§ Motion made, and Question proposed [21st February]:
§ "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.]
§ Debate resumed.
§ Mr. G. N. BARNES
It falls to my lot to address a few observations to the House on behalf of those with whom I am associated, and to express their view in regard to the topics emerging from the Debate which took place yesterday. Let me say, by way of preface, that, although I speak from this side of the House and not from the other side upon which I and the major portion of my colleagues sat in the last Parliament, that fact has no significance beyond this, that it signifies a willingness on our part to fail in with the course which had been mapped out and as that which we were told would meet with the general convenience of all the Members of the House, and, might I venture to add, to be observed by others as well as myself. Let me say further that, although I speak from here, and I hope that many of my colleagues will speak from here in this Parliament, that we shall continue to give expression to our own distinctive point of view on questions submitted to us in the future as we have done in the past. The Speech from the Throne this year differs in two respects from Royal Speeches that have preceded it. First of all, it is unusually brief, as was said more than once yesterday; and, in the second place, it raises as a matter of practical politics a constitutional issue which has long been discussed in a more academic way. I regret that the Speech does not contain anything in the nature of social reform; that it does not promise the legislation on those matters in which we on these benches and many more hon. Members of this House are acutely interested. I regret that it does not contain any promise of reform in regard to the Electoral Laws; that it contains no promise of reform of the 84 Poor Laws; and I think I shall be echoing the sentiments of many when I say that, in my opinion, the discussion of these things is long overdue. But may I express a hope that the Speech may be found to contain something which, when interpreted as I still hope it may be interpreted, will mean that when we reach the discussion of these topics that discussion will prove far more fruitful than it has done in times past.
I noted the reference which the Prime Minister made yesterday to the Speech as not being exhaustive of all that might be done during the ensuing Session. In that connection may I express a hope that, at all events, something more will be done in regard to the Unemployed Assurance Bill. That is a matter upon which I think there is general agreement: it is a matter which will not excite much controversy in the House, and it is one of the steps absolutely necessary to give effect to the scheme which, as a whole, is to apply to the unemployed. And let me say it is all the more necessary from the fact that we now have started unemployed registers throughout the country, and so far as I can see those unemployed registers will be of little avail unless something is done to follow them up and make them effective. It is useless asking men to come and register their names as unemployed unless something is to be done to provide employment for them. [OPPOSITION cheers.] If that ironical cheer has any reference to Tariff Reform, my belief is that Tariff Reform will simply get unemployed men out of the frying-pan into the fire, and we upon these benches will continue, irrespective of votes or anything of that sort, but in obedience to our own consciences, and as we believe in the best interests of our constituents, to offer Tariff Reform in the future our bitter opposition.
I pass on to one or two points contained in the Speech. The first deals with the question of South Africa. I am glad to know—indeed, we are all glad to know—that the four Colonies in South Africa have been welded into one area. I hope and believe that that will have the effect of bringing the two white races in South Africa into a working comb nation for the future good and development of that much-tried land. I trust further that the visit of the Prince of Wales to that country, together with the opening of the new Parliament by the Governor-General, will have a great effect in consolidating that part of the Empire, and in working good for its people. May I 85 just add one word in reservation. I regret—and here again I think I voice the opinions and sentiments of many more in this House—I exceedingly regret that the new Constitution has withheld from the coloured people in South Africa rights which I believe they should have had from the first. Instead of the Constitution improving—as it ought to—the position of these people in a political sense, it has worsened it, and I hope steps will be taken in the not distant future to rectify that matter.
Next I conic to the prospects of peace. Here, again. I am glad, and my colleagues are glad, and hon. Members generally must be glad that there is nothing of a serious character, at all events on the international horizon, presaging trouble with a foreign Power. Peace is perhaps the greatest of all British interests, and I believe we on these benches, and those whom we represent have the most to gain by it. Workmen, at all events, not only in this country, but in all other countries, desire only to be left alone in peace to earn their bread and work out their own economic emancipation. We therefore will do all we can for the maintenance of peace.
I come now to an item in the Speech which to my mind is of a rather ominous character—the reference to the Navy, and here I do not expect to raise such a responsive chorus as on other matters. I find it stated that the Estimates for the coming year have been framed with the utmost desire for economy, but that at the same time there is going to be a substantial increase in the expenditure on the Navy. I have heard a good deal of lip service to economy and at the same time a good deal of the contrary carried out by those who are in office and in power. For my part, I heard from the Front Bench last year the initiation of what I had no hesitation in calling—as it subsequently proved to be—a discreditable scare and an insult to the German Empire. I am not a fanatic in these matters—I am willing to vote what in my humble opinion is a necessary amount for the proper defence of the nation—but I think that in recent years the expenditure has gone sometimes much beyond that point, and for my part I am going to have no regard to those fantastic standards which have been set up. At one time there was the two-Power standard, then we had the two-Power plus 10 per cent. standard, and in the very recent election it got up to the two-and-a-half-Power standard. I am going 86 to reserve my individual judgment, and vote on the expenditure submitted to this House on what I regard as the necessities of the situation.
I come now to the chief point of interest in the Speech, and I think I shall be voicing the sentiments of those present when I say that the chief interest in the Speech lies in its references to the House of Lords and to the promised legislation in regard to that Chamber. I venture to say it was upon that issue that the recent election was mainly fought and won. I heard the Leader of the Opposition yesterday express an opinion that the election meant nothing except a manipulation of votes by the Government to keep themselves in power. If that is not what the right hon. Gentleman said, at any rate it may be deduced from it. He said that Home Rule had been expressed where it was advisable to express it, and suppressed where it was not a political asset. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to forget one very important thing in this connection—he seemed to forget that there are such persons as newspaper editors in this country, and you may take it from me, with some knowledge of Scottish elections, that the people of Scotland were not allowed to forget the speech of the Prime Minister upon Home Rule, and that, on the contrary, it was in the minds of the electors there when they were voting. He said that he had examined 149 speeches of Cabinet Ministers, and that he had only found one reference in the whole of those 149 speeches to Home Rule. Well, I have no knowledge of what Cabinet Ministers were doing, but I was scanning the Scotch newspapers during the whole of the election, and I found they were fairly full of matter about Home Rule, and the Scotch Conservative newspapers were trying all they could to frighten the people of Scotland about it. May I venture to quote from my own address to show that at all events I did not shirk the issue. In my address, which I posted to every one of the electors, I said:—I am in favour of Home Rule for Ireland, because I believe that Ireland has been misgoverned in her internal affairs, and because I want to see the Imperial Parliament relieved of the impossible task of forcing laws upon an unwilling people.I said further in the address that I am quoting:—You know that the recent speech of the Prime Minister has placed the question of Home Rule in a more favourable position than it had before occupied.So far as Home Rule is concerned, therefore, I believe that the recent election shows, at all events, one thing: if 87 Home Rule was not an active factor in the election it was a passive one; the electors, not only of Scotland, but of England, as well as Ireland, knew the position as to Home Rule, and the election simply proves this: that the electors are no longer frightened of it.
I believe that the election, as I said before, was fought mostly upon the question of the House of Lords, and I believe that the constituents of those returned en this side of the House, at all events, expected prompt and decisive action in regard to the House of Lords. We were justified in thinking that for many reasons: First of all, we had the speeches of the Prime Minister quoted, if I may be allowed to say so, with such great effect by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond). We had many other speeches of the same character, all of which, whatever may have been in the mind and whatever may have been the intent of the speakers, conveyed only one thing to the average man and the man in the street, and that was that this Parliament, if it gathered together, and the same Government were in office, was going to be in a position to deal with the House of Lords promptly, without a further election. Let me read a part of a speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer oh the 3rd of December last. It was read yesterday, but, with all respect to the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, I think he did not dwell upon the point which might have been emphasised, which I will now venture to emphasise, and I hope get some explanation about from the Chancellor of the Exchequer before this matter is settled. What did he say? He said:—For my part I would not remain a member of the Cabinet for one hour unless I knew that the Cabinet had determined not to hold office after the next General Election unless full powers are accorded to it.You know what follows—full powers are accorded to deal with the Question as foreshadowed by the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman some years ago. They are to be accorded to this Parliament, not to some Parliament to be elected as predicted by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford at the back end of this year and after all the confusion belonging to a prolonged Session, but the Question is going to be dealt with by this Parliament this year, and what I want to know, and that is my first point, and I hope that before this Debate on the Address is finished I shall have some explanation—I want to know 88 what interpretation is now given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the speech, and especially to the words which I have just now read. There is another speech, and here I have done with speeches, delivered by the Lord Chancellor from his place in the House of Lords, I think on the winding up day of last Parliament, which might also be brought to the notice of the House, and when uttering this speech the Lord Chancellor, no doubt, had in his mind the speeches that had preceded it by his colleagues in the Cabinet. What did he say? He said:If we fail in the coming General Election, it will only be the beginning of a conflict which can end only in one way, but if we succeed, I hope we shall not flinch from that which will have to follow. We have not produced this conflict; we have not provoked it nor at any time desired it, but we are not afraid of it, and I hope that we shall, none of us, fail to do our duty.That is what we, on these benches, look to the Cabinet now to do—to do their duty. Then we are further justified in that because of the majority that has been returned to this House. Here we are fresh from an election, fresh from contact with our Constituents all over the length and breadth of the country, with a majority of 124. [Ironical cheers.] I gather from that ironical cheer that the 124 majority is not thought to be a majority in favour of the Government on this point, but might I suggest to those hon. Members, who cheer rather prematurely, that the fact of this being a composite majority is no cause for slackening on the House of Lords, but rather the other way.
What are the facts? The whole of these 124 hon. Members returned here, or the main portion of them over and above the supporters of the Government, and exclusive of those returned as Conservatives—every single one of them is a more anti-Lords man than are the Government supporters themselves, and therefore in the character of that composite majority is to be found a something not in favour of the House of Lords but rather against the House of Lords. May I remind the House of another fact—that this majority represents in the first place 400,000 votes throughout the United Kingdom. I make no distinction between votes in Ireland and in England. We are the United Kingdom, and we should be a United Kingdom stronger and more bound together if Home Rule were granted. My point was this: We have here 400,000 votes, but might I venture to say that we have a good deal more than 400,000 voters of a majority. I myself stayed with a man during my contest who had five votes, and fortunately, so far as those votes were 89 cast at all, they were cast against the Tories; but I think I may venture to say that ninety-nine out of every hundred plural voters have voted with the minority of 273 Conservatives in this House, and therefore if we were to analyse the position we should find that probably this House has been returned to deal with the House of Lords not by a majority of 400,000 votes but by probably nearly double as many majority of voters. That is all the more reason why we should now expect prompt and decisive action in regard to the House of Lords.
I think I might now state our own position—I mean the position of the Labour party—in regard to the House of Lords. It was put by my hon. Friend (Mr. Arthur Henderson) in the last Parliament, and in the Division which followed his speech we had, if my memory serves me aright, 100 votes. We should have had a great deal more than 100 votes but for the paralysis of party discipline which, I am afraid, has seized a good many in this House already in regard to the other matter I have been mentioning. At all events, we believe that the House of Lords is a useless and irritating barrier against democratic progress. The British people are a slow people. We have, as hon. Members who have taken any part in political agitation well know, to go through almost a generation of agitation outside before we can get our fellows educated up to taking a step in advance in regard to democratic progress, and then, after all that has been done, we come here and we find every interest and every section of the community opposed to democratic progress represented in more than proportionate strength, and therefore every measure of that character, of any magnitude at all events, discussed, in every clause, in every line, and sometimes in almost every word, and in our opinion at all events, having regard to these two facts, it is to us manifestly absurd that after going through all these difficulties we should still have another difficulty in the shape of 620 gentlemen or thereabouts, irresponsible and unrepresentative, and whose interests are almost exclusively against democratic progress. Of course, we know democracy sometimes goes mad, but the House of Lords always goes mad with it. Democracy, or at all events Governments sent to represent democracy, sometimes do things in a hurry and repent them at leisure, but the House of Lords never has saved the democracy from itself. There are many instances. 90 I recall one to my mind now when, owing to some agitation or report about some imaginary Fenian rebellion in 1866 the House of Lords actually sat up till one o'clock in the morning to pass a Bill which was not submitted to it till after midnight and which had the effect of taking away the ordinary social and political rights of every Irishman. Many other instances might be given—they are all on record—showing that the House of Lords has always acted, in crises of the country, just as they might be expected to act when we know that they are non-representative and irresponsible, and have interests opposed to the interests of the great mass of the people. Therefore for those reasons we are in favour of the abolition of the House of Lords, root and branch. Our way in regard to the House of Lords might be put in Biblical phrase: "Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?"
But unfortunately in this old country of ours freedom only broadens down slowly from precedent to precedent. We recognise that fact, and we are willing to take a slow step in advance so long as it is a step in the right direction. There has been a good deal of talk recently about steps that I think would be in the wrong direction. We have heard a good deal about reconstituting or so-called reforming of the House of Lords. It has been a convenient red herring on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite to try to divert attention from the real issue, and I was not at all surprised that they should have used that particular red herring, but I am somewhat surprised to find that it is given some sort of recognition in the Speech from the Throne. I should like some information about the real interpretation of the Speech before we leave it. In the last part of the Speech there are two words that I hope we shall hear something more about. "These measures," we are told, "in the opinion of my advisers should provide that this House"—that is, the House of Lords—"should be so constituted and empowered," etc. I should like to know if these two words "so constituted" mean that we are going to have a House of Lords of another character to that that we know of. Are we going to have Members elected by county councils? Are we going to have glorified lord mayors or returned consuls from foreign countries to give it a new lease of life? For my part I should say that would only be from King Log to King Stork. I have yet to know that a consul returned from an orgy of autocracy abroad over a subject and 91 servile people is by that means any better qualified to be a legislator for this country. A reconstitution or so-called reform of the House of Lords of that character has absolutely no interest for us whatever. We are in favour not of strengthening, not of giving a new lease of life, but of weakening and taking one step forward towards abolition of the House of Lords, and it is for that reason that we are in favour of the proposals of the Government in regard to the abolition of the financial veto and the limitation of the legislative veto.
I approach the Question from what might be called the constitutional point of view. We were induced to vote on the last day of the last Session for a Resolution. I believe every single one of my colleagues voted for that Resolution. The whole of the Members of the Government voted for it, and I think it came out with a majority of 349. That Resolution embraced two things. It expressed, first of all, the opinion that the House of Lords in suspending the Budget had made a breach in the Constitution; and, second, that the House of Lords in so doing had arrogated to itself the light of determining the time and issue of a General Election.
To our mind that now carries with it one or two important considerations. The Budget is not the Budget of this year; the Budget which was sent to the House of Lords last year, and suspended by that body, was the Budget not of this Parliament at all. It was the Budget of last Parliament, and, therefore, we want to know—are we going to be compelled to sit here a second time, and hear discussed in detail this Budget, which was discussed so exhaustively last year? We think that the facts in regard to the Budget ought to be such that the Budget Bill ought to be considered as settled. I am assuming now—much against my own will by the way—that the Budget is to be taken, but, if it is to be taken, then I hope it will be taken with a suspension of the ordinary standing rules in regard to finance—that is to say, that it will be taken as a whole, and that it will be taken without discussion in detail. I do not know what will follow so far as we are concerned, but that will depend on other matters.
I am glad to note, coming to the veto, that first of all the Government intend to restore to this House its undivided authority over finance. So far so good. But the suspension of the Budget by the House of 92 Lords last year is not the only bone we have to pick with their lordships. That is only the last, the final, the culminating act in a long series of acts which show conclusively that the House of Lords has ceased to have, if it ever had, any respect for the Constitution under which we are living. Since the days of Pym the underlying idea of our Parliamentary institutions has been the predominance of the House of Commons. This idea of what may be called constitutional proportion, and as it is so-called in "Green's History of the English People," was first promulgated when the Crown ventured to question the facts on which it is based. The Crown was made to respect the Constitution in the sense I have just mentioned, and we, for our part, are going to make the House of Lords respect it in like manner. We should be lacking, it seems to me, in all self-respect if we took any other course. The House of Lords has challenged the people of this country. Let me read another passage from my own election address, which, I think, puts fairly well the position so far as the people of Scotland are concerned. In the opening passage I say this:—The House of Lords has seen f[...] to challenge the people and the country, and has thereby plunged into a contest which was bound to come sooner or later. In that contest, I, as one of the people, am on the side of the people.I can only say, in amplification of that statement, that the House of Lords, having seen fit to challenge the people after due deliberation and after duo warning being given to them from the most responsible quarter from which it could be given, it seems to me that this House—I use the broader word "House" than even the word "Government"—has a right to exact something in the nature of an indemnity from the House of Lords, and require it to give assurances for its good behaviour. It is not enough to my mind that we should simply exact an indemnity that the House of Lords should give up anything in regard to the financial veto. Our forefathers fought for that and won it. We want now to exact something which should absolutely prevent and put beyond the region of recurrence anything in the nature of what has taken place during the last four years, when the House of Lords has relentlessly and without compunction torn to pieces many Bills which were sent up to it—Bills, not as sometimes might be said, which had been passed through this House by a Minister without a mandate, but passed through this House when fresh from 93 the country and with immense majorities behind them.
I have just one word to say as to the method. We heard yesterday that there were two Resolutions to be submitted, and I am told also that, according to recent rulings, these Resolutions might be discussed in great detail, and might be almost as long delayed in this House as a Bill. I have to suggest to the Government, that being so, that we might as well have the Bill as the Resolutions and get on to business at once. I think the Resolutions were promised before Easter. But Resolutions are one thing and a Bill is another thing, and although we might be in possession of the Resolutions, I venture to say that we might not thereby be in possession of all the facts of the situation bearing on what we want to get at, namely, the limiting of the power of obstruction of the House of Lords. Therefore I have to suggest that the Government might reconsider that matter and let us have the Bill instead of the Resolutions.
That brings me to the more practical question as to how this matter is to be forced through this House. How is it to be done? In the first place, I think we ought to have clearly in our own minds that we, at all events, have the power in our own hands here of the granting or withholding of supply. That power has been won for us. It has been constantly asserted and reiterated by the House of Commons right away since 1407. It is a weapon which has not only been forged for us by our forefathers, but has been placed in our hands fresh and sharp again by our constituents only a few weeks ago. For my part, I have heard no good case made out why we should surrender it at this time. A great deal was said yesterday as to financial chaos. Some of us have heard that before. We heard it first last year. We were told that financial chaos would come to us before now, but it has not come. I am getting a little sceptical as to whether it will come. Whether it comes or not, it will only be temporary. Let me also remind the House that the House at the other end of the passage clearly knew of what was going to happen, and what did they say? When all these consequences had been put to him, what did Lord Milner say? Speaking outside he said: "Damn the consequences." Lord Milner seems to take this House rather cheaply. I hope he has not taken us accurately. Well, the resources of this House have not been exhausted, even assuming for a moment 94 that we are going to put last year's Budget through. We have still the old weapon of redress before Supply in our hands. There is another Budget nearly due, and might I suggest to the Government that if, in spite of Lord Milner's insolence, and in spite of all that has taken place by the House of Lords, we are still going to let them escape the full responsibility for their action so far as last year's Budget is concerned, we, at all events, might have sufficient self-respect to say that before another Budget goes through we should at least see that the veto is put beyond the power of the House of Lords. At all events, after the interpretation which has been given of the speech of the Prime Minister outside, and after the speech I have mentioned to-day of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I think we are entitled to some further assurances before this Debate is finished, or otherwise I can assure the House that we shall not be satisfied on these benches.
We do not mind helping the Budget through. I have to say as a matter of fact on behalf of my colleagues that we want it through. We know the value of the Budget. We know that it does apply principles which, realised, and after many days' agitation, will be of immense benefit to those whom we specially represent. I might go further and say that we claim some little credit for joint authorship of the Budget. But it is not the end of all things. It is only the beginning. And we want the House of Lords settled now so that we can go on to take other steps in the same direction. And therefore we want some assurance that if the bold policy is not to be taken now, at all events that it may be taken without unnecessary delay; and in conjunction with the Budget that is about due. I venture here to quote a sentence from a speech of John Bright, delivered in this House in the year 1860, when a similar matter was before the House—that is to say on the last occasion, I believe, when the House of Lords ventured to do what it has recently done. The House of Lords did not go so far on that occasion. It was at that time merely a matter of refusal of assent to repeal of a tax amounting, as well as I remember, to about a million of money. What happened then? There were two alternative policies before the House. There was one of dallying with the question, and there was one of dealing with it. The former course was adopted unfortunately, or otherwise we should not 95 be in the difficulty we are in to-day. But John Bright was in favour of the latter course. Speaking in opposition to the former, he said:There is no greater sign of the decadence of a people than when we find the leaders of parties and eminent statesmen treating great questions as if they were not great and solemn realities as if they were not real at all.I believe that we are face to face with a great question now. I believe, in fact, that we are face to face with a revolution now. I hope that the Government will yet realise that fact and act upon that realisation. I press, therefore, for two things. I press for the suspension of the Standing Orders in regard to finance. That is to say, in relation to last year's Budget, that if we are to take it we shall take it as a whole, without any unnecessary delay, without giving any power of discussing it to the new Members, because it was a matter appertaining to the last Parliament; and, in the second place, we should like some assurance that Supply under a second Budget will only follow a Veto Bill. Those, I think, are two modest proposals. They are more modest than I myself would make if I were left to my own opinion. But it seems to me that, at all events, the country will expect something of that sort. I believe that the country has a right to expect more; but less than that would only be paltering with our mandate and with our consciences.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I am sure that the Labour party must have listened with great pleasure to the bold fighting speech which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Barnes) has just delivered. At one period of his observations he spoke with some degree of disfavour on the subject of party discipline. There was perhaps a reason why he should speak with disapproval of its exercise, because not very long ago, having made a premature announcement on behalf of his party, the force of party discipline was sufficient to correct the indiscretion of which he had been guilty, and we see the result in the very modified utterance which the hon. Gentleman has just made. His complaint, as I understand him, against the Government is that they induced him by a representation which has not been borne out by facts to make certain pledges at his election, that other Members of the Labour party were induced to make similar pledges, and that when they made them of course they thought they would obtain explicit assurances. What is the fighting 96 policy which the hon. Gentleman under these difficult and trying circumstances recommends to his party? He says, "We have been deceived once before by assurances: we should like some more assurances." This is a curious application of the principle of "a hair of the dog that bit you" to political affairs. The Prime Minister last night, with extreme cogency and, under the circumstances, very great courage, indicated quite clearly that whatever representations might be made to him or inducements held out to him, he was determined to persevere with his plan, which is the financial business and the Budget first, and any definite proposal in relation to the House of Lords afterwards. One circumstance emerges from this decision so clearly and finally announced to the House, and that is that the very moment after the election which has just been fought the party opposite is rent asunder in two camps. To begin with, the Liberal Press, with the exception of the "Westminster Gazette," has been advocating during the past few weeks, and it appears with a great following from hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite, the policy of taking the veto first and taking financial business afterwards. The "Daily News," which is, we know, the organ of many hon. Gentlemen in this House, made this statement on February 8th—it is very short, but interesting:—If Mr. Asquith has not procured guarantees, the whole purpose for which this Parliament came into being dies. It becomes at once objectless and morally dead.It is welcome to note from the party organ that hon. Gentlemen opposite at this early stage in their career are objectless and are morally dead.
Now, most of us, I think, on this side of the House understood the assurance of the Prime Minister in precisely the same sense as the Irish and the Labour parties did. I may quote again from the "Daily News" the following:—No one who was present at the Albert Hall meeting attached any other significance to Mr. Asquith's pronouncement. No statesman so precise would have spoken as he did unless he bad not first secured his ground.Putting the fact thus bluntly involves no doubt that the Prime Minister must keep his word. Though it may be said that as far as we are concerned this is a domestic dispute, I think one may reasonably make the observation that, although it is a domestic dispute, in one sense it is 97 highly instructive as showing, on your own admission—and if our view is correct—that this election has been fought on your part on a false issue. We have been told, in speech after speech, on platforms by those who quoted the Prime Minister, that guarantees either had been secured or were to be given the moment Parliament met. I do not myself accept that statement, but if it is true, you sit here on a false issue, and with no real claim to represent those who have to send you here. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has quoted the Lord Chancellor, but, if I may, I will make an addition to the quotation of a most material passage from that very speech of the Lord Chancellor, who, speaking with all the authority which belongs to his high position, said:—It is impossible that any Liberal Government can bear the burden of office, unless it is secured against the repetition of such treatment as our measures have undergone for four years.Are you bearing the heavy burden of office, and have you secured guarantees? That is the plain question. Everyone knows that you are bearing the heavy burden, but that you have not obtained guarantees. Although I do not dispute the varying course or recollection of the Prime Minister, an examination of the speech at the Albert Hall shows most conclusively that although he now believes he must have legislation, he did not really at that time mean legislation at all. He divided his examination of the question of the House of Lords into two distinct parts. He first dealt with the subject of finance, and while he was dealing with finance, he most clearly indicated legislation. Everybody knows how explicitly the right hon. Gentleman can convey his meaning when he desires to do so, and this is what he said:—We shall demand authority from the electorate to translate an ancient unwritten usage into an Act of Parliament, and to place on the Statute Book a recognition explicit and complete of the settled doctrine of Our constitution, that it is beyond the province of the Lords to meddle with our finance.So that there was to be legislation in order to deal with the pretention of the House of Lords to interfere with finance. He then passed on to say:—But I am now come to a larger issue. The Lords have raised a larger issue still, and that is the question of their general veto.And he asked himself this question: "How shall I deal with this larger issue?" But he said not one syllable about the legislation of which he had spoken so 98 clearly in the first part of his speech. He continued:—We shall not assume office, and shall not hold office unless we can secure the safeguards which experience shows to be necessary for the legislative utility of the party of progress.Let me ask this plain question: Is there one Member in this House, wherever he sits, bold enough to contend at this moment that the Government is not either assuming office or holding office? I rather think not. They are holding office, or they are assuming office. Let me ask on that, have they got securities? The Prime Minister told us last night they had not got the securities, yet it is common ground among us all that he is holding or assuming office. But the Prime Minister also told hon. Gentlemen that he was not going to ask for securities, but he is going to continue to hold office. Of course, all of us on these benches most heartily concur, for we are satisfied that in that sound constitutional doctrine the Prime Minister is right. This is a question of domestic controversy; but I will ask, is this consideration for the democrats who worked so loyally for him at "blackbread" in the country in the last election, and who are willing, and are still willing now, to be made Peers in order to assist Lord Joicey to reform the House of Lords? The Government is involved in what a leading party described the other day as a "discreditable breach of faith to their followers." What is the answer? It is practically a simple one. It is because the Prime Minister was misinformed as to the popularity of the Budget in the country and as the result of the election. He expected to return to this House of Commons with a majority that might have justified him in demanding safeguards, and he has not done so. That was the short history of the subject. The Home Secretary expected the same thing, and he wrote a letter to "The Times." Sir Henry Haworth had predicted that we, the Unionist party, should win a hundred seats. Then the Home Secretary wrote:We are strong enough to treat such foolish optimisms with disdain. Let the event make its answer to such day dreams.The event has made its answer. The brutal truth emerges that the "People's Budget," that bladder of imposture, has been pricked by the people themselves. The fundamental truth of the political situation, the one that dominates every other issue of the election, is that we have not got a majority for the Budget in the House of Commons. Can anyone deny that? Is there one man in the House bold enough to say that there is to-day in the 99 House of Commons a majority for the Budget? There is not one. Then what is there left to discuss? The Lords referred the Budget to the people. You lost, counting the Irish Independents, 116 seats on this specific issue—that is 232 on a Division. Besides that, but for the Irish vote in England you would have had twenty seats fewer. I will set that off against the plural vote. Is there one member of the Nationalist Party who will dare to get up in this House and say, "My Constituents want the Budget"? Is there one who will say "I support the Budget on its merits"? There is not one. One branch of the Coalition party was claimed by the Leader of the Labour party to be the godfather of the Budget, while another branch of the coalition cannot find one man who dare stand on the public platform in Ireland and say "I support the Budget." Quotations on points like this are always a little wearisome—I sometimes think more embarrassing than wearisome—but I will ask the indulgence of hon Gentlemen for a very short one. The Leader of the Irish party, on the Second Reading of the Budget said:—This Budget is bad and oppressive. It inflicts on the people of Ireland a cruel additional burden, and it inflicts it on the poorest population in any part of the Empire.Well, the House of Lords has saved you from that. Why do you not put a statue of the House of Lords on Parliament Green? The people of Ireland are not going to have this bad and oppressive Budget because the House of Lords have given them an opportunity of opposing it. On the Third Reading he said:—I object to the Budget because it is unjust to Ireland.He also told us a few days ago, in his memorable speech made at Dublin:—If Home Rule is put on one side, I shall fight the Budget.In other words, he still tells the House that it is equally oppressive. What follows from that?
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
Does the hon. Gentleman tell me that is in favour of the Budget? The hon. Member agrees with me that every member of the Irish Nationalist party of both branches are against the Budget. Are they going to vote for it on its merits? If they gave a vote on its merits the Budget would be dead, and we know also that the Budget is dead, because the Leader of the Irish party is bound by what he has said. He 100 has told us perfectly clearly that if the Prime Minister proposes to pass the Budget into law and then adjourn, "I do not care for how long or short"—mark those words—"the consideration of the veto, that is a policy that Ireland cannot and will not uphold."
The Prime Minister told you with every circumstance of defiance that is what he is going to do. Are you going to oppose him? If the Irish Members do not uphold the Government, the Government cannot uphold themselves, and if their stalwart and faithful allies the Labour party cannot uphold them, we are face to face with this position. The Government say to the Leader of the Irish party, give us 70 votes in the House of Commons and 20 English seats and we will give you another General Election. They are asked to swallow the Budget now—bad and unjust—on the chance that after eight months of impotence and discredit you may win another election. That is the offer they make. The Leader of the Irish party himself, in the earlier House of Lords crisis—I recommend this to the attention of the House—gave us an adequate reason why no party was as willing in Ireland to abandon the substance for the shadow. I ask your attention to what the Leader of the Irish party said:—It is positively amusing to read the facile prophecies of early destruction that are hurled at the House of Lords. One would imagine that it was one of the easiest things in the world to pull down altogether, or fundamentally modify, an institution which is almost as old as the English Monarchy itself, which has survived the vicissitudes of centuries, which occupies so large a place in English history, and which still, beyond all question, enjoys, deservedly or not, the confidence of millions of the English people… Does anyone really believe that, without another revolution, the House of Lords could be abolished within the next fifty years? And does anyone really believe in the possibility of another revolution within the same period, directed against a fundamental part of a Constitution under Which England has grown to be a first-class Power, and English liberty has been irrevocably established. But it may be said that it would not be so gigantic or lengthened an operation to take away its veto. Perhaps not; but one thing is certain, that even this reform could not be effected without convulsing England from end to end, without such a popular agitation as that country has not witnessed since the days of the Corn Laws, and without repeated and successful appeals to the country.I will concur in that view of the Leader of the Irish party that you cannot even deal with the veto except after a number of repeated appeals. Am I going too far when I say that, by common consent, by the vote of this House, the Budegt is doomed? What emerges from that? The electors do not want what one Minister describes as the Magna Charta of democracy. The electors do not want what one Minister spoke of as the largest social 101 revolution for twenty years. They do not want to ask themselves the question—the penetrating and tremendous question—it is not how much have you got, but where did you get it from? They do not want just a copper for old age pensions. They do not want a share in the Westminster blackmail. They spoke in favour of the Budget in the country, they declaimed to them, and some of them have even sung to them—God made the land for the people.Why should we be beggars with the ballot in our hands.Hon. Gentlemen have tried this question, and the result, I tell them plainly, is that they are beaten, and beaten on a naked issue of class hatred, wickedly promoted for their own purposes. Let me ask this, as we have reached common ground within the present House of Commons—[Laughter]—at any rate, I offered to give way for any Member from Ireland to say that he is in favour of the Budget, and if they are not in favour of the Budget will anyone dispute that a majority of the House of Commons is opposed to the Budget? I repeat, whether you like it or whether you do not like it, it is common ground that the Budget does not enjoy the support of the majority of the House of Commons. Following that political conclusion into the constitutional inference, I say that a majority of the House of Commons is to-day opposed to the Budget. Where is your great case against the House of Lords coming from? Is the suggestion that if the people did not want the Budget the House of Lords were not justified in referring it to them? Is that the constitutional suggestion? Is there any of the democrats who sit on the benches opposite who will make himself responsible for that proposition—that if it be the fact that the result of the election has shown that a majority of the constituencies did not desire the Budget the House of Lords were not abundantly justified? Do you think it at all likely that the electors are going to give you exclusive power, when they had corrected you once, it may be to pass another Budget which they do not want? The truth is, hon. Gentlemen opposite have dug a pit, and have fallen into it themselves.
I say here deliberately that the lesson of the four months through which we have recently passed is that the Budget was conceived, and was pressed forward, simply and solely to trap the House of Lords. 102 The plan was an extremely subtle, ingenious, and bold one, and as far as the Chancellor of the Exchequer is concerned I say here deliberately, and I am sorry that he is not here while I say it, that he wished the House of Lords to throw the Budget out, because he thought the Budget was strong enough to smash the House of Lords. There is not one who has followed as most of us have the controversies of the last three months, will deny that it is a legitimate inference to draw from the whole of the speeches of the Chancellor of Exchequer that it was his strong desire that the House of Lords should throw the Budget out. It is curious to notice even on this elementary question of good faith the Cabinet cannot speak with one voice. This charge was made in the House of Lords on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill when Lord Crewe said:—It has been said in Debate that there has been a sinister kind of conspiracy—a plot to lure your Lordships into an impossible position. Perhaps I may be permitted to say I am in a good position to judge if that is so, and I think I can show you it is not so, breaking no Cabinet confidence in doing it, when I say that the great majority of my colleagues, including, unless I am mistaken, the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, have been infinitely more sanguine than I have been all through that your Lordships would pass the Finance Bill, and it was only at a recent date that they recognised the possibility of the action your Lordships are taking.What does the Chancellor of the Exchequer say when he gets loose in Wales? Lord Crewe said he has not entered into any plot, and then the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered a speech, which the "South Wales Daily News" states was delivered in the vernacular, at Zion Chapel, and he says:—In the end they are in the trap, and when I recall the contemptuous things said of Wales, on Welsh questions, I am glad to see that it is a Welshman who set the trap. We have caught the large rats at last.If there are any large rats in the trap they are not my political friends. I claim to have shown that, as far as their attitude in regard to the Budget is concerned, the whole case that has been made against the House of Lords has disappeared under the inexorable logic of events. The hon. Gentleman said that the trouble with the House of Lords did not commence with the Finance Bill, but existed before. No one who has sat here during the last four years is likely to be under any misapprehension in that respect. The dispute between the Commons and the Lords began with the education question. The Prime Minister at the Albert Hall made this remarkable statement just before the election on the education question:—We stand where we stood four years ago.103 That is not true, if I may say so. The Government does not stand anywhere on education; they are running away. They stood four years ago on the short and simple platform, No priests in the school, no Rome on the rates. Dr. Clifford, a pathetic advocate of a betrayed cause, made 60 speeches at the last General Election on behalf of the same lost cause. Why, what has happened since then? Liberal candidates all over England have been promising to Roman Catholics those very rights on behalf of which we in the House of Lords insisted four years ago.
We have a Liberal representative from Liverpool in the House of Commons today. We do not often have this, and let us make the most of him. I commend him to the Front Bench as a loyal supporter. The Prime Minister stated that the Liberal party on the education question stands where it stood four years ago. What does this loyal supporter, the only Liberal left in Liverpool, say? He says to the Roman Catholics at a meeting, with tears in his eyes, "Your schools are my schools. If the Government introduces their old Education Bills again I will promise to vote against them." This is the first great quarrel with the House of Lords, the education question, and the House of Lords are to be destroyed because they have insisted on those rights for Roman Catholic schools which those of you who sit on those benches opposite, and who listen to me, have been tumbling over yourselves to give in the last few weeks.
Another singular circumstance, and one well worthy the attention of those who are tracing the history of this constitutional development, is this: There actually sits in this new House of Commons, which was to pursue the same old educational policy, there actually sits to-day a denominational majority, a majority against every one of those Bills. There is not one of them that you dare introduce. There is not one that could live through one Division in this House of Commons if you did introduce it. Are the Irish party going to help you, do you think, when they can prevent it, to pass one of those Education Bills? Are we going to help you, and if we do not how are you going to pass them? And that was the first ground of quarrel with the House of Lords. On education that began, and it ended with the Budget, and, as I have told you, you were beaten on the Budget, and I tell you now, in this new House of Commons, you are beaten on education.
104 I draw this final conclusion, which I think must be assented to by men of common sense to whatever party they belong. Stop talking about a crisis; there is not one. Do not talk about a revolution; it is only making yourselves ridiculous. All you have got to do is to obey your orders, obey the mandate of the people, and there is no crisis. The mandate of the people is—[An HON. MEMBER: "On the House of Lords"]—that they are opposed to the Budget.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
Perhaps the silvery eloquence of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. John Ward) would be able to do more with the Leader of the Irish party than the Prime Minister has. Until he has done so I repeat the verdict is against the Budget. I claim to have demonstrated that.
§ Mr. JOHN WARD
I did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I never said a word, and therefore I should like to know why this offensive remark.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
Of course I withdraw what I have said. I regret I should have said that he had a silvery voice.
If, as every single man in the House knows, and as the Leader of the Irish party declared last night, this Budget cannot be carried, what are the practical alternatives before the Government? The Government or the Irish party may force an immediate election. I will undertake to say that there is not a single Member of the House, wherever he may sit, who wants an immediate election. If that is so, is there no way in which such a result may be avoided? It can be avoided if the Government drop the controversial parts of the Budget—and they may choose whether they will drop them or be beaten on them. If they drop them, and address themselves to those schemes of social reform of which they are always talking, but for which they never do anything; if they devote themselves to the reform of the Poor-Law, which they have told us is one of the most urgent questions of the day; or if they attempt to improve the conditions of those slums about which Ministers on the platform are never tired of talking—there is not a single reform of that class which the House of Lords will reject. There is not one of them which within any recent period the House of Lords has rejected.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
The hon. Member knows as well as I do that the House of Lords did not throw out that Bill.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
That Bill was not thrown out by the House of Lords; it was dropped in pique by the Government. At any rate, the capital choice is either two or three useful years of social legislation without another election, or ten years of constitutional convulsion, with a number of elections. From my heart I hope the Government will choose the first of those courses, though I confess, as a party man, I could desire that they should choose the second, because I know that the business community will never tolerate the kind of convulsion which is the only attraction the Government can give them. If the Government go to the tradesmen and business men of England and say, "We offer you another election, but can give no guarantee that it will not be followed after a short interval by yet another"—if that is the policy of the Liberal party, I place on record my belief that in that policy it will find its permanent sepulchre.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
It must be very fortunate for His Majesty's Government that they have at last obtained advice from the hon. and learned Member (Mr. F. E. Smith). There must be at least some hope for them now that he has tendered them his impartial opinion. I understand that he advises them as a man of heart and as a man of party. As a man of heart he advises them to go on; but as a man of party he advises them to have an immediate appeal to the country. I need not follow the hon. Member through the whole of his oration, but to say that the Government has obtained a majority upon a false issue is not, I think, an accurate representation of what has taken place. It might, however, have been left in that form, bat unfortunately the hon. Member gave his reasons for the conclusion at which he had arrived, and one has only to look at the reasons he gave to come to the conclusion that the hon. Member is entirely wrong. He has ignored what played the most prominent part in the election, namely, the House of Lords question. I doubt very much whether he is right upon his Budget point. The House of Lords appealed to the people of the country, and 106 if the votes of the people are counted up I believe there is a majority in the country generally in favour of the Budget. But whether that be so or not, there is undoubtedly a majority in favour of the limitation of the veto of the House of Lords. I know it is a fine rhetorical device to say, "You are beaten; You are beaten"—to say it three times and almost to believe it. The real answer is, Where does the hon. Member and his friends sit? They are sitting on the left of the Chair, and we are sitting on the right of it; and as soon as they can beat us they will sit on this side. In the meantime they would do better, from their own point of view, to prophesy a little less and do a little more to carry their prophecies into effect. One thing which "emerges," to use the hon. Member's word, perfectly clearly from this controversy is that there is as against the House of Lords a majority in this House of 125 votes. Putting aside what will be the outcome of the Budget, if the issue of the House of Lords is put before the House there will be a majority of 125. Bearing that in mind, I venture to think that one ought not to vent one's disappointment or one's vexation in reference to past controversies, or as to what certain assurances mean. The real practical question of the hour is, What is the best use that can be made of this great majority at the present moment? That is the practical question to which we, as common-sense men, have to apply our minds. The House of Lords issue is not only a reform in itself; it is a condition of all reform. Liberal party, Labour party, or Irish party—we are all united on this question, because we know that none of the reforms in which we believe have a chance of a successful issue until this question has been dealt with. In the speech of the Irish leader last night, I noticed this paragraph:—He (the Prime Minister) seemed to think that the claim put forward by some one or other about these guarantees was that lie 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.That is an impossible guarantee to have given before the last General Election. Therefore, it appears to me that the Prime Minister is doing the only thing a Prime Minister could possibly do. He is going to pass a Resolution, frame a Bill, and ask the opinion of the House of Commons upon it. Then, and then only, will it be possible to get the guarantees of which the Irish leader spoke last night.
107 It appears to me that that is a conclusive answer on that branch of the case. To some of us it does not matter whether this House of Commons lasts six weeks or six months or a year. We shall come back, as we have been in the habit of doing for some years past. At the same time I would appeal to the Irish leader not to waste the opportunity which has been put into the hands of the present House of Commons. Here is a majority; here is an opportunity; here is a Parliament. If this Parliament is destroyed before it tackles the question, it will mean at least a delay of one Parliament, even if we win the next election. If we are then defeated, it will mean a delay of two or three Parliaments before the question is dealt with. Therefore it is in the interests of all the progressive sections of the House that the best use should be made of the opportunity now in our hands. We may differ upon matters of detail in connection with the Government policy, but there can be no difference of opinion upon the main lines of what should be done. The financial situation must be straightened out and put right; then we have to deal with the question of the veto; and when that Bill has been introduced and passed, then will be the time for this House to express its view upon the question. I speak only as a private Member, but it seems to me, upon the authority of the Irish Leader, that it is not until that Bill has passed through this House that a constitutional Prime Minister can ask from a constitutional Sovereign any guarantees for its passage into law. If that is so, I submit that all members of the Liberal party, as well as all members of the Labour party and of the Irish party, ought to concentrate their efforts upon this reform, knowing that until that concentration is put in operation, not only will the veto of the House of Lords be active, but that by its continued activity we shall be deprived of the great measures of reform upon which we have set our hearts.
§ Mr. WILLIAM O'BRIEN
After the frank exposition of the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes) we know now where the Labour party stand. As they are believers in the Budget I quite understand their position. I am sorry to have to differ from the hon. and learned Member (Mr. F. E. Smith), who thinks that the Leader of the Irish party was equally explicit last night. When the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Redmond) began I hoped that he had 108 at last really crossed the Rubicon, and that we would have to thank him for saving Ireland from the Budget. But I soon found that he had only half crossed the Rubicon, though he is certainly to be congratulated on the agility, if not upon the dignity, with which he managed to scramble back to pretty safe Ministerial ground before he finished. For my part I knew as little of where the hon. and learned Member stands when he finished his speech as I did when he began, and I strongly suspect that he is in the same predicament himself. With the practical upshot of his speech last night may be, whether it will do most damage to himself or to the Government, or whether it will end by landing both of them in the ditch together, I cannot undertake to guess. But certainly at first blush it looks as if a thing had happened which has happened, I am afraid, generally in the hon. Member's diplomatic encounters with the Government—namely, that the Government have got the substance and that he has got the shadow. The Government, for the moment at all events, have got their majority, and I am afraid their Budget, while the hon. Member for Waterford has, so far as I know, got nothing except a Resolution of a character with which we in this House are very familiar. The only other thing that Ireland has got is a sort of post obit for Home Rule on the death of the House of Lords, which would, I am afraid, in the City be considered rather shadowy security. What may be noticed in Ireland chiefly about that speech is that from beginning to end the hon. Gentleman, holding a great position, as he unquestionably does as the Leader of the Irish party, never uttered one word of thoroughgoing condemnation of that Budget against which the whole feeling of Ireland is rising. On the contrary, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), who was the chief plenipotentiary in the recent negotiations with Downing-street, explained a few days ago in that eminent organ of British public opinion, "Reynolds' Newspaper," what the brilliant strategy of his party and his friends was. He said:—The policy of Irish Members is not so much hostility to the Budget as hostility to the tactics of bringing the Budget in first and the Veto Bill second.Well, that is a candid confession. It is a confession that in a crisis, when the fate of the Government to which he has just pledged the Irish vote is at stake, that the action of the representatives of Ireland is based not upon saving Ireland from the crushing weight of Imperial taxation but 109 upon a schoolboy game of tactics as to whether we are to have first or second a Bill which, I think, very few men in this House will say has the ghost of a chance of passing into law this Session or in this Parliament. And that is the brilliant point upon which the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool and his Leader are, apparently at all events, willing to sacrifice the life of the Government which they have done so much to bring into existence and to keep there. Whether or not that is the meaning of the speech last night I cannot undertake to say dogmatically. It may mean that, or it may mean anything else. I commiserate the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford on the cleft stick—to plagiarise the phrase of the Attorney-General for England—in which he has placed himself. He has on one side the rising tide of Irish opinion against this Budget. But, on the other hand, he cannot, he dare not, throw off his Old Man of the Sea, the "Freeman's Journal," which until a week ago actually scoffed at the notion that there should be any difficulty from the Irish about swallowing this sound democratic Budget! It was only last Sunday that another member of the Irish party in a public speech in Ireland said: "For his part he considered the present Budget was about the decentest Budget that was ever introduced as far as it affected Ireland as a whole." I notice that the hon. Gentleman did not respond to the challenge of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Liverpool a while ago when he invited any representative of the Irish people in this House to stand up and defend the Budget. Now this is a matter most germane to this subject, and to the attitude of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford. The "Freeman's Journal," which is so willing to swallow—that Ireland should swallow—this Imperial Budget has a Budget of its own. It has a deficit in its own budget considerably more disastrous even than that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The last annual report of the directors of the "Freeman's Journal" shows—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] It is the question, as I will show you in a moment, for the "Freeman's Journal" has been at the bottom of the mischief of the Irish question. The directors' report of the "Freeman's Journal" just issued shows that its profits, which two or three years ago were from £12,000 to £13,000, have now sunk to £211, leaving the directors in the awk- 110 Ward predicament of not having a penny to pay their Ordinary shareholders or even their 6 per cent. Preference shareholders. That report is in its way as eloquent a commentary as the recent Irish elections themselves as to what the Irish people think of the Budget and what they think of the whole sinister work of the anti-conciliationists in Ireland for the past six years. That paper has been the principal organ of the politicians who wrecked the fair prospects of Ireland in the great treaty of peace in 1903, and who have now succeeded in killing land purchase in Ireland, and who did their best to muzzle the Irish opposition to the Budget. The shareholders of the "Freeman's Journal" and their political chiefs are now reaping the reward in the state of things, as I have said, in which the "Freeman's Journal" has not a single penny to divide amongst its shareholders, and which has involved the Leader of the Irish party himself, as shown by his banquet speech in Dublin. In that speech he made this remarkable confession:—At a moment's notice, at my request, throwing aside all business of his own, he (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) went to America, and told our people there that we had no means to fight the General Election. What was the result? Over £10,000. I tell you here—there is no reason why we should not be perfectly frank—that the Irish Nationalist party would have been bankrupt at this election had it not been for the success of his mission.The Irish people at home have always been lavish in their sustentation of every man that they believed to be doing honourable, good, and single-minded labour for the Irish cause. They refused these gentlemen the means of fighting the last General Election. Those means were got in America. But how? And why? By lauding to the skies before American audiences that same great scheme of land purchase which they themselves when in Ireland denounced as a landlord swindle and as the harbinger of national bankruptcy. The bankruptcy has very nearly arrived, but, I am glad to say, it will not be the bankruptcy of the Irish farmers, or the Irish nation. We have heard a great deal in Ireland of late of the boast that the Irish party possess the balance of power in the affairs of this Parliament. Yes, Sir. How are they now proposing to exercise that balance of power? By making straight the paths of a Government who have already put an end to land purchase outside the congested districts in Ireland, and who are now proposing to impose upon Ireland a coercion Budget—for that is what it is! One thing I must add, 111 that it is all the more wrongful and hateful because it comes from a Ministry, and undoubtedly from a party, that I do believe, and have ever believed, did honestly mean well to Ireland, but who have allowed themselves to be deceived as to Ireland's interest; I am sorry to say by Ireland's own representatives. Some of us make no disguise of the fact that the principal business that brings us into this Parliament—the only effectual thing of any sort or kind that we hope to be able to do—is to rid Ireland of the Budget, so far as the Land Taxes and Spirit Duties are concerned. But as to Ireland holding a balance of power—I do not believe it. I am sorry to say that I believe it is rather a question of balance of powerlessness, rather than the balance of power upon all sides, and that this General Election has simply ended in a stalemate. It has brought together a House of Commons which really can do little or nothing effectually except to terminate its own existence, and proceed to another General Election. But this is a form of happy despatch that no party in this House is at all eager to hasten. The one thing the representatives of Ireland have the power beyond all doubt to do in this Parliament is to deliver Ireland from the Budget, which in my humble judgment, at all events, would make Home Rule a curse instead of a blessing to Ireland if it were to be based upon an Imperial scheme of taxation of £13,000,000 or £14,000,000 a year. Beyond all doubt the Irish party have the power to kill the Budget.
If the hon. and learned Member had only persisted in his brave words in Dublin, if we were to have not merely an academic resolution, but if we were to have a Veto Bill first, well, all I can say is I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be waiting pretty long for his Irish taxes if we really were to wait until the House of Lords veto were abolished. But unfortunately the hon. and learned Member, with a clerity that is much more startling to the innocent British public than it is to some of us at home, went to Canossa, or, at all events, went to Downing Street, and found salvation; and, so far as I can judge, the net practical result for Ireland is that we are promised that we shall catch various larks when the sky falls and when the House of Lords is rooted out of the Constitution of England; but in the meantime the effect of the exercise of Ireland's balance of power in this Parliament is that by Ireland's own act we 112 are saddled with a scheme of Imperial taxation which, in my humble judgment, would not only ruin any Irish National Government hereafter, but is the most gross and flagitious breach of the Act of Union.
The representatives of Ireland are now invited to become themselves the active, or, what would be still more ignominious, the passive, consenting party to this Budget. That I for one will never be. If there are Irish Members who, following their own consciences, are willing to do it, all I say is I do not envy them the responsibility nor the penalties that will soon follow. I make no disguise about this. If Home Rule were anything like a practical certainty in this Session, or in this Parliament, as a price for the Budget, I think the whole of us from Ireland would be inclined to submit to very great pecuniary sacrifice. Is there anybody behind me who differs from that? The difference between us is that this is not a question between Home Rule and the Budget, and it is not a question of the Budget plus Home Rule, but it is a question of the Budget without any genuine practical possibility of Home Rule in this Parliament. Will anybody really seriously deny that? The hon. and learned Gentleman demanded guarantees. Of course there are guarantees that the Government would spend this Session passing a Veto Bill through the House of Commons, but where are the guarantees that the opposition of the House of Lords would be borne down? The Prime Minister, with great courage and frankness, last night said they had not been received nor asked for, and would not be asked for I wish it to be clearly understood that I do not blame the Prime Minister nor impugn his good faith. I am sorry to say I was afraid that it was Irish advice that led the Government into the two frightful blunders they have committed in Ireland—firstly putting an end to the great process of land purchase, and, secondly, in trying to impose upon Ireland a Budget which is really to a large extent practically undoing the greater part of your work in Ireland for the last twenty-five years.
I have no hesitation in saying that Ireland would not have suffered both these misfortunes if her representatives did not wait for the general election to go to Downing Street, but if they had gone there last year and told the Chief Secretary, and told the Chancellor of the Exchequer in plain English that Ireland 113 would not stand the Budget, and would not stand the financial clauses of the Land Act of last year. Again, let me say I do not at all find fault with the Government for having done what undoubtedly was their constitutional duty almost, that is to say, being guided by the advice of the representatives of Ireland. I have no doubt in my mind the Prime Minister and the great mass of the Liberal party would quite willingly give us a great measure of national self-government if they could do it. Unfortunately, they cannot, and in any conceivable circumstances before us at this moment, so far as this Parliament is concerned, any promise upon the subject, in my humble judgment, must remain simply glowing promises of the romantic future. In my mind the Government were treated not at all too fairly in reference to this, as I think they were treated equally unfairly in reference to land purchase in Ireland. The only effect in forcing their hand upon the very eve of a General Election has been both to injure Home Rule and to injure the Liberal Government of the country; to arouse again in Ulster prejudices and passions that were fast dying away, and, perhaps worst of all, to force a good many Unionist statesmen to take up a position of antagonism which it is just possible that in other conditions some of them would not have been too eager to assume. Some of our friends, I think rather foolishly, have been boasting that Home Rule was forced to the front during the General Election. Yes, that is so; but they forget unfortunately the circumstance that it was not the friends of Home Rule, but the enemies of Home Rule in the Unionist Press and party who found it to their interest to force it to the front and to keep it there.
None of us in Ireland would doubt for a moment the loyalty of the Labour party to the cause of Home Rule, to which the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes) made reference. We are full of gratitude to the Labour party for their action and for their efforts on behalf of Ireland. But I am sorry to say I am afraid there is a great deal of truth in the party taunt that the Leader of the Opposition threw across the floor last night that there was no prominent man upon the Treasury Bench who fought under Home Rule colours at the General Election outside the Irish sphere of influence. I do not at all blame them; I simply note the fact. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General (Sir William Robson) taunted me with 114 being willing to relegate Home Rule to the problematic future. I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman will excuse me for reminding him that some of my Friends and myself have gone through a great many more years in this struggle than he has, and in our humble judgment Home Rule was a question that would have peaceably worked itself out, no matter under what name, no matter under what guarantees, if the combination of all classes and creeds in Ireland which produced the great measure of 1903 for the abolition of landlordism had only been suffered to complete its work. If this House had it in its power, as I am sure the Liberal party have it in their will, to get rid of the veto of the House of Lords, it would save us many anxious days, and perhaps years of labour and of delay, which would be exceedingly beneficial, but it would be most unwise for the Irish people to take up the position which certain of their most prominent representatives have taken up, that Home Rule was an impossibility until the abolition of the House of Lords is accomplished. I do not believe that. If that were so some of us who have grown grey in this struggle would have to live to a very patriarchal age indeed to be in at the finish. I am told that the House of Lords is the only obstacle to Home Rule. Well, I say candidly that I regard this Budget as a more serious obstacle than the House of Lords to Home Rule and to the success of Home Rule.
The House of Lords has been opposed, of course, to Home Rule; it is opposed to every movement in the way of reform until a certain momentum of popular pressure comes behind them. But there is no use in disguising the fact that our trouble with the House of Lords is not that they threw out Home Rule, but it is that the country endorsed their rejection of it, and in saying that I am simply plagiarising the words of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford himself. In the same speech from which the hon. Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) made some quotation, the hon. and learned Member said:—The House of Lords have not the power to-day to withstand the declared will of the people; they have never done so. Let the popular will be first emphatically declared in favour of any popular reform, and the House of Lords must, as they have always done in the past, bow to the popular will.And here comes in my plagiarism:The rejection of the Home Rule Bill by the Lords, so far from being protested against, has been justified.115 He meant, as I do myself, regret for the unwise decision of the English people at that time. I adopt every word of that quotation, and I venture to say that that declaration represents the hon. and learned Member for Waterford of real life as contrasted with the hon. and learned Member for Water-ford of the Parliamentary sketch. In my opinion it would be a most profound mistake for the British people to base their claim for Home Rule solely upon the abolition of the House of Lords. A good many of us—I think a great and growing number of us—are willing to base our hopes of Home Rule more largely upon the two peoples than upon the two parties, and we base our hopes upon a combination of the best men in those two English parties and upon the reconciliation of our own Protestant fellow-men in Ireland. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Abraham?"] He is a Protestant who represents himself and no other Protestants in Ireland. I venture to say that although the extirpation of passion and prejudices of centuries' growth cannot be the work of a day or a year, it is going on at a most amazing rate, and it is going on in spite of a great many discouragements from our own side. If we drop those discouragements from our own side and put down any attempt to refer to one-fourth of the Irish race as our hereditary enemies, Cromwellian ruffians or Orange dogs, I have not a shadow of a doubt that the average Irish Protestant would be no more an enemy of a sound national measure of domestic self-government than he was an enemy to the abolition of landlordism the moment we showed him that these things could be arranged amongst Irishmen themselves without any injustice to Irishmen.
The last observation I want to make is in reference to a charge that was made against me by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool in that same illustrious organ of public opinion, "Reynolds's Newspaper." The charge the hon. Member made against me is that I have come into this Parliament as an anti-Liberal. It is quite true that I am a little more free to become an anti-Liberal if I think it is for the interests of Ireland than the hon. Member who made this charge against me. I do not think the hon. Member's worst enemies will suspect him, even amidst all the alarms and excursions to Downing Street of last week, 116 of any very violent anxiety to break loose from his Liberal entanglements. In the course of the last 30 years I have had a good many dealings, friendly and unfriendly, with all sorts of Governments, and certainly I can say to this hour there is not one of them to whom I owe one pin's weight in the shape of personal gratitude, because Ireland has received a liberal measure of coercion from both parties in turn. I have never allowed any little personal grievance of my own to prevent me from giving a most cordial and encouraging support to every or any English Government the moment I found them engaged in any single-minded effort for the benefit of Ireland. I do not suppose that even the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool will suggest that the late Prime Minister (Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman) was an anti-Liberal. I do not know whether he will suggest that the last Chief Secretary for Ireland was an anti-Liberal, and I do not think Mr. Bryce will deny that both Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and himself were both very cordial in agreement, just as strongly as I was, for pursuing the programme of appeasement between the various classes and creeds in Ireland which produced the great national land settlement of 1903. This had something to do with driving Mr. Bryce from the Chief Secretaryship of Ireland, as it had driven the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover before him. With regard to the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, I am sorry to say we have not been able to agree of late, but I hope he has a sufficiently keen memory to remember those days of some anxiety for him—I mean the days of cattle-driving. During the stages of the University Bill in this House I never did or said anything that was calculated to weaken his hands until he allowed himself to be beguiled into a course of procedure which I am sorry to say has killed land purchase in Ireland outside the congested districts, and until the Government propose to impose upon Ireland a weight of extra taxation, which will spell bankruptcy to any future Irish national movement.
I am afraid that hon. Members belonging to both parties in this House have yet to learn that for Irishmen there is an interest above all English party interests or prepossessions, and that is the interest of Ireland. In this rough world as long as this Parliament—and I refer to both sides of it—refuses to treat Ireland as an Imperial 117 question, you must not be surprised if we treat it as an a national question, and fight our own corner first of all. It is just possible also that both English parties have yet to learn the lesson which the genius of Mr. Gladstone taught them some 25 years ago in his historic correspondence with the present Leader of the Opposition, which is that England also has an interest of her own with respect to Ireland that is higher than any English party interest, and that is to combine the best men of both English parties in an attempt to remove the darkest stain upon the escutcheon of England, and in deserving and securing, as you may secure at any moment you please, if you go the right way about it, the genuine, permanent friendship of Ireland, a friendship that will be worth to you perhaps more than a good many "Dreadnoughts" in its influence upon the future stability and strength of this Empire. This non-party work of peace is no doubt a most thankless one, and a very unpopular one, in the electric atmosphere of the present crisis. As far as my Friends and myself are concerned, it is neither anti-Liberal nor anti-Conservative, and, whatever the consequences may be, we shall go ahead with it with the firm faith that it will yet be recognised by both English parties in this House as the very A B C of common-sense that genuine Unionism is the union of all men in the English parties and in the Irish parties in order to complete the pacification of Ireland and her incorporation, her genuine incorporation, in this Empire in spirit as well as in substance.
§ Mr. BELLOC
I rise after a peroration of great eloquence to mention a matter which has already been fully debated in this House, and there is very little to add to the reasons which can be given on one side or the other for one's vote on the Address so far as it has gone. I rise to mention and emphasise again the question of the assurances or the guarantees which the Prime Minister might have secured for dealing with the veto of the House of Lords. The greater part of those whom I am addressing are organised in parties. The Labour part of the audience I am addressing are still prepared to take their opinion and to cast their votes not from their own constituencies or in accordance with their own judgment, but from certain mechanical organs of party leadership. Upon this question I happen to stand altogether aside. If those who lead the Liberal party say that the export- 118 Tation of capital from this country is good for England I differ from them, and if the Leader of the Opposition is under the impression that he can put a considerable tariff upon a, staple article of import without affecting its price I differ from him. So far as my own convictions are concerned, and so far as the mandate of my own Constituency is concerned, the omission of the guarantees to which I have referred from the King's Speech makes the whole thing a piece of party sham, unworthy alike of the defence which it will receive and of the energetic attack which it has received I and will receive from the other side. I therefore base the difficult action I am taking—and this I wish to specially emphasise—upon the fact which no one who reads what was said on the hustings at the last election can doubt, that though I am occupying perhaps a unique and an individual position, at any rate a position which will bring very few men to my side in this Debate, yet I am speaking for a great body and a great weight of opinion in the country. Of that there is no doubt at all. I will give you an example of what I mean by the way in which something of sham and humbug must attach to a procedure grown so out of touch with realities. I put down upon the paper an Amendment, and I had intended to press that Amendment to a Division. It was an Amendment to the Address, put, I think, in the simplest language, and it was to the effect that we—myself—humbly regretted that there was no mention in the King's Speech of assurances given to His Majesty's Ministers that the measure for limiting the power of the House of Lords would, if passed in this House, become law. That, if English means anything, is equivalent to saying that we regretted that there was nothing in the King's Speech that could give us confidence that our labours would be of the least use. Such is the party system that it is absolutely certain that the Amendment will never be discussed, and absolutely certain there will be no decision on the one point which would divide men, and on the one point on which the electors want us to divide. We had it before on the matter of Chinese labour. [Cheers.] You may very well cheer, though why you should cheer the vices which you possess in common with your opponents I cannot see. I may tell the Opposition that if I have the honour of being in the House when they begin their Protection business I shall have the time of my life. On the matter of Chinese 119 labour we saw just the same thing. There were many men probably on both sides who thought that agitation was ridiculous and hypocritical, proceeding from men who had no sufficient knowledge of South Africa. There were others, and I was one of them, who thought that this example of moving great bodies of men thousands of miles, with all the aid of a great capitalist Government, for the use and purpose of a little group of capitalists was a thing to be wiped out. I thought that, and the great mass of the electors thought that, but there was no Division upon it. How many men have said to me, with a curious and simple look in their eyes, Why was there no Division? Sometimes I have laboriously tried to explain it, but the day has passed for anything except satire against a thing of that astonishing character. You cannot explain to people the depth to which the system has sunk. We shall have no guarantee. That is the only point in our Debates, and the only thing on which people are waiting to hear us. Since we cannot have a Division, let us have a few speeches. There are some—I among them—who desire that the power of the House of Lords, as at present constituted, the power to change, or, at any rate, greatly to modify, and, above all, to destroy the legislation of a popular and representative Assembly, should disappear altogether. There are many who may think it no more than a party programme, nothing more than a text upon which to speak, and there are many who may think it a matter of some importance but not of vital importance. There are some, however, and I am one of them, who do regard it as a matter of vital importance and think it is a point which will be dealt with, I will not say ad nauseam because that is Latin, and I must not use the English equivalent because it would be out of order, but which will be dealt with, I do not know for what length of the summer and possibly the autumn, during which time we shall have ample opportunity of saying what we think and really wearying the English people with our details. I will briefly say why there are some of us who do genuinely desire this reform. That here is a political ideal, that a democrat, a man who thinks the nation is healthier when it is free and the citizens make its laws, goes without saying, but ideals of that sort belong to early youth. The community in which we live is in no mood for political ideals, but we have a much more practical 120 reason, and what would seem to many a much more real reason, those of us who desire to limit the action of this body and to destroy its power of veto. In the first place, by its constitution, both in its hereditary character and in the main means of ingress to it, which is by purchase, the House of Lords is essentially a body which stands as a committee of the modern Anglo-Judaic plutocracy under which we live. I have been told by two men in this House that my conception that the Government of this country was plutocratic was a mania. One of those men was a Samuel, and the other was a Cecil. As the House is constituted it is essentially a committee for the interest of that plutocracy. It is not a committee of evil men. They are not far away; they are the relatives of perhaps a third of you, and they are the friends, more or less intimate, of perhaps half of you. They are men exactly like yourselves. Many of them are drawn from the failures of your own political system. They are not men against whom it is possible to feel the least note of anger. There is nothing we quarrel with on account of its personalities. It is on account of its constitution and the fact that wealth is the principle means, of ingress to it, and that hereditary wealth is carefully safeguarded; it is all those things combined which make the House of Lords a Committee for the protection of the interests of what I have called, I admit pedantically, the Anglo-Judaic plutocracy under which we live.
There was sent up to them two measures which did give them a small opportunity of showing whether they were what they might have been—I mean, a sort of collection taken at random of men with English traditions, and a long national ideal ready to stand behind that ideal. We sent up to the House of Lords a Bill whereby, if a member of the poorer classes infringed the rights of property three times, and was sent to prison for a period of years, there should be added to his fixed sentence five more years of isolation from human companionship, five more years of isolation from that life which one would have thought was the right of every man, and five more years of torture at the discretion of his warders and not of his judges. If that had been made a party question, the Opposition would have fought it. I fought it, and I could not get a teller. The measure went to the House of Lords, and it passed mechanically.
We sent up to the House of Lords a Bill—it is within the memory of many—called 121 the Licensing Bill, and it contained many clauses, the effect of which it was believed by experts in the matter would lower dividends in certain limited companies and would lower the value of certain types of property. It also contained clauses worrying the people in various little ways, but not touching the wealthy classes. One of those little worrying clauses was that a man or a woman could not send to or take into any place where liquor was sold a child under 14 years of age. Try to pass that in one of the modern democracies of Europe and you would have a revolution. In the country parts of England nothing of the legislation of the past Parliament was more odious to the people than that, and the House of Lords put it in. The House of Lords destroyed everything which could affect property, but they forgot there was such a thing as a man who earns a weekly wage and who might want to send his child for his supper beer, or who might be walking out with his wife and children and want to go into a place for a glass of beer. All those odious little restrictions were mechanically taken out of the Licensing Bill by the House of Lords and put in the thing which is called the Children's Charter. I am only giving those two instances. I could give hundreds of others. I would go so far as to say that there is no recent case in which the House of Lords has interpreted the mass of English feeling on any one important matter. What it does do—and this would be true of any second chamber—is this: When the country is well weary of your party debates, it turns you out, and, since the man who has his vote has got to vote for something, he votes against the people who last gave him trouble and last annoyed him. To pretend that the House of Lords stands or can stand, as constituted now, for the mass of the general national opinion is a falsehood and a folly. I would far rather trust this House in its most party moments, or even with the lawyers joined in a legal debate. Somehow or other you would have a man who in an irresponsible mood would interject a sound remark. But in the House of Lords you have a machine that grinds, and regularly grinds, in the interests, consciously or unconsciously, of the plutocratic form of Government. You may say, and there are probably many Members opposite who do say, that England is so governed purely from the habit of being so governed, and that you will never have her governed otherwise. Indeed, there are many who 122 hold that it is not a bad thing to have opposed to the demands, vague and only half-conscious, of the democratic feeling in England something which is really vivid, practical, and alert wherever mere money interests are concerned. I am quite certain there are many men who hold that view. For my part I happen to hold another view. There is an argument—I have always felt it in my heart—against the changing of anything rooted in a society so ancient and crowded with antiquities as ours. I confess, were the House of Lords a living thing, handing down something of the old feudal feelings, did it correspond in its adaptation to national life to the history of our Courts of Justice or even, in a manner more warped, to our Universities, I would hesitate to speak as I do, for, although the Universities have become the preserver of the rich, you cannot purchase your intellectual place in them, and though the Courts of Justice are largely used in defence of the interests of the rich, yet no one will deny that in the main they are trusted and respected by the body of citizens with whom they deal. But that is not the case with the House of Lords as it is constituted.
I now turn to my reasons for criticising the policy which the Prime Minister and, I presume, some of his advisers have taken up. They have chosen to bring in, after the Budget, a Bill which shall propose to reform the House of Lords and to limit its powers; to discuss it at great length and to send it up to the House of Lords, there to have it rejected, and to have an election upon it. There was an alternative policy, and that policy was framed, as democratic policies should be framed, by the mass of those who desire it. We happen to hold a strategical position of enormous importance. We could refuse Supply. That is not novel in the history of England. It is a weapon which was invented in England. It is a peculiarly English idea, and it is an intensely practical one: "If you will not give me that which I desire you shall not have any money." The Prime Minister tells us he did not ask for guarantees, and he said it would have been impossible to obtain them. But would it have been impossible for him to resign? I will not talk of keeping a pledged word in a matter of this sort. I know you are playing a game: it is not the same as if you were dealing with one man. You treat it in a Pickwickian sense; you deal with it as a 123 matter of tactics. But you had an immensely strong strategical position. If the majority were not to be allowed to rule, why not let the minority try their hands at it? They say we have not a majority of 124; let them see whether or not we have. Put them in office, and see how their Administration would work. Obviously, that was the straightforward course, but it was not undertaken, and because it was not undertaken I cannot help expressing my conviction—which I will not attempt to qualify—that there is no intention of destroying—as it should be destroyed—the power of the other House. And I believe that those responsible for framing this policy think in their heart of hearts that the defeat which they will certainly suffer after having sufficiently wearied the people is better for the country.
We are surrounded in these islands by great rivals, and the old system of society is being rapidly, peaceably, and efficiently changed. It is impossible, in-fact, for society long to withstand the strong demand for social and democratic reforms. These reforms—which will make men less servile, and will bring about better means of production and distribution—will cost money, which can only be provided by means of a Budget such as that which the House of Lords threw out last year, and which that House was careful not only to reject but to denounce in the most bitter terms. You will have to tax the rich. There is no conceivable way of transforming society short of confiscation—direct confiscation. You are not going to finance these operations without a considerable increase of taxation to which the wealthy classes are unused; which they will regard as spoliative, and in regard to which they will offer organised opposition. There will be only one barrier—but it will be a strong one—between the accomplishment of these ideals and their failure, and that barrier will be a partially reformed House of Lords—possibly a stronger House than the present one, reorganised after careful debate by men of the very rank from which it is recruited, and granted new powers which will enable it to prevent the imposition of those heavy and novel taxes which, in my opinion, must be laid on the wealthier classes if we are to hold our own in the world's competition. May I express my regret at the attitude taken up by the Labour party. Their strategy, no doubt, is sincere, but 124 in my opinion it is unwise. They may think it good tactics and good discipline, but let me tell them that in the art of war there is one rule more than any other it is well to observe, and that is when you have your enemy smash him. We held the two ways—one we have abandoned, the other is turned.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MOORE
I have listened with much interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Cork, and I know he has only expressed to-day what he has publicly said on many other occasions in Ireland—his desire that the Protestants of that country should be tempted into the Home Rule scheme which he advocates. I wish to put before the House the Irish Unionist view not only of the present position, but of the proposals of the hon. Member for Cork. I think if the Irish Unionist Protestants were to be brought into any party or combination proposing so vital a change, which would transform the Constitution under which they have been brought up, they would like to see what guarantees and assurances could be provided, that personal liberty in religion, in civil questions, and in electoral matters would be preserved to them. I must say that anyone who has watched the manner in which the Nationalist party has conducted its unhappy differences would not find, from the point of view of the Protestants of the North of Ireland, much satisfaction in the proposed change. I read in the Irish newspapers not long ago that Mr. Flynn, for many years a Member of this House, was sent down by the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) to stand for one of the divisions of Cork, but the speeches of himself and his friends were promptly drowned by the O'Brien band. If you go North you find in Monaghan, where the sitting Member was returned, the hon. and learned Member for Waterford sent down the Member for Galway to conduct a peaceful convention there. What was his reception? He emerged from the meeting with a black eye and a fractured jaw. I have no doubt that every Member in this House recognises the ability which the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy) brings to Debates in this House, and what absolute independence of thought and action he always possesses. He is an asset in the public life of Ireland, and yet we Protestants in the North saw how remorselessly and relentlessly an attempt was made to crush him out of that public life and sever him from his own constituents; and when we have the hon. Member for 125 Cork (Mr. O'Brien) on one side and the hon. Member for Waterford on the other side getting up and saying, "Do come and join us," I think I am speaking for my Unionist fellow-countrymen and my coreligionists when I say that we are not going to give up the protection we have now under the Constitution of the United Kingdom until times amongst hon. Members become a little calmer and we have received some guarantee as to the preservation of our rights and liberties. While I differ from the hon. Member for Cork as to his ultimate aspirations for Home Rule and his contention that the Unionist opposition in Ireland is dying and weakening away, I am heartily in accordance with him as to the statement of fact that he made as to the present position in Ireland.
There is no doubt that the question of Home Rule is a question of the greatest importance to us, and that we had it brought home to us at the last election. The House is familiar with the result of the Prime Minister's appeal to the country for liberty to bring in the Home Rule principle, and hon. Members know, and their Whips know, what answer they received from the Irish Unionists. One Liberal Member is returned from Ireland by the aid and ability of his docile allies, the Nationalist party, who profess their independence. But although that is a big question for us, and will always be a big question for us, for it involves the right to live in the country of our birth, still I say as an Irish Unionist it is not the question of the hour. The question of the hour which is agitating Ireland from Giant's Causeway to Cape Clear is how we are to escape from this iniquitous, unjust and disproportionate Budget, which contains the financial proposals of the late Government and, I understand, of the present Government. They are proposals that everyone who has a penny in the country, whether he is a peasant or a Peer, denounces. They are proposals which the opinion of the country, crystallised by resolutions of public boards and those who represent the people on the county and rural councils denounces, and which have been denounced by associations of manufacturers and their employés. They are unfair to us, they are going to crush our industries, to crush our manufactures in the North, and imperil and injure the greatest industry in the country, and hon. Members below the Gangway representing the agri- 126 Cultural industry and everybody knows that, quite irrespective of class, or creed, or politics. As I say, from the beginning of these discussions, all over Ireland—north and south, and east and west—the people are up in arms against this Budget, and I do cordially agree with the statement of the hon. Member for Cork that that is the question which is agitating the country, namely, whether this Budget is going to become law or not.
In that question the whole future of Irish prosperity all over the country is bound up, and the protests against that measure are going on. You cannot take up an Irish paper and read the proceedings of boards of guardians or rural district councils without finding resolutions condemning the Budget. The Nationalist party, I am sorry to say, have adopted a conspiracy of silence, and their friends have done the same thing where it has been possible to dispose of these resolutions, as has been done on the ground that to pass the resolution, although they know people want it, is to pass a slight upon the Irish Parliamentary party. In Dublin the main leading and representative citizens sent a requisition to the Lord Mayor within the last fortnight, and they said that as the head of the citizens they asked him to give facilities for a public meeting to express the views of the citizens against the Budget. The Lord Mayor of Dublin is not an ordinary citizen, and he derives £3,500 a year from the Unionist taxpayers. What happened would not have taken place in any English town. These people who are ratepayers get an insolent answer back to the effect that the Lord Mayor of Dublin was quite content to trust the Irish Nationalist party. I do not think that is the way that the Chief Magistrate of the city should refuse a request made by representative citizens who placed their views before him on a public matter. The Lord Mayor of Dublin could burke that, but he could not burke the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, who held a large and representative meeting, and I have no doubt hon. Members received the resolution which came to our hands yesterday. The Dublin Chamber of Commerce, which is absolutely non-political and purely commercial, passed the following resolution:—The Dublin Chamber of Commerce would view with apprehension the introduction into the House of Commons of the Finance Bill of 1909, believing the same detrimental to the best interests of the country in general, and more particularly injurious to the commercial and agricultural interests in Ireland, imposing as it would, an undue proportion of taxation on that country.127 You have these expressions of opinion from all over the country, and what is the position of the Leader of the Nationalist party? There have been occasions when the action of the Nationalist party in Ireland has been criticised when they have gone through the form of convening what is called a National Convention. It was called on the Devolution Bill and in connection with other questions. They know that the Budget is the biggest question in Ireland now, and yet these gentlemen, who talk about representing Irish opinion, deliberately refrain from taking that course, although the suggestion was made again and again to have a National Convention in order to take the view of the people of Ireland whom they say they represent. They might pack a meeting, as they do many of their Conventions, and yet they know very well that a resolution against the Budget would have been carried by any meeting of Irishmen, and yet they support this scheme of diplomacy and tactics from which the hon. Member for Waterford is at present deriving so much credit. Of course, there was strategy, and, of course, there were tactics, and I think the policy worked very well from his point of view as far as it went, because instead of having a Convention which anyone would have the right to attend—and perhaps a man might put a question or act the part of heckler—instead of that they had a public dinner. A public dinner is a much more convenient way of silencing people. In the first place, you need not ask those who differ from you, and if they do differ from you at a public dinner, it is not usual for a guest to get up and ask his host a question.
The result was that where he could not be heckled or questioned the hon. Member for Waterford made this announcement that he was prepared to subordinate the question of the Budget to that of Home Rule. The statement was received with rapturous cheers from some of the guests present, but I observe that the next day the hon. Member for Waterford left Dublin for London, where he has since been. This conspiracy of silence is now being carried on as part of the tactics in the same way here. The hon. Member for Waterford said the other day that he would certainly want a discussion of the veto first. His whole idea in life is to prevent in this House, if he can, Irish Members, whether from Cork or elsewhere, discussing the demerits of the Budget, as they and their countrymen 128 know it, and that is the beginning and the end of the fantastic desire of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford to have the veto first and nothing but the veto. I have been many years in this House, and I know I am perfectly safe in saying that, sooner than have these taxes discussed, which he himself on those benches has again and again described—for instance on the 3rd of May last year and the 4th of November last year—as oppressive and unjust taxes, which it was his duty, in his own words, to his country to oppose—sooner than have these taxes thrashed out on the floor of this House, he prefers to talk about the veto or even about vivisection. It is all part of the same system. The discussion is not to be given a chance, and the hon. Member for Waterford is firm in holding that the silence which he has hitherto maintained shall be maintained in this House as well as outside it. But the fact remains that, in spite of his alliance with hon. and right hon. Members opposite, the hon. Member and his party have never voted for the Budget. They voted against the Second Reading, and when I think the hon. and learned Member said it was practically as unjust as ever, they abstained from voting on the Third Reading, and I think that is the real meaning of the position that he has taken up; and I think that if the Budget comes forward for discussion that the hon. and learned Member for Waterford will have a very evil and a very poor time of it.
It was very laughable to one who knows the country to see the hon. and learned Member now posing as a King-maker who can make and destroy parties—the great parties in the State. It would be pathetic if it were not ludicrous, because everyone in Ireland knows how his own throne is rocking. Whether it is in the North or in Louth or Monaghan, in the East, or in the West in Mayo, or the South in Cork, the tale is the same. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford said at this banquet that he rejoiced that he had 72 Members. He used to have 82 to follow him, but he said he would prefer to have 70 or 60, aye, or 50, if they were loyal and true behind him. I think he will get his ambition realised, and if he comes back with 50 after the next election he will be a more fortunate man than the public deem him. I doubt whether he will have 40, but I suppose he will make the same claim that 40 Members are more effective than the old 82, less expensive to collect subscriptions for and more desirable as a 129 party, because the smaller the party was the more united it would always be.
When I observed to-day the hon. and learned Member (Mr. John Redmond) tossing his head, as he always does, in a statesmanlike way, or what he thinks in a statesmanlike way, at remarks which are made with regard to the Irish future, I was just thinking that when he next goes to the country, if he has supported this object, if he has failed in his duty and has not done for Ireland what he is bound to do for it if he is to perform the duty that all the representatives of the country are calling on him to do, it will not be a matter of tossing his head on Irish platforms, it will be a matter of ducking it. What is all this going to end in? I never have professed any very great love or affection for the present Government or their predecessor, but I should like, seeing that they are somewhat anxious and somewhat disturbed, to give them a little grain of comfort. I think they may all sleep perfectly soundly in their beds. I think the hon. and learned Member, as long as the Government are willing to buy him, as long as they will offer him any political price, however small, will, in the end, accept it cheerfully, I was going to say greedily, but we have for many years watched the strategy, the tactics and the diplomacy of the hon. and learned Member in this House. The political dog below the Gangway is one with a very loud bark, but on practically all occasions we have found him to have no teeth, and again and again, whether it is a Land Bill or whether it is any other Bill which the Government of the day take up, if an Amendment is moved which displeases the hon. and learned Member, his infinite tact and strategy and diplomacy is always shown in this House because he says, "under no circumstances, if this Amendment is passed, would I touch the Bill, under no circumstances will I accept responsibility for it," and then it always happens that the Government put the Amendment through by their majority, and the hon. and learned Member not only gets up and thanks the Government for the Bill here, but goes home and tells the people in Ireland what a magnificent triumph he has had in wresting such benefits for them from the English Government, and I believe exactly the same thing will happen on the present occasion.
Nothing, again, I think is so amusing as the claims the hon. and learned Member makes of the independence of himself and his party. We have also watched what 130 goes on here with regard to that. In Ireland, to attain political or Nationalist salvation, you must always profess to be absolutely independent of both English parties. I remember very well, when I came to this House first, and for many years afterwards, there never was an Address to the Throne in which the hon. and learned Member, on behalf of the Irish Nationalist party, did not get up and move an Amendment to the Address, complaining of the misgovernment of Ireland under the present system. He has shown his independence since this present Government came into power during the last four years, notwithstanding, as he says, the existence of all these Irish injustices and Irish grievances by studiously refraining from putting down a single Irish Amendment to the Address, and there is not an Irish Nationalist Amendment on the Address at this moment on the Motion Paper. That is one method of showing independence. I remember very well we had an Irish Debate in this House early in 1908, and what happened after that? It was plain from the speech that the Prime Minister made that there would be no Home Rule in the late Parliament, and the hon. and learned Member went to Dublin and there was a meeting at the Mansion House, and he said "the best interests in Ireland now require that we should have an immediate General Election or one as soon as possible." How did tactics or strategy work out on that occasion? That was in April, 1908. The hon. and learned Member, in spite of that statement, never lifted a finger for the purpose; no election came for eighteen months later, and when it did come it was not due to any action of his. Why? Because in the same year he went to New York, and on 22nd September he told one American audience that at present, such was the power and influence of this independent Nationalist party that they were carrying on the Government of Ireland from a small room in O'Connell-street, Dublin, meaning the headquarters of the National League. In the same week he addressed another American audience, and he boasted of the force by which he had rescued from the British Government the right for every Irishman to bear arms. They repealed the Arms Act here. The Chief Secretary very weakly and unfortunately submitted to Nationalist dictation, and allowed that Act to lapse. That was made a proud boast, and the excuse for sending round the hat on the other side of the Atlantic.
131 Then I cordially agree with every word of the hon. Member (Mr. William O'Brien), when he said that this independent party allowed the Government to strangle land purchase. We know they did. We know what the results have been of their tearing up the settlement of 1903. I believe my hon. Friend and I are absolutely in accord with everything that the hon. Member has said in regard to that. Why should the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Redmond) attempt to force a General Election or turn the Government out when he was deriving all these benefits, when he could obtain from this Protestant Government the power to put the whole of the education of the youth in the country, with State endowment, in the hands of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Why should he complain that they strangled land purchase when all over the country he and his friends were anxious to become magistrates, and when he had the nomination of the local bench, and when his own friends on his own political organ, the "Freeman's Journal," were monthly and weekly being appointed by the Chief Secretary to every post that went vacant. That is the independence of the party, the independence of the hon. and learned Member who now comes forward and boasts of the detached, isolated, independent position of power and strength that he has taken up to threaten the King's Government. For my part I believe that sort of independence is very likely to continue. I do not believe the benefits and fruits of that sort of independence are likely to be lightly given up by the hon. and learned Member. There will be a great deal more of it, but I think if the hon. and learned Member forgets his duty to his own country, if he omits now to strike a blow against these unjust and unfair financial proposals, there will be no one who will call him more readily to account for it than the people he professes to lead—I do not mean in this House, I mean the people behind them in every part of Ireland where a Nationalist Member is now returned. The Budget is execrated, and the man that fails to do his duty to Ireland in striking a blow at it will be adjudged as he deserves, and he will pay the ultimate penalty; and, therefore, I do not think myself that the hon. and learned Member will ever have the courage to translate his bold words into action. I do not believe there is a sticking-point to which it is possible for him to screw his courage. I believe it has begun in frothy words, and it will end in the same 132 way; but, on the other hand, I do not acquit the Government of being perfectly ready and able and willing to come to some political understanding with the hon. and learned Member. When there have been understandings before between the Radical party and hon. Members below the Gangway it is always we Irish Unionists and Irish Protestants who have had to pay the price. If this transaction takes place, if there is a deal, if the Government can purchase a few more months of life by a political negotiation of that sort, we, for our own part, will be careful to see that the price which will be paid for it will not be paid at the expense of ourselves or those whom we represent.
§ The HOME SECRETARY (Mr. Churchill)
It is, I think, important at the outset of this new Parliament that we should address ourselves to the consideration of the important matters which are before us in a mood of frank and good-tempered recognition of the actual facts of the case and of the situation, and it is in that mood that I say for myself that I do not at all grudge the hon. and learned Member who has just sat down the intense feeling of enjoyment which he manifested in the exercise of his not inconsiderable gifts of sarcasm and of derision. Each party in turn, even in my short experience of the House of Commons, has periods when it is exposed to difficulties and to embarrassments, and at the present time and in the present Parliament, when neither of the two historic parties is possessed of a clear majority over all others, it is certain that whatever party is called upon to be responsible for the administration of the country will be exposed to difficulties and to embarrassments, because its existence must be affected by the decision taken by two other parties which are wholly independent of it. If private conferences are held with the Leaders of these parties suggestions are easily raised of dark and devious intrigue, and when we discuss our affairs, as we have been doing during this Debate, in public and across the floor of the House of Commons, the discussion, however much goodwill there may be behind it, is apt to engender in the mind of the House and the country the feeling that some measure of disunion may exist, or at any rate that there is a risk of some lapse of complete harmony. I do not grudge the Conservative Opposition any satisfaction which they may derive from these facts. We have not spared them ourselves in the past, and we do 133 not now ask from them either compassion or quarter. All we ask is the rigours and courtesies of debate. But I think it would be a great pity if we were to go any further in the discussion of the Debate upon the Address under any misapprehension as to some of the main facts. It has been suggested that the Budget of last year and of the last Parliament can be used as a financial lever to compel a constitutional change. That is not the case. A refusal of Supply by the House of Commons would unquestionably produce an instantaneous deadlock. There is no doubt about that. The majority of the House possesses that power at the present time, but I do not think any responsible Member of the House, wherever he may sit, would recommend the House to exercise their power of refusing the necessary supplies. That is a weapon which in bygone days could be directed against other estates of the realm, but which at the present time cannot be directed against the other estates of the realm, and could only be directed against the whole of the people. The refusal of Supply to meet the necessary expense of the Navy, the Army, of the Post Office, of school teachers, of Old Age Pensions, and of the Civil Service by any Parliament would bring our system of civilised society to abrupt and complete chaos. Of course it is always open to Parliament to reduce a Vote in Supply, because it is considered to be excessive, but to attempt to compel a constitutional change by the complete and final refusal of the main Supply of the year would in my judgment, and in the judgment of His Majesty's Government, expose those who lent themselves to it to sweeping and blinding catastrophe.
But it is suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) that quite apart from this question of Supply it would be possible to compel the Lords, or the other estates of the realm, to agree to a constitutional change by withholding the Budget, and that it is possible to use the Budget as a lever to carry the Veto Bill. The Budget would be wholly ineffective for this purpose. The failure of the Budget does not in fact prevent the Government from being carried on for an almost indefinite time if the necessary Supply is voted, so that withholding would not be effective from the point of view of compulsion. It would indeed have exactly the contrary effect. The House of Lords, I am credibly informed, disliked the Budget. I daresay 134 there is only one thing they dislike more than the Budget, and that is its author. They dislike the Budget, and the less they see of it and the longer it is delayed in reaching them the better they will be pleased, and to try to coerce the Lords to agree to our proposals about the veto by threatening that unless they come to an agreement they shall have no Budget, no Super-tax, no increase of the Death Duties, no Licence Duties, no Land Tax, and no machinery of valuation—to try to coerce them by putting pressure of that kind upon them would be an expedient so absurd that I am quite confident so distinguished a Parliamentarian as the hon. and learned Member for Waterford never harboured it effectively in his bosom. It would be as if we were to say to that other place, "If you do not do what we wish we will punish you by not doing what you do not wish." It would be as if a man were to say to another who had taken money from him, "Unless you give me back my money I will give you some more." If I had not made a resolve to be very careful not to tread on the toes of so formidable a politician as the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, I should almost have ventured to say that this suggestion for coercing the Lords had somewhat of a Hibernian flavour about it.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
There is no one in the House less inclined than myself to judge severely observations that fall from the hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. Healy). He always delights the House by his interposition in Debate. But if the Budget is no lever against the House of Lords, and if the House of Lords would rejoice exceedingly at its delay or failure, we on this side of the House would regard its loss as a damaging and possibly a mortal blow. We attach the highest importance to many of its provisions—an importance second only to the question of veto. We believe in particular that with the development of the land proposals of the Budget is wrapped up much of the progressive future of democracy. We regard the passage of the Budget as a necessary and vital signal of our victory at the polls, and we should regard its defeat as a terrible vindication of the unconstitutional 135 action of the House of Lords. We are absolutely pledged, every man of us, to do our best to drive the Budget forward. We recognise clearly and fully that summary, and even drastic, procedure will be necessary, and we shall address ourselves to that task with the utmost of our strength. The Government fully agree, however, that all parties in the House have the right to know where they are, and to say where they stand on the Veto Resolutions before a decisive Division on the Budget is taken. The delay which this will involve is inconsiderable in so far as it affects the financial situation, and even if that delay were much greater, even if it produced a sensible effect on the financial situation, it would not rest with those who have utilised the House of Lords to delay the collection of the Income Tax for three months to reproach us with this further delay that will arise.
Now I come to a graver matter. I mean the sincere fulfilment of Ministerial pledges about the House of Lords. Here again, I say that there is a substantial measure of agreement among the three Democratic parties in this House. We are in entire agreement as to the object which is in view. That object is clear and certain. The Government is bound to come promptly and finally to an issue upon its policy for dealing with the Lords and for the abolition of the absolute Veto of the Second Chamber, and it is bound to come to that issue at the earliest possible moment. That is an intention common to every statement made by Ministers and Members on this side of the House, and we think that if there is to be a crisis and deadlock that crisis and deadlock cannot come too soon. [Cheers.]
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I hope the hon. Gentleman joined in it. When the results of the last General Election became gradually apparent it was received with mingled feelings by all parties. For my part I frankly confess that I was always occupied in wondering whether the pollings as they came out day by day under the simple system of prolonged election to which we are at present wedded, gave less satisfaction to us or to our opponents opposite. We experienced a process not unlike the pulling out of teeth day by day with every circumstance of pain. I suppose our opponents experienced sensations some- 136 What similar to those of a swimmer who is swimming bravely and successfully and yet knows that he has no chance of reaching the shore. When the results of that election became apparent, two alternatives, and I think only two, were open to His Majesty's Government. Of course, we could have refused to meet Parliament as a Government. We could, in my judgment, have said, with perfect truth, without making a request to the Sovereign, that the balance of the Constitution was so unfair that we could not continue to be responsible for administration even for a day. That is a course which presented many attractions. By it we should have escaped all the labour, all the perplexities, and all the embarrassments of the present situation, and we should have transferred them by a sweep to others in an aggravated form. And by this course we should have, escaped the suspicions and the reproaches which are, I am afraid, inseparable from the undertaking of great responsibilities with only moderate powers to give effect to them. The Cabinet weighed this alternative carefully, and we came to the conclusion deliberately that it was not a wise or a courageous course for us to adopt, and it was a course which had the supreme disadvantage in our judgment that we never should have been able as a Government to state or to lay before the country in concrete form, and in definite phrasing, the main propositions of our policy for dealing with the House of Lords, and for the abolition of the absolute veto of that House. A dissolution would have, I think, swiftly come upon us, and it would have come upon us without that indispensable business having been achieved. And, speaking, if I may, as one of those who were forced to take some part in our electoral contest, I frankly admit that I should deeply regret, and should approach with many misgivings, any election which would be fought without those clear and definite proposals having been propounded which would be capable of being not merely agreed upon by leaders of parties and groups, but which would be capable of being easily grasped by great masses of the electors. We rejected definitely that alternative.
Only one other was open, namely, to place proposals before Parliament at the earliest possible moment for dealing with the House of Lords, and to take the new decision of the new House of Commons upon them. That is the policy of the Government. It is obvious that no Government can continue in office if any 137 large proportion of its supporters were to think that it or individual Members of it had broken their words. I was therefore very glad to hear from the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond) who is a severe and independent critic, that he made no such charge. I am content personally—I am deeply involved in this—with his sharply phrased but fairly stated argument. It is a statement which I should have made personally myself if I had been called upon to defend my own action. It is a statement which accepts the entire argument expressed in the House yesterday by the Prime Minister. Let me read it, if I may, with the indulgence of the House:—The right hon. Gentleman"—said the hon. and learned Member for Waterford—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 he 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.'I am content with that statement—namely, that it would be an unusual and an absurd construction to lay on the Prime Minister's carefully guarded words in the Albert Hall or on all other statements for which other Ministers are responsible, to say that they bound the hand of the Government to demand the assurance of an extraordinary exercise of the prerogative of the Crown as a condition of the continuance of the Government in office, in respect of a measure not yet announced to the new Parliament and not yet approved of by the new House of Commons, and before even it had been made certain that the Government possessed a majority for that or for any other purpose in the new House of Commons. No constitutional Sovereign I say, as the hon. and learned Member (Mr. John Redmond) has said, would consent to such a requisition, and no loyal and responsible Minister would make it. It is clear, therefore, that before any divergence can be shown or could arise between the interpretation which the hon. and learned Member for 138 Waterford put, before the election, upon the Prime Minister's Albert Hall speech and the Prime Minister's statement to the House yesterday two things of first consequence have got to happen. The first is that clear and definite proposals to deal with the Lords and to abolish the absolute veto have to be made to Parliament; and the second is that both proposals would have to receive the assent of the House of Commons by a substantial and coherent majority.
Neither of those conditions have been established yet. Both of them must be established at the earliest possible moment. It is quite possible—I do not think it likely—but it is quite possible that our proposals when they are announced to Parliament may not commend themselves to the wisdom of this new Assembly. For myself I admit that I have formed very strong opinions as to the manner in which this vast problem should be approached—opinions which, whether as a Minister or as a private Member, in office or in Opposition, I shall do my best to advance. I am not in a position, and I am not entitled, and it is not the time for stating to the House what those opinions are, but I will say this, that in the situation into which we have now come with this great Question as between the two Houses of Parliament no smooth compromises and no satisfying formulas will suffice. We have got to recur to the broad, simple principles of democratic government which are understood by all free people, and which awake a responsive echo in the breasts of millions of men. That is a matter which it is premature to discuss further to-night, but I say that both those facts—the proposals of the Government and the assent of the House of Commons thereto—must be established as the earliest possible moment, and until the decision of the new House of Commons makes manifest the will of the electors upon this the supreme issue no one can say in what quarter of the House power should reside nor who ought to be the Minister and agents responsible to this new Parliament.
Until the Prime Minister is in a position to state that he is at the head of a large majority in the House of Commons who are united in support of these proposals which we shall make for dealing with the Lords and the veto it would be idle and it would be foolish and it would not be in the interest of the cause we are seeking to advance for us to declare or prescribe the action which may follow when those 139 facts are established. A new situation will have been created, and that situation will immediately bring forward a supreme crisis of the Government. We are going to take immediate steps, subject only to the necessary financial business, to come to a final test upon this Question. Some delay is inevitable. Where every step is fraught with grave consequences and with real peril to the cause, deliberate and measured action is not merely prudent, but decent, and the House must await the proposals of the Government with patience, and meanwhile the administration of the country must proceed with smoothness and efficiency. The time will be very short. When the proposals are brought before the House we will stake our whole existence upon carrying them into law. That is the declaration of the Government. I invite the House, master as it is of its own fortunes and destiny, by carrying the necessary votes upon the Address and in Supply by adequate majorities to strengthen the arm of the Government for the supreme task which lies immediately before them.
§ Mr. WALTER LONG
The speech to which the House has just listened may be, I think, described as a brilliant one, but it is not one which makes the smallest difference in the situation, nor is it one to which anyone on this side of the House is called upon to take exception. What we are justified in saying at this juncture is this; that while nobody, as the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Churchill) had occasion to note in the course of his speech, in any quarter of the House, suggests for one instant that the Prime Minister could have been guilty of making a statement which he did not make, and using words which he did not use, we adhere to the position laid down yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Balfour), and emphasised since in almost every speech that has been made in every quarter of the House, that the language used by the Prime Minister and by his colleagues led to the adoption throughout the whole of the country of a view as to the policy of the Government which would have been entirely modified, in fact altered altogether, if the speech to which we have just listened had been delivered then; and we are entitled to ask what might have been the effect upon the election and upon the character of the numbers to which the Home Secretary referred with so much apparent satisfaction, 140 if the country had approached this Question armed with the information which they have now and which they did not have when they were called upon to vote for or against gentlemen on the other side. The Home Secretary began his remarks in courtesy and good temper, and referred to the change which had taken place in the House of Commons, a change in the numbers on both sides of the House. I do not know whether it is due to the succession to his distinguished office, on which I offer my hearty congratulations, but certain it is that those of us who were in the late Parliament, and who remember the early proceedings of that Parliament note with profound satisfaction the vast difference in the manner in which the Home Secretary has addressed the House, as compared with the earlier speeches made by him in the beginning of the late Parliament.
I hope that this change is to be continued, and I congratulate him and the House upon it. The Home Secretary told us that he did not wish to deny to us, the Opposition, the privilege of rejoicing at the discomfiture of the Government. Although many speeches have been made to-day and yesterday, I do not think that even yet we have reached a full appreciation of the position in which the Government are really placed. The Home Secretary has adjured his allies below the Gangway on both sides of the House to adopt his phrases and his formulas, and to support him. It is declared that the policy which we are going to produce in regard to the veto of the House of Lords is one which will, when revealed, command their sympathy. I am entitled to ask anybody who has followed this Debate whether there is in reality the smallest appearance of agreement, judging by their speeches, between the speech delivered by the Leader of the Labour party and the speech to which we have just listened, and one or two other speeches made on the Government side of the House. The Home Secretary has told us that it is the object of the Government to deal with the Veto of the House of Lords. Let mc say, in passing, that nobody here on this side of the House is likely to object to the controversy in which the Government are engaged. We are not parties to the quarrel as to what is the right place for the veto and the Budget. We entirely agree, and we support the Government so far as they deal with the finances of the country. And we take note of this, that it is not upon the action 141 of the House of Lords that the confusion has arisen, to which so much reference has been made from time to time in the country. It is at this moment that confusion might arise if the Government do not take the action in regard to Supply which it is proposed they should take. Therefore, in that respect, we do not disagree with them. But are they going hand in hand with those who support them, or whose support they are asking for from below the Gangway? Are they going hand in hand with them in this policy with regard to veto, and, if so, what is the value of the statements that have been made, I believe almost without exception, by hon. Gentlemen who have spoken below the Gangway, whether they belong to the Labour party or not? They have told us what they want is the abolition of the House of Lords, the entire destruction of its powers. Why do they want this? Because they believe that without it they cannot get the legislation they require. What have we been told by the Nationalist party? They desire the same drastic action with regard to the House of Lords. Why? Because they want Home Rule. For these two reasons the support of Irishmen and others was given to the Government. Who can tell to-day what the effect was upon the election, and on the decision which was arrived at? Yet, if we are to judge from the statement of the Home Secretary to which we have just listened, it is not a policy of destruction, but one of a much more moderate kind. I hope for my part that this may be so, but I cannot ignore, or pass without comment at all events, one or two remarks which were made by the Leader of the Labour party, who asked questions in respect of which there should be an answer given by the Government, but no reference has been made to them by the Home Secretary in the carefully prepared and carefully delivered speech to which we have just listened.
The Home Secretary takes credit to the Government for the line they are following in regard to the Veto, but in reference to which I think I have already shown that there is the greatest possible discrepancy between the views of the Government and the views of some of their supporters. What about the Budget itself? The Budget, we were told, whatever happened, was to be passed without the alteration of a single sentence, or a single comma, or a single line. We have heard to-day speeches from two representative Irishmen, one the Leader of the smaller branch of the 142 Nationalist party in Ireland, and the other from my hon. and learned Friend behind I me, who spoke for the Irish Unionists. They have both expressed the same convinced view that Ireland is opposed to this Budget. The evidence is available for anybody who chooses to search for it, that the feeling in Ireland is not only against the Budget, but it is of the strongest possible kind. What is the cause of the strong feeling against the Budget? It is that in Ireland they have discovered what you have tried to conceal in regard to the Budget in the rest of the United Kingdom, namely, that it is striking a fatal blow at the development of the land policy to which Ireland attaches so much importance. I believe, in regard to both their Budget policy and their veto policy, the Government are trying to do two things which are inconsistent, two things which they cannot do at the same time. They are trying to work a revolution, and they are trying at the same time to play the part of constitutional Ministers. We have been told to day why it is that this Budget finds support. We are told that it has been supported by Gentlemen below the Gangway, not because they regard it as sufficient, not because it does all or even a great part of what they want, but because it is a step in the right direction, and the beginning, after the House of Lords has been dealt with, of the way to securing greater things. In other words, as we were told throughout all the Debates in Parliament as well as in the recent election, and as we are told here to-day when fresh from our constituents, this is a Budget which is based on Socialist principles. Is not this the reason why this Budget is so detested in Ireland? You are trying to do two things—you are trying by way of finance to effect a revolution and at the same time you profess to be trying to establish a peasant proprietary in Ireland. The two things are absolutely inconsistent; they are destructive one of the other. Therefore I do not believe in regard to your Budget, any more than in regard to your veto, that there is unanimity amongst you, or that there is a clear and definite policy supported by the majority of this House. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition yesterday showed, if anybody could show, what are the component parts of this new House, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Walton Division (Mr. F. E. Smith) in his speech of singular brilliancy this afternoon, made it perfectly 143 clear that neither for veto, when that form of veto is declared and understood, any more than for the Budget, will the Government get the authority of the majority of this House.
The majority which you are relying upon is one which is not only composed of different elements and different sections, but they owe their existence to totally different sets of ideas and ideals of what they are working for. Now in this House what they are going to vote for, when they go into the same Lobby, is not a common object nor a common purpose, and it seems to us, as spectators—for it is not for us at present to occupy other than the position of spectators of the quarrel which is developing between the Government supporters—that on some of the most important points, on some of the most important principles which lie at the bottom of the legislation which different sections of the House desire, there is as wide a difference of opinion between those who claim to be united in the same party and are going to vote in the same Lobby as there is between them and us concerning other questions. It is a singular thing that, after this great election, into which the party opposite went with so much confidence, anticipating when they started that the result would be so satisfactory to themselves—it is a most extraordinary thing that they now find themselves in a position which makes it impossible for them to carry out their own legislation without making almost piteous appeals to those who threaten them with being turned out if they do not accept their views. This is a result to which we, on the Opposition side of the House, may look without any dissatisfaction. It is not for us to try and interpret the language of the Government's declaration, or try to realise what they actually mean by it. Our opposition is perfectly clear and straightforward. We stand to-day, after the General Election, where we stood before it took place, the only difference being, that we are, I think, over 100 Members stronger than we were then. We then offered all the opposition we could command to the Budget because we believed it to be bad. We oppose it still, because it contiues to be bad. The opinions we held have been justified by those constituents who have sent us here. I notice that the Home Secretary, in his speech, made a passing reference to three out of the four parties of the House. He saw fit to describe those 144 three parties as democratic, assuming, I imagine, that that description cannot properly be given to the party with which I have the honour to act and belong. All I can say on behalf of the electors who sent us here is that they are as fully entitled to regard themselves as representatives of democracy as are those who have been returned to the benches opposite. Our Constituents sent us here fortified by the views we have held in opposition to the Budget. Our Constituents have sent us here fortified in the opposition we certainly shall offer to any attempt to destroy the Second Chamber as an important branch of our Constitution. All the views which we put before this House during the Debate on the Budget and during the election have been confirmed by those who have sent us here to express them again.
Therefore, our situation is a simple one. We are not torn by the doubts which trouble hon. Gentlemen sitting in other quarters of the House. We have not got to ask the Government what it is that they intend to do, or what they mean by any particular language they have used, or whether they intend to do what they said yesterday they would do, or whether they really meant what they said before the election, and whether, now when the election is over, they meant something else. Those are questions we have not got to ask. Our position is defined for us clearly enough. Whatever may be the intentions of the Government, whatever may be their desires in regard to legislation, however they may strain a point here or strain a point there in order to meet the wishes of this or that section of the House, we have got our instructions clear and definite from those whom we represent. We are to pursue steadfastly with determination the same line of opposition to the policy of the Government which we maintained before the election. When I said just now we are where we were, one of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite cheered me. No doubt the cheer was intended in a friendly ironical way at a suggestion that we are still on the left of the Speaker's chair. That is the way I interpret it, and I imagine that was what was meant. I can only say this that I would far rather remain so far as I am concerned on the left of the Speaker's chair as long as we have seats in this House than occupy a seat on the Government Bench, if to retain it you have to bargain with men whose opinions you do not fully share, between whom and 145 yourselves there are strong and even vital differences, and whose support you can only get by the surrender, it may be to a very considerable extent, of those views which you have hitherto professed and strongly advocated. For my part I have no desire for the change if the change is to bring such consequences as those.
We, at all events, stand for a definite principle. I may say, and I am confident I speak on behalf of every member of the party to which I belong, that we are as resolutely determined to-day as ever we were to resist by all means in our power any attempts to grant what is called Home Rule to Ireland, not because we are able to criticise this or that detail of the measure, we do not know what form the measure is going to take, but because we believe whatever form it takes it must have two grave consequences. It must do immense mischief to Ireland, and it must do irremediable mischief to the United Kingdom. For those two reasons, whatever might be the arguments addressed to us or the suggestions made to us, we stand to-day as we stood before, resolutely opposed to any reform, if it can be called reform, of the kind. That is the position we occupy, and it has not been altered in the smallest degree by anything that has taken place in the Debate. And the speech which the Home Secretary has just made does not in the smallest way affect our position.
We are resolute in the opposition we then offered, and we are entitled to congratulate ourselves on this fact, notwithstanding temptations, digressions, every kind of attempt to draw red herrings across the path, that we have immensely increased the numbers of those who are prepared to oppose the Government and to oppose their policy. This being so, we can afford, as the Home Secretary suggested we might, to look with some little amusement upon the sufferings of the Government, and upon their attempt to extricate themselves from the difficulties of their position. While we certainly should never do anything to embarrass them in performing their supreme duty of carrying on the King's Government, so far as it is necessary to deal with the present difficulties of the moment, we shall oppose with all the power we can command any attempt to interfere with the House of Lords as part of our Constitution, while we would be ready, of course, to consider and help in any wise reform of that body. But its destruction or its continuance as an insti- 146 Tution without any real power or authority we shall oppose, because we believe that not only to be inconsistent with the principles we have professed, but also in itself, if adopted, disastrous to the country to which we belong.
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
In the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has just delivered, and whom we always recognise as a fair, courteous opponent, he has made complaint as to what he is pleased to term the consistency of hon. Members on this side of the House. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he considered himself entitled to blame our position so far as consistency is concerned? Is he himself quite so consistent that he can complain of our attitude? In the speech he has just delivered he tells us that the Budget is founded upon Socialism. He believes it is unfair, he thinks it is unjust; he believes it is opposed to the best interests of this country. What is his duty, holding those views? Will he use his influence with his Friends in the other House to again reject that Budget? If he will not do that, then I say he is inconsistent in regard to his policy. He says the country has not voted in favour of it. Will he use his influence with his friends in the other House to reject, it if the country is against him? The right hon. Gentleman is silent. He is silent because he knows the majority of the people of this country have pronounced in favour of the Budget, and he knows that the Budget is desired by the great masses of the people of this country. If that is not so, why did the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition say that the Budget would be passed toy the House of Lords? If they believe the country is against it, why advise the House of Lords to pass it? If they believe it is unjust, why do they not call on Lord Lansdowne to move its rejection? I say, in view of that attitude on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, that the charge of inconsistency ought to be levelled at them and not at right hon. Gentlemen on this side. With regard to our general position as to the House of Lords, there is no doubt that we are in a large majority for dealing with that most pressing of political questions at the present time.
There is one other point in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman which I must complain of. He attaches great importance to the opinion of Ireland with regard to the Budget. I think there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the real position of Ireland in this matter. In the 147 first place, Ireland is not opposed to the Budget as a whole. Ireland is not opposed to the Super-tax. Ireland is not opposed to the land valuation. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] Ireland is not opposed to the land valuation so far as we have been able to judge of the great majority of the Irish Members. Ireland is not opposed to the Land Taxes. I say that Ireland, so far as the majority are concerned, is not opposed to the taxation of unearned increment. I have studied the controversy in Ireland with some acuteness, and I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to name one hon. Member from Ireland belonging to the vast majority of the Nationalist party who is against the tax of unearned increment. Therefore, I say, so far as opinion in Ireland on the Budget is concerned, the Opposition, so far as I am able to judge, is to the increased taxation of Ireland by the Whisky Taxes. Therefore their position is limited to that extent as to the increased taxation which it is proposed to place upon Ireland. I confess, so far as the actual complaint of increased taxation is concerned, I have the utmost sympathy with the Irish Members. At the same time I believe the Budget is a greater achievement and of more importance than increased taxes in Ireland, and therefore I give it my support.
I rise more particularly on the present occasion to say a word with regard to a more domestic question so far as our Party is concerned. We have had a most interesting speech from the Home Secretary. He has made an announcement which must be of great importance in the history of our Party, and consequently of supreme importance in regard to the future of this Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman said with regard to the point upon which all the controversy turned that it was absurd, he used the word "absurd," for any Member to suppose that in the statement which the Prime Minister made in the Albert Hall he was going to get guarantees as to the effectiveness in carrying through the abolition of the veto with regard to the House of Lords before he continued in office. I rise as a Member of the party to complain of the manner in which the party has been treated by their leaders with regard to this question. It was "absurd" that they were not going to retain office. Why is it so late in the day until that statement is made? What was the general view that was taken through the whole country with regard to that declaration. I was 148 present and heard it made. To my mind there was no doubt as to the impression that was created. I saw the vast audience rise in enthusiasm and endorse the statement of the Prime Minister. Why? Because they felt at last that long controversy was coming to an end and that they were going to be able to realise their often desired wishes. That audience at the Albert Hall undoubtedly regarded the Prime Minister as meaning that he would not be in office a single hour if he had a majority unless he saw daylight with regard to the settlement of the House of Lords controversy. I take the whole Press of the country the next morning. "The Times," which is a criterion, said in its leader:—The Government will refuse, as we have been informed before to retain office unless they receive guarantees in some form still undisclosed that they will be able to carry this policy into effect.Retain office. That was the view taken of that statement. The general impression created undoubtedly was as to retaining office. That was the view that was taken throughout the country. Not only "The Times" but the "Morning Post" alluded to the indications that the Crown was going to be called in immediately after the election. The "Daily Chronicle," the "Daily News," practically all the representative papers of the country, put the same interpretation on that statement which I have put upon it myself. Therefore, I say it is a little late in the day for the leaders of our party to come here and tell us that our interpretation was absurd. I spoke the next night to over 3,000 people in my own Constituency, and I stated in presence of a Member of the Government what I regarded that statement as meaning. I placed that interpretation upon it throughout the whole of my election; I made the same statement in numberless constituencies throughout Scotland, and I venture to say there is not a colleague of mine from Scotland on this side of the House who will get up and say that he regarded that statement in any other way than I have interpreted it. The constituencies of Scotland took the view that the Government would not remain in office a single hour unless they got satisfactory guarantees. In my opinion, the leaders of our party have treated their supporters very badly in this matter. They should not have allowed every member of the party to put that interpretation upon their declaration unless they believed that that interpretation was correct. So far as I see, we have, as a party, made a great 149 mistake. We supposed that one election was going to settle this question; but we were wrong. The whole Liberal Press of the country was wrong; the whole of the candidates in the country were wrong; the electors have been misinformed by Liberal candidates, with the result that we are here to-day with a mandate to carry out something which the Government see their inability to perform.
This is the whole position. Do the Government mean business with regard to this matter? If they do, disappointed though we are that more prompt action has not been taken, I believe they will receive the support of the majority of their followers. But why this delay in producing their plan? The elections have been over for some time. The Government and the Cabinet must have considered their plan before these official announcements were made. Why then the delay in producing their scheme? My belief is that if in the course of the Debate upon the Address the Prime Minister had fully stated his plans and tabled his Resolution or Bill, it would have gone a long way to relieve a most acute and difficult situation. What we desire to know is, how soon will the Government prove their earnestness in this matter? They are putting a great strain on the loyalty of their followers. We are anxious to support them; we are ready to support them in every proposition if they show us without a shadow of doubt that they mean business. I appeal to the Government not to lose a single hour before producing their plans and showing their earnestness. For my part, if I am satisfied that it is simply a question of delay, simply a question of remaining in office for some time without making any effective progress, I shall consider it my duty to do what I can to remove them from that Bench. There is no mistaking what we have been sent here for by the people of Scotland. Therefore I appeal to the Government, as one who is anxious and ready to vote with them on all occasions in support of their general policy, if they want to keep up the loyalty and enthusiasm of their supporters, let them give them grounds for that support and bring forth their proposals with the least possible delay in order that we may do something to redeem the promises which we made at the election.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
I sympathise with the hon. Member who has just sat down, because no doubt he has been put into a very awkward position. He tells us that he put a different interpreta- 150 Tion upon the Albert Hall speech from that which is now put upon it by the Government. May I point out that a very important statement was made prior to the meeting at the Albert Hall, which anticipated everything said at that meeting. On 22nd November, about a fortnight before the Albert Hall meeting, the Lord Chancellor, speaking in the House of Lords, said:—It is, in my opinion, impossible that any Liberal Government should ever again bear the heavy burden of office unless it is secured against a repetition of treatment such as our measures have had to undergo for the last four years.I believe that those words were read from a written document, and that clear statement was confirmed later on by the Prime Minister at the Albert Hall. Both of those statements must have been made without due consideration of the case. It was evident from the very commencement that it would be quite impossible for any Minister in a constitutional Government to go to the Sovereign and demand assurances for the passage of a Bill which had not been brought before the House of Commons or the country, and which therefore there was no evidence to show would be acceptable either to the House of Commons or to the country. I am rather surprised that the hon. Member opposite (Sir H. Dalziel), whose astuteness is proverbial in this House, should have been taken in by such an apparent subterfuge as the statement of the Prime Minister. The hon. Gentleman says that when that statement was made the whole audience rose and cheered. That was why the statement was made. It was made to create that impression. It created that impression, and, having done its work, it was relegated to the limbo of obscurity, and was not supposed to be brought out again unless circumstances required it. The General Election having terminated in a manner different from what was anticipated, it was found inconvenient to bring out the plan foreshadowed at the Albert Hall, and therefore it has not been brought forward. The hon. Member believes that the Liberal party will in future support, I do not think he said with enthusiasm, but with pleasure, their leaders, provided they get fresh assurances. That is not very complimentary to the Home Secretary, who a few moments ago announced in the most tragic manner that the Government were going to stake their whole existence upon the Veto Bill. The statement was very impressive and very clear, but apparently the hon. Gentleman does not attach much 151 importance to it. He has been misled once at the Albert Hall, and he is rather fearful of being misled again. Therefore he is not content with the statement of the Home Secretary, and presses for further assurances. I do not believe the hon. Gentleman will get those assurances in a form which will satisfy him. My reason for that belief is that it would be impossible to give the assurances. Because supposing the Veto Bill after being brought forward and passed in this House, was rejected by the Lords, the only possible result would be a General Election. It would be quite impossible to obtain assurances that the Lords should be abolished until the country had been consulted upon that specific subject. Therefore the only assurance the Government can give the hon. Member is that they will press forward their Bill, and then when beaten in the House of Lords will go to the country. I thought myself that probably the Government would follow that course. But when yesterday I heard the Prime Minister talk about Resolutions, I doubted whether I was right in my anticipation. Having been a good many years in the House of Commons I have heard a great many Resolutions. My experience of Resolutions is that we have two or three days Debate, all sorts of wonderful opinions are expressed, all sorts of statements are made as to the terrifying effects of the particular Resolution under discussion, a Division is taken, the result is received with cheers by whichever side is victorious, and then we never hear anything more about it. If any Members doubt my statement I would remind them that early in 1907 we went through exactly the same farce that we are going through now. We were told that the House of Lords had thwarted the will of the people, and that steps would be immediately taken to deal with the question. We had a Resolution proposed by the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, which, after two days of very valuable time had been spent on its discussion, was carried by a large majority. There were the usual cheers from the other side, and I remember thinking that those who cheered would probably find themselves disappointed. They were disappointed, because from that day to this we have never heard anything more about the abolition of the veto of the House of Lords, except at dinners of the National Liberal Club, where such sentiments were received by the members present standing 152 on chairs and waving their table napkins. Beyond that nothing has resulted, and I am inclined to think that if we proceed by Resolution on this occasion the attractions of the Treasury Bench will prove so great that when the Resolution has been passed other measures will be brought forward, notwithstanding the King's Speech, and at the end of July we shall find ourselves in much the same position as we are in now. Therefore, I am afraid the hon. Gentleman will be again disappointed unless he and those who think with him show that they are really in earnest by voting against the Government. In the last Parliament we had a great many threats from hon. Gentlemen opposite as to what they were going to do, but I do not remember that they ever did anything beyond occasionally abstaining from voting. I have no recollection of any considerable number of them ever voting against the Government.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the Home Secretary. It was in my opinion a very peculiar speech. After stating that they had won a notable victory, the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to say that the Government considered whether or not they should take office, because the taking of office under present circumstances created for them an embarrassing position. I never knew a victory that created for the victors an embarrassing position. It must be a peculiar sort of victory, and it is one which I hope my Friends will never win. I thoroughly agree with the right hon. Gentleman's statement of constitutional law; I am only sorry the Government did not find it out before the Prime Minister made his statement at the Albert Hall. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Budget was to pass in a summary manner. That is what we have been accustomed to for a certain number of years. Ever since the country has had, shall I say the advantage, of being under a Radical Government freedom of debate has ceased in the House of Commons. And the only thing which hon. and right hon. Gentleman put forward with avidity is the summary closing of discussion. Therefore, I was not in the least surprised to learn that, at any rate, the Home Secretary would press forward with earnestness the summary discussion on the Budget. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow actually told us the same sort of thing later on. He was all for assurances. We adjourned 153 last night in order that the Labour party might make up their minds. Well, they have had plenty of opportunity, I should have thought, to make up their minds, but at any rate we adjourned early in order to enable them to make up their minds. I listened very attentively to the speech of the hon. Member for the Black-friars Division, and the only thing I could find from his speech was that he was going to vote for the Government. He said we must have assurances, but that, we all know, is a form that is gone through in this House when you find that you have not got what you want, and under the circumstances are going to follow the party Whip. He said: "I do not want specific assurances, but if I have assurances I shall support the Government." That is what I knew perfectly well at 8 o'clock last night was going to be done. The hon. Gentleman, who poses as a great democratic Socialist—he once told me so himself—and a believer in democracy, has a novel idea of passing the Budget. His idea is that no new Member should speak on it.
That seems to me to be a most extraordinary idea. I do not really know how a Resolution could be framed which would provide that no new Members were to be allowed to speak upon a certain subject. I premume that old Members would be allowed to speak because the hon. Gentleman did not allude to old Members. Shortly after that I had the pleasure of listening to the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork City, who made a very strong and able attack upon the Budget. Is the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork City a new Member or not? He was not in the last Parliament, and therefore, I presume, he would be considered a new Member. Was it because the hon. Member for Blackfriars was afraid of the speches coming from that party that he desired to muzzle the new Members? It does seem to me to be a most extraordinary, proposal to come from a democratic party. I do not know whether the sole representative of the Government at present in the House approves of that principle. No doubt he will be able to tell me when I sit down whether or not he is in favour of muzzling the new Members of the House. My own belief is that he is in favour of muzzling all the Members in this House who sit on this side and a certain number of those who sit below the Gangway on the other side. Then, I 154 think, he will be living in the midst of a happy family.
I am not sure that the most Gracious Speech from the Throne has been received with any great approval from any section of the House. I am not at all sure that the one Member who is most pleased with it is not myself, because it is short and there is very little in it. There is going to be no legislation except the Budget, which must be passed if the government of the country is to be carried on, and there is going to be no work for the House to do except the granting of Supplies, which, with the government of the country, I have always held was the chief work of Parliament. Beyond that all that is going to be done is to try to do the impossible—that is, to abolish the veto of the House of Lords. Therefore we shall be saved from all those endless and tedious discussions on Bills which were brought forward to satisfy certain portions of the substantial and coherent majority that support the Government, but which were never meant to pass, and which imposed upon some of us on this side of the House who had a real desire for the welfare of the country the not always pleasant occupation of being always in their place, prepared to put the true state of a Bill and the true meaning of it before the House.
I understand we are not going to have any more private Members' nights. That is a proposal that in the Parliaments of 1895 and 1900 would have been received with shouts of execration by hon. Gentlement opposite. There is, I am glad to say, on the opposite benches an hon. Gentleman who eat for King's Lynn, and who still site for King's Lynn, though he happens to have changed his side of the House. I can remember many eloquent speeches from the hon. Gentleman in the days when he declaimed at length on the rights of private Members. I was looking forward with pleasure to hearing what he has to say about this proposal to deprive the private Member not only of the nights after Easter or after Whitsuntide, but, as I gather, all the nights during the whole of the Session. That is not the only subject on which I should like to hear the hon. Gentleman the Member for King's Lynn. We were told by the Prime Minister that the Lords had acted in an unconstitutional manner in rejecting the Budget. The hon. Gentleman the Member for King's Lynn wrote a very interesting letter to the paper some time in October. I happen, by accident, to have it 155 here. In this letter of 19th October, 1909, the hon. Gentleman says:—That the rejection of the Finance Bill by the House of Lords would be impolitic, is very arguable. But to say, as is being said, and repeated, that it would be 'a constitutional outrage,' that the Lords 'have no right whatever to interfere in financial business directly or indirectly at any time,' or that 'with the Finance Bill, they had nothing to do but to register their assent'—this it is that is constitutionally outrageous.I think that every Member who sat in the old Parliaments will agree with me, whatever opinion we may have of the hon. Gentleman the Member for King's Lynn, that there is no greater constitutional authority in this House, and that there is no Member who is more accurate in his statements, and who takes more care to see that they are correct before he makes them than he does. It will be interesting to hear from him how he reconciles the beginning of this letter with the vote which I presume he is going to give in support of the Address, and the speech of the Prime Minister, who has told us that the rejection by the House of Lords of the Budget is unconstitutional. Then the hon. Gentleman goes on to say:—The Preamble of a Bill runs thus: 'Be it enacted by the King's Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and temporal, and the Commons in this present Parliament assembled.'Then he says:—To suggest that it can become an Act of Parliament against the advice or without the consent of the Lords is absurd.I should like to point that out to the four representatives of the great Liberal party whom I see sitting above the Gangway opposite to me. I would like to ask them how they reconcile their opinions with the opinions of their great supporter the hon. Member for King's Lynn. The letter is very long, so I will skip through it. The hon. Gentleman says:—This claim of privilege was first formally set up by the most infamous of Parliaments.This Parliament is going to set it up again. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman considers that this is an infamous Parliament.This Pensioner Parliament,' by repealing the Triennial Act, perpetuated itself for 18 years—I do not know whether the Labour party have any desire of this sort, or whether there is anything hidden in their desire to abolish the House of Lords—any desire behind their wish for abolition to perpetuate themselves for 18 years, the same as their predecessor did that has made them set up this claim of privilege.and which shared with Charles II. the bribes of Louis XIV.156 Later on the hon. Member quotes a statement made by Mr. Gladstone in 1861 (May 27th), in answer to a speech from Mr. Newdigate. Mr. Gladstone laid down a statement which cannot be misunderstood. He declared the belief that in his opinion "the House of Lords had not only the right to amend but to reject any Money Bill which was set before them."
Of course it is a well-known fact that the House of Lords has often rejected and amended Money Bills. In fact, I do not know whether hon. Members opposite remember what they did themselves only in the last Parliament. The House of Lords amended a Money Bill, or part of a Bill dealing with money, and it suited them to accept it, notwithstanding the view which Mr. Speaker ruled that it was a breach of the privileges of this House. The Radical party waived their privileges and accepted it. It is only when the Lords do something they do not like that they set up this great cry of privilege. As long as they can get something out of the Lords that suits them they do not consider whether it is privilege or not. They are only too glad to accept it. I will make good my statement. The Bill which has now become an Act, and to which I allude, was the Scottish Education Bill of 1908. The Amendment ruled out of order in this House was put in by the representative of the Government in the House of Lords, and was agreed to by Mr Sinclair, as he then was, in this House, notwithstanding that you, Sir, ruled that it was a breach of the privileges of the Commons. Last year the same thing was done on the Asylums Superannuation Bill, and the curious part of that was that though we had agreed to it one evening the next evening the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not agree to another Amendment, which was a good one, and which his own Solicitor-General said was a good one, because it was a breach of the privileges of this House. This shows the inconsistency which the party opposite are driven to in their vain attempts to alter the Constitution of the country. My own belief is that we shall pass through this Session. Social reform, which we heard so often about from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, will be conspicuous by its absence, and the Radical party will again amuse themselves with tinkering with the Constitution of their country. This is not the first time they have done that. In fact, whenever they have been in any difficulty they have endeavoured either to 157 extend the franchise or to do something to alter the Constitution in a direction which they thought might lead to benefits to themselves. At the present moment, believing that the Lords are standing in the way of what they are pleased to call social legislation, and what they are pleased to think that the country desires, they intend to proceed with the abolition of a large part of the Constitution under which we have lived for centuries. I do not believe myself that they will find that the country will assist them in carrying out their revolution if they choose to do it. I, for my part, will be only too glad that the crisis, if it should come about, should come about soon. I believe that we are on the eve possibly of a serious revolution in this country, and, that being so, the sooner we are brought face to face with it the better, and the sooner the country understands that the real objects of the hon. Gentlemen opposite is not merely to ensure the passing of the Budget, but to make it the beginning of further legislation of that kind, the better. I am very glad to remember that the authorship of the Budget had been claimed for the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes). In the last Parliament the authorship was claimed by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden). Now we know, what has always been denied by the more moderate supporters of the party opposite, that the real inception of the Budget was with the Socialist party as led by the hon. Member for Blackfriars. We all know the little book which the hon. Member for Blackburn wrote. I am now glad to find that the Labour party have thrown off all masks, and that they have told us that they are not only the authors of the Budget, but that they brought it forward in order to increase its power later on. I shall never give a vote in this House with greater pleasure than the vote I shall give against this Budget, because I presume the abnormal procedure mentioned by the Prime Minister will not include the abolition of voting, and I suppose that although we may not be allowed to speak we will be allowed to vote. I think the sooner the revolution comes the better. I admit it is disagreeable to enter upon another General Election, but the Unionist party will not be deterred by what is disagreeable, and they will be prepared to face anything in order to preserve the Constitution of the country, and above all to prevent the destinies of our fellow subjects from being controlled by hon. 158 Gentlemen like the Leader of the Labour party, who apparently, if his will were to become law, would be the greatest tyrant that ever lived in this or any other country.
§ Mr. W. R. ADKINS
I am quite sure that those of us who had the privilege of sitting in the late Parliament would have hardly felt certain we were back in the House of Commons unless we had had the privilege of hearing the speech of the hon. Baronet. We know that in the course of most of his speeches he gives his adherence to some fact of great importance for the moment. He said in the earlier part of his speech that the Budget must be passed. There is no Member of the House more competent than the hon. Baronet to say whether Bills must pass or not, and I am sure the implied assurance that lies behind that statement of his will be grateful not only to His Majesty's Government, but to others who desire to see the Budget pass. In the course of the Debate yesterday and to-day it must have been gratifying to His Majesty's Government and to those supporting them in this Parliament to notice that throughout the whole afternoon and evening speakers upon the other side of the House have avoided the question of the House of Lords. We have early in the afternoon the speech from the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) in which he drew upon his exhaustless store of inexpensive scorn, and spoke to the House in a way that amused us all, but that and other speeches, almost without exception, dealt with the question. Those of us who have been in the House before and are familiar with the debates will fully realise the significance of the fact that the Question of the House of Lords has been avoided so carefully by speakers belonging to the Opposition, although they must know as we do that the Question of the House of Lords is above all others the Question before the country, and is the Question with which this Parliament was elected to deal.
We well know the efforts that were made by members of the official Opposition to distract public attention from that, and to direct it to fields for taxing the poor rather than the rich, but careful and continuous as these efforts were, they have resulted in the return to this House of the majority for the purpose of putting an end to the absolute veto of the House of Lords. I rise, Sir, for the pur- 159 Pose of speaking upon this Question, and I approach it only from a different point of view from that which the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond), whose speech yesterday created, and rightly created, so great an impression upon all parts of the House, approached it. He speaks for that part of the United Kingdom where the advantages of the Budget have been overshadowed by the action of one great monopoly trade; but those of us who believe that the Budget is good in itself and is a necessary and a righteous machinery for desirable reform, hope, and shall continue to work and hope, that that Budget may become law at the earliest possible moment, but though our point of view is different from that of the hon. Member for Waterford and his political friends, we do not yield to him in the slightest degree in our anxiety that this great constitutional question should be brought to an issue at the earliest possible moment, and as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said this afternoon we shall get to grips upon it as soon as it is possible to do so, and when we are engaged upon that there should be no slackening or intervention of any other issue, however important, until that great and supreme question is brought to a permanent and satisfactory solution.
I think there was in the speech of the Prime Minister yesterday a very necessary reticence with regard to details as to the question of the House, of Lords, whether it is dealt with by resolution or by Bill. I for one accept to the full the argument addressed to the House as to the impossibility of approaching the Sovereign until the majority in this House in favour of dealing with the House of Lords is ascertained, and until the actual proposal is before the House and before the country.
There is the question of the abolition of the veto on finance, which has never been seriously exercised for 500 years, but which was furbished up last autumn for the most obvious purpose, and the proposal to reduce the veto of the House of Lords in legislation—the suspensory veto—in accordance with the general practice between the Reform Bill of 1832 and the Home Rule Bill of 1893. This is one question—the abolition of one veto and the modifying of the other. There lies behind this the further question, one more difficult, and in one sense not so urgent, but all the more profound and important question of what kind of Second Chamber there should be in this country. In sup- 160 Porting the Government in the proposals which were adumbrated in the speech of the Prime Minister, I for one should be perfectly willing and not at all sorry to find that the measure dealing with the House of Lords dealt only with the abolition of one veto and the modifying of another, and did not go to the greater question of the nature of the Second Chamber, but I quite understand that there are real arguments both ways, and that it might be desirable to deal in the same measure and in this Parliament with the question of the Second Chamber which should be allowed to exist. I do not for a moment suggest that this is a dilemma which should prevent support of the Government with the utmost heartiness at this stage. There is one phrase in the Speech from the Throne which may possibly be susceptible of misunderstanding, in which it is stated "that measures, in the opinion of my advisers, should provide that this House should be so constituted and empowered as to exercise impartially in regard to proposed legislation the functions of initiation, revision, and, subject to proper safeguards, of delay." If that means that there is any question of reforming the House of Lords as the House of Lords stands to-day, I do not think that such a proposal would commend itself to the support of this House to the extent which the abolition of the veto, or an establishment of a Second Chamber on an elective principle, would naturally do. The House of Lords, as at present constituted, many of us believe to be incapable of reform. The hereditary principle, interesting historically, tolerable up to recently because of the tact and moderation with which those who exemplified it generally dealt with matters, is a principle upon which it is impossible to build a new reformed Chamber of the Legislature, because that branch of the Legislature is so eaten through and through with permanent and ineradicable partisanship that it would be absolutely beyond the wit of man, and certainly most undesirable, to attempt that it should be reformed in any sense which would leave the basis and core of its being as they are to-day. Therefore, it is from the point of view of one of those who warmly support the outline of the Government policy that I express the very confident hope that the measures dealing with the House of Lords which were promised to be brought into this House at the earliest opportunity will undoubtedly deal 161 with the two vetoes; and if it goes beyond them, will, at any rate, have nothing whatever to do with those amusing and scarcely serious projects of reform of the House of Lords which we hear occasionally from Members of that Assembly, and which appear from time to time in various reviews and magazines, but which one and all show the same desire to retain all the predominance, and party character of the present Second Chamber, while relieving it of some of its most obvious defects. That I trust the Government projects will have nothing to do with. If that be the case, if the policy dealing with the House of Lords deals with the veto and the Constitution only and solely upon an elective basis, then I am sure I am speaking for many hon. Members when I say that the Government cannot introduce such a measure too early or make it too radical or too vigorous. We have too long found those measures of social reform to which the attention of this House ought to have been directed delayed because of the powers and tendencies of the Upper House. We on this side of the House are as anxious as any Irish Member to get into this battle as soon as possible, and as a supporter of the Government I assure them they cannot make that battle too hot or too stern, and the quicker they get into the fight the stronger the proposals they make the greater will they rally to them not only those who owe them allegiance as supporters of a political party, but all who believe that the time has long ago been reached at which England can be properly governed by really democratic chambers. The Government should put an end once and for all to the practical absurdity and the historical ridiculousness of a Second Chamber, which to-day is the only one in Europe that represents nobody but the Members of the House themselves.
§ Mr. J. D. REES
The hon. Member for South Salford (Mr. Belloc), with characteristic modesty of speech, said he represented not only his own constituency, but the people of England, and all the Members of this House who were trammelled with red tape and slavishly subservient to the crack of the party whip. I cannot undertake to speak for all the people of England, or for all the Members of this House, and I do not know who conferred that right upon the hon. Member for South Salford. I know, however, that the hon. Member does not speak for me. When he censured the Prime Minister for the course he announced in dealing with the 162 business of the House, not only did he not speak for me on that point, but I profoundly disagree with every remark be made. He said that the Prime Minister was bound to deal, in the first instance, with other business than the Budget. In my opinion the course the Prime Minister announced was the only possible one he could pursue, and no Government could be regarded as a responsible Administration which proceeded upon any high and adventurous enterprise before they put their own House in financial order. The hon. Member endeavoured to sweep into his net not only hon. Members who disagree with him, but also those who profoundly disagree with everything he said. I regret the hon. Member's remarks in which he said this country was being governed by a Hebrew plutocracy. That assertion is not only untrue, but it is very offensive to men who have distinguished themselves for their generosity towards their fellow citizens, and who ought to be exempt from that kind of accusation in this House. The hon. Member spoke as if every rich man was an enemy of the community. He must have imagined that he was in his study producing a sensational novel with the aid of a powerful imagination. By sitting in this House to-day with the Members of the Labour party I claim that I am fulfilling a useful function. Not only have I the advantage of sitting next to the head of that party but the head of that party has the advantage of sitting next to me. I do not make this claim owing to any conceit of myself, but because my immediate proximity to the Leader of the Labour party proved to be a certain check upon the description the hon. Member gave of Consuls and pro-Consuls from the East. I think I have been a little check upon the exuberance of his imagination in this respect, because he only said that Consuls and pro-Consuls who returned from an orgie of autocracy in the East were not fitted to perform the functions of members of a democratic party.
The hon. Member described the retired Consul and pro-Consul as a man with a bad liver and a bad heart, who used bad language, and did bad business in a bad climate, and, of course, he pointed to Lord Milner. I take leave to say that the class whom the Leader of the Labour party describes in this way is not only undeserving of that description, but deserving of the sympathy of their fellow countrymen. Those who speak in this manner of the way in which the business of our foreign possessions is conducted little know the 163 care that is taken by those administrators, and the way their lives are spent in endeavouring to ascertain the real feeling and wishes of the communities they are appointed to govern. It would do hon. Members who hold those views good to read some documents which have just been published, written by Warren Hastings, in which he deals with this question in the same way as that Radical philosopher, John Stuart Mill, did. He says that hedoubted whether a democracy was equal to the task of justly governing a distant dependency.When I read that I said the time has come, and here is the man who has proved it. I think it was Mirabeau who said thatthe tyranny of an individual is nothing to the tyranny of a Single Chamber.Hardly had the hon. Member got into his stride when he proposed that the Government should stop supplies in order to get their way, and he also said that the new Members of this House should refrain from speaking. I should like to know what hon. Members think of a proposal of that kind?
§ Mr. T. WING
May I rise to a point of Order. I think the hon. Member is rather misrepresenting the hon. Member the Leader of the Labour party.
§ Mr. REES
I think the hon. Gentleman and his Friends can well look after themselves, and if they want help will seek it in a more experienced quarter. My remarks have been made in perfect good temper. I am enjoying the hospitality of my hon. Friend, and I can only say I trust I have not abused it in any way. My hon. Friend referred to this question of the conduct of Consuls and pro-Consuls which he considers so bad, and that brings me to a point on which I wish to make some remarks. The Leader of the Opposition referred to the persons who were deported in India as being under sentences, and he criticised the policy of releasing them just now. My object in speaking, though I really do not know that I would release them, is to point out that these were not sentences at all. It was an administrative executive action of the Government of India, and the old Regulation under which the Government of India proceeded contemplated, and, in fact, prescribed, that every six months these executive orders of deportation should come under the reconsideration of the Government. It is perfectly clear there- 164 fore that the Government which passed this Regulation in 1818 did not consider that persons who were deported under it should be indefinitely kept in confinement, but they intended that they should come up for consideration every six months. I therefore say, though I do not suppose I have been conspicuous for sympathy with agitators—I sincerely hope I have not—I am none the less bound to say that I think, when the Viceroy and the Secretary of State for India agree, when the sentences come under revision, that they can safely release these gentlemen, it would be very difficult for the House of Commons to criticise that action and say they should be further detained in custody.
Reference was also made both in this House and in another place to the Press law that has lately been passed. I think that law was passed none too soon. The Viceroy very wisely took into his confidence the ruling chiefs of India. They are natives of India governing their states according to native ideas, and with one accord they replied that this law should be stiffened up and that agitation should not be carried on in the newspapers and mischief spread right and left, as it has been spread, with the deplorable result that many meritorious public servants have been assassinated and great harm done to our rule in India. I confess that the advice given by the Maharaja of Mysore that the Executive Government should have complete control, and that no appeal need necessarily lie to the courts of justice, was probably good advice. I do not think a very exaggerated regard need be paid to the feelings of certain hon. Members who think that anybody should be allowed to write anything anywhere about any subject in any way without regard to results, because the small band who held this view in the last Parliament, and pressed it unceasingly, have, to my satisfaction, been scattered right and left, and few of them remain here. The electors of this country have had the wisdom to see that principles which may be necessary and desirable in a parish in this country are not necessarily applicable to an empire in the East.
My hon. Friend also wanted to compel the self-governing Colonies in South Africa to receive into their states natives of India upon terms other than those upon which they are willing to receive them. As long as the Transvaal was governed from Downing Street there was no Member of this House who pressed harder upon the Government of the day the necessity for dealing tenderly with the civilised inhabit- 165 ants of our Indian Empire and treating them in all respects as they deserve to be treated than I; but as soon as the Transvaal became a self-governing Colony I ceased to do so, because I hold that a self-governing Colony must be self-governed. That is the first condition of its existence. It is absurd and impossible for this House to endeavour to prescribe to self-governing Colonies the terms upon which they shall receive immigrants of a different colour, of a different race, and of a different civilisation into their midst. They must have a free hand on that subject, and, though I deeply deplore their decision, I do maintain that they must be allowed to have their own way in this matter. They have as much right to have their own way as Australia has. Nobody is attempting to coerce Australia, and, though I deplore the decision of the Government of the Transvaal, I do say that for this House to take it up is unfortunate and will lead to more of those difficulties which are coming more and more into view as democracy is more and more taking a first hand in the government of our distant Oriental possessions.
I propose to avoid referring to subjects which have been dealt with at length by other speakers, but I must say I do differ profoundly from the speech made by my hon. Friend behind me, and in some respects from the speech made by the hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House from that bench above the Gangway. For my part I entirely accept the interpretation put by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary upon the words used at the Albert Hall, but, whatever they were and whatever they mean, the Prime Minister and his colleagues can only now do the best they can under the existing circumstances and with the followers they have. I do not know that I am one of those who slavishly submit to the Government Whips, but I do deprecate the manner in which the Government have been urged to-night to use the Budget as a mere lever to force the hands of the House of Lords. The hon. Member for Cork City (Mr. W. O'Brien) in his very eloquent speech appealed to the House to treat Ireland from an Imperial point of view. Let it be so; but it is not treating it from an Imperial point of view to treat it as the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) did when he said last night that he wanted to prolong the financial crisis as a weapon against another branch of the Legislature, and that he would decline to vote for the 166 Budget, not because he did not like it, but because he thought voting against the Budget would be an assistance to the other House. Those are not principles I should describe as Imperial. I believe the only course for this branch of the Legislature to pursue is first of all to put its financial affairs in order, and then to proceed with such matters as the Government may be considered to have received a mandate to deal with.
I also wish to express profound satisfaction that sufficient provision is to be made for our naval requirements. An hon. Member suggested that he was as anxious as anybody to keep up the Navy, but the question was what was sufficient naval strength for the defence of this country. As to that, I would submit that neither I nor the hon. Member know what that strength should be. It is a question for the naval advisers of the Government, and no provision can be satisfactory which is not accepted as such by them. It is in the interests of our peace and commerce that I rejoice that large provision is to be made for the Navy. I suppose that the greatest peacemaker in the world other than our own Sovereign is President Roosevelt, who stopped the most sanguinary war in history, and he was so convinced that battleships are the makers of peace that when they built a great one in the United States he christened it the "Pacificator." I say the predominance of our Navy has been the chief factor in the preservation of European peace, and I pray that it may be kept up to its proper pitch, and not on any account be allowed to fall below the relative standard which it has happily maintained up to the present day.
A great deal has been said as to Home Rule. I am not going to walk into that hornet's nest, but I want to submit that there is another form of Home Rule to that which usually attaches to one part of the United Kingdom, which is equally worthy for another part—I mean Wales. What we want in Wales is more local government—more local self-government and more independence of departments. In point of fact, we think in regard to our own local and national affairs the Welsh are as much deserving of separate and individual treatment—I say it with all respect to my Irish Friends—as the Irish themselves. [An HON. MEMBER: "More so."] Yes, more so, if you like. Indeed, I would say that in one respect they are more deserving, because they are far less obtrusive and insistent on their rights. 167 Whether a new epoch is approaching, in which the Welsh will take matters into their own hands in that exceedingly efficient and concerted manner adopted by the Irish I do not know, but I am sure of this, that the feeling in my own Constituency is that Home Rule is a good thing—that kind of Home Rule which, if granted to any other part of the United Kingdom, must be held to be suitable for Wales, and should also be granted to Wales. I do not know whether that will be regarded as the confession of a Home Ruler. At any rate, to that extent I am prepared to accept the title of a Home Ruler. I abstain from going into matters dealt with by other speakers, but I sincerely hope that the course of business which the Prime Minister announced his intention of pursuing will be pursued, and that the Government will not be deterred from adopting their method of procedure by individual speeches, however full-blooded, and however much those who make them may be convinced, as apparently they are, that in each individual case they represent not only their own constituencies, but the people of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
§ Mr. PICKERSGILL
There can be no doubt that the really substantial issue before the country at the last election was what will be the future relations between the two Houses of Parliament. It is true that our opponents attempted to obscure that issue, and said that the real point was whether or not this country should adopt Tariff Reform. But it was quite impossible for them to alter the real issue by saying that it was something different, and, that being the case, it seems to me to be very desirable that, whatever procedure this House should adopt in relation to that paramount question, it should be a procedure which those who sent us here are not likely to misunderstand. A great judge once said—I am speaking from memory—that next to doing right the one great object of a judge should be to give public satisfaction. I venture to apply that to the present situation. It is not only important that the procedure of this House should be a correct procedure, but also that it should be a course of procedure which those who sent us here can follow and understand. If our constituents are allowed to get an impression that the Government on this occasion does not mean business it will be very disastrous to 168 us. I do not desire for a moment to conceal the view that those who are opposed to the continuance of the present powers of the House of Lords are a little suspicious, and I am trot surprised, because they have been, on so many occasions, bitterly disappointed.
The first thing I desire to say is that we are face to face with an entirely new factor, and that new factor is this: that we now learn that the proposals of the Government with regard to the House of Lords include a proposal for a reform of the constitution of that Chamber. That is an entirely new factor, and it is a most important one. We heard nothing about it until after the election campaign. The Prime Minister, in his great speech at the Albert Hall, which struck the note of all our speeches, never mentioned it. He said there were two ends in view—to give this House absolute and undivided power in regard to finance, and to limit the veto of the House of Lords in regard to general legislation. That is what the election was fought upon, and that, I repeat, is a new factor. I admit that the Government, not having obtained that majority which it anticipated and hoped for, may find, as we must all recognise, the situation changed, and may think it necessary to introduce this new proposal. I do not want to argue that for the moment. My present point is simply this, that that new factor renders it all the more necessary, not only that the proposals of the Government should be tabled at the earliest possible moment but also that they should be brought to an issue very promptly. There has been a great deal of controversy in the Press, which has been echoed in this House, as to whether the veto or the Budget should be taken first. I do not want to enter into that controversy at any length. I only want to submit one consideration, and it is this—the Government evidently reckon that, so long as this House holds up the Budget of the current year, it is in possession of a lever to bring pressure to bear upon the other House. I think I am justified in saying that, for this reason: The Prime Minister said that, before the Budget passed from the control of the House of Commons this House shall have an opportunity of expressing its opinions on the main principles embodied in the Lords Resolutions. Why? Unless it is supposed, as I venture to repeat, that so long as we hold by the Budget we possess this lever, but then the 169 very same reasons which would justify the Government in the position which they concede to us of holding up the Budget until this House has had an opportunity of expressing its opinion would also show that that would be really ineffective unless this House retains its control of the Budget to a later stage when the crisis, as the Home Secretary said in his speech to-day, had really come.
It is proposed to proceed by Resolution, and the Prime Minister said that this form is adopted not for the purpose of delay, but to save time. If it were worth while I might perhaps demur to the proposition that proceeding by Resolution will save time, but that is not my point. My point is that proceeding by Resolution will certainly be misunderstood by the people outside. We have had enough of Resolutions, and they will say, when these Resolutions are tabled, "It is the old game over again. You are proceeding by Resolution when the time has surely come to take action, and vigorous action." I venture to think that in the scheme which was sketched out by the Prime Minister the Resolutions form an unnecessary stage, but if we are to have Resolutions, then I think they may be turned to a useful account. I will tell the House what I mean The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) interrupted the Prime Minister by a very significant and relevant question last night, and it was this. Are these Resolutions to be brought forward in the House of Lords? The Prime Minister replied that, as at present advised, it is not intended that they should be presented in the House of Lords. They will simply be the basis for a Bill in this House; but if we are to have these Resolutions, and if they are to be passed by the House of Commons, then I submit that it would be a very desirable thing that they should also be introduced into the House of Lords, and there is precedent for that. In the time of George III., when His Majesty's mental health was suffering, and the question arose of the necessity for giving powers to the Regent at the time of the Regency Bill, Resolutions were introduced into this House. Having passed this House, they were also introduced into the House of Lords. They were accepted by the House of Lords, and then a Bill was founded upon them. That is a precedent which, I think, might usefully be followed at the present time, but that, I understand, is not the present intention of the Prime Minister. The present intention of the Prime Minister is 170 simply to pass these Resolutions through the House of Commons, and then to bring in a Bill based upon them, and to occupy the time of this House, it may be for many months—I presume to judge by business methods it would be many months occupied in going through all the details of this Bill. I think no one will have the hardihood to deny that to proceed in that way would be doing the very thing which the Prime Minister has said he will not do, and that is to say it would be "ploughing the sands." I do hope that if the proceeding is by Resolutions these Resolutions may be also submitted to the House of Lords, and then, if they should reject them, the crisis would come. There was a phrase which fell from the Home Secretary (Mr. Churchill) to-night which led me to entertain a faint hope that the intention of the Prime Minister had been altered or modified, and the expression was this, that when these Resolutions had been passed through this House the crisis would come. But, if I understand the Prime Minister correctly, the crisis would not come then, the crisis would only come when the Bill had gone up to the House of Lords, and been rejected by the House of Lords. If the crisis is really coming when the Resolutions having been tabled are passed by this House then that will be a great improvement upon the plan which was suggested by the Prime Minister. At all events I hope that we shall not be subjected, I was going to say to the humiliation of going through all the details of this Bill for many months without any assurance whatever that at the end of the months our labour will be not in vain.
§ Mr. J. C. WEDGWOOD
May I first of all associate myself entirely with the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Pickers-gill) in saying that so far as my part of the country was concerned the one interest of the General Election was the Question of the House of Lords. May I also associate myself with him in saying that I do sincerely hope and trust that if the Government are going to pursue the course which has been so very variously sketched out, that we shall have the crisis at the earliest possible moment, that we shall have it without waiting for the Bill by sending these Resolutions up to the House of Lords, and have them either rejected or accepted there. It seems to me that the quicker we get through the business the better it will be for all concerned, for no one can conceal from one's self that the Debate of 171 the last few days has caused an extraordinary amount of bitterness in this House—not bitterness shown by the Opposition, but felt by us here below the Gangway. The speech of the Prime Minister yesterday must have been a surprise to many besides ourselves. The opening of our eyes for the first time to the true meaning of his speech in the Albert Hall was a painful process, and the sooner we get to think of some other crisis the better for all concerned. I feel sure that before we pass away from the Albert Hall speech, and all that has sprung from it, we should acknowledge that we do owe a debt of gratitude, which has got to be paid, to the people who sent us here. I remember how the Labour men and the Irishmen worked for me at this last election. The work was done without any sort of pay or reward; days were given up to unceasing work with an enthusiasm such as we have never seen before, and we must remember that the work was done, and that that enthusiasm was shown on account of the pledge given by the Prime Minister in his Albert Hall speech, and that we are sitting in this House because the people believed, and because we believed, the Prime Minister said he would not hold office, or take office, or continue in office, without safeguards which would ensure that the will of this House should become law. When we think that we explained it in that way, that the whole Press of the country accepted that meaning, and that the people of the country sent us here because they thought it meant that the Prime Minister would not accept office without safeguards from the Crown, and now we find we were mistaken, I think we do owe some explanation to our own constituents, and it is an explanation which will only be made by saying that we ourselves were deceived equally with them. I think the Prime Minister, when he made his speech yesterday, cannot have grasped the fact that nearly all his supporters had explained these words of his at nearly every public meeting that has been held. It seems to me that, however much we may have been mistaken in attributing to these words a meaning which we now know they could not bear, he was more mistaken in not undeceiving us and the country. It is not fair dealing with your followers to allow them to make mistakes which may get them voles but which put them wrong with the people who sent them to this House.
Then comes the real tragedy of the situation. The hon. Member (Mr. Belloc) 172 and I put down an Amendment to the Address in which we sought to show what the feelings of those people were who made statements to their constituents which they now find to be false. We put down an Amendment humbly regretting that there was no mention in the Royal Speech of any guarantees granted to His Majesty's Ministers that the measure dealing with the House of Lords would, if passed by this House, become law. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that is the Amendment which is most appropriate to the present situation. I say it is the Amendment with which the country would be most interested. But we are told the Amendment cannot possibly be moved because there is no time, because the official Opposition requires two days to discuss Tariff Reform, I want the House to observe that there is no one in this House interested, on whatever side he sits, in any single thing except the explanation of the Prime Minister and the question of these guarantees. Observe what would happen. For two whole days we shall have the Gentlemen on the Front Benches on both sides playing at politics, calking about nothing that interests any one, talking about exports and imports and tariffs without meaning a word they say, because the mandarins on that side are exactly as bad as the mandarins on this, the Speaker occasionally calling on the prosperous subscribers to the party funds who sit behind them, and they will solemnly spend two days playing at politics, while the whole of the House and the whole of the country are bothering about, and interested in, something entirely different and something far more vital to the welfare of this nation. [Mr. BOTTOMLEY: "A business Government."] You will not get a business Government as long as the party system survives. We are going to have the same old game over again, the enthusiasm is all going to be frittered away by Front Bench Amendments, by Front Bench speeches, and when the next General Election comes on they will try to explain to our friends who send us here why it is that we have done nothing and why it is that, however much they thought they could do business, we could not do business because our Government did not mean business any more than the Front Opposition Bench mean business when it talks about Tariff Reform without ever intending to introduce a tariff.
173 We did not foresee three weeks ago when we returned to this House the present difficulty. We trusted implicitly in the Prime Minister's pledge at the Albert Hall. We read it to mean that he would not continue in office without having pledges from the Crown that he would be able to carry into law a Bill destroying the veto of the House of Lords. The whole situation has been revolutionised by his speech of yesterday. There is one way out, a perfectly honourable way, and I think a right way. That is the resignation of His Majesty's Ministers. I know it is a counsel of perfection, but I am convinced that were it to occur, we should yet succeed in this Parliament in destroying the power of the House of Lords. You have only to look at the Unionist Press during the last fortnight, you have only to listen to the speeches delivered from that side of the House, to recognise that the one thing that the Tories fear more than anything else is the resignation of the Ministry, that the Leader of the Opposition should be called upon to form a Ministry and to formulate a policy. Suppose that he would not form a Ministry or formulate a policy, then we get back to the position in which the Liberal Ministry have the game in their own hands. They need not accept office without these guarantees, which we all know, and which they all believed up to now, were essential to the success of the Liberal policy in this Parliament.
§ Mr. D. V. PIRIE
I wish to join my voice to that of the hon. Member in the opinions which he has uttered. I consider the situation a particularly critical one and a particularly damaging one to the reputation of the Liberal party in view of the unprecedented success which the Liberal party achieved, in Scotland more especially, owing to the statements which the Scotch Members put before the electorate, it being especially owing to these statements that we obtained success at the polls.
I must say that there can be no harm in drawing the attention of the public to an Amendment of which the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) gave notice, and which he does not intend to move. I express my own deep regret, and the regret also of the vast majority, I believe, if not the whole, of the Scottish unofficial Members, that the Amendment is not to be moved. The Amendment expresses regret that no mention is made in the King's Speech of any assurances received by Your Majesty's Ministers that the measure for 174 limiting the powers of the House of Lords will, if passed by this House, become law." The question has been asked: Do we mean business or do we not? The action of the House of Lords has been absolutely unconstitutional in every respect. If there is blame for the financial situation which has been created, the responsibility for the loss must be put upon the House of Lords. I remember hearing a speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in which he said it would be perfectly just that the financial loss of the nation should be placed on the backs of those responsible for that loss. Therefore, the argument as to the position of financial chaos should not be allowed to stand in the way of the temporary postponement of the Budget.
I had to face a three-cornered fight in the recent election, and I assure the House that I would not have the assurance to stand again as a Liberal and face either a Socialist or a Labour candidate if I did not take this opportunity of declaring my own individual irresponsibility for the present state of affairs. We have a duty to perform to the electors who sent us to this Parliament, and who, in their enthusiasm, believed that it was our intention to deal with the House of Lords. We cannot allow that House to interrupt the true democratic progress of this country. We are at the head of a great progressive movement in the world when we are endeavouring to carry out the proposition we have at heart, and we are not going to lose the opportunity which now presents itself. We have now a chance of regaining a position which through years of reaction we have lost. The whole of the civilised democracies of Europe are waiting at the present moment to see the success of our efforts. We have in the House of Lords an anachronism. It is an out of date institution, which is unparalleled. From reading the King's Speech I understand that at the present moment there is a danger of our running off on a side issue and attempting to reform the House of Lords instead of dealing with the veto. We want first of all to abolish the veto of the House of Lords, and then will be the time to talk of reforming that House. The reform of the House of Lords might take a generation, but we want in the course of the next two months to deal with the question of the veto. We do not want to give up the control of the finance of this country. I am exceedingly glad to have this chance of stating the views of some at least of the Scottish 175 unofficial members, and in view of the pronounced way in which Scotland has given expression to its opinions at the recent election I hope that hon. Members from Scotland will more and more make those opinions known in this House.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
There is one sentence of the King's Speech of which no explanation whatever has yet been given. I refer to the allusion to the increase in the Navy Estimates. A question was raised last night in another place, and a Member of the Government speaking there intimated that the proposed increase foreshadowed in the King's Speech was likely to be a substantial one. Of course I understand that the time for the proper discussion of this question will be when, if ever, the Navy Estimates are submitted by the Government. At the same time, it would have been respectful to the House if some explanation had been given of this, as it appears to me, most extraordinary proposal. The Government evidently is yielding to the manufactured clamour of the yellow Press outside. The cost of the Navy has more than quadrupled during the past 30 years, and apparently we are further off from security now than when the increases began to be made. The demand for increased expenditure grows in proportion as it is yielded to, and I think the Government ought to take the earliest possible opportunity for stating what justification there is for this increase.
I would like to join in what my hon. Friend the Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes) said when speaking for the Labour party and other Members. He emphatically protested against any attempt being made at the reconstruction of the House of Lords. If the Government were being paid to play the game of the Lords and the Tory party they could not set about the work in better fashion than by proposing to reconstitute the House of Lords. It is not reconstitution that is wanted. It was not to reconstitute the House of Lords that the Government was sent here. It was to destroy the House of Lords; and if this Parliament follows its normal course what we shall be face to face with in the course of a few weeks or a few months will not be the abolition of the veto of the House of Lords. That will disappear in the clash of entangling schemes for reforming the House of Lords. And I hope that the Government will take note of the 176 fact that every one of its own supporters, regular and irregular, who has taken part in this discussion has entered an emphatic protest against the idea being entertained for a moment of reconstituting in any shape or form the House of Lords.
We are about to enter into a great constitutional conflict, which will unsettle and upset the regular procedure of Parliament for months, and, it may be, for years. There are certain schemes of social reform upon which there is practical substantial agreement among all sections of the House of Commons. There is the proposal which has been foreshadowed, and which, so far as I understand, would pass practically as an unopposed measure, for insurance against unemployment and against in validity. I want to ask the Government whether it is their intention that the claims of the unemployed and the claims or those who are past work but not old enough to qualify for the Old Age Pension are to remain in abeyance until the question of the House of Lords has been disposed of. The poor cannot afford to wait until we have decided this great constitutional issue; and surely, in spite of the urgency of the question at issue, some mode of procedure might be devised, some arrangement might be come to by which at least the measure for dealing with insurance against unemployment and against invalidity might be considered and passed into law before we enter into the throes of the coming conflict. This is not, and I hope will not be considered, a party question. It is an act of grace towards the poor and destitute in our midst, and, as such, should be above party. I leave the King's speech and the proposals it contains to revert for a few minutes to what is, after all, the main question before the House of Commons—the question of the tactics which the Government intend to pursue.
The Prime Minister must have been struck while he was speaking with the very ominous silence from his own supporters when he was expounding and outlining the policy of the Government. Cheers from the other side were frequent enough, and I think were justified, but these did not strike one so forcibly as the pall of silence which fell over his own supporters. This afternoon the Home Secretary (Mr. Churchill), whom, had I been present, I should have liked to congratulate upon his promotion, with more vim and more elocution, said the same thing as the Prime Minister said yesterday. The whole question at issue was the line of 177 policy which the Government should pursue in order to carry out the mandate which the country undoubtedly has gvien it. I listened to the delightful trifling comedy with which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Balfour) yesterday entertained us in a manner in which he has no equal in opening the present discussion. He expressed a doubt as to what had been decided by the election. That, however, is only his playful way of putting it. He knows perfectly well that what has been decided has been that the country wants two things. It wants the Budget to become law, and it wants the power of the House of Lords to be broken.
Let us see how the position stands and how these two ends should be obtained, because it will not be denied in any quarter of the House that if the three sections who are not responsible to the Opposition whip, the Liberals, the Irish Nationalists and ourselves, can be united—some hon. Members laugh, but it is an old saying that he laughs best who laughs last, and the last word has not yet been said by the Government—if these three sections can be united it will not be disputed that, so far as the House of Commons is concerned, both the Budget and the House of Lords can be dealt with. Let me try to picture what the position is. Members of the Liberal party are returned to destroy the veto or the House of Lords and support the Budget. Their position therefore is quite clear and unambiguous. They will support the Government in both these measures. My hon. Friends opposite are in a somewhat different position. They want—I mean the majority of them—to destroy the power of the House of Lords, and although they are not in love with the Budget, they will vote for the Budget if thereby they can destroy the power of the House of Lords. That is the position of the Irish party. We on these benches are not in love with the Liberal plan for dealing with the House of Lords. We do not believe in merely destroying the veto power of the House of Lords. We want to apply the remedy which was used by a Scotch farmer to a mad dog. He was told the way to cure its madness was to cut off part of its tail. He carried out that advice, and when subsequently asked about what he had done, he explained that he had cut off the tail from behind the ears. That is our plan for dealing with the House of Lords. We regard the House of Lords not merely as an anachronism, but as a relic of feudalism, which is an insult and an outrage upon democracy. But, as we are 178 not likely to be able to get our own way—we shall one day; the complete remedy is only postponed, and not abandoned—we shall accept, as we always do, what is offered, and support the Government in getting rid of the veto. If we cannot get rid of the Lords, it will be some consolation to limit their power for mischief. At the same time, if the Lords are half as black as they are painted on every Liberal platform, they are too bad to be amended, and ought to be ended. We support the Budget not from any ulterior motive, like our hon. Friends opposite, but for its own sake, for what it contains, and for what it portends. As my hon. Friend the Member for Black-friars said this morning, we regard the Budget as the beginning of the first instalment of a far too long delayed method of raising the revenue of the country. Therefore, we support the Budget for its own sake. There are three sections of the House of Commons, and obviously, if the business of this Assembly were so arranged as to bring them together, both the Budget and the veto could be dealt with. How, then, can that be secured? In saying this, I am speaking for myself, and not for the party with which I am identified. There is only one way in which this unity can be secured, and in which the Government can be enabled to carry through the mandate it has received from the House of Commons, and that is to make the passing of the Budget contingent upon the veto going through. If that could be secured you get sufficient strength behind the Government to carry both the Budget and abolish the veto. But there are objections taken to that course. I listened this afternoon, as I always do, with close attention to the very plausible argument put forward by the Home Secretary in opposition to that case. I noticed this, however, that during the whole course of his speech he carefully excluded from his purview the central fact of the situation, to which I will return in a moment. He pointed out what would happen if the House of Commons refused to vote Supplies—how our great civilisation, so laboriously built up, would be reduced to chaos, and how there would be no provision for the Army, the Navy, and the judges' salaries, or for the old age pensions of the poor. And he went on to say that the party which adopted that as a policy would come to a "swift and blinding catastrophe"'—a very picturesque phrase.
I do not deny that the refusal of Supplies would be a drastic and revolutionary 179 measure, but we must not shut our eyes to the fact that it is a revolution that we are aiming at—a revolution created by those who have usurped all those powers which were taken from them by constitutional means generations ago—and if they care to take the risk of a revolution why should we shrink from it, and if revolutionary means are necessary to force this reform through I see no other way of doing it than this, which is better than the kind of revolutionary method, with bullets and barricades, that history has made us familiar with in regard to former revolutions. As to the "swift and blinding catastrophe" that would overtake the party, I respectfully submit that better a great catastrophe than that the party should make an inglorious exit, disspirited, humiliated, and mocked at by friend and foe alike in the country. But we are told now that the Government intends to introduce the Veto Resolution into the House of Commons before the Budget becomes law, or before it reaches its second stage in order to give the House an opportunity to express its opinion. But that is a pure waste of time. The opinion of the House of Commons is not in doubt. We know already what the opinion of the House of Commons is and what the result of the vote will be—a majority of about 124, which, whatever else it may be divided upon, is agreed upon breaking down the power of the House of Lords. What we want to know is not what the opinion of the House of Commons is, but what the opinion of the House of Lords is, and what means have to be taken to break down the opposition of the House of Lords. Therefore I join with those who ask that the Government shall have these Resolutions introduced simultaneously in both Houses and keep back the Budget until the result is known. To pass the Budget, said the Home Secretary, is to spite the Lords. He knows better than that. The Lords have agreed. Lord Lansdowne said last night in the House of Lords, repeating the promise of the Leader of the Opposition in this House, that the Budget had been accepted by the country, and if it were also accepted by the House of Commons they would raise no further objection to its becoming law. Therefore to say that to pass the Budget is going to spite the House, of Lords is to make a statement which I find it hard to agree with. But the Home Secretary added this—and I noticed that this was the only bit which elicited enthu- 180 siastic cheers from this side of the House during the whole course of the Debate—he used these words, which I carefully noted at the moment:If a deadlock and crisis are inevitable, they cannot come too soon.What is meant by a deadlock and crisis? I hope time will not be wasted in trumpery Resolutions, which would deceive no one in this House and no one outside. Let us have the Bill, and do not let us have the same discussion twice over on the Resolution and on the Bill. The Bill after it is passed by the House of Commons will be rejected by the House of Lords—and there is the deadlock, there the dissolution. The only alternative proposal we have to that of refusing Supplies is to again dissolve the House of Commons if the Lords refuse to pass the Bill, but that is to insult the electorate of this country. The electorate have already expressed their opinion on the veto. I will grant the opinion that we may be divided, in the case of our Irish friends over the Budget, but every Member who does not belong to the Unionist party is here pledged to vote to break down the veto of the House of Lords. What is the appeal to the country to be upon—the Budget and the veto, the same old question over again which we have just fought out. What will the electors say? "We have expressed our opinion once, and you have not the courage to carry out the mandate with which we entrusted you."
If the crisis is to come let it come over the real issue, and let the Government refuse Supplies. Let the fiat go forth to all the world that the House of Commons has once again resorted to its ancient practice of refusing to find the money for carrying on the Government of the Nation until the powers that be grant the reform which the country has demanded. This power in bygone days was used against the King. We have been reminded that the King is no longer responsible. I grant that. But the House of Lords is responsible, and the King, if need be, has the power in con junction with the House of Commons to break down the opposition of the House of Lords. Let us therefore play the courageous part and have the crisis and the deadlock, and let both the crisis and the deadlock continue till the Peers are brought to reason, and democracy is more thoroughly established. Hon. Members opposite go to the democracy and try to hoodwink the democracy, and seek to bedizen the democracy with their glamorous promises, and they sneer when we 181 speak of an extension of the powers of the democracy We are here to claim full powers for the common people, and we are going to fight for them till we get them.
Those, then, I say, are the tactics by which, in my judgment, you can secure both the Budget and the veto. What is the alternative, and this is equally important. What does the Government gain by following the plan it has proposed? My Friends opposite, under the circumstances, must of necessity, it appears to me—I do not pretend to speak for them; I am simply judging the situation as an outsider—vote against the Second Reading of the Budget unless this veto question has first been disposed of. You then have your crisis, you have your deadlock. You lose your Budget and you also lose your veto. Nothing whatever is gained by following this course. It is a course of weakness. In a crisis of this kind it is audacity that pays. Any temporising with the situation such as this is bound to react heavily upon the party responsible for it. With all respect I ask the Government is it in earnest over this question? Does it mean business in connection with the House of Lords? I have been glad to hear speaker after speaker from these benches, orthodox loyal members of the Liberal party, tell how they won their election and the pledges and the promises they made, and here they are to-night ashamed of the Government which led them to believe that certain things were going to be done or had been done, and now calmly after the election turn round and say, "Those things had not been done, and they are not going to be done."
The Liberal party in 1895 went to a great debacle from the same courses that now seem to be at work, from a lack of courage to boldly grapple with the situation, and it appears to me that if the course outlined thus far be persisted in a similar result is bound to follow at the next election. I hope even now it is not too late for the Government to still further develop its plan of campaign. Let us take the Resolutions, or the Bill rather, either introduced simultaneously into both Houses, or, and it will serve the same purpose, introduced into the other place, and the opinion of the Lords ascertained upon it. When that has been secured, the Government will then be in the position to decide whether it is justified in going on with finance. So far as I am concerned, I shall 182 strongly support the idea that until this constitutional crisis has been ended not one penny of public money shall be voted for any public service whatsoever; and, if that course be followed, it will rouse and stimulate the imagination of the electorate outside, and, should a General Election result, will, in my judgment, make the return by a triumphant majority secure for those who want to break down the usurping powers of the Lords once and for all.
§ Sir MARK STEWART
The House of Lords has done good service to this country. It contains men who have done great deeds for their country, both at home and abroad. Many men from the opposite side sit in the House of Lords, have done good service, and no doubt will continue to do so if they are only let alone. It seems to me that in this matter, to use an old Scotch proverb, there is much cry but little wool. The hon. Member will know what that means. There is a great noise, and sounding of trumpets, many brazen speeches are delivered, but the country does not really want this great alteration. They are perfectly willing to have a judicious reform of the House of Lords, and the House of Lords themselves are perfectly willing to have such a reform. Why cannot the country maintain silence and tranquillity for a short time? It will then be seen how matters shape. What would the great commercial communities think if the hon. Member (Mr. Keir Hardie) persuaded the Government to adopt any such mad project as that of refusing Supplies? How would trade go on? How would the employment of workmen in the great industries of the country continue? There would be no money to pay wages, and working men would be in a far worse position than they are at present. The hon. Member must know that. I would appeal to him to look at things more calmly. I do not believe the Government have a majority in the House for their Budget. Very few, if any, of the Members from Ireland will be found to approve of it. In other quarters of the House there are many Members who, although they would like to see the Budget go through, are not really in love with it. They foresee that great mischief may arise from it and that the new departures may be fatal. Whenever you impose taxation you must be very careful not to press too heavily upon any individual class, especially the wealthier classes, those who have the means not only of livelihood for themselves but of affording a livelihood for others, who make the country prosperous 183 around them—I am speaking for the moment of the landlords—who make their tenants contented, giving them good cottages, seeing that the land is in really good order, and laying out practically all the substance they get from the land in that direction. I admit that that is a right way of proceeding. They may be living very simply themselves, almost meanly, considering what their position has been, yet if they make others happy and divest themselves of any ambition save that of trying to do good to others, living a high-minded and good life among their own people, is not that a good thing? If you take away their means of living and deprive them of their ability to make others happy, if you deprive them of their just ambition and their right to distribute their means and substance amongst others, you impoverish the country instead of making it better in any respect. What do we want, after all? We want a reformed House of Lords—if you like, a reconstructed House of Lords. I would go great lengths in that matter. For many years I have spoken on countless platforms in reference to this Question, and I am satisfied that the people of Scotland, if the Question were put fairly to them, would not do away with the House of Lords or with its veto. They would improve that House, add new blood to it, and possibly make easier steps to it; but they certainly approve of the House of Lords. Suitors know when they go to the House of Lords that they will get justice. You must have an impartial tribunal if you have a Second Chamber. I thoroughly agree with that, and I believe you have one now. You could almost count on your fingers the measures the House of Lords has rejected in recent years. As to the Education Bill, there are many Members on the other side of the House, including Members from Scotland, who would give Roman Catholics what they really want, but what was denied to them by the late Government. That was one of the great measures for not giving way upon which the House of Lords has been most roundly abused. Another was the Plural Voting Bill. But no Government would or ought to tinker at a great measure of electoral reform unless they were prepared to do something wider and more useful than disfranchising instead of enfranchising voters. No doubt the House of Lords has made mistakes and will make mistakes, but where will you find a better Chamber on the whole? If that assembly were 184 somewhat more in conformity with the feelings of hon. Members opposite they would thoroughly agree with me that to deprive the House of Lords of the veto would mean absolute ruin to the country. So long as we can retain the House of Lords and perhaps make it more perfect than it is, we shall be a prosperous nation; but if you once deprive it of its powers, you will not only bring ruin on the House of Commons, and give a one-sided vote on many important questions, but you will destroy the influence of Parliament over the commerce of the country.
§ Sir ALBERT SPICER
Ever since I have been a Member of the House of Commons I have loyally supported the leaders of my party; but I am bound to admit that I am more in sympathy at present with the utterance of the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes) than with the speech, eloquent though it was, of the Home Secretary. I was in a different position perhaps from any other Member of the House, in that I heard of the decision of the House of Lords on the Budget when in mid-Atlantic. I knew then that a fresh chapter in British history had been opened. For years we, as Liberals, have had our chief measures constantly mutilated or destroyed by that House. When the party opposite have been in power we have lived practically under a single Chamber. You complain of us wishing to destroy the House of Lords. You have not known what the House of House of Lords is when you were in power. We come into power; every single great measure we have put forward for years we have had to submit to seeing either mutilated or destroyed. It might have gone on for years in this sort of way, because I admit that, as a whole, the House of Lords had had the good sense only to reject those measures about which there was a certain difference of opinion on our side. The party of progress will always have that difficulty to contend against. The party that is simply putting its back to the wall, and not attempting to advance, has no difficulty in keeping a straight line. But directly you come to a party of progress you have the different paces at which the different Members go, and, of course, we progressives and Liberals will always be subject to those disadvantages. I never dreamt that the House of Lords would so completely commit suicide as they have done by declining to pass the Budget, and not only declining to pass the Budget till the country had been asked about it, but 185 by embarking on the far greater question. We know perfectly well that Noble Lords—men like Lord Curzon—went about the country claiming for the House of Lords that they should be the dominating influence, not only in finance, but also in legislation.
I came back from a journey abroad which I was making, I believed, in the commercial interests of this country. In that journey I learnt what tremendous damage has been done to this country, and to popular opinion of this country by the agitation which hon. Gentlemen opposite have been conducting for the last six years, and in which they have been decrying their own country. I had constantly to combat the idea which I found was prevalent in the minds—not of the loaders, but of the rank and file of the people in our dominions—that Great Britain was a decadent country. I only wish that hon. Members on the opposite side of the House who have been conducting tins campaign, and who have been running down the commercial position of this country, could have actually come across the many expressions which I heard on the other side of the world. Bear in mind what it means. Your dominions beyond the seas arc, the rank and file of them, a much more travelled people than our commercial people. Consequently it is a sort of primâ facie idea with them now that they can do better in many cases in dealing with other countries than they can with the Mother Country. You have the responsibility of having created that.
I came back to the contest of a seat which, in the estimation of the Press opposed to me, was already gone. If hon. Members opposite will read their own leading papers they will find that the seat which I have the honour to represent to-day was lost long before I had started home across the Atlantic! I came back. I had an hon. opponent who fought the battle cleanly and honourably. I fought it on the Premier's speech at the Albert Hall. If the policy of the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow is carried out by the Government I can go back to my Constituency and face my Constituents honestly and boldly. I do not feel I can if the policy as enunciated by the Home Secretary is adopted. It is perfectly true that it is a difficult position. I know only too well some of the great difficulties. But we are not responsible for having created those difficulties, or that position. The 186 House of Lords was warned of those consequences, and we know the phrase they used in connection with the consequences. Surely it is possible to get over some of these difficulties, and to adopt the policy laid down by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Blackfriars Division. However much we may be divided so far as the Liberal, Labour, and Nationalist parties are concerned with some questions, we are all united with regard to limiting the veto of the House of Lords. I fought my election on that question, and on the Budget. I have always defended the Budget as being a just and fair Budget, and as being a Budget which opens up now hopes for the people of this country. I am a strong Free Trader, but I have long held the opinion that Free Trade, without changing the incidence of taxation on land, means a great injustice to the people of the country. We have enabled the landlords of this country for years to shut up their land and shut out labour from their land. We have allowed them to make the great unemployed class. You see it, on the one hand, the one extreme, in poor agricultural lands being converted into land for sport and not for cultivation. You see it, on the other hand, in the valuable suburban land being "held-up" for years, because, while it is "held up," and whilst it is yielding no annual value, it is paying no rates or Income Tax. At the present time, under our present system, you reward the man who says to his fellow man, "You shall not work." That is the position to-day. I am an out-and-out Free Trader, but you need to supplement Free Trade by such clauses as those introduced for the first time into the Budget in this country—those clauses with regard to land taxation. I fought, as I say, my battle on the question of the Lords and the question of the Budget. On those two issues the people of Central Hackney sent me back here for a Constituency which up till 1906 had never returned a Liberal, and only returned me with 40 less majority than I had obtained in 1906. I must be loyal to my Constituency. I do therefore ask the Government with all earnestness whether they cannot reconsider this question, and come nearer to the position of my hon. Friend the Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow.
§ Mr. JOSEPH MARTIN
I should not have taken the opportunity at present of addressing the House had it not been for the fact that matters have been brought before the House which are of such vast 187 importance, not only to the Liberal party but to the country at large. Like the hon. Member who has just sat down, the campaign in my Constituency was fought absolutely and entirely upon the question of the House of Lords. We refused, except in the most incidental manner, even to discuss other great issues that were before the country, considering as we did that they were all bound up in that one issue. I may say also we discussed this question entirely on the basis of the promises and the pledges which I myself heard the Prime Minister make in the Albert Hall on the 10th December. As a humble Liberal I wish to thank the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) for what to my mind was the only clear and exhaustive statement of the question put before the House during this Debate. I am a convinced Home Ruler, and the difficulty I had to encounter in supporting Home Rule was that it has always been thrown up against me that Irishmen are not fit to govern themselves. Yet we have heard the Irish Leader and his colleagues who support him dealing to my mind, in the only proper way with this question, which does not affect Ireland particularly, but which affects the whole United Kingdom.
I think it is one of the most effective answers to any suggestion that the Irish people are not fit to govern themselves, to say that on this critical occasion they are ready and able to suggest a remedy for the evils of the United Kingdom. They are putting that forward because upon this particular Question they require for their own purpose that the House of Lords should be dealt with. It seems to me that there is no question at all between the Budget and the veto. It does not appear to me, although we have seen the discussion in the newspapers at great length, that that is a matter which is wearying any Member of the three parties who have come here for the purpose of abolishing the veto of the House of Lords. At all events, the hon. Member for Water-ford tells us that he is quite willing that the Budget should come first, with only one proviso, and that is that he has been assured that the veto of the Lords will disappear, and then he is prepared even to vote for the Budget to which he is opposed for the purpose of gaining that great end We have had this evening a very able speech from the Home Secretary. I was waiting to hear after the speech of the 188 hon. Member for Waterford some answer made by the Home Secretary.
The pledge which I understood the Prime Minister to have made at the Albert Hall was that the Government would not hold office after the General Election unless they had secured from His Majesty assurances that the Royal prerogative would be at their disposal for the purpose of creating a sufficient number of new Peers to force the Veto Bill through the House of Lords in case it was opposed. We are now told by the Prime Minister that he never intended to make any such pledge, and I notice that the Home Secretary endeavoured to make out that the hon. Member for Waterford had relieved the Prime Minister from any imputation of having broken this pledge. I certainly did not understand that from the hon. Member, though he did say what everyone of us would say, namely, that he quite believed the Prime Minister when he made his statement yesterday, but that is far from agreeing that the Prime Minister had not broken the pledge which he made on 10th December in the Albert Hall. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say now cannot in any way affect the pledge he made on 10th December. That pledge was construed on the words used then, and not in the light of the expression he may use now when the event is over.
Now what I failed to get from the Home Secretary was any answer to the very fair statement made by the hon. Member for Waterford as to the moaning of that statement in the Albert Hall. In his Albert Hall speech the Prime Minister alluded to two circumstances. He was not content simply to pledge the Liberal party as to its course in the event of success at the polls at the last General Election, but he went further and dealt with the contingency of the Liberal party being defeated at this General Election and gaining power at some subsequent election. Now while it may be possible to apply the construction now sought to be put by the Prime Minister upon what he said at the Albert Hall, so far as it affected remaining in office, it is utterly impossible to make it work with regard to the pledge as to what the Liberal party will do when they come to assume office on a subsequent occasion. It is manifestly clear, it seems to me, that whatever pledge was made with regard to the one occasion must also have been intended with regard to the other. The right hon. Gentleman says what he intended was that he and his Government 189 would not remain in power unless they were able to obtain an Act of Parliament. I would like to ask, supposing that they had been defeated at this election and they succeeded at some subsequent time and had been called upon to assume office, how they could have asked His Majesty the King to present them with an Act of Parliament as a condition precedent to their taking office. It is perfectly clear therefore that what the right hon. Gentleman meant as to condition precedent was not an Act of Parliament, and therefore it could be only one other thing and that is a pedge from His Majesty that if it became necessary the Royal prerogative might be used for the purpose of creating additional Peers. The Prime Minister now says he does not intend to ask for the fulfilment of that pledge, and his reason for not doing so is that in his opinion it would be quite improper to ask for any such pledge from the King until the very moment came when it was to be used. Upon making that statement the right hon. Gentleman received very strong cheers from the Opposition Benches and very little cheering from his own side. If he had gone further and stated that it would be quite improper at any time to ask for such a pledge from His Majesty, no doubt he would have received still stronger cheers from hon. Gentlemen opposite. I cannot understand what wrong it would be either to the Constitution or His Majesty to make that a condition either for assuming office or remaining in office. This has been frequently done in the past. When the Leader of an Opposition has in past times been called upon to form a Government it has been quite a common occurrence for him to put before His Majesty certain conditions, and if they were not granted he would decline to take upon his shoulders the burden and responsibility of governing the country. The Prime Minister has admitted that if the House of Lords throw out the Veto Bill he will then be ready to apply to His Majesty to create additional Peers. What possible difference can it make either to the Constitution or to His Majesty for the Prime Minister to apply for this power anterior to the actual necessity of using it? The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues and every Member of this House know perfectly well what will happen to the Veto Bill in this House. The Home Secretary stated that they could not move in this matter until they knew what was 190 going to happen to such a measure in this House. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there is a majority of 124 in this House not only ready but anxious to vote for the abolition of the veto, and therefore it is idle for the Home Secretary to say that the Government have to wait until they have ascertained the opinion of the different groups of Members in the House, when they know very well that they were elected for that particular purpose. Every hon. Member knows also that while the Veto Bill will go through this House with a majority of over 100, in the House of Lords it will be defeated by a much larger majority than that. I appeal to the Government not to destroy the great power that is in their hands simply on a question of that kind. It is abundantly evident from what has been said by the hon. Member for Water-ford, who controls the situation, that if the Government go ahead, as the Home Secretary told us to-day they intend to do, and put forward the Budget without being able to give any assurance as to what will happen with regard to the Veto Bill—and the Prime Minister certainly cannot give any assurances until he has applied to His Majesty and got that power in his pocket—they will be defeated, because the Irish Members will be obliged to vote against the Budget under those circumstances. A suggestion has been made that the question of the Budget influences the hon. and learned Member for Waterford with regard to his stand on the veto power of the House of Lords. He has dealt with that himself, and I shall not deal with it. Whilst he is an opponent of the Budget, I am a hearty supporter of it. I would be prepared to do anything in my power to put that Budget upon the Statute Book, but that does not prevent me taking the same stand with regard to the Veto Bill and the necessity of having these pledges as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Waterford. Another point of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister was that you could not go to His Majesty and ask for pledges with regard to a Bill which you have not prepared. It is true that the abolition of the Veto Bill has not been presented to this House, but it has been presented to a tribunal which transcends this House and from which this House springs—the people of this country—because in the Albert Hall speech the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister gave us in detail what the Bill would be. He told us its various 191 clauses, and the country has pronounced upon not only the pledge of the Prime Minister as to what he would do, but also upon the very Bill itself by which the Government proposed to do away with the veto power. We have, however, in the King's Speech, a proposal for something different. It has not been explained to us, but it has been interpreted by various Members of this House as suggesting more or less clearly that in addition to doing away with the veto power, the Government propose to reconstruct or reform the House of Lords. I am a loyal Liberal, and I was elected to support this Government, but I was not elected to support a reform of the House of Lords. The Government are putting me at once in a very false position by calling upon me to support a proposal of that kind, but it seems to me there is a very much more fatal objection than that to the proposal of the Government to go one inch further than the suggestions made by the Prime Minister at Albert Hall on the 10th December. We all know that His Majesty, on being applied to to use the Royal Prerogative, would be obliged to say to the Minister who asked for it, "You must first get a mandate from the people." A mandate has been obtained from the people for a Bill doing away with the veto of the House of Lords, but no mandate has been obtained for a Bill going one bit further than that, or for attempting in any way to reconstruct that Chamber. It seems to me, therefore, that when the right hon. Gentleman has reached that stage—if he ever does so—I think it is utterly impossible he ever should, but if he ever does reach it he will be confronted with the difficulty that His Majesty will be bound by constitutional practice to say "I cannot allow you to use the Royal prerogative for forcing that Bill through the House of Lords, because it is entirely a different Bill from the one upon which the people actually voted."
§ Mr. SANDERSON
I should not have ventured to interpose so early in my career in the House of Commons in this Debate but for the fact that everybody must recognise we are dealing with matters of the greatest possible importance, and the time at our disposal is likely to be very short. There is one thing which seems to me to be perfectly clear, and that is that hon. Gentlemen opposite have been so busy in attacking their own Government they have never found time to answer the points made against them from this side of the 192 House. They have never answered, for instance, the point put so clearly earlier in the day as to the occasion which has been chosen by Members opposite for commencing an attempt upon the Constitution of this country? What is that occasion? Everybody knows, I suppose, that the Government went to the country on the Budget. It was introduced as a measure of far-reaching effect, capable, as I think the Prime Minister described it, of indefinite extension. It was described, at all events, by one very eminent statesman as a social and political revolution. The House of Lords said, "We are not going to pass this until we get a clear decision of the people about it." What has been the answer? If we are entitled to assume that the Irish Nationalists are still of the same opinion as they were in the last Parliament, the answer has been a conclusive one against the Budget, because we had it told to us only yesterday by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford that the Irish party as a body voted against the Second Reading of the Budget, but for certain reasons which were known to themselves they abstained from opposing it on the Third Reading. If we are to assume then that they are still of the same opinion as in the last Parliament, the answer has been incontestably one against the Budget. Yet this has been fixed upon as the occasion for instituting an attempt to cut down the powers of the House of Lords. Why I submit to this House, that so far from this being the occasion for diminishing the powers of the House of Lords it is exactly the opposite, it is an occasion for safeguarding those powers. For this reason, because it has been made abundantly clear that on this occasion, as on many others, that the House of Lords more rightly interpreted the wish and will of the people than did the majority in the last House of Commons.
There is another point of view which has been put before this House, and which has never really been answered from the other side. Can anyone deny in the present state of parties in this House, under the present balance of parties, that it really lies in the power of the Irish Nationalists, so far as this House is concerned, to say what Bills shall become law and what Bills shall not become law. I should like to know whether the people in the country will be satisfied with that state of things in this House without any effective check in a Second Chamber[...] If I 193 know anything about the temper of the people of the United Kingdom it is that they will not consent to such a thing as that. If we did not know the views of those hon. Members before, we have heard them pretty clearly stated during this Debate. We have thought, many of us, that they were not well affected towards this country or towards the Union, and I think it has been pretty clearly stated that they really take no interest in the affairs which are debated in this House, except from the point of view of Ireland—how they would benefit Ireland and how they might hurt Ireland. If I am right in saying that that is the present position of parties in this House, how can anyone possibly go to the people of this country and say this is the time for the responsible Ministry of the day to ask the country to cut down the powers of the existing Second Chamber?
Next I should like to ask what is the position of the Ministry which has undertaken this attempt upon the powers of the House of Lords? Is it a Ministry at the head of a large, united, and solid following? Nobody who has listened to this Debate, at all events, can have any doubt as to what the answer to that is. Their following is a party which is on the point of rebellion in every quarter of the House in which they sit, and yet it is a Ministry, which has such a following as that, which proposes to undertake this great task of cutting down the powers of the House of Lords. You could not have a better instance of the position of the Government than the procedure which is proposed by the Prime Minister. He proposes to bring in a Resolution as to the Lords' power of veto, as I understand him. Why? What is the good of bringing in a Resolution to debate it at great length, and, I suppose, take up a good deal of valuable time upon it, if you are going to bring in a Bill afterwards which is going to be the effective measure? Shall I tell the House what is the reason? It is because some concession has to be made to some section of this party on this point at all events. Lastly, I cannot help thinking that a great many hon. Members in this House will feel some satisfaction from this Debate. The people of this country now can have no doubt whatever what is the intention of a large portion of hon. Members opposite. It is not reform of the House of Lords, it is not a change of the constitution of the House of Lords, it is not to bring the 194 House of Lords more up to date than it is at the present moment. No, on the benches opposite, below the Gangway, it is to destroy the House of Lords. On the Irish Benches it is to destroy the House of Lords, because if they can destroy it it means Home Rule for Ireland, and therefore I submit that at all events we have cleared the air, and we know that the people of this country will have an opportunity of seeing clearly what the proposal is. When they are asked for their opinion they will answer with no undecided voice. They will say, "We, at all events, are not going to entrust the destinies of this country, nay, more, the destinies of this great Empire of which we are all so proud, to the sole and unrestricted control of any particular section of the House of Commons which may have a majority for the time being."
§ Mr. E. G. HEMMERDE
If it is a fact that in all parts of the House there are signs of rebellion against the Government, and particularly upon these benches, I think that is caused by the rather singular development at the beginning of this new Parliament that the Government take one view and their followers take another. I am myself in a peculiarly irritating position. I had very little fighting to do in my own Constituency, so spent my time during two months in speaking to a quarter of a million electors. It puts one into a peculiarly irritating position when at every meeting one goes to one reads the pledge given by the Prime Minister. Everywhere throughout the length and breadth of this country I and my friends that I see around me here pledged ourselves to the policy put forward in the Prime Minister's speech in the Albert Hall. I expect everyone in the House will accept what the Prime Minister says, that he did not mean what we thought he meant, but those words, and I challenge any member of the Government to submit them to any competent judge or lawyer, can mean nothing but what we thought they meant. The word "assume" makes it perfectly impossible that those words could be taken by the country in any other sense than that in which they were taken. I only say that, not in any way doubting what the Prime Minister says, but in giving some reason why I and my Friends here feel very deeply the humiliating position that careless verbiage of this sort put us into with our constituents. I came to this House absolutely pledged only to support the Government if they carry out the pledge of the 195 Albert Hall speech. What is my position? I am told I am wrong in my construction of the speech. I have told my Constituents that upon that construction of the speech, and to that construction of the speech I pledged myself. The Home Secretary told us there were two policies before the Government. One is immediate resignation. He remarked that one had more charms than the other. I do not think that was the one that had the most charms. He said there was one great disadvantage in that, that there was no opportunity of stating our case. I was always under the impression that our case had been stated. I was in the House when the Resolutions were discussed—the Campbell-Bannerman Resolutions. I thought our case was stated then, and when we hear of new Resolutions that are to see the light of day next week, or the week after, or the week after that, I wonder whether we cannot bring in the Campbell-Bannerman Resolutions again, if we want Resolutions. These are Resolutions upon which the country has pronounced, and if the Government did not think so, it was the duty of the Government before they went out to have shown their hand and brought in Resolutions at the end of last Session. Was there nothing before the electors at the election? I submit that the Campbell-Bannerman Resolutions were before the electors and that the Government came in pledged to deal with the House of Lords upon these lines. I say further that the question of the reform of the House of Lords was not only not before the elcetors, but that in the Debate which took place on these Resolutions it was carefully stated by Minister after Minister that the question of the reform of the House of Lords was not a question for the Liberal party. Now we find in the King's Speech words, as yet unexplained, which seem to suggest that the very thing which Ministers told us was not the duty of the Liberal party has suddenly become the mission of the Liberal party, and I should like to know why. These matters have been discussed in the country and the House of Commons. We are told that the rank and file are in rebellion, but are the rank and file and the country to count for nothing in matters of policy? I for one decline to go up and down the country speaking for a policy and quoting straight from the words of Gentlemen who sit on that Bench if Ministers then come and say it is not their policy. I can only say if 196 it is not their policy they will have to get support for their policy from other people. I speak not only as a loyal member of the Liberal party, but as one who has for weeks shown his loyalty to the Liberal party by efforts that, at any rate, very few people in the party have equalled. If I am wrong in the construction I put on the words of the Prime Minister, and if we are wrong in that construction, what are we to say of the result of this election? Where do we stand? For what do we stand? There is only one way in which this matter can be put right. I do not suggest heroic courses to-day, like the stoppage of Supply and resignation, but I do suggest that surely we who have been, at any rate, unwittingly deceived by words which were clearly ambiguous, have a right to some assurances from the Government that something will be done on the lines of the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond), and that we shall not have to wait week after week and month after month until, first, Resolutions are passed, and then a Bill is brought in. I do not understand this new constitutional law and constitutional obligation. I was of opinion—I believe that that opinion has the authority of every great writer on constitutional law and history—that when a question has been put clearly before Parliament and before the electors, and the electors have pronounced upon it, the Government that stands in support of that question has a right to demand the support of our constitutional authority. I was under that impression; but it now seems to be suggested that you cannot do so until the actual Bill is tabulated. I do not understand that as a constitutional theory. It seems to me that one can always decline to take office or remain in office unless you get certain definite assurances.
Supposing that the Government had declined to remain in office, what would have been the result? The Opposition would have taken office. We have heard from them to-night and yesterday that they would not have put up with a state of things that would have left them and the Government of the country dependent upon the Irish. They would not have sought alliance there in a single Chamber, as it always is when they are in power. So what would have happened? Could they form a Government, and if they did not form a Government what would have happened? Either the Prime Minister would have been recalled and his terms agreed to, or another General Election 197 would have taken place. Had we anything to fear from another General Election? What we have to fear is that the spirit and enthusiasm and self-sacrifice of the last election shall be frittered away in tactics. The best tactics in politics are always the bold tactics, and that is what aroused the enthusiasm of the rank and file at this election, because the bold tactics were written on every line of the speeches of the chief orators of that campaign. We had the bold tactics in the Albert Hall speech. We had the bold tactics up and down the country, in the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ure."] If the critics of the Lord Advocate in this House had one-tenth of his abilities this would be the greatest House of Commons that ever sat. But it was the fact that the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Home Secretary, and the Lord Advocate, and others whose names are household words in the country: there are even some on the other side whose names are similarly household words. I meant nothing boastful. It is merely a statement of what every intelligent man knows to be true. It was because these people appealed to the fighting policy and the straight policy that we won on that issue a great victory. Upon that issue we could have faced the country a week after, a fortnight after, or a month after.
The issue was complicated with another issue for reforming the personnel of the House of Lords. How can we face the country when the time comes. I say the power and authority of this Parliament must not be frittered away. I believe the tactics have all been wrong. We are not the only judge of tactics. We have got to make the best of the situation as we find it. I believe the tactics were wrong from the first. I do not think the House of Lords, when they challenged our right over finance, should have been permitted to force the judgment of the country. I never did think so. I think that was the moment for seeking the Sovereign to redress the balance of the constitution. That is a 198 matter of opinion. I know constitutional lawyers as eminent, even as those whose voices I have heard in the House of Commons, who think that would have been the right and constitutional course. That chance is thrown away. As we said, they had no power to force a dissolution, but we allowed them to force it. The concerns of the country and the finances of the country are all thrown into confusion, and it is their fault, and not ours. They knew that we should take that line. It is the line that Governments, especially Governments of a slightly plutocratic tinge, always take. They knew they could always rely upon us to play their game, and, instead of trying to put the blame on them, to take it on our own shoulders. I think we have been wrong in those tactics. I think the bold line of letting the finances of the country take care of themselves should have been adopted while we fought this great issue. If we cannot do that now then I say at any rate let us, the rank and file, concentrate upon this. That will let the Government realise they exist upon the support of their followers in this House and the support of the constituents of those followers in the country, and we ask them now what right have they to alter the issue and to talk about the constitution of the House of Lords. We want to know what right and title they have got to do it. We have borne with them the burden and the heat of this fight. We followed them and told the country what depended on the victory. We were their partners in the fight and their partners in the victory, and we have a right to see that the fruits of victory within their grasp are not to be frittered away in the empty pursuit of idle and futile tactics.
§ Motion made and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned"—[Sir Alexander Acland-Hood]—put, and agreed to. Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Wednesday).
§ Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Master of Elibank.]
§ Adjourned at Five Minutes before Eleven o'clock.