HC Deb 14 April 1910 vol 16 cc1493-531
The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. Runciman)

moved the third of the Ministerial Resolutions: "(3) That it is expedient to limit the duration of Parliament to five years."

I rise to move the third Resolution on the Paper. The limitation of the duration of Parliament has always been an essential provision of the scheme originally brought forward in this House by the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and it is now regarded as an essential provision of the scheme as extended by the present Government. The period of five years is chosen with the deliberate object of striking a compromise between, the old triennial Parliament advocated in Chartist days and the seven years' Parliament. Our object in limiting the period to five years is that there may be no risk run of the perils which have been enunciated with great vigour by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite of a Government taking advantage of the powers granted to it under the second Resolution, outliving its welcome, getting completely out of touch with the country, and using its extended period of life, say of six years, for carrying through legislation of which the country does not approve. The five years named in the Resolution will in almost every case mean a four years' Parliament. It means therefore that if a Parliament divided its time in the manner described by the Leader of the Opposition, in the first two years doing the work for which it was returned, and in the second two years looking forward to the election about to come upon it, it would have filled up the whole of the four years' period for which this Resolution provides. Our only object in limiting the period of the duration of Parliament is that the House of Commons shall not get out of touch with the opinion of the electorate. I believe it will have other incidental advantages, not the least of which will be that the fluctuations of public opinion, which are shown from time to time by large swingeing majorities on the one side or the other, will be less pronounced under the Resolution than they have been in the past. If the period were shortened it would mean that we should be face to face more frequently with all the expense and turmoil involved by an election. Hon. Members know quite well that that expense is not limited merely to money. Indeed, if we shortened the period, it would mean that the Government would not be able either to develop its full policy or to get through a programme which would enable it to fulfil even moderately the mandate given at the General Election. Therefore, regarding this limitation as essential to the whole scheme, I beg to move.

8.0 P.M.


We are allowed but a short time to discuss so important a matter as the duration of Parliament, and the subject is brought before us in connection with the Resolutions which we have been discussing for some days past. That imposes very considerable difficulties in the consideration of the matter. If we were considering the question of quinquennial elections apart from other matters there would no doubt be something to be said for and against them. Anyone who takes the trouble to read the Debates which took place before the passing of the Septennial Act, which for those days lasted a considerable time, will see that some of the I reasons which actuated the then Parliament, apart from the political reasons to which I will refer later, were the continued irritation of public feeling caused by frequent elections under the Triennial Act; the political animosity engendered and kept alive by constant references to the electorate; the general dislocation of public affairs inevitably caused by a General Election; and, what is a consideration at the present time, the great expense thrown upon candidates by frequent elections. Whatever was said then it may truly be said now, that the House of Commons, under our existing electoral system, soon ceases to be in close touch with the; electorate, and, as by-elections during the j late Parliament showed, the House of Commons very soon drifts a long way apart from the opinions of those who returned it. That is an argument on the other side in favour of more frequent references to the electorate. On the whole, apart- from the questions of these Resolutions, I should be inclined to urge upon the consideration of the Government the increased expendi- ture involved by frequent elections. However much you may wish to keep the House of Commons in constant touch with the electorate, no one desires that access to Parliament should be made difficult for the poor man; and unless the Government were prepared to bring in some measure either contemporaneous" with or as a portion of a Bill for reducing the length of Parliament, I should say that they were bearing very hardly on a class of men whom we desire to see in Parliament, men of small means who cannot afford the recurring expense of frequent elections. On the whole I should be inclined to say-that the balance of opinion— other considerations apart— would be against the shortening of the duration of Parliament. It cannot be forgotten, however, that this Resolution is part of a series of Resolutions, and is meant to be a palliative, and nothing more than a palliative, against the autocracy of the House of Commons under the system of single-Chamber government which these Resolutions are forcing upon the country. If the House of Commons, and the Government of the day which controls the House of Commons, are to be absolute during the first three years of the life of a Parliament, then it may be well that it should be called to account every five years instead of every seven years. If the nation has to choose its masters without any prospect of an appeal to the electorate for a definite period of time, then it is better that the nation should only be cut off from a voice in its own affairs during five years rather than during seven years. But, under these Resolutions, for three years out of five this House will be absolute. Under these circumstances I should say that this remedial measure, for it is only a remedial measure, this palliative which is all you offer us, is a very insufficient remedy. For three years this House will be able to force upon the country any legislation it wishes. For the two remaining years the legislative proposals of the Government will have to be referred to the country before they can become law, and in five years the House will have to go to the country to render an account of its doings during this triennial period. The reason why I urge that this period is ineffectual as a remedy is because I am convinced that a new Parliament may go just as far away from the settled opinion of the country as an old Parliament. We have had instances of this within living memory, and even within very recent memory. Everyone knows—it has been referred to constantly in this Debate, and I will refer to it again only because it bears very closely upon what I am now saying—that when Mr. Gladstone's Parliament in 1893 came fresh from the polls, fresh from contact with the electors, it passed a Home Rule Bill which it was quite evident from the General Election of two years later the country would have nothing of. I see an hon. Member shaking his head, but I do not think he will dispute my facts or my conclusion, namely, that a new Parliament, elected upon a great variety of issues, may possibly go wrong upon one very important issue, and may put into legislative form some matter which the nation, as a whole, if it were put separately to the consideration of the electors, would cordially disapprove of.

I come to an experience more recent, that of the Education Bill of 1906. This House of Commons was very fresh from the polls, so fresh that I really think it was rather hard that the Minister in charge of that Bill should have been set to deal with such a complicated subject before he had had two months' experience of his Department. Was that a Bill which the bulk of the electors had set their hearts on passing into law? The Bill broke down owing to the insistence of the House of Lords upon Amendments which were not acceptable to this House and to the Government. I am not aware of any explosion of public feeling when that Bill was lost. No doubt we were told the country would ring with the indignation of those who had been looking forward to this Bill, and had given a mandate to the Government, and were bent upon redressing the intolerable grievances of the Act of 1902. But nothing of the sort happened. The working of our educational system has gone on very smoothly, and not only was the nation not in love with the Bill of 1906, but the Government itself brought in a second Bill and a third Bill, and both of them were quite unlike the Bill which was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Chief Secretary for Ireland. No one can say that the second of these two measures was designed to conciliate the opposition which had been kindled by the first. The second of these measures was infinitely more drastic than the first, but the Government failed to carry the second Bill, which they considered an improvement on the first, and then they brought in a third Bill, of which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Education was in charge, and which certainly obtained a larger measure of acceptance on both sides of the House than either of the previous Bills. But does not that show that here is a subject upon which Members came back with what they called a mandate, which was put into legislative form by a House of Commons fresh from contact with the electors, which failed to be carried owing to the opposition of the House of Lords, and for which the country evidently had no desire? I should be disposed to say that you cannot be sure, even in the first three years of a Parliament, that this House may not depart from the public will. It is idle to say that this House is always the exponent of the national will because the House of Commons is returned upon a great variety of issues, and then a number of the subjects which are thrust upon the Government are very often subjects which are dear to an active and energetic minority who are able to impress their views upon the Government of the day. Legislation prepared and carried through this House under those influences is not the legislation which the country, if the matter was referred to it in a concrete form, would approve of. Now these are two objections to the quinquennial period which are worthy of consideration. If you want to lessen the expense of Parliamentary life, if you want to lessen the difficulty of getting into Parliament, the quinquennial period is too short, and you should stick to the septennial period. If we are to look at that point of view all our tendency should be rather to extend it to nine years. If your object is to make Parliament accessible to poor men, then five years is too short. If you wish to secure that the House of Commons should never stray away from the will of the people, then five years is a great deal too long, and I have endeavoured to show by facts beyond all dispute that Parliament in the first year of its existence may bring in a Bill of which the country disapproves.

There is a more serious objection to this Resolution, and that is that it is incomplete. There is no suggestion of finality about it. Why was the Septennial Act passed? It was passed with a weak Whig Ministry in power, in order that that political party which was then in a majority in this House and in possession of office should not run the risk of losing place and power owing to the fact that the country was not expected, if an appeal had been made to it—that was in the year 1717—to retain that Ministry in power. Then you must bear in mind that once you begin to meddle with the duration of Parliaments you are inclined to consider the matter from a party point of view. A few years before the Septennial Act was passed a Tory Ministry was in power and there was some talk of doing what was done a few years afterwards, namely, to extend the duration of Parliament. But people said it would be a monstrous Tory job, that it would be most improper to extend the period during which an existing House of Commons should retain its place, and that such a thing could not be entertained. I will not dispute what I take as a historical fact, that it was said to be desirable that the Hanoverian Succession should not be imperilled by a General Election, and the period was extended from three years to seven. But once you begin to meddle with this question of the duration of Parliaments, have we any security that a majority of the House of Commons and the Government which commands that majority will not, if occasion offers and if circumstances make it desirable, extend the duration of Parliament again? Is it inconceivable that a Government in its third year of power, after a number of by-elections and other indications of a change in public opinion, knowing that if it were to go to the poll at the end of five years it would probably receive very much reduced support, and its party might be returned in a minority—is it not possible that with the aid of the new Parliamentary machine that the Government is now constituting the leaders of the party would say, "We have still got three years, and we can run a Bill through without any reference to the country, and if we can extend our term of power and office up to the septennial period, something may turn up, or we may be able to suggest legislation which will secure the sympathy of the electors next time we appeal to them"?

I really think the desire for place and power, which is inevitable with men who believe honestly, no doubt that their retention in office is for the country's good, may result in some such events as I have endeavoured to describe. If this quinquennial period is not accompanied by some further legislation, providing that it is not to be altered except as the result of an appeal to the people, then your safeguard, poor enough in any circumstances so far as any real effect goes, to prevent your omnipotent House of Commons departing from the will of the people during three out of five years of the terms of its existence, is worth really little more than the paper it is written upon. What these Resolutions are doing—and this is one illustration of it—is to remove every safeguard for the retention of our Constitution in the form in which we now find it. You are doing away with everything on which we have hitherto relied as a security for the permanence of the institutions under which we live. It is of some importance surely that a matter like the duration of Parliament should not be liable to change at the inclination of the Government of the day. It is desirable that so serious a question, and one which so much affects the political life of the country, should not be altered without, at any rate, the possibility of a reference to the people. But here, as in other matters that we have been discussing, during the last few days you have made a majority of this House omnipotent; you have created an autocracy, a single-Chamber Government, which is really the Government of the Cabinet of the day and the Ministers of the day with their obedient majority. When you are making a definite proposal of this nature, when you are creating a new feature in our Constitution as regards the duration of Parliament, it becomes evident at once that the safeguards which every great democracy intended to provide for itself against violent and sudden and interested changes will entirely be absent from this unhappy Constitution of ours. You will find, if you look round the world, and more particularly at the great democracies of the world, at the present moment that they have carefully provided that matters such as this should be fenced about with provisions which ensure that they shall not be rashly altered at the will of a chance majority or of an impatient Government. We alone in the nations of the world are destitute of that security. You have thrown our Constitution into the melting pot, and your little provision as regards quinquennial Parliaments will have no better security than any of the other matters you are leaving to the disposition of the majority of the day.


I should like to ask the leave of the House, as a new Member, to say a few words on this Amendment. I listened with great attention and interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, marked with considerable distinction and backed by very great knowledge upon this particular question. To the ordinary man in the street his speech presents many difficulties. In the first instance, he put before us a Parliament which under our new and suggested system might be too long on account of having exhausted its mandate and having got quickly out of touch with the electors that returned it. Then he spoke of Parliament in another instance as being too short, and thus presented us with two difficulties. We are bound to take some form of solution of this Question. I acknowledge the difficulties presented, but the right hon. Gentleman neither declares for the present nor for the new form suggested by the Resolution, and I think it would have been very much better if, with his extraordinary knowledge, he laid before the House some final opinion upon this Question. He gave us one or two instances which, as I think, rather tell against the argument which he developed. He alluded to the Government of 1906 getting clearly out of touch with the electorate even one year after its election. He gave as an illustration of that the introduction of their Education Bill, which he seemed to think had very few friends outside this House. But had the Government of that day stood by their own Bill as it was introduced, instead of having given to hon. Gentlemen opposite so much of their own way in Amendments conceded, the country would have been quite as enthusiastic over that Bill then as it was at the time when it moved the Government to introduce it, and I regard the right hon. Gentleman as the greatest sinner in the direction in which the enthusiasm for the Bill was cooled down. The error was largely due to the fact that the Government took out of that Bill those things which the electorate very earnestly and very enthusiastically struggled to attain. But there is this to be said. The Government which introduced that Bill has been returned again, so that the electorate has not passed an overwhelming condemnation upon the Government in regard to that particular matter.

Let me call the attention of the hon. Gentleman to the action of the Government in 1900. Their Education Act was introduced in 1902, and the hon. Gentleman himself was very closely and very honourably associated with it. What has been the verdict of the country upon that Government when next they presented themselves to the electors? They were swept from power. And if you are going to take the action of the electorate from, time to time as a condemnation in one case you must also take it in another. I take it that in the election of 1906 the Education Act of 1902 was very largely, at least in those spheres of influence in which I happen to move, instrumental in the destruction of the Government returned in 1900.

There has been a growing feeling for a number of years that Parliaments should be short. I have no reason to emphasise that. The right hon. Gentleman is very much better acquainted with the Chartist movement than I am. The hon. Gentleman will remember that one of the five points of the Charter was the shortening of Parliament. I do not think the influence of that agitation has ever died down. The man outside, no doubt, has followed the discussion on these Resolutions which have been alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman, and has wondered why we have had so much of precedent which very largely governs the action of this House. Really the object of these Resolutions is a much more living matter than what it appears to the Parliamentarian who seeks out precedent in order that future Governments shall be fashioned somewhat therein. Throughout these discussions we have had the hand of the dead man on our shoulder continually. I think we are just as competent in the early part of the twentieth century to strike and create precedents as at any other portion of our history. While we must be very much influenced by the experience of the past, that experience should not be overwhelming to destroy the power of the people to express thoughts for the time being in Acts of Parliament, and in these Resolutions it seems to me that we are expressing very largely the will of the people.

The length and duration of Parliament is an important matter. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is possible for Parliament to do certain things, but I do not think it is probable that we shall ever have in this country the dark picture which he drew of some despotic Cabinet sitting on this side of the House introducing measures which would very largely alter the Constitution in the direction to which he has alluded. It may be possible, but I do not think with the power of the Press, the power of the platform, and the power of the Opposition it is at all probable. I have very great pleasure in supporting the Resolutions as introduced by the Government. I support this Resolution because I believe it will bring the House of Commons more closely into touch with the people who create it. The Government desire to express the will of the people, and if that expression has any real meaning, then the Opposition ought to vote with us, because these proposals bring Parliament oftener before the people than under the present conditions. With regard to the period when Parliament becomes an active Parliament in feeing able to present measures to another place, if you do not accept the verdict of Parliament at the early part of its existence then in the latter years of its existence it must be less in harmony with public opinion. I take it that the first two years of a Parliament interprets the latest expression of public opinion at the ballot box, and that seems to me to be about the most practical thing that has yet been presented to this House. All the opposition to these proposals arises from a desire to support those in another place who never come into touch with the people, and who are regarded by the reformers of the country as the great burial board of reforms which go from this House from time to time. I trust that the Government will stand firm, and that the Bill they are going to bring in will be expressive not only of this Resolution, but also of the previous Resolution. I hope they will not diverge in the slightest. So long as the Government stand firm to these Resolutions in spirit and in word I feel they will have the support of the electorate outside this House.


The hon. Member who has just sat down said his main reason for supporting this Resolution is that it brings Parliament into touch with the people of this country more frequently. May I suggest that to achieve this he should move an Amendment making it compulsory to have Parliaments once every three years. If he will do that I shall be very glad to support him and to tell with him. I shall certainly not support this Resolution, because I think it is giving a Government a great deal too long a time to do damage to this country. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh, but on this side of the House we have just as strong feelings about certain measures as hon. Members opposite. I can conceive such a thing hapening as the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Treasury at the present time introducing an Education Bill under which no religion would be taught in the schools of this country at all. Such a measure would become law according to these Resolutions, provided it was passed three times by this House, in spite of whatever another Chamber might say. I can conceive of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) bringing forward a Resolution taxing undeveloped land at 19s. 6d. in the £l, and some needy Chancellor of the Exchequer might be glad to support his Resolution. I cannot think that such proposals would be popular with the people, and yet with such a majority as that which the Government possessed in the last Parliament such measures might be passed three times. What redress have we against such measures as were brought forward in the last Parliament, going against the principles nearest to our hearts? We have no redress at all. When we were being guillotined and closured, and when we were not allowed to have free discussion—


You have got the House of Lords.


Very well, but now we are not to have the House of Lords, and we shall have no redress at all. The people of this country want some appeal from the exorbitant demands put forward by the Government. I hope that when the time comes when the Members of this House will change over to the other side the hon. Member who has interrupted me will go and say the same thing on public platforms in the country. By this Resolution you are putting in office for five years a Government whether it is in touch with the people or not. It stands to reason that you will not get hon. Members sent to support a particular Government when you cannot turn them out till five years, because they may pass measure after measure out of touch with the opinion of the people. Five years is a great deal too long a time, and I only wish the hon. Member who spoke last, who is so anxious to get the opinion of the country, would introduce a proposal limiting Parliaments to three years. [An HON. MEMBER: "YOU do it."] All the mischief which is now proposed could not be done in the same way if Parliament was not going on for five years, because it would then be very difficult to pass measures against the feelings of the people three times if Parliament only sat for three years. The hon. Member for Oxford in his most interesting speech alluded to the Septennial Act. I know there are Members in this House who are deeper students of history than I am. May I remind the Committee, however, that in 1641 an Act was passed making it necessary to dissolve Parliament at least once in three years. This system went on until 1664, when it was repealed, and in 1694 the Triennial Act was again re-enacted. In 1716 the Septennial Act was passed in order to give security to the Government of this country. What is this Government now attempting to do? Instead of trying to give security to the country, they are trying to force through a revolution. According to the speech which the Home Secretary made yesterday, the Government have got a programme which they wish to bring before the people of this country which is a very tall order. It is practically a revolutionary programme, and, according to our notion of the opinion of this House, what the right hon. Gentleman proposed yesterday was a revolutionary programme.

These programmes do not make for law and order, or the well-government of this country. You are trying to take away any check which exists at the present moment on any revolutionary programme which may be brought before Parliament. It is well known that on the other side of the House there are a number of Members who very much object to having a large Army or Navy. I recollect that before the election of 1906 the Army was to be very considerably reduced. One battalion belonging to my native county, Warwickshire, was reduced by the Government, and the Army was reduced to the extent of something like 24,000 men. There was also a large party who thought it waste of money to have a large Navy in order to protect our shores. I can conceive, after the country has been governed prosperously for so many years by a Unionist Government, that the electorate are beginning to forget the horrors of a Radical régime, a number of Little Englanders being in the majority in this House who like a small Army and an insufficient Navy. Possibly we might be in conflict.with foreign Powers, but. if you pass this Resolution, you might have that sort of Government clinging on for five years, and no power on earth could get them out of office, because they would stick to office like limpets stick to a rock.

The Liberal party complained very much that when we got in power, on the subject of the war in 1900, we stuck in office a great deal too long. I make the confession that I personally think we did stay in too long, and that it would have been better for us as a party if we had ceased to hold office before we did. I think, just in the same way, it will be worse for the Liberal party if, after the chaos to which they are bringing the financial position of this country, they stick on to office by the intrigues with the Irish party, the Labour party, and other parties which are now going on. The country, when it begins to find out that they are clinging to office by subterraneous intrigues, will say, "We have had enough of a party like that; let us have a clean sweep and put somebody else in." I take it that hon. Members who sit on the other side of the House would like to see done to others that which they wish to have done to themselves. If that is so, let them put down an Amendment making it three years instead of five, and I will support them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Put it down yourself."] I will undertake to put it down, unless we are guillotined before there is time, if some hon. Gentleman will undertake to second and to tell with me in the Division. If they wish to do to us as we wish to do to them let them give us the power of testing the opinion of the country when they are in office after three years rather than after five years, and, in fairness to the electors of the country, do not let them put in this regulation practically giving themselves fixity of tenure and security of office for five years. It is a great deal too long, when there is no Second Chamber which can force an appeal to the country and give it the opportunity of showing whether their feelings are in touch or not with what the Government propose.


The time is very short for the discussion of this Resolution, and it may be inconvenient to move any Amendment, but perhaps one may be permitted to ventilate the first Amendment which appears on the Paper. The Resolution reads:— That it is expedient to limit the duration of Parliament to five years. The Amendment is to alter the word "limit" to "fix" and the word "to" to "at," so that it may read: It is expedient to fix the duration, of Parliament at five years. The meaning of that Amendment is that Parliament would sit for five years, no longer and no shorter, no more and no less. We should have a full five years' Parliament for each House of Commons. If a dissolution of this Parliament took place on 31st December next the following Parliament would be dissolved on 31st December, 1915, and the Parliament after on 3lst December, 1920, so we should have fixity of tenure as mentioned by the last speaker.


With compensation for disturbance?


It is obvious they would get their compensation as they went along. I should like to invite the Government's consideration to this proposal in all its bearings before the Bill is finally drafted. There are many grounds to recommend this proposal to the House. Take the most mercenary to begin with—the matter of spending money. The expense of a Parliamentary contest is a consideration to most Members of this House. The majority of us are men of moderate means. Once in five years is quite often enough for our financial resources; in fact, there ought to be a number of years in which one can save up for the next General Election. If a contest costs £l,000 you have to save £200 a year for five years before you get the cash in hand to pay for the next. The Solicitor-General told us the other night that the cost of a General Election to individual candidates and associations amounted to £2,000,000. Take the case of the Skipton Division. Each candidate expended more than £1,400. The Tory candidate is a wealthy man, and the president of his association is a multimillionaire; £l,400 is a mere bagatelle to these gentlemen, and if the House of Lords were to decree quarterly General Elections these gentlemen would plank down £l,400 every three months, and they would never wince at it. It is quite otherwise with the Liberal candidate, and, indeed, with many other candidates—with probably the majority of candidates on both sides of this House; therefore for our pockets' sake let us fix the duration of Parliament at not less than five years. After all, five years is rather more than the average. It is very little more than the average of the last seven Parliaments. From 1880 to 1910 there were seven Parliaments, giving an average of a little over four years each. The Tories had three Parliaments averaging five and two-third years, and the Liberals four Parliaments averaging a little over three.

If you fixed the General Election at every five years it would be a great boon to trade and trading interests. We are a nation of shopkeepers. This argument runs on the same lines, though on a grander scale. A General Election once in five years is as much as the ordinary commercial community can appreciate and enjoy. Take, again, individual contests. In the Skipton Division the fight lasts over three weeks. Employers and employed enter into it with the greatest relish and gusto. We have a counting day and a polling day. On these two days there is very little work, and what is done is not of very good quality. The workpeople's minds go woolgathering far away from the forge, the loom, and the spinning-wheel, and therefore it would be better for the whole business community if Parliament had a fixed life. If you did away with the present uncertainty it would lessen the dislocation of trade. I have another recommendation, and this is most important. It is only fair that each Parliament should be ensured a full innings of five years. Under the Septennial Act the Lords take advantage of that measure for party purposes. A Tory Government is always allowed to go without let or hindrance to its full tether Take, for instance, from 1886 to 1892, or from 1900 to 1906. But as soon as a Liberal House of Commons is elected the House of Lords spend all their energies and exercise all their wits to handicap, discredit, hobble, humiliate, bring to their knees, and force a dissolution upon the Liberal House of Commons.


The House need not dissolve.


It must dissolve when it has no money to go on with. Take the 1892 Parliament. Straight away the House of Lords murdered the Home Rule Bill; then they fatally mauled the Employers Liability Bill, so that the present Prime Minister, who was in charge of it, had to drop it; and, finally, they very seriously mutilated the Parish Councils Act.


The Government did not dissolve for any of those reasons. They dissolved when they were beaten in this House.


That is so, but if the Lords could have forced them to dissolve they would have done so. Take the 1906 Parliament. Session after Session the Lords rejected a first-class measure without being able to force a dissolution. They then hit upon the master-stroke— the fatal stroke of refusing the Crown Supplies to carry on the King's business. Now they have discovered the key you may depend upon it they will use it in the future in order to bring Liberal Houses of Commons to an end. It requires neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet to foretell that if after the next General Election a composite, conglomerate coalition of groups at present in opposition came in with a majority of only twenty—we need say nothing of a majority of 120—if they had a conglomerate majority of twenty Tory Free Traders, Tariff Tinkers, Tory Democrats, and Tory Aristocrats, there would be nothing to bring the Government to an end except the Septennial Act. The House of Lords would never say that they must consult the people on any measure that may be brought in. But, on the other hand, if after the next General Election a reformed House of Commons should be returned with a majority of 320, the House of Lords will set its wits to work so as to bring about another dissolution within twelve months. It must be universally admitted —indeed, it cannot be denied—that this piebald, grotesque, harlequin procedure will only be brought into operation against a Liberal House of Commons, and never against a Tory House of Commons. A Tory Government will never have to pass its measures through this House twice, but a Liberal Government will have to pass them through three times, and such a prospect is appalling to a great many more besides the Chief Secretary for Ireland. We want fixity of duration of the House of Commons. We want a guarantee that a Liberal House of Commons can go on for five years, and then a progressive House will be under no necessity to introduce all its controversial measures inside its first Session. It will give them three years during which they can introduce their controversial measures, and they will always have the encouraging prospect that they will place them upon the Statute Book before the end of the quinquennial period. In limiting and reducing the duration of Parliaments there are two objects that we should strive for. The first is, to curtail and curb the powers of mischief of a bad House of Commons, which has misused its opportunities in order that it may not outstay its welcome or its mandate. The 1900 House of Commons was the worst that ever sat inside these walls. Its body was dead and unburied for years after its soul had fled. The next object that we should strive for is to secure a full innings and an equal opportunity for a good House of Commons. The 1906 Parliament had the best House of Commons that ever sat, and it was little less than a crime to destroy it, as the House of Lords did, prematurely, for its body and soul were both quick at the end of the four years, and it had then two years of really good work in it. The recommendation to have a fixed duration of Parliament would be acceptable to all Parliamentary candidates, and would mean a great retrenchment in expenses. It would be a boon and a blessing to the business interests of the country as a whole, and it would be the fairest for all Parliaments and for every House of Commons to have an equal innings, whatever its party complexion may be.

9.0 P.M.


I do not rise with the object of supporting the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, but I should just like to make one or two observations with respect to his speech. He says fixity of duration of Parliaments would be commendable to various interests in the country, but I have to enter a caveat on behalf of one large industry which does not suffer at the time of an election, because I am a member of the printing trade. Therefore the more frequent elections are the better it suite those whom I represent as a trade in this House. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last on the other side of the House treated us to a very interesting dissertation. He opposes the Resolution of the Government and at the same time he is anxious to limit the duration of Parliaments to three years. The Government have been charged with contemplating a revolution in the procedure that they have adopted in dealing with the House of Lords question, but the hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House is much more of a revolutionary than anybody on this side; in fact, I think he has earned for himself the title of being a constitutional anarchist. But emerging from the speeches which have been delivered on this particular Resolution, we have Gentlemen on each side of the House taking very frankly purely partisan views. An hon. Gentleman on the other side first of all suggested that it was utterly impossible for the country to have too much of a Unionist Government, but subsequently he modified that to the extent of declaring that the last Unionist Government held power far longer than he desired. Evidently it suddenly dawned upon him that even a Unionist Government may err, and that the destinies of the country are not always safe with them.

He sought to cast some aspersion on those who occupy these benches. He feared it may be possible on some subsequent occasions that members of the Labour party may be here in strong force, and they may advocate an abandonment of the British Army and the reduction of the British Navy. I have a lively recollection of the fact that attention was directed to that subject during the ten years' duration of Unionist power, and that all was not well with the British Army under their control. I think some of the revelations of the South African War clearly proved, after all, that the administration of the Army affairs on capable and efficient lines is not a monopoly of any one particular party in the State. I support this Resolution because I believe that, as the right hon. Gentleman who has charge of these Resolutions stated, this is the inevitable corollary of the two previous Resolutions that the House has adopted. Undoubtedly we aim at restricting the power of the House of Lords, or at any rate at reversing the extension of power that they have recently arrogated to themselves. I do not contemplate these Resolutions as anything in the nature of a revolution, but rather they are, I think, aimed at undoing the revolution which the House of Lords has recently created. It is nothing new, and I believe that the people of the country are fairly familiar with the question of the limitation of the duration of Parliaments. I am able to recall the time when I first made my juvenile entry into local politics, and I know then, as one hon. Gentleman has observed, that this point was very often urged by political reformers even in those days. But of this I am certain, that those who made references to the Campbell-Barrnerman Resolutions in the recent Parliamentary contest also coupled with those Resolutions the necessity for some such restriction of the length of Parliaments as is laid down in this Resolution. Therefore if we are justified in saying that the question of the Lords Veto—the abolition of the Financial Veto and the restriction of the Legislative Veto—was the issue at the recent election, it is equally competent for us to urge that this third Resolution was also before the electorate, and the fact that we have a majority in favour of the two previous Resolutions is also, in my opinion, an argument for saying that we have a majority also in favour of the restriction of the duration of Parliaments.

The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench treated us to a most interesting speech, but like the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) he is always apprehensive of any change what-ever. He seems to think that the Constitution was made for all time, that it is never to be modified, and therefore that it is always a crime to lay human hands upon it I decline to regard the Constitution as it exists at present as entitled to rank alongside, say, the law of gravitation, as part of the fixed, unchangeable framework of the universe. After all, Parliament is elected by the people—and I am prepared to admit that the election should be broad-based upon true democratic principles—and has a right to adapt the Constitution from time to time, as circumstances may show to be necessary, in the interests of the nation as a whole. Having regard to the recent crisis that has been created owing to the conflict between this and the other House, we have now an occasion for a modification of the British Constitution, and therefore, as this Resolution hinges upon the other two, we have a thoroughly good case made out in favour of the change. I admit that the question of expense is one that every Member is bound to consider. I was pleased to observe that the hon. Baronet (Sir William Anson) was greatly concerned lest anything should be created tending to make it more difficult for poor men to get into the House. I had hoped that the Members of this party held that view widely and that they might have made provision during the lengthy years in which they have been in office to make it easier for men to get into this Assembly. Therefore I am able to appreciate to the full the weight of' such an argument. Nevertheless, as it works out at present, with a House of Lords that precipitated a General Election, we have no safeguard against ever increasing expenditure on General Elections. But I am convinced that much of the money expended during an election is absolutely unnecessary. The parties set far too high a standard, and others, of course, have to do something similar in order to make an equal show in the constituency, but I am hoping that with the increasing education and better knowledge that our people are securing on political matters, it will be unnecessary to resort to this very high expenditure, and that after all the limitation of Parliaments and the more frequent appeals to the people may do something to minimise this item, and therefore need not be apprehended as a great obstacle.

I realise that too frequent appeals to the country dislocate business and create disquietude and therefore there is something to be urged on behalf of the case submitted by hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. But I feel that if we are able to effect the modifications in the Constitution which are now proposed by the Government, of which I regard this Resolution as a consistent part, I believe we shall be doing something to give greater security to Parliament, because the people will have more confidence in it and they will know that a Parliament cannot last longer than five years, and therefore a General Election will not dislocate business more than it does at the present time. I have no desire to see general elections taking place too frequently. I know what they mean. Nevertheless, we have no security even under the Septennial Act against this apprehension. It is quite true that, as things stand at present, the Conservative party can hold office even although the country is dead against it. We had the case of 1900 to 1906, when all the by-elections most emphatically proved that the country was thoroughly sick and tired of it. But with the aid of the House of Lords they were able to retain office until the Septennial Act came into operation and they appealed to the country, too late, as an hon. Gentleman opposite admitted. We on these benches ought to make it perfectly plain that we have no fear of trusting the people; in fact, in the last resort, democracy has to bear the whole of the responsibility, of the good or ill that is enacted by this House. If democracy does make a mistake in the class of people it sends to this House it ought to bear the responsibility. At any rate, I am certain that the House of Lords, no more than the common people in the country, are competent to decide actually what is best at any particular period. On the other hand, I believe that the people, as well as the.House of Lords, are quite capable of guiding their own destinies and working out their own salvation. Certain it is that this House, elected and bound to appeal to the people at least once in five years, can claim to be more in touch with the democracy of the country than the House of Lords can ever be, because they move in an entirely restricted circle and I believe, in the main, never really understand the actual life, aims, and aspirations of the common people.


It seems to me that both the hon. Members who have last spoken seem to wish for fixity of tenure. They seem to wish to be in power for five years uncontrolled by any force whatever. I admit that the hon. Member (Mr. G. H. Roberts) said it would be a great benefit to his trade, and I think we have all had experience of printers' bills. I oppose this Resolution from an entirely different point of view. The logical conclusion which ought to be drawn is that, instead of its being for five years, the duration of Parliament ought to be three years, because they admit that, by shortening the length of Parliament, the will of the people is not always represented in this House after a short period of time. If you carry this Resolution further, a far more reasonable time would be three years, because at that period, at any rate, the House would be within closer touch of the last election. Parliament ought to last for three years, because, owing to the two previous Resolutions, we have seen that a Bill which might possibly be absolutely against the wishes of the majority of the people, such as the Home Rule Bill, might be passed into law at the end of the third or fourth year. If we limit, the duration of Parliament to three years, there would be only a greatly reduced possibility of the House passing some Bill into law which has not had a mandate from the people at the General Election.

Everyone must admit that a General Election is fought on a complexity of issues. You cannot fight on one question. In one part of the country it may be Tariff Reform and Free Trade, and in another part of the country it may be some other question. There are always so many causes before the country at the same time, and for that reason I suggest it would be better and safer for the country at large if the duration of Parliament was reduced to three years. I admit if they had put into these Resolutions some mention of the Referendum I should have supported the Resolution, because we should then be certain that the people would have an opportunity of deciding whether they wish a measure or not, but I venture to submit that the whole case against the Resolution is given away by the Government wishing to have shorter Parliaments. By that they admit that the majority in this House does not represent the voice of the people. But when a majority, here does not represent the majority of the people, what is to check its action? I think it is plain for all intents and purposes that the majority remains the same, and that is the reason, I suppose, why the Government suggest that we should have quinquennial Parliaments. I would suggest that they should go further and have Parliaments for three years. I cannot see why a Government, after they have lost touch with the electorate for two or three years should continue to hold office. With respect to the j present Government which is supported by various groups, I venture to think that after it had been in office four years not many people would be very certain that the majority made up of those groups represented the majority of the people. I would say, Heaven help the country if the present Government, kept together by various arrangements which we need not go into at this moment, are to remain in power for five years. All I can say in that case is that I think the future of the country would be in an extremely parlous condition. Having heard all the speeches on this point, I would suggest that the Government should limit the period to three years. It is because I disapprove of the longer period that I oppose the Resolution.


I must confess that I do not see the exact connection between this Resolution and the two other Resolutions which we have been discussing during the last fortnight. It seems to me that this Resolution has been thrown in as a sort of sop to please our opponents, and that those who think the first two Resolutions may be a little strong meat for the Tories here, and in another place, believe this one will help to soothe them and induce them to accept the others. I do not quite agree with these compromises. A large matter of this kind should be considered on its merits, and not with a view to soothing the criticism of our adversaries who, I know, whatever we may do to please them, will be ready to give us a stab in the dark at any time. My right hon. Friend opened this discussion in an excellent short speech—I always ap- prove of short speeches from the Front Benches—and I do not wish to make him unhappy by leading him to think that I have any serious difference with the Government on this point. I would say that, having entirely approved of the first two Resolutions, I shall be absolutely loyal on the third Resolution, and my right hon. Friend may rely on any support I can give him. I am sure my right hon. Friend will be glad to hear an expression of opinion, and I believe that nothing is more clear than that the opinions of the democracy with regard to this business of short Parliaments are tending rather to change. There used to be a time when I believed that Parliament should only last three years, just as the hon. Gentleman opposite says, or half says, that he believes at present, and I used to go the length when I had not so much experience of thinking that annual Parliaments might be practicable. But I admit my views in this respect have tended to change. The effort to carry out any serious reform in which we are engaged is so grave and serious now that I think it is a questionable thing whether the length of Parliament should be altered. We have had a most remarkable example of what is going on in the world in a speech made by the French Premier on Sunday last. I understand that there, where they enjoy the blessing of a four years' Parliament, the present Socialist Prime Minister, as he is called by "The Times," though I do not rely on that description absolutely—


He is a very high-class Socialist.


He is a very high-class Socialist, I hear from my hon. Friend, whose opinion I never accept on anything, but whether he is a Socialist or not, he is the Prime Minister of France. I see he has now introduced a project to change the duration of Parliament, not to three years, but to nine years. The arrangement proposed is that it should be re-elected as regards one-third of its Members every three years. It is an extraordinary fact that an intelligent nation like the French should be tending in this direction at the present time. I am extremely sorry that I did not hear the speech of my hon. Friend (Mr. Clough), who was going to propose an Amendment. When I asked whether he had done so I was told that, although he made an interesting speech, he did not propose the Amendment. I should have liked him to propose the Amendment, which was that Parliament should be fixed to last five years. I would like any Parliament where I was in the majority to last not merely for five, but for seven years, and if it carried out the policy I approved of I do not think a longer term would be too great. I have had a most melancholy experience of short Parliaments. I believe that no one on these occasions can render better serivce than by stating his own experience. So far as my experience goes, we have had the most shamefully and absurdly short Parliaments within a period of twenty years that any great party in history has been able to boast of.

When I fought my first political battle we had a splendid majority of 160 Liberals, a composite majority like this. I always think a composite majority is best. But for some reason or other the wise, astute leaders of my party, in whom I have always got the most profound confidence, dissolved the Parliament at the end of six months. That was in 1886. Then the country elected an entirely different Parliament at the end of that time. That was a most absurd thing for a nation to do. There should not be such a complete change as that at the end of six months. In the next Liberal Parliament, which was the first one that I was in, because I only fought a contest at the previous election, my leaders again suddenly dissolved at the end of three years, when they had done most excellent work, and it was quite evident that three years remained before them in which they would have added much to the legislative wealth of the country. Then came the third in which is took an interest, the last Parliament. I thought that that would have gone on for six years. I never could see why we dissolved in December last. Yet for some reason my right hon. Friends dissolved the Parliament prematurely. That is a very sad experience. Look at the present situation at the moment. We had not been elected for a single fortnight before several Ministers who adorn that bench commenced to talk about another dissolution of Parliament. This business of short Parliaments in this country is becoming a farce. As far as I can see of hon. Gentlemen opposite — even on the Tory Benches you can occasionally get a little sense from some of the Members if you take them aside privately—they do not approve of a dissolution now at the end of three or four months after Parliament has been elected. They say that there should be stability in our institutions; and I do think that our ideas as Liberals ought to tend rather in the direction of stability and longer Parliaments, in which we shall have time to give effect to some of our ideas, rather than prematurely and unnecessarily as I think limiting the time during which Parliament may sit.

I would have been quite satisfied if the Government had accepted the Amendment of my hon. Friend. I want to see this Parliament last five years. I believe it is a most admirable Parliament, and we have got a splendid majority, and I am quite sure we are supported by the will of the people outside. We have got to remember with regard to this thing that it is always assumed that if you have an election you test the will of the people, and that the result of the election shows what the will of the people is. My experience tends in an entirely opposite direction. You have got to have favourable circumstances in which the people may express their opinions or the result of the election may not in the least express the stable opinions of the people on which they would like the country to be governed. I think that that is an axiomatic statement that might be accepted by everybody present without giving any illustration. But if an illustration is required, look at the difficulty in which the people were placed at the last election. The subject of the election was supposed to be the Budget. But the Budget had been rejected by the House of Lords, and that made the House of Lords the subject, and it was doubtful whether the real subject on which the people were expressing their opinions was hostility to the House of Lords or admiration of the Budget. That was the situation. What occurred to simplify it? Then in came all the Opposition, with one consent, to say, "You shall not pronounce an opinion on either of those subjects; we will start a third hare." Then they started Tariff Reform, and so the people, whose will we all assumed we would hear at the General Election were perplexed between these three questions of a far-reaching Budget on the one hand, the tyranny of the House of Lords on the other and the question of upsetting our Free Trade institutions which have lasted for two generations on the other hand. On which of these did the people express their will?

That is a question of considerable difficulty, and I need not give another illustration, but I will say this much, that at almost every election—I think the only exception I make was the election of 1906 —there is the same difficulty in ascertaining what the will of the people is. For example, take the election of 1900. The will of the people with regard to that was that the war should be brought to a conclusion, and that the people who started it should end it, but the country did not give any expression of opinion with regard to domestic government, at that time, so, as I firmly believe, the country had to suffer under something like tyranny for six years after that at the hands of the Gentlemen who were elected on the sole issue of the war. I only mention these points to show that we must not assume that whenever we have a General Election we get a clear opinion as to what the will of the people is. I always support broad, humane, and, above all, liberal measures. I have drawn from the most adverse election in which I have ever taken part a sincere conviction that if the thing had been properly placed before the people they would have returned an almost unanimous verdict in accordance with the opinions which I myself have. I only mention these difficulties which surround this question to show that you ought to seek, if you touch such a large matter as this, the duration of Parliament, some great principle on which we might rely with regard to fixing a time. On the whole, I have come to this conclusion, that the best thing would be that Parliament should last for a fixed time, and that it should always end by the efflux of time. I believe that, on the whole, that would make the mind of the people easy. We have that now in our municipal institution.

The County Council of London lasts for three years. Our other municipal institutions last for that time. The people do not worry much about it. They say, "We put these fellows in; let them have their run for the three years." At the end of that time they are not excited about the particular question. They know that the council has died by the efflux of time, and that they will have a fair opportunity of putting in wise men in the place of those who misused their opportunities. On the whole, I am inclined to think that that would be the best plan. I am very sorry that my hon. Friend did not move his Amendment. I would appeal to the Government even now. I would ask the President of the Board of Education (Mr. Runciman) to treat that Amendment with some seriousness, and, if he can see his way, to provide that this Parliament shall last for five years, and all future Parliaments. That would give great relief in reference to all this talk about elections and the question of expenditure which was mentioned by my hon. Friend opposite, and we should be able at once to address ourselves to the imporant work which the country expects us to do. I will not move any Resolution myself. I do not want to disturb the proceedings, which are going on in quite an amicable way. I will give the Government all the support in my power, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will admit that I have expressed my opinion with much candour on the subject before us, and I would ask him to give what consideration he can to the matter.


I find myself in some difficulty in reference to the last speech and some speeches which preceded it, because I find that some hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side are attacking the Government proposals, while it seems from some speeches on this side that the Government proposals do not go far enough to satisfy some hon. Members on these benches. I find myself in the rather unusual position of agreeing with a great deal of what has been said by the hon. Member for Islington (Mr. Lough) and a great deal of what has been said by the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Clough); but there is one thing which the last hon. Member who spoke clearly brings out— and his opinion is a very valuable opinion —and that is that the expression of what the people's will was at the election is to be by no means relied upon. The pretension of the Coalition in this House that they represent the opinion of the people to the extent of a majority of 124 votes against the House of Lords—in the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, at any rate—has no foundation whatever. That is the effect of what the right hon. Gentleman says. The reason why I agree with the right hon. Gentleman and others who have spoken on that side is that they really wish to increase the length of Parliament. Since the time of the Reform Bill the average length of Parliaments has been only four years and one month. The arguments of hon. Gentlemen are perfectly unanswerable as to expense, the general upset of business, and the general disturbance of trade. Nobody can deny that the cost of a series of elections must be great, and must cause a general disturbance of trade and business. Besides all the inconvenience, the great cost which is incurred on an election is an absolutely unproductive expenditure which might very easily be avoided. If you are going to have this period of five years instead of seven, if you are going to do away with the Septennial Act, under which the duration of Parliament averaged a little over four years, then, in the same proportion, under the quinquennial period, you would get an election at least every three years. I say it is a monstrous and ridiculous proposal that we should at repeated intervals be called upon to incur this vast expenditure, which no less an authority than the Solicitor-General has told us amounts to £2,000,000 of money for each General Election—an absolutely unproductive expenditure every three years. If for no other reason, on that ground alone, I strongly object to this proposal. Besides the disturbance of trade, there is the general heating of political feeling which arises in the course of a contested election, and it takes the country some months to recover its ordinary calm. Again, everybody knows that these frequent elections would not tend to the proper continuance of business nor to the general prosperity of trade.

In addition to that, there is the paralysis of the Government of the country which would arise from these recurring contests. It is well known that the permanent officials cannot carry out the operations of the Government with the same freedom that they would otherwise enjoy, when they realise that at the end of every short period there may be a change of their superiors and the whole course of administration altered. That must be bad for the government of the country. It is obvious that a large number of arguments can be used against this system of constantly recurring elections. I cannot resist referring again to the Preamble of the Septennial Act, which gives the reason for the passing of that enactment. It was quoted last night, but I think it is well worthy of quotation once more. This is what the Preamble to the Septennial Act says: "And whereas it will be found by experience that the said Clause "—that is, the Clause in the Triennial Act for three years—" has proved very grievous and burdensome by causing greater and more continued expense in the election of Members to serve in Parlia- ment, and more violent and lasting heats and animosity among the subjects of this Realm," and so forth. That suggests in a short space the whole of the objections that can be raised to the principle of shortening the length of Parliament and making elections more frequent. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not read the whole of the Preamble?"] The point which I wish to illustrate is sufficiently served by what I read. Another thing which has been urged very strongly in regard to this Debate is that it shows there is no reality in the profession that these Resolutions are to be followed by a reform of the Constitution of the Second Chamber. We know that a number of hon. Members opposite wish to do away with the House of Lords, and that is a logical position. But how can hon. Gentlemen tell us that they are going to reform the House of Lords and make it into a body which to their mind would be fairly representative of all the elements in this country so long as they continue to base their arguments on the constitution of the House of Lords as it exists at the present time. From the way in which hon. Gentlemen opposite argue in regard to Reform of the House of Lords we get a clear proof that the great bulk of them do not think that these proposals mean anything; and in that they coincide with us on this side, who do not believe that they really are unanimous in regard to this reform, of which we have heard so much, and of which, I think, we shall see so little. We know well enough that a series of sudden elections will mean destroying the continuity of Government altogether. What happens at the end of a Parliament? Both sides go down to the constituencies and they say, "Look at this miserable Government; they have been in office all those years; they have had all those opportunities, and what have they done?" The elector says, "They have done nothing." This is what is called the swing of the pendulum. It is a well-known fact that the average elector of this country has not time or inclination to go seriously into the study of politics, and he votes very largely for the man to whom he desires to give a chance; this time in preference to the man who has apparently neglected his opportunities in Parliament. Therefore you cannot get continuity of government if the country is to have this constant series of changes. I am perfectly certain that—as shown in local elections—you will find the swing of the pendulum is very considerably altered, and this will largely tend to destroy that continuity of government which you get under the duration of Parliament for a longer period. I will give an instance of one question that is a controversy of the past, and that is the Rabies Order of some years ago. If there had not been a considerable number of years of office of the Government of the time, the great scourge of rabies, which has now been stamped out, and as to which much gratitude is felt by all classes, might not have been effected. At the time the order was issued every lady in the country who had a pet dog sent up heartrending letters to the Executive to get the Order taken off. I select that instance which is not perhaps of great importance, but as illustrating the larger questions. If the hon. Gentlemen opposite really mean that they are going to have some measure of reform in the future this is absolutely unnecessary, and if, on the other hand, they do not intend to have any measure of reform, then there is a good deal to be said for it. It is because I believe that hon. Gentlemen have no idea of reform, and that in the swing of the pendulum there will be the opportunity of carrying out this reform, and that the alteration with the Second Chamber is bound to come through this change; therefore, I think this proposal is mischievous, harmful, and will do infinite damage to the country, and is unnecessary, and for those reasons I will oppose it.


The Resolution we are now discussing differs from the others in this way, that the others involve fundamental questions of principle, while this involves the question of the precise time of the duration of Parliament. I am surprised hon. Gentlemen opposite object, since the Resolution is not in the nature of increasing the effect of the other Resolutions, but rather tends to modify their effect, and in that way we look upon it as a concession. This Resolution contains no new proposal, because it had been put forward by the late Sir Henry Campbell - Bannerman and also by the Prime Minister in his speech in the Albert Hall last December.

The hon. Member (Mr. Lane-Fox) quoted the Preamble of the Septennial Act, which referred not only to the cost of frequent elections, but also "more violent and lasting heats and animosities among subjects of this Realm." We may congratulate ourselves that those have certainly died down, and we have seen a great deal of change in the time that has passed since the Septennial Act was adopted. I think a proposal like that would tend to make things go a great deal more easily than they do now, because the difficulties of Septennial Parliaments, as we found repeatedly in the Parliament which came to a termination in 1906, is that a Parliament, after having lasted a long time, tends to get out of touch with the feelings of the country, which becomes indignant and brings about those violent oscillations of the political pendulum which so many Members on both sides deplore. If we had shorter Parliaments, such as quinquennial Parliaments, there can be little doubt that this House would be in closer touch with the electorate than it is under the present conditions.

The hon. Member who spoke last referred to continuity. I venture to think that continuity does not lie in having Parliaments last as long as they do now, but in shortening them in order to keep in closer touch with the electorate. I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman said as to the question of expenses, and I think hon. Members on both sides are agreed that the expenditure on Parliamentary elections is far too great. That, however, is not to be met by keeping Parliaments a long time in existence, but, rather, by narrowing the ambit of election expenditure, having the elections on one day, and other electoral reforms, which I hope may before long be put before this House. In local government we have now the triennial system. I do not suggest Parliament should be triennial, but, assuming that seven years is too long —and we may assume it is, as in fact septennial Parliaments do not last that time—and that triennial Parliaments are too short, I venture to think that the suggestion which the Government have put forward of quinquennial Parliaments is as near the happy medium as we can possibly hope to reach. An hon. Gentleman opposite said that if these Resolutions became law those with whom I have the honour to be associated might perhaps have fixity of tenure for the statutory duration of Parliament. Another hon. Gentleman spoke of this party being uncontrolled by any power whatever. I would like to know what power should there be to control those whom the people send to arrange their affairs. If you want fixity of tenure and a Parliament uncontrolled by any other power, you have only to take the case of a Unionist Government. I need hardly remind the House that they are under no such power as we suffer from. They get support from another place. The result is, that so long as they have a working majority in this House they can remain in power until the last month of the last year that constitutional practice allows. With this side of the House it is very different. To vary the poet's lines:— But the fair guerdon when we hope to find, And think to burst into a sudden blaze, Comes the backwoods men with th' abhorred shears. And slits the thin-spun life. Our plea is not merely for shortening the duration of Parliament, but for fair play in the duration of Parliament, and we believe that the quinquennial period would secure that end. If Parliaments were shortened there would be far less justification for the "backwoodsmen" or anyone else to try to slit the life of a Parliament in which the Liberals had a majority, because that Parliament would be in close touch with the people, it would soon have to face the people again, and the verdict of the people would be given. We should then have a true continuity, and there would be no need even to pretend to ascertain what the people thought, because in the ordinary course that would be ascertained more regularly than it is now. These proposals, if carried out, would tend to combine stability with progress in a most desirable way. Hon. Members opposite speak as if this were designed to give fixity of tenure to this side. It will give no fixity of tenure at all. It will simply give a maximum duration. We think that maximum duration is something which should be combined with the other proposals. Taking the three proposals together, we regard this Resolution as a desirable part, which in. a sense is a concession to hon. Members, and which, I am sure, will commend itself to the country as a whole.


The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington (Mr. Lough) told us that he was going to give free expression to his opinions, but he also stated that he was going to vote for his party in the Lobby. That is what hon. Members opposite call the free expression of their opinions. The right hon. Gentleman also said that the Parliament of 1900 did not represent the will of the people. What, then, is the foundation of the argument of hon. Members opposite when they say that whenever the people return a Parliament, that Parliament represents the will of the people? What they mean is that whenever the people return a Radical majority the Parliament represents the will of the people, but then, when they return a Unionist majority it does not. All the fears which have been expressed on this side of the House have been justified, because the party opposite, out of their own months, have proved that the will of the people is not always expressed. The right hon. Gentleman further stated that when he first entered the House of Commons in the same year that I did he was of opinion that the shorter Parliaments were the better, but that now he has changed his opinion. Why? Because he thinks that by muzzling another place he can preserve for ever the Parliamentary life of himself and his friends.

And, it being Ten of the clock, the Chairman, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 5th day of April, proceeded to put forthwith the Question on the Resolution to be concluded at Ten o'clock this day.

Question put, "(3) That it is expedient to limit the duration of Parliament to five-years."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 334; Noes, 236.

Division No. 32.] AYES. [10.0 p.m.
Abraham, William Barran, Sir J. (Hawick) Brocklehurst, W. B.
Addison, Dr. C. Barran, Rowland Hirst (Leads, N.) Burke, E. Haviland-
Adkins, W. Ryland D. Barry, E. (Cork, S.) Burns, Rt. Hon. John
Agar-Robartes, Hon. T. G. R. Barry, Redmond J. (Tyrone, N.) Burl, Rt. Hon. Thomas
Alden, Percy Barton, William Buxton, Rt. Hon. Sydney C. (Poplar)
Allen, Charles P. Beale, W. P. Buxton, C. R. (Devon, Mid.)
Anderson, A. Belloc, Hilaire Joseph Peter R. Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, N.)
Armitage, R. Benn, W. (Tower Hamlets, St. Geo.) Byles, William Pollard
Ash ton, Thomas Gair Bentham, G. J. Cameron, Robert
Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry Bethell, Sir J. H. Carr-Gomm, H. W.
Atherley-Jones, Llewelyn A. Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine Cawley, Harold T. (Heywood)
Baker, H. T. (Accrington) Black, Arthur W. Cawley, Sir Frederick (Prestwich)
Baker, Joseph A. (Finsbury E.) Boland, John Plus Chancellor, H. G.
Balfour, Robert (Lanark) Bowerman, C. W. Channing, Sir Francis Allston
Barclay, Sir T. Boyle, D. (Mayo, N.) Chapple, W. A.
Barlow, Sir John E. Brady, P. J. Clancy, John Joseph
Barnes, G. N. Brigs, Sir John Clough, William
Clynes, J. R. Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh) Pearce, William
Collins, G. P. (Greenock) Johnson, W. Pearson, Weetman H. M.
Collins, Stephen (Lambeth) Jones, Sir D. Brynmor (Swansea) Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A.
Collins, Sir Wm. J. (St. Pancras, W.) Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil) Philipps, Col. Ivor (Southampton)
Compton-Rickett, Sir J. Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth) Philipps Sir Owen C. (Pembroke)
Condon, Thomas Joseph Jones, William (Carnarvonshire) Phillips, John (Longford, S.)
Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow) Jowett, F. W. Pickersgill, Edward Hare
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. Joyce, Michael Pirie, Duncan V.
Cowan, W. H. Keating, M. Pointer, Joseph
Crawshay-Williams, Eliot Kelly, Edward Pollard, Sir George H.
Crosfield, AH. Kemp, Sir G. Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.
Crossley, Sir W. J. Kennedy, Vincent Paul Power, Patrick Joseph
Cullinan, J. Kettle, Thomas Michael Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)
Dalziel, Sir James H. (Kirkcaldy) Kilbride, Denis Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)
Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.) King, J. (Somerset, N.) Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)
Dawes, J. A. Lambert, George Primrose, Hon. Neil James
Delany, William Lardner, James Carrige Rushe Pringle, William M. R.
Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, W.) Radford, G. H.
Dewar, Sir J. A. (Inverness) Layland-Barratt, Sir Francis Raffan, Peter Wilson
Dickinson, W. H. (St. Pancras, N.) Leach, Charles Rainy, A. Rolland
Donelan, Captain A. Lehmann, R. C. Raphael, Herbert H.
Doris, W. Levy, Sir Maurice Rea, Walter Russell
Duffy, William J. Lewis, John Herbert Reddy, Michael
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Lincoln, Ignatius T. T. Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Duncan, J. Hastings (York, Otley) Lloyd-George, Rt. Hon. David Redmond, William (Clare)
Edwards, Enoch Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas Rees, J. D.
Elverston, H. Low, Sir F. (Norwich) Rendall, Athelstan
Esmonde, Sir Thomas Lundon, T. Richards, Thomas
Falconer, J. Luttrell, Hugh Fownes Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Kerens, T. R. Lynch, A. A. Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)
Firench, Peter Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester) Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)
Flavin, Michael Joseph Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs) Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)
France, G. A. Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J. Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)
Furness, Sir Christopher MacNeill, John Gordon Swift Robinson, S.
Gelder, sir W. A. MacVeagh, Jeremiah Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)
Gibbins, F. W. M'Callum, John M. Roche, Augustine (Cork)
Gibson, James P. M'Curdy, C. A. Roche, John (Galway, East)
Gill, A. H. McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald Roe, Sir Thomas
Glanville, H. J. M'Laren, Rt. Hon. Sir C. B. (Lelcs.) Rowntree, Arnold
Glover, Thomas Mallet, Charles E. Runciman, Kt. Hon. Walter
Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford Manfield, Harry Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)
Greenwood, G. G. Markham, Arthur Basil Samuel, J. (Stockton)
Greig, Colonel J. W. Marks, G. Croydon Samuel. S. M. (Whitechapel)
Grenfell, Cecil Alfred Masterman, C. F. G. Scanian, Thomas
Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Meagher, Michael Schwann, Sir C. E.
Griffith, Ellis J. (Anglesey) Meehan, Patrick A. (Queen's Co.) Scott, A. H. (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Culland, John W. Monies, Sir Walter Seddon, J.
Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Gatway) Middlebrook, William Seely, Col., Right Hon. J. E. B.
Hackctt, J. Millar, J. D. Shackleton, David James
Haldane, Rt. Hon. Richard B. Molloy, M. Shaw, Sir C. E.
Hall, Frederick (Normanton) Molteno, Percy Alport Sheehy, David
Hancock, J. G. Mend, Alfred Moritz Sherwell, Arthur James
Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis (Rossendale) Montagu, Hon. E. S. Shortt, Edward
Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil) Mooney, J. J. Simon, John Alisebrook
Harmsworth, R. L. Morgan, G. Hay (Cornwall) Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.]
Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale) Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen) Soames, Arthur Wellesley
Harvey, T. E. (Leeds. W.) Morton, Alpheus Cleophas Soares, Ernest J.
Harvey, W. E. (Derbyshire, N.E.) Muldoon, John Spicer, Sir Albert
Harwood, George Munro, R. Stanley, Albert (Staffs. N.W.)
Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth) Murray, Captain Hon. A. C. Strachey, Sir Edward
Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry Muspratt, M. Summers, James Woolley
Haworth, Arthur A. Nannetti, Joseph P. Sutherland, J. E.
Hayden, John Patrick Neilson, Francis Sutton, John E.
Hayward, Evan Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncaster) Taylor, John W. (Durham)
Hazelton, Richard Nolan, Joseph Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)
Helme, Norval Watson Norton, Capt. Cecil W. Tennant, Harold John
Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Nugent, Sir Walter Richard Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.)
Henderson, J. McD. (Aberdeen, W.) Nussey, Sir Willans Thomas, Sir A. (Glamorgan, E.)
Henry, Charles S. Nuttall, Harry Thomas, D. A. (Cardiff)
Herbert, Col. Sir Ivor O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Thomas, J. H. (Derby)
Higham, John Sharp O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.) Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Kindle, F. G. O'Connor, T. P, (Liverpool) Thorne, William (West Ham)
Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H. O'Doherty, Philip Toulmin, George
Hodge, John O'Donnell, John (Mayo, S.) Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Hogan, Michael O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.) Twist, Henry
Hooper, A. G. Ogden, Fred Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander
Hope. John Deans (Fife, West) O'Kelly, Edward P. (Wicklow, W.) Verney, F. W.
Home, C. Silvester (Ipswich) O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N.) Vivian, Henry
Howard, Hon. Ceoffrey O'Malley, William Wadsworth, J.
Hudson, Walter O'Neill, Charles (Armagh, S.) Walker, H. De R. (Leicester)
Hughes,: S. L. O'Shaughnessy, P. J. Walsh, Stephen
Hunter, W. (Govan) O'Shee, James John Walters, John Tudor
Illingworth. Percy H. O'Sullivan, Eugene Walton, Joseph
Isaacs, Sir Rufus Daniel Parker, James (Halifax) Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)
Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton) Whitehouse, John Howard Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Wardie, George J. Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P. Winfrey, Richard
Warner, Thomas Courtenay T. Whyte, Alexander F. (Perth) Wing, Thomas
Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan) Wiles, Thomas Wood, T. M'Kinnon (Glasgow)
Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney) Williams, A. N. (Plymouth) Young, Samuel (Cavan, E.)
Waterlow, D. S. Williams, J. (Glamorgan) Younger, W. (Peebles and Selkirk)
Wedgwood, Josiah C. Williams, P. (Middlesborough) Yoxall, Sir James Henry
Weir, James Galloway Wilson, Hon. G. G. (Hull, W.)
White, Sir George (Norfolk) Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.)
White, J. Dundas (Dumbartonshire) Wilson, John (Durham, Mid) TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Master
White, Sir Luke (York, E.R.) Wilson, J. W. (Worcestershire, N.) of Elibank and Mr. Fuller
White, Patrick (Meath, North) Wilson, T. F. (Lanark, N.E.)
Acland-Hood, Rt. Hon. Sir Alex. F. Dunn, sir W. H. (Southwark) Lawson, Hon. Harry
Adam, Major W. A. Eyres-Monsell, B. M. Lee, Arthur H.
Anson, Sir William Reynell Faber, George Denison (Clapham) Lewisham, Viscount
Archer-Shee. Major M. Faber, Capt. W. V. (Hants, W.) Llewelyn, Major Venables
Arkwright, John Stanhope Falle, B. G. Lloyd, G. A.
Bagot, Captain J. Fell, Arthur Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)
Baird, J. L. Fetherstonhaugh, Godfrey Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Col. A. R.
Baker, Sir R. L. (Dorset, N.) Finlay, Sir Robert Long, Rt. Hon. Walter
Balcarres, Lord Fisher, W. Hayes Lonsdale, John Brownlee
Baldwin, Stanley Fitzroy, Hon. E. A. Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)
Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (City, Lond.) Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. A. (Hanover Sq.)
Banner, John S. Harmood- Fleming, Valentine Lyttelton, Hon. J. C. (Droftwich)
Barnston, H. Foster, [...] S (Suffolk, N.) MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh
Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N.) Foster, J. K, (Coventry) Mackinder, H. J.
Bathurst, Charles (Wilton) Foster, P. S. (Warwick, S.W.) Macmaster, Donald
Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks Gardner, Ernest M'Arthur, Charles
Beckett, Hon. W. Gervase Gastrell, Major W. H. M'Calmont, Colonel James
Benn, I. H. (Greenwich) Gibbs, G. A. Magnus, Sir Philip
Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish Gilmour, Captain J. Mason, J. F.
Bird, A. Goldsmith, Frank Middlemore, John Throgmorton
Boyle, W. L. (Norfolk, Mid) Gooch, Henry Cubitt Mildmay, Francis Bingham
Boyton, J. Gordon, J. Mills, Hon. Charles Thomas
Brackenbury, Henry Langton Goulding, Edward Alfred Mitchell, William Foot
Brassey, Capt. R. B. (Banbury) Grant, J. A. Moore, William
Brassey, H. L. C. (N'thamptonshire, N.) Greene, W. R. Morpeth, Viscount
Bridgeman, W. Clive Guinness, Hon. W. E. Morrisan, Captain J. A.
Brotherton, Edward Allen Gwynne, R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne) Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.
Brunskill, G. F. Haddock, George B. Mount, William Arthur
Bull, Sir William James Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight) Newdegate, F. A.
Burdett-Coutts, W. Hail, E. Marshall (Toxteth) Newman, John R. P.
Butcher, J. G. (York) Hambro, Angus Vaidemar Newton, Harry Kottingham
Butcher, S. Henry (Cambridge Univ.) Hamersley, A. St. George Nield, Herbert
Calley, Colonel T. C. P. Hamilton, Marquess of (Londonderry) Norton-Griffiths, J. (Wednesbury)
Campbell, Rt. Hon. J. H. M. Hardy, Laurence (Kent, Ashford) O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim, Mid)
Carlile, E. Hildred Harris, F. L. (Stepney) Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.
Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H. Harris, H. P. (Paddington, S.) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William
Castlereagh, Viscount Harrison-Broadley, H. B. Paget, Almeric Hugh
Cator, John Heath, Col. A. H. Parker, Sir Gilbert (Gravesend)
Cautley, H. S. Heaton, John Henniker Peel, Hon. W. R. W. (Taunton)
Cave, George Helmsley, Viscount Peel, Capt. R. F. (Woodbridge)
Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Henderson, H. (Berks, Abingdon) Perkins, Walter F.
Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University) Hermon-Hodge, Sir Robert Peto, Basil Edward
Chaloner, Colonel R. W. G. Hickmann, Col. T. Pollock, Ernest Murray
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Worc'r.) Hills, Sir Clement Pretyman, E. G.
Chambers, J. Hillier, Dr. A. P. Proby, Colonel Douglas James
Clay, Captain H. Spender Hills, J. W. Quilter, William Eley C.
Clive, Percy Archer Hoare, S. J. G. Randies, Sir John Scurrah
Coates, Major E. F. Hohier, G. F. Rankin, Sir James
Colelax, H. A. Hope, Harry (Bute) Ratcliff, Major R. F.
Compton, Lord A. (Brentford) Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel
Cooper, Capt. Bryan (Dublin, S.) Home, W. E. (Surrey, Guildford) Rawson, Colonel R. H.
Cooper, R. A. (Walsall) Horner, A. L. Remnant, James Farquharson
Courthope, G Loyd Houston, Robert Paterson Rice, Hon. W.
Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.) Hume-Williams, W. E. Ridley, Samuel Forde
Craig, Captain James (Down, E.) Hunt, Rowland Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
Craig, Norman (Kent) Hunter, Sir C. R. (Bath) Rolleston, Sir John
Craik, Sir Henry Jackson, Sir J. (Devonport) Renaldshay, Earl of
Cripps, Sir C. A. Jackson, John A. (Whitehaven) Rothschild, Lionel de
Croft, H. P. Jardine, E. (Somerset, E.) Rutherford, Watson
Dairymple, Viscount Kerr-Smiley, Peter Salter, Arthur Claveil
Dalziel, D. (Brixton) Kerry, Earl of Samuel, Sir Harry (Norwood)
Dickson, Rt. Hon. C. Scott- Keswick, William Sanders, Robert A.
Dixon, C. H. Kimber, Sir Henry Sanderson, Lancelot
Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers- King, Sir Henry Seymour (Hull) Sandys, G. J. (Somerset, Wells)
Du Cros, Alfred (Tower Hamlets, Bow) Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement Sandys, Lieut.-Col. T. M. (Bootie)
Du Cros, Arthur P. (Hastings) Knight, Capt. E. A. Sassoon, Sir Edward Albert
Duke, H. E. Lane-Fox, G. R. Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)
Duncannon, Viscount Law, Andrew Bonar (Dulwich) Stanier, Beville
Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston) Thynne, Lord A. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Starkey, John R. Tobin, Alfred Aspinall Wilson, A. Stanley (York, E.R.)
Staveley-Hill, Henry (Staffordshire) Tryon, Capt. George Clement Winterton, Earl
Stewart, Geraham (Cheshire, Wirral) Valentia, Viscount Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
Stewart, Sir M'T. (Kirkcudbright) Verrall, George Henry Wood, John (Stalybridge)
Storey, Samuel Wairond, Hon. Lionel Worthington-Evans, I. (Colchester)
Strauss, A. Ward. Arnold (Herts, Watford) Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. S. Stuart-
Sykes, Alan John Warde, Col. C. E. (Kent, Mid) Yerburgh, Robert
Talbot, Lord E. Wheler, Granville C. H.
Terrell, G. (Wilts, N.W.) White, Major G. D. (Lanes, Southport) TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir F.
Terrell, H (Gloucester) Williams, Col. R. (Dorset, W.) Banbury and Captain Jessel.
Thompson, Robert Willoughby, Major Hon. Claude

pursuant to the Order of the House of the 5th day of April, Reported the Resolutions to the House without Question put:—

Forward to