HC Deb 21 February 1910 vol 14 cc35-78
Mr. PERCY ILLINGWORTH (wearing Court dress)

I rise to move, That a humble Address be presented to His Majesty in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne. I could well have wished that this most honourable duty had devolved upon one of greater Parliamentary experience and greater powers of expression than those which I unhappily possess, but I take courage in this thought—that if I am addressing the most critical Assembly I am also addressing the most chivalrous Assembly in the world, whose proud tradition it is to extend their indulgence to its humblest Members, provided their excursions into debate are neither too frequent nor prolonged. I claim comfort in this thought, that perhaps the Leader of the House is desirous of paying a compliment to that county of broad acres to which he and I alike owe allegiance and a common parentage—or it may be to the West Riding, that thriving centre of gigantic industries whose products in increasing yearly volume find their way to the uttermost ends of the earth, let us hope with profit to the producers, and certainly with added lustre to the splendour of British commerce. I rejoice fervently and from the depths of my heart to hear that His Majesty's relations with the great foreign Powers continue on a friendly and cordial basis. It is a well-worn saying, and one which I hope will be no less well remembered, that the greatest blessing which mankind may enjoy is peace, and bearing this in mind I believe Members in all quarters of the House will have regarded with disapproval and with great misgiving the recent efforts which have been made, in totally irresponsible quarters, in almost a spirit of levity, to disturb, if not to destroy, those harmonious relationships, the tendency of which, and the only effect of which, could be to sow distrust instead of goodwill, and to neutralise and not to strengthen the best efforts of statesmen to promote the common interests of the human race. There is another matter which will be a cause of great rejoicing, not merely to the United Kingdom, but to the overseas Dominion, that the Prince of Wales is to set the seal on the South African Constitution by opening in person the first Federal Parliament. It is my privilege to have a close knowledge of that great country alike in times of peace and war. It is a knowledge shared by many Members of this House, and a knowledge also of all classes and interests. It is a country whose possibilities, whose destinies, are limitless, and which is becoming by union, bringing with it the fusion, not merely of territories, but of races and interests, one of the chief defenders of the Crown itself, and I venture to say an example to all the ages of the wisdom of freedom and of the arts of peace. After trouble and tribulation of no ordinary kind, we have acclaimed a united South Africa to-day. She takes her place side by side with the other great dominions under the Crown, and I venture to say second to none in history and in achievement. In the emblem by which it is usual, and it is our pleasure, to typify the British race, united South Africa is to be a source of lion strength to the Empire as a whole, and in no portion of His Majesty's dominions will the Prince of Wales be sure of a more royal and loyal welcome than that which awaits him on landing at the Cape. Reference is also made in the Gracious Speech to India, that great problem of our time and race, and the close association of the people with the government of the country is a courageous attempt to deal with difficulties, which will be closely watched, and accompanied also by our prayers and our hopes that it may dispel those thunderclouds of unrest and suspicion which have so long and so recently darkened the country. An increase is foreshadowed in the Naval Estimate in order to provide adequate defence of these shores. However much we may regret this necessity, I think the House and the country generally will meet these fresh demands which are made upon them with courage and with firmness. We are an island Power with vast overseas trade, drawing the bulk of our food supplies, as well as the raw material of industry, from all quarters of the globe. We are vulnerable in a hundred places, and however desirable it may be to other Powers to increase their naval resources, the reason for so doing applies with tenfold force to ourselves. It is none the less a melancholy fact that, no matter how great the financial stress in any country, funds are never lacking for the provision of warlike matériel, and therefore it is to be most profoundly hoped that no legitimate opportunity will be missed to arrive at an understanding, or by the conclusion of treaties, with a view to lessening the crushing burden of armaments, which is scattering to the four winds of heaven the growing needs of social reform, depressing industry and credit, and which is rapidly threatening to sink the civilised nations of the world in the sea of bankruptcy. Reference is also made that financial provision will have to be made for the needs of the year now drawing to a close, due to circumstances, I believe unexampled circumstances, which will be fresh in the minds of each one of us, and which it is to be hoped, in view of the costly confusion and loss to the Exchequer, will not occur again. Legislation of a most important character is promised with reference to the constitution of Parliament and the relationship of the two Houses, and I do not think, in view of the magnitude of this problem, that any surprise will be occasioned that it is the only item set down for solution.

I believe it is acknowledged in all quarters of the House, and in public expression has been given to it, with, I admit, varying degree of intensity, that the system of running two Assemblies in double harness, one based on electoral principles and the other on the nominational and hereditary principle, and at the same time possessing unlimited powers, is certainly a fruitful source of Parliamentary irritation and legislative discomfort; but it is also capable of amendment and improvement in many important ways, and I gather that, with this view, steps are to be taken to set up an impartial revising Chamber—and the House will be quick to realise what they may involve—and to secure to this House the absolute control over finance and extended powers, so that it will have a predominant and final word in legislation. I warmly welcome this pronouncement, because I think it proceeds along that line of natural development, with a view to improving and not impairing Parliament as a whole, and to providing a more elastic and comprehensive instrument for the purposes of legislation. I thank the House sincerely for the indulgence which it has extended to me, and for the attention it has been good enough to give to these remarks. I beg to move.

Mr. C. E. PRICE (who also wore Court dress)

I am greatly honoured in being asked on this great and historic occasion to second the Address in reply to the most Gracious Speech from the Throne. I am fully conscious it is due to the fact that it is my privilege to represent in this House a Division which is the centre of the ancient capital of Scotland, and that also, possibly, it is in recognition that that portion of the United Kingdom has not dealt unkindly with His Majesty's present advisers. But before I say one single word regarding the contents of His Majesty's Gracious Speech from the Throne, may I be permitted to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition upon his recovery from the illness from which he suffered in the early days of the late election. In so serious a crisis in our history it is of supreme importance that every section in the House should have full advantage of the wisdom and counsel of its leaders, and certainly no one is more competent to render that service than the right hon. Gentleman.

It is gratifying that His Majesty is able to announce that his relations with Foreign Powers continue to be friendly. It has been truly said "the greatest interest of this country is that of peace." And it is fitting on such an occasion as this we should take advantage of the opportunity to fully and frankly acknowledge no King or Queen has ever contributed more to this desirable state of things than the present occupant of the Throne. His Majesty is, indeed, the nation's greatest asset in the cause of peace. In this connection, I am sure I express on behalf of every Member of this House the hope their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess Henry of Prussia may enjoy their visit to our shores, and that it will contribute to that good feeling and friendship between Germany and this country which every lover of peace so much desires.

And, whilst referring to Germany, may I be excused if I refer to the inter-Parliamentary Conference which took place in the great capital of Berlin now fully eighteen months ago. As one of those who had the privilege of attending it, I am sure I express the feelings of all who took part in it when I say the warmth and the cordiality of the reception given to the representatives from this country could not have been excelled, and has left a permanent impression on our minds of goodwill and friendship of the German people towards this country.

The establishment of a Parliament in a United South Africa is a matter of supreme importance to that great continent and reflects the utmost credit upon all concerned in bringing it to a successful issue. It is sure to contribute in a large degree to the development of that vast territory as well as to the consolidation and the elevation of its people. In the Gracious Speech from the Throne mention is also made of the important measure of last year for extending the functions of the Legislative Councils of India—an experiment which will be watched with sympathetic interest by every well-wisher of that great dependency. For, whilst we are always anxious for the material well-being of the people of India, depend upon it no progress is so vital to that country, as of every other, as the development of her manhood and her progress in the art of self-government.

The House is asked to make the necessary provision for all the services of the State, but I think a unique feature of the appeal is the reference in the one Speech to the provision for the year which is about to expire, and that which will be immediately upon us. What has led to this unprecedented feature in His Majesty's Speech from the Throne it is not for me to say as it is now a matter of history, but it will behove the House to expedite the passage of at least one of those measures in order that as little inconvenience as possible may be experienced by the important business and financial interests of the country.

But the paragraph to which Members of this House will look with most interest will undoubtedly be the one which has reference to the proposals which will be laid before them affecting the relations of both Houses of Parliament. What those proposals will be time alone will reveal, but of this I am sure—they will for ever vitally affect the life and the destinies of the peoples of these islands. Such proposals necessarily demand our best and most mature consideration. Anything affecting the procedure of the great Mother of Parliaments will not only be watched with anxious interest by our own people, but by our kinsmen in the Colonies and our great dependencies beyond the seas. They will also be scrutinised by every nation in the world wherever a Parliament exists and whatever be the measure of the freedom they enjoy. The eyes of the world will be upon the procedure of this House. We shall therefore do well to bear in mind the words you, Mr. Speaker, uttered when your friends and neighbours honoured themselves by presenting to the county authorities of Cumberland a portrait of yourself. Speaking of the House of Commons, you then said on 16th May, 1908:— It must be remembered that in the House of Commons the Nation had a body which, when it had once taken a step, found it very hard to reverse that step and to go in another direction. It was therefore most necessary for the House to deliberate very carefully before it committed itself to a particular step.These are weighty words worthy of being commended to the House on this historic occasion. The proposals which will be submitted to us may not exhibit the logical precision desired by the French nation, but, broadly speaking, our people have shown a marvellous genius for adapting its Parliamentary institutions to the varying circumstances and needs of the time. In seeking to accomplish this object no one in this House will question the learning, the capacity, or the courage which the Prime Minister is able to bring to it. But, Sir, I hold any Member who sits in whatever quarter he may who contributes to the solution of the great problem before us, will deserve the best thanks of the nation. It is a great task to adapt that which is with that which is to be. Those who would win (he name of truly great, Must understand his own age and the next. And make the present ready to fulfil its prophecy.May I say it is more than likely some Members of this House may consider the proposals about to be made are too revolutionary, whilst others may consider them not sufficiently advanced. We shall all, however, do well to bear in mind the words of a former Member who greatly adorned this Assembly. I mean John Bright. Speaking at a time when an extension of the franchise was under consideration, he said:— In the changes we are about to make, I trust my countrymen will exhibit that wisdom and moderation which alone becometh a Christian and a noble people.I beg to second the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne.

Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament Assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.—[Mr. Illingworth.]


I think it will be admitted by all Gentlemen with long experience of Parliamentary affairs that the duty of moving and seconding the Address was never carried out with more solicitous regard for the ancient traditions of this House. We have just come from a contested election, fought with great vivacity and occasionally with some heat, but no trace of passions, naturally and indeed almost necessarily engendered under those circumstances, was to be found in the speech of either the Mover or the Seconder of the Address. That is as it should be at this preliminary stage of the Session, which may before it closes see many a battle royal fought out across the floor of the House. It is in strict harmony with all that is best in our Parliamentary memories that we should at all events begin with the note so happily struck by the Mover and Seconder of the Address. I must add one word with regard to something that fell from the Seconder, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Price), who was good enough to refer to me in terms which were not only courteous, but which were generous. I hope he will allow me to thank him for the manner in which he was kind enough to express himself on that subject.

I have always thought that the duty cast upon the Mover and the Seconder is really one of the greatest tests of Parliamentary tact to which any man could be subjected, and I think it is an especially difficult task on this occasion because, as the House recognises, whatever else may be said of the Gracious Speech from the Throne, there is very little in it, and it was not within the power of either the Mover or the Seconder to take legitimate refuge in general observations to all the good things that were promised to the House and the country in the way of legislation during the coming Session. According to my experience there appears usually in all Speeches from the Throne a long list of measures which the sanguine expectations of their promoters anticipate will be passed, and which the House of Commons, always credulous in the first few months of the year, really entertains some hope of seeing passed into law. That is not the case on the present occasion, and the only legislative project on which either hon. Member could say a word was necessarily the one legislative project mentioned, though hardly explained in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, with regard to the relations between the two Houses of Parliament. Now, Sir, the difficulty which the two hon. Gentlemen must naturally have felt is a difficulty which I feel also, because the traditional duty of the Leader of the Opposition on this occasion is to survey the political incidents that have occurred since the House last separated, and to deal with the legislative projects foreshadowed in the Speech from the Throne. The only thing that occurred since the House last separated was the General Election, and, as I have already said, the only legislative project foreshadowed is some alteration in the relations between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and possibly some alteration in the constitution of the House of Lords. It so happens that both the General Election and the sentence of the King's Speech referring to the House of Lords are both highly ambiguous in their character, and it is extremely difficult to draw any clear conclusions either from the one or the other.

Before I come to those two, marked out as the main problems on which I shall address the House, I must say one word on two other points, not dealing with legislation, which are referred to in the Speech before us.

6.0 P.M.

The first is in the words in which His Majesty promises that a substantial increase will be effected in the cost of the Navy, owing to the necessities of naval defence. I welcome that announcement with a satisfaction which I find it hard adequately to express. For many months past I have felt the deepest anxiety about our naval position, and I hope I may read into these words the firm conviction that the Government are prepared to face the situation, and to do, at whatever cost, all that may be shown to be necessary for the adequate naval defence of the Empire. We must, of course, wait until the Naval Estimates are submitted before we can form a judgment upon the actual proposals which the Government have in view, but at all events I hail with the utmost pleasure their statement of good intentions.

The other point relates to India. I rejoice to hear that the new development in the machinery of the Government of India has been brought into operation under conditions which, to those who are acquainted with the facts, seem a hopeful augury for the future. It was my duty to offer some comments and criticisms upon the Indian Councils Bill last year. That Bill, however, is passed—the time for criticism has gone by. What we have all now to do as patriots is with a cheerful and courageous spirit to do what we can to make the heavy, laborious, and responsible task of dealing with Indian problems as light as possible for the Ministers responsible. I shall not indulge in any prophecies of ill, which I hope in any case would be unfounded, and at the best would be extremely ill-timed. There is, however, one question which I think I must ask the Government, reluctant though I am to bring Indian affairs into anything which may look like a controversial position. I should like the Prime Minister to explain exactly what has occurred in regard to the annulling of sentences of deportation which appears to have formally accompanied the opening of the first Council. I am not in a position to judge whether or not the agitators whom Lord Morley and the Government have thought it necessary to deport may with advantage be allowed to come back to India. That is a very difficult and delicate matter of administration upon which it would be folly for me to pronounce an opinion. But I am disquieted, I frankly admit, by the method which has been chosen for reversing the sentences, supposing that reversal was in itself desirable.

We are quite familiar with the Oriental practice of celebrating by the release of prisoners any great occasion which gives satisfaction to the community; and this seems an analogous procedure. But that is an Oriental practice. I can quite understand that an Eastern tyrant should think he was doing a kindness to the community over which he ruled with absolute power by releasing prisoners, because too often those prisoners were put in prison not in the interests of the community, not in order to serve any great public ends, but as the victims of a tyrant who owed account to no man, victims of jealousy or of greed. To release such men is a benefit. But surely we pride ourselves rightly on governing our great Eastern dependency by methods which are not Oriental; and if, as I hope and firmly believe, the Government were justified in deporting these agitators, why did they announce, prior to the sentences having expired, as if it were a favour to the community, or in a manner which suggested, at all events, that it was a favour to the public that these men should be allowed to come back? If they were rightly deported, if their deportation was necessary, it is still less defensible that they should come back at all. If it has ceased to be necessary, you should not have associated the termination of their sentence with an event with which it has no logical connection whatever. It seems inevitably to suggest to the Oriental mind an altogether false idea of the grounds of deportation. These men were deported, if rightly, in the interests of the Oriental community. Annul your sentence if you like, but take care that it is made clear to every man that it is not annulled to please this or that section of public opinion, or to look as if we were doing a favour, but that each case is being considered on its merits before the victim of the sentence is allowed to come back to the place where hitherto, as we believe, he has abused the liberty which is given to true citizens of the Empire.

I come back to what I told the House was the main theme of the speech, namely, the General Election and the lessons to be learnt from it, with regard to the single project of legislative reform which the Government propose. The election itself was no doubt primarily on the Budget, and on the Budget the country has pronounced. I am not quite sure what it has pronounced, but, at all events, it has pronounced; and when that Budget is again brought forward, and when as I myself anticipate it receives a somewhat chilly but yet numerically adequate support in this House, without doubt it will become law. But that is merely a surface view of an electoral result dealing with a particular measure. I think, if we look below the surface, there are other things of great importance to be learnt, in view of the constitutional changes proposed, as to what is exactly meant by electoral approval of any measure. The electoral approval of Great Britain, though not enthusiastic, is, I suppose, as I have already described it, numerically adequate. I believe that 523 gentlemen took part in the Division by which the Third Reading of the Budget was passed in this House, and the majority was 230. If the Members for those 523 constituencies now go into the Lobby, according to what we know or believe to be their opinions, I understand that those constituencies, instead of giving a majority of 230 for the Budget, will give a majority of 26. I do not know that from that point of view voting for the Budget has been a very successful political investment for those who indulged in it. I quite believe, so far as Great. Britain is concerned, that the constituencies are prepared by a rather narrow majority to support the Budget; but it has never been contended by anybody in England, Scotland, or Ireland that the Budget ever found favour with the representatives of Ireland. We know that from the sort of rumour to which credence may very properly be granted, and we know it by a much better test, namely, that the Irish Members have abstained from supporting it formally and explicitly on the ground that they thought it an unjust Budget to Ireland. Why did they do that? They did it for a reason which seems to me perfectly legitimate from their point of view. They abstained, and presumably will abstain again, from opposing a Budget of which they disapprove, because they think the interests of Ireland in connection with Home Rule overrides the interests of Ireland in connection with finance; and they think they are much more likely to get Home Rule from a Government which can only be kept in office if a Budget of which the Irish disapprove is passed. That seems to me to be perfectly legitimate and honourable. I do not know whether it is right or wrong. At all events, now it is carried, it is perfectly legitimate, they consider, in the interests of their Constituents; and they think, on the whole, that those interests are more likely to be served by supporting a Budget of which they disapprove, because by so doing they may get something else which they think more important. Well, Sir, that shows that under the play of our party system, as it now exists, you cannot interpret quite simply the verdict of the public, or the verdict of the constituencies, as meaning the approval of those constituencies to the whole of this or that measure. If the "People's Budget" could be considered in isolation—apart from every other question—the people's representatives would reject it. They did not reject it. They will not reject it. I believe for the perfectly legitimate reason that I have stated, a reason not connected with the Budget. What is it, then?

Let us just consider what happened at the last election with regard to Home Rule? We never heard a word about it in or out of the House, so far as I know, except at the Manchester election. Apart from Ministerial oratory in the heat and stress of a doubtful bye-election, we heard nothing of Home Rule from the Radical party, until, to everybody's surprise, the Prime Minister gave utterance to certain sentiments on the subject at the Albert Hall after the election was certain. It is very interesting to see exactly what happened in Great Britain and Ireland respectively with regard to that statement. It was accepted by the Irish as a perfectly straightforward pronouncement of the intention by the present holders of office, should they be retained in power, to carry a Home Rule Bill at the earliest possible moment. Nothing could be more important or more interesting from the British point of view than that statement. If Britain had taken it as seriously as Ireland, or the Irish Nationalists did, in my opinion at all events, other questions before the electorate would really have been dwarfed, vitally important as those questions were. Were they dwarfed by Home Rule? Who in England or Scotland heard anything more of Home Rule after the Albert Hall speech? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, who heard of it from authoritative sources? I have had 149 speeches of Cabinet Ministers examined. In one speech, and one speech only, was there any voluntary reference to Home Rule. It is quite true that under the stress of cross-examination other Cabinet Ministers had to make pronouncements upon the subject, but never in the course of the natural flow of their oratory did any one of them refer to what, after all, should have been the greatest issue of all before the electorate—if it was an issue! I believe the Prime Minister was interrupted in one of his speeches by some rash auditor who said: "What about Home Rule?" The Prime Minister turned to him, and, with the evident approval of his audience—if I am not misquoting him—said: "I am going to talk about something more interesting." Other Members of the Government—one of the Members for Wiltshire—and Mr. Joseph Pease, who is now a member of the Cabinet, made some utterances about Home Rule, about the exact tenour of which there is some controversy, and I will, therefore, not unduly press it. Mr. Pease has given, I believe, an explanation, or made a statement about the matter, which does not agree with the recollection of others who were present. But at all events, the mere fact that there can be doubt as to what other Ministers said and thought exhibits an amazing commentary upon the universal silence preserved in the course of their speeches—apart from heckling—by every single Member, including the Prime Minister, subsequent to the Albert Hall speech, with the solitary exception, I believe, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who made one of his impassioned sallies into that sphere of controversial politics in one speech only.

It seems to me that the whole method of the Government in dealing with this Home Rule question was exactly the kind of problem that comes before a physician applying a very powerful remedy to a particular disease. He wants the effect of that to be, as doctors say, local and not constitutional. What was necessary was to have an effect in Ireland. What was undesirable was to have an effect in England or Scotland; and the point was: How are you exactly to arrange your dose so as to produce the maximum effect where you want the maximum effect, and the minimum effect where you want the minimum effect? That subtle problem seems to have been admirably solved by His Majesty's Government. They have persuaded every Irishman that Home Rule is the thing that they ardently desire and are struggling for, and they have left every Englishman and Scotsman quite indifferent on the subject, and entirely absorbed by such other great problems as the Budget, Tariff Reform, the House of Lords, and the rest. I do not think I have stated my case inaccurately. I believe, broadly speaking, I have given a strictly accurate view of what has happened in electoral opinion upon this point in the three Kingdoms. I have got something analogous, something bearing upon the same point, to say with regard to the House of Lords. I understand that the number of people who desire to reform the House of Lords apparently includes the House of Lords themselves and Members of all parties in this House. There are questions of great difficulty that, I think, will come on later in connection with this subject, but a general desire to deal with the subject was shown long before all this controversy by the House of Lords themselves. Many Members of that House hold very strong opinions upon the subject. But as between all persons in Great Britain and in Ulster who desire a change—a reform—in the House of Lords, and between those who represent Nationalist constituencies in Ireland, there is really a great gulf fixed. We differ among ourselves. Labour Members want to abolish the House of Lords altogether. Others, with less revolutionary instincts, desire various methods of altering either its constitution, its powers, or its relation to this House. All Members from England, Scotland, and Ulster, however much they may differ as to the character of the change they want in the House of Lords, want that change because they want an alteration, and as, they think, an improvement in the Constitution under which they are going to live. That is not, of course, and cannot be, the view of the Home Rulers and Nationalists. They may have an abstract benevolent desire to see the citizens of England and Scotland living under a better Constitution than at present, just as I have a desire that the Government of Morocco may be improved, but it is a purely external benevolence. They want a change in the House of Lords not because they want to improve the Constitution under which they live, but because they want to be out of the Constitution altogether. They are urging the Government, with all the machinery in their power, pressing on them a fundamental change in the relation between the two Houses, not the least because they really object to the action of the House of Lords on the Budget because they do not like it—not in the least because they want to have a permanent improvement in the British Constitution, but because they want to get out of the Constitution altogether. [AN HON. MEMBER: "No, no."] They do, unless you count that shadowy relation of the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament which bulks so largely in the speeches of Radical Ministers, and looms so faintly in the hopes of Irish Members.

In so far as I have accurately represented the result of the elections and the movement of the electoral forces as regards these three great matters—the Budget, Home Rule, and the House of Lords—how can you say that the recent elections, if you look below the surface and study a little the real method by which these things are brought about, how can you say we know what the settled opinion of the country is upon any one of these three great issues? Take Home Rule alone. Home Rule is one of the most difficult and complex subjects which can be dealt with. It was fairly familiar not merely to Members of this House, but to the general public, 15 years ago. In 15 years persons whose business is not politics forget, and necessarily forget, the details of a controversy like that. New generations of active politicians inevitably spring up who do not remember these old fights which began in 1886 and were renewed in 1893; they cannot keep them in mind, and before their opinion is worth anything these controversies must be revived in all their details and people must have before them the real issues at stake. In the meanwhile we are going to pass the Budget of which the constituencies as a whole disapprove, because a certain section of the constituencies want another great and revolutionary change of which the majority of the constituencies have no knowledge whatever. That is the exact situation. If England and Scotland during the last election had really been stirred and had been made fully acquainted with all the issues of Home Rule, if they had had them before them as living and immediate issues, you would have had a different verdict from what you have now. If, on the other hand, hon. Members from Ireland below the Gangway had not had expectations of extracting from the party opposite that great change in our Constitution which they desire, you would not have had your Budget. Now the moral I want to draw, if I may—and I have nearly finished the remarks with which I am going to trouble the House—the moral I want to draw is not that in this matter anybody is to blame, although I am not sure that I approve of the Government methods in regard to their treatment of Home Rule at the elections, but it is not upon that that I wish to dwell—but I say these difficulties are inherent in representative assemblies, and they become more manifest and more prominent when you work your assembly by a system of groups.

The system of groups has come, I think, to stay, I am not sure—if it has I greatly regret it—but I think it has come to stay. We have never seen its full effects before. If it so happens, as it did happen at the election for the last Parliament, that one party gets so overwhelming a majority over all others, it can really do what it likes, when it likes, and how it likes. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh."] So far as this House is concerned—I make that concession—and it did use that great prerogative that was given it in a very exceptional manner. On other occasions, as in 1893, the Nationalist group had their fortunes and hopes so absolutely bound up with Mr. Gladstone's Government and party that for all practical Parliamentary purposes, and for the time being, they formed one homogenous Parliamentary party. Neither of these circumstances appear to exist, at all events at the present time. Certainly the Radical party, which was in an overwhelming preponderance over all other parties in the last Parliament, has dissolved like summer snow. Is that majority one or two now? I think it is two over the next largest party. Of course I quite agree that even under the group system, as we know it in this House, there is a much closer relation between the Labour or Socialist party, the Irish party and the Radical party, than there is between any of these groups and those of us who sit upon this side of the House. These other parties, no doubt, are more or less independent entities, but they all revolve in the same direction, and to use an astronomical metaphor, they all exercise perturbations upon each other. They are all closely connected, and if they do not form one party, they form at all events a very closely connected whole of bodies. I have already pointed out what is the working of our existing electoral system, and I might have enforced all I have said by reminding the House that the Leader of the Irish party has told us that he believes himself to have secured for the Radical party 30 seats in this country in favour of the Budget of which he disapproves.


Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me? He is confusing me with somebody else. I made no statement at all calculating any number of seats.


Then I unreservedly withdraw. I thought I had seen it somewhere, but I am not wrong in saying the hon. Gentleman said, I believe with perfect truth, that the official manifesto of his party had influenced a great many seats in this country.


If I did not say it then, I say it now.


Although I apologised to the hon. Member for having attributed that statement to him I think my broad argument remains that the hon. and learned Gentleman and his friends have influenced the return to this House of an unknown number of Radical Members who differ from him upon the question of the Budget, though they agree with him upon others, and no doubt in his eye more important questions, such as Home Rule for Ireland, and the destruction of the Veto of the House of Lords, which in his view is bound up not with reform of the House of Lords but more with the granting of Home Rule to Ireland. If I really represented what has occurred in these elections, and if I am right in saying that that is due to no special vice or iniquity of gentlemen concerned in those elections, but if it is the result of the working of our representative institutions under a system of groups, I put it to every moderate man in this House whether it is possible to entrust solely to a representative assembly thus elected the power to manipulate the whole of the Constitution?

The Government scheme for the reform of the House of Lords I gather to be in the making. I do not understand the sentence in the King's Speech in which these changes are described—that amazing piece of English which appears, in so far as it has any meaning at all, to embody two quite different policies which have no connection whatever, except that it has been found possible to force them into the framework of one ungrammatical sentence. I do not think it much matters whether the Government have put good or bad grammar into His Majesty's mouth, because Ministers and not His Majesty are responsible. Some unkind person said the Speech is always more stupid than the most stupid man in the Ministry. The grammar of the King's Speech is not always very good, but sometimes it is worse even than that of the most illiterate man in the Cabinet. It certainly appears to be so on the present occasion; but, at all events, I hail the ambiguities lurking in that remarkable specimen of the mother tongue. I hail its ambiguities as showing that the Government itself has not yet made up its mind as to the precise character of the change that they mean to introduce into this ancient constitution.

I implore them, and I implore all the moderate men among their supporters, to learn the lesson taught by the last election, which is that, however honestly an election may be fought, it is quite impossible that you should, except in very rare circumstances, when one question only is referred to the constituencies and when only one policy is before men's minds, it is almost impossible that you should be able to say this House represents the country with such accuracy, with such certitude, such confidence that you can entrust to it the unlimited and unchecked power of altering institutions under which we and our fathers have lived so long, and under which freedom has so happily grown to its full height. Believe me, this superstition that a representative assembly necessarily represents for all purposes those who returned it, is a superstition and nothing else, and if you want your constitution to have that stability which all the reformers of this country have hitherto desired to give it, if you want to follow the example which every great statesman in every country in the world is striving to follow, you will be mad, indeed, if you drive to this illogical excess the idea that for all purposes and for the work of all time we can be taken to represent the settled convictions of the people, and you will take care that whatever changes are introduced into the constitution to see that it is not the sport of a chance majority.


Mr. Speaker. I associate myself most gladly with the very graceful and the very gratifying tribute with which the right hon. Gentleman commenced his speech in acknowledging the peculiar excellence with which the most arduous duty falling upon the younger Members of this House has on the present occasion been discharged. I join with the right hon. Gentleman in those congratulations. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Mover upon his felicity of phrase and charm of diction which, I am sure, delighted the House, and I congratulate the Seconder upon his robustness of statement and directness which was equally gratifying, for he has set an example which may well be followed by those who succeed him in the Debate. Upon those points I am sure we are all agreed. I am not so sure that on the present occasion we can carry our agreement very much further. Before I come to what seems to me to be the essential matter before us to-night, I will refer very briefly to two criticisms which the right hon. Gentleman has made upon the Speech, and the policy of the Government. His first criticism had reference to the release of prisoners who some time ago were deported from Indian territory. I do not think it is accurate to speak of deportation as a sentence, because deportation involves no specific charge, no detailed evidence, and no judicial inquiry, therefore it is not right to speak of the release of these prisoners as the annulment of a sentence. I know this is a proceeding which every civilised government resorts to with the greatest reluctance, and only in cases of proved necessity. It is the first duty of every such Government to prove that that necessity has ceased to exist before giving the persons deported the ordinary rights and privileges of citizens. With regard to these people the Government of India have always regarded a resort to the regulations of 1818 under which the deportations took place as an emergency, but the circumstances under which these deportations took place have passed, and they have had a salutary effect. I may say that it is the deliberate opinion, both of Lord Minto and his Council, and the Secretary of State at home, that there would be no justification on political or social grounds for any longer deferring the release of those men. I trust what I have said will be accepted as a satisfactory statement by the House.

There is another point in the right hon. Gentleman's speech to which I should like to make a moment's reference. I do not think he calls it a charge against us—I allude to his presentation of the case, as it appears to him, of the attitude of the Government towards Home Rule. The right hon. Gentleman said that until the speech I made at the Albert Hall after the prorogation at the end of the last Session of Parliament nothing had been heard from me or my colleagues upon that subject. I think the right hon. Gentleman's memory is at fault, and he appears to have forgotten that as lately as the month of March, 1908, within a fortnight of the time when I assumed the office of Prime Minister the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford brought forward a Motion declaring in the strongest and most unmistakeable terms the necessity for what is commonly called Home Rule, and that Motion, with supplementary words safeguarding the supremacy of Parliament, was voted for by practically the whole of the Liberal party, and I myself, as Chancellor of the Exchequer in temporary charge of the House at the time, made a strong speech in its favour. It is true I said then, as I had said before, that we were precluded by pledges specifically given from dealing with that question in that Parliament, and what I said in the Albert Hall was only repeating language which I had used in this House, declaring that the new Parliament would be free, and we should no longer be under that disabling condition. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Why did not you talk about it at the election?" and he asks me why I said in answer to one of those voices with which we were all made familiar during the last election, "I want to talk about something more interesting." I believe in talking about something more immediately interesting. As I pointed out at the Albert Hall—and here I am quite sure my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Waterford will not differ from me—if you are to get Home Rule, or if you are to get any one of those immense changes in legislation which he desires, and which all progressive parties desire, you must make as a condition precedent to that the abolition of the absolute veto of the House of Lords. It was in order that this first step, this first preliminary and essential condition of everything that is to follow, should be clearly placed in all its importance before the minds of the electors that my colleagues and I, and the great bulk of my hon. Friends behind me, devoted the greater part of our speeches and our energies to this subject.

The right hon. Gentleman has commiserated or, at any rate, compassionated with my two hon. Friends because they have had to deal with a King's Speech in which there is so very little matter. I am not sure that the precedent set by the present King's Speech, judging by the happy results it has produced at the opening of the Debate—my hon. Friends' speeches have been distinguished by conciseness and other admirable qualities—is not one which may well be imitated in the future.

Be that as it may, I quite admit and acknowledge the charge that, judging by its dimensions and the list of projects which it enumerates, the King's Speech is the shortest on record. Its outstanding feature is that the legislative programme which it invites Parliament to consider consists of a single document. Apart from the financial provision which is necessary for the public services—as to which I shall have something to say in a few moments—the only question on which we announce our intention of making legislative proposals to the House of Commons is the question of the relations between the two Houses. I must not be understood to say that it may not be necessary or expedient to bring forward and pass some departmental and non-controversial Bills, for it is impossible for any Session of Parliament to go through without some such provisions being passed. So far, however, as contentious legislation is concerned, we suggest nothing, and we shall submit nothing else. That is an unusual and an unprecedented course. With all deference to the right hon. Gentleman, who seems to think that the late General Election meant nothing at all, so far as I can make out from the passages of his speech, he treated it as evidence of the hopeless bankruptcy of our representative system. With all deference to the right hon. Gentleman, we take a different view. There is no doubt—there is perfect agreement on this point—that the General Election was caused by the action of the House of Lords in rejecting the Budget, an unprecedented proceeding in our view. The view we submitted to the country was that it was a breach, a glaring breach, of the most deeply rooted and firmly established of the unwritten conventions of our Constitution. But we did not regard the rejection of the Budget by the House of Lords as an isolated act; it was the climax of a series of acts in which that House had claimed, and had freely exercised co-ordinate, or I might more truly describe it as an overriding, authority of the acts and decisions of the popularly-elected Chamber. That we said, and said in the plainest terms. Speaking on behalf of the Liberal party, we said that we could not go on under such a system as that. It involves a waste of time, a sacrifice of energy, and a perpetual and recurring loss of credit.

7.0 P.M.

Our appeal to the country was primarily an appeal to give us authority to put an end to that state of things. What did we ask for? We asked first of all that the complete and undisputed supremacy of this House over finance should be restored. We claimed next that the absolute veto at present possessed by the House of Lords over legislation should disappear. We maintained that the other House should be confined to functions which are appropriate to a Second Chamber, and it was our view, clearly presented to the people, that that change must be brought about by an Act of Parliament. I said myself, and I have nothing to retract or qualify, that in our view it was a condition of the tenure of power by a Liberal Government that the new Parliament should, to the exclusion and postponement of all other legislative business, set to work to provide safeguards for the rights of the House of Commons over legislation—that is, statutory safeguards, safeguards embodied in an Act of Parliament assented to by the King, Lords, and Commons. I see that in some quarters, not at all unfriendly quarters, I am supposed to have intended to convey, what I certainly never said, that a Liberal Ministry ought not to meet a new House of Commons unless it had secured in advance some kind of guarantee for the contingent exercise of the Royal Prerogative. I have been engaged now for a good many years in political life, and I do not think that even among Gentlemen who sit opposite there is one who will deny that I am a man of my word. If I had given such a pledge as that I should not be standing at this box at this moment. I tell the House quite frankly that I have received no such guarantee, and that I have asked for no such guarantee. In my judgment it is the duty of statesmen and of responsible politicians in this country as long as possible and as far as possible to keep the name of the Sovereign and the prerogatives of the Crown outside the domain of party politics. If the occasion should arise I should not hesitate to tender such advice to the Crown as in the circumstances the exigencies of the situation appear to warrant in the public interests. But to ask in advance for a blank authority for an indefinite exercise of the Royal prerogative in regard to a measure which has never been submitted to or approved by the House of Commons is a request which, in my judgment, no constitutional statesmen can properly make, and it is a concession which the Sovereign cannot be expected to grant. I say this in order that there may be absolutely no misunderstanding on this point. It has, however, very little to do with the real question before us. Is it possible for anyone to deny—even the right hon. Gentleman with his ingenious dovetailing of the issues of the late General Election—is it possible for anyone to deny that that issue, at any rate was clearly presented to the country, and upon that issue the country has returned a not uncertain verdict? You may analyse and classify the composition of the groups of this House as you please, but deal with them as you may, sift them, readjust them, and explain them as you will, it is impossible to deny the fact—no one acquainted with the circumstances can for a moment dispute—that in this House there is a large and, indeed, overwhelming majority which is absolutely pledged to deal with the question of the veto of the House of Lords. If that be so, as I said a few moments ago when I was dealing with the question of Home Rule, it is a condition precedent to all other legislation, and it is for that reason we have omitted from the Gracious Speech all reference to other legislative matter, and are going deliberately to ask the House of Commons to devote to this topic, and to this topic alone, the whole of its opening Session and its still fresh and unwearied energies. Let me go on to say that we propose to proceed in the first instance by way of Resolutions—Resolutions, I need not say, to be embodied and carried into law in a Bill of which they will form the foundations, and embodied and carried through this House in that Bill in the course of the present Session. Procedure by way of Resolution is not procedure for the purpose of delay, but, as I hope I shall show, procedure really for the purpose of saving time. We think that method justified by precedents both ways. Some of them are happy precedents and some of them are not very happy precedents for proceeding by Resolution in matters of grave constitutional complexity. We think that method is justified by the importance of the proposals which it cannot be denied or concealed are in the true sense of the term a recasting of our constitutional system. By Resolutions the Government understand, not a series of academic propositions, but a summary of the substance and essence of the measure itself. The advantage of proceeding in that way as the first step appears to us to be twofold. In the first place, it will enable the House at the earliest moment to see and discuss and to express approval or disapproval of the lines upon which the Government are proceeding; and, in the second place, it will enable the Government at the earliest possible moment to see whether in fallowing those lines they have or have not the approval of the House. It is our hope and intention that those Resolutions should be laid on the Table at a very early date, and by a very early date I mean at such a time that their main and governing principles can be debated and determined before the House rises for its first spring recess.

I used the expression "at the earliest possible moment," and that brings me to what is of vital importance to consider—what other matters there are we must dispose of at once. I see that I said in the last speech which I made in the Parliament which has now expired that the first act of the new House of Commons must be to reaffirm the duties in the Budget which the Lords rejected, and to provide for what has taken place in the interval. I should have been more accurate if I had used a rather more comprehensive expression, and said that the first act of the new House of Commons must be to deal with all the exigencies of the financial situation which has been created by the rejection of the Budget, and by what has followed since. How does the matter stand? We are now at the 21st February, and the financial year, as the House knows, expires on the 31st March. This year, as ill-luck will have it, Easter comes exceptionally early, Good Friday on the 25th March, and Easter Sunday on the 27th. Now, I want the House to realise clearly in order that they may appreciate the position in which the Government stand, what has to be done of necessity before those dates if the financial obligations of the country are to be met, and if the machinery of Government is not to come to a standstill. In the first place there is a matter which probably has escaped the attention of many people, though, I dare say, it is familiar to most hon. Members, and that is the need we are under of dealing at once with the redemption of the war loan of 1900. The war loan of 1900 amounted to £30,000,000, of which something like £9,000,000 has been paid off, so that the outstanding amount now is about 21 millions. That war loan must be redeemed on the 5th April next. It is proposed—I need not go into details now—to raise the money by Exchequer Bonds issued for a short term of years. That is the scheme. The money will have to be forthcoming on the 5th April. The issue of the new securities will have to be authorised by an Act of Parliament which has passed through all its stages in time for the proper advertisements to be issued, and for due notices to be given before that date. It is impossible that the financial obligations of the country should be met unless that matter is at once taken in hand. So much for that.

The next step to be taken, and it cannot be postponed, is the direct result of the rejection of the Budget by the House of Lords. Under the Appropriation Act the Treasury may borrow, by the issue of Treasury Bills or otherwise, for the purpose of meeting the authorised expenditure of the year, but, if the borrowing takes place by means of Treasury Bills, those bills have all to be paid off by 31st March this year. That is the last day, the expiring day of the current financial year. The amount of Treasury Bills issued for ways and means and now outstanding is £18,800,000, and by the time the 31st March arrives the amount of those bills will probably have been reduced to £17,200,000. There is an advance of £4,000,000 from the Bank, making our total indebtedness on that date on account of ways and means £21,000,000. We must have the means of renewing those bills, otherwise they will all fall due on the 31st March—between 17 and 18 millions, a sum which it is impossible to provide at a moment's notice. We must get from the House authority which can only be given in the form of a Bill, passed through all its stages, to renew those bills as they fall due, for it may be another six months, so that in course of time they may be ultimately met. That is the second measure of sheer necessity from which the attention of the House cannot be safely, even for a week, withdrawn. It will be necessary and indispensable to dispose of those matters first; very much in the order in which I am dealing with them. There is no question of legislation or anything of that kind yet. I am dealing with matters of sheer necessity. I come next to the Estimates for Supply. The Supplementary Estimates for the present year must, of course, be passed before the end of the financial year. Not only so, but you must pass before the expiration of the financial year the first Votes for the Army, the Navy, and for the Civil Service, because, as the House knows—new Members may not know, but old Members are familiar with it—you may have your Treasury full to overflowing on 31st March next with money derived from taxation, but you cannot lawfully spend a halfpenny on any part of the public service, except those provided for by a permanent Act of Parliament, unless the House has before the expiration of the financial year given you authority to do so by the necessary Votes of Supply. Therefore, your Navy, your Army, your Civil Service, and your Old Age Pensions all come to an absolute standstill on the 1st April next unless we get through the necessary Votes of Supply. Not only have you to get the grant in Committee and approved on Report, but you have to get your Consolidated Fund Bill, which embodies the supply so granted, through all its stages within the requisite space of time. All these things have got to be done before we can even take up the question of the Budget. Let me say here at once that in view of the very peculiar circumstances in which we are placed as regards the date—the late meeting of Parliament and the early Easter—the Government propose this course, which they believe will be for the general convenience of the House, and which certainly is essential in the interests of the public service and the conduct of legislation—that the House should adjourn for Easter, for what I may call the Ecclesiastical Easter only, from Thursday to Tuesday, and that the House should meet again on the Tuesday, and should go on possibly till the middle of April, or at any rate for some reasonable time until we have been able to dispose of the Budget and of the Resolutions with regard to the House of Lords, which will be put on the Table considerably before then. We think in that way, by taking perhaps a somewhat extended vacation when these measures have been disposed of, that we may fuse together for the purposes of this year the Easter and Whitsuntide recesses, and give the House a reasonable holiday, and then set to work during the remainder of the Session, continuously and without further break, to pass the Bill founded on the Resolutions through all the necessary stages. That appears to the Government to be far the most businesslike way of meeting a very exceptional situation. Now I come to the Budget. I have been pointing out that these other measures—the War Loan Bill, the Temporary Borrowings Bill, the various Votes in Supply, and the Consolidated Fund Bill—must necessarily have precedence, because they have all to be passed before the end of the financial year.

What is the situation as regards the Budget? The House will be interested to learn the figures up to the present date. The revenue up to the 19th February, the latest date available, shows, as compared with last year, a decrease of £9,338,000. The excess of expenditure over revenue to the same date is £18,741,000. The falling-of in the revenue is mainly, almost entirely, due to the delay in the collection of the Income Tax, which involves also the Land Tax and the Inhabited House Duty. The Customs Taxes imposed by the Budget are being voluntarily paid, and there is apparently no likelihood of any substantial shortage under those heads, but with the Income Tax it is otherwise, and there is a possible deficit—its exactness is quite approximate, and I include the Inhabited House Duty—of some £25,000,000. No doubt the great bulk of this will ultimately be recoverable. I am speaking from memory, and I would rather not hereafter be charged with inaccuracy; but my impression is that out of a total collection of 39 millions we will only get 14 millions within the financial year. The right hon. Gentleman must see that at present there is no legal authority whatever for the collection of the Income Tax. It has been deducted by the banks from dividends, but that is a very small proportion indeed of the total receipts. This is the quarter during which the whole of the Income Tax under Schedule D practically comes in. There is no legal authority to enforce its collection, and until we get that legal authority the collection will be delayed, and there will be an enormous amount carried over to the first months of the ensuing year. I fear that will be at some cost to the proceeds of the tax in the ensuing twelve months, because it is very difficult to get at people twice in the same year. It is the intention of the Government, as I have said, to ask the House to consent, before it adjourns, to the Budget. In some comparatively immaterial points, mainly matters of date, the Bill which passed last year will have to be changed, but, subject to these formal exceptions, it is our intention to ask the House to give retrospective sanction to what has been done, to re-impose the duties which received the approval of the last House of Commons, and, of course, to give its sanction to the ancillary provisions of the Bill with regard to valuation machinery and so forth. For this purpose I need hardly say it will be necessary to resort to some form of more or less summary procedure. It is not necessary or desirable at this precise moment to indicate what it will be.

We think—and this is important—that before the Budget passes from the control of this House the House should, as I have already stated, have an opportunity of expressing its opinion on the main principles embodied in the Lords Resolutions. We wish it to be clearly understood from the first—that as will be the case with the Lords Resolutions, so also with the Budget we stand or fall by them. We regard both of them as integral parts of our policy, and so far as we are concerned as a Government we stake all our credit on carrying them through this House. I have necessarily detained the House, although I hope I have not wearied it, by going into somewhat technical matters, but without a complete and clear explanation of these things it is impossible to understand the situation in which we find ourselves.


May I ask if the right hon. Gentleman proposes to defer the Budget until after the House of Lords Resolutions?


I said the Budget would not leave the House until the House had had an opportunity of expressing its opinion on the Resolutions. I am not at present committing myself to the precise stages. I said we should have to have some form of summary procedure, but I could not at present indicate precisely what it will be. Still, I do say that before the Budget passes from the control of the House the House will have had an opportunity of expressing its opinion on the Resolutions.


I understand the right hon. Gentleman to be speaking of the Budget as something which it is not necessary to pass before the 31st March. Am I right or not?


The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. He knows quite well that it is not in the same position.


Will the right hon. Gentleman remember that St. Patrick's Day falls on the 17th March?


I will consider that. The right hon. Gentleman opposite knows that the same necessity for passing the Budget before the 31st March does not exist as exists in Supply.


I think the matter is of some importance to others besides us in the House, and I am sure therefore the right hon. Gentleman will not object to my putting a further question. Is he going to pass the Resolutions, or the equivalent to the ordinary Resolutions, as early as he can and therefore to begin his collection of Income Tax at once, or will he hold over the collection of Income Tax until perhaps after the close of the financial year?


It is not a matter of so much importance as it seems at first sight, because even if we did that it would only alter the dates for about a week. But, as at present advised, we do not see our way to separate the various Resolutions which form the Budget, and to take one separately in contradistinction to another. I do not wish to commit myself at this moment to the precise form. I think I have said as much as can fairly be expected of me at this stage. I have made it perfectly clear we mean to pass the Budget and get it through before we adjourn for the Spring Recess, and that it shall not pass from the control of the House until the decision of the House has been taken on the Lords Resolution.


May I ask whether it is intended to send these Resolutions to the House of Lords before the Budget passes from the control of this House?


As at present advised, I do not propose to send the Resolutions to the House of Lords at all. The Resolutions are an expression of the opinion of the House of Commons and the authority of the Government to proceed to embody their principles in the Bill which they mean to submit to the House. That is the mode of procedure which after much consideration the Government have deter- mined to recommend to the House. If the majority of the House are content with it, well and good; if not, we must, of course, bow to their decision. The Parliamentary situation—and here I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—is an unexampled one. There are abundant temptations even to those who are saturated with that greed for office which is always attributed by popular imagination to the occupants for the time being of these benches—there are abundant temptations even to those who are most avid in matters of that kind to discover some easy way of escape. But the situation, though a difficult one, is one which in my opinion makes it the duty of those who are responsible for the government of this country and for the conduct of the affairs of this House to use every effort in their power to bring about this great fundamental preliminary reform of which we believe a large majority of the people are in favour. We can only successfully prosecute that task to a successful completion by concentration and reciprocal confidence. Speaking for myself and my colleagues, I can say with a clear conscience we have, in this matter, only two objects in view. The first is, as far as we are responsible for it, to carry on the King's Government with credit and efficiency, and on the other hand to put an end at the earliest possible moment by the wisest and most adequate methods we can devise to the constitutional condition which enables a non-representative and irresponsible authority to thwart the purposes and mutilate the handiwork of the chosen exponents of the peoples' will. I have omitted a most important part—that it will be our first duty, perhaps as soon as the Address is concluded, to take private Members' days, and even ecclesiastical holidays, during the time this necessary work is being done. Hon. Members should know this for the purposes of the ballot to-morrow.


I rise to give expression to a point of view entirely different from that of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. And perhaps it is well that, at the earliest moment in the new Parliament, the fact should be emphasised that the Irish Nationalist Members, although they have been freely included in the calculations of the Government majority by the British Press, in reality stand, as they always stood, apart and independent, and allied to no British party, but prepared to accept what they consider good measures for Ireland from any British party in turn. The Leader of the Opposition deplored the change in Parliament which has sprung from the appearance of a number of groups, but he is strangely forgetful of the fact that he himself was a member—in my recollection—of a distinguished group called the Fourth party, consisting, I believe, of four men. I pass that by with this further remark, that he cannot regard the Nationalist representatives in the House as a group in that sense of the word. They are the representatives of the majority of the Irish people. They have been in an independent position, refusing to ally themselves with any political party in this House for over thirty years, and so they will remain; and if that state of things is an embarrassment to British Governments and a cause of friction and trouble in the working of the British Constitution, the remedy is simple and is in your hands. We have been pointing out all these thirty years that it is a mistake to bring representatives from Ireland forcibly to this House, and make them interfere in British matters about which they know nothing, instead of allowing them to remain at home, and in their own humble way attend to their own humdrum Irish matters. Our only business in coming to this House at all is to advance the cause which the right hon. Gentleman, in his Albert Hall speech, rightly called the cause of full self-government for Ireland in all purely Irish affairs. Your British politics do not concern us, except so far as they impinge on the fortunes of our country. We therefore necessarily belong to no English party, and I take leave to say to those who have been so glibly including us in calculating majorities in this House that they have no title or warrant to do so, and that our votes will in this Parliament, as in past Parliaments, be directed by one sole consideration—by what we regard to be the interest for the time being of Ireland.

At the last election we supported the Government heart and soul. Why did we do it? The Leader of the Opposition is curious upon that point. He gave us his explanation. I will give mine. We did not support the Government at the last election, as the Leader of the Opposition seems to think, simply on the Home Rule declaration of the Prime Minister. That declaration was a very important one from our point of view. The Prime Minister informed the House in the last Parliament that he and his colleagues felt themselves precluded from dealing with Home Rule in that Parliament, and they tried their hand in dealing with Irish problems by introducing what they regarded as a half measure in the shape of an Irish Councils Bill. The declaration of the Prime Minister was to this effect—that he no longer trusted to half measures, that he and his Government and his party believed in granting to Ireland a full measure of self-government in purely Irish affairs, and, secondly, that the self-denying ordinance which prevented him from dealing with the measure in the last Parliament was to disappear, and this Parliament was to be quite free, so far as he and his party were concerned, to introduce a full measure of self-government for Ireland. That was a most important declaration, but I may tell the Leader of the Opposition that that was not the sole reason why we supported the Government heart and soul at the last election. We supported the Government because that pledge on Home Rule was supplemented by a pledge which we regarded from our point of view as more important still—namely, the pledge which was given with reference to the veto of the House of Lords. We regarded the abolition or limitation of the veto of the House of Lords as tantamount to the granting of Home Rule to Ireland.


Hear, hear.


I know the simple nature of the Leader of the Opposition, yet I am surprised that he has expressed any astonishment at that statement.


I have expressed no surprise.


Yes, you are surprised to find me agreeing with what you stated. That is a statement with which I entirely agree, and when the Prime Minister pledged himself not to hold office or assume office unless he could pass the Bill dealing with the veto, then we determined to support the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister will, I am sure, acquit me of any desire to attribute anything in the nature of untruthfulness or prevarication to him. If he says he did not mean it I will accept it, but this is a very serious matter. Allow me to read the words of the right hon. Gentleman as spoken in the Albert Hall. He said: We shall not assume office, and we shall not hold office, unless we can secure the safeguards which experience shows us to be necessary for the legislative utility and honour of the party of progress.That pledge was repeated in substance by every other Minister, as far as I know, on different platforms. I also have been studying the speeches of Cabinet Ministers during the election. I am not sure that I have had the time or patience to read 149 of them, but I have read a great many, and I have in my possession a pile of extracts in which in substance that pledge was repeated here, there, and everywhere throughout the United Kingdom. We understood the right hon. Gentleman to mean by that declaration that he and his colleagues would not remain responsible for the government of this realm unless he had safeguards, assurances, guarantees—call them what you like—that he might, if necessary, rely on the Royal Prerogative to enable him to pass a Veto Bill through Parliament this year. He has told us tonight that he meant by safeguards the passage of an Act of Parliament. I saw that explanation given the other day in the London "Times," but I could not imagine that if that were the meaning of the right hon. Gentleman he would have remained silent in the face of the universal interpretation in another direction of his speech and allow "The Times" to enlighten the world as to what he meant. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that his words as I have quoted them are not consistent with the explanation. He says here, "I will not assume office unless I am safeguarded." That is not this case, because he is in office, but I put it to him, supposing that he were defeated and did not come back to this Parliament, supposing that he were elected again for a new Parliament, his pledge would hold good. It was not a pledge for to-day or tomorrow, it was a pledge for the Liberal party for all time. Then he would be called upon by the Sovereign to assume office, but he says he would not have assumed office unless he had his safeguard.

He says that safeguard is an Act of Parliament, but would it not be nonsense for him to say to the Sovereign under those circumstances, "I will not assume office unless you pass an Act of Parliament," the passage of an Act of Parliament being impossible unless he assumed office? I say the words are not consistent with that interpretation, but, anyway, what I rely upon is this, that that was the general interpretation placed upon his words—I say that that was the general interpretation placed in this country as well as in Ireland upon his words, and I say that that interpretation was expressed by the entire Press of this country, Liberal and Conservative—that interpretation was expressed on thousands of platforms, and I am sure that there are innumerable men on that side of the House listening to me who have explained and interpreted that pledge in the way that I interpreted it and my Friends interpreted it. I said that the Ministers interpreted it in that way. I will not attempt to weary the House by a lot of quotations, but let me read one only in which I think the pledge was made in even a more explicit form than in the Albert Hall form. In one of the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I think it was the one he delivered in the National Liberal Club and republished by him in the pamphlet which is on sale at every bookstall in England at the present moment—he used these words:— For my part, I would not remain a member of a Liberal Cabinet one hour unless I knew that that Cabinet had determined not to hold office after the next General Election unless full powers are accorded to them which would enable them to place on the Statute Book of the realm a measure to ensure the limitation of the veto.It is all very fine for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he meant something else, and I accept his word, as I have said, but what are poor simple people like ourselves to understand when we find a pledge of that sort interpreted in only one way all over the United Kingdom, in England, Ireland and Scotland, and repeated in even more explicit terms by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the man who was responsible for the Budget, and the man who I am assured was largely responsible for carrying the measure at the last General Election. There was no attempt, as I say, to contradict the interpretation which was freely put upon the statement, or to explain it away. Not a word was said in the Press, no hint was given to any Cabinet Minister or any Liberal candidate that that was not what was meant. No, I say all through the Election and down to this moment the universal belief among all parties in this country—I know among all parties in Ireland—the belief was that the Government had given a pledge that they would ask for guarantees as to the use of the Royal prerogative, and if they did not get those guarantees they would decline to hold office. It was on the faith of that pledge, taken in conjunction with the Home Rule pledge, that we supported the Government at the last General Election, and as to the value of that support there is not one man on that side of the House who will have any question or doubt. I myself went into Yorkshire and Lancashire, and I organised the Irish vote.


And Louth.


And I organised the Irish vote and the Nationalist vote in Louth to some purpose. I went, as I say, to Lancashire and Yorkshire, and organised the Irish vote, and got them, as I think will be admitted by every man who knows, to support the Government with a unity and enthusiasm which they had never shown before at any General Election. One argument that I used to them was that the return of the right hon. Gentleman would mean either that the Government would refuse to take office and they would go from one crisis to another until this question was settled, or else the right hon. Gentleman would obtain the necessary guarantees from the Sovereign. Now it appears that we were entirely wrong. The right hon. Gentleman made one argument which appealed, I confess, strongly to me. He seemed to think that the claim put forward by someone or other about these guarantees was that he should go to the Sovereign immediately, before he had his scheme prepared, before he had introduced his scheme before we had seen it, before the House of Commons had spoken upon it or decided upon it—he should go to the Sovereign and ask him to give him a blank guarantee, enabling him in any event to deal as he thinks fit with the veto under a scheme which had not been seen when the scheme was not known and when it had not been seen by the Government itself. I do not know the Gentleman who made that proposal. I never made any suggestion of that kind. I admit it would be unreasonable, it would be absurd, to expect any constitutional Sovereign to say, "I give you a blank guarantee which would enable you by my Royal prerogative to carry any measure you like without reference to what it is." That to my mind would be an unanswerable argument for the production of the scheme of veto by the right hon. Gentleman. I say that not an hour should be lost about it. It stands in a doubtful and ambiguous position at this moment. From the words of the King's Speech I do not know whether this is some great scheme for the reform of the House of Lords, for altering its whole constitution. That is not what we were led to believe, and, as far as I am concerned, that is not what I want. I want the veto limited. When you have limited the veto then you yourselves, if you like, can go on reforming the constitution of the Lords, or you can leave it to the ardent supporters of the Conservative party to do so. I say that not an hour should be lost in producing these Resolutions, at any rate. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has entirely considered his plan of Resolutions. I remember in the Parliament before last, when the present Leader of the Opposition proposed to proceed on the question of redistribution by Resolution, it was found that under the Rules of the House a Resolution containing details and so forth of that character would have to be practically debated in Committee line by line, as if they were the Clauses of a Bill. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered the length of time it would probably take to get through a Resolution of that kind in this House. I listened with sympathy to the question asked by my hon. Friend (Mr. Keir Hardie) whether this Resolution was going to be sent to both Houses. I think that was a most pertinent question. I will tell you that from my point of view, if the Resolutions are satisfactory to the House of Commons and pass with a large majority in this House of Commons, if the Resolutions were rejected by an overwhelming majority in the House of Lords, then you would be in a position to go to the Sovereign, not only with detailed information as to what your scheme was, but you would be able to say to him, "Here we are now, seized with notice by the House of Lords that when a Bill framed on these Resolutions goes up to them they will throw it out," and in that contingency my belief is that, instead of going on for months ploughing the sands with a futile discussion on the Clauses of a Bill which you have received formal notice will never pass, you ought then to ask for your guarantees from your Sovereign, and if the Sovereign refused them, you ought at once to free yourselves from any responsibility for the government of the country.

What is the alternative policy? I do not stop to worry for a moment about what the Prime Minister called the necessary Supply. Without saying I, under any circumstances, would support the Supplementary Estimates, at the same time trying to look at it from his point of view, I see that it is essential for any Government of this country to make provision, either by further borrowing powers or by Supplementary Estimates, or in some way, to prevent the services of the country coming to an end for the two, three, or four weeks' delay which will be necessary. I put that on one side, therefore, but the alternative policy of the right hon. Gentleman is to introduce and to pass into law the Budget before we are satisfied—before we receive any reasonable assurance whatever—that the Bill dealing with the veto can pass into law this year or in this Parliament All I take the liberty of saying is that, in my judgment, that is a disastrous policy. In my deliberate opinion that will be throwing away and wasting the mandate you got from the country at the last election. The issue at the last election is abundantly evident from the speeches we have already heard. It was not the Budget, but it was the unconstitutional action of the Lords in rejecting the Budget. Now it is proposed to send the Budget back to the House of Lords, not under a new system of constitution where they would be forced to carry it, but to send it back under the old system, and to ask them once again, not as a right, but as a favour, to to pass it. In that way you remove all the financial crisis that exists. In that way you will postpone any chance of forcing the veto policy to success. The right hon. Gentleman said in his election address—it is a rather solemn document for the Prime Minister of the country, more serious, I think, even than the Albert Hall speech:— There is a larger issue still. The claim of the House of Lords to control finance is novel and a mere usurpation. The experience of the Parliament which has to-day been dissolved shows that the possession of an unlimited veto by a partisan second Chamber is an insuperable obstacle to democratic legislation.He went on to say:— The limitation of this veto, is the first and most urgent step to be taken.I respectfully say that was in the mind of the country. I have a bundle of speeches where that statement, that the first and most urgent business of Parliament was to be the veto, is repeated again and again by Minister after Minister. The Chief Secretary for Ireland went further than anyone. He said:— The Budget may be important, and Free Trade may be important, but the veto is the thing.The Secretary for Foreign Affairs was as emphatic as anyone. He declared again and again that the question of the power of the House of Lords was the great issue of this election. In his election address he said:— It would be an outrage on democratic institutions that the right to force a dissolution should be conceded to the House of Lords. They have already forced one dissolution, and you are going now to enable them on your Veto Bill to force a second dissolution inside one year. In my judgment, if you postpone the Veto Bill and send the Budget to the House of Lords, you will justify to a large extent, in the minds of many people, the action of the House of Lords. Remember what their action was. They said, "We do not claim the right to throw out this Bill. All we claim is the right to make sure that the people want it." If you send up the Budget to them without any further protest, then the passage of a Resolution through this House, with the promise of a Bill to go through its stages in the summer, with no assurance that it would pass, will largely, in the minds of many people, justify the House of Lords, you will certainly throw the veto question into a second and subordinate place, and the revolution will be gone. We will be all expected to settle down here quietly in a humdrum fashion for months in a futile discussion of the clauses of a Bill which we all know is certain to be rejected, and then, when all the enthusiasm is dead, late in the year, after several months of this work, you will have a General Election, and in my judgment, under these conditions, you will be beaten by a wearied and disheartened electorate. But it is said—the Prime Minister was not so strong on this as one would imagine—the Budget must be passed immediately to prevent chaos and confusion and loss. That statement has been grossly exaggerated in a great many newspapers in this country. There is financial confusion no doubt. There is a certain amount of what is called financial chaos and a certain amount of loss, but whose fault is it? The financial crisis that exists, if it were allowed to continue on for four or five weeks longer, would not seriously hurt the British Empire and would not seriously intensify the dangers and confusion of the present moment. That financial crisis is a great weapon in your hands. It is a great lever in your hands, and I believe you would throw it away the very moment that you pass the Budget and trust to luck or to another General Election to enable you to get your Veto Bill. We in Ireland are not going to throw away that weapon.

Let me recall to the House in two or three brief words what was our attitude on this Budget last year. The Leader of the Opposition was accurate as far as he went, but he did not present the full picture. When the Budget was introduced, the very night that the Chancellor made his memorable statement, I spoke from these benches and at once entered my protest against what I regarded as an unjust Budget to Ireland. Of course, I have regarded every Budget, except that of 1908, as unjust to Ireland ever since the Act of Union, and it is rather interesting for me to recall that, except on the Old Age Pensions Budget, I do not think I ever voted in favour of the Second Reading of a Budget Bill in this House. I protested against this Bill instantly. We took up the Resolutions on which the Bill was founded. Some of these Resolutions we supported because we were in agreement with the principle underlying some of the new taxes. Taxes like the Increment Tax and others we had been for 30 years advocating in this House, but the other taxes that we disapproved of we spoke and voted against. We came to the Second Reading of the Bill, and the whole of my colleagues voted in a solid body against it. We did our best in Committee. We opposed many parts of it, and we supported other parts that we thought in principle we could support. We obtained very considerable concessions from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which we acknowledged gratefully at the time, concessions which relieved large sections of the Irish people from the burden that is cast upon them, and then we came to the Third Reading of the Bill. It is quite true that we abstained from voting. There was never any question of our voting for the Third Reading of that Bill. It was a question of our voting against it or abstaining. We abstained for two perfectly clear and distinct reasons, one really not dependent on the other although each influencing the other in our minds. First, these large concessions that we got—but those alone would not have induced us to abstain. We abstained because a great constitutional question had arisen. It then was certain that the Budget was not going to pass. We then were seized with notice on behalf of the House of Lords that the Bill was going to be defeated. Every man in the street knew it was going to be defeated. We knew then that this great constitutional issue was going to arise. We declined by a vote, which in practice would have had no effect, to give any show of additional strength to the House of Lords. That is the reason that we did not vote against the Third Reading of the Bill.

8.0 P.M.

To-day we are prepared to go further. I stated the other day in Ireland, and I repeat here, let the right hon. Gentleman give us reasonable assurances that he would be able to carry his Veto Bill into law this year, and we will not abstain from voting on the Budget. We will vote for it. We are willing to pay that price, but we are not willing to pay that price for nothing, or for the absolute uncertainty which we believe will end in a situation of disaster and defeat. I do not know what course the situation may take or how it may develop. The situation may yet be saved. I must say to the Prime Minister, and to all his colleagues, that I and my friends on these benches are sincerely anxious to support them in their efforts to deal with the veto of the House of Lords. We are not seeking to create a new crisis or to drive them from office. If anything of that kind happens it will be bad for them and it will be bad for us. We are looking at the situation all round. We are not seeking a quarrel. We are not desiring any break, but we cannot in this matter walk blindfolded. We cannot be a party to a policy of ploughing the sands once more. We cannot be a party to a policy of deliberately, in our judgment, throwing away the great mandate that you received from the electors at the last General Election by acquiescing in the passing of the Budget and ending the financial crisis, and acquiescing in your obtaining no guarantees as to the future of the Veto Bill, acquiescing in going on with the humdrum details of an ordinary Session of Parliament until the time would come when you will pass your Bill through this House, and when you certainly, as you will, know it will be rejected in the other, and when then you will have to go to an election with a fifty times worse chance of success for yourself and your party than you would have if you played a bold and straightforward course now. Whatever the Prime Minister meant by his pledge at the Albert Hall, and whatever we understood by that pledge, the bold policy is the only policy in my judgment for him. Let him say he will not, in the spirit of that pledge, as it was understood, make himself responsible for the government of this country unless he has assurances that he will be able to curb this veto of the House of Lords. On that issue let him go to his countrymen, and do not let him wait till he is kicked to the constituencies once again by the action of the House of Lords. I made a speech the other day in Dublin which attracted far more attention in this country than it deserved, and which has been a good deal misrepresented and misquoted. I said then, and I say now, that if the Prime Minister is not in a position to say that he has such guarantees as are necessary to enable him to pass a Veto Bill this year, and if in spite of that, he intends to remain in office and proposes to pass the Budget into law and then to adjourn—I do not care for how long or how short—the consideration of the Bill dealing with the veto of the House of Lords, that is a policy which Ireland cannot and will not uphold.


I beg to move "That the Debate be now adjourned."


I think it would be more for the convenience of the House if the general discussion on the Address were continued till a later period of the evening, for arrangements have been made for the right hon. Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) to move the adjournment of the Debate in order that the official Amendment of the Opposition may be moved to-morrow.


We are in a very special position to-night. The speech of the Prime Minister and the speech of the Leader of the Irish Party are speeches of the greatest importance. I understand that the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Barnes), who has just moved the adjournment of the Debate, is anxious himself to deal with the situation which has been raised by those speeches.


I am anxious to deal with the situation as from our own distinctive point of view, but we have made arrangements unfortunately to meet and discuss that point of view before taking part in the Debate.


Really, the position appears to me to be this. The hon. Member opposite speaks on behalf of the Labour Party, and no one will grudge him that privilege. The real difficulty is that the Opposition have the privilege, and no man will grudge them the privilege of moving what is called the Front Bench Amendment. I suspect there will be other Amendments. I have never known a case where there were not other Amendments to the Address expressing regret that His Majesty had not mentioned other matters in his speech. I presume, therefore, there will be other Amendments. If the Debate on the Address is to close early, and I am sure that it cannot be prolonged in view of the immense programme of business of which the Prime Minister told us to-night, it is very desirable that the general discussion should go on to-night. I have nothing to say against the adjournment of the Debate, provided that our privileges are not interfered with, and if the Prime Minister thinks it on the whole right to accept the Motion for Adjournment, and continue on Tuesday the general discussion, giving us first place on Wednesday, we shall raise no objection from this Bench. I thought I might be allowed, on the part of the Opposition, to explain how this proposal appeared to us.


I quite recognise what the right hon. Gentleman opposite has said, that it has always been the custom for what is called the official Opposition Amendment to have first place, and that it should come early in the Debate on the Address. I do not know what form the Amendment on this occasion will take, nor do I know how long the right hon. Gentleman wishes the discussion to last, or whether he wants more than one night.


Two nights.


We must bring the Debate on the Address to a close this week, in view of the business to be gone through. At the same time I do not know that I would like to deprive my hon. Friend (Mr. Barnes) of the right of moving the adjournment of the Debate, for he has given a good reason for adjournment—one of the best reasons I ever heard. I think the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Balfour) might be content with one night for the official Opposition Amendment.


Might I suggest that an adjournment of an hour should take place in order that the Labour party might decide on their policy?


We have already made up our minds. You need not worry.


If you have already made up your minds why adjourn? If the Debate were continued to-night to a later hour the official Opposition would have two nights for their Debate.


There are others besides the Labour party who are interested in the situation at this moment, which is about the most serious that any of us, no matter how old his connection with the House, has ever been confronted with at the opening of a Session. We have heard speeches fraught with the most important consequences, and I think that I am speaking in accordance with the memory of Members who have been here for years when I say that it is not customary on the opening night of the Session to prolong the Debate unduly. The general custom is to adjourn about this hour. I do not say that there have been no exceptions. I speak of what has been the general custom. It appears to me that it would be well for the House to agree to the Motion of my hon. Friend, not merely to give the Labour party time to think of all that has been said, but to give all sections of the House time for reflection. This is one of those cases where many words simply confuse wisdom. There is nothing more to be said, apart from the speeches which we have just heard, to represent the official views of the three parties, and it therefore appears to me that it would be not only following custom in this matter, but also showing an act of courtesy towards the component parts of the House that the Motion of my hon. Friend should be agreed to.


I should say it is quite unusual on the opening night of the Session for the Debate on the Address to have such a very early adjournment. As a rule the Debate on the Address lasts nearly a fortnight. My recollection is that when hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were on this side of the House the Debate lasted very much longer than a fortnight. Now we have been told by the Prime Minister that the Debate is to close this week. I understand that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) desires that there should be plenty of discussion on the proposals of the Government, and yet it is proposed that the Debate should close to-night when only three Members have spoken in addition to the Mover and Seconder of the Address. We must not consent to adjourn the Debate merely because it is inconvenient to one particular group to continue it. There are Members on our side of the House who are desirous of addressing the House upon the general question. If the Labour party have not all made up their minds what course to pursue, there is no necessity for them to stay in the House, and in the meantime we can continue the Debate without them. I agree with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Keir Hardie) that we are here discussing one of the most momentous crises in the history of the country, and we do not want to adjourn after three hours' Debate merely because hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway have not made up their minds. We have made up our minds. In view of the statement of the Prime Minister that everything has got to be settled before Easter with respect to the Budget, I would suggest that we should be allowed to continue the Debate until eleven o'clock.


I would point out that at the close of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. Redmond) nobody rose to continue the Debate.


I would be very happy to do so.


The hon. Baronet did not do so at the time. Under the circumstances it would appear to be reasonable to agree to the Motion for adjournment moved by my hon. Friend, more particularly as we are always in the habit of adjourning early on the first night. As regards the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. A. J. Balfour), I undertake that he shall have two nights.


I think I speak the view of many hon. Members when I say that it ought not to be within the power of one man or another to negotiate as to when this House shall adjourn. The House of Commons loses its right in that way. We have seen to-night how far the rights of the House may be infringed by the operation of the party discipline system, to which more and more hon. Members are objecting every day.

Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned"—[Mr. G. N. Barnes.]—put, and agreed to.

Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[The Master of Elibank.]

House adjourned at Fifteen minutes past Eight o'clock.