairs is put a stop to, it means the arrest of progress altogether.
The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil), in his speech the other day, attributed a good deal of 940 importance to the association between social rank and public service. I must confess I am not a very great admirer of social rank; in fact, I go so far as to say that, whether it is the worship of rank at the one end of the scale or the pretensions of rank at the other end of the scale, I think it is an unhealthy element both in our public and our private life. I do not for a moment say there are not individuals of high rank who justly cause admiration and respect, and who have given their country a great service, but we are not dealing with individuals; we are dealing with a class, with what I might describe as the nobility. The nobility, as a class, sets itself to rule over us. "Nobility" s, perhaps, an old-fashioned word, but I think it expresses more or less the situation. The word, to my mind, conveys a certain pomposity and arrogance, with a little dash of vulgarity, and, so far as the nobility is concerned, I agree with what was once said by Bacon, who has been frequently quoted during the Debates. Bacon said:—Speaking of nobility, democracies they need it not; and they are commonly more quiet and less subject to sedition than when there are stirps of nobles. For men's eyes are upon the business and not upon the persons; or, if upon the persons, it is for the business sake, as fittest and not for flags or pedigrees‥‥A numerous nobility causeth poverty and inconvenience in a State, for it is a surcharge of expense.I agree with those views. The Leader of the Opposition accused us of going off on to a side issue in this constitutional question, and he complained and said we ought to be attending to the work of social reform. The door of social reform, as we understand it, has been too often closed in our faces, and until we can get the key—and the key is a Bill to be founded on these Resolutions—into our hands it is quite useless for us to go on banging away at that door. I own myself that I shall not be absolutely satisfied until I do see a Bill. A Bill I asked for in the last Parliament, and a Bill I still want to see now; and I hope the Government, who have begun by concentrating their whole attention on this subject, and very rightly, will continue to use all the powers at their command to see that everything that can be done to bring about what is the clear wish of a majority of the electors of this country shall be done, in order that the Bill founded upon these Resolutions may become law, and once and for all a reform in the relations between the two Houses will be effected, by which the will of the people may prevail.
§ Mr. EVELYN CECIL
We have just listened to a characteristic speech from the 941 hon. Member for Stirling Burghs. I am not at all surprised he approves that what is called the Reform of the House of Lords has been relegated to the preamble of the Bill—a Bill which very likely none of us will see. But he has not answered two questions which I should very much like to put to hon. Members opposite, and neither of which have been dealt with adequately in any of the speeches to which we have so far listened. The first question is, Why remove the Lords right to reject Bills until you have found something better to put in the place of the House of Lords? The only answer we have got from the speeches of hon. Gentlemen is, "Because it is the only way to keep our party together." [An HON. MEMBER: "Who said so?"] If hon. Members deny that, I am very much astonished, for, after listening to the speeches we have had in this Debate, I should have thought there could be no question that that is the reason why the reform of the House of Lords has been relegated to the preamble of the Bill. It has been treated as a sort of bridge with which to connect the two sets of followers the Prime Minister has to bring together. There can be no doubt whatever there is no reason for destroying the House of Lords unless you have something better to put in its place. Yet that is the only way to keep the supporters of the Government together. The other question is: "Do the Government want or not a strong Second Chamber?" We have not had an answer to that. The only answer we have had in the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite is that we had better "wait and see." I think it is most material in this case we should know whether the party opposite, and the Government who represent them, desire to have any Second Chamber at all or whether they wish a weak Second Chamber or a strong Second Chamber. I am a strong Second Chamber man. I should be perfectly willing to cast aside the divisions which only too often exist between the two parties in this House if we could put our heads together and set up a really strong Second Chamber. But I am afraid there is very little chance of that. There is certainly no chance if hon. Gentlemen opposite take the line they have done during these Debates. I think it might have been for the good of the country if we could have sat down to devise some adequate step to produce a really strong Second Chamber, instead of setting ourselves to destroy what we have at present. It is only too easy to destroy things when you have a single 942 Chamber. It is much more difficult to construct things without two Chambers. There is an instructive saying of Lally-Tollendal on this point: "With one Chamber you can destroy everything; without two Chambers you can found nothing."
Under the Resolution proposed by the Government the House of Commons is to be practically omnipotent. If the House of Commons is to be omnipotent it means that the Cabinet and the Executive will be so also. I cannot but believe it is the greatest mistake to so revolutionise the Constitution which has worked well for centuries by introducing, at such short notice and with adequate debate, so vast a change as this forebodes. I know the Prime Minister has said that Acts of Parliament are not sacrosanct. One Chamber can pass an Act of Parliament, and after a General Election the next Chamber can cancel it. I think we have always flattered ourselves in this Kingdom on possessing a general continuity in the policy of successive Parliaments, and that it is not the custom of one Parliament to try and destroy the legislation of its predecessors. On the contrary, such legislation has been accepted. But under the Prime Minister's contention, that Acts of Parliament are not sacrosanct, I am afraid that the continuity of policy is going to be thrown to the winds. It outlines that future parties will have nothing to do but to upset their predecessors' legislation. It will arouse a great deal of party rancour and unnecessary strife. I would much rather maintain our former traditions—accepting what our predecessors have done even if we do not agree to it. But this will be introducing an entirely new system, which may produce great changes whenever a new party comes into office; therefore why set so lightly about it? Apparently it is desired to abolish many of the main checks upon fundamental changes under our present system of Government. I do not fancy in any democracy there will be a Government in which vast fundamental changes can be so easily introduced without considering the will of the people. Do not let us forget the Constitution of the United States, and what would be necessary if any of the fundamental changes proposed in the Budget, or such as are involved in the Veto Bill, were brought up for legislation in the United States. Is it fully realised what is required there? In the first place, for any fundamental change of that character you have to get a majority of two-thirds both in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. When 943 that is done, and before you can make a change, you have to get the assent of the Legislatures of three-fourths of the States. What does that mean? There are forty-five States at present in the United States, so that practically you have to get the assent of thirty-four, and when you remember that everyone of those States has two Legislative Chambers, it means that you have to get the assent of sixty-eight Legislative Chambers before you can pass a fundamental change in the Constitution. In other words, you have to get a three-fourths majority in the Senate and in the House of Representatives and the assent of sixty-eight Legislative Chambers in the United States before you can pass any fundamental change in the Constitution. Let us realise that. I cannot believe that hon. Members who so glibly advocate the restriction of the Veto of the House of Lords before having thought out what is follow can have studied the history of the United States or any of the great Governments of democracies throughout the world.
We have, of course, no institution such as the Supreme Court of the United States. That is again a check upon revolutionary changes, which are not fully desired or justified, because the assent of the Supreme Court has to be obtained to decide what can or what cannot be done under the powers laid down under the Constitution. The moment you adopt a written Constitution in the way suggested by this Resolution you must have some authority clearly to define what in legal language is ultra vires and what is not. It is proposed to alter this Constitution in a very clumsy way. We have no independent separate judicial authority to which we can appeal so as to get rid of party turmoil and pass into the calm regions of judicial procedure. I earnestly hope that the House will not commit itself to this Resolution without having more fully thought out this question, because the moment you throw the Constitution into the melting pot you arouse a variety of controversies to the detriment of national legislation. I also deeply regret that we should be arguing this matter under a Closure Resolution, which gives us very little time for considering the details of the proposal. Those details are extremely important, and I hope we shall not commit ourselves to this proposition without more careful consideration of what will ultimately be involved. I hope hon. Members opposite 944 will analyse the whole situation. What I gather from their speeches is that in effect the present situation is that the Lords trust the people, and the Radical party does not. I am further driven to that conclusion by a cryptic sentence in that able evening paper, the "Westminster Gazette," which stated only two or three days ago that any Second Chamber worthy of the name would help the Government of the day to pass such a measure as the Licensing Bill, even though at the moment the measure seemed to be unpopular. Hon. Members opposite cheer that, but, after all, what does it mean? Does it not mean that the House of Lords ought to pass certain Bills, even though they were unpopular? If that statement is put down deliberately as representing the views of the Radical party, it seems to me much more to savour of the claim of Radical infallibility than of the doctrine of carrying out the people's will.
§ Mr. EVELYN CECIL
I do not think that is the contention of hon. Members opposite. Their admission has been that the Licensing Bill was not popular in the country, and it has been admitted by many speakers on that side that if a General Election had been taken on that Bill pure and simple, we on this side would now have been sitting on the other side of the House.
The point I am arguing is whether or not the House of Lords is only to accept Bills when they are in accordance with the people's will, or whether they are to accept them when they are in accordance with the Radical view of what the people's will ought to be, because the contention of hon. Members opposite is that the House of Lords ought to carry out the Radical view of what the people's will ought to be and that is not at all my idea of the House of Lords. I fully endorse the theory that the House of Lords should exercise their functions so that the people's will is ultimately carried out, and when any great revolutionary changes are made they are to refer those changes to the people for their decision. We accept that, but we do not accept that they should pass Bills because they carry out the views of a temporary majority in the House of Commons. I do not claim for the House of Lords all the infallibility which the hon. Gentleman opposite appeared to claim for his own 945 party, but if it is not all it should be, by all means let us reform it, and let us do so before taking away the power of the Second Chamber altogether. Let us introduce life peers, a course of which I have always been in favour, and let us see what can be done in that way. Although I have no intention now of advocating any complete scheme of reform for the House of Lords, I am quite willing to consider one, and I think that any delicate change in the Constitution such as that is, ought to be carried out very cautiously and by very steady steps. If we set ourselves to that task without undue party bias and put our heads together to try to obtain some adequate reform, which would at the same time carry on the traditions of our Constitution, I think we should be doing much better political "work and much more statesmanlike work than we are likely to do by carrying this Resolution.
§ Mr. R. D. DENMAN
I do not think that our opponents opposite who have followed these Debates can fairly be in doubt on the points as to which the hon. Member who has just eat down has asked for an explanation. He asked us whether it was the aim of this party to produce a strong Second Chamber. I, of course, have no authority to speak for anyone but myself, but I cannot imagine that there is more than one interpretation that can be put upon the Prime Minister's utterances. He wants ultimately to have the strongest possible Chamber to produce the proper effects by the functions which the Second Chamber will have to perform under this Resolution. In the first place, he wants it to be quite clear what the functions are that it is necessary that the Second Chamber should discharge, and it is quite impossible to form an idea of the constitution of a Second Chamber until you know what its functions are. You cannot build a bridge until you know the traffic it is to carry and the work it has to do, and we have to lay down first what is to be the work of the Second Chamber before we decide on its constitution. We may say that we should like a far better instrument to perform that work than the present House of Lords can possibly be, and that seems to me to be a very clear and very lucid exposition of the policy of the Government which is not capable of misunderstanding. In the course of these Debates I think we have realised the fundamental differences between the two parties. I understand what, according to hon. Gentlemen oppo- 946 site, the functions of the Second Chamber ought to be. They have told us over and over again that it is the function of the House of Lords to refer particular measures to the people, and that in fact the House of Lords has in the past frequently succeeded in referring particular measures to the people.
I venture to doubt that very much. At the last election what particular measure did the House of Lords succeed in referring to the people? [HON. MEMBERS: "The Budget."] I do not know how many hon. Members on this, the Ministerial, side of the House will consider with hon. Members opposite that the Budget was a measure on which they fought the election more than any other measure. Certainly I did not, and certainly my opponent on his side did not, fight the election on the Budget, but the hon. and learned Gentleman who sits opposite, who came down to the Constituency I represent, did fight the Budget, and he dealt more with that question than with any other. He talked a great deal about the dangers of the Income Tax, having regard to its size and magnitude as now imposed, because he said it lessened the power of taxation in time of war, but I do not know that that subject was mentioned again during the whole course of the election, and I have not observed, having come back to this House, that the party opposite has the same repugnance to the Income Tax that was shown during the election. I think it was pretty clear that that particular measure was not the one decisive measure on which the election was fought, and I do not think that anyone who went through it can really claim that they fought the election on that question. If that is so, what becomes of the contention that the Licensing Bill and the Education Bill were as individual measures referred to the people? Does anyone suppose that the last election was seriously swayed by either of those measures? If every Member -would put to himself the number of times he referred to those two subjects, he would certainly find that that number was very small.
It is abundantly clear that what the House of Lords succeeded in referring to the people was their own constitution and the relations between this House and their own, and beyond that what they referred to more than anything else was the entire Ministry and its policy on the one side as compared with the Opposition leaders and their policy on the other. The fact is that 947 you can not by any scheme of a Second Chamber refer individual measures to the country, and therefore we on this side think that our Resolutions are so much more effective in producing the results which are desired than any proposals made by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite would be. In the course of the two years' delay you will be able to refer the particular measure to the country in a way which has not hitherto been possible. Let hon. Members just recall the events of last summer again. Surely the Budget was referred to the people more effectively in the course of last summer than in the course of the election. We all know the extent of the organisation that we on this side adopted and that adopted on the other saide, and the organisation of both parties was spread all over the country. Meeting after meeting was held, and it became clear that the Budget was not so unpopular as it was said to be on the benches opposite. Does anybody think, under this scheme, that if the attitude of the country showed that they were hostile to a measure the Government would proceed with the Bill which had been referred to it? [An HON. MEMBER: "You proceeded with the Licensing Bill."] I do not think that the conditions in regard to the Licensing Bill were really the same. I do not think that the Licensing Bill had anything like the organisation in the country when that question was fought as was the case when the Budget was under discussion. Under this Resolution you will be able to have two Houses if you like, and if under it a Bill is referred to the country, and all the Members on this side of the House really found that the country did not want that particular measure during that two years, is it to be seriously argued that the Government is going to force that measure through the House? I do not think any Government under those circumstances would pass the measure.
We have had in the course of the Debate some delightful phrases in regard to the function of the Second Chamber. It is said to be the function of that Chamber to reject a measure which had not on its side the settled opinion of the permanent mind of the country. There has been a selection of phrases of that kind from almost every speaker on the opposite side. When is the House of Lords skilled in discovering what is the permanent mind of the people? Surely not when any big contentious measure is being discussed; nobody at 948 that time can say what is the permanent mind of the people. The fact that it is under discussion, and that there is a heated controversy about it, is evidence that the people know that it is the subject of dispute, and they have no conviction upon it while it is under discussion. Take the case of old age pensions, which I think is strongly in favour of that argument. Does anyone think that while that was under discussion what took place represented the settled mind of the people? All of us on this side were heartily in favour of this measure as it stood, but we had friends who had doubts as to whether it was the best method of producing a, scheme for old age pensions. There were opinions freely expressed by moderate papers and by moderate men in regard to that measure, and how could the House of Lords divine that it represented the permanent mind of the people?
Take another measure passed by the last Unionist Government. In the case of their Education Act, did that represent the permanent mind of the people? I have always understood that that was introduced—I am open to correction on this point, as a matter of fact—that that was introduced, not as a final settlement of the problem, but that those who introduced that measure knew that it was one stage in the evolution of their educational policy. How was it that the House of Lords was inspired to know either from above or in a lateral direction that it was the settled opinion of the country to demand a separate measure. I think, in reasoning in that way, you very soon reduce the contention to an absurdity. The other point upon which we are definitely at issue with the other side is as to the effect of this Resolution. The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Robert Finlay) who moved an Amendment on going into Committee said that these reforms which we advocate would remove the only safeguard against great changes being made by the Government of the day, not only against the consent, but contrary to the wishes of the vast majority of the electors. The only safeguard against great changes being made by the Government of the day is not the House of Lords. It must be within the recollection of a good many Members that the House of Commons has a way of turning out Governments. To neglect wholly that settled practice of our Constitution by which the House of Commons controls the Government of the day and to maintain that the House of Lords 949 is the only safeguard against the tyranny of the Government is to me an extraordinary lapse. If a new Member were to make a similar statement he would be dealt with without mercy. That an official Amendment carrying all the weight of the front Opposition Bench should assert that we are breaking down the only safeguard in a manner so neglectful not only of the Prerogative of the Crown, but of the settled practice of the House of Commons I can only describe as deplorable.
In this Debate I have been surprised that so little has been said of the position of the Government Departments. I have listened to Debates from the Gallery behind the Speaker's chair. That Gallery is now transferred to the other end of the Chamber, and I think the change of place is significant as showing the increased importance of the great Departments of the State in legislation. I would ask the Committee to reflect what really happens to a Bill which comes before this House. So far from this being anything like a Single Chamber Government, it is the practice in modern legislation for a Bill to go through an enormous number of preliminary changes before it ever comes before this House. You all know the way in which a Bill originates Perhaps a small number of experts outside the House raise an agitation. That is taken up by a Department, which slowly produces a Bill. There are probably committees in the Department and committees of persons who know the subject from different parts of the country, and the whole question is thoroughly examined before it comes into the House of Commons. Probably there are in addition committees of the Cabinet. You thus get a measure which can by no means be described as hasty. You get it as the leisurely product of knowledge and reflection. You get it brought into the House and subjected to all the criticism which can be brought against it. If that is not throwing an adequate amount of public light upon any given Bill I cannot imagine what is. Taken in conjunction with the power of delay, which will still be left to the Second House, it seems to me incredible that anyone should really be afraid of hasty legislation. But there are more fundamental reasons for desiring this alteration in the relationship between the two Houses. Democracy cannot ever be at its best if you impose upon it too heavy a weight. Probably most of you have known individuals outside the House, enthusiasts on particular subjects, who 950 have had, before they can do anything with that subject, to educate the people in it. That is a severe enough task for most people, but it is asking much of them to expect them to educate the House of Lords as well. That is why I, personally, feel that the matter before us is of vital interest to the democracy. When you look back over the four years and consider the frightful waste of effort—I am not talking of the effort of people in this House, because, perhaps, we are condemned to spend our lives in a good deal of fruitless discussion, but I am talking of the effort of serious people outside who want to take a part in framing the legislation of their country—I think you will see that the present system of a Chamber that does not command their respect, and which they know has not an adequate knowledge on the subject on which they are experts, puts upon them too heavy a burden—a burden that democracy cannot expect them to carry. It is, therefore, in the interests of the life and the growth of political interests in the general people of this country that I warmly support these Resolutions.
§ Viscount HELMSLEY
The hon. Member who has just sat down has proved rather too much for his own case, because in attempting to show how, as a matter of fact, a Bill went through a great many stages, both before it came into the House, in the House, and elsewhere, he really showed that, as a matter of fact, the Bill is taken far more out of the control of the House of Commons than it used to be, and rests far more on the Government of the day than it ever did before. All those proceedings of which he spoke occur before the Bill has the cognisance of the House, or the people outside at all, and it goes a long way to prove, as did his illustration about the gallery, that the Government of the day is becoming more and more powerful and is usurping power, not only from the House of Lords, but also from this House. In discussing this Resolution, we may, perhaps, consider by what methods these proposals have been advanced before the country. I daresay hon. Members, especially those new to this Parliament, have thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not quite so violent in his expressions here as we have known him to be in the country; but when you reflect on the way in which he is attempting to create prejudice against the House of Lords in the country, we shall be forced to admit that a good deal of the 951 agitation has arisen on false grounds, and is not a genuine, but a spurious, agitation altogether. The Chancellor has described people like myself, who are in the unfortunate position, of being eldest sons, as the first of a litter. He has described Members of the House of Lords as mongrels, and he has described them as a menagerie. He has gone about the country, from North to South and from East to West, not arguing this question from a constitutional point of view, and not putting before the people serious reasons why the old Constitution of the country should be altered, but merely trying to excite prejudice among those who have not had the opportunity of finding out for themselves what are the real facts of the situation.
That is a very different way from that in which Liberal statesmen of the past would have dealt with a proposed reform of the Constitution, and I cannot help feeling very strongly that it is a pity that this House or the country should enter upon a reform of this kind with so very little sense of the importance of what is going on and with such very great levity of spirit. After all, this Resolution, as distinct from the first Resolution, is an entire innovation in the Constitution, and it is attempting for the very first time in our history to alter the relations of the two Houses so that in the fuure one shall be thoroughly and entirely subordinate to the other. Whatever may be said for altering the constitution of the House of Lords—and I for one am not averse to some reform of the House of Lords—I think very little indeed can be said in favour of making the House of Lords a perfectly futile and ridiculous Assembly, as they would be if they were only allowed these remnants of power which are proposed to be left under this Resolution. I think hon. Members opposite sometimes assume too readily that both parties are on an equality in this matter of legislation. The conditions under which Conservatives and Unionists and Liberals and Radicals legislate are not the same, they are not in principle identical, and there are valid reasons why there should be something operating as a hindrance, if you like, to Radical legislation where there is not the same reason for hindrance to Conservative and Unionist legislation.
I am going to test it by the effect upon the minority. You talk very glibly about the will of the people. But, after all, on the showing of hon. Members opposite, the 952 will of the people on any given occasion is not the will of anything like the whole nation, but of a bare majority of the electorate. Even in the last Parliament, when there was that huge majority opposite, the majority of electors who returned them was not very great. It is, of course, still less on this occasion, and, as a matter of fact, it is a very narrow margin of electors which expresses the will of the people one way or the other. The effect on the minority for the time being is not the same when Conservative legislation is proposed as when Radical legislation is proposed, because if Conservative legislation is proposed, of which the minority for the time being disapproves, it only means that some change on which they have set their heart is postponed for some time. There is nothing to prevent that change taking place when the Radical minority in the country is turned into a majority. I do not think the same is true when Radical legislation is proposed, because Radical legislation creates a very different effect upon the Conservative minority for the time being. If Radical legislation is proposed, such as we have have had experience of in the last four years, it means that in a great many cases things never will and never can go back to the position they were in before, which is proved by the large Conservative minority. Therefore if that Radical legislation is carried its effects cannot be undone, and, therefore, the Conservative minority, although it may be subsequently turned into a majority, is permanently and for ever defeated, and has to surrender its views. That is why I venture to say that it is a quite legitimate proposition that there should be a further check upon Radical legislation to what there is upon legislation of a Conservative character. [Laughter.] It is all very well for the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) to jeer, but perhaps he will favour us with an explanation why it should not be so. Does he consider Conservative legislation is exactly of the same character as Radical legislation, which you may equally call Radical revolution in the last four years? I do not think I could really express this argument in words better than those which Lord Sailsbury used on one occasion. He said:—The essential Conservatism of the Second Chamber was in reality the redressing of the balance of advantage which otherwise rests with the party of destruction, because that which is conserved can be revised in the future, but that which is destroyed can never be replaced.953 I really think if hon. Members will look at that sentence, they will see there is something in it. That is why it has hitherto been tolerated that the Second Chamber should be predominantly of a Conservative character. It is useless to deny that it always has been, and probably always will be, no matter what is done to the Constitution. I do not mind whether you make it hereditary or nominative or elective if you choose a sufficiently large area for the purpose of election, and if you give accordingly sufficient security for the independent opinion of the Second Chamber. I can conceive that any Second Chamber which has not security for independence of opinion is not a Second Chamber except in name. If you have a Second Chamber constituted so as to give it independence of opinion, I venture to say it will always be more or less Conservative in character. It. seems to me that is why hon. Members opposite dislike any alteration in the constitution of the House of Lords. No Second Chamber will satisfy the Radical party unless it is a Radical Second Chamber prepared to pass all Radical measures, and that, of course, amounts to nothing more nor less than a single Chamber.
I submit that this proposal of the Government to pass measures in three successive Sessions, and that then they should become law, is really an absolutely futile proposal as regards any check on legislation which may be required. It will not act as a check at all. Hon. Members opposite do not want it to act as a check. Then, why go through the farce of having it? Why have a Second Chamber at all if it is not to be some check on hasty legislation? This proposal will not carry out that. We know what the course of events will be. In the first Session there may be some sort of discussion, probably not very much. We have had experience of how little discussion can be given to Bills in this House. The next time it comes up there will be no discussion at all. What do the Government propose to do about the Budget? This is a new Parliament, with 100 new Members reinforcing the minority. How much time are they going to allow to the Budget? That will be a test of their sincerity. If they are going to guillotine the Budget without discussion, as we gather they are going to do, when there are 100 new Members in the House, then what chance is there in future when there is a Bill brought up for the second time, not after an election, but in the same Parliament, that that Bill will 954 receive any discussion whatever? If it receives very little discussion on the second occasion, I venture to say it will receive none at all on the third. It will probably be passed by the Minister in charge getting up and moving that the Bill go through all its stages in one day. That is the sort of discussion Bills will get. Meanwhile, what will happen in the country? The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Denman) said that no Government could in this way pass a Bill which was-unpopular in the country. I venture to deny that proposition altogether. He very truly pointed out that it is very difficult in periods of heat and controversy to decide what the majority of the people want, and therefore whatever meetings might be got up against a Bill, as was done in the case of the Licensing Bill, however many speeches might be delivered, and however many petitions might be presented to this House objecting to the measure, the Government would say, "That is got up by factions; that is organised by the syndicated Press," or some excuse of that kind will be found, and they will take no notice of the opposition at all. They will run the Bill through just the same.
After all, what is there that can reveal the unpopularity of a Bill but the test of appealing to the constituencies? It is quite true that when you go to the constituencies you cannot fight on one particular measure; but if there is one particular measure that has aroused great indignation, then it is very good odds that the party which proposed that Bill will no longer receive the support of the electors. Hon. Members opposite quote the Education Bill of 1902, and say it was unpopular in the country. I daresay they were right, but their being right was not proved until 1906. That was one of the measures I know which influenced the election very considerably. I think since then the unpopularity of the measure has died down, and it has been shown to be a better measure than was thought. There is no doubt that nobody could test the unpopularity of the measure until the subsequent election. Similarly with the licensing Bill and the Budget of this Government. It is all very well for hon. Members to say the Budget was popular, but how did the popularity show itself? Why, by reducing the majority of the Government and increasing the number in favour of Tariff Reform. The result was that the Government have now a 955 majority of thirty instead of 300. That is the popularity of the Budget as evidenced at the last election. I say if you eliminate one stage of our constitutional procedure, whereby you can roughly—I do not say more than roughly—gauge the opinion of the country, you are eliminating the only procedure which is valuable, and it is valuable before you pass a Bill, and not afterwards. Under the proposal of the Government that procedure will not take place until you have passed a Bill, and though electors may vent their indignation on the Government that passed the Bill by turning them out of office, it will be too late to alter-it, as the mischief will have been done. The Prime Minister suggested that each party should undo the legislation of the other, but I think that is a very bad precedent. Our old system of going on the principle of continuity and respecting the decisions of previous Parliaments as regards legislative matters is quite plain, and I think it would be bad to alter it, even in the sphere of legislation; but if we are going to alter it in legislation, we shall be driven to alter it also in the sphere of the Constitution. The Prime Minister said there is no reason why a succeeding Parliament should not alter what a predecessor has done. Shall we not be able then if our party come into office to alter the Constitution and propose to abolish this new method, and then will not the Radical party be able to alter it again, and shall we not later on be able to alter it back? Are we going to enter upon a period when the Constitution is not to be the elastic thing it has always been in the past— elastic through the stress of time, and suitable to every occasion, but a thing which you can turn and twist about as much as you like, which you can alter always to suit your convenience. I think that under a Constitution of that kind which could be changed about with greater facility than you could alter the Rules of this House, it would be very doubtful whether we should advance as in the past, slowly perhaps, but steadily, towards progress.
§ Mr. ROWLAND BARRAN
The Noble Lord who has just sat down has accused hon. Members on this side of not adhering to the old principle of following on the acts of past Administration. He dealt with the question, not only as to legislation, but on the Constitutional question, and I think the House will agree with me 956 when I say that his claim amounts to this, that it will not be open to the Liberal party to differ from the policy of their Conservative predecessors, but that it shall be open for the Conservative party to differ from their Liberal predecessors. He talked of two spheres—the constitutional and the legislative. Well, constitutionally the predicament we are in at the present time is due to the Conservative party departing from the old practice. It is due to the House of Lords differing from what the House of Lords was in the old days, a revising Chamber, and violating the Constitution by becoming an absolutely partisan Chamber. The Noble Lord, speaking of the desirability of following upon consecutive legislation, made reference to the Education Bill. Can you have a more striking example of the failure of.the Conservative party to carry on the work of their predecessors than when they ruthlessly destroyed the School Board system of the country? And yet the Noble Lord, with that example before him, claims that they take a different view on his side, and he argues that we should abstain from making any constitutional change whatever.
I accept the view the Noble Lord has given on the difference between legislation from the Liberal Benches and legislation from the Conservative Benches. His description amounts practically to the claim that Liberals do make material alterations in our system, actual and progressive alterations, which differ in nature from those proposed by the Conservative party, and therefore he says that it is necessary that we shall have a Second Chamber, which shall prevent the Liberal party making changes, but which shall not prevent the Conservative party either making changes of less importance or carrying out retrograde legislation, and that the instrument by which this object shall be accomplished shall be a hereditary Chamber. I think that the Noble Lord has placed that perfectly fairly before us. For my part, on the statement as he has put it I would advocate the alteration constitutionally of the hereditary principle, and I much regret that the Prime Minister has departed from the plan foreshadowed in the King's Speech of dealing with the hereditary principle at the same time as he is dealing with the abolition of the Veto. I think that it is really the hereditary principle that we have to deal with. It is the abolition of the hereditary principle that the country 957 is interested in, and was interested in at the last election, however differently we may express it. A great many who have spoken on this side of the House emphasised the point of the abolition of the Veto of the House of Lords. I am quite prepared to accept the abolition of the Veto as it is expressed in this second Resolution if, and only if, it is the preliminary to a drastic alteration of the House of Lords itself. I think that the two questions must be dealt with really together. I think that they are inseparable. I do not think that they must be dealt with together in point of time, but I do say that the Government ought to give the House of Commons, and ought to give the country, some clear indication of their plan of reconstructing the Second Chamber before they ask us to vote or before they ask the country, if necessary, to vote upon the Resolutions that we are dealing with now. I am quite willing to support the Government in carrying the Veto on the understanding, and only on the understanding that the reconstruction of the House of Lords shall be part of this great policy, and not only that, but on the understanding that it is going to be dealt with immediately after, that it is the next matter that is to be dealt with legislatively after the Veto Resolutions have been passed.
After all, it is the hereditary principle that is the cause of the whole of the difficulty and the whole of the deadlock, past and present, that has arisen between the two Houses. If you can imagine a Second Chamber devoid of the hereditary element you cannot suppose that, however constituted, it would either have rejected totally or rejected after some compromise the measures that have been enumerated so often during the last few weeks in this House. It is impossible also to suppose that they would have allowed, without some alteration or compromise, those measures to have passed which we described as of a retrograde character, and which were passed under the Conservative Government in its declining days, when it had ceased to be in touch with the people, and had ceased to represent the country. The difficulty that has arisen is not inherent in a Second Chamber. It is inherent in a Second Chamber constituted on the hereditary principle. If one casts ones mind back on the speeches that have been made recently in the House of Lords and the speeches made, not only by Cabinet Ministers, but by the rank and file of this party in the House of Commons and in the coun- 958 try, one sees that they have been directed against the hereditary principle of the House of Lords. More than that, the Opposition peers in the House of Lords have at last by their votes tardily admitted that it is the hereditary principle which is at the root of the whole of the difficulty. And yet we are left in doubt at the present time as to whether before we go on to further legislation, before we have to deal with the Bills that have been rejected before or deal with any other special legislation, this question of the hereditary principle is to be dealt with. If it is to be dealt with we can only regard this second Resolution as of a temporary nature, because the Prime Minister himself has adumbrated a much better system by which deadlocks between the two Houses might be settled under a revised Chamber. If you turn again to the views that have been expressed in this House as to all the Bills that have been rejected in the past, if we take the class of Bill which deals with religious intolerance in the past or religious intolerance which remains up to the present day, there is an instance in the Education Bill. It is perfectly evident that the prejudices of the Upper Chamber have been the sole cause of its rejection. If we come to questions of land legislation, the hon. Member for Waterford showed the House the other day how the hereditary principle was entirely responsible for the failure from Mr. Gladstone's day to the present of a sensible settlement of the land legislation of Ireland. If you look to England, and follow down her coast line where it is opposite Holland to the other end of the Channel, you would see tens of thousands of small holdings on one side of the water and comparatively few on the other side, where the climatic conditions are very much the same and the soil is very much the same. In England the hereditary principle in a House of landlords has been the sole cause which has blocked legislation on that subject. If you come to the question of education and the injustice in elementary education, you have the same cause, because the House of Lords was unwilling to give up its privileges. If you come to secondary education, you will find practically the same thing.
I submit that only a certain part of the difficulty can be overcome by the Resolution. The whole of the difficulty can be overcome by a proper reconstruction of the Second Chamber and by the establishment of a Chamber which will act impartially towards both sides If you look at 959 the political history of this country since 1886 you will find that in these twenty-four years the Conservative party have been in power during seventeen years. The House ought to consider are we satisfied to leave matters as they are during those years when the Conservative party might be in power again? It is all very well for hon. Members on this side to say that they do not believe that the Conservative party is going to be in power. We all heard prophecies of that kind in the 'eighties. The best way for us on these benches to make sure that our opponents will not be in power for seventeen out of the next twenty-four years is to adopt a sound policy, and not leave the matter alone, but after the abolition of the Veto to continue until we have dealt with the constitutional reconstruction of the Second Chamber. Suppose, whatever period you take in the next twenty-four years, that the Conservative party will be in power. If you pass these Resolutions into law you will have dealt with the financial difficulties so far as the Budget is concerned. I am in accord with the Government in the first Resolution in taking finance entirely out of the hands of the Second Chamber, whether that Chamber be revised or not. But, as regards the general question, how much further forward are you? We shall get no further forward at all under these Resolutions if they become law. Not only we shall have a House of Lords as before, which would pass all the legislation that was sent up to it, but you would have something worse than that. If you only passed these Resolutions into law you would continue the House of Lords as it is, and you would, when the Conservative Government was in power, have half of the Members of that Government drawn from the House of Lords—drawn from men who sit there only under the hereditary principle. That is not satisfactory to the great majority of the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not? "] Because we take the view—I suppose the hon. Member does not share it—that it is desirable for the majority of the people by their elected voters to settle what is to be the policy of the country, and not that it should come from the hereditary peerage. That is the whole issue before us. Under these Resolutions we shall settle that over half of the Conservative Government shall be drawn from the House of Lords, influencing the Members of the Government as to their legislation, influencing the Members of the Conservative party, and con- 960 tributing to delaying even such small measures of reform as a Conservative Government might by any chance be willing to give. We have, as has been quoted by the Noble Lord who spoke last, the case of the Education Bill, a Bill on which so many of their own Members, their own followers, deserted them that on three occasions at least they could not have avoided defeat in this House except as the result of a bargain they had made with hon. Members who come from Ireland— [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—who saved them on three separate occasions in 1902 from defeat. I will put my figures and my mathematics against the hon. Members opposite. I was present at the Division myself. I remember the occasions myself. If the hon. Member refers to Hansard he will find that on three occasions the Conservative Government were always saved by the Irish vote. I do not understand why it is so creditable for a Conservative Government to be saved by the Irish vote, while it is so discreditable for a Liberal Government to be saved by the Irish vote. I am not content to stop at a system of reform which would leave one party in uncontrolled power through a period of our history. I am not content that this country should go on, and be still at the mercy of the House of Lords without any check when it has declared its will. I am a believer in a strong and reformed Second Chamber. When I speak of a reformed Second Chamber, I do not mean that kind of Assembly which has been recently discussed in the House of Lords. I am quite aware that they have passed a Resolution saying that the hereditary principle should not alone entitle a man to vote upon legislation in that House. The word "alone," of course, leaves them a way out. I think it perfectly clear that they meant that if a man is a peer by hereditary right, and then is elected by his fellow peers, he would no longer be in the hereditary list. That is a method of reform with which I have no sympathy, and with which I do not believe the country will be satisfied. What we mean by reform of that Chamber is the absolute abolition of the hereditary principle. I do not think any other course will satisfy the desires of the people of this country. If we are going to the people, I do not believe that any other issue will ensure an absolute majority. I do not believe that the people of this country will be satisfied simply by the carrying out of these Resolutions; nor do I feel that I should be doing my duty in voting for 961 these Resolutions unless I knew that it was the determination of the Government to go far beyond them, and that they are to be treated as part of a plan following immediately in time, and which cannot by any possible means be separated from them. I believe we ought to have an undertaking in this from the Government, and that we ought to know the whole plan of the Government, and that they intend to carry it out immediately after these Resolutions have become law. I should like to refer to an example given by the last speaker on that side of the House, who spoke to us a word of warning in connection with the American constitution. He showed how it is almost impossible for the Americans to alter their constitution on such a question, for example, as the abolition of Plural Voting, or any extension of the franchise.
I think the warning which he gave from the American constitution was a very valuable one, but I read it rather differently from what he did. The Americans have representative government in both Chambers, and they have the most elaborate precautions which will prevent that full representative government in both Chambers from being taken away. We, on the other hand, have the most elaborate precautions by means of which the House of Lords, if it be their will, can prevent us ever reaching that which the American people have enjoyed since the Declaration of Independence. I think the example which the hon. Member gave is a strong argument on the Radical side, and not a strong argument on the side of the Opposition. I was glad to hear the speech of the Prime Minister to-day, which, I think, went further than anything that has been said on the Government Benches before. My position with regard to this question is a perfectly clear one. I am prepared to accept these Resolutions, but only as a temporary expedient. I am not prepared to accept them either from the point of view of giving sole power to one Chamber, or from the point of view of an unsatisfactory reconstitution of the House of Lords. I am not prepared to accept that as a permanent arrangement. If I give my vote for the second Resolution, it is in the belief that it is the settled policy of the Government and of the Liberal party to deal, not in the distant future, but in the immediate future, with the reconstitution of the Second Chamber.
§ Mr. HARRY HOPE
In venturing to take up the time of the Committee for 962 a few minutes I do so, in the first place, with great diffidence and relying on the indulgence of the House upon the occasion of my addressing it for the first time as a new Member; and, secondly, because I recognise the importance and the gravity of the subject under discussion. What I think is needed, and what the country will demand, is that any alteration of our Constitution should be proposed not for the object of furthering or advancing our various party interests, or for the purpose and with the intention that some particular policy or piece of legislation may more easily pass into law. The various parties or groups of which the House is composed must go into this question with clean hands, and with the single purpose of handing on to future generations a Constitution capable of performing all the duties which may be laid upon it, and able to protect and maintain the liberties and rights of the people. But what does this Resolution of the Government propose? It proposes that in future all the power of our Second Chamber is practically to be taken away. Some hon. Members may say, "No," but do we not perceive that a Government by strict party discipline and the use of the guillotine can pass through the House of Commons a measure which has been rejected by the House of Lords, and then, when this is twice done, it becomes law? The party system is, we know, severe enough at present, but here, by this procedure, an extra turn of the screw is to be given, and all power is virtually to be placed in the hands of the Cabinet of the day. I think that is contrary to the desires and wishes of this country, and if passed into law will yet by future Liberal Members when sitting on these Opposition Benches be condemned as contrary to the interests of the people. Hon. Members opposite may say, "It is not single-Chamber Government," but we know that those who are in the majority on the Liberal Benches and who have had their way over the more moderate section of the party are single-Chamber men. Therefore it is idle for them to tell us that after they have achieved what they want, namely, the abolition of the Veto of the Second Chamber, that they will begin then to reconstitute a strong and efficient Second Chamber to revise the hasty legislation passed, with the aid of the guillotine, through this House. At the present time we see government by bargains. I do not desire to use the word "bargains" in any offensive sense to hon. Members 963 opposite, but it is within our knowledge that at the present time government is going on by making bargains with groups in this House. I have no doubt that in future we shall see a continuance of this bargaining system. The Unionist party, if it come into power and it had not a very decisive majority might perhaps do the same thing as the other side are doing at the present time; but when we see that now, and probably in the future, the Government of England is going to be carried on because Ministers are able to bargain with various groups who want some particular piece of legislation which the country has not decided in favour of, is it not all the more necessary and incumbent upon us to see that we have a strong and efficient revising Chamber? What the country wants is a reconstituted efficient and effective Second Chamber, able to check and revise hasty legislation passed in this House. In a very short time this question will go to the constituencies, and it will be the people who will solve the problem. I think that the situation will be saved by the common sense of the people, and that out of this period of national difficulty, stress, and crisis through which we are passing there will come forth a reconstituted Upper House, still carrying with it all those old and venerable traditions of which the history of our race is so full and of which our people are so proud, but remodelled in keeping with the development of our modern national life.
Mr. LLEWELYN WILLIAMS
With all respect to the learned ingenuity with which hon. Gentlemen opposite spoke last week, I do not believe there is a single man in this House who listened to the Debate on the first Resolution, and certainly not a single man outside, who believed a year ago, or who believes to-day, that the Resolution was anything but what was declaratory of what is the constitutional usage and practice. The House of Lords, it is true, for once in their long existence, did throw out the Finance Bill of the Government. They are to-day whimpering with fear at the result of their action, and they will never again, I am perfectly sure, whatever may be the issue, dare to interfere with the financial arrangements which any Government at any future time may make. The House of Lords wanted to see what would happen if they threw out the Budget. So much confusion and so much deadlock has occurred since that they 964 would never dare again to do what they did with such a light heart last year. We have borrowed £30,000,000, and we are £30,000,000 short in taxation, and I am perfectly sure that they will never seek to revive this confusion and chaos again whatever may be the result of this controversy.
Here we have come to the real point in the controversy. I agree, to a certain extent, with what the Noble Lord said just now, that in this second Resolution the Government are laying down something more than has ever been claimed by the House of Commons, in words, before today. When you come to examine the second Resolution carefully I think it will be discovered that even this Resolution, though in form it may be an encroachment on the power of the House of Lords, yet in substance and in reality is only declaratory of what has long been the constitutional practice and the constitutional usage in this country. What do hon. Gentlemen, who have constituted themselves the champions of the House of Lords in this controversy, say on behalf of the House of Lords? As I understand them, and it has been affirmed over and over again, they say that the House of Lords has never opposed or withstood the settled will, of the people, and that all the House of Lords claims to do, and that all that it has done, in rejecting the Budget, the Education Bill, and the Licensing Bill is, so its advocates say, to throw some amount of delay in the way of measures becoming Acts of Parliament in order to ascertain for certain whether those Acts embodied the settled opinion and will of the people of this country. But, they say, once it has been, established that any measure that is passed by this House does represent the settled will of the people, then it is not claimed that the House of Lords ought to, or could, constitutionally, oppose such a measure any longer. In the case of such a. measure as that providing for the admission of Nonconformists to the Universities, it is pointed out that no sooner had the House of Lords been satisfied that those measures represented the settled will of the people than they immediately forebore their opposition and allowed the Bills to become law. That is-the claim of the House of Lords, put at its highest by hon. Members opposite, and by the House of Lords themselves in the-Debate which took place the other day.
Let me examine this Second Resolution in the light of that claim on behalf of the House of Lords. Suppose this House were to pass a controversial measure in one- 965 Session, and, without passing any Resolution of this sort at all, that that measure was afterwards sent to the House of Lords and was rejected there. Suppose, then, that in the next Session the same measure was debated in the House of Commons, passed through all its stages, sent to the other end of the corridor, and again rejected, and suppose there was so much pressure of public opinion behind that measure that in the third Session the Government felt persuaded to put aside all other pressing legislation in order to introduce that Bill for the third time. If that Bill was again passed through all its stages here, does anyone in this House suppose that the House of Lords would dare under those circumstances to reject that measure presented to them for the third time?
Mr. LLEWELYN WILLIAMS
This Resolution is declaratory of what is the constitutional usage. The first Resolution is, as I have said, and as any constitutional jurist in the country would agree, merely the settled constitutional usage of the country. It is so embodied in that Resolution, and unfortunately, and I regret it intensely, it has been rendered necessary by the action of the House of Lords that we should transform an unwritten Constitution into a written Constitution. No one is more conscious than I am, or than my Friends sitting on this side of the House, of the mischief that may ensue from having to transform unwritten usages of this country into statute law. Why is it necessary? It is because the House of Lords, in an evil moment, advised by intemperate leaders— not the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, not even Lord Lansdowne, but some other officious leaders in the House of Lords, whom I need not specify—in an ill moment for themselves and in an ill moment for this country, took upon themselves to violate the unwritten Constitution of this country, and so compelled the Government thereby to reduce into words, into formulas, what everyone up to now had understood to be the settled Constitution arid practice of this country.
The reason why I am in favour of these Resolutions is that I do not believe that they constitute in any real sense a revolution. They leave the Constitution of the country untouched. We heard it said by hon. Gentlemen opposite that we are dig- 966 ging up the Constitution by the roots. This is not the way to break the Constitution. We leave the historic continuity of the House of Lords absolutely untouched and unbroken. I have heard it said in peroration after peroration by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the House of Lords could boast of an existence and a historic continuity that goes back seven or eight hundred years. During the last 260 years there have been four occasions when the powers of the House of Lords have been curtailed in the way these Resolutions seek to curtail them. In 1628, 1671, 1678, and in 1860 the powers of the House of Lords were curtailed, and does any hon. Gentleman say that the historic continuity of the House of Lords was broken by those curtailments? It is the stock-in-trade of hon. Gentlemen opposite when they come to perorate that the House of Lords is an older House than this House, and that for 700 years, or from the time of Richard II., that the historic continuity of the House of Lords has remained untouched and unbroken. If, therefore, on four occasions, from 1628 to 1860, the powers of the House of Lords could be curtailed by the Resolutions of the House of Commons without a revolution being effected in the Constitution of the country, why are circumstances different to-day? I say that these Resolutions will leave the constitution, of the House of Lords intact. That is a reason why I, for one, am in favour of them. I look upon these Resolutions not as a temporary expedient, but, if once passed through this House, as a part of the Constitution of the country. It will then no longer be possible for the House of Lords to violate the unwritten constitutional usage in the way they have done. After this House has declared twice in favour of a certain Bill, and that Bill is then sent up for a third time, it will be impossible for the House of Lords any longer object to it. If I criticised the Government proposals in any way, which I am not disposed to do, I should do so on the ground that they are too moderate. I cannot conceive why it should be necessary to pass a certain measure through this House three times before the House of Lords was compelled to give its consent to it. It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to talk on the platform in the country, as I have no doubt they do, about the ease with which measures can be passed through the House of Commons; but we who have been sitting here 967 know the difficulty that every Government has in passing through this House any measure, however uncontentious, it may be. As for passing such a measure twice, no Government would ever dare to bring forward an unpopular measure a second time. Unless they were satisfied that the will of the people was behind a measure they would never introduce it a second time, much less a third. However, I am not disposed to criticise the proposals of the Government; I am in general agreement with them, because, as I say, they do not touch the Constitution.
What is the alternative constantly referred to by hon. Members opposite? Their alternative is to reform the constitution of the House of Lords. What did the House of Lords themselves do the other day? Without a Division they agreed that they must eliminate the hereditary principle. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I may be stating the fact rather crudely, but they declared that no peer should henceforth sit in the House of Lords by reason of the hereditary principle alone. What is that but a revolution? What is that but digging up the Constitution by the roots? It has been a constitutional law of this country—not only usage, but law—since the days of Richard II. that no one should sit in the Upper Chamber except by virtue of the hereditary principle. This cardinal principle, on which that edifice has been built, is now right heartily given up by the House of Lords themselves. And yet they talk about revolution as applied to the mild, moderate, conciliatory proposals of the Government! What did the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford (Lord Hugh Cecil) say the other day? He made a somewhat whimsical paradoxical speech, in which he saw some mysterious affinity between dustmen and dukes. He said that the dustmen of this country cleaned their dustbins more conscientiously, because, forsooth, they knew that every baby that was born a duke was born a legislator. Though I do not agree with that way of stating the case, I agree that it is a bad thing for any country to divorce men of high rank, great riches, and great territorial power from all participation in the service of the State. If that is what the Noble Lord meant, I am inclined to agree that there is some truth in his statement. When I contrast the position of England with the position in, say, France, where there is an ancient nobility, very wealthy, 968 of high rank and great social influence, divorced entirely and almost excluded from the domain of government, I agree that that is a bad thing for any land. When I look across the Atlantic at the United States and see a plutocracy, self-created, self-constituted into a social caste, men of enormous wealth, of high rank, and great social power and influence, excluded either by their own act or by the public opinion of the country from all participation in government, I feel that that also must be a menace to the real interests of a democratic State. Therefore I frankly admit that the Noble Lord had many things in his favour when he said that the public service ought to be open to men of high rank. It has been commented upon time after time by political scientists in this country, some of them good Radicals, that the essential distinction between the English peerage and the foreign nobility was that in England the peerage constituted an office under the Crown; that is to say, it conferred a seat in the Legislature, and that the holder of a peerage in England could not share his honour with any member of his family; whereas in a foreign country the nobility formed a caste from which the majority of the people were excluded for all time. The same idea was expressed by the younger Pitt when he said that every man who had £10,000 a year ought to have a seat in the House of Lords. Because, in my opinion, it is a dangerous thing to the State to have men with this enormous wealth and influence without responsibility of any sort or kind. If you limit the power of the House of Lords so as to adapt it to the growing needs of a democratic State and make it impossible for the House of Lords to become a danger to the democracy or unduly to delay the carrying out of the will of the people, I agree that it is better for us, since we must have a Second Chamber— although I am not convinced that a Second Chamber is necessary, but public opinion is not yet ready to do without one—to have a Second Chamber constituted as the present House of Lords is, based, if you like, on the hereditary principle, and that we should not tinker with the historic Constitution of the country.
What does the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford, who poses here as a champion of the House of Lords, propose? There are at present 623 Members of the House of Lords. The Noble Lord proposes to reduce that number to 400, of whom only 969 350 are to be chosen from the ranks of the present hereditary peers, and even those 350 are not to sit in the House of Lords in virtue of their birth, but they must be nominated by the Prime Minister of the day. What becomes of the great principle which he paradoxically expressed? What becomes of the happy dustman, who will thank heaven that every baby who is born a duke is born a legislator? If the house of Lords is to be reconstituted, if the Noble Lord is to have his way, every baby who is born a duke will not be legislator. Some 270 men will be excluded, if not nominated by the Prime Minister of the day, and who knows that one of those excluded may not be a duke, and then I suppose the dustman, instead of putting the ashes in his cart, will put them upon his head and bewail the fact that England has seen the day go by when a man could not be born a duke without being born a legislator. I am perfectly sure that the real way to deal with this question is on the lines adumbrated in these Resolutions of the Government. I am not a convinced believer in the necessity of having a Second Chamber, but the opinion of this country is not matured enough as yet to do with a single Chamber. The people have come to believe that a Second Chamber is part of the wisdom of our ancestors. They seem to think that our ancestors sat down to frame a Constitution in which the House of Commons would represent the people, and the Second Chamber should be there at the other side of the corridor to withhold consent to any rash legislation. Nothing of the kind. It is a mere historical accident that there should be a Second Chamber at all. Every one knows that when the Parliament of this country was started there were not two, but four Chambers—the knights of the shire sat in one Chamber, the burgesses of the boroughs in another, the lords (the tenants in chief) in another Chamber, and the clergy in still another Chamber. It is a mere historical accident that, by the process of time and circumstances, the four Chambers have been whittled down to two. It was not part of the wisdom of our ancestors to set one Chamber above another. When other countries came to copy our institutions, seeing we had two Chambers, and looking upon England as the cradle of representative Government— as indeed, it was—they fell into the error of believing that a Second Chamber was necessary.
As a matter of fact, if they had only waited a few centuries longer the process 970 of evolution, the genius of government which has always characterised the English people, would have led them to do away with the Second Chamber altogether and to leave the House of Commons as the sole, supreme, and dominating Chamber in the government of the country. What has been the result of that copying of the Second Chamber? Every one of our Colonies has it. Every similar country has copied our bicameral system, excepting Costa Rica and Greece—so we are told by the Opposition. I know nothing about Costa Rica or Greece, but I envy them their constitution. What has been the result in every country where the two-Chamber system has been copied? Every man who knows anything about the Colonies will tell us that the two-Chamber system has in every Colony ended in a deadlock. They are not satisfied with the Senate anywhere. Take Canada, which is perhaps the best instance. When Sir John Macdonald went out of office, the Second Chamber there was Tory—if I might allude to that country in our political terms—at any rate it was Conservative. It was nominated almost entirely by Sir John Macdonald. If I remember rightly, there was only one Liberal in the Second Chamber. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] Well, there were very few; I am not concerned with the actual number; but when Sir Wilfrid Laurier took office, the vast majority of the Second Chamber was Conservative, and it remained so for years afterwards until Sir Wilfrid Laurier was able to nominate his own people. The Second Chamber was all that time in conflict with the Government of that day, and now since Sir Wilfrid Laurier has been in office and power so many years, he has been able to change the complexion of the Second Chamber, so that really it is not a Second Chamber at all. That is exactly what happened everywhere. You do not really want a Second Chamber. It has proved a failure everywhere it has been tried. It has proved a failure here, admittedly, because hon. Gentlemen opposite admit that the present situation is impossible, else why should we reform the Lords? Something must be done, and I suggest that the Government have taken the right, the wise, and the expedient course in the Resolutions which they have proposed.
I have not the honour to be an Englishman or to sit for an English seat. I am a Welshman and I sit for a Welsh seat, yet I confess that I regard this ancient House of Commons with a pride and rever- 971 ence which is almost inexpressible. Wales may be called, perhaps, the eldest child of the House of Commons. Our last Welsh Prince fought by the side of Simon de Montfort at the battle of Lewes, and enabled that great man to call together in 1265 the first Parliament that met on English soil. Welsh Members sat in this House in the Parliaments of Edward II. They have sat without intermission from the day of Henry VIII. They played their part in the great and stirring drama enacted by the Parliaments in the seventeenth century, and I confess I am amazed when I hear Englishmen sitting for English constituencies deriding and jeering at and belittling the House of Commons. When the Imperial star of England will have set —many centuries hence, I hope—and the verdict of history will have to be recorded on the achievements of the English race, the world will say that the greatest thing that English genius did for the world, the thing which added most to the sum of human happiness, was the gift of representative government which the English people gave to those around them. Representative government means the House of Commons—it does not mean the House of Lords. It has been said that you can only govern people—it is always a difficult task —by one of two ways, either by force or by reason, by bayonets or discussion. It is the glory of England that she has found and pointed out the way to govern not by force but by reason, not by the sword but by discussion. To-day the House of Commons, which has been the bulwark of the people's liberties, their sure help in the days of trouble, is fighting for its life. Let there be no mistake about it—once this issue between the two Houses is raised it cannot be laid until one or other of the Houses emerges triumphant from the conflict. I am not afraid of the result. The Prime Minister, in the memorable speech in which he closed the last Parliament, said that he and his Government were animated by the spirit and used largely the weapons of those great House of Commons men of the seventeenth century—Coke, Eliot, Pym, Selden, and Somers. I am glad that he has had the courage to follow what his prescience which has been almost unerring throughout this long and troublesome controversy has marked out to him. These are weapons for curtailing the powers of the House of Lords. These are the weapons of the seventeenth-century statesmen, and I am glad that this Government are carrying 972 out the old traditions of the English House of Commons, and that they are determined to see to it that the House of Commons shall be emancipated from the arbitrary restrictions set upon its action by the House of Lords. And if an obscure Member may be allowed without impertinence to say a word to the Prime Minister, I would bid him go on, and proceed along the path which is open to his feet unfettered, and secure in the confidence that the people whose battle he is fighting will not forsake him.
Mr. ERNEST POLLOCK
The last speaker disparaged perorations, and told us in the earlier portion of his speech that he regretted to have heard so many perorations from Members upon this side of the House. While I am desirous of paying to him all due courtesy I do not know whether to leave out any reference to a large portion of his speech or to follow him in the maxim that he offered to the Committee by disparaging his peroration. I hope he will not think me discourteous if I do not deal with his peroration, which lasted some twenty minutes, but deal with the points of his speech as I understand them. I will not follow him into history except to say we are grateful to Henry VIII., if it was Henry VIII., for giving us Welsh Members—I hope the Welsh Members will long sit in this House, as it is the desire of the Tory party, as he calls us—a name that I accept with great pleasure—always to sit alongside Welsh Members, and we hope Welsh Members may continue to sit with us until the time of Henry X. or Henry XII.
The hon. Member commended this Resolution to the House on the ground that it was nothing more than a declaratory Resolution determining what the Constitution is at the present time. I ask the Committee to consider what this Resolution really is. It says: "That it is expedient that the powers of the House of Lords as respects Bill other than Money Bills be restricted by law." And in order to see what is being done under this Resolution you have to see what are the Bills that are left to be dealt with by the Resolution; that is, to see what are Bills "other than Money Bills"? To do that, you have to go back to the Resolution already passed. We have had a definition given to us in the earlier Resolution of what is a Money Bill. A Money Bill is one which contains provisions for any of the following subjects:—"Imposition, repeal, remission, alteration, and regula- 973 tion of taxation; Charges upon the Consolidated Fund, or the provision of money by Parliament; Supply, appropriation, control, and regulation of public money, the raising or guarantee of any loan, or the repayment thereof, or matters incidental to these subjects, or any of them." If the Attorney-General was in his place I should like to ask him what sort of a Bill is there that is not incidental to any of these subjects, or what are the Bills to which this Resolution should apply t It is very difficult to see to what Bills this Resolution can apply, except to some codification of the law or some Bills that might be sent to a Grand Committee. But to say that this Resolution is merely dealing with the existing powers of the House of Lords, and declaring these powers to exist as they did in the past is, I venture to say, straining the use of language. Let me ask the Committee to consider what it is doing. You have to consider what is incidental to these matters which I have read out in the first Resolution.
On Friday last we had a very interesting discussion upon the question of the breaking up and the alteration of the Poor Law, upon which both sides of the House and all parties are deeply interested. Any question dealing with the Poor Law could not, under the present Resolution, come before the House of Lords. It would be a Money Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] I had hoped I should have got that protest from the other side, because I feel quite certain that hon. Members do not appreciate what they are doing or attempting to do under this Resolution. I am thankful and grateful to those Gentlemen who dispute what I said. May I claim the late Lord John Russell as a Radical, as a person who was a reformer, and in favour of the people's rights—a man that did as much as any man could do for the rights of the people? If hon. Gentlemen will look back to the year 1838 they will find that the question of the Poor Law was then raised, and that Mr. Speaker Abercrombie reported to the House in July, 1838, "that as the principle of rating was necessary and incidental"— these are the- words of this Resolution— that to such a measure, "if the privileges of this House were strictly pressed, they would almost tend to prevent the House of Lords taking such a measure into its consideration." Lord John Russell agreed entirely with the Speaker, but said, in the case of Bills of this description, in which taxation is not solely, but rather incidentally raised—and here once more we 974 get the words of the Resolution—"latitude consistent with due observance of the liberty of this House should be allowed to the House of Lords in their legislative functions." But if you are dealing with these rights incidental to taxation, and if you are to deprive the House of Lords of its powers by law, you will have taken away from the House of Lords all jurisdiction over these Bills and you cannot give any flexibility or latitude to the Speaker to determine, because you have taken away the jurisdiction of the House of Lords upon that matter. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will not dispute the proposition that you cannot by any consent give jurisdiction to a body which has been deprived by law of that jurisdiction.
The same point arose in 1847, when once more the question of Poor Law came up. Again a Report was made by the Speaker, and again the question was raised as to whether it did not come within the general principle of infringement of the rights of this House, and ultimately Lord John Russell, in order that, they might consider a wise amendment made by the Lords to that Bill, asked the House whether they might not give way on the general principle in these Bills to which the House had consented to waive its rights. And they dealt with it upon that basis. At the same time, the Speaker called attention to the fact that in the case of the English Poor Law it raised matters incidental to taxation. English municipal corporation Bills raised matters incidental to finance, and these were the precedents dealt with by the House in these periods in order to show whether or not the privileges of this House had been infringed. Therefore, you have got large questions which are wholly excluded from the possibility of change by the House of Lords. You have the whole subject of municipal corporations eliminated from the sphere in which the House of Lords can operate. You have got a large body of laws so large that it leaves really little to be dealt with under this Resolution. The Prime Minister, in making his speech last week, called attention to the fact that the Constitution of this country, or the relations between the two Houses, is not a matter which was fixed originally. The hon. Member who spoke last drew pretty pictures of the development of the Constitution and the original fragmentary constitution of many Houses. If I desired to answer him I might say that the House of Lords existed before the House of Commons, but, 975 perhaps, we should be going too far back into the Dark Ages. As the Prime Minister has said, the development of our Constitution has gone on and on, and I think we all agree to that. The Prime Minister also referred to the Resolutions of the seventeenth century in order to mark the milestones along the road of the development of the Constitution. The right hon. Gentleman was putting somewhat heavy footprints down to mark the passage of the Constitution along that road.
Another Bill, which would be a Money Bill for the purposes of this Resolution, is the Housing of the Working Classes Act. The Prime Minister called attention to this fact, and said that:—The House of Lords, in 1900, by a joint vote on this Amendment of the Schedule took these expenses from the category of general expenses in which the House of Commons had put them and replaced them in the category of special expenses. That is a violation which should be resented by the House on the well-established principle that where a Bill is passed by the House of Commons and sent to the Lords which alters the incidence of taxation, it is not within the competence of the House of Lords, as a matter of constitutional privilege, to amend or alter that provision.Again, you have a large number of the Bills taken from the sphere of both Houses and taken from the category of Money Bills. The Prime Minister said that on 6th August, 1900, in a Debate in this House. The Bill under discussion was the Housing of the Working Class 1890 Amendment Bill. The present Secretary of State for War has put exactly the same point, namely, that the House of Lords, by making a slight alteration of the law as it existed, was interfering with a right which belonged solely to this House. The Resolution has been passed under which Money Bills have been declared to include all those matters which I have referred to "or matters incidental to those subjects or any of them."
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
There is a difference between financial provisions which are incidental to a Housing Bill which the Lords are prevented from discussing, and small housing provisions which might form part of a Money Bill. None of the Bills which the hon. Member mentioned were Money Bills.
I am afraid I do not follow the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman. For the purposes of this Resolution, a Money Bill is one which contains any of the provisions I have referred to, "or matters incidental to those subjects or any of them." 976 9.0 P.M.
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that a Money Bill as defined in this Resolution is a narrower definition than existed before? Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that the definition used as between the two Houses in regard to a Money Bill is intended by the Resolution passed last week to be narrowed or not?
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
No, Sir. I do not think he will find that the Prime Minister ever described the Housing of the Working Classes Bill as a Money Bill. The Prime Minister said there were Money provisions in that Bill.
When these two Resolutions are carefully considered great difficulty will be found in construing them. The point which the right hon. Gentleman has put has not escaped me, and he has answered me very candidly. The Resolution as to Money Bills is intended to be wider than it was before. It is intended that Bills shall be considered Money Bills which might possibly have passed before as not infringing the privileges of this House.
I conceive that in putting down this Resolution defining a Money Bill the intention of the Government was to make it a more inclusive term than it has before been considered to be by the usages of the past. You have declared by your Resolution that a Money Bill is a measure which contains "matters incidental to those subjects or any of them." It is easy to have something which is not in actual terms a Money Bill, but which will be deemed to be a Money Bill for the purposes of this Resolution. What the Prime Minister called attention to was that where you have provisions which deal with expenses either general or special, and when you have to deal with a question of what those expenses are, and how they should be borne, you have then got a matter which is within the privileges of this House, and which could not be altered by the House of Lords in any way. The effect of that is you have got matters which are incidental in the case which I have quoted, and that will bring the Bill within the category of Money Bills according to the Resolution passed last week. When you have brought such matters as municipal corporations, Poor Law questions, and questions of housing, and so 977 on within the category of Money Bills, what is left to be dealt with under this Resolution? Can the hon. Gentleman who last sat down maintain that the Resolution now before the Committee is merely declaratory of the existing system? It is intended to go a great deal further; it is intended to satisfy those hon. Members who are desirous of still seeing a Second Chamber and an effective Second Chamber. The hon. Member told us that, although apparently he was opposed to a Second Chamber, yet he was going to vote for and support the maintenance of a Second Chamber, because he thought the time was not ripe for so large an alteration as the refusal of a Second Chamber altogether. The purpose of this Resolution as it stands is to quiet the minds and feelings of those hon. Members who desire still to see a House of Lords able to intervene and intervene effectively, but I venture to say there will be practically no Bills which could come within the second Resolution which would not be Money Bills for the purposes of the First Resolution. Do not let it be supposed that in passing this Resolution we are passing a Resolution which will have a greater operation. It will apply to far fewer Bills than the other Resolution. Hon. Members on the opposite side of the House are very anxious to alter the Constitution of this country, but let them perfectly understand that in voting for this Resolution as it stands they are voting for giving powers to a Second House so limited in their scope and area that the real purpose of a Second Chamber will be defeated.
A great deal has been said as to the antiquity of the House of Lords, and the hon. Member has deprecated any sort of peroration on the subject. But there has been displayed by the other House from time to time a wisdom which has been even accepted by this House when Amendments have been sent down to it; and there are a large number of persons, if not in this House, at any rate in the country, who are still anxious to see that Second-Chamber Government shall Vie maintained. If we are to have Second-Chamber Government, let us have a Second Chamber which will have something to do and before which the real business of the country can be brought. We are not told what that Second Chamber is to be, and we are not told who are to compose it. It is very difficult to consider the inter-relation of the two Houses when you do not know what the other 978 House is to be. The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Denman) said that one of the important things is to ascertain what the functions of the Second Chamber are to be. Let it be clear to this Committee that the functions of the Second Chamber would be so narrow in their scope as to make it altogether an ineffective Chamber.
There are those who desire to see a strong Second Chamber maintained. We have now a strong Second Chamber, and one which has been girded at a great many times in this House because of its dealing with the particular Bills in which hon. Members have a larger or lesser interest, if you are going to consider what your Constitution is to be, and are going to try and deal with a proposition for the alteration of the Constitution, you must not consider it from the point of view simply of particular instances in which, as I say, some hon. Members may be more or less interested. What you have to consider is whether or not you have got a Second Chamber of effective power, and for that purpose you have to see what is its position and what is the work you can possibly bring before it. Having regard to the terms in which they are drawn, I am confident that the first Resolution is by far the most important of the two, and by passing this Resolution, you will only pass a Resolution restricting the powers of the Lords with respect to a large amount of work which under the first Resolution this House will not contemplate as being matters coming within the control of the House of Lords; and, when the Resolutions are put into operation, you will find that the amount of work which can come before the Second Chamber will be extremely small.
§ Mr. LEACH
I desire to support this Resolution both by my voice and by my vote. The only hesitation I have in speaking in its favour is my lack of knowledge of the forms of this House; but, if I should fall into any error, I hope the Chairman will correct me as mercifully as possible. I have listened to torrents of rhetoric which have been poured out on this subject by hon. Members on the other side of the House, and I am not sure that my patience has always been sufficiently rewarded. I have noticed two things in the discussions—one the light fashion in which some of the speakers on the other side have treated this serious Question, and, secondly, I have been struck by the way in which many Members 979 quite mistake which is before us for discussion. They have dealt with this matter as if the Government had itself proposed to abolish the Second Chamber, and much of the discussion has been about the Second Chamber. The Government, as I understand it, seek to make it possible for Liberal legislation to go through the Second House in the same spirit of fairness that Conservative legislation now goes through that House. They desire by these Resolutions to remedy the shameful fashion in which the Second House—the House of Lords—abrogates its power as a Revising Chamber when the Conservatives are in office, and the intolerable fashion in which it mutilates and rejects measures when the Liberals are in office.
I understand these Resolutions seek that the will of the nation, as expressed by the people, shall, with the approval of the Monarch, become law whether that will of the people is expressed by the Liberal party or by the Conservative party. I have noticed one serious objection, or supposed serious objection, raised on the other side by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen. They say that if these Resolutions are carried, and there should some day be some wicked Radical in power, some serious thing may be passed that the nation itself will regret. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who make statements of that kind forget, I think, the two great checks which exist to keep right all Cabinets, whether Liberal or Conservative. One is the power of the Monarch to dismiss his Ministers, and the other is the power of the people to deal with them at stated times. We had an illustration of the way in which this power was exercised in the year 1900. There came into office a Conservative Government, and the country was asked to vote for it to enable it to settle a war. That was the only mandate it received. I speak for myself, but I venture to assert that if ever a Government went mad it was surely that Government. If ever a Government, in spite and in defiance of its pledges, and in defiance of the will of the people, passed measures that the people did not want it was that Government. They brought thousands of Chinamen into the mines of South Africa. They destroyed the Education Bill. We never heard a word from them about consulting the people. They also destroyed a Liquor Bill, and then there came a moment when they could no longer postpone the appeal 980 to the people. When they appealed to the people they were swept into the backwoods. The Prime Minister himself and many of his colleagues lost their seats, and the country, angered beyond measure at what the Cabinet had done, gave to the Liberal party when it had the chance of expressing its views the largest majority that any Government had had since the day of the Reform Bill.
It seems to me it is time we should ask ourselves who are and what are the Members of this Second Chamber about which so much has been said? How did they come to be where they are? Who gave them the power they possess? They make august claims, and in dealing with this Resolution to limit their power of Veto we should consider who and what they are. Among them there are many distinguished men whom we all delight to honour. There are also among them brave men who have bled for their country, and among them, too, there are many who have bled their country. The bulk of them are made up of those who neither toil nor spin. They are there by right of birth. We were told by the Noble Lord who represents Oxford University, who is, I think, making a strong bid for the Leadership of the Opposition—and if he will maintain his Free Trade views I for one shall be pleased to see him leading that party— that a baby who is born a Duke is a born legislator. I fail to see why a baby who is born a Duke should have a greater claim to be a legislator than a baby who is born the son of a docker. In my judgment a Member of the Legislature should only occupy that position because he has secured the confidence of the people. The peers make some very august claims. They claim to understand the will of the people, to override the decisions of the House of Commons, and to force a dissolution when they choose. I say that these are claims which, coming from such a quarter, no self-respecting free people will long tolerate, and if the Government will stand by these Resolutions and go straight on with them, I believe they will not only have behind them the men who sit on this side of the House, but they will also have the approval of the country itself. The Leader of the Opposition made a speech to which I listened with great respect and attention in the earlier stage of the general discussion on this subject, and it struck me very forcibly as contrasting greatly with what I believe to be his great power and great ability. He is a man of very subtle intellect and of great debating powers, and his 981 speech fell far below what we had a right to expect from a Gentleman with such powers. It was an attempt to belittle a great speech of a great Prime Minister on a great historic occasion, and from my point of view it entirely failed. The right hon. Gentleman asked a question which I have not yet heard answered. He said he wanted to know what particular crime of the House of Lords loomed most largely in the imagination of the Government and their Friends. There is no particular crime; they have been guilty, in my judgment, of every crime in the political calendar. It is not a case of petty larceny, it is a wholesale burglary; it is not one solitary act, it is a life of destruction of Liberal measures. There is no class or party that they have not injured except their own. What have they done for labour? They have rejected and mutilated Bills introduced to benefit labour. What have they done for the Irish? What have they done for the Nonconformists? What have they done for Scotland? All along they have been mutilating and destroying Liberal measures, and the time has come when their power to mutilate and destroy must be brought speedily to an end. I support the Resolutions by word and by vote, because I think for far too long a period the House of Lords have defied the people's will; for far too long they have opposed the best interests of progress; for far too long they have supported privilege and monopoly, and the time has now come to put an end to their one-sided and unfair opposition to all that we conceive to be for the best interests of the people. The more speedily this is done the better it will be for us all.
§ Mr. H. S. FOSTER
I have listened patiently to every speech delivered from the opposite benches to-night. They may be divided into two classes—those who welcome this Resolution because they see in it a step towards the destruction of the House of Lords and those who feel bound to explain that they only support the Resolutions on the express understanding that it is only part of a scheme the rest of which is to be divulged before the next General Election. I refer particularly to the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Rowland Barran), who not once but three times repeated the statement that in supporting this Resolution, if he did support it, he did so only because he understood—and he asked that understanding to be confirmed by his leaders— that this was part of a scheme to be immediately followed by the remainder of 982 the scheme for reconstituting the House of Lords which was to be disclosed to the country before the next General Election. I can only say with regard to those hon. Gentlemen who are supporting this scheme upon that understanding that they appear to be carrying self-deception to the most extreme limits, and I venture to say of the Radical party, split up as it is to-day into two sections, that the one which has the destructive element most developed is the one which must in the end prevail. We have the same exhibition in the Cabinet as in the Liberal party outside. Several of its Members have been reluctantly dragged into the position they occupy to-day, and have come to this House protesting, as the War Secretary did last week, that if the party did not follow his advice, and did not disclose their whole programme of reform to the country they would march into disaster. I had the pleasure of hearing the maiden speech of the hon. Member for the Wisbech Division (Mr. Neil Primrose), in which many of us recognised the charm both of voice and manner of one whose voice is known in another place. That hon. Member also desired to impress upon the House, or, rather, his party in the House, the extreme need for a Second Chamber. Why, the speech which we heard from Wales a few minutes ago told us that all history had gone wrong, and that every other country in the world had gone wrong in following the evil example of this country in setting up two Chambers, quite ignoring the well known remark of Mirabeau that the most intolerable form of tyranny was that of a single Chamber. We have had from the Prime Minister this afternoon a statement as to the object of these Resolutions. Whatever the object of these Resolutions may be the effect of them, if they were passed into law, must be to destroy the Second Chamber, set up a sham Second Chamber, and deprive it of all real and effective power. The Prime Minister told us that the Resolution was a simple machinery devised for the purpose of dealing with a chronic Parliamentary evil. When we come to examine what is this chronic Parliamentary evil of which the other side complain, when looked at particularly in the light of the illustrations given, it resolves itself into a complaint that the House of Lords in the last four years resisted and insisted on amending and in some cases rejected certain proposals sent up from this House, and when those instances are examined what do we find? Why, that a more grotesque instance 983 of endeavouring to amend the Constitution has never been presented.
The three principal complaints of the opposite party are in regard to the Education Bill, the Licensing Bill, and the Budget. But there is not one of those three proposals which were either rejected or amended by the other House, which would be accepted to-day in this House upon its merits. About the Licensing Bill, even the people's Members, the people's champions had to acknowledge by one of their own Ministers that that Bill was an unpopular Bill in the country. I refer to the remarks of the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords. Is it the view of hon. Members opposite that they know better what is good for the people than the people do themselves, and that when they are in office they ought to have full power notwithstanding the will of the people? If so, it only confirms the opinion which I have formed and the experience which I have had that there is no tyrant so tyrannical as a Radical when he is in power, and I contend that, with regard to the Licensing, the Education, and the Budget Bills, the House of Lords has been amply justified, and that is their offence, in the eyes of hon. Gentlemen opposite, by the voice of the people of the country. I challenge hon. Gentlemen opposite to give a single instance in the last fifty years of the House of Lords having deliberately resisted the declared will of the people. What evidence is there of the declared will of the people? Is it the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they are in a majority, that the will of this House is the declared will of the people; but that if they are in a minority and we are in a majority, we do not represent the expressed view of the people? Is it their view that, whatever the majority of this House says, must be the will of the people? Of course it is not, because we know quite well that when they are in Opposition their continual statement and complaint is that the majority are not truly expressing the will of the people; but when they happen to be in a majority they do represent the will of the people.
Their complaint against the House of Lords is that it has been much more critical and much more active when the Radical party is in power than when we are in power, and that, after all, is only an expression of resentment against the operation of what I might call a natural law. [MINISTERIAL laughter.] I daresay it 984 is very amusing to hon. Gentlemen, but the fact is that they resent all possible restraint and they desire to carry out what they think is right, and everything which interposes between them and the carrying out of their will is at once to be resisted and overcome. But the object of every Second Chamber in the world and the reason why every civilised society has adopted a Second Chamber is that that body, though less popularly elected, and in a sense more independent, shall stand between the popular Chamber and some sudden and revolutionary change, and therefore it is that in the very nature of the case their action should be of this nature. I quite understand many hon. Gentlemen object to any Second Chamber, or anything of the kind, but half of the party opposite at least are declared supporters of a Second Chamber, and the Government whom they are following and supporting to-day declares itself in favour of such a body, and from the very nature of the case that Second Chamber, however constituted, must always have more active and critical duties cast upon it when the party of so-called progress, which includes always the party of revolution, is in power than when the constitutional party is in power. When the first-named party has power the Second Chamber in every country has greater duties cast upon it, and there must be greater danger of its being brought into conflict with the first Chamber. Is it such an unmixed evil that thy two Chambers should differ? Mr. Bryce, a distinguished Member of the present Government, until he went out to the United States, made a very well-known declaration in this House, in which he said:—It is said that two Chambers do not always work harmoniously together. My observations on that is that the object of having two Chambers is to secure, not that things shall always work smoothly between them, but that they shall frequently differ and provide the means of correcting such errors as either may commit.Under this Resolution how is this House to be protected against some of the dangers which have been pointed out by the Prime Minister himself as dangers against which we ought to guard. For example, in introducing this Resolution to the House a few days ago the Prime Minister spoke of one danger and contingency which he said ought to be guarded against by a Second Chamber. He said:—There might come a time when imprudent and unscrupulous Ministers might, by the aid of a perhaps precarious and subservient majority—985 [MINISTERIAL laughter.] I am quoting the Prime Minister, who is stating a contingency that ought to be guarded against. Are we so far from that contingency at this moment? Observe the words:—A perhaps precarious and subservient majority.Is not the present majority of the Prime Minister extremely precarious, and have we not had experience again and again in the last five weeks of the tactics and manœuvres to which the Government have had to resort to keep that majority together? Is it not a subservient majority? [An HON. MEMBER: "It cannot be both."] Why not? I am quoting what the Prime Minister himself said. [An HON MEMBER: "He meant in a different sense to your sense."] I do not know what the hon. Member knows about the sense in which I am using the words. The Prime Minister pointed out to the House quite fairly that there might be an imprudent and unscrupulous Ministry which might, by a precarious and subservient majority, endeavour to do certain things. At this moment we have a precarious and subservient majority, most subservient and most precarious. With regard to the question of an imprudent and unscrupulous Minister, of imprudence I will certainly say we have that, but as to whether unscrupulous or not, that is a matter which it is perhaps better to leave history to judge. I have my own judgment, and I think the country has its judgment. Here is another point that the Prime Minister made within the last few days. He said:—It may be that the representatives of the people in u particular case have mistaken the terms of their authority, or that the majority is so obviously casual and heterogeneous, that its verdict ought not to be trusted as expressing the considered judgment of the nation.Under these rules of the Government I want to know how in either of these cases the people are going to be protected against the majority in this House of Commons. Where is the protection under the Rules? The Prime Minister explained this afternoon that a Bill being introduced and passing through in one Session and sent up to the House of Lords and rejected comes forward again in the second Session and again in the third, and there he left the matter. You have a majority mistaking the terms of their authority, or you have a majority which is obviously casual and heterogeneous. In either of those two cases what is to prevent the passing into law, under these Resolutions, of a Bill which would not be approved by the people of this country? [An HON. 986 MEMBER: "Time would cure it."] Not at all. If the Bill passes in the very first Session of a new Parliament, obviously in the next Session the first business of the Government would be to apply the guillotine, and to rush it through up to the House of Lords practically without discussion, and that which would take place in the second year would again be done in the third Session, and then under the operation of this Resolution that Bill would become law.
§ Mr. H. S. FOSTER
Why not? We had it pointed out by the Prime Minister the other day that in the Parliament of 1892–95 the Government were able to keep power for three years with a majority beginning at forty and dwindling down to eleven. Was not that a precarious majority? And yet for three years that Government was able to keep its place and command and control a majority. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walter Long) pointed out with great force, not by theory, but by actual citing of history, how this Resolution, if it had the force of law, would have operated to impose upon the people of this country against their will a measure which passed through this House, and was rejected by the House of Lords, I mean the Home Rule Bill of 1893. When the dissolution took place in 1895 one of the leading items in my platform was the question of Home Rule or No Home Rule for Ireland. If this Resolution had had the force of law, that Bill, having passed through this House in 1893 and been rejected by the House of Lords, would have been passed by the guillotine in 1894, and in 1895 it would have been imposed on the people of this country against their will. [HON. MEMBERS: "No. no."] Yes, absolutely. There, again, is an illustration. When hon. Gentlemen want to claim the voice of the people for anything in their programme they cite the General Election at which that issue, amongst perhaps fifty others, was mentioned, and that is the will of the people. In 1895, admittedly, one of the main items under discussion in this country was the action of the House of Lords in rejecting the Home Rule Bill. The party opposite did not dare to take up the challenge of the Lords and go to the people straight away. They kept it back, and many complaints have been made that they suffered because it was kept back. As a matter of 987 fact, no doubt they exercised a very wise judgment in keeping it back from the people. They kept it back for two years, but the moment the people got an opportunity of pronouncing an opinion they heartily endorsed the action of the House of Lords. Give me a single instance of any measure of first-class importance in the last fifty years which the House of Lords have rejected after the people have deliberately declared their approval of it. If they have not done that they have committed no offence constitutionally and no offence against the spirit of true democracy. Again let me quote the Prime Minister. What did he lay down as the proper functions of the House of Lords? He said those functions were:—That they should act as a revising authority for the details of legislation. Where there was a reasonable doubt whether upon any question the House of Commons is representing the majority of the electorate, the House of Lords should have the power of interposing such delay as would enable that doubt to be authoritatively closed.How could that doubt be authoritatively closed except by dissolution of Parliament and a General Election? Again he said:—Its business is to correct slovenly and to check precipitate legislation. It must be keen to watch and careful to follow the steady set, as distinguished from the transient drift, of national sentiment, and it must always be ready to defer to the clear manifestation of the public will.I say without fear of honest contradiction that these are the lines on which for the last fifty years the House of Lords has steadily acted. The House of Lords has claimed the right which the Prime Minister says it ought to claim, to question where there is any doubt upon the subject, and to give an opportunity for authoritatively settling any doubt as to whether any great measure brought forward is, or is not, the will of the people. After all, how do hon. Gentlemen suffer, and how does the country suffer by reason of delay? Is there not after all in an old country like ours a very much greater danger to the welfare of our country and to our general prosperity by adopting without full consideration some great change which you can never go back upon? Is not there a much greater danger of that when you are in the region of experiment than when you examine and move slowly, as in the past centuries we have done, and so have slowly built up the position which we maintain to-day? I say that of two evils the lesser evil is to delay for a time a change which may ultimately be approved rather than to adopt too hastily a change 988 which experience may show you have adopted to your own injury and danger. I say that from that point of view it is a safeguard to our interests and a safeguard to the community at large that we should have interposed between this House and great changes some independent body such as the House of Lords which shall have the special duty cast upon it of insisting that the people shall understand the great issues which are involved, and that they shall have an opportunity of accepting or rejecting after full consideration any change of that kind. With regard to the method the Government have adopted, of course, it is manifest from their declaration in the King's Speech and their attitude to-day that they have abandoned the programme with which they set out at the beginning of the Session, which was a programme for reforming the constitution of the House of Lords. The Prime Minister said at Oxford the other day:—There are functions both useful and honourable for such a Chamber to perform if it is rationally constituted.If that be the point, would not the reasonable thing be for the Government to adhere to the programme they started out with and propose a rational—from their point of view—reconstitution of the House of Lords? They are not allowed to do that. Why? Because the last thing in the world the Radical party really want is a properly representative House of Lords. So long as they can stand on the platform and utter cheap sneers at hereditary legislators, of course it pays them a great deal better to do that than to have a House of Lords so constituted that their grievance and platform oratory would be taken away from them. Therefore, they prefer a House so constituted that they can level cheap sneers at them. So far as we are concerned on this side of the House, if we favour, as we do favour, a reform of that House, it is not because we assert that the House of Lords is at present incompetent to do its duty. Its history will compare favourably even with that of this House in respect of the work it has done and the service it has rendered to the State. But theoretically it is not in accord with the democratic institutions of the day, and it is because of that we desire to see it so constituted that the criticism now brought against it shall no longer be levelled at it. The Secretary of State for War is in a position in his party with respect to which I for one sincerely commiserate him. He is being blindly led on in a path he cannot approve. The right hon. Gentleman told 989 the country very frankly not long ago that he feared the great majority of the people were unwilling to see the destinies of the nation entrusted to a single Chamber. He believed that the constituencies were so anxious and timid that if ever there was a single Chamber it would be difficult to get Liberal majorities at elections. In other words, when you saw people going about in straight waistcoats or who should be in straight waistcoats, and who have no controlling power, the result would be that there would be such danger that there would not be the possibility of a Liberal majority. Although that is the view of the Secretary for War, we know that the view of the Home Secretary is very different. We know that the Home Secretary is by no means a strong Second Chamber man. At a recent meeting he laid down that the one fundamental question was one or two Chambers. There was the usual voice shouting "One," and then there were cheers, whereupon the Home Secretary at once made this acknowledgment:—I would not myself be frightened by having only one. I do not myself attach the same importance to this question that I do to some others, nor do I attach to it the same importance as some people in the country do.That fairly expresses, the difference which divides the party opposite, and it is therefore necessary for the Government to abandon any proposal for reform of the Second Chamber in order that they may unite their party for strategical purposes in regard to these Resolutions. There was advice given the other day in South Africa which I think hon. Gentlemen opposite would do well to follow. The advice given by General Botha at a Congress of Het Volk as to the future working of the Constitution in South Africa was this:—Never let us be wreckers. Let us always be builders.May I quote some words addressed to this House by Mr. Gladstone in justification of the position which the House of Lords occupied in this country. He said:—When I for one speak of the independence of the House of Lords, I speak of that which is not a mere name or phantom, but of that which I am anxious to see maintained in practice as well as in the code as a sacred part of our Constitution to which I attach a value second only to the value which I attach to the privileges of this House.It is nothing new to hear offensive things said about the Lords, nor is the attack upon that House anything new. Words were spoken as long ago as 1873 which might well have been spoken to-day. Mr. Disraeli, speaking in Glas- 990 gow on 22nd November in that year, said:—They have attacked every class and institution from the highest to the lowest in the country. Is that true or is it not? Is it not a fact that Her Majesty's Government on every occasion of which they could avail themselves during the last three years, attacked the authority of the House of Lords, scoffed at the existence of its high function, and even defied its decisions until the result proved that the House of Lords was extremely popular in the country, and that Her Majesty's Government were obliged to confess, that they themselves were exceedingly unpopular.History repeats itself. When the Government have to face the electors of this country upon these wrecking proposals of theirs, I venture to say that they will experience the same result as they experienced after that speech of Mr. Disraeli's, that the House of Lords will be justified in the opinion of the electors, and that the electors will express disapproval of the action of the Government.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER WHYTE
The Committee has listened to some extremely interesting speeches from the other side of the House, but to none more instructive than that which fell from the Noble Lord the Member for the Thirsk Division (Viscount Helmsley). I think we on this, side of the House were able to trace in that speech some evidence of the opinion, entertained very often and freely by the Tory party that they have a sort of vested right in the government of this country, and that when by some electoral mischance the Radical party or any of its allies happens to be installed in office the legislation they propose to the country shall only pass into law by permission of a higher authority. And he told us that the reason for that was that the Radical party was very subversive in its tendencies and that the legislation which it proposed removed old landmarks and replaced nothing in their stead. During the last ten years we have had some Bills to which I propose to direct the attention of the House for a few moments. The Education Act of the Conservative Government in 1902 was subversive. It destroyed the old system, and I believe, and a great many Members of this House believe, wantonly destroyed that system. Then we come to the licensing legislation of 1904, and we find that it again destroyed the old system, and that what everybody in this House regarded as an annual tenure was turned into a freehold tenure, which was a wanton grant of extra privilege to an already highly privileged class of the community. I would like to compare for a moment those two Bills, passed freely through the 991 House of Lords, though distinctly subversive of the existing order, and which received no mandate in their favour from the electors, with the Licensing Bill of 1908. While the fate of that Bill was hanging in the balance a number of the supporters of His Majesty's Government had faced the electors and in several cases they lost their seats. The House of Lords, paying particular attention apparently to a very tempestuous by-election in a Metropolitan constituency, rejected that Bill. Now, we on this side of the House would like to know, Was the verdict of that constituency a gust of popular passion or was it the will of the people?
I hope to be able to show you in one or two sentences that the considered judgment of the very best elements of the British community were in favour of the Licensing Bill. I do not say in favour of all its details, but most emphatically in favour of that measure as a whole and the principles which it embodied. We are told it was the proposal of the wild men in the temperance party, the fanatics. On the contrary, it did not satisfy those who are so opprobiously called wild men. They accepted it only as an instalment. But a great mass of truly conservative opinion in this country in the churches, both established and non-established in England, all up and down the ranks of social reformers, and in addition a large number of persons belonging to the party opposite, favoured the proposals put forward for a reform of the licensing laws by His Majesty's Government in 1908. I could give the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) the names of scores of gentlemen in Scotland who constantly voted with the party opposite, yet who shook their heads with shame because the House of Lords rejected that Bill. I am not attempting to take too high a plane for that Bill; I do not say for a moment that it was an ideal measure, but it represented the considered judgment and the keen desire of the reforming party of the community, not by any means the fanatical reforming party. As such, how do we suppose it would be considered by an ideal Second Chamber? If the House of Lords had acted as an ideal reforming Chamber when that Bill was before it it would have said something like this:—" We will recognise that the authors of this measure put it forward to meet an undoubted evil, and that the measure rests upon a; set of principles of public equity, but in 992 spite of that fact it has aroused very considerable opposition in the country, and taken along with that opposition there is at the same time a strong opinion among men whose judgment ought to weigh with us in. its favour. Therefore, summing up all the conditions which surround the fate of this measure, we will read this Bill a second time, but if we are to make any declaration on reading it a second time we would say that during its passage through Committee we shall no doubt find that there are elements in it which need to be changed."
The time limit, which was the essential part of the Bill, might have been extended, even considerably extended, so the Second Chamber might have said, to meet the sense of injustice which the Bill had perhaps erroneously or otherwise aroused. Some of us on this side might not have liked to see that time limit extended. Some of us might have felt inclined to oppose the extension; but does anyone imagine that the Government of the day, anxious for the fate of the measure, would have rejected the proposal from another Chamber dealing fairly with the measure on its merits? I do not suppose that there is a man in this House who would say that the Government in 1908 would have rejected that overture. It is precisely because the facts of this case and of many others do not approach in any way near the ideal that these Resolutions are brought forward. But we do not rest our case on any single Bill or on any series of measures. In fact, the programme is not so much one of legislative proposals, as of the social conditions and social atmosphere which exists in another place. As far as I have been able to follow the Debate, none of the speakers on the other side of the House have really taken into account all the fundamental differences between this House and the other. It would seem a" though the Peers as a body, by their position, by their upbringing, and by the operation of a thousand influences, flow apart from the main stream of democracy. When they come down to the Chamber at the other end of the corridor to exercise what my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Devon so happily called the Veto of the West End upon legislation designed to ameliorate, the lot of the East End, they exercise that Veto in sublime unconsciousness of the inner meaning of such legislation. If they only stopped to reflect for a minute or two on the inner meaning of 993 that legislation, they would see that it is not mere wanton destructiveness on our part, but represents a working desire on the part of the democracy of this country to deal with such social evils as exist in our midst. I think they would see that the whole secret of modern democracy is simply that the people are at last awake to the injustices and cruelties of a system which heaps material and social prizes into the laps of the favoured few while they are denied to those lower down the ladder. The Liberal party, in recent years, has been recruited by a very earnest class of social inquirers, who have satisfied themselves that progress is impossible in this country until some of the privileges of the higher classes and some of the monopolies of the wealthier classes are altogether removed. They are social reformers who are not in any sense "wild men," who are not even political men in the ordinary sense of the terms, but who have entered this House wearing the colours of Liberalism because they believe that the Liberal party is in earnest in its endeavour to deal with the true social welfare of the people. If the Liberal party were not in favour of that policy, the social reformers to whom I refer would cease to call themselves Liberals because they think their object far transcends the partisan interests of one caucus or another. They support the Liberal Government in regard to these Resolutions because the House of Lords has so signally failed in the past in regard to Liberal legislation, and because the measures they have in view for the future welfare of this country have so far been met with a blank denial by the Upper House. It is for that reason they support these Veto Resolutions as being the only way to deal with the House of Lords. That Chamber has over and over again in the past, in the immediate past, and in the more remote past, shown itself, constitutionally incapable of comprehending the meaning of the democratic advance. We see in the House of Lords a social barrier set up to thwart and resist the advancing democracy, and we set ourselves with all the vigour at our command to support His Majesty's Government on these Resolutions, because we believe that resistance to progress is not the true function of the Upper Chamber. If there is to be a Second Chamber in this country, we wish that it shall guide and control, instead of resist, the forces of progress. If it pass the wit of man to devise such a Chamber which shall have sympathy with the up- 994 ward movements of the people, and which shall be able to guide and control their movements towards their appointed goal, then we, on this side of the House at all events, say let there be no Second Chamber at all rather than, such a Second Chamber as would not guide and control the forces of popular progress.
§ Mr. R. A. SANDERS
I claim the indulgence of the House as a new Member rising to address it on the subject of these Resolutions. I am sure it must have struck even the new Members of this House, in listening to this Debate, that there has been very great divergence of opinion on the other side on this subject. We have had Members—who were so ably represented this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for the Wisbech Division of Cambridge—who support these Resolutions because they would result in the establishment of another and a better, as they conceive, Second Chamber. We have had those hon. Members who support these Resolutions because they really do not think there should be a Second Chamber at all. I will deal, first of all, with those who wish for a good Second Chamber, for a better Second Chamber than that which they believe the present one to be. It seems to me that these Resolutions make it practically impossible that a fitting Second Chamber should be established, because how are you going to get anyone to sit in that Second Chamber when its powers are to be limited as this Resolution would limit them? There have been various proposals put forward for the improvement of the Constitution. Some have been put forward in another place. Others are supposed to have been put forward by Members of this House who sit upon the Government Front Bench. If we take the proposals which were attributed to the Foreign Secretary, by which it is suggested that there shall be very large constituencies, each returning two Members to the Second Chamber, then I ask how are you going to get men to go through the toil and stress of elections in enormous constituencies like these for such very puerile powers as these Resolutions propose to confer. We have heard another suggestion, one made by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who, I think, said that the Second Chamber should consist chiefly of masters of hounds. There I can speak with some experience, and I have no hesitation in saying that no master of hounds would sacrifice even the very worst meet in his 995 county to attend such functions as it is proposed to entrust to the Second Chamber. Really, these functions are almost too puerile. Under them this House is to be plaintiff, judge, and jury in its own case. When I was at school I think it was Tacitus who taught me about a German tribe who had the curious procedure of deciding important questions by two sessions of the great meeting of the component members. At the first meeting they discussed the question while they were sober, at the second they discussed the question while they were drunk, and if on the two occasions they came to the same decision they concluded that it must be right. I am afraid that under the Resolutions which are now submitted to us we shall have to discuss the same question two or three times over, and on each occasion it must be with painful and almost monotonous sobriety. I come to the other section that I mentioned, not those who want a Second Chamber, but those who frankly say that they think that the one Chamber is quite enough. They are represented chiefly, I think, by hon. Members sitting below the Gangway opposite. They say, and quite reasonably I expect from their point of view, that they consider when the Members of this House have been through a General Election, and when they have got the opinion of their constituents and become their representatives, that their position is good enough, and that their authority ought to be uncontrolled by any Second Chamber. That is a perfectly straightforward point to argue, but I would put it to those hon. Gentlemen, do they consider that their own constituents and that the members of the trade unions share that view? I seem to have heard that the members of the trade unions do not confer this unlicensed power upon their own delegates, and that when delegates have come to a decision upon an important question that decision is not final, but that it is referred to a ballot of all the members of the trade unions, and that not until the decision has been taken is a decision arrived at as to whether there should be a strike or not. If we are to have this uncontrolled authority simply because a body is elected, why should it only be applied to this House? Why should it not also apply to those democratic bodies, those local authorities 996 elected upon a more democratic suffrage than even this House is? Why should this House have uncontrolled authority, and why should the county councils and the district councils be hampered at every stage of their proceedings by some entirely non-elected body? All those who have taken any part in local government know that the district council or the county council is powerless to act on many matters without the authority of such bodies as the Local Government Board or the Board of Agriculture, or the Treasury, or some nominated but not elected authority. What is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander, and if this elective principle is such a sacred principle then you ought to apply it all round. If it is fair for the House of Commons it must be fair for our local authorities as well.
The question has been raised two or three times in the course of this Debate. Why are we on this side of the House afraid—if we can be said to be afraid— of giving uncontrolled authority to this House? I think that there are certain measures on which we are afraid of what might happen, I do not say from the present position of the House of Commons, but from the possible position of a future House of Commons. We are afraid, in the first place, of measures of confiscation or measures which amount to confiscation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer it was, I think, who told us the other day that if the people of this country wished for confiscation that there would be such a wave of popular opinion that neither the Lords nor the Commons could possibly resist it. After, all, there are always a certain number of people in this country who are in favour of confiscation. It is rumoured that there are a certain number who sit on the Treasury Bench. It is a fact that there are many others who are maintained in other places at His Majesty's expense. What we are afraid of is not an overwhelming surge of feeling, but that during the changes and chances of electoral contests there may be a bare majority in favour of some measures which really involve confiscation, such as the Licensing Bill of two years ago. We are afraid also of measures to change some fundamental portion of the Constitution. A third thing we are afraid of is that a temporary majority may be used purely for party purposes, either so to jerrymander the constituencies or so to alter the franchise as to give a great electoral advantage simply to the party for the time 997 being in power. Of all these things, I think we have legitimate reasons for being afraid. I was struck by the statement of the Prime Minister in opening the Debate on these Resolutions that, after all, if one House of Commons passed measures, another House of Commons could alter them. I would say most respectfully that that is not absolutely true. There are many measures which, if once passed, the House of Commons could not alter. If you confiscated the property of a whole class, such as the licenced trade, no future House of Commons could give it back again to the members of that class who had been ruined. If you made a great constitutional change, you could not alter that again. If you gave Home Rule to Ireland, no one suggests that that could be altered in the next Parliament. We have legitimate reasons for being afraid of giving possibly a temporary majority in a single Parliament a chance of making great and fundamental alterations in the existing condition of things.
If you pass these Resolutions, what are you going to do with the present Members of the House of Lords? The last speaker came from Scotland, where apparently they have not a very high opinion of the House of Lords. I am proud to say that I come from the West Country, and there we have a very high opinion of the Members of the House of Lords. What is more, we find that some of them are the most useful members of the community. In any public work that is going on the Members of the House of Lords are always ready to take their share, and you may take the five South-Western Counties, and you will find, in what, after all, is not an elective position, in three out of these five counties the chairmen of the county councils are Members of the House of Lords. We feel that they are men who can do a great deal to represent our interests in the councils of the nation. It seems to me that if these Resolutions are to be passed they will have no opportunity of there representing our interests. They will lose all voice in their own House, and they are not allowed to sit in this House, and they do not even have a vote for the House of Commons. They are really placed in the same position as lunatics and women. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but I am only putting to them quite humbly the opinions, not of myself but of my constituents and, I believe, of the vast body of feeling in the 998 Western Counties of England. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] Well, I have here the opinion of their leader, who said:—By one means or another, the Tariff Reformers have secured the allegiance of the bucolic intelligence of the backward-going, in more senses than one, agricultural South. They have the fox-hunting squire on their side, and the deferential rustic, hat in hand, and certainly they have secured the allegiance of the drowsy market towns of the loamy shires.I did not refer to the Prime Minister; I was referring to the Lord Advocate. We may have only a bucolic intelligence, we may be fox-hunting squires, and deferential rustics, but still we do claim, with all respect, with all deferential humility, to have our fair share in the councils of the nation, and if we have to stand hat in hand to these Gentlemen of superior intelligence from Scotland or from Wales, still we do put in our modest claim, which we put in at the last election as strongly as we could, that we do not wish to see these great institutions swept away, and swept away almost by a breath of wind, in a few weeks in the House of Commons. We do say, and I believe we shall say it again in even more decided tones than we did at the last election, that we will stand up in the future as we have stood up in the past for the old Constitution of the country.
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Herbert Samuel)
I am sure the whole House, irrespective of party, has heard with pleasure and interest the speech just delivered by the hon. Member. As a Master of Hounds, be is a potential peer, and it is to be expected he should stand up for the rights of the peerage. Yet I confess, if I may say so, that upon this side of the House, at all events, his maiden speech would have been heard with more satisfaction if he had made it his task to uphold the rights and privileges of the House to which he has been elected rather than to preach its subordination to the hereditary House. I have listened to the whole of this Debate, and I confess, in every speech made upon the benches opposite, beginning with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand (Mr. Walter Long), and ending with the speech to which we have just listened, I find in every one of them a repetition of the sentiments of alarm and fear, prophesies of impending disaster to the country and to the Constitution if these reforms are carried into effect. Anyone with a studious mind who cares to search in Hansard the Debates that took place upon previous proposals for some change in the 999 Constitution or for some extension of popular liberties will invariably find precisely the same fears expressed in almost precisely the same language that we have heard to-day. If you look back to the Debates preceding the great Reform Bill of 1832 you will find expressed in tones of the utmost sincerity and fervour these prophesies of imminent disaster and impending woe, until those assertions reached their climax in the famous phrase of Lord Eldon, who said when the Bill passed into law:—Now is the sun of England's glory set.The anti-reformers were wrong then. Coming on a few years later, when Parliament was extending to our Colonies self-governing institutions, the same alarm was expressed, the same certainty of the disruption of the Empire and disaster to the geatness of our country. They were wrong then. Come on a few years later, and you will find that in the'sixties, when there was a question of the extension of the franchise to the householders, you will find the late Lord Salisbury, then Lord Cranbourne, and Mr. Robert Lowe, in speeches of matchless eloquence, expressing precisely the same sentiments. They were wrong, too. Come on a few years later, when the Ballot Act was under discussion. We had then forecasted a decline of the English character, and we had it foretold, if the Ballot was passed, the country would never again be what it was before. They were wrong. Coming down to 1884, feelings of intense alarm were expressed as to the fear of democracy and the confiscatory legislation that would follow the extending of the franchise to the 2,000,000 of people without votes. No such results have occurred. Only the other day, when it was proposed to extend a full measure of local self-government to the Transvaal, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition denounced that experiment in unmeasured terms. The right hon. Gentleman does not deny that.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
The right hon. Gentleman used these words:—I am astonished that any Government or any party who cherish the British connection in the Transvaal Should desire that such an audacious experiment should be tried. We will not make ourselves responsible for what I regard as the moat reckless experiment ever tried, and I look with alarm and distrust to the future.1000 If that experiment had been proved to be a failure I think these words would have been quoted as words of wise warning, but now the right hon. Gentleman perhaps desires them to be forgotten?
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
I quoted them only as an illustration to emphasise my point that upon every occasion that Parliament, either here or in other parts of our Empire, has extended the rights of self-government we have had these prophesies of disaster and ruin and revolutionary results, and always they have been wrong. Each time the balance of freedom has been enlarged we have found our administration not worsened but improved, our prosperity increased, our institutions have become more stable instead of less, and we have found our dominions becoming even greater than before. It is true that there has been one period of misgovernment in this country, and that was in the eighteenth century, when the peers, who are now praised and lauded as Heaven-born rulers, had uncontrolled power in this country, controlling their own House and dominating the House of Commons. Then there was one disaster to the Empire, and that was where our American Colonies were refused the rights of self-government. Then you have another failure in the Empire in the case of Ireland to-day, to which you have refused the right of managing her own local concerns. On every occasion, when the Liberal party desires to make some further advance on the road of self-government, we hear the same prophecies of evil, woe, and disaster we have listened to ad nauseum in these Debates.
We have been waiting to see in any of the speeches of the opponents of this Resolution whether any alternative is offered to relieve the difficulties of the present position, but so far, it must be confessed, the Debate has been barren of any practical constructive proposals emanating from those who wish the Committee to reject this Resolution. We are told that these difficulties are of our own creation, because we are such unreasonable people, and that if only we would introduce Bills which the House of Lords would pass then there would be no difficulty at all. "Why all these conflicts," say hon. Gentlemen opposite. "Here you have a thoroughly reasonable Assembly of fair-minded men in the House of Lords, and all you have to do is to present measures which they are likely to accept, and then there will be no 1001 need for constitutional changes." But just look at the question from our point of view? Do they really suggest that after declaring our adhesion to certain principles, a Government in which we firmly and sincerely believe, when we come to this House and are able to form a Government we should cast all those principles aside and be content to propose only such legislation as will be accepted by an assembly of chairmen of Conservative associations who sits across the Lobby? Obviously, we should be doing less than our duty to the country if we were content to only introduce and pass legislation which was thought necessary by another Assembly. We are told that, if our measures are rejected we have our remedy, and they say, "If you think the country is behind you, then appeal to the country. If they support you, then the Lords will give way." That is the doctrine we have heard again and again in the Debate to-day.
During the last Parliament in each year at least one Bill of first importance was rejected by the House of Lords. If this doctrine were to prevail, if that were really the only remedy for our present discontent, then each year during the four years of the late Parliament it would have been necessary to have had a General Election. The Leader of the Opposition said, in playful mood, that we were proposing to establish the constitution of Costa Rica, which is one of the few countries that has got single-Chamber Government. When a Conservative Government is in power we have got Costa Rica. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman's researches in constitutional practice have led him to consider the case of Salvador, which, I believe, is the only country in the world which enjoys the blessings of annual Parliaments. That is what he is proposing for us—Costa Rica when the Conservatives are in and Salvador when the Liberals are in. Our own Constitution and a steady Second Chamber and the Septennial Act would be gone for both parties. It is obvious that to dissolve on every Liberal Bill which the House of Lords rejects is quite an impossible solution of the constitutional problem that faces us.
Next, we are told that even without a dissolution the Lords will always give way if the country shows itself to be resolutely in earnest in support of any particular measure; and the right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate 1002 to-day in a speech which, if I may say so respectfully, we all greatly admired, quoted the case of the Reform Bill of 1884. There, he said, was a Bill introduced which the Lords rejected, and which yet, without a dissolution, was passed into law; the deadlock was avoided, and no difficulty ultimately arose. Yes, but how were the Lords forced to give way on that occasion? You had a great, tumultuous agitation throughout the country. You had vast demonstrations from one end of the country to the other; and, at last, the Lords, fearing that the cry for their own abolition might become a reality if they persisted, consented to give way. Such an agitation as that may take place once in a generation, and once on a measure of first-class importance, but does the right hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that on all these various Bills of which we have spoken in this Debate, even if the country did really desire them—the Plural Voting Bill, or, let us say, the Scotch Land Bill or the London Elections Bill—does he say it is really practicable, if he will look at it from our point of view, to force those measures through the House of Lords by agitations of that kind? The greatest number of measures Parliament is called upon to deal with are not measures of the supreme, urgent importance of the Reform Bill of 1884. It is impossible to raise great agitations over these measures of a smaller character, and, as the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Gwynn) pointed out today, how is it possible for the smaller nations—the Irish, the Scotch, and the Welsh—to secure a great national agitation throughout the whole of the United Kingdom to force through a Bill in which their constituents are keenly interested? This suggestion that there you might find, even if it were practical, a solution of this constitutional question would mean that laws would only be the fruit of agitation, and it would not be, as it should be, reason which would be the guide of government, but passion and tumult. It is impossible for a nation of 44,000,000 people as a whole to deal with these secondary measures. They can only carry out their will through representative institutions, and our Constitution should be such that those representative institutions should be able effectively to carry out year by year and month by month work of ordinary legislation.
Then hon. Members opposite say, "Well, granted perhaps there is some substance in all this, granted we cannot expect you to propose Conservative Bills 1003 and you will propose Liberal Bills, granted the House of Lords cannot be allowed to force a Dissolution on each one of them and you cannot have a great national agitation on every Bill defeated in another place, well we are willing to meet you at all events, and we will ourselves propose a reform of the House of Lords. We on our side watch with more amusement than interest the pretence of reform which is now proceeding in another place. Even the hereditary principle itself it seems is not to be abandoned if the scheme now before the other House is to be carried through. It is proposed that the major part of that Assembly shall consist of hereditary peers elected by other hereditary peers. That is no abdication of the hereditary principle, it is merely the concentration of it. Although it is proposed to infuse some slight element of the elective principle we have yet to see whether that in reality does not mean only a halfpenny worth of bread to an intolerable deal of the sack of the hereditary peerage. When this reform is carried through, if it is, what will be the result? One of the sponsors of this measure in another place—the peer who moved the formation of Lord Rosebery's Committee —Lord Newton—has stated clearly what he anticipates will be the result of the reforms he himself supports. He said:—I entertain a very strong suspicion, amounting almost to a certainty, that the decisions of the reformed House of Lords would be precisely the decisions that are arrived at at the present day.This is the reform we are asked to believe will meet the case we are presenting to Parliament and to the country—a permanent majority of 350 peers in the House of Lords is too large, and therefore they are willing to meet it by reducing it to a permanent majority of 150.
There is one difference indeed between the House of Lords to-day and the House of Lords as it would be if these proposals were carried into effect. They make no provision for dealing with a deadlock between the two Houses, and at the same time they propose to limit by Statute the number of peers and to prevent that number ever being increased by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative. The House of Lords having attacked one Prerogative of the Crown by forcing a dissolution now propose to attack another Prerogative by restricting by law the number of peers without providing means for bringing the House of Lords to book in the case of a 1004 deadlock. The question has already been once in the history of England the subject of a great constitutional discussion, nearly 200years ago aPeerage Bill was introduced by Lord Stanhope proposing to limit by law the number of peers in the House to the then existing number plus six. The Bill was accepted by the Government of the day. It was eagerly passed by the House of Lords and only at the last moment was it killed by the satire in this House of Steele and the eloquence of Sir Robert Walpole. It was pointed out in the very cogent discussion that to limit by law the number of peers without providing any means of ending a deadlock would be the most dangerous revolution that had ever been carried out in the constitutional history of our country. We believe that if these proposals were carried into law, so far from relieving the present situation, it would be far worse than it is to-day. Hon. Members said to-day, "If you will not accept our proposals of reform, produce your own. In proposing this Veto Resolution before proposing your reform scheme you are putting the cart before the horse. Your task should have been rather to set up a new Second Chamber and afterwards to consider its powers." I am one of those who consider it very necessary to end the hereditary principle in the selection of legislators chosen on the ground of birth alone. For my part, I consider it most necessary that the Liberal party should I seriously address itself to the reform of the Constitution as well as the powers of the House of Lords. If hon. Members ask, "Why do you not proceed with that today?" the hon. Member for the Wisbech Division, in the maiden speech which the House heard to-day with very great pleasure, gave an answer. He pointed out very clearly, as one who is strongly in favour of the reform of the constitution of the House of Lords, that it would be futile to ask the House to undertake that task so long as the present powers of that Chamber exist uncontrolled. What is it that the Opposition suggest to us? That we should invite Parliament now to go through the prolonged processes of discussing in all its stages a Bill to reform the constitution of the House of Lords—we should toil month after month with a score of intricate problems which that question raises, with the consciousness all the time that it was all futile, and that the House of Lords with a single breath would sweep it all away or twist our reform scheme 1005 into a shape which would be utterly unacceptable to this House. That is a course which the Government cannot be expected to take, and therefore in face of all the alternatives we come to the conclusion that there is no practicable scheme except the one which we ask the Committee to-day to acquiesce in.
I observe that there are on the Paper a number of Amendments to the Resolution, inviting the Committee to restrict its scope so as to say that the House of Lords should be free as hitherto to reject any proposal for extending the period of Parliament or any proposals for Home Rule or other matters of a constitutional character. Those propositions are, in the first place, unnecessary, for we hold that the common-sense of this House, coupled with powers that will be preserved by the Second Chamber, will be fully adequate to prevent any possibility of abuse in dealing with a constitutional question as in dealing with other questions. Secondly, it is clear that if any restrictions such as those which find a place in the Amendments already on the Paper are embarked on, if you except one group undoubtedly you will be asked, with reason, to exclude other groups, and in the end you will have a long schedule of exclusions which will certainly end in some court of appeal to interpret it. Lastly, these exclusions will be ineffective, even if you embodied them in your Resolutions. You are supposing some mad and revolutionary Parliament which in advance of popular will would desire to rush through uncontrolled some great and popular reform. Such a Parliament could repeal any provision which we now put into an Act of Parliament. It is impossible in this country to have anything in the nature of organic laws. In some foreign constitutions, which are the gift of an autocratic sovereign, or which are the result of a federation of a number of sovereign powers, or which sprung from some other country, you can have a fresh start, and you can have organic laws which your Parliament cannot afterwards repeal. But this Parliament makes no such fresh start. It dates from time immemorial, and it is impossible now to create any organic law which a future Parliament could not repeal; therefore the suggestions, when we come to discuss them, are suggestions to which the Government must necessarily offer opposition.
The hon. Member who has just spoken suggested that no self-respecting men, 1006 whether they be masters of hounds or others, could be found who would sit in a Second Chamber with powers so restricted as those which we now propose. Again and again we have heard in speeches in the country and in another place that no self-respecting man will ever be found to sit in the House of Lords if it is liable to be overridden by the thrice repeated declarations of the House of Commons. I say that no self-respecting man can in the future sit upon this bench and be charged with liberal legislation under the conditions of humiliation to which we have been exposed. We have seen this House again and again, year after year, devote long months to the laborious consideration of all the details of great measures which we consider reasonable and moderate, and which we are sure are approved by the country which sent us here to legislate, measures which we who are social reformers consider to be essential to the well-being and the happiness of our people. And then, after it all, we go and stand at the steps of the Throne and at the Bar in another place, and we see these long files of unknown men, elected by no one, authorised by no one, tearing up the long-considered work of this elected Chamber. When I have seen that year after year the iron has entered into my soul. [Laughter.] Hon. Members who deride that declaration, I feel sure, do not yet realise what a depth of feeling, what a passionate feeling there is, not only in this House, but in the country, amongst men who are keenly interested in social reforms, and who see in the House of Lords, as at present constituted and empowered, a great barrier that stands in the way of such legislation. The alternative, therefore, is offered to the country either of the permanent rule of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, which they may think to be very desirable, or the ending of the Veto of the House of Lords, for the Prime Minister has declared, on behalf of himself and his colleagues, that not again will Liberal Ministers be prepared to carry on the ordinary legislation of the country so long as this question remains unsolved. It is to take a long stage towards this goal that we ask the House to assent to this Resolution.
§ Mr. W. PEEL
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that the iron entered into his soul—I hope it did not enter very deeply—when he saw this long file of unknown peers advancing up the steps to 1007 vote in the House of Lords, and yet, in spite of the acute suffering he must have gone through from that iron, he and his party are not going to make one single effort to make any alteration in the composition of the House of Lords. He resembles one of those martyrs of the middle ages who hugs his own sufferings, and who would not by any possibility do away with the cause of the injury or the suffering lest he might diminish in some way the crown of martyrdom which he ought to wear. It is quite clear, after listening to the Debates of the last few days that opinion on the other side is hardening strongly.
§ Whereupon, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress. To sit again to-morrow (Tuesday).