§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
moved: "That this House will immediately resolve itself into a Committee to consider the relations between the two Houses of Parliament and the Question of the duration of Parliament."
It is less than three years since the late House of Commons carried, by a large majority, a Resolution declaring it to be necessary that the power of the House of Lords to alter or reject Bills passed by this House should be restricted by law. Since that date three events have occurred which may be regarded as landmarks in the development of the controversy which was then formally begun. The House of Lords, for the first time in our Parliamentary history, has taken upon itself to reject the whole financial provision of the year. A General Election has been held, in which the relations between the two Houses, having regard both to finance and general legislation, were, as I think everybody will admit, at any rate a leading issue. And we have seen, since we reassembled here at Westminster, action spontaneously taken by the other House, of which I will only say for the moment— I shall have to revert to it later on—that it constituted an admission that the wholehearted complacency with which that body surveys itself is not shared by the nation at large, and that by some process, as yet undefined, there must be at least a superficial transformation. Thus we have had within the last six months first, and by way of climax to a long series of acts by which the decisons of this House have been flouted and set at naught, an encroachment by the House of Lords upon a domain which has come to be regarded by universal consent as entirely outside their constitutional province. Next we have had an election in which, if our interpretation of it is correct, a large majority of the representatives of the people have come here with the direct and express authority of their constituents to bring this state of things, both as regards finance and legislation, to the earliest possible close; and, lastly, we have 1163 the acknowledgment of the Lords themselves, that with all the virtues and all the wisdom which they are conscious of possessing, they are like a certain class of heroines in fiction, "not fully understood." At any rate, they are an item on the debit side of the electioneering account of the party opposite. These things mark a substantial and significant advance since the time of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Resolution; and, in the opinion of the Government, they not only warrant, but give imperious urgency to the Motion which I am about to make—that this House should immediately resolve itself into a Committee to consider the relations between the two Houses of Parliament and the question of the duration of Parliament.
The scope of subject-matter which we propose should be referred to the Committee are confined, as the House will observe, to these two topics. That assumes that in our view it is expedient we should have in this country —should continue to have in this country —two legislative chambers. Speaking for myself, I am ready to admit that is an opinion which I have not always held, or at any rate not always held with any great strength of conviction. It would be quite easy for an industrious person who wished to embark upon a singularly unattractive and unprofitable task to cite from speeches I have made in days gone by expressions, at any rate, of scepticism on that subject. I believe I once—and not in the extreme heat of political youth—went so far as to say that leaving upon one side Federal Constitutions like those of the United States and Germany, which stand entirely upon a footing of their own, I could find no country in Europe, or outside, in which it could be shown that the existing Second Chamber was in fact rendering indispensable service to the State. [MINISTERIAL cheers.] Hon. Members cheer. After longer experience, perhaps closer study of the facts, possibly that insidious and potent influence, the growing conservatism of age, have brought me to the conviction that whatever may be the case elsewhere, in this country there is both room and need for a Second Chamber. [OPPOSITION cheers.] Yes. Let me say there is no subject in which greater confusion of thought and speech exists, and I will try to make clear—I am told I am now a past master in the arts of ambi- 1164 guity and evasion—I will try to make clear what I do, and what I do not, mean by a Second Chamber.
I deny entirely, and my opinion cannot be too strongly stated or too emphatically repeated, that we live in this country, except in name, under a bicameral system. We do not. When the party opposite is in a majority here only one Chamber counts, and that Chamber is the House of Commons. We are then, and I am speaking of a very recent experience—an experience which many of a went through between 1895 and 1905, a period of ten years—not a small period in the constitutional life of a nation—we are then, we were then, without any of the checks and safeguards in the way of delay, in the way of revision, still less of threatened reference to the people, which are commonly represented as among the primary and essential functions of the Second Chamber. When that state of things exist we are exposed, the country is exposed in the full blast, without screen or shield, to all the dangers and drawbacks of single Chamber Government. On the other hand, when we, who for the time being sit upon this side of the House, have a majority here again there is only one Chamber that counts, and that not the House of Commons, but the House of Lords. The experience of the last Parliament, which sat from 1906 to 1910, supplies frequent and almost continuous illustrations of that truth. We are told, I know, that even in that Parliament Liberal measures became law; they were allowed to pass. Yes, but why? They were allowed to pass into law on a purely tactical ground, boldly and plainly announced by Lord Lansdowne in the month of December, 1906, in regard to the Trade Disputes Bill—a measure which was offensive in the highest degree to the House of Lords, and which in the very same speech was denounced by Lord Lansdowne himself as fraught with danger to the community and inaugurating a reign of licence. And how did Lord Lansdowne then speak —I am going to quote his exact words— what did Lord Lansdowne say was the function of the House of Lords in the presence of a Bill which a large majority of them regarded as in the very highest degree pernicious in the best interests of the State?They were passing through a period when it wan necessary for the House of Lords to move with gnat caution. Conflicts and troubles might be inevitable; but let their lordships, so far as they were able, be sure, if they were to join issue, that it was upon ground which was as favourable as possible to themselves.1165 Yes, favourable ground, favourable to what? Favourable to whom? Favourable to some great cause? Favourable to some vital principle? Nothing of the kind. Favourable to the maintenance of their own powers and privileges. The whole case against the claim of the House of Lords to be in any thing but in name a Second Chamber could not be better stated. What does it come to? You have a frankly partisan assembly, always ready to pass the Bills of one party, and always ready to reject and to maim the Bills of the other party, subject only to this restraining consideration, that it rests upon a purely hereditary basis and, as it is in the long run devoid of any other authority, it must be careful at all hazards not to risk its own skin. Speaking for myself, and I believe for a great many other people also, I would far rather live under the absolute and untempered autocracy of a Single Chamber which, after all, is elected by and responsible to the people of this country, than have superadded to it as a kind of constitutional appendage this simulacrum of a Second Chamber, which, on the avowal of its own leader, is ready at a pinch to sacrifice what it conceives the best interests of the nation if by so doing it can only renew its own licence under normal conditions to continue its habitual and mischievous intervention. I say then, first of all, that at present we have no Second Chamber system at all, but only a travesty and caricature of such.
What then do I desire? When I speak of the necessity or the expediency of a Second Chamber in this House, I do not accept the view — and I suspect very few people on either side accept it — which is put forward by advocates in the other place, like Lord Curzon, who seem to think that the whole function of a legislative assembly is to protect people primarily against their own representatives, and ultimately against themselves. I do not think my colleagues and I desire to see a Second Chamber which can be described as in any sense co-ordinate with the House of Commons. We do not desire to see a Chamber which can compete, or claim to compete, on even terms with this House as the authorised exponent of public opinion and the national will. We desire to see maintained in all its integrity, in the best interests both of the nation and of the Empire, the predominance of this House in legislation—a predominance which is the 1166 slowly-attained result of centuries of struggle and advance, and which we believe to be the sheet anchor of our representative system. But there are functions which can be usefully and honourably discharged, consistent with the predominance of this House, by a Second Chamber, questions of consultation, of revision, and subject, as I have more than once said before, to proper safeguards, of delay. The body which is to discharge these functions consistently with the maintenance of; the predominance of this House must be a body which is relatively small in number. It must-be a body, if it is to have any credentials whatever for the performance of its task, which rests upon a democratic, and not a hereditary basis. It must be a body which, by virtue both of its origin and of its composition, of its atmosphere, of its constitutional attitude, is not as the House of Lords is, governed by partisanship, tempered by panic, but a body which is responsive to, representative of, and dependent upon the opinion and will of the nation.
Holding these views, as I do, as to the need for a Second Chamber, and as to its proper basis and functions, it follows that; I do not put forward the Resolutions, which, when we get into Committee, we shall submit to the House, as a final or as an adequate solution of the problem with which we have to deal. On the contrary, I admit to the full that, under these very, proposals, the House of Lords will remain in possession of powers, which, as it is at present constituted, we believe it to be ill-qualified to exercise. A non-representative body, it will be able to interpose serious delays in the fulfilment of what, may be the clearly expressed will of the electors. A partisan body, if past experience is any guide to the future, will be reasonably counted upon to decline to exercise even the suspensory Veto when its own Friends are in power in this House. The problem, therefore, will still remain a problem calling for a complete settlement, and in our opinion that settlement does not brook delay. But this problem is forced into the forefront of politics largely by the action of the House of Lords itself. It is true that the only practical contribution in the, recent Debate which they have made towards its solution is an ambiguous Resolution, which may mean anything or nothing. Even that Resolution was passed in a thin House, in which at least two-thirds of the total membership of the House of Lords did not take the trouble 1167 to attend. The "backwoods" have not yet disclosed their secret. They may still —under the guidance of those two distinguished veterans who told in the Division the other day, and in whose bosoms there still glows the unquenched fire, perhaps something of the untempered audacity of extreme and perpetual youth—they may still, under the guidance of those veterans, find themselves able to rout a half-hearted and divided attack. However that may be, in my opinion, and in the opinion of the Government, until you have substituted for the present House of Lords a body constituted on the lines, and limited to the functions which I have indicated, you cannot enjoy any of the advantages which a genuine Second Chamber is capable of bringing, under modern conditions, to a democratic State.
I pass from that to the immediate business of the hour. In the meantime, and as a necessary preliminary to the working out of our declared policy, we have, as a first and urgent step, to deal with things as they are, and, in particular, to deal with the House of Lords as it is, and to prevent a repetition of the unconstitutional raid of last year into the domain of finance. We have to secure, as against the House of Lords, that the wish of the people, as expressed by the mature and the reiterated decisions of their elected representatives, shall in all legislation be predominant. We have, as I think, at the same time, to provide by adequate safeguards that the elected House shall not outstay its authority and purport to act as the exponent of a public opinion which it no longer represents. These are all matters which were clearly brought before the constituencies at the last election, and on which we believe this House is prepared to pass an immediate verdict. The Resolutions for the consideration of which I am asking the House to go into Committee, are of necessity couched in general terms. They are not to be treated as clauses in a Bill. They are, on the contrary, the broad basis on which a Bill is to be built up. Let me briefly pass them in review.
The object of the first Resolution is to obtain statutory definition and protection for a well-established constitutional practice. I do not want to weary the House with matters of detail, or, more than is necessary, with matters of history, and I will not go back to the Report of this House in 1628 or to the Resolutions of 1671, 1678, and 1860. Those great Parlia- 1168 mentary Acts and Declarations, constitute the ground work of our financial autonomy. I will cite two or three dicta drawn from the lips of the greatest Parliamentary authorities both of the past and of the present. I will begin with the Great Commoner, a title willingly accorded to him by his fellow countrymen, the first William Pitt. In language which is now very familiar, but which will bear repetition, used in this House in 1766, he declared that:—Taxation is no part of the governing or legislative power. Taxes are a voluntary gift, the grant of the Commons alone. In legislation the three estates of the realm are alike concerned, but the concurrence of the Crown and the peers to a tax is only necessary to clothe it with the form of law.It is the fashion on the benches opposite now, I will not say to decry, but at any rate to deride, what are called "musty constitutional antiquarianisms." Let us come down to the present day. I will content myself with citing the language of three persons, two of whom are still living, who have been my predecessors in the office which I have now the honour to hold. I will begin with Lord Rosebery. This is as late as 1894, in the House of Lords:—I do not think it is necessary (speaking of the Finance Bill) that your Lordships should make themselves masters of it, because I deprecate altogether the idea that the House of Lords has sir anything to do with Money Bills.I come to his successor, Lord Salisbury, speaking in the same House and at the same time, he says:—It is perfectly obvious that this House has not for many years interfered by amendment with the finance of the year. The reason why this House cannot do so is that it has not the power of changing the Executive Government, and to amend or reject the Finance Bill and leave the same Executive Government in its place is to create a deadlock from which there is no escape.More wisely prophetic words have rarely been spoken. Again, only a year later, Lord Salisbury used this language in the same place:—This House, by custom, takes no share whatever in the votes by which Governments are displaced or inaugurated. It takes no share whatever in that which is the most important part—the annual constitutional business of every legislative body—the provision of funds by which the public services are to be carried on, and the determination of the manner in which those services are to be carried out. In regard to those matters, it takes no part whatever.I finish my citations by quoting the authority of the right hon. Gentleman who sits opposite (Mr. Balfour). But there is a consentient and concurrent stream of authority in regard to this matter, or there was until last year. The right hon. Gentleman, in language which has often been cited, and which is still fresh and still true, less than three years ago in 1169 speaking on Sir Henry Campbell-Banner-man's Resolution in this House said:—We all know the power of the. House of Lords thus limited, and rightly limited, in the sphere of legislation is still further limited by the fact that it cannot touch Money Bills which, if it could deal with, no doubt, it could bring the whole executive machinery of the country to a standstill.Finally, a year later, and precisely in the same sense speaking in the country in October, 1908, the right hon. Gentleman declared:—'' It is the House of Commons and not the House of Lords which settles uncontrolled our financial system.In the face of those authorities and that practice I should hope that we may have a practically unanimous assent to the first of the three Resolutions. The action taken by the House of Lords in the autumn of last year shows unhappily that we can no longer rely on unwritten conventions, however well established or upon the dicta of the weightiest and most illustrious Parliamentary authorities. Statutory protection has become necessary if this House is to continue to enjoy and to exercise the privileges it has claimed and exercised undisputed for more than two centuries.
In regard to the precise form of our proposal I would only say this. We recognise, as everybody must, that if you are going to put into statutory shape the declaration and assertion of the financial autonomy of this House, you must make some adequate provision against the possibility of what is called tacking—tacking to Finance Bills proposals which are not germane or relevant to their subject matter. I am not aware of any instance in the past where any such practice has been resorted to, but as we are scrupulously anxious in defining the rights of the House of Commons to circumscribe them within the area in which they have hitherto been exercised, and as there might come a time when an imprudent and unscrupulous Minister might, by the aid of, perhaps, a precarious and subservient majority, seek to annex irrelevant and extraneous matter to a Finance Bill—I only regard that as in the dim and distant future and as a purely speculative possibility—but as that time might come, we think it is right to guard against such a contingency in advance and to trust the Speaker, who at present exercises a precisely analogous function in regard to all matters of privilege in Bills which come back to us from the House of Lords; we entrust to him the power and duty of determining whether or not a Bill is a Money Bill.
1170 I should deprecate very much entrusting any such power to any of our courts of law. It is not that I have any want of respect for courts of law. I have spent the greater part of my life within their walls, and I have the highest possible reverence for the great judicial traditions there adopted. I should deprecate, not from any want of respect for courts of law, but from conservative adherence to the constitutional traditions of this House—I should deprecate introducing here what you have in America, wherever you have a Federal Constitution, the intervention of the courts of law to determine whether or not the legislature has acted intra or ultra vires, and the submitting a question which is not a question really appropriate for judicial determination to a body properly charged with other functions. You have here an impartial representative of all parties in this House who sits judicially in our Chair, a functionary who by tradition, by experience, and from the universal respect with which his decisions are regarded and observed, is, in our opinion, a far better tribunal to determine such matters than the courts of law.
I pass now to the second and third Resolutions which, in a sense, should be taken together; that is to say, the second Resolution without the third is not a Resolution which the Government would submit to the House. I will deal more particularly with the second. I admit at once that, unlike the first of our proposals, it is not a mere reaffirmation with new safeguards of an old constitutional understanding. On the contrary, it proposes to provide a new remedy for an evil which, so long as the House of Lords remains as it is, only comes into being when there is a Liberal or progressive majority in the House of Commons. I mean a deadlock between the two branches of the legislature. If the House will bear with me, before explaining and discussing our proposals, I should like to answer two preliminary questions.
The first question is, What are our existing constitutional resources for dealing with such a situation? The second is what, if any, are the practical alternative proposals to the scheme of the Government? What are our existing constitutional resources in this matter? A deadlock between the two Houses can of course always be got rid of for the time being by the exercise on the part of the Crown 1171 of the prerogative of dissolution. If that were the only way of escape we should have to admit that in existing constitutional circumstances the. House of Lords, itself indissoluble, can, whenever it pleases, call for a General Election. But our Constitution, though by no means perfect, is not so lopsided as that. The remedy by way of dissolution obviously does not apply to the House of Lords, but the Constitution has provided a means by which the House of Lords, stubbornly bent on refusing to give effect to the will of the people as declared by their representatives, can be brought to reason. That is the exercise by the Crown of another of its prerogatives, the creation of new Peers. It is a Prerogative I agree which has been rarely either exercised or threatened.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Perhaps the Noble Lord would restrain his impatience for a moment. It is a Prerogative which has been rarely exercised or threatened. Does he dispute that proposition?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is a Prerogative which, I repeat for the third time, has been rarely exercised or even threatened, but it exists. That it is not dormant or obsolete is, I venture to say, the opinion of almost every one of our great constitutional authorities. I will cite one or two of them. They are people who are not partisans, and whose authority will command universal respect. I take first of all Sir Erskine May. In his "Constitutional History" he says:—It must not be forgotten that although Parliament is said to be dissolved, a dissolution in fact extends in fact no further than to the Commons. The Peers are not affected by it‥‥ So far, therefore, as the House of Lords is concerned, a creation of Peers by the Crown on extraordinary occasions is the only equivalent which the Constitution has provided for the change and renovation of the House of Commons by a dissolution. In no other way can the opinions of the House of Lords be brought into harmony with those of the people.I go on to cite another great living authority whose opinions will be received with the utmost respect by the party opposite, and who has provided them with a great deal of dialectical pabulum, I mean Professor Dicey, in his "Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution."
1172 After speaking of the "understanding and habit" in accordance with which the House of Lords are expected, in every serious political controversy to give way at some point or other to the will of the House of Commons—I wish it were more "habit" —he goes on to speak of that "further custom which, though of comparatively recent growth, forms an essential article of constitutional ethics." Will the Noble Lord observe that—" modern constitutional ethics," by which "in case the Peers finally refuse to acquiesce in the decision of the Lower House, the Crown is expected"— expected—" to nullify the resistance of the House of Lords by the creation of new Peers." That is the opinion of Professor Dicey on this matter of modern constitutional ethics. Finally, I may cite a great authority who, though he is not a lawyer, is, as everybody admits, one of the most brilliant, far-seeing and illuminating writers on British politics known in our time—the late Mr. Bagehot. In his "English Constitution" he said:—The very nature, too, as has been seen, of the Lords in the English Constitution shows that it cannot stop revolution. The Constitution contains an exceptional provision to prevent it stopping it. The Executive, the appointee of the popular Chamber and the nation, can make new Peers, and so create a majority in the Peers; it can say to the Lords, ' Use the powers of your House as we like, or you shall not use them at all.'In face of those authorities it is very difficult to maintain that this is not an integral and essential part of our constitutional practice. Indeed, if it were not so, there would be absolutely no escape except by means of either force or revolution out of a constitutional impasse.
Reference is sometimes made—and I shall have to speak a little later on of that —to the old Royal Prerogative of Veto over legislation. That prerogative, of course, could not be continued side by side with the development of real representative Government, They are contradictory one to the other. On the other hand, such an artificial bicameral system as ours makes, the exercise of the prerogative of creation absolutely essential to the preservation of popular rights. Let me point out in this connection, and it cannot at this moment be too clearly borne in mind, that the Resolution passed the other day by the House of Lords to the effect that the possession of a peerage should not in itself give the right of sitting and voting in the House, deals a direct and fatal blow at this Royal Prerogative. If that Resolution were to be passed into law, if it were to acquire the power that can only be given to it by a statute, what would be the constitutional 1173 situation? The House of Lords would become, for the first time in our history, an autonomous and uncontrollable body beyond the reach of the Crown and its Ministers, and securely entrenched in a position of absolute and unassailable constitutional independence. That is as far as the House of Lords have yet gone. But both these prerogatives—the prerogative of dissolution which applies to this House and the prerogative of creation which applies to the other House—are, as everyone will admit, and no one more fully than I, grave and exceptional remedies, not to be resorted to except under the stress of urgent and extreme necessity. Nisi dignus tendice nodus. Neither of them is perfect, and neither of them is suitable for dealing with every day cases of difficulty and deadlock which, under our present system, occur from time to time between the two Houses when they are not of the same political complexion. So I come now to my second question. Apart from these prerogative powers, real, living, to be held in reserve, only to be exercised in case of need, but in case of need to be exercised without fear—apart from these prerogative powers standing in that position, what practical suggestions have been put forward other than the proposals which we we about to make, which are suitable to deal and appropriate to deal with what one may call the habitual and constantly occurring deadlock between the two Houses?
As far as I know there are only two. The first is what goes by the rather barbarous name of the Referendum. I admit that, speaking on Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Resolution three years ago, I coquetted with the Referendum, and I say quite distinctly that I reserve the question of the appropriateness and the practicability of what is called the Referendum as possibly the least objectionable means of untying the knot in some extreme and exceptional constitutional entanglement. But I am now speaking of the Referendum as a mode of escape from what I call the ordinary or everyday deadlocks of our present Parliamentary system, and as an expedient for dealing with that situation I confess I think it altogether inadequate. In the first place, the Referendum in practice as' it would be applied would be extremely uneven; if you are to have a Referendum when the two Houses differ what are you going to have when the two Houses agree? That is not such a foolish question as at first sight appears. That is what happened 1174 within our own experience. Supposing you have a House of Commons which, as the General Election shortly afterwards showed, completely perverted and misrepresented the mind of the nation; suppose you have that House passing by large majorities measures which have approved themselves to its Members for the time being, but which are condemned by the great bulk of the nation; suppose you have a sham or a dormant revising Chamber at the other end of the corridor, without demur and without reference to the people passing those measures sub-silentio; must you not give the great majority of the inhabitants of this country some power corresponding to the Referendum, some power of initiative, some power of submitting to the popular vote the question at issue? A Referendum which can only be exercised when the two Houses differ would be a very uneven constitutional system. The Referendum as a normal part of our constitutional machinery, in my opinion and that of my colleagues, and probably of the great majority of both sides of the House, would tend largely to undermine the independence and responsibility of this Chamber. So long as you have here the opinion of the vast majority of the constituencies, on their shoulders would rest the undivided responsibility for determining the policy of the Government, and saying what measures shall be put on the Statute Book. This House acts under a sense of restraint, but if the matter were left at large it could always be said, "It does not matter very much what we do, for, after all, it can always be referred to the people." In the interests of Parliamentary independence and responsibility the Referendum is not a normal part of our system. Let me point out one or two further considerations, if I am not taking the House too far into matters, because all these things really work into one another. It is said that by means of the Referendum, in case of a deadlock between the two Houses, you could do what you cannot do now when you have a General Election—you could disentangle and isolate the particular issue. I do not believe you could do anything of the kind; indeed, I am certain you could not. The Referendum might be nominally and ostensibly on some particular point, and everybody knows that the whole machinery of both parties in the State would be brought to bear on the determination of that issue. You would have the turmoil, the tumult, and a large part of the 1175 expense of a General Election, and, while I have the highest possible respect for the intelligence and political instinct of my fellow-countrymen, I do not believe it would be possible for them, under these conditions, completely to segregate the particular issue on which the Referendum took place, and entirely to ignore the whole of the rest of the field of politics. On these grounds, which might be elaborated, I should deprecate the adoption of that solution of our difficulty. Let me now come to the other, and the only other solution, which, so far as I know, has been suggested, and that is a joint Session between the two branches of the Legislature. That is the remedy which has been accepted by two of our greatest self-governing dominions. We find it in the Australian Constitution and in the South African Constitution, to which we assented a year ago. In France, although there is no constitutional provision on the subject, yet both Houses have, I believe, by rules which they have made for themselves, provided that in the event of a deadlock the matter should be determined and, if possible, settled by a conference between them. This scheme of a joint Session has, I think, a great many recommendations, and I desire to say most distinctly here and now that if you have two Legislative Chambers composed upon a democratic basis, and related to one another somewhat after the fashion I indicated earlier in my speech, with a proper numerical relation one to the other, I think there is a great deal to be said for settling differences that might arise between them by means of a joint Session. I do not in the least prejudge it, and when it arises I think the hands of Parliament ought to be perfectly free with regard to it.
But is it applicable, can it be made applicable to our existing Constitution? It is apparent that it could not. In the first place, the House of Lords consists at present, I believe, of over 600 Members, and we are 670 Members; so that in a joint Session of the two Houses, quite apart from the unwieldiness of the body and the mechanical difficulties that might arise, you would have the non-representative House in the proportion of something like 50 per cent, of the whole body. That in itself is a fatal objection to a joint Session. Apart from that, taking the House of Lords as it is, you have got a body which is a partisan body in the proportion of something like ten to 1176 one. Take the late House of Commons, which was a very good illustration. We had a majority larger than any Government has ever possessed in any House elected since the time of the Reform Act—a majority, I suppose, of over 300; yet, if we had gone into a joint Session with the House of Lords on a matter like the Education Bill or the Licensing Bill, it is at least extremely doubtful whether we could have carried either Bill. Of course, you may say it is the superior re presentative quality of the House of Lords. But assuming, as I am entitled to assume, for the purpose of my argument, that the House of Commons at that time represented the opinion of the country, and the House of Lords did not, it is perfectly clear that no way of escape from the deadlock would be found by a joint Session, Of course, you might attempt to solve the difficulty—I do not betray any secrets when I say that my colleagues and I in the days gone by thought of this, and entertained it, weighed it, and tried it—by a reduction of the panel, but then you get for a time an artificial combination. I do not believe, with the House of Lords as at present constituted, you could devise any method of joint-Session which would attain the result desired. I pass from those two alternative methods of dealing with the difficulty to the one which the Government are going to propose, namely, the limitation of the Veto. The proposal to convert the absolute Veto at present possessed by the House of Lords into a suspensory Veto, is not our proposal. It goes much further back. It is the proposal of the late Mr. John Bright. It was made by him in a more drastic form than we are now presenting it to Parliament, in a celebrated speech which he delivered on 4th August, 1884, at Bingley Hall, in Birmingham. I should like to call the attention of the House for a moment to that speech—I do not think it is irrelevant to the subject— and to the reception which it met with at the time in the country. Some people think that a novel and an evil practice has been introduced—I do not know whether by me, but certainly by some of my right hon. Friends—of using strong language about the House of Lords. I advise them to read Mr. Bright's speech at Birmingham in 1884. He made some very unpleasant quotations, which I do not venture to repeat, from the 73rd Psalm. He ventured on such language as this, speak-of the House of Lords:—Privilege everywhere tends to beget ignorance, selfishness, and arrogance.1177 That is what is called setting class against class. But although the speech is very well worth perusal and study, it is more important to see the reception with which it met from those who were then, as now, the accredited organs of Conservative, I will not say of timid, but more or less Conservative, and certainly of intellectual opinion in this country—I mean "The Times" and the "Spectator." [An HON. MEMBER: "It was Liberal."] I do not remember whether "The Times" was Liberal or not then. "The Times"said:—Mr. Bright's name and authority will bespeak for this scheme attentive consideration.It goes on to say:—It is to be regretted that Mr. Chamberlain, at the same meeting, should have used language which anywhere but in Birmingham would certainly he regarded as somewhat vituperative.That is a sort of apostolic succession of the whipping boys of "The Times." It goes on to say:—The case against the House of Lords under the present Government is sufficiently strong in itself to render it quite unnecessary to indulge in unmeasured invective and extravagant abuse.Proceeding to deal with the suspensory Veto, it declared:—The question is rapidly coming within the range of practical politics. The suggestions are not very subversive, and on the whole are entitled to most respectful consideration,That was the opinion of "The Times." But I must do myself the pleasure of quoting the opinion of that great weekly organ the "Spectator." The complaint of the "Spectator" was that the Bright proposals were "much too conservative." They got rid of deadlocks between the two Houses only by "the most prodigal waste of the time of the House of Commons." But a still more serious objection was the temptation, to which the Peers might succumb, of applying the limited Veto with greater readiness than they had been in the habit of resorting to the absolute Veto. Therefore, that great organ of opinion, rejecting as being too Conservative and too timid this way of dealing with the situation, suggested the less Conservative method of restricting the number of Peers summoned to the House of Lords under a scheme which would secure that the Ministry of the day would have a majority in the Upper as well as in the Lower House. I thought it interesting to recall the earlier stages of this proposal. It was adopted and revived by the late Government under the leadership of my lamented predecessor in a much less drastic form, and we now, in the proposals we submit 1178 to the Committee, have still further modified and, I think, improved them. What are the changes we have made in the proposals put forward by the last Parliament? They are, in substance, two. The first is that we have enacted that there should be an interval of two years between the first introduction of a Bill and its final passing into law. The next is—and I think this is a very solid and substantial improvement— that we have provided that the three Sessions referred to shall not necessarily be Sessions in the same Parliament, and we couple with that the proposal that the duration of the House of Commons shall not be longer than five years.
I should like now to deal with a suggestion which goes to the very essence of the matter. I will not deal with the details of the proposals—which are Committee matters—but with the suggestion which I believe is seriously entertained, and which is certainly urgently put forward, that the adoption of the suspensory in lieu; of the absolute Veto, would bring us to the condition of a Single Chamber Government. I want to deal with this as a matter of principle.
We have in this country slowly but decisively adopted democracy as our form of Government. What is the essence of democratic Government? Surely it is, and here, I think, I shall carry with me universal assent, that the will of the people, by which we mean the will of the majority of the people for the time being, shall, both in legislation and policy, prevail. Further, we have come to the conclusion that, in common with all other democratic countries, the proper and only practical way of ascertaining that will and that opinion is by the process, the rude process, the imperfect process, in many ways-the very unsatisfactory process, of periodical popular election. I say rude and unsatisfactory for this reason: On the one-hand you have have growing constantly in number and complexity a mass of political questions which present themselves; at popular elections simultaneously for solution; and, on the other hand, unsatisfactory also because of the perfection to-which the science and art of electioneering has now been developed. For both those reasons it becomes more and more difficult to disentangle issues and assign, I will not say the relative predominance, but even the relative importance and influence to this or that issue in deciding the general verdict. The verdict of the country is pretty clearly, as a rule, though not always, in favour of one party as 1179 against another. The verdict of the country is pretty clearly, as a rule, in favour of one set of measures and one line of policy and against the other. But when it comes to a particular case, the case of a particular measure or particular question, it falls open to a variety of constructions. These are the inevitable defects of the system of popoular election, which we share and suffer from, in common with all other democratic countries. But it is the only practical way of ascertaining the national will.
What follows? If my premises are correct, there is at least a strong, nay, almost irresistible presumption, that a measure passed by a majority of the House of Commons still fresh, or relatively fresh, from the polls, is a measure which is approved in its main principles by the majority of the people, and which, therefore, in accordance with the principle of democratic government, ought to be allowed to pass into law. There are exceptions, I admit. It may be, as I have said, that representatives of the people in a particular case have mistaken the terms of their authority. It may, again, be that the majority by which a particular measure is passed through this House is so email, or so obviously casual and heterogeneous, that its verdict ought not to be treated as expressing the considered judgment of the nation. I admit these are both conceivable cases, and they show the possible uses of the Second Chamber, even such a Chamber as the House of Lords, and they suggest the wisdom of procuring delay, if that Second Chamber so desires, such as is procured by these Veto Resolutions. What is the object of delay? In the first place it affords an opportunity of consultation if it is a matter merely for revision. That is its real purpose. Still more it gives time and opportunity to the articulate expression of public opinion. Does any hon. or right hon. Gentleman suppose that a measure hurried through this House under closure or guillotine by what is called a scratch majority, could survive such an ordeal as that provided under this Resolution—the ordeal of having to be passed in three Sessions here, and having for two years to be submitted to the scrutiny and agitation of public opinion outside? Under this scheme in the first two years a fresh House of Commons will be constantly subject, and therefore legislation of the country would be subject to the operation of public opinion, 1180 and during the last two years the time of the House will not be, as it would have been under the Campbell-Bannerman Resolution, to a large extent sterilised. It may go on, and if they have passed their measure once, they may pass it again: a general election will intervene, and the people will have an opportunity of pronouncing an opinion before the final resistance of the House of Lords is over borne.
Taking the House of Lords as it is, taking the two Houses as they are, that limitation of Veto, coupled with the shortening of the duration of the House of Commons, is the best and most practical means by which, under existing conditions, we can secure that the popular will shall not be either frustrated or perverted, but shall, with due opportunities for consideration and revision, be promptly and effectually carried into law. Let me add, hat is often ignored, that nothing is more absurd than the notion that an Act of Parliament once put upon the Statute Book remains sacrosanct, and can never be touched. It is a ridiculous perversion of history. A large part of the time of the Parliaments since 1832 has been consumed in reversing the work of their predecessors. If a new Parliament, a new House of Commons thinks the work of the old House of Commons wrong, why cannot it undo it? We were engaged in the last Parliament during nearly two years to a large extent in trying to undo the work of our predecessors, and, but for the obstruction suffered from elsewhere, we should have undone it, and wiped out from the Statute Book two measures, the Education Act of 1902, and the Licensing Act of 1904, which, as we believe, ought never to have been put on the Statute Book.
I am sorry to have detained the House so long in dealing with the details of these Resolutions. We put them forward to deal with the emergency which confronts us, not as purporting to be a full or adequate solution of the whole problem, or, as exhausting the policy of the Government. We put them forward as the first and indispensable step to the emancipation of the House of Commons, and to rescue from something like paralysis the principles of popular government. Further, we put them forward as a demand, sanctioned as we believe by a large majority of the representatives of the people chosen at the recent General Election, themselves representing a large majority of the electorate. Fundamental changes in this country, as 1181 nothing illustrates more clearly than this controversy, are slow to bring into effect. There was a story current of the last Parliament, which in this connection bears repetition. It was told of a new Member of the then House of Commons that in J906 he witnessed for the first time the ceremony of opening Parliament. He saw gathered in the other Chamber at one end the King sitting on his throne, at the other end Mr. Speaker standing at the Bar. In between there was that scene of subdued but stately splendour, bringing and making alive to the eye and the imagination the unbroken course of centuries during which we alone here, of all the peoples of the world have been able to reconcile and harmonise the traditions of the past, the needs of the present, the hopes and aspirations of the future. He was a man of very advanced views, and as he gazed upon that unique and impressive spectacle, felt constrained to mutter to a neighbour, a man of like opinions with himself, "This will take a lot of abolishing." So it will. It was a very shrewd observation. But I am not sure that he had mastered the real lesson of the occasion. So far as outward vision goes, one would seem, no doubt, in the presence of such a ceremony as that, to be transplanted to the days of the Plantagenets. The framework is the same; the setting is almost the same. The very figures of the picture—King, Peers, Judges, Commons— are the same, at any rate, in name. But that external and superficial identity masks a series of the greatest transformations that have been recorded in the constitutional experience of mankind. The Sovereign sits there on the Throne of Queen Elizabeth, who, as history tells us, on one occasion, at the end of a single Session, opposed the Royal Veto to no less than forty-eight out of ninety-one Bills which had received the assent of both Houses of Parliament. That Royal Veto, then and for long afterwards, an active and potent enemy of popular rights, is literally as dead as Queen Anne. Yes, Sir; and has the Monarchy suffered? Has the Monarchy suffered? There is not a man among us, in whatever quarter of this House he sits, who does not know the Crown of this Realm, with its hereditary succession, its Prerogatives adjusted from generation to generation to the needs of the people and the calls of the Empire, is held by our Gracious Sovereign by a far securer tenure than ever fell to the lot of any of his Tudor or Stuart ancestors. The liberties again of 1182 the Commons, which you, Sir, only a month ago once more claimed and asserted at the same Bar, in time-honoured phrases which carry us back to the days when those liberties were in jeopardy from the Crown— the liberties of the Commons, slowly and patiently won, in these days newly threatened and invaded—not, indeed, through the Crown, but from another quarter—are only in danger if, unlike our forefathers here, we refuse to take the necessary steps to make them safe. But there is one factor in the Constitution which, while everything else has changed, remains, sterilised in its development, possessing and exercising power without authority, still a standing menace and obstacle to progressive legislation and popular government. The absolute Veto of the Lords must follow the Veto of the Crown before the road can be clear for the advent of full-grown and unfettered democracy.
§ Mr. A. J. BALFOUR
There were phrases in the peroration of the right hon. Gentleman which suggested that he had approached the great constitutional issue which he has raised by these Resolutions in the spirit of a constitutional Minister; but I confess that, neither in the proposals themselves nor in the arguments by which, in the main, he has supported them, do I see any of that wise power of adapting institutions to the changing needs of the community which has been the glory of this country in its great historical traditions, to which both parties in the House, I think, may justly lay claim, but which appear to have been abandoned by the present Government at the inspiration of new forces and new demands which certainly have nothing to do with democracy properly understood, and which suggest changes in the future to which true democratic opinion—by which I mean the settled opinion of this great community— will find itself wholly alien. The right hon. Gentleman, as I think was only proper, introduced his comments and explanations of the particular proposals which he means to bring before us by some observations upon Second Chambers in general and the position of the House of Lords in particular. On the position of Second Chambers in general I understand that there is not absolute unanimity either in the party which the right hon. Gentleman leads or in the Government of which he is a Member. He himself appears to have gone through a good many oscillations in connection with 1183 the matter, and finally to have settled down to a kind of moderate approval of a Second Chamber system provided the Second Chamber has no power. The Foreign Secretary, I think, takes a more violent view, for he made a speech the other day about Second Chambers in which he said that for the party of which he is a member to propose any constitutional system in which a Second Chamber did not play a part would mean disaster, death, and, I believe he added, to a less fastidious audience than this, damnation. The Home Secretary, who also has given a good deal of attention to this subject, thinks, on the other hand, that we should do extremely well without a Second Chamber, but on the whole he believes a Second Chamber would be more in accordance with the general sentiments of the country. I have not the least doubt that in a Cabinet so representative of the party opposite there are Gentlemen who think there ought to be no Second Chamber at all. I suppose it is owing to this extreme divergence of view as to what ought to be done in the way of reform or abolition, mending or ending the House of Lords—to use the classic phrase — that the Government have brought forward a proposal which neither mends nor ends. And yet it is surely absolutely inconsistent with the views expressed by the Prime Minister in his own speech. Did not the right hon. Gentleman tell us that even for the modified role which the House of Lords are henceforth, if these Resolutions become law, to be allowed to play in our Constitution, they were unfit; that to take even this modest share in our legislative efforts was a task for which their Constitution inherently unfitted them? Then, Sir, I should change them. I should begin by reforming them. Hon. Members below the Gangway opposite do not want them reformed; they want them abolished. But I am talking about the Government, the majority of the members of which apparently do not want to abolish them; and the question I ask is, How then can the Government come before this House and say, "There are two things which sound policy requires us to do with the Second Chamber: one is to limit its functions, and the other is to make it fit to perform its functions." Every rational man would begin by making it fit to perform its functions. Why the Government have shrunk from that it is very hard to say, if we consider only the logic of the case; but if we 1184 consider its practical necessities the thing is easier to explain. They can apparently agree upon the, as I think, perfectly ludicrous and absurd suggestions which I shall have the honour of examining in a moment or two, but they clearly cannot agree upon how they are to make the House of Lords fit to carry out even the modest functions they are going to leave them. They naturally, therefore, defer to a more convenient opportunity the things upon which they cannot agree, and proceed to try to carry through the things about which, at all events, a decent exterior agreement has been attained between them and their followers.
That being the explanation of the policy of the Government, I really do not think it is very necessary to examine at length all that the right hon. Gentleman said about the functions of a Second Chamber. But I must make one or two observations upon his historical comments. His whole speech was in the key of there having been a series of deadlocks between the two Houses, as if the British Constitution had now arrived at a point when an aggressive hereditary Assembly had made it impossible to carry on the legislation of the country. I think his phrase was "the ordinary daily deadlock." That did not agree with my own reminiscences of recent events, and I waited with interest and anxiety to hear what these deadlocks had been. I wanted to know what the particular crime of the House of Lords was which loomed most largely in the imagination of the Government and their friends, and which showed that nothing short of a constitutional revolution could relieve us from the intolerable strain of the existing situation. What was the example the right hon. Gentleman gave? Was it of a Bill which the House of Lords refused to pass? Was it of a Bill which is not now on the Statute Book? Not at all. The example given by the Prime Minister was the Trades Disputes Bill. Where was the deadlock? There was no deadlock. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] I am coming to why not. What was the charge against the House of Lords? It was not that they produced a deadlock, but that the Leader of that House (Lord Lansdowne) explained that the general feeling of the community was strongly in favour of the Bill, and that therefore the House of Lords should pass it. The right hon. Gentleman describes that as passing a Bill simply to save their skins. But that Bill had a history in this House. Perhaps the right hon. Gentle- 1185 man will allow me to remind him of what that history was? The Bill, which was ultimately passed in this House and by the House of Lords, who are accused of producing all these deadlocks, was directly in contradiction, first of all, with the professions of Members now sitting on the Treasury Bench, and, secondly, with the Bill brought in by their own Attorney-General. I have no doubt that the House of Lords would have preferred the Bill as originally brought in. So would the Government. In fact, I think the Government, the leaders of that triumphant majority of 300, who the right hon. Gentleman said must be taken always as representing the views of the people, would have preferred the Bill as brought in. But they gave it up. Why did they give it up? To save their skins. Even Ministers have skins as well as Peers, and, according to my observation, they are just as anxious to save them.
I should have thought that when Resolutions of this kind were brought in there would have been some great indictment of the system which, we are told, produces all these deadlocks. It produces no deadlocks. It produced none in the last Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman says when the Tories are in office the House of Lords is subservient, there are no deadlocks, and legislation passes through. I understand that the Government themselves think that there are occasions in which delay in legislation is desirable. Is it very paradoxical to say that that delay is likely to be more desirable when you have in office a party which avowedly describes itself as being the only people with the right to the title of the Progressive party; which some of their critics and most of their opponents would describe, not as progressive, but, in their more active elements at all events, as Revolutionary! Of course, if it is the business, as I conceive it to be, of a Second Chamber not to withstand the will of the people, but in certain cases to interpose delay—and that is admitted—is not that delay more likely to be frequently required when you have in office Gentlemen of the particular opinions of those below the Gangway and elsewhere, than when you have in office those who are, as I think, most unjustly accused of standing too much in the old ways and being too unwilling to make great changes in the legislation or Constitution of this country? The thing is ludicrous. And the only reason, of course —everybody knows it is why the majority 1186 of the House of Lords is so frequently thrown against modern Radicalism in comparison with the Radicalism of our forefathers—is that modern Radicalism has ideals and aims which certainly require that the people should be consulted before the great changes recommended are finally adopted as part of the Constitution of this country. As for a deadlock, a difficulty—all this talk about schemes being rejected !—there has been no deadlock! Why, the leaflets, speeches, and boasts of hon. Gentlemen opposite for the last four years on every platform in the country have been to proclaim in flaming characters the wonderful legislation which they have passed, not through the House of Commons, but through both Houses of the Legislature. The right hon. Gentleman went back—and I think it was a very instructive part of his speech—to a meeting in Bingley Hall in 1884, in which Mr. Bright denounced the House of Lords, and was supported, it appears, by "The Times "and "Spectator" of that day. If you had asked Mr. Bright, or those who took part in the Bingley Hall demonstration, or "The Times" or the "Spectator," nine years later, what they thought about the House of Lords, would they have given the same verdict? No; and why? Because in the interval it would have been shown that the House of Lords, and the House of Lords alone, had stood between the country and the great constitutional changes which at that time, to say nothing of the future, the country profoundly disapproved of.
Observe that in this respect you are avowedly going to destroy the power of the House of Lords ever to do again what it did in '93. It is because you are going to do that that you have the support of hon. Gentlemen from Ireland. They make no secret of it. That is their reason for giving a grudging support to the Government in other respects, because they hope to destroy the power of the House of Lords to prevent a violent change in the constitution without the people being consulted. Do let the House remember that in this respect we in this country stand alone, or almost alone, amongst great countries of the world. Every country, when it has got a written constitution, takes care to protect that constitution, and surrounds it with safeguards. We have not got a written Constitution. We have no safeguards. The changes which have taken place—the right hon. Gentleman has not exaggerated them—have been great and 1187 profound. They have been going on to the present time. The greatest of them has gone on without the sort of wretched legislation which you now propose. Those changes have been gradual in their growth, and we have hitherto not been threatened by those violent processes. We are threatened by them now.
Some of us desire these. Revolutions. Some of us fear them. I say, whether we desire them or whether we fear them, we are not doing our duty by the Constitution which we have inherited if we leave it to the power of the majority of this House, without the deliberate assent of the people to these changes, to carry them into effect over the heads of another place. That is a point in the Constitution of this country, and the necessity of providing some safeguards for it—surely that should have been the main part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He talks about the House of Lords not performing their duty when a Tory Government is in office. Do we propose, have we proposed, revolutions in the Constitution? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] I am now on the question of constitutional change, and no other. That is my point. Have we proposed changes in the Constitution? Everybody knows that is no part of our creed, no part of our function; that is not the way social development and evolution are to be effected. But if you are coming forward now, and axe going absolutely to destroy every legislative security for delay, even in regard to the most fundamental aspects of our inherited Constitution, I say you are acting in the spirit of the utmost disloyalty to posterity, with utter disregard of the responsibility which you have inherited, and to those who have created the Constitution which we enjoy.
Before I come to the details, and say a few words about the Resolutions themselves, there is one other point, raised by the right hon. Gentleman, to which I must refer. He talked as if these deadlocks between the two Houses which, so far as I can see, are creatures of his own imagination—and the constitutional methods of dealing with them—and he actually put them in parallel columns, as it were—were of equal weight and corresponding importance, and did not differ in any essential particular. He said if there was a deadlock you might either dissolve Parliament or you might create peers. Is not that an utterly misleading way of putting the problem? Is there any parallelism what- 1188 ever between the two processes? When you dissolve Parliament you send it back to those who created it. According to the very creed of the right hon. Gentleman, you temper and attune it afresh to the moods and opinions of the democracy. You do not destroy, you improve it. The creation of peers, even on the modest scale on which alone it has ever been tried, was thought by those who tried it, just about two centuries ago, to have involved even then something very nearly approaching a revolution in the constitution of the House, and if tried now, according to the prescription suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, so far from merely doing for the House of Lords what a Dissolution does for the House of Commons, you entirely and utterly shatter it as an institution. It may be right and proper to shatter it as an institution. I am not arguing the point whether the creation of 500 peers would be an improvement to the Constitution of this country or whether it would not. I am not arguing whether to give a peerage to every gentleman whom the Lord Chancellor would not allow to have a magistracy, would or would not be an improvement to the smooth working of the Parliamentary machine; but I do say for the right hon. Gentleman to come forward and compare the two processes—the process of Dissolution and the process of creating 500 peers —is really to laugh at the common sense, the knowledge of history, and the constitutional learning of the Members of this House.
Let us turn from the more general observations of the right hon. Gentleman to this last recension of the proposals which were brought forward, I think, as far back as 1906. I believe this to be one of the most absurd experiments in Constitution making on which any Government has ever embarked. Let me take the first two proposals in turn. The first relates to finance. Here the right hen. Gentleman, I must say, played ducks and drakes with constitutional history in a manner which amazed me. He quoted a certain number of authorities, beginning, I think, with Lord Chatham, and ending, I believe, with myself, in order to show that, according to sound constitutional doctrine and practice the House of Lords had no power to reject Money Bills. I venture to say that that has not been the doctrine of any constitutional authority whatever, either before or after Lord Chatham. Certainly I have never intentionally expressed that opinion. I do not 1189 believe that Lord Chatham intended to express it. I may say incidentally that Lord Chatham, in the speech referred to, was discussing our right to tax the American colonies—a subject very alien to that which we are dealing with at present, but no authority has ever suggested that the House of Lords had not power to reject Money Bills. No such authority can seriously be quoted. For my own part, I believe that the whole doctrine of the matter was fairly stated by Resolutions passed in this House when the House of Lords rejected the repeal of the Paper Duty in 1860. Lord Palmerston, then the Leader of this House and the Leader of the Liberal party of that day, moved three Resolutions. I am not going to read them. They are at anybody's disposal, but they were passed after careful examination of precedents, and I believe they represent the real facts of the case, although not, perhaps, in the language that I myself should have chosen. At all events, what comes out of these Resolutions is quite clear—the House of Lords had the right to reject Money Bills; it has the right which should be most sparingly exercised, but it is a right which has existed, and, as I think, ought to be kept. Now I do not assert, of course nobody has ever asserted, that there is equality between the two Houses in finance. This House has absolutely uncontrolled power of initiation; it has uncontrolled power of settling what Votes should be asked for; it has uncontrolled power of devising its Budget. The House of Lords by tradition, if not by law, does not alter, and never did alter, a Budget—at any rate, for very many years—and the primacy of this House is uncontestable and is not contested, so far as I know, by any responsible politician or by any party in the State. But, Sir, for us to say that the House of Lords has not by constitution and tradition and usage got the power to reject money Bills is to violate the truth of history. And for us to say that that power ought to be removed from them is to show ourselves quite insensible of the possible danger that may lie before this country, or any other country, in the legislation of the future. Let me point out in that connection that the Government have made a provision for preventing "tacking." They have made Mr. Speaker into an arbiter of what is tacking and what is not. We shall have to argue that point when we come to the Committee stage. I will only say now that for the right hon. Gentleman to contend he "is not adding to the functions of Mr. 1190 Speaker is to mislead the House. For the first time it will rest with the Speaker of one House of Parliament not merely to say what the duties of that House are, but to say whether a particular Bill shall become law or shall not become law. He becomes not merely the guardian of our rights, but, in a certain sense, the author of our legislation. He is to say whether or not a certain Bill is one that this House can pass over the heads of another place. I do not know whether that is a wise addition to Mr. Speaker's powers.
I want the House now to come to a far more important point upon which Mr. Speaker's decision is not going to be asked under these Resolutions, and on which, indeed, it could not be asked. There is a kind of tacking which is not technically tacking, but is substantially tacking. In other words, we can do, and we have done what our forefathers did not dream of doing, namely, bringing forward Bills which are in form purely Money Bills for objects which are not purely money objects. In substance to do that is not to violate any rule against technical tacking, but it is tacking. It is to use the rights and the privileges of this House for raising money within the year for carrying on the Government of the Kingdom, and then using these rights for carrying out, it may be, some great social revolution. Social revolutions may be necessary, and they may be desirable, but it is absurd to tell me that social revolution carried out by a Finance Bill is not legislation upon which there ought to be some power of having the expression of the opinion of the constituencies of this country. It is absurd to tell me that. Of course, nobody denies or can deny that my statement of what purely financial measures in form can do and are intended to do, did do and were intended to do in the past, can do and are intended to do still more effectively in the future. I think it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, in one of those strange outbursts of oratory to which, I will not say we are getting accustomed, but which relieve the monotony of ordinary platform oratory from time to time, said that last year's Budget, or is it this year's Budget?—I do not know whether to call it last year's Budget or this year's Budget—but, at all events, the Budget we discussed last year, and which we apparently are not to be allowed to discuss now, went a good way towards taxing out of existence a certain class of the community. Is "taxing a class out of existence" purely a financial measure, that it 1191 can be carried out in a purely financial Bill, which technically is purely financial, and which Mr. Speaker, in the Chair, would be obliged to say was financial, is, of course, evident. But if you look below the form of the Constitution for the reality, if we ask ourselves for what does a Second Chamber exist, are we seriously going to say that that policy of taxing a particular class out of existence is one of the things in which it may be indecent to ask the general opinion of the community.
I said, therefore, it is madness for us to make a change in the Constitution which may entirely remove all the safeguards which the right hon. Gentleman himself thinks ought to exist as regards legislation in general—it is madness to remove them in regard to finance. I agree that their exercise ought to be rare; that they should be used with the utmost caution and circumspection; but that we should make it impossible that they should ever be used, and that we should petrify and make their use impossible by legislation seems to me to be the height of folly. And let me say that the opinion I venture to express upon this point is the opinion which, as far as I know, is held by all the free self-governing communities of the world. It is held by the United States of America; it is held by France; it is held by Germany; it is held by Italy; it is held by every one of our. Colonies as far as I know. It is carried out in the very Constitutions which you yourselves have authorised for South Africa; it is held under the recent Constitution we have given to the Commonwealth of Australia, that is, that they have the power not of initiating, but of rejecting such legislation, not of modifying but referring it to the people; and are we alone, upon whose example and pattern all these institutions have been framed, to deprive ourselves and our children of the safeguards which all these great democracies possess?
I do not dwell longer upon that point, but I venture to think a more absurd moment for saying that the House of Lords has gone beyond its duties in rejecting a Money Bill than the present can hardly be conceived, for everybody knows that whatever be the issue of the negotiations and the pourparlers which are going on, and of which I make no complaint, everybody knows that if this House voted upon the Budget and on the merits of the Budget alone without regard to ulterior, and perhaps in their opinion; more im- 1192 portant issues, everybody knows the Budget would be rejected. It is a matter of common knowledge that if the Budget is passed, it will be passed because one party in this House who do not like the Budget think that, on the whole, the interests of those they represent would be better served by passing the Budget which they hate than by endangering the existence of the Government from whose action they entertain, rightly or wrongly, great expectations. If I have rightly stated the case, and I have attempted to put it in moderation, and I do not think anyone will contradict me, it is really absurd to say that the House of Lords have in their recent action violated or misused the extremely delicate function, I admit, which the Constitution has entrusted to them with regard to Money Bills. These duties are rarely to be exercised, I agree, but no one can tell me that after what occurred at the last General Election that they ought not to be exercised.
I now pass to the second and more general of the two Resolutions of the right hon. Gentleman. I must say I do not think the full absurdity of these Resolutions can have occurred to those who framed them. What do they amount tot Parliament has now to last for five years— that is to say, five years is to be the limit of its legal existence. Presumably its existence will be about four years, judging by the past a margin will have to be allowed, and I suppose it will be four years or a little more than four years. That four years is to be divided constitutionally into two periods—a one-Chamber period and a two-Chamber period. During the first of these periods we shall be governed by Costa Rica, we shall have a single Chamber, and only a single Chamber. During the second of these periods we shall revert to the traditional practice sanctioned by centuries in the British Constitution and imitated in almost every civilised country in the world. Can anything be more grotesque than this double Constitution under which we shall henceforth live—like Harlequin, half will be black and half white? We are to have a single Chamber period and a two-Chamber period; a period in which the Government of the day having a majority in the House of Commons is to do exactly what it pleases, and a period in which there may be some chance in exceptional cases of the people having to be consulted before some momentous issue is finally decided. Is not that a grotesque alteration of the Constitution? All the ingenuity of the, Consti- 1193 tution mongers of the world has never devised in the past—I take it to be certain, though I do not pretend to be thoroughly master of the subject—have never devised anything like this. I believe it to be an entirely original view of the Government—that is this notion that for the first half of the existence of the House of Commons it may do anything without check, or the possibility of these delays of which occasionally the right hon. Gentleman speaks with respect, and at other times with violent invective, and then when these two years have elapsed, or, at all events, when the House of Commons is so near the end of its time that the conditions of the Resolution about two years or three Sessions cannot possibly have effect given to them, the House of Lords, which the right hon. Gentleman says is not fit even to do the work of the first two years, is to resume all its ancient privileges and prerogatives, and we should again revert to the constitutional position of our forefathers—the bicameral system—with the House of Lords in full possession of all the functions which by historical tradition it ever possessed.
I cannot imagine anything so absurd. I really cannot conceive why Costa Rica should be the model for the first two years of Parliament and the British Constitution in its integrity should be the model for the second two years. What is the theory that lies at the root of this extraordinary experiment in Constitution making? It is that for the first two years we are, as it were, to have some democratic inspiration which fails us in the: second two years. We come to this House, "trailing clouds of glory behind us," inspired by the democracy which authorised and created our existence. In that happy and youthful period we do not require the limitations and superannuated checks which may be necessary at another time. Then, at the end of two years comes—I still continue the quotation—" the common light of day." Then the whole thing changes, and we become ordinary citizens, doing in uninspired fashion our best for the country and for the constituencies, who have sent us here, but requiring the ancient constitutional co-operation of another place. That strikes me as rather silly. I think even in point of theory it is extremely absurd. Are we more influenced by our constituencies in the first two years of our existence than we are in the second two years? I have been a long time a Member of this House, and I con- 1194 fess that that is not the result of my own personal observation upon the action of hon. Members, either in their speeches Or in their votes. It is not the election that has just passed that influences us, but it is the election that is just coming. It is not the first two years, but the second two years, which ought to be regarded as inspired by the democracy.
With all respect, I will take the example of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford and his friends. At the last election I thought they were absolutely whole-hearted supporters of the party opposite. I understand by common rumour that there are doubts and hesitations now, though I do not know how far they have gone. It is not the last election which is producing those doubts and hesitations, but it is the next election, and so it is with hon. Gentlemen sitting in every part of the House. When is it that an hon. Member of this House begins anxiously to think how a speech of his will look when quoted by an opponent, or how a vote of his may be represented or misrepresented on a platform, or how this or that action of his leaders may come out in a leaflet? Is it in the first sacred and inspired two years of Parliament? Is it during this period of democratic enthusiasm that these fears and anxieties come to a Member of Parliament? Not at all. It is towards the end of their Parliamentary career that hon. Members so anxiously inquire what the various sections of their supporters in their constituency are thinking that they carry out that democratic ideal so dear to hon. Gentlemen sitting in all parts of this House. I suggest, therefore, if we are to live under the piebald harlequin constitution that you propose, if we are to oscillate between Costa Rica and Great Britain, you should invert the order, and, since the Lords are to lose their powers, it should be in the second two years, and not the first two years, for it is the second two years and not the first two years in which we look with the most critical anxiety to the shades of opinion which influence the choice of the constituencies of this country The whole plan of the Government is really grotesque, and it will have the worst effects, not merely upon the relations between the two Houses, but upon our legislation.
What is going to happen? There must be two years at least, and three Sessions at least, between the introduction of a Bill and the final quarrel between the two Houses. The Government of the day will endeavour to bring in their big measures 1195 instantly without that careful consideration and anxious discussion which should precede a great measure. The leisurely action of this Session will, of course, never be attempted again. I am sure the Government are filled with high thoughts and are carefully considering the provisions of great measures. So far they have introduced nothing — not even last year's Budget. This period of mature consideration never will recur. When once you pass this Resolution your anxiety will be to introduce your measure as soon as possible, in order to deal with any criticism or opposition in another place effectually before your two years or three Sessions come to an end. That will be the first consequence, but it will not be the only consequence. Closure will become an absolute necessity whenever a Bill is introduced again. Not only that, but you will never be able to improve your Bills. I do not know whether Governments in the future a/re going to be better than Governments in the past, but I notice that this Resolution has undergone a great many changes since it was first brought to our notice in the late Parliament by the late Prime Minister. Future Prime Ministers may be able to produce, even in haste, measures which axe incapable of improvement, but it would really be a sad thing to think that the masterpiece we are now discussing could never have been brought into existence under the new rules, and we should have had to content ourselves with the rough-and-ready sketch laid before us in 1906.
Of course, if you make the smallest change, it becomes a new Bill, or is Mr. Speaker going to decide whether it is to be a new Bill or not? Criticism—perhaps even criticism in another place—may disclose some fundamental weakness—I will not say fundamental, but some important weakness. Every man on both sides of the House may perhaps like to see some change introduced into a Bill, but can it be introduced? How can it be introduced? [An HON. MEMBER: "By agreement."] By agreement with whom? By agreement with another place? That interruption really amazes me. I thought we were dealing with deadlocks. I thought we were dealing with the continual pressure of irreconcilable differences between the two Houses, but now I understand the hypothesis I propose is to be solved by agreement between the two Houses. The right hon. Gentleman 1196 will see that his solution is impracticable. A Bill goes up to the House of Lords, and the House of Lords modifies it in a way not acceptable to this House. Then the Bill fails. Criticisms may be passed and the Bill is rejected. The Bill will have to be reintroduced as I understand it. The whole thing will have to be introduced again. It cannot be redrafted because it must be introduced in the form in which it was rejected, without alteration or Amendment, otherwise it becomes a new Bill. Two more Sessions have to pass or else the powers of that obstructive Chamber revive and those powers of obstruction revive with all their vigour. That is a most childish suggestion. You cut yourselves off from those possibilities of change and improvement which everybody knows are incident to the passage of measures through this House. You do not have the advantage of repeated discussion in this House; you pass your Bill without change, and without the alteration of a comma. You pass it in the next Session, and in the third Session. There may be discussion in the country, but there can be no further discussion in this House after the Bill has once left it and has gone to the House of Lords. I cannot imagine a worse system upon which to carry on the legislation of this country. If time allowed, and I thought it worth while, I might refer to a measure which has not been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, that the only other measure on which there can be an attack on the House of Lords in regard to their interference with Government measures in this House, is the Education Bill. If you are going to go upon the principle suggested in this Resolution, you make it impossible to have sane or wise legislation on questions which bitterly divide great sections of opinion in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman occupied a great deal more of his time in dealing with the absurdities of other solutions of this imaginary difficulty between the two Houses than in showing how the absurdities of his own proposals might be dealt with. His own absurdities seem plain and palpable. It is impossible that a scheme so intrinsically and inherently absurd as this parti-coloured Constitution could survive, and the result is when you have passed the Resolutions and embodied them in a Bill; when you have embodied them in a Bill if they become law—if they ever do become law—it is impossible to imagine they can remain permanently 1197 upon the Statute Book of this country. What follows from that? This ill-thought out interference with our ancient Constitution, which has shown very great powers of modifying itself in obedience to the demand of public necessity and growing civilisation by these haphazard legislative proposals, will initiate in a period of constitutional controversy, which, I believe, to be utterly inconsistent with the genuine pursuit of social reform.
It is the old failing of the party which the right hon. Gentleman leads to suppose that by upsetting something which exists you are going to reform some evil of which you disapprove. These constitutional wrangles do not end in social reform. They do not conduce to social reform or help it in the smallest degree. What they do do is to occupy the time of the House, to absorb the attention of the country, and to divert our thoughts from problems of excessive difficulty, for all these social problems are of excessive difficulty, although that is a truth not always realised by the ardent social reformers—the result is to divert our minds from all these things and to turn them to these barren controversies and to these old constitutional principles which we on the two sides of the House are going to fight over and carry on the sort of discussion initiated by the right hon. Gentleman to-night. I think from every point of view the Government are ill-advised in the course which they are taking. They are ill-advised, because, I think, their change of the Constitution, on their own showing, is not the one they ought to have begun. They ought, on their own showing, to have begun by reforming the House of Lords. It is ill-advised because the actual alterations in their functions proposed by these Resolutions are in themselves absurd and grotesque, arid because their absurdity and grotesqueness will have a most unhappy reaction on the legislation and debating in this House. Lastly, and, I think, more important than all, they are utterly objectionable, because they divert the political energies of this country into a channel which certainly will Dot fertilise or improve any social institution, which will do nothing to relieve poverty, to touch unemployment, to help commerce, to consolidate the Empire, to reform the Poor Law, or to do any of the great things which, at all events, my Friends and I think far more important than the barren Debates with which you are going to occupy our time. You are following a bad example too often set by your 1198 predecessors. I can only say, for my own part, that, both on the demerits of these proposals themselves, and on their indirect effects upon the legislation of this country, I shall offer them at every stage the strongest opposition which it is in my power to give.
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND
If there is anyone within these walls, either a Member of this House or a member of the general public, who came down here with the expectation and hope of spending a pleasant and entertaining afternoon, I feel quite sure that after the speech we have just heard he must feel that he was eminently successful. Those of us who have sat in this House for many years have grown accustomed to the oratory of the right hon. Gentleman, but let me say, for one man at any rate, that we have never grown tired of it. There is a delicacy in his banter and raillery which is certainly very delightful, and there is an audacity in his arguments which is absolutely superb. Nobody could help being entertained and delighted by his speech, but I think nobody could really realise, in listening to it, that he was called upon as the head of a great party to make a serious contribution to one of the most serious constitutional questions that has engaged Parliament for centuries. The right hon. Gentleman spent a great deal of time in pointing out inconsistencies in the Resolutions as he read them, and in attempting to throw ridicule upon what he believed to be the working of other portions of them. He complained that no indictment had been made against the House of Lords; I think, before this Debate is over, he will hear plenty of indictments against the House of Lords, but I say of him that he has made no defence of the House of Lords, and that, from beginning to end, he never attempted to argue that the House of Lords, as at present constituted and with its present powers, should continue.
Naturally, I regard this question from the point of view of the democracy of Ireland, which is represented by my colleagues and friends upon these benches, and from that point of view I shall have something to say, but I hope it will not be regarded as impertinent on my part if, before doing so, I claim to regard this question for a few moments from the point of view of the British democracy as well, and for this reason: It is not realised by the masses of people in this country as fully as it ought to be that the cause of 1199 democracy in Ireland, by which I mean the cause of Home Rule, the cause of getting into our own control the management of our own email purely Irish affairs, without interference of your Empire, without interference, as we admitted in the Resolution passed two years ago in this House, with the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament, is identical with the cause of democracy in this country. The foes of that cause are exactly the same as the foes of the cause of the democracy in England; the friends of that cause are precisely the same as the friends of the cause of the democracy in England. There is one consideration which cannot be left out of account, and it is that the British democracy has had centred amongst them, for causes which I need not go into at this moment, as part and parcel of their lives, an infusion of our Irish people who to-day are their fellow workers and fellow toilers, in this country, who share the lot and fate of the British democracy, who are loyal to Ireland and to the cause of Ireland, and who to-day are one of the greatest assets possessed by the Irish National party. Let me further recall this fact: that there has: been no measure produced in this generation for asserting the political rights of the people of this country, or for the purpose of ameliorating the social condition of the people of this country, which did not receive the most whole-hearted and steadfast support of the representatives in this House of the democracy of Ireland.
The truth is, Ireland has never had a quarrel with the democracy of Great Britain, and therefore I claim that I may be allowed to say I look at this question, not solely, although I do primarily, of course, from the point of view of the democracy of Ireland, but also from the point of view of the democracy of England. The right hon. Gentleman says that no indictment has been made against the House of Lords in the name of the democracy of England. It is not my business to make that indictment. It will be made by others, but how easy it would be for me, if I undertook the task, to point out the deadlocks, which he says do not exist, which have existed all through the century, and how, from the point of view of the democracy of England, the House of Lords has stood forward as the obstacle to the establishment of the ideas of religious toleration, of all religions alike, how they have stood as the great obstacle in the way of the extension of the franchise, of the ballot, of the extension of local govern- 1200 ment, of municipal reform, of social reform, and how the House of Lords has been the enemy of the democracy of England all through the century which has passed.
Let me briefly, because I will not trespass upon the indulgence of the House for long, recite the experience of Ireland. Do not let me be taken as saying, because I point out what the House of Lords has done against Ireland during the century, that I am satisfied with what the House of Commons has done. There was a large portion of the century when the House of Commons was as ignorant and as bigoted and as hostile to Ireland as the House of Lords, and even to this moment, when there is a majority in this House friendly, I believe, to Ireland and to her just rights, the House of Commons is, and must necessarily be so by the conditions of the case, largely ignorant of Irish affairs and of Irish wants and needs. Therefore, when I point out what the House of Lords has done, I am not acquitting the House of Commons of many injuries and crimes done against Ireland and her people. What has been the experience of Ireland at the hands of the House of Lords during the last century? Bad as the House of Lords has been for England, it necessarily has been worse for Ireland, because, after all, this is an English House of Lords in your own country, but for us it is not. Let me contrast for a moment the action of the Irish House of Lords sitting in Ireland with the action of the English House of Lords sitting in England. In 1792 or 1793 the Irish House of Lords passed almost unanimously great measures which were the commencement of Catholic emancipation. They threw the franchise open to Catholics, they admitted them to the Universities and to the professions, and they extended the rights of Catholics and commenced the work of emancipation. If they had been let alone a measure of Catholic emancipation would have been carried for Ireland in a very few years; but when the scene was changed and the Irish House of Lords ceased to exist and it became an English House of Lords sitting here, what was their attitude on Catholic emancipation? Why, again and again they rejected measures of emancipation sent up from this House, and all the promises that were held out at the time of the Union were for years rendered null and void by the action of the House of Lords. Emancipation was introduced three times and passed three times through 1201 the House of Commons, but it was rejected by the House of Lords, and how was it finally carried? Lord Macaulay, in 1829, said:—The concession which was refused to Justice was reluctantly, ungraciously, and under duress granted from the mere dread 'of civil war. Irishmen were taught that from England nothing was to be gained by reason, treaty, patience, and endurance, but everything by intimidation. That tardy repentance of the House of Lords deserved no gratitude and obtained none.Coming later down, the history of the Tithe War is in itself an awful indictment '.of the House of Lords. You know what 'it meant—practically civil war, bloodshed, and wholesale suffering and misery. This House interfered, and sent up no less than five Bills, I do not say they were perfect Bills; on the contrary, they were not.
This House time after time attempted to deal with the question of tithes in Ireland, and to meet this state of social and civil misery, but our Bills were rejected by the House of Lords, and so the Tithe War went on, and it was not until in the end, despairing of obtaining any measure of palliation whatever, when the Government of the day made large concessions to the House of Lords, largely destroying the value of the Bill, that in 1838 the House of Lords allowed any measure to pass which would put an end to the misery and civil war which was going on in Ireland at that, time.
Take the question of the franchise in Ireland. Our case is much worse than the case of England or of Great Britain. The Catholic Emancipation Bill, when it was passed, was passed on the condition—at least it was one of the conditions—that the whole class of what was known as the "forty-shilling freeholders" should be swept away. When the Reform Bill of 1832 came, it is true, the franchise in Ireland was somewhat reduced. But, as compared with what was done for England, it resulted in this way, that in 1839 only 5 per cent, of the adult males in Ireland were allowed to have a vote, whereas 19 per cent, of the adult males in England tad the vote under the Reform Bill of 1832. So that, even when you were engaged in extending rights and liberties— your own rights and liberties—even then the House of Lords insisted that you should not be allowed to make the same extension of rights to the people of Ireland. Repeatedly measures for the assimilation of the franchise in the two countries were wrecked in the House of Lords. Registration Bills introduced for 1202 the purpose of facilitating the working of the Franchise were wrecked again and again. The borough franchise, after years of agitation, was fixed in 1867 at a £4 rating instead of a household franchise, and the result was that in England one in every seven persons obtained votes in the boroughs, and only one in eighteen obtained votes in the Irish boroughs. The same right through the catalogue — the same with reference to municipal reform. In 1835 the House of Lords agreed that all the great corporation in this country should have reform; but immediately it was proposed, by the insertion of a clause, to extend that Bill to Ireland, the Bill was promptly rejected by the House of Lords. The same thing happened in the following year, 1836. The Bill was so mutilated that it had to be dropped, and again the same in 1837, 1838, 1839. It was not until 1840 that the measure was passed, and then a provision was put in that the municipal franchise in Ireland should be as high as £10, the result being that nine-tenths of the borough householders, outside Dublin, all through Ireland, were deprived of any voice whatever in the municipal affairs of their country.
When the right hon. Gentleman says we do not indict the House of Lords, what about the Irish Land Question? That is a question for which the House of Lords is primarily responsible. It is a question which affected them in their social position and in their pockets. How-did they treat it? Why, they maintained, up to the other day, a system which I heard the present Leader of the Opposition himself describe in this House as "a land system which had every evil of every land system that ever existed in the world." And that is the system that was maintained by the House of Lords in Ireland. Is not that an indictment of the House of Lords? He talks about "deadlocks." Why, Bills were sent up from this House by the score, and were mangled. They never passed one of them without mutilating it and taking all the value out of it, and in a great number of cases they rejected them altogether. Does the right hon. Gentleman remember the history of the late Mr. Forster's Compensation for Disturbance Bill—a Bill introduced by the Government of the day, a Liberal Government, which was not at that time in alliance with, but was rather in bitter hostility towards the Irish Nationalist party. It was introduced by Mr. Forster, as Chief Secretary, and he said it was not only just 1203 in itself, but it was necessary. As the Minister responsible for Ireland, he said, it was necessary to preserve the peace of the country. It was a small Bill, a simple Bill, to provide that where a. man was proved to be evicted for no fault of his own, but because of the act of God, or some other cause of that kind, he was unable to pay his rent, a certain small compensation should be given to him. The House of Lords rejected that Bill after a couple of hours' discussion, and rejected it with contempt. They made themselves, by that one act, directly responsible for the misery, crime, bloodshed and disorder that followed in the wake of the great semi-revolutionary land movement, which then and then only sprang into real life in Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman asks for instances of "deadlocks." I point to the whole history of the Irish Land Question, during all these years, as providing deadlock after deadlock. He alluded also to the experience of the Home Rule Bill of 1893. He reminded the House that the Home Rule Bill of 1893, passed by this House, was rejected in another Chamber, and he said the next General Election completely vindicated their wisdom and that the result showed that they were in touch with the people upon this question. I respectfully beg to enter my protest. I think I have never varied in the view I have taken from that day to this. What happened was that when the House of Lords rejected the Home Rule Bill of 1893, Mr. Gladstone—and I say this on the authority of Lord Morley's "Life of Mr. Gladstone "—Mr. Gladstone wished, and advised his party to dissolve Parliament and go to the country against the House of Lords on the Home Rule Question. His view was overborne, and he shortly afterwards retired. The last speech he made in this House was a speech in which he denounced the House of Lords, and said that the democracy neither in England nor Ireland would ever be safe until their power was curbed. He retired and Lord Rosebery took his place, and then Lord Rosebery's first act was practically to drop Home Rule. The first speech he made as Prime Minister in the House of Lords was one practically dropping Home Rule. He then dragged along for a couple of years, and I say that when an election was forced upon him at the end of that time, the defeat he met with was not a defeat on Home Rule so much as it was a defeat on those tactics of clinging to office, of which 1204 the Leader of the Opposition knows something. And I am reminded also that in the election of 1895 one of the cries on which the Liberal Government was beaten was the cry of old age pensions. It was raised by Mr. Chamberlain, but when he and his friends got back into power they did not do much to carry their pledge into effect.
Therefore I say that the history of the election of 1895 and the Home Rule Bill of 1893 has been wrongly read and interpreted by the right hon. Gentleman. Let me pass away from that record about Ireland and just read a few lines which seem to sum up my whole case. They are from a very distinguished Member of this House, the late Mr. Roebuck, who was speaking in 1837, when the present indictment of the House of Lords had only half been created. He was speaking of and addressing the Government of that day. He said:—You have tried on your knees to obtain justice for Ireland, and what has been your reward? Contempt and scorn. Your enemies have trampled upon your measures. They have contemptuously delayed, changed, rejected them, as the humour of their insolence suggested. What ought you to have done? What you did not dare to do. You should have boldly told the people of both countries that justice would never be gained by either while an irresponsible body of hereditary legislators could at will dispose of the fortunes and "happiness of the people. We have laboured in order to relieve the miseries of Ireland and if possible to heal the wounds inflicted by many centuries of misery. We have not advanced one single step. Every year sees our labours rendered abortive by the headstrong proceedings of the House of Lords.That is my indictment from an Irish point of view. Let me congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the substance of his Resolutions. They are Resolutions I shall certainly—and I speak for my Friends—heartily support. I do not intend to enter into the details of these Resolutions. The proper time to do that will be when we get into Committee. I do not wish to bind myself to the position that there are no possible Amendments that can be made to these Resolutions. I will listen with the greatest possible care and attention to any suggested Amendments that may be made. Speaking now on the Second Reading of these Resolutions, I give them generally a hearty support. I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman has dropped out all reference to reform in these Resolutions. If he had proposed a scheme of reform, no matter how perfect it might look upon paper, I would not feel myself able to support him. I have never read any scheme of reform— I may come across one some day—but until now I have never read any scheme of reform that did not seem to me to tend towards the strengthening of the power 1205 of that Assembly, and I need not say that that is not my desire. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Referendum. I was rather alarmed by what he said. Of course, he clearly indicated that as a solution of the difficulties the Referendum is out of the question; but he safeguarded himself by saying that some great special constitutional occasion may arise when he would think a Referendum would be a good way of dealing with the deadlock. I hope he is not reserving his opinion about the present deadlock with reference to the Referendum. If he were going to say that instead of going to the Throne for an assurance or guarantees that the prerogatives would be used, and instead of that he would propose a Referendum I certainly would oppose any such course, because, mark you, what it would mean. It would mean the postponement of this matter for a considerable time. You could not have a Referendum on any point without passing an Act of Parliament. You would have to introduce a Referendum Bill, and it would have to go through all its stages and be sent up to the House of Lords, and they would reject it, and it would come back, and you must come eventually to the question of the Royal Prerogative. Any words used by the right hon. Gentleman that would cast any doubt upon his clear determination to proceed to the Royal Prerogative immediately the Veto has been rejected by the House of Lords would be words that would be received with the greatest disappointment, I believe, not upon one side of the House only, but upon both sides of the House. It is interesting to note that just at this moment the House of Lords are engaged in what they call the work of reform, and, of all people in the world, who is the leader of the reform movement in the House of Lords? Lord Rosebery. As I said the other day in introducing his Resolutions, this great man paid me the great compliment of turning up an old speech of mine about eighteen years ago about the House of Lords. I need not say I was intensely flattered, and I am anxious now to return the compliment. In 1894 Lord Rosebery was talking about the House of Lords. Why, he was talking more vehemently than the Prime Minister at this moment. He was talking in the most vehement language, and he kept the greatest part of his vehemence for the denunciation of the idea of reform. He said in October, 1894:—The question of a Second Chamber insufficiently remote.…It is not at any rate present to our 1206 hand. What we have to deal with at present is not the formation or the reform of a Second Chamber, but the adjustment of the relations of the two Chambers which exist, so that the will of the popular Chamber shall be made plainly and manifestly predominant.He goes on:—We have nothing to do with the present constitution of the House of Lords. It has never entered into our heads to touch the constitution of the House of Lords. I say it confidently for every single Member of the Cabinet that no such act of insanity as our proposing a reform of the House of Lords ever occurred to us.…In our opinion the time has come when the right of the House of Lords to oppose an absolute veto to the wishes or the legislation of the House of Commons should for ever cease.To-day he is the leader of the reform movement in the House of Lords, and says that the policy of the Government in regard to its Veto is heresy and revolution and disloyalty, and I know not what; and he has himself denounced in these words in the year 1894 all idea of the reform of the House of Lords. Lord Rosebery, as I said, was very vehement in those days. I admire the speech of the Prime Minister very much; it was the kind of speech which a, man in his position ought to make—a very calm and logical and reasoned speech. He did not give way to the temptation to indulge in rhetoric or oratory or anything of that kind. I have no doubt as to its rhetoric the speech to-night was inferior to his Albert Hall speech, but it was a very fine speech. Let me read a few words from Lord Rosebery on the reform question:—You will remember, as I have told you before, that in this great contest there are behind you to inspire you all the great reforms, all the great aspirations, and all the great measures on which you have set your hearts. Before you are encamped all the forces of prejudice and privilege. Before you frown the sullen ramparts, behind which are concealed the enemies you long to fight and so long have fought, and I would ask you if you are prepared to go into this fight, to fight it as your old Puritan forefathers fought—fight with their stubborn, persistent, indomitable will—fight as those old Ironsides fought in Yorkshire, never knowing when they were beaten, and determined not to be beaten. Fight as they would have said themselves, not with the arm of the flesh, but with the arm of the spirit. Fight by educating your fellow men—not as to the object, for on that you are clear already, but as to the proper means for attaining that object. And if you believe that we, the Government, are in earnest in this matter, and capable of dealing in this matter, you will give us your support. We fling down the gauntlet. It is for you to back us up.The people did not believe the Government was in earnest, and after a very little experience his next act was to pick up the gauntlet and slink away. Certainly these are not the methods by which a great movement of this kind is to be carried.
I say I am in thorough accord with these, Resolutions in the main. My complaint is of another kind. I say that these Resolutions should have been before the country at the last election. I was under the 1207 impression myself during the election that Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman'e Resolutions were the Resolutions on which the country were asked to vote and supposed to vote, and I was under the impression—although I was speedily undeceived when Parliament met, or, indeed, before Parliament met—that the Prime Minister, with a majority of 124 in support of those Resolutions, would have been able at once to go to the Sovereign and ask for a promise, at any rate, of the exercise of the Royal Prerogative. It turned out, however, that at the time Parliament met the Government had not come to the terms of the Resolution which they would propose. That is a great misfortune; it has rendered another General Election necessary. It has caused the greatest disappointment, loss of enthusiasm, and perhaps loss of support at the coming General Election. At any rate, it cannot now be helped. We have to deal with facts as they stand, and all I say to the right hon. Gentleman is that now at last, having got his Resolutions before the House of Commons, let him press on—when the Government have got these Resolutions passed in this House by a majority of 120, let him press on. We hear of small majorities. Why is 120 a small majority? The Reform Bill was carried by one vote in this House, and all great reforms in this country have been carried by majorities, most of them very much lees than 124. But it is said that these may be Irish votes. I do not object to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen making that objection if they will be consistent, and if they will not count Irish votes on English problems, will they allow us not to count English votes on Irish problems? I am this much of a Unionist, at any rate, that so long as you insist on bringing us here under the Act of Union, we claim and will insist upon, the same value being given to votes from Ireland as from England, Scotland, or Wales. As I say, when the Prime Minister gets his majority of 120 in favour of these Resolutions, let him press on. If the Lords reject his Resolutions, as no doubt they will, let him then go to the Throne, and ask for a promise, at any rate, that in the future the Royal Prerogative will be used. If he is refused, let him go to the country; let him not delay on this path; let him not interpose any other measures to delay the consummation of that great crisis; let him not throw away any weapon which is of any value to him in that contest. If he pursues those means, which I respectfully submit 1208 to him are on the lines of his speech at the Albert Hall—if he proceeds on those lines, as I have hope he will in the future, I can assure him that he will receive the enthusiastic support of the majority of the Irish people and their representatives.
§ Mr. MUNRO FERGUSON
I entirely sympathise with what the Prime Minister has said with respect to the character of the House of Lords and the impossible nature of the relations which exist between it and our own House. I was much interested also in his reference to the; policy of reform, which finds no place in the Resolutions, and, unlike the hon. Member who has just sat down, I attach great importance to that point, and I intervene with the intention of eliciting some further information from the Government—information necessary to those who, like myself, believe that the true goal of Liberal policy is reconstruction of the Second Chamber, not displacement of the House of Lords, to those who think that to deprive that House of all legislative control is tantamount to superseding our present Constitution by a single-Chamber system of Government. I strongly support the policy of the King's Speech. I understood from it that the reform of the House of Lords and the abolition of the hereditary principle was the policy of the Government, and so far as the Veto policy was introduced, it was introduced and intended as a step in a connected homogeneous plan for the securing of a reformed and elected Second Chamber. If that is not the case, and if the Veto is no longer a means to an end, but is an isolated, independent, unconditional policy complete in itself, then I regret that, so far as the second Resolution is concerned, I am unable to support it. In this matter I am perfectly consistent. The word Veto did not occur in my election address, and in a three-cornered contest I never once mentioned nor was I ever once asked any question about it. I stood for the abolition of the hereditary principle and against an irresponsible House of Lords, supported the Budget and also social reform, and a large measure of devolution, especially for Ireland. In the last Parliament I spoke against Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Resolution, and refused to give it my vote, giving as my main reason that whilst preferring a Single Chamber system to a sham Second Chamber, that I was, being opposed to either, more in favour of a reformed Second Chamber. Although I appeared alone in my opinion, yet from touching 1209 confidences which have been made outside I now know that I had sympathy even in the most responsible quarters, and so today although I may appear separated for the moment, yet I believe I represent the great mass of Liberal opinion, which although firmly resolved to secure an elected Second Chamber and to do away with the hereditary principle is yet convinced that a responsible Second Chamber is an essential part of the British Constitution.
That policy is publicly advocated by Members of the Cabinet. I take it therefore that they also stand by a reformed Second Chamber, but what I cannot see is how their utterances can be reconciled to any policy beginning and ending with Veto Resolutions, for to deal with the powers of the Second Chamber before you decide its constitution, is to put the cart before the horse. It is to prejudice the issue. Nor do I believe that once a Second Chamber is deprived of its powers it will be possible to undertake its reform in this House, and the House of Lords being continued in form but without substance, and this House being endowed with unlimited powers, neither this nor any other Liberal Government can ever modify that position of absolute supremacy. History does record examples of an individual who has surrendered throne, authority or power, but we may look in vain for voluntary sacrifice of patronage or privileges or power in any form by a representative assembly. To suggest that we could abolish the control of the Second Chamber, that we could legislate for a period of time in perfect independence without fear of revision, and then in some subsequent year of our history that we could withdraw from our unconditional independence and domination is to my mind a vain hope and enterprise.
As well might Cromwell have undertaken to combine the decapitation of Charles I. with his subsequent coronation. Many in this House desire and intend that the Veto policy shall be permanent. There are many who look forward with hope and confidence to a one-Chamber system of Government. What I want to clear up is whether that goal is or is not, as I take it it is not, the objective of the Government. We have heard a reference to the reform of the Second Chamber from the Prime Minister, but what security have the Government, or what security does it think it has, against a single-Chamber system being the final outcome of the second 1210 Resolution? That rod is one which, like Aaron's, has swallowed the rod of the King's Speech, a Resolution which deprives the Second Chamber of power more effectually than that of Sir Henry Camp-bell-Bannerman, and confers on the majority of this House an independent and virtually immediate power of legislation. The Government may be here to-day and gone to-morrow, but this Resolution, once inscribed on our Journals, will be taken to represent the settled policy of our party. No Government can rely itself, let alone its successors, on some unknown or conflicting policy relegated to some epoch which the future can alone disclose. All we have to rely on are the pious opinions of Ministers who favour a Second Chamber, and suggest the outline for one.
What guarantees can we offer? I should like to know that, more especially since the withdrawal of the original policy which made reform of the Second Chamber the principal feature in the policy of the Government, No doubt a definite pronouncement might precipitate a crisis, but what is the advantage of continuing a condition of tacit misunderstanding? This is no time for mental reservation. What is more demoralising to Liberal unity and strength than ambiguity which permits of different interpretations being placed upon our policy? If the Veto is the policy of the Government then we know how we stand. If it is not, then it is misleading the country to go again to it upon the Veto. To make an end of this misunderstanding, there must be a clear and explicit statement, and now is the time it is due; but those who vote for the Second Resolution must inevitably vote for the Bill in which it is to be embodied—a Bill which cannot embrace the Second Chamber opinions of Ministers, which the terms of the Resolution exclude from practical politics. Obviously a Bill founded on Resolutions cannot possibly give effect to views so adverse to the single-Chamber system expressed by different Ministers outside. For myself, I believe in the necessity for some safeguard, not only against hasty and ill-considered legislation, but for the maintenance of continuity of policy, on the stability of which the security and welfare of our great oversea communities, as well as our own, ultimately depend. Nor do I admit that the Second Chamber representatives of public opinion and of the Empire will be necessarily hostile either to the more advanced policy of social reform or to the national claim of Ireland for self-government. Quite the 1211 reverse. Over-pressure in this House is notorious, and must continue until there is a large measure of Parliamentary devolution. Meanwhile Bills go to Committees and pass, Bills often of the first importance, originating, it may be, in some department, without expert guidance, without a preliminary inquiry, unknown to the overwrought Cabinet and unconsidered by the electorate, to whom only the main issues can be referred—Bills unconsidered in details and unnoticed, save in the briefest précis of the proceedings of the Committee, and hurried through this House by the Whips. Here is need for a revising Chamber, a reliable revising Chamber, which the House of Lords is not.
Moreover we cannot, as practical men, ignore the fact that every majority of the House of Commons is dependent upon party, and every party more or less upon its caucus, a caucus not necessarily representative, owing authority either to the pursuit of some sectional object or to its influence upon patronage or over the purse. Party opinion organised by it is not necessarily the opinion either of the constituency or their representatives, yet we can judge of its power by the ease with which the Unionist Free Trader has been eliminated from the benches opposite. Party opinion organised by it is not necessarily representative, and, indeed, short of Protection, I know of no soil in which the caucus will more luxuriantly nourish than in that of the Single Chamber system. Again, with respect to main issues a majority is sometimes returned under the influence of momentary passion. Leading Members of the Government asserted in eloquent terms during the South African war that righteousness and justice were upon the side of the minority. All of us, indeed, when we are a minority, are prone to hold that view, therefore all of us at times have admitted that majorities can go wrong, and, given time and opportunity, they will come round to saner and wiser views. Admit that, and you admit the principle in favour of a Second Chamber. We, who have just given South Africa a Second Chamber, which meets with general approval, may well pause ere we make a Second Chamber impossible for the Empire, and with me there is little distinction between the second Resolution as it stands and the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. Barnes) to it. On no Parliament does a responsibility rest comparable to that which we are called upon to bear, and we little know the people of this Em- 1212 pire if we suppose that they will ever permit their destinies to depend upon a catch-vote or chance co-operation of groups owning no common allegiance or under the direction of party policy by party tactics and without the considered support of this nation and the Empire.
Further, it seems to me that our present experiences give cause to hesitate before we depart from the sound policy of reform of the Second Chamber. The Liberal party at this moment is in a majority of two over the regular Opposition. We can only secure an unstable majority by working with two other parties who have virtually different interests to pursue. One of them opposes Liberal candidates with acrimony, and the other refuses to pass the great Liberal finance measure upon which we went to the country. Neither of these parties, therefore, can be said to be synonymous with the Liberal party. Their spokesmen vote with us, not on the merits of the measures, but to obtain ulterior objects irrelevant to the present situation. This points directly to a system of log-rolling under which sectional interests might be promoted, not because they are really approved by the majority of the electors, but because it is the only means by which it is thought that their measures can be passed. We have now a unique opportunity to reconstruct the Second Chamber free of the hereditary anomaly and capable of exercising its functions in a way that the House of Lords has shown itself incapable of doing. It is the Liberal party alone that can rescue the Constitution. Do not let us fling away such a chance, and leave it. to the Tory party to effect some rotten or wholly inadequate reform, which would leave the other House with a Tory basis which may be perpetuated for another quarter of a century. To pass the Veto Resolution as it stands seems to me to be throwing away our great opportunity, to be taking a step which could never be retrieved, and which must end either in single-Chamber Government or in a great Tory reaction. Is it fair to give the country no choice as between taxation on the necessaries of life and single-Chamber government? Yet that is the situation if this Resolution is to be the last exposition of our policy before we go to the country.
I am naturally averse to differing from the Government on this question. I am their convinced supporter on the Budget and on social questions and on their Imperial policy, as well as what I believe to be their policy for the reform of the House 1213 of Lords; but, unless I have an assurance that when the Veto Resolution finds expression in the Bill it will be there laid down that the Veto is but a step in the reform proposals, and that the only measure which will be forced through the Lords by its means will be a measure for the radical reform of that House, and that during a period of the disability or suspension of power of the Second Chamber no other measures will be forced over its head, I cannot support the Resolution. If, however, these assurances be given in explicit terms, even though I still think the Government are following untrodden paths, though I believe they are departing from precedent and adopting means which are somewhat dangerous, yet, if they are means and not an end, then so anxious am I to find a loophole to support them that I would certainly withdraw my opposition. I yield to no Member of this House in my sense of loyalty to its rights and its privileges nor in my confidence in its boundless capacities for the public service. I look to the added dignity and authority of this House as the inevitable result of constitutional reform, not, indeed, by centring here all the responsibility in the form of arbitrary power, but by modifying those provisions for reference and consultation which have, despite the, character of our other House, rendered this Parliament at once the most flexible, stable, and free of all the governing instruments which have yet been created upon earth.
§ Mr. G. N. BARNES
I shall vote for the Resolution of the Prime Minister to go into Committee, and, failing anything better and more drastic, I shall vote for the Resolutions in the Committee; but I do not accept the Resolutions in question as in any sense an adequate remedy for the evils at which they aim. What are these evils? As I take it, they consist in the House of Lords, which is a useless and irritating barrier to the free expression in law of the people's will. I listened to the indictment of the House of Lords by the Prime Minister to-day, and I need scarcely say that I differ from that indictment only because of its moderation. The Lords, I believe, have stood at all times in the way of democratic reform. I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that in my own time they have stood in the way of democratic reform. However, I attach very little importance to the historical aspect of the question. Perhaps it may be be said that is because I know very little 1214 of it. Be that as it may, it would not concern me a bit if it could be shown that the present House of Lords consisted of the best-born aristocrats that ever existed on any part of the earth's surface. As a matter of fact, I do not think they are, because I believe in the main the peerages there are of dubious and somewhat unsavoury origin. But still that is not germane to my argument. I think it could be shown that the House of Lords has always stood in the way of democratic reform. At all events, in recent times they have done so, and I think I should be right in saying that it is only in recent times that there has been conflict between the House of Lords and this House, and for the simple reason that right up to 1832, and for some considerable time afterwards, the Members of this House were to a large extent merely the creatures and nominees of the Members of the other House. Therefore conflict between the two Houses did not become a practical question. But I think it could be shown that in recent times the House of Lords has always stood in the way of measures put forward in this House which were intended to lighten the load of poverty of the people or to increase and expand the boundaries of the freedom of the people.
One could go back to such measures as the emancipation of the Jews and of Roman Catholics, and measures in regard to religious and economic freedom generally, but I do not want to go back on these, because it is not at all necessary. I have been here only four years, and that is quite sufficient for me. What do I find during these four years? I find the Government coming here with a majority abnormal in character—a majority, I suppose, larger than was ever obtained by any Government before—and passing Bills, not after having been in office for a long time and outstayed its welcome, but passing Bills immediately on assuming office, or almost so, and having these Bills treated by the House of Lords as if there was no democracy at all. One or two of them have already been mentioned to-day. There were the Licensing Bill and the Education Bill; but important as these are, or, at all events, as I think they are— and I voted especially for the Licencing Bill as I have voted for every measure of that character calculated to better and purify the life of the community—and great as was that crime, from my point of view, of the House of Lords in rejecting them, the crime was even greater in regard to other Bills that followed. Take 1215 the case of the Plural Voting Bill, which had nothing to do with the House of Lords at all, or one would have thought so. That Bill had for its end and object the wiping out of an obvious anomaly which gives a man with property a right denied to a man who has only his labour to sell. I say that this Bill ought to have escaped the attention and clutches of the House of Lords, instead of which, as we all know, it was rejected with contumely.
Take the case of the Land Valuation Bill. Is it not quite obvious that that was rejected by the House of Lords, not because they had in their minds delay, or anything of that character, but because it was a Bill against their own interests, and one which had for its end and object the accurately measuring of that value accruing to land in which they are concerned, and accruing, not by virtue of anything they do, but because of the presence, the industry and the needs of the people as a whole. Then I come to one or two Bills in which I am particularly interested as a Scotch Member. I take the Scotch Temperance Bill which everybody knows would have passed through last Parliament, but for the fear—we had got to the point that the Government did not know what to do, and they did nothing—that Bills which were already on the stocks would get the same fate that had been meted out to other Bills which were sent up to the other House. Then there was another Bill in which I was particularly interested, because it was a labour Bill, or, at all events, it was so regarded by the people of Scotland. I refer to what is known there as the Missive Bill. I forget the title of the Bill, but it was the measure dealing with the question of house letting in Scotland. That Bill had for its object the wiping out of an anomaly applying to the workmen of Scotland and the giving to him the right of shifting from his house without giving long notice, in the same way as his fellow workman in England can do, and thereby giving him a better chance of making the best of his labour. That is a matter, one would think, which ought to be settled by the Scotch representatives themselves, to say nothing of the whole of the Members of this House. That Bill which had received the almost unanimous consent of the Scotch Members was passed through this House by large majorities, but it was treated by the House of Lords in exactly the same way as they had treated the Land Valuation Bill, the 1216 Plural Voting Bill, the Licensing Bill, the Education Bill, and many other Bills that might be mentioned during the last four years. They have arrogated to themselves, it seems to me, a right, or at least a power, anti-social and anti-democratic in character, and they retain that right merely because of the helplessness of the people of this country, and because of the supineness of political princes.
In my own memory I go back to the year 1884, when I carried a banner to Hyde Park in the great demonstration with respect to the franchise. I very well remember saluting John Bright as he stood on a terrace outside Piccadilly on that occasion. I remember the favour with which we as workmen demonstrated first in favour of an extended franchise, but, as arising out of that, in favour of either their clipping the wings of the House of Lords or abolishing that House altogether. What happened? During the summer of 1884 an agitation went on in London and throughout the whole of the provinces. Workmen were in a fever heat for the extension of the franchise, and, coupled with that extension of the franchise, for some limitation of the power, if not the abolishing, of the power altogether, of the House of Lords. At the end of that year, just when people had been led up to the gates of the citadel, just when public opinion was more determined to get a settlement of the House of Lords question than at any time since, up to three or four months ago. owing to some influences which I suppose nobody has ever explained, the whole pass was given away, and the House of Lords was given another twenty-six years to cripple the democratic forces of this country. Then we come to the year 1893. when the House of Lords rejected the Home Rule Bill. I venture to say that, but for the incidents of the year 1884, the House of Lords would not have had the power in 1893 to reject that Bill, and the whole trend of British history might have been different altogether from what it has been. The Leader of the Opposition says the fact that the people of this country in 1895 voted against the Government proved that they are against Home Rule. I deny that anything of the sort took place. I have taken for many years a somewhat active and, I hope, not unintelligent part in public affairs, and if I can gauge the opinion of the workmen with whom I have been in contact from one end of the country to another, I believe the people of this country are in favour of giving to Ireland what Ireland 1217 is obviously entitled to, namely, the management of her own internal affairs. But why did the people in 1895 vote against the Government of that day? I know the reason. Many of us who have had something to do with the organisation of labour remember the poverty and depression that existed prior to 1895. We know that it was a time when there were hundreds and thousands of men walking about unemployed, and when there was depression in trade unprecedented in character up to that time. It was because the Government of 1892 did nothing, or next to nothing, to meet the extreme needs of that time that the people voted against them, and not because they were opposed to Home Rule when the change of Government took place in 1895. Therefore, from my point of view, the indictment against the House of Lords is complete. They have in my own day and generation, to go no further back in history, stood not in favour of giving expression to the people's will, but against giving expression to the popular will and against democratic freedom. And therefore our position is— I speak now for the Labour party, and probably, I think, for a few more in this House—that there is no legitimate place in the machinery of a democratic Government for a House of Lords as at present existing.
We are not committing ourselves, and we shall not commit ourselves, by the Amendment we shall put forward in a day or two to the idea of a Single Chamber only. Do not let my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomery Boroughs (Mr. Rees) disturb himself on that head. It may be necessary to have some sort of revising Chamber for legal or technical purposes. I do not know. That is an the lap of the gods. But, at all events, if such a Chamber should be necessary, I think it is obvious that it should consist of men trained and qualified for the work which they are intended to do, men of superior wisdom and of experience which will qualify them to see that the first Chamber does nothing to clash with existing laws or in any way run counter to good government. But that is totally different from a legislative chamber of the character we have now, and it is to a Second Chamber of the legislative character that we are opposed. I listened to-day to the Prime Minister's defence of the Second Chamber idea, and I could not help thinking that it was peculiarly weak, and that his earlier and more 1218 democratic idea was the better one. He told us that he had been brought round to the idea of a Second Chamber because, as he said, the House of Commons might conceivably carry measures sometimes on a narrow or heterogeneous majority. And therefore he said it was necessary that we should have time for conference and for delay and for the popular will to become articulate. It seems to me that the popular will is very often defeated by being delayed.
Let me go back again to what happened in regard to Home Rule to illustrate that it is sufficient to delay something for a while to defeat it altogether. Public opinion gets confused before another election comes round. There was a great difference as between 1892, when trade was fairly good, and 1895, when it was extremely bad. The issue in the minds of the people in 1895 was not so much Home Rule, it was bread and butter. To delay reform is very often to defeat it, and that was the exact effect of delay on the Home Rule Bill of 1893. After all, democratic thought, it seems to me, is tidal in character. It surges up in waves, and if you set up a barrier such as we have now in the shape of the House of Lords to dam it up, provided the dam be high enough, you set that surge of democratic thought backward for the time, and in doing so you may set it back for all time. I have heard a great deal stated as to safeguards against this Assembly getting ahead of public opinion, or inflicting some imaginary damage upon democracy. I do not believe that the dangers to democracy would come in there at all. It seems to me that the dangers to democracy are not so much in haste as in stagnation; I think that that must be fairly obvious to those who have gone for any length of time over what has happened in this country. The danger is hot so much in haste as in stagnation, and in falling a prey to the strength of vested interests. We are told that other countries have a Second Chamber. All I can say is, I believe, other countries have followed our bad example. For our part, we on these benches are disposed to set them a better example. So far from the House of Lords being the custodian of the permanent interests of the people, as we are told from the opposite benches, I believe it is simply the custodian of the interests of the class who compose it.
In saying that, I say nothing disrespectful to them. I say that they but follow the line of their own interests. Probably 1219 if I were a brewer or a landlord and a Member of the House of Lords I should stand up for the interests of brewing and landlordism. At all events, all history and all experience prove that each class tends to follow the line of its own interests. The House of Lords have done that, and it is only human nature that they should do so. The great Duke of Wellington brushed aside all these pretences of the House of Lords standing as the unselfish champion of the interests of the people. Writing in 1846, he said:—I have endeavoured to manage the House of Lords upon the principle on which I believe the institution exists in the Constitution of the country, and that is the principle of conservatism.I am glad to find that that sentiment gets one cheer on the other side. And I believe that it represents the sentiments not only of the hon. Member who cheered, but of the great majority of those who sit upon that side. That is the character of that institution, I believe to-day even more so than it was in the year 1846. Those of us who are not Conservatives, who are interested not only in social reform but in social reconstruction, those who think that way, and who agree with the growing volume of public opinion, which, as we think, at all events is favourable to social reconstruction, want to get on with the job, and clear the House of Lords out of the way.
Just a few words upon the Resolutions. On the whole, I should say that the Resolutions will mark an advance in dealing with the House of Lords, and therefore I think I can promise that they will have the unanimous support of the Labour party; but I venture to point out one or two shortcomings, and to express the hope that when they are in Committee something will be done to make these Resolutions more drastic, or to frame a Bill more drastic in character than even the Resolutions are. In regard to finance the Resolutions still enable the House of Lords to handle a Finance Bill. It is true that the Lords are not to reject or to amend those Bills, but for a reason which has not been disclosed to me they are still to handle them. Therefore it is quite possible that they may devise some means of suspending or dealing with Finance Bills otherwise than by rejecting or amending them. I merely mention this point in the hope that it may be explained in Committee. With regard to the second Resolution, I heard the Leader of the Opposition to-day say that probably the duration of Parlia- 1220 ments in future would be four years. Although I heard the Prime Minister say to-day that the two years during which a Bill could be held up by the House of Lords were not to be interrupted by a General Election, yet I attach little importance to that. As a rule, a General Election changes sides, and, therefore, it is improbable that you would have a Bill passed in the last year of a particular Government and in the first year of the incoming Government. I would be inclined to think that Parliaments in the future will last even less than four years. Since the year 1832, the year of the great Reform Bill, I find there have been eighteen Parliaments. Only nine of them have lasted four years, and six of them have lasted only three years or less. I think we may expect Parliaments to be even shorter in the future than they have been. Owing to the alertness of the public mind, as we may expect, and owing to the fact that reforming Parliaments have to deal, as the Prime Minister pointed out to-day, with a multiplicity of questions every time they come into office, the difficulty in making a selection out of those questions must necessarily antagonise somebody, who must be put on one side, so that it is very probable that in the future Parliaments will last even less than the four years which were predicted by the Leader of the Opposition.
That means that this second Resolution upon which we are to go into Committee lessens the effectiveness of the House of Commons for at least halt of its time, and possibly for a great deal more than half of its time. Let me illustrate by what happened in the last Parliament in regard to the question of pensions. When the Liberal Government came into office there was no question upon which there was a greater amount of expectation and hope than the question of old age pensions. But the Government were not prepared to deal with old age pensions. They had a legacy of financial chaos left them by the opposite side. They had to straighten out the finances of the country before they could touch old age pensions. Therefore they did not reach old age pensions until their third year in office. What would happen in future, supposing some question equally important as old age pensions had to be dealt with by an incoming Government, and supposing that that Government, however willing to deal with the question, had to defer it until the third year after taking office? Old age pensions would be lost. It is true that the House of Lords might pass old age pensions in 1221 future as they did before, but I think it is probable that the House of Lords in future, if it had the statutory power conferred upon it of holding up Bills for two years, would be more disposed to use that power than has been their custom to use their somewhat vague and obscure powers in times gone by. For that reason I think there is considerable danger in the Veto Resolutions, and I am looking forward with a considerable degree of hope that the Amendment of which notice has been given by the Labour party will be introduced into the Resolutions, so that we may preserve to this House, to the democratic House, to the House which is alone representative of the people, more power than would be preserved to it under the terms of the Resolutions. Just a last word in regard to something which fell from hon. Members to the effect that the House of Commons in future, if these Resolutions be passed, will become a more deliberative body and a more responsible body. I have even heard it suggested that there should be no closure in the future, supposing we pass these Resolutions.. I stand aghast to think of the talk that might be indulged in in the future as compared with what we have heard during the last four years. During that period, on several Bills which have been before us, we heard arguments repeated over and over again with "damnable iteration," repeated sometimes at least twenty times over, and replied to twenty times over. Therefore, if we are going to have a deliberative Assembly with a sense of responsibility as the price of these Resolutions, it seems to me that the Resolutions ought to be considerably amended and improved. For my part, I think this House is sufficient custodian of the interests of the democratic forces of this country without any other House having the controlling voice or Veto over it. I can only say, in conclusion, that while we have these objections to the Resolution, while we on these benches stand for a single legislative Chamber, because we believe a single Chamber is alone necessary, yet I am glad after all, and after a good deal of agitation, that we have at last got these Resolutions into the arena of practical politics. I hope, with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, that we shall have the Government now putting their back into them, passing them through, and at last dealing a blow at that hereditary, non-representative, and unresponsible body at the other end of the 1222 passage, which I believe has stood long enough, and too long, against the people of this country, and against making advance on those lines that my colleagues and I have at heart.
§ Mr. HARRY W. LAWSON
I am afraid that I cannot bespeak the kindness of this House to a maiden speech, because it is a quarter of a century since I first entered this House. I have been one of the ins and outs of the House of Commons, and I hope that I may count on the consideration of hon. Members this evening. I have been tempted to enter into the Debate because I have read that this is the first night of the revolution. I do not know that there is much sign of it here, and I do not think there was much sign of it in the speech of the Prime Minister, but then we know that he is a great master in clothing drastic changes in moderate language. At the same time we all know the seriousness of the conflict that we are entering upon, and I fancy we are to-night beginning a constitutional struggle of which a good many of us will not see the end. I was a little amused to hear the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken (Mr. Barnes) talking of getting the House of Lords out of the way. I do not know whether he is aware of it, but to-night we are putting a check and a bar in the way of social legislation and reform that he has set his heart on, greater than anything else we could do. The Prime Minister has to-night given himself a line of retreat, because I understand he finds it impossible to approach the Throne for the guarantees of which we have heard so much, and he contemplates a Referendum to the people outside; at least, I was careful to observe that he did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman the Member for Waterford when he suggested that Was a possibility he had in view. But whatever the manœuvres and whatever the tactics, it cannot be denied that the Resolutions as they are here presented threaten the stability of the Constitution, the stability of Parliament, and, more than anything else, I think. Sir, the stability of your Chair. The chiefest glory of our Parliamentary history is the reputation of the Speaker's Chair. And now our Chair is to be brought into the arena of party conflict. It is all very well to deny it, but you, Sir, will no longer be the judge of our procedure and no longer the champion of our privileges. You will also have to decide and define the powers of the other House. Nobody suspects that you will be influenced, but in other days 1223 other men may fill that Chair. We have only to look at the other side of the Atlantic to see what is going on in the House of Congress and the conflict which exists about the duties of Speaker Cannon. The charge is what they call the Tsarism of the Speaker. It is quite true that the Speaker there has powers that are denied to you, Sir, but I do not think he has ever exercised a greater influence than have the Speakers of our Assembly. But now it is proposed to bring the Speaker forward and force him into the very centre of political conflict. The Speaker will be a party man, and they will only elect one who will be a safe man frrom the point of view of the party which wants him to carry out their behests. I think that will be a very great leas to our Constitution. I think it will be a sad day for Parliament, which is, after all, an example to the whole of the civilised world, when we divest the Chair of the impartiality and independence which you, Sir, and your predecessors have done so much to maintain.
That is one of the gravest things we have to consider in regard to these Resolutions. As with a good many things which happen in the House of Commons, I fancy we hardly appreciate their importance as they pass us by. Yet to-night I do not think it inappropriate that we are going to the deepest wells of history and that we quote from the first principles of political philosophy. In regard to history, as it has been brought out to-night, there have been some serious mistakes. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford has recited the fact of Irish history in relation to this House in the past century. I wonder he cannot let the dead past bury its dead. The House of Lords has made many mistakes, and so has this House, in regard to Ireland. I do not know why the hon. and learned Member should have attributed all the blame to the House of Lords, when he knows as well as any man that the Encumbered Estates Act, which passed through the House of Lords, was the most mischievous ever passed for the Irish peasant, and was proposed by a Liberal Government. In the same way in regard to other measures in which he deprecated the action of the House of Lords, he forgot that the House of Lords was only reflecting the average prejudices of Englishmen as to the dangers they would have to face when they no longer had that "salutary check," as Hamilton called it. 1224 The danger of reaction is all the greater because this Parliament may be, and very often will be, in advance of average opinions. Some measures for enfranchisement, some measures for political emancipation of our people, which were rejected in the other House, might have provoked, as they have in other European countries, like France, with a Government as free as ours, reactions more dangerous than the original persecutions, and it is very probable that in representing the prejudices of average men outside, the House of Lords, on those occasions, stopped a good many of the campaigns of reaction which have disgraced continental Europe, even in the last twenty years. When he came to more recent history, the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Barnes) gave us what I think was indeed a travesty. He called his own memory to work, and he said he recollected the agitation of 1884, and gave the interference of the House of Lords in the Reform Bill of that year as an instance of the way that body thwarted the will of the people. What the House of Lords has always laid down is that the Constitution should not be gerrymandered in the interests of political parties. What was secured in 1884 was the proper representation of the people. The House of Lords insisted that a redistribution of seats should accompany the Franchise Bill. They got their way, and we sit here, most of us, by virtue of the decision of the House of Lords. The House of Lords only did then what it did subsequently in regard to the Plural Voting Bill, and I would remind hon. Gentlemen that hardly one of the occasions which he gave was in point, because on only one of all the occasions he enumerated did the House of Lords reject a Bill which had come from this House. In other cases they merely amended the Bills, and I take it that even under the new dispensation, when there are Amendments of that sort, there will be conferences and compromises.
It was, I daresay, by taking the course which the right hon. Gentleman opposite now regrets that the Education Bill failed in the last Parliament to pass into law. But I said we have gone into history both ancient and modern. Perhaps it may not be inappropriate when we are dealing with first principles to look back to the way in which the authors of the American Constitution faced the problems with which we are now dealing. After all, they were great believers in the theory of checks and balances—salutary checks and effective balances. They did not believe in what 1225 the Prime Minister now proposes—sham checks and false balances—they did not believe, as the Chinese do, that you fortify a town by painting guns on the wooden gates to make the enemy think that they are efficient artillery, and it was against a system of sham checks that the authors of the American Constitution were most careful to provide. Maddison, who with Hamilton, did so much, not only to save, but to explain the Constitution in those days, said that the Second Chamber doubles the security in the case of usurpation, of perfidy, and ensures the improbability of sinister combination. We can conceive sinister combination just as Hamilton did a century and a half ago. I am not sure that some of us would not think that there are sinister combinations even in this House. Whether that be so or not, the danger is present; it is a danger not only for the present but a danger for the future, too. Above all, Hamilton laid down that the Second Chamber ensured that the cool and deliberate sense of the community should prevail. I cannot conceive that in place of that from the experience we have we should like to neglect the teaching of the fathers of the American constitution and go back to the test which appears in the journals of the House of Commons, 4th January, 1648–9:—The people are under God the original of all just power and whatsoever is enacted or declared for law by the Commons hath the force of law. and all the people of this nation are concluded thereby although the consent and concurrence of the King and the House of Peers be not had thereto.I should have thought that all the political philosophy we have drunk in since then shows how fallacious were conclusions of that kind, and the action which followed is a warning against similar reaction under similar conditions now. But I apprehend another danger. The Prime Minister talked of the Veto of the Crown as being dead. Well, the Veto of the Crown is not dead in the case of the Colonial Legislatures. The Veto of the Crown is invoked year after year, or has been in the past. I do not know whether it would be so readily invoked now in case of the dominions beyond the sea. I do not think we can say how far the Veto of the Crown has passed out of use and beyond recall. What I fear is that when Bills pass this House without the chance of any Amendment in the House of Lords that those classes who feel themselves aggrieved will go to the steps of the Throne. You cannot prevent men thinking they are persecuted, and, after all, persecution in these days is fiscal and not physical. You cannot prevent them 1226 taking every step they can to prevent what they think is unjust and iniquitous legislation passing into law. It is an undesirable case that the Throne should be brought into such political prominence. I think myself that we have heard perhaps a little too much of the Throne during these Debates, but at least we have not come to, that point yet when it is pretty certain that those who feel they are being persecuted by financial legislation or other legislation will take every means in their power—and they may be very strong minorities—to set up any barrier that may interpose itself between them and the Government which is legislating against them.
Fiscal legislation will be the great weapon of the persecutor in the future, and it is this fiscal legislation which is being most severely handled by these Resolutions. Who can say what is fiscal legislation and what is not? Take the Acts, which I had to do with in times past in this House, concerning the Government of London. All those Acts involved the rating of the people. They were all Money Bills in the sense that they had money clauses in them. Conceive a partisan Speaker sitting in that Chair, and conceive the danger in which the liberty and prosperity of the people would be placed by Bills which masqueraded as Money Bills and yet were just as political as any other measure that could be conceived. In those cases an appeal will be made to the Throne, and I should be sorry to say what the consequences would be. Nobody could have conceived, after all, such a quick succession of political changes and opinions as there has been of late, and it is impossible to say that the Throne will not be more deeply involved in our political conflicts in the future than we care now to contemplate. I think that would be in itself a very grave evil.
Then we shall have the same difficulty in regard to tacking. Even if Mr. Speaker decides that the Bill is properly a Money Bill, and that it cannot be handled by the House of Lords, there will be others ready to point out, as they have before, that foreign matters are merely tacked on to other things. In the Colonies they have had exactly the same difficulties, and have found it most difficult to meet them. I daresay the right hon. Gentleman knows the case of Victoria, where for ten years there was a constitutional conflict on this very point of tacking, which was only solved after much agitation, and a near approach to violence. There is not a single one of our Colonies where the difficulty of 1227 dealing with Money Bills has not cropped up. I believe there is hardly one of our Colonies, certainly not one of the Colonies which compose the Commonwealth of Australia, in which there has not been a conflict of opinion and jurisdiction between the two Houses on the subject of Money Bills. I thought it well to point these things out to the House of Commons because I think that perhaps in the course of our Debates we are apt to underrate the gravity of some of the things that come before us and to exaggerate the gravity of others. There is no doubt about the importance of what we are considering tonight, because we are trying to write a Constitution in part, not the whole. That is the real difficulty. If we were to inaugurate a written Constitution which would define the powers of Parliament, as the powers of Congress are defined, which would give us a Constitution such as we have given the Commonwealth or the Dominion of South Africa, that would be very well, but we stop short. We are having a half measure of definition. We are going to curtail the powers of the House of Lords in an unsatisfactory way, and we are providing no adequate tribunal to give judgment in cases of dispute. We are referring it only to Mr. Speaker, and putting him in a position of embarrassment, which, I fancy, will be more felt by those who succeed him than by him, because he enjoys the confidence of both Houses. That is not the point. We cannot legislate for persons or hard cases.
We have to look at the constitutional issue on its broad lines. I think nothing could be more fatal than to begin the consideration to meet a sudden emergency, to attempt to write a Constitution, and then stop and say we will not, neglecting the counsel of all who have gone before, and without recollecting, as we do, the terrible failures there have been in the past. We are sowers of a new seed time, and the harvest is not yet; but I am persuaded that these Resolutions, if they are seriously meant, and I cannot make up my mind whether they will ever be drafted into a Bill or not, that we are likely to reap a harvest of conflict between the Houses, and of sorrow for the whole Commonwealth. There was in the Middle Ages an addled Parliament, and we are doing all we can to-night to addle the British Parliament, which is, after all, the model and example to all other Parliaments throughout the world. and which, I think, deserves better of 1228 those who profess, as right hon. Gentlemen opposite do, to be the upholders of Parliamentary tradition.
§ Mr. G. A. FRANCE
Although I do not propose to inflict upon the indulgence of the House any extracts from my election address yet I do say, with all the emphasis that a new Member speaking for the first time is capable of commanding, that my experience of the election in January was entirely opposite to that of the hon. Member for Leith, who spoke from these benches just now. The issue that was put foremost in that election, and on which I was returned to this House, was the policy outlined in the Resolutions the House is now considering. I must frankly confess that during the first week in which I sat in this Parliament I began to wonder if there would be any definite legislative results from the majority of 124 for the policy put before the electors in almost identical terms with the Resolutions now before this House. One of my first experiences was to fall a victim, if I may say so without disrespect, to the charm of manner and inimitable analytical skill of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, which I can only compare to that of a delicious anesthetic. I heard the right hon. Gentleman analyse and explain away the result of the General Election, and dispel the considerable majority which compelled him to address the House, from what I think I may call the unpopular side of the Table. The right hon. Gentleman concluded his argument by pointing out that because, the majority of 124, composed of those who sit below and above the Gangway on both sides, differ in some of their objects, although they were admittedly pledged in their return to this House to defend the rights of the Commons and limit the Veto of the Lords, that that was in itself a reason for disregarding their views. I cannot understand or follow that line of argument at all. It seems to me that in all the great changes that have taken place in this country there must always have been those who were acting together for the purpose of such change, but who were not in agreement on every point. Great reform Acts in this country have been passed by those who expected to reap some legislative advantage in the future, or better representation of the people in this House. The next day after that speech to which I have referred the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) addressed the House on the issue 1229 of the proposed legislative limitation of the Veto in a speech which covered the whole of the point, and which destroyed the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in which he attempted to get rid of the majority of 124 which so inconsiderately surrounded him.
I think we are entitled to ask what this majority of 124 is really for. I think it is admitted, certainly it is on these benches, that it is undoubtedly here for the purpose of using all its power and all its influence to secure the passage of these Resolutions. I have no intention of detaining the House with any historical survey, and only go back to the Campbell-Bannerman Resolutions of 1907, which were introduced, considered necessary, and carried through this House by the Government of the day. We have heard to-day the reasons for those Resolutions in the speech made by the Prime Minister. The condition of government in this country for the last twenty years might be, I think, reasonably compared to that of Costa Rica, that place which was referred to by Lord Rosebery, in the speech which he delivered in the House of Lords about a fortnight ago, as a fit subject for derision and as a beacon to be avoided. He said in that speech:—I gather that the existence of Costa Rica has been pretty evenly divided between government by a single Chamber and government by a dictatorship—I think more often government by dictatorship than government by a single Chamber. There seems to be a necessary alternation between the two.That seems to be a fairly good description of the form of government which we have been suffering from and under which we lived for the last twenty years. When the party opposite are in power, as the right hon. Gentleman the present Leader of the Opposition controls both Houses, we have the disadvantage of single Chamber Government. When he is in Opposition it is still his reading of his duty to decide what Bill shall become law, and we are then left under a dictatorship with a Second Chamber to make legal its decisions. When the Resolution of 1907 was before this House the Leader of the Opposition made a speech to which reference has already been made to-day. He defended the House of Lords from further attack on grounds which were both, if I may say so, chivalrous and pathetic. In common parlance, and to use homely language, he said, in effect, "Do not hit a fellow when he is down." The words he used were:—But just, see how great are the powers that this House possesses which the other House neither possesses 1230 nor makes any claim to. We must always remember that the most important decision the country makes at. the election is who should control the administrative machinery and the general policy of the country. That decision the House of Lords neither claims to touch nor can touch.I was amazed at the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to the reference he made to his own language with regard to Money Bills. The words still remain in "Hansard." He said:—The House of Lords cannot, touch those Money Bills, which, if it could deal with, no doubt it could bring the whole Executive machinery of the country to ii standstill.The right hon. Gentleman spoke of there being no deadlock, and if he prefers the word "standstill," I should quite agree that would be a very prophetic description of what now occurs with regard to the finances of the country and in consequence of the action of the House of Lords. This is what the right hon. Gentleman said, further:—The conclusion which I want to press upon the House, and which is all important in this matter, is that under our existing system you have two Chambers which are not. of equal power, which are not of equal authority, which cannot come into serious conflict in the whole field of administration, in the whole field of the initiation of legislation, or in the whole field of that legislation which deals with finance.During the last few weeks I have been studying ponderous works on Procedure and on the Constitution by such authorities as Erskine May and others, and I find in them much in confirmation of what the right hon. Gentleman said in that historic utterance, but I find no one who has put the matter more clearly than or so well as he put it on that occasion. That was the situation in 1907. It appears to many on these benches that the situation now is ten times worse, and that if there was need then for statutory control of the relations between the two Houses, it has become absolutely necessary now when there are put forward new and revolutionary claims which the right hon. Gentleman told the House in 1907 the House of Lords would never make.
The first of these Resolutions, if carried into law, would make doubly sure the position which, in the speech to which I have referred, was understood and explained by the right hon. Gentleman — that is, that the whole field of legislation which deals with finance could never again be invaded. No doubt other speakers will make further references to the question of tacking. The Leader of the Opposition on 28th February asked who would decide that very difficult 1231 question, and humorously suggested that possibly the Chancellor of the Exchequer might be chosen for that purpose. The answer of the Government is in the first of these Resolutions. I cannot believe there will be any serious objection to the selection of Mr. Speaker as the arbiter in that matter. We shall not be inclined to share the anticipation of horror expressed by the last speaker (Mr. Lawson) as to the possibility of a partisan Speaker ruling adversely to the interests of the country on such a point. But if the suggestion of the Government should be rejected, may I make an alternative suggestion, which, in my opinion, is better than that put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Walton (Mr. F. E. Smith) in the Amendment which he has placed on the Paper. There is a well-known ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer who now sits in the House of Lords. Personally I have, and I think every other Member of the House has, full confidence in the fairness and wisdom of Lord St. Aldwyn. He is an authority on tacking and on the Budget which hon. Members are now so anxious to pass. Writing to "The Times" a few days ago. Lord St. Aldwyn on the question of tacking said:—I may say briefly that the wisest Conservative leaders of the past nave always held that however objectionable to the Peers any taxes might be, that objection was no sufficient reason for their rejection; and that in my opinion the only ground on which a Budget regularly passed by the House of Commons can properly be rejected by the House of Lords is the ground of tacking. I see nothing in the actual proposals of the Budget so foreign to the finance of the year as to justify its rejection on that ground.The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Harry Lawson) said just now that in the Colonies the two Chambers had frequently been in conflict over financial matters. If that is so, it is a very strong reason, indeed, why this House should pass this Resolution, and prevent any such conflicts occurring in the future in this country. There are doubtless Members present who not only disagree with Lord St. Aldwyn in regard to this matter, but think that the result of the General Election justifies the action of the Peers in rejecting the Budget. Perhaps it would be well to wait and see what happens to the Budget in this House when it is brought forward, and what the House of Lords themselves do when it reaches them, before any definite decision is come to on that matter. The House of Lords themselves do not appear to take the view of the hon. Member for Walton; they do not seem unduly 1232 elated with the result of the election, or particularly proud of themselves at the present moment. I understand that there have been very broad hints that the House of Lords should rid itself of a number of what have been called by one of its own Members "undesirables." I desire to say nothing that could hurt the feelings of any Member of that House; but, if I am correctly informed, such a suggestion is a curious commentary on recent history. Why should these unknown and somewhat wayward Peers be sent away or abandoned when it was really they who were responsible for the rejection of the Budget in the House of Lords against the wishes and advice of many of those notables to whom our polite attention is constantly being called? As I understand the situation, in, accordance with a comparatively recent change in criminal law procedure, the prisoner has been allowed to give evidence on his own behalf. He has taken advantage of that opportunity, and, with a burst of tears, has promised to lead a better life if he is granted one more chance of reform. Such an exhibition in a court of law would save the judge and jury considerable mental exertion, and only one question would remain, namely, the sentence to be passed. The sentence on this occasion is largely governed by the record of the prisoner. In dealing with the House of Lords its record must be considered. The Leader of the Opposition seemed to doubt that there was a serious indictment against that Assembly.
What is its record in regard to legislation other than that dealing with finance? I am not going into ancient history. Everyone who has read the history of the relations of the two Houses since 1832 must agree that the disagreements have been more frequent just in proportion as the House of Commons has become more representative of the people. On this point I will ask only one question. What are the principal matters on which during the last four years the House of Lords has had any right to interfere? Their character has been shown in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. The Peers cannot really control foreign affairs. Colonial affairs, the making of war, the making of peace, administrative matters connected with the Army and the Navy or the Civil Service. They have control of other matters which perhaps might be described as being more parochial or "Little England" affairs, but we had thought, with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the control of financial affairs was. and we believe in 1233 future it will be, outside their province. What remains? There remain as matters which have caused conflict during the last four years questions concerning religion, temperance. land, and votes. I particularly wish to avoid any electioneering term or any expression such as "vested interests," but can anyone, after carefully considering these matters, claim that during the past four years the House of Lords has acted with strict impartiality, without any regard for party or personal interest? I will take only one example, namely, the land question, on which rests the solution of many great problems, such as better housing, fewer slums, better planning of towns, successful and more numerous? small holdings. Can anyone seriously contend that the present House of Lords, or any Second Chamber composed in any conceivable degree on a basis of landowners, can exercise with strict impartiality an absolute Veto on legislation dealing with such matters of vital importance to the health, if not to the life, of the community?
The Duke of Northumberland a few days ago referred in the House of Lords to the deterioration of the House of Commons. It seems strange that distinguished persons like Lord Curzon and the Duke of Northumberland, who have been Members of this House, always seem to feel, like old boys revisiting their Alma Mater, that since they left the place has unaccountably gone down. Another Noble Peer directly traced that deterioration in the House of Commons to the passage of the Reform Bills which have made the House more representative of the people. To my mind the deterioration is not here. It is in the minds of those who practise in a Chamber which has an absolute Veto over the decisions of this House a policy of self interest, which would not be tolerated here, and which, if practiced in any county or rural council, would lead to expulsion and disgrace. It has been said that these Resolutions are brought forward for purely party reasons. Hon. Members opposite are always twitting us with being supported by three distinct parties. Those three parties, however, are absolutely agreed on this point; so that I think the charge of its being a purely party question falls harmlessly to the ground. War has been declared; it was declared in November last by the House of Lords, and hon. Members opposite must not be surprised if war is unpleasant and sometimes inconvenient.
The battle is not, or ought not to be between parties; it is between the House 1234 of Lords and the House of Commons, and it will continue, as a Noble Duke said the other day, without gloves, until one or the other has won. I thank the House for the indulgence with which they have listened to me while addressing them for the first time. I will only say, in conclusion, that in my opinion the electors of this country are not revolutionary; they are, in the main, patient, many of them are long-suffering, and in the matters in regard to. which the House of Lords has of late undertaken to think for them, they are neither selfish nor grasping. The inherent genius of the British people is, to my mind, a deep-rooted love of fair play. That sentiment has been flouted during the past twenty years by a Chamber which has been both selfish and revolutionary in its policy, and I believe that the people of this country will never again agree that the decisions of this House should be absolutely vetoed or unduly delayed by the House of Lords, or, indeed, by any other Second Chamber.
§ Mr. ALFRED TOBIN
I do not intend to say anything as to the relations between the two Houses in the matter of finance, but I wish to refer to those relations in matters of general legislation. In considering the Motion of the Prime Minister, I think one ought to ask what are the powers in reference to general legislation which the House of Lords claim to exercise in practice and in fact; and, next, whether they have properly exercised those powers. When I say "properly exercised," I mean, have they exercised those powers to the reasonable satisfaction, not merely of the House of Commons, but of the majority of the electors, or at any rate of the majority of constituencies returning Members for Westminster? What are the powers of the two Houses with reference to general legislation? In theory they are concurrent and co-ordinate. But what powers in fact do the House of Lords claim to exercise in matters of general legislation? I maintain that the political history of the last generation shows that the House of Lords are perfectly ready to pass any Bill sent up to them by the House of Commons, except in such cases where they are satisfied on good grounds that a particular measure does not embody the considered judgment of the nation. What is the charge laid at the door of the House of Lords? What crime are they considered to have committed? The crux of the complaint is that during the last Parliament the House of, Lords rejected or did not accept certain Radical Bills and certain tactical Radical measures.
1235 8.0 P.M.
I quite grant that. But the answer to the charge is this: that the House of Lords never claimed in any way whatever the right to veto the wishes of the people, or in any way to thwart the desires of the people after those wishes have been fully expressed. The action of the House of Lords during the last generation, it seems to me, whether it be in rejecting, passing, or amending Bills sent up by this House, shows the constitutional position which they adopt. Take one of the Acts of Parliament, the Trades Disputes Act. What was the action of the House of Lords in that? I am justified in saying what I did just now that the action of the House of Lords in that shows that they consider whether the nation has really and fully considered the matter for itself. A great number of Lords said that though they did not agree with the Bill they would vote for it. Why should we attribute motives to the House of Lords? Why should the Prime Minister say that the House of Lords passed the Trades Disputes Bill in order to save their skin? Surely there is no good whatever in attributing evil motives if there are good motives! Surely we are justified in accepting the statement of Lord Lansdowne in the House of Lords when dealing with the Trades Disputes Bill. He advised the peers to vote for the Bill, or, at any rate, not to oppose it, saying that though they did not agree with it they fully recognised that the principles embodied in it had been amply considered by the people, who, at the General Election, had approved those principles. That was not thwarting the wishes of the people. It was carrying them out. It is idle to talk of the House of Lords in their action in regard to that Bill flouting the wishes of the people
Take other cases where the House of Lords have rejected Bills. Surely they did so on the principle I have suggested just now. Take the 1893 Home Rule Bill. The House of Lords rejected that Bill. Immediately afterwards came the General Election, and showed that the House of Lords, and not the House of Commons, had rightly interpreted the wishes of the people. Then there came the Licensing Bill of the last Parliament—in 1908. The House of Lords rejected that Bill. Immediately afterwards there went up one chorus of approval. By-election after by-election showed that the House of Lords had, in rejecting the Licensing Bill, re- 1236 fleeted the commonsense and the sense of justice of the nation. Take, last of all—and this is the pivot on which I want to centre my remarks—take the. action of that House with reference to the first Education Bill of 1906. They amended that Bill. The result of that Amendment was that when it came down to be considered by this House the Government withdrew it. If the limitation of the Veto of the House of Lords, which is going to be proposed in Committee, had been in existence during last Parliament that first Education Bill of 1906 might have become the law of the land in 1908—that is in two Sessions. The point is this: that when that first Education Bill of 1906 passed this House it was claimed for it that it embodied the wishes of the nation, that it in fact expressed the will of the people. That was the ipse dixit of those who supported it in this House. Sometimes it is wise, I submit to this House, to verify the ipse dixit even of a newly-elected House of Commons. But I do submit that the history of the education question, and the history of the three Education Bills that followed the first Education Bill of 1906, showed that the claim of the supporters of that first Bill that it represented the will and wishes of the people was not in fact accurate. Take this very apt illustration of the danger which may result from the limitation of the Veto of the House of Lords. I mean the history of the Education Bills. Which Bill, I want to know, represented the true wishes of the people? Did the 1906 Bill represent the true wishes of the people? One remembers about that Bill that one of the great virtues claimed for it was that there was to be no contracting-out whatever on the part of the Church schools of this country. That Bill passed away. Then there came the 1907 Bill, strangled almost at its birth. There is no need to say much about it. Then came the third Bill, introduced by the then President of the Board of Education, the right hon. Gentleman who is now the First Lord of the Admiralty. Was that, I want to know, the will of the people? All one can say is that the first Bill of 1908 gave the go-by in toto to the Education Bill of 1906, for the great virtue claimed for the Education Bill of 1908 was that there should be embodied in it the principle of contracting-out and contracting-out at a low grant which would have stunted education and almost starved the teachers. The point is this: the 1906 Bill said "no contracting-out." That was the will of the people. The 1908, first Bill, said" con- 1237 tracting out." That, too, was said to be the will of the people.
There came the second Education Bill of 1908, the so-called Compromise Bill. It represented no one's will at all. Here you get an illustration of the danger of the limitation of the Veto of the House of Lords. If the Education Bill of 1906 had been passed into law by the limitation of the Veto now proposed, who is to say that it would have really embodied the will of the people when, after it, we had three different education Bills, totally inconsistent with each other and totally inconsistent with the first Bill? I do ask hon. Members to remember this when they are asked to stultify, as it were, the will of the people for all time in an Act of Parliament before that will has been actively ascertained. I ask them to remember that the history of the Education question in this House shows that certainly some one's will wobbled considerably for three years. I do not say it was the will of the people that wobbled. It is clear that the will of the Cabinet wobbled. It is clear that in this matter the Cabinet acted like a weathercock. Surely it is a gravely unwise thing, under the circumstances, to deprive ourselves, by voting for Resolutions like those about to be proposed, of what at present we have, namely, the steadying influence of the House of Lords. I ask hon. Members of this House to look at this matter of the limitation of the Veto especially as illustrated by the history of the Education Bills from the standpoint of Lancashire folk. When the men of Lancashire realise, as they will do after this Debate, that the Education Bill of 1906, which they so bitterly opposed, might in 1908 have become law if this limitation of the Veto had existed then, be sure they will oppose it with all their might. If the men of Lancashire realise that it was the House of Lords, and it alone, that saved to them the voluntary schools on which they placed such store, they will oppose the Veto being limited. It is no good in this matter ignoring—no one of whatever party in this House would wish to do so— the voice of Lancashire which speaks with weight by reason of a large and intelligent electorate.
To show the strength of the feeling that they will have against the Resolutions embodying the limitation of the Veto of the House of Lords, let me urge hon. Members not to forget how strongly the men of Lancashire expressed their views 1238 with regard to the Education Bill of 1906. Let us not forget that they came up to town in their scores of thousands to a great demonstration against the Bill at the Albert Hall. There was nothing hysterical on the part of the men of Lancashire when they made that demonstration. No one can say that it was a demonstration composed of hirelings. Every man paid his own expenses. Every man knew his, own mind, and was determined to express his opinion. The Bill was withdrawn. So I say with reference to these Veto Resolutions. When the men of Lancashire connect them with the attempt to undermine their Church schools they will make their opinion felt in the same way as before, and I venture to think in making that attempt they will succeed once more.
It was said, by Members of the party opposite, after the General Election, that Lancashire constituted "the solid barrier of the North." Members opposite rejoiced accordingly. They were thinking of something else which we are not discussing tonight. But I accept the statement that Lancashire is the solid barrier of the North in connection with the limitation of the Veto in its relation to the voluntary schools. Be sure of this, the people of the North will fight tooth and nail, and oppose a solid barrier to any attempt to weaken the constitutional powers by which it was shown the House of Lords alone saved for them their voluntary schools. If I am taking upon myself too much to say that I am expressing the voice of Lancashire—[HON. MEMBEHS: "The North"]—at any rate no one in this House will deny me the right to claim to speak on behalf of Preston, the borough which I have the honour to represent. On every platform at Preston during the General Election, at practically every single meeting, was this question of the limitation of the Veto on the House of Lords dealt with. It was fully dealt with by we who were standing for that borough. For the people of Preston this question of the limitation of the Veto was vital, because they saw in it the thin end of the wedge. If the limitation of the Veto were passed they saw they would be putting into the hands of men whom they considered—and they do right so to consider them—the enemies of their Church schools, a weapon wherewith to undermine religious teaching in those schools. They would have none of it. No one in this House ignores the fact that the people of 1239 Preston had a right—never mind Lancashire for the moment—to do what they did. They are determined to prevent anything that may lead to a, successful attack upon their Church schools. Remember what they have done for these schools in Preston, and then you will see the strong opposition they will make to these Resolutions. In Preston, with its large population, there are only three council schools. There are thirty-four voluntary schools belonging to the various denominations. On the books of the council schools there are just over 1,000 children. On the books of the voluntary schools there are well over 20,000 children. You may well imagine the deep interest the people of Preston take in this matter. They bitterly opposed, and showed it at the election, this limitation pf the Veto, because they suspect—rightly I venture to say—that it means in effect that a single Chamber will have the power ultimately to undermine the religious teaching in their Church schools.
Just as they were in grim earnest in 1906, so now they will be in grim earnest in opposing these Resolutions. Can you wonder at it? They do not forget what was said by the present President of the Board of Education in March last year at Colchester, when the right hon. Gentleman said that the number of Board schools is increasing and the number of Church schools and voluntary schools is decreasing, and when he went on to say that that was the tendency in the right direction, and a tendency which the Government of the day would do their best to foster. The people of Lancashire are determined that the right hon. Gentleman will have no chance of fostering that tendency by placing in his hands the weapon of the limitation of the Veto of the House of Lords, and the depriving themselves of the safeguards for their Church schools. The Roman Catholics of Lancashire or Preston do not forgot the words of Archbishop Bourne when voicing the views of the Heirarchy, and clergy and laity, speaking of the Bill of 1906, when he said that it was fundamentally unjust, and that the other Bills which followed it were unjust to the Catholics; and if they were unjust to the Catholics they were unjust to the Protestants as well. And they do not forget the words of a former President of the Board of Education, the right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, who stated in this House, speaking in connection with the first Education Bill, "Minorities must suffer." If that 1240 first Bill had passed into law by reason of the existence of a limitation of the Veto, it would not be minorities only that would suffer, it would be the Protestants and the Catholics and the people of every denomination who constitute the great majority of the people of this land. And it was that majority that would have suffered by reason of the injustice done to their voluntary schools.
It is said that this question, of the limitation of the Veto is the supreme issue today. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) said that this question of the limitation of the Veto was for him the supreme issue, because he said, "it means for us the granting of Home Rule." I have no doubt whatever that other parties in the House think as we do that this question of the limitation of the Veto is the supreme issue of the day. Other parties in the House think that by reason of the coalition majority they would gain the ends for which they started, but the people of the North realise that it is the supreme issue of the day, for this reason—and that is why they are determined to oppose it—they realise the limitation of the Veto means more than the granting of Home Rule, and they further fear it may mean doing an act of injustice to the voluntary schools they have built with their own money and in which they were taught the religion of the particular denomination to which they might belong.
Sir HERBERT ROBERTS
No one will deny the supreme importance of the issues which are being discussed to-night. I wish for a few minutes to express—and I rise particularly for this purpose—the very strong feeling, universal almost, among the constituencies of the whole electorate in Wales in regard to the importance of those Resolutions. The hon. and learned Member who has just preceded me (Mr. Tobin) has referred to the position and to the convictions of those who supported him in Preston. I shall refer for a moment to what I think I may rightly call the dominant views of Wales in regard to the question we are discussing to-night. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) referred to the feeling of the democracy upon the question of the House of Lords. I think that has a sense of interest for the people of Wales even of a more special character than for the people of Ireland, because ever since the electors of Wales have had an opportunity through the ballot of representing 1241 their views at the poll at Parliamentary elections they have uniformly, election after election, sent up to this House of Commons a representation the overwhelming majority of whom hold the views of the party to which I have the honour to belong. It is not necessary for me to-night to enter into the reasons that underly this very remarkable political phenomenon. The fact remains that ever since we in Wales have had an opportunity of voting according to our consciences for Members of Parliament there has always been a great and overwhelming Liberal majority sent up to the House of Commons. Speaking from old experience—and I know I am speaking what are the facts throughout all the Welsh constituencies — this question of the House of Lords is not a new one. For two or three generations it has loomed large in Welsh politics. I remember when I first came to this House, in 1892, some eighteen years ago, it was the dominant issue, or one of them, at that election, and ever since that time up to to-day it has been one of the supreme questions discussed and advocated upon every platform in Wales. Why should this be so? It is remarkable that it should be so on many grounds. In the first place, everything which has influence of a certain character in political contests is against such an expression of political opinion being given at the polls. The position of landed interests in Wales and all those social and financial interests which have considerable weight in the result of political contests are mainly on the other side. I mention these things now in order to emphasise the meaning of the fact that Welsh Liberals have taken such a keen interest in the Question which is before us tonight. From first to last, ever since they began to think politically, they have realised that the realisation of almost every great principle of reform upon which their minds dwell depends upon the solution of the Question which we are discussing to-night. So long as the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament remain as they are to-day, it is practically impossible for us in Wales to achieve or attain those reforms which we, at all events, believe to be at the root of permanent progress in our national life. That is why we welcome this night's Debate, indicating, as it does, a determination of the earnestness, without a day's delay, further to prosecute the policy of passing these Resolutions through this House. I have no doubt as to the result from the 1242 standpoint of this House. They will be passed by the full majority commanded by the party upon this side of the Chamber. As to the future, it is impossible for us to foretell. To me it is a source of some encouragement that there is a certain amount of common ground on both sides in reference to this controversy. Everybody agrees as to the importance of settling this question of the House of Lords. Everybody agrees also, I think, that some change must take place in the present relations between the two Chambers. If we wish to know the real mind of the other place on this question, we can find it in the declaration of the Leader of the Conservative party in the House of Lords during the recent historic Debate there. I was much struck myself with the declaration of Lord Lansdowne to the effect that the root of the evil in the situation was the disparity between the relations of the two Houses when the Conservative party were in power and when the Liberal party were in power. He felt that disparity, and the Marquess of Lansdowne made the candid admission that he thought the electors of the country felt it even more keenly than the Members of the House of Lords themselves, and they have admitted the injustice of continuing upon the present lines.
As the Prime Minister pointed out in his brilliant speech to-day, it is absolutely unfair and unjust that the two parties, and the issues which they control and the principles they support, should have such different treatment and such a different chance of success in giving effect to their ideals. I hope that it may be possible for us to adopt a tone in regard to this important Debate somewhat different to that adopted by the Leader of the Opposition. I must say, in listening to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, that I felt disappointed. Of course, we are always delighted with the able, interesting, and brilliant way in which he is able to deal with public topics, but a note of earnestness and reality seemed to be absent from a large portion of his speech. I think we must all admit that we are face to face with a constitutional question of immense importance. I should like that fact to be realised impartially on both sides of the House, and the best thoughts of this House, regardless of party distinction, should be brought to bear upon finding some solution to bring to an end the unhappy series of deadlocks which do, so much not only to arrest the progress of reform, but also embitter the relations 1243 between the two Houses of Parliament. I have risen to express the very special interest of my countrymen in a solution of this question, and I should be false to my constituents, and to my countrymen as a whole, if I did not emphasise the fact that so far as the Liberal electors of Wales are concerned, they, at all events, recognise these Resolutions to be vital to the achievement of those reforms which they believe to be at the bottom of all real national life.
§ Mr. M'ARTHUR
Although I cannot follow the example of the hon. Member who has just spoken in supporting the Resolution before the House, I recognise and appreciate the moderate and conciliatory manner in which he approached the subject. I think he has set a very good example to some hon. Members who preceded him on his own side of the House. The hon. Member has said truly that the House of Commons is face to face with a great constitutional question, and he also stated that there is a great deal of common agreement between the various parties in the House upon this question. I think all parties are agreed that some change in the constitution, and possibly also in the powers, of the House of Lords is called for. The Liberal party have embarked in a very large crusade with the object of dealing with this question by force. On the Opposition side of the House, to a large extent, we agree that the House of Lords needs a certain amount of reform in order to bring it into harmony with the democratic spirit which prevails at the present day. The Labour party and the Nationalist party, although they go further than we do and further even than the Liberal party in desiring to abolish the House of Lords, agree that a change is necessary.
Finally, the House of Lords themselves, by the action they have taken and the Resolutions they have passed, show that they also appreciate this necessity. Therefore it seems to me that there is a common ground on the subject, and although we do not agree with the spirit in which the matter is approached, or in the precise form of the proposals made, we are all agreed in thinking that a problem has arisen which requires careful consideration, and there is a necessity for the reform of the constitution of the Upper Chamber. In saying this I do not for a moment agree with those who think that a Second Chamber is unnecessary. On the contrary, I 1244 think the idea that this country, and still less this Empire, can be governed by a single Chamber system is repugnant to the necessities of the case, and to the number and the variety of claims which arise in all quarters of our great Empire. We do need a barrier against the forces of popular feeling. We do require that an opportunity should be given for the people to reconsider questions upon which the House of Commons has pronounced an opinion, because in political matters, as in other affairs, second thoughts are best.
I wish, however, to confine myself to the Resolution before the House, and I do not want to deal with the particular proposals which follow this Resolution. I do not approach this subject from the standpoint of any particular part of the Kingdom, whether it be Ireland, Wales, or Lancashire. I have not in view any particular ideal which I desire to promote or avoid, and I simply want to look at this Question upon its merits as it is placed before us in the Resolution which the Prime Minister has moved this afternoon. The great defect in that Resolution, from my point of view, is, to use a homely phrase, that it puts the cart before the horse. We need to reform the constitution of the House of Lords, and that may involve an alteration in its powers. You cannot alter the powers of the House of Lords or place it upon a final footing until you have settled its constitution, because its powers must depend upon its constitution. You have first to decide upon the constitution of your Second Chamber, and then upon that constitution must rest the capacity for exercising the functions and powers you give it. We shall have, I think, in any change in the constitution of the House of Lords, to endeavour to base the changes upon the past. We shall have to follow the regular course in this country of allowing our institutions to develop rather than form brand new institutions. I shall never forget the poem of Lord Tennyson where he describes this country as a land of settled Government and as a land—Where freedom slowly broadens downFrom precedent to precedent.That has been our political history. It has been a growth and not a creation of institutions, and I believe that, whilst the people of this country look for some such change as I have already indicated in the constitution of the other Chamber, they wish it to be done, not on the principle of revolution, but on that of evolution. If we are to alter the constitution of the House of Lords, what is the object we 1245 ought to set before us in approaching the subject? It is that the House of Lords should approximate as nearly as possible to an ideal Second Chamber. That is the great object to be aimed at. An ideal Second Chamber in this country would, I think, be one which would correspond, not with the first impulse, but with the considered judgment of the nation. If we are to have that in the House of Lords, it is quite clear that it cannot be a duplicate of the House of Commons. It cannot be a body directly dependent on popular election, although it may possibly, to some extent, depend indirectly upon election. It must be a body of men who are to some extent independent of those currents of popular feelings which they seek to check, or to revise. If that be so, then the method which has to be applied is the method of discrimination. We have to try and discriminate between those qualities which we value, and which are so important and beneficial in the House of Lords, and those qualities which are generally admitted to be defective and which call for correction. I am convinced that this matter is not to be dealt with, as some propose, by building a brand-new Second Chamber. We have to found ourselves upon the past and to develop that which is good and to check and discourage that which is defective.
The House of Lords, as you know, has a very great past behind it. It dates back to the remotest period of our history. It is far older than the House of Commons. It dates back to early Norman or possibly Saxon times, and we cannot lightly interfere with an institution like the House of Lords, which is rooted so deeply in our history. If we could root up the House of Lords and substitute some new institution in its place, that new institution would not have the prestige, the power, and the influence which the House of Lords wields, not only in this country, but throughout the British Empire. You might as well pull down Westminster Abbey and erect a brand-new cathedral in its place. That new cathedral would not have the same hallowing and venerating influences as are possessed by the present structure. You cannot detach yourself from the past without losing all the authority and influence of the past. There are qualities in the House of Lords which we could not very well do without. Take, for instance, the Debates in the House of Lords. They are generally acknowledged to stand on a footing of dignity, moderation, and loftiness of tone which are not to be found, or which 1246 are rarely to be found, in the Debates in this House. The Debates in the House of Lords carry more weight in the country, owing, to a large extent, to the fact that the men who take part in them are the very pick of our political world. They are men who have graduated, so to speak, from this House to the House of Lords, and they speak there with all the weight of the experience which they have gathered in the course of a long political life. Then you have in the House of Lords representatives of those who have served their country all over the Empire, and those most illustrious in science, art, and commerce in all the branches of our national life. I am now speaking of those who take a leading part in the deliberations of the House of Lords. I am not speaking indiscriminately, but with reference to that particular part of its membership, and I say that is the reason why the Debates in the House of Lords command unparalleled influence.
The chief quality of the House of Lords which it is desired to alter is its partisan character. I believe that since the Reform Act of 1832 a larger number of Liberals have been elevated to the Peerage than Conservatives, but, for some reason or other, they or their descendants have been unable to hold fast to their traditional faith, and they have succumbed to other influences. But, however that may be, I think we must all feel that the overwhelming partisan character of the House of Lords is most undesirable, and ought to be removed. That is one of the objects which ought to be aimed at—not the entire suppression of the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, but the reduction in the numbers of the House of Lords by a selection from the present Members of those who are most qualified to take part in its deliberations and so leave an opening for an adequate number of fresh Members to be sent to the House of Lords, either on the elective principle or some other representative principle, to bring the Assembly more completely into touch with the popular voice.
I feel very strongly that this matter ought to be approached in a citizen spirit. It is a great mistake to try and make a disturbance on the subject. We have heard from a Member on the benches opposite that the House of Commons has declared war against the House of Lords. I cannot see that it has done anything of the kind. I am entirely out of sympathy with the aggressive remarks made by the Prime Minister in introducing the subject and 1247 with the hostile spirit in which these proposals are couched. It may be very good perhaps for party purposes, but I am quite sure it will not conduce to an amicable and peaceable settlement of the question. If by violence and revolutionary methods some settlement is reached it will not be lasting. Very soon an opportunity will arise for reversal and reaction. It seems to me therefore that this question ought to be settled in a conciliatory spirit by all parties, and that the proposals which have been put before the House of Commons and before the House of Lords should be referred to a Joint Committee of the House of Lords and the House of Commons to see whether some mutual agreement can be arrived at. However that may be, I feel strongly it is a great mistake to endeavour to deal with the relations between the House of Lords and the House of Commons before the future constitution of the House of Lords has been decided upon, and I fear that if such a proposal was adopted, and if the powers of the House of Lords were weakened, and they were consigned to a period of impotency, it might be only temporary, yet the opportunity would be taken, and no doubt that is the main object in view, to force through Parliament violent measures of a revolutionary and sweeping character, which are not desired by the people, and which, when their true character was discovered, would be resented by the nation.
§ Sir FREDERICK CAWLEY
I should not have taken part in this Debate but for the speech of one of the hon. Members preceding me, who seemed to arrogate to himself the right to speak for the men of Lancashire, presumbaly because he and his class think that Lancashire was at one time turning against the Liberal party because of the Education Bill of 1906. I think myself that Lancashire did fairly well at the last election, and did not show that it turned against that Bill. Certainly so far as my Constituency and the constituencies round about it were concerned, they did not express any violent opinion against the Education Bill of 1906. As a matter of fact, that Bill was a great case in point as against the House of Lords. In the Parliament of 1906, I have always felt the Liberal party were in a most humiliating position. What was the condition of affairs in 1906? In that year and in 1905 we had placed our opinions before the electors. We were questioned on every platform, we were heckled, and after due 1248 consideration the constituencies returned to this House a large majority in favour of that Bill. The first thing that was brought in was that Education Bill, but it was so mutilated by the House of Lords that in the opinion of the Liberal Government it was not worth passing. I say it is humiliating that hon. Members like myself should go through the trouble and expense of placing our views before the electors, and when we come to this House and try to carry out the views we are sent to carry out the House of Lords should mutilate and throw out our measures and tell us they know more about what the constituencies want than we know. So far as my Constituents are concerned we never see a Noble Lord. A great many of my Constituents have never seen a Noble Lord in their lives, and I do not think they want to see a Noble Lord, and yet I am told that these Noble Lords know more about what my Constituents want than I do who have lived twenty-five years amongst them. I think that this is a grave position for the Liberal party to be in, but I hope it will not be for long.
With regard to the House of Lords and their powers, they may keep their peerages or their estates; that is not the question at present. We do object to the. partisan character of the House of Lords, because the result is that ex-Ministers meet together just as a Cabinet meets. The Leader of the Opposition and Lord Lansdowne, who is the real Leader of the House of Lords, and other ex-Ministers meet together not to find out what is best for the country, but really to see how they can embarrass the Liberal Government and try to get it out of office. I can quite understand that some of the Lords may think that is quite right, because, according to their view, the worst thing that can happen to the country is to have a Liberal Government, and therefore in the House of Lords they do all they can to discredit and embarrass that Government. But I think that is a condition of affairs that should not last. So far as Lancashire is concerned, although I do not profess to speak for Lancashire, I think I can voice the opinion of Lancashire better than the hon. Member opposite, who seemed to arrogate to himself the right to speak for Lancashire. The people of Lancashire want the Veto of the Lords curtailed, if not abolished. I believe a lot of the constituencies would like to abolish the Veto altogether. I do not go so far as that, but I say the final word must be with one House 1249 or the other, and in my opinion it must be in the House which is representative of the people. It is all very well for hon. Members to talk about the reform of the other House. What has the Member who has just sat down recommended? He wants a certain number of the present peers to remain by right, and a few outsiders to come in, but always there is to be a Tory or a partisan majority in the Lords in order to work with the Tory party in this House to the detriment of all Liberal measures. That is a position we are not going to stand any longer, and I am glad the Government have taken up the question. I am very sorry they did not take it up in 1906, before they attempted to pass any measures. So far as the opinion of the country is concerned, I can say that in 1895 I for one placed this question of the Veto in the forefront of my programme, and I have not fought any election since (although I have had four elections) in which I have not put this question as one of the principal items, and I am glad the time has come at last when this injustice to the Liberal party, from which it has suffered so long, is going to be done away with.
Mr. ERNEST POLLOCK
I would like to say, on behalf of Members on this side of the House, that I think we should approach this question not in a spirit of antagonism but in a spirit and desire to consider the proposals for the purpose of ascertaining what should be the best possible Chamber, for most Members are agreed, apparently, that some Chamber for the purpose of revision is necessary. The hon. Member who has just sat down has treated the House to some personal anecdotes as to what charmed the electors in his various election addresses during the period—I apologise to him if it is not a long period—in which he has represented them, but if he speaks for Lancashire may I remind him that other Members speak for other parts of the country in which, possibly, the thought of the House of Peers is not so distasteful or so unattractive to the electorate as it was to the electors who were charmed by his election addresses. But I notice that in speeches by hon. Members opposite there is a constant desire and a constant effort to approach this subject from the individual point of view and from the view of the individual district from which the hon. Member comes. I venture to question whether that is the right spirit in which to deal with a 1250 grave constitutional question. It must be dealt with on far broader lines. We have to deal with the great question of whether we are to have a new system in consonance with the traditions of the past or whether we are to have a new House of Lords created at the will and at the direction of the Government of the present day. The Prime Minister, when he sat down, indicated that there may be changes made by statute, and I think he said in the course of his speech that if only the Government had had an opportunity during the last four years they would have turned back the pages of many of the statutes which had been passed under previous Governments. Perhaps, however, he had not forgotten that that same proceeding might be open in the case of any statute which he passed on this very fundamental and vital question; and it might well be if the present Resolutions be embodied in an Act of Parliament that that Act of Parliament might not find a very permanent place upon the pages of history. I was astonished when the Prime Minister ventured to quote as one of his authorities the late Mr. Walter Bagehot. He quoted him for the purpose of showing that Mr. Bagehot recognised the power of the creation of Lords as one of the checks and safeguards of the Constitution. No doubt he is familiar with the excellent lectures in which Mr. Bagehot discussed the whole of our constitutional system, but if he would also have looked at some of the other pages of that excellent work he would have found that Mr. Walter Bagehot looks to the present House of Lords as the Second Chamber, which, on the whole, fulfils its work admirably well. He says:—They have no constituency to fear or wheedle; they have the best means of forming a disinterested and cool judgment of any class in the country.If the Prime Minister wants his authority for one purpose he must accept it for all purposes, and Mr. Bagehot can be cited with force as showing that the Peers are the class which have the best means of forming a disinterested and cool judgment of any class in the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "When was that?"] In the same lectures, in 1866 and 1867. At the same time the chapter was written from which the Prime Minister Quoted earlier in the day. If the hon. Member will kindly come with me to the Library I will show him both passages. But it does not end there, because, after all, Mr. Bagehot discusses the great question of what would be the best class of Assembly from which you 1251 could get the judicial faculty, and he said:—The Assembly in which most of the members have nothing to lose, where most of them have nothing to gain, where everyone has a social position firmly fixed, where no one has a constituency, where hardly anyone cares for the Ministry of the day, is the very Assembly for and from which to expect an independent criticism. And, in matter of fact, we find it.And, as a matter of fact, we find it also an admirable authority from the point of view of the Prime Minister, seeing that at the present time the House of Lords may be expected to and can fulfil the duty and the power of criticism. Let me meet hon. Members' criticism as to what Mr. Bagehot also said by saying that what he regretted was that at that time the House of Lords had not accepted the system of life Peers which gave rise to so much controversy between the Houses. 9.0 P.M. We are considering to-night what is not only a vital question for this generation, but to the people of this country for many years to come. We have established the principle —it has been established ever since the days of the Reform Bill—that the House of Lords should bend and yield to the will of the people, and having established that principle, there is no reality about the whole of this Debate, because we are asked to get rid of a deadlock which is, after all, only a supposed deadlock. We are asked to get rid of a difficulty which does not exist at the present time, and we are asked to do this in the interests of a party which scarcely commands a majority for all purposes at the present time in this House. There are many of us who would like to see all question of reproach taken away from the House of Lords. It may well be that at the present time there may be opportunity for taunt or for reproach, but whether it is well-founded is quite another question. And if we are to take constitutional authorities as our guide we may well ask under what necessity the far-reaching and sweeping suggestion of the present time is made. We might take simpler and humbler methods for the purpose of giving an effective Second Chamber, without binding it hand and foot by Statute, as is proposed at the present time. I do not want to take up the time of the House unduly, but I venture to say that the proposal which seeks at the present time by Statute to take away the power of the House of Lords goes too far, and what we do desire to see is the possibility of a flexible constitution still left, so that both Houses may work in harmony, and I hope 1252 hon. Members will not forget that by their own laws in creating a single-Chamber system in the future they may give themselves over to what may be very dangerous, however expedient it may seem now.
§ Mr. EDGAR JONES
We shall hear a great deal no doubt before the end of this controversy about the beneficent uses of the House of Lords as an institution that exists in order to protect the defenceless people from the tyrannical majority in this House or from the dictatorship of an unscrupulous Executive. That argument is very interesting when it is pushed to its logical conclusions. I think that hon. Members opposite will agree with me that one of its logical conclusions is this, that if that original proposal be true, then the House of Lords should exist in a special manner to protect the minority and the minorities of the country from being dealt with by a majority which may for the time being be conducting its malicious objects inside this Chamber. It happens that there are certain permanent minorities in this country. We are very apt to forget that when we are discussing the question of the House of Lords Reform and the necessary proposals for it. I do not know of any better test as to the legitimacy of the claim of the House of Lords to be a sort of guardian angel of the democracy than its attitude towards these permanent minorities. We might, for instance, take the case of Scotland were it not that there are Members here who will put the case of Scotland against the House of Lords with an eloquence to which I could never pretend. I might proceed to the case of Ireland, but I do not want to deal with that in general, because that will sufficiently appear in the course of the week. I am merely going to use the particular position of Ireland in order to get an illustration which will enable me to explain how the little Principality of Wales has been dealt with by the House of Lords in the last half century.
I dare say that while the hon. and learned Member (Mr. John Redmond) and others who, speaking on behalf of Scotland and Wales, have been expressing their opinions, there has been lurking in the back of the minds of some hon. Members opposite a retort of which they are very fond. The Leader of the Opposition seems to be always wearing this proposition, like a kind of Pharisaical phylactery on his pious brow, that the House of Lords has been protecting the minority in Scotland 1253 against the majority, the minority in Ireland against the majority in Ireland, the loyal minority ! And the minority in Wales against these awful disestablishes and disendowers who make up the population of the Principality. There never was a more pernicious fallacy than that particular argument. What is the position in Ireland as between the minority and the bulk of the native population? Everyone knows that the plantation of Ulster was the planting in Ireland of an alien minority, and that the mischief the House of Lords has done, and has continued to do down to the present day, is to use that particular minority as a means by which they could persecute the majority, seeking through that minority to force upon the Irish people a Church which was very obnoxious to them, and, because they could not succeed in that, to force through the minority disabilities most repugnant to any free people. There to the present day they watch every opportunity to press upon this thorn in the flesh of Ireland and drive it home to the quick all the time. That has been the policy that has almost instigated the bulk of the crime in Ireland—crime which can be put to the door of the House of Lords.
The position in Wales is very similar, but worse than that. We have a minority in Wales, and have had it for a very long time. The minority there gathered around the Norman castle and the Norman law took our ancient Church, the Church which existed, I think, before the ancestors of the SaNons came out of the barbarism of the forests of Germany. They took that ancient Church, they took its livings and its endowments and gave them to their favourites, as you would throw a bit of meat to a dog. The result was that the Welsh people found themselves without any kind of spiritual ministration whatever. In that condition at last, fortunately, spontaneously, there was evolved another system of public worship, called for convenience sake, "the Nonconformist system," but entirely different from Nonconformity as it is known in England. The Nonconformist Free Church of Wales was a totally different thing from the very commencement, and it remains different today from that which is known by the same name in England. They evolved that Church and since then they have been a nation of Nonconformists. When that change came about the House of Lords began its active mischief in guarding the interests of the Welsh people, and this is the manner in which they acted. They 1254 put into the Established Churches that still remained another set of individuals, instead of the wastrels who had been there for centuries. The Cormorants gave place to the Dragoons, and we very soon had an Ecclesiastical Militia, a militia which acted in the most unscrupulous fashion. There was a system of spies organised, the bulk of them being incumbents of the churches, chaplains of the squires, and so forth, and the Welsh people were persecuted in every direction. There ensues a series, afterwards, of persecutions in every way. For the whole of a century the House of Lords endeavoured to nourish that minority, to force upon the Welsh people a Church that they had long since had to reject, and they kept us under a similar disability to the Irish. The processes of birth, marriage, and burial down to half a century ago were always covered with indignities, and every opportunity was taken to insult the people.
The worst of all was that we were kept without higher educational institutions longer, I think, than any principality in Europe. Even the principalities under the Sultan of Turkey got higher educational institutions before we were able to get them in Wales. We have had some institutions of late, and we are beginning to utilise the benefit that we have received from them amongst our people. The questions of land tenure which are familiar to this House, the great struggles with regard to Church rates and tithes, which were special problems in Wales, will all recall to the minds of hon. Members the point I am endeavouring to make, that this minority in Wales that the House of Lords has been considering has been utilised like that against the majority of the native people of the land. That is why the people in Wales long ago made up their minds once and for all that they were going for the abolition of this House of Lords and the removal of it entirely out of the way. They had as a nation settled that question before the Labour party was ever heard of, and before trade unionism had organised the workers the Welsh people, as a whole almost, toad made up their mind, and they stand more committed to it today than ever, and they stand to it today with added power and added force, because during the past fifty years an industrial population has grown up under the abuses of the present system— abuses which have been worse there than in any other part of the land. We have particularly in Wales a combination of the abuses connected with royalties and land 1255 values and wayleaves—wayleaves from the pit to the port, and from the port to the sea. The grip of the landlords is upon us wherever we turn, and our people have made up their minds that this system must come to an end. The Budget taught our people the way out, and the difference between our people now and before the introduction of the Budget is an extraordinary one. We know that so long as the Tredegars, the Butes and the Jerseys and the others, who are Lords of the manor, get hold of these royalties—no one knows how, when or by what process of law or anything else—and are keeping their selfish grip upon us, so long as they and their friends can veto it, so long shall we be without anything like a change in the affairs which are so pressing upon us in our industrial centres to-day. I can assure the Prime Minister that the quicker he gets along with this problem of the Lords and the more powerfully he tackles it, the more enthusiastic will be the support of the Welsh people.
I do not know what decision the right hon. Gentlemen have come to as to what is likely to happen in England. I do not know whether in the speculative meditations of their private rooms they have counsels of despair. The Welsh had a proverb, long enough ago for the language of the proverb to be perfectly archaic — "the country is stronger than the law." That is not a recent production. That is not one of the products of my imagination. It is a proverb of the land which has been upon its portals for several centuries. If right hon. Gentlemen are afraid that that is not true let them pay a visit during the next few months and let them go up to the mountains. They will come back as one who went up to Mount Sinai with such shining in their faces that they will smash up the golden calf, and there will be no more of it. Then probably we shall see Southern Englanders marching along with us making a new start and getting along the road to a wider economic freedom, and through that to a moral evolution such as we all desire to see.
§ Mr. GEORGE CAVE
The speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Edgar Jones) must, I think, be a very good illustration of the eloquence which returned a good many of the Members who sit on the opposite side of the House at the last election. I say quite sincerely that the speech was full of eloquence and at the same time full of 1256 imagination. I cannot follow the hon. Member's history. He told us that the Welsh Church existed before the SaNons came to England and centuries before St. Augustine was ever heard of.
§ Mr. CAVE
Well, long before the SaNons came to England. He tells us that by some process I do not understand the Church in Wales has been preserved by the House of Lords. I am not aware that the Veto has yet been exercised to prevent the disestablishment of the Church in Wales. He tells us that owing to this terrible House of Lords Wales had to wait for higher education longer than any other country. My impression is that Wales got her higher education before England got hers. Certainly nothing that the House of Lords did or failed to do affected the giving of education to Wales. But, after all, I do not think we are discussing the general sins of the House of Lords. I want to say a word on the Resolution moved by the Prime Minister. I see the Solicitor-General present, and he will check me if I am wrong. I say most distinctly that this Resolution is an innovation in matters of finance. I am the last to deny the great power of this House in financial matters. It has the sole power of initiating taxation. It has the sole power of granting Supply. The Resolutions of this House are a protection to the public officers, who often collect taxes, and who often spend them on the authority of mere Resolutions. The power of the House is very great. It alone can make and unmake Governments, but, while that is true, it would be strange if there were no check at all upon the financial power of the House of Commons. If it were so, the servitude of the country to its own servants who sit here to do the work of the country would be complete. If it were so, we could have new ship money and new taxes imposed by the will of the House of Commons alone, and we should be for five years, or whatever the term might be, under the heel of the House of Commons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I will deal with that in a moment. Let me say, first, that there is a check, and it was described by Lord Chatham in the speech to which the Prime Minister referred to-day. He said that Resolutions of the Commons must be put into an Act of Parliament in order that they may have the form of law. In other words, they are not law, they are not permanently binding, and they have not the 1257 force of law until they are put into an Act of Parliament and have the assent of King, Lords, and Commons. That is the check, and I believe the only check, on the power of the Commons in finance; but it is a real check, and if I read history correctly it is true, although it is denied now for the first time, perhaps, that the Lords, while they may have no power to amend a Money Bill, have full power to reject such a Bill. I say, and I shall be corrected if I am wrong, that all the authorities are in favour of that view. The Prime Minister to-day cited three, namely, Sir Erskine May, Walter Bagehot, and Prof. Dicey. These are acknowledged authorities, and no one of them denies the power of the House of Lords to reject a Money Bill. Do not all three assert it? Does not every well-known authority on constitutional law assert it, too? Blackstone certainly, and Sir Erskine May in terms, assert it, and I know of no constitutional writer of authority who denies the power. But I need not go to the text books. I am content to rely en the Resolutions of the House of Commons itself. The Prime Minister said they are the groundwork of the financial claim of the House of Commons. Well, what did the House itself say years ago. Take the date he cited—1671. A discussion went on then between the two Houses as to the power of the House of Lords to amend Money Bills. The Commons said, "Your Lordships have a negative to the whole." Again, take 1689. What the Commons said then is perfectly clear. They said: "And the Lords are not to alter such gift, grant, limitation, appointment, or modification by the Commons in any part or circumstance, or otherwise interpose in such Bill than to pass or reject the same for the whole, without any alteration or amendment, though in ease of the subject. As the Kings and Queens by the Constitution and Laws of Parliament are to take all or leave all in such gifts, grants, or presents from the Commons, and cannot take part and leave part, so are the Lords to pass or reject all without diminution or alteration."
That is a perfectly clear statement by the Commons of their claim. That being so, I cannot see how the Prime Minister can say, knowing as he knows the history of this House, and I do not think the learned Solicitor-General will say, that the House of Lords have not the power to reject a Money Bill altogether. I am not going to quote the statements to which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred as made in the Debates 1258 of 1860. The Commons admitted even in 1860 the right of the House of Lords to reject a Money Bill, but they said quite properly that it was jealously viewed by this House, and ought not to be used often. I cite one other modern authority, the present Lord Chancellor. Speaking in 1908, that is two years ago, upon a rating Bill in the House of Lords, he said:—It is a Money Bill we are told. Well, if a money Bill is brought forward this House has always the power to throw it out. ‥ It is the question of amending a Money Bill that is a question of privilege. As to the question of throwing out Money Bills, your Lordships have the most ample power.I think I am entitled to set off that clear statement against the quotation, which I think was rather inaptly used, from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. It is a clear statement by the present Lord Chancellor of the power of the House of Lords to throw out Money Bills. Indeed, we know that Lord Morley of Blackburn only last year made a similar statement. He said that the legal power of the House of Lords was undenied, but he went on to say that in some circumstances it might be even the duty of the House of Lords to exercise that power. He took, I agree, a strong case. He said:—Yes, I can imagine a stale of things— I can imagine it with difficulty — which would justify the transformation of a legal right into aspects of moral duty by reason of the wild-cat proposals of a demented House of Commons.He put, I agree, the strongest case, but he admitted the constitutional right if the case was strong enough. The moment you get to that point it is only a question of degree. Therefore I say that the House of Lords has to-day the power to reject a Money Bill. The real point is, ought it to retain that power, or ought the power to be destroyed, as it would be destroyed, by these Resolutions? If you pass this first Resolution or a Bill founded upon it you make the Commons masters of the country. You give them unchecked power to impose what taxes they please, and more than that, you give them, under the guise of taxation, or I will use a neutral word and say the form of taxation, power to effect a number of objects which are outside the real legitimate purpose of taxation. You may have that which, although it is not tacking in form, is tacking in fact. There is, I venture to say, nothing that could not be done, by an expert draughtsman in the form of Money Bills. An ingenious friend of my own, who is also a very expert draughtsman, and who has drafted many Bills that have been passed by this 1259 House, has actually sent to me a draft Bill in the form of a purely Money Bill, and it is interesting to see what he is able to do in the course of a few short clauses. Under Clause I he nationalises all the incomes from land in this country. By Clause 2 he annexes for the State the value of all the liquor licences. By Clause 3 he effects, by the simple means of taxing to the full value of its income, the disendowment of the Church of England and Wales. By Clause 4 he annexes for the State the whole of the income from railways in this country.
That is a simple instance of what you can do by a purely Money Bill. I do not think that we should have this Bill just yet in this House, but there is really, I daresay, no limit to what might be done under the form of a Money Bill if this Resolution were passed. Are you going to take away the one check upon taxation which the country has? If you do so you tax the Lords themselves, although they ire not represented in this House. That, of course, is a detail which hon. Members opposite will not trouble to consider. But you are also taking away the one means and the one possibility of referring to the country taxation upon which the country ought to form an opinion. What is said is that if the House of Lords can meddle with Money Bills they can make and unmake Governments. That is not so. The House of Lords, although it can reject a Money Bill, cannot bring in a new one, and though it may refuse taxation it cannot initiate taxation. Therefore, no Government could stand with the support of the other House only and against the will of this House, and it is impossible for the House of Lords to make and unmake Governments. We have an instance to-day, so far as the House of Lords are concerned. They have rejected a Money Bill, but they have not unmade the Government, and but for the action of the Government itself they would have caused little or no inconvenience to a single section of the community.
This power of rejecting a Money Bill, though it exists, is so grave, and the sanctions against its misuse are so heavy, that it must be very rarely used indeed. It is your own case that it has not been, used for fifty years, not because it has not been claimed, not because it does not exist, but because everybody knew that if this power of rejecting a Money Bill were used the attack upon the House, the attempt to make capital out of their action would be 1260 so great that only in very grave cases would they use this power. It means that if you pass this Resolution or a Bill founded upon it the country would lose its one hold upon this House. I am not surprised that hon. Members opposite below the Gangway look forward to that, but there are other Members opposite who may some day regret the loss of this check. They have, or those whom they represent— I am not appealing to any selfish instincts—have something to lose by Socialism and by the nationalisation of the land and capital and means of distribution in this country. Assume, if you please, a Socialistic Government passing a strong Socialistic Budget: do not you think that you might regret it if there were no power to delay even for a month, or for six months, the passage of that Budget, or to make it possible to take the opinion of the country upon it? I think then this power of rejection does exist, and I think ought to be maintained. I want to say a few words upon the second branch of these Resolutions. No one denies that this is a very serious inroad upon existing rights. I daresay hon. Members were struck by a passage in the speech of the Lord Chancellor last year in which he described his view of the British Constitution:—To the Crown belongs the supreme authority over all, checked by the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility and by the power of the House of Commons to refuse Supply. To the House of Commons belongs the control over the purse, and therefore the control over Ministers of the Crown, cheeked by the power of the Prerogative of Dissolution residing in the Crown. To the Lords belongs the supreme jurisdiction in the administration of justice—surely of itself a noble attribute—together with n full share in all legislation except finance. There is no check on this House except the creation of peers. Such is the ancient and famous balance of power known to our constitution, the envy of other nations which your lordships are now being invited to overthrow.The Government, who are now seeking to overthrow that Constitution which the Chancellor described as the "envy of other nations," are trying to take from the Lords that full share of legislation which the Chancellor said they had, and which we think they should retain. To say that after the passing of these Resolutions you will still have a two-Chamber Government is really trifling with the facts. You will, of course, govern with two Chambers, but if one has the absolute decision of all matters of legislation, then that is the governing Chamber, and you will really be governing by that Chamber alone. To have a real two-Chamber Government you must have a Veto in each House. Each House must have the power to say "No." Otherwise, of course, the 1261 House which has not the power to say "No" loses all real power, and the other House has the whole control. Therefore, I believe it is true that it is a mere abuse of words to say that you are in favour of a two-Chamber Government, and yet propose Resolutions such as these. One hears a good deal about the omnipotence of Parliament. Parliament we know can do anything. It can impose or prohibit the observance of any religion; it can confiscate property; it can destroy personal liberty; I think some one wrote that Parliament can do anything except turn a woman into a man, and I am not sure that, in these days, even that exception would be allowed. But if Parliament can do anything, would you make one House omnipotent, and would you entrust to it the whole destinies of the country for five years? Is it not likely or, at all events, possible that that which has happened before may happen again, and that the mere existence of absolute and uncontrolled power may lead to its abuse? Can we trust even ourselves not to abuse this absolute and uncontrolled power? The country has tried it before. It tried a Single Chamber Government in 1649. The House of Lords was as we know abolished in that year, and within four years of that time the House of Commons had created a new form of treason, had set up a new court, to try offenders against its laws, and excluded the reporters from that court, and had abrogated to a great extent trial by jury. The House did then what this House might do under these Resolutions—it prolonged its own existence. That and many other things were done within four years only from the abolition of the House of Lords, and at the end of those four years Cromwell brought his troops into the House, and removed the Mace from the Table, and within eleven years Charles II. came back to the throne. We had another warning only a short time ago—I mean the Home Rule warning in the Parliament of 1892, when the House of Commons passed a Home Rule Bill. If these Resolutions had been in force that Bill would have become law, and there are Members here who would like to see it become law. We are told to-day that the object of our being here is to carry out the will of the country. Within three years of the passing of that Bill in this House and its rejection by the other House the country by an enormous majority pronounced against the measure.
§ Mr. CAVE
That was not the issue? Perhaps the hon. Member will say what the issue was. The country was against the Bill, and proved by voting against it that they did not want it. I am only leading up to this, that after all we ought to keep some check upon this House. I do not want the will of the House of Lords to prevail, or the will of the Commons; I want the will of the country to prevail; and I think to that extent we are quite as good democrats as hon. Gentlemen opposite. Tonight we show by our action we are much better. You want the will of this House to prevail within the compass of a single Parliament, while we want to retain in important matters an appeal to the country. What is the real remedy for your grievances against the House of Lords? I do not deny grievances. It is true that the hereditary principle is open to attack. It is true that there is in the other House, for reasons which I will not now discuss, a very great majority against the representatives of the Liberal party in that House. All that is true—all that we are ready and willing to meet. When I say "we," I mean the whole of the party to which I have the honour to belong. We are willing and ready to discuss and to meet those points. We showed that a long time before this discussion arose, and, indeed, the Lords themselves took up the point and proposed a remedy long before the Budget of 1909. was ever heard of.
The point I want to make is this: If you have your grievances against the other House, if you quarrel with its form and constitution, alter its form and its constitution, and then and only then the question of powers can be decided. The Prime Minister argued to-day, and very fairly, the question of dealing with deadlocks between the Houses by means of a joint Session of the two, and, he said, and said very truly, that that would be no remedy for the present state of things, because the number of peers is so great, and the majority against him is so great, that even a joint Session would not give the Liberal party a chance. I quite agree. But what is the inference from that? First reform your House of Lords and then reconsider the question of a joint Session. When you have got the House of Lords in the form in which you want it, then that remedy for deadlock might be the effective remedy. Therefore, the very 1263 argument which is used by the Prime Minister is an argument against postponing reform until after you have dealt with the Veto. It seems to me perfectly fatuous, first to abolish what you call the Veto of the House of Lords that is to abolish its real power in legislation and then contemplate setting up a body which might be worthy of having the Veto. I think you ought to deal with the two matters together, or not to deal with the Veto until you are dealing also with the constitution of the House of Lords. A great point was made that the proposals in the other House would limit the powers of the Crown to add Peers to that Assembly and so would remove the only check upon it. That is a perfectly easy point to meet, and is well in the minds of those who are considering the matter in the other place. This is not the time or occasion to discuss the details of the proposed reform of the House of Lords. What we are dealing with to-night is the question of powers. I do trust that the House will not sanction, or, at all events, that the country will not sanction, proposals so grave, so revolutionary, as these. If you pass them you do what will be very difficult indeed to undo— you make the power of this House in finance legislation absolute; and you remove the only means now existing in our Constitution for referring to the people of this country those great questions in which all are are concerned, and in which all should have a voice.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Rufus Isaacs)
I listened to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave) with very great interest, because, if I may say so, with all respect to him, he always puts the case of the side on which he sits with great fairness and also with extreme reason. It is for that reason that I listened with the greater attention to what fell from his lips upon this important matter. Sir, as I listened to the beginning of his speech I realised that it was a speech of one who had in his heart an absolute and rooted distrust of the people. I think when hon. Members dissent from what I am saying they are remembering the latter part of the hon. and learned Member's speech. I agree he brought himself eventually to what seemed to be the view that the people must be trusted, but he spoke, even so, of being under the heel of the House of Commons. Have hon. Members forgotten that phrase 1264 to be "under the heel of the House of Commons"? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Is that cheered? Does not that imply a distrust of the majority of the electorate? [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no."] Do hon. "Members object to be under the heel of the House of Commons containing— [An HON. MEMBER: "Ireland."] Does Ireland not send elected representatives to this House of Commons? Hon. Members who speak of being under the heel of the House of Commons nevertheless object to Members sitting on this side of the House not being satisfied with being under the heel of the House of Lords. For the one there is a remedy; for the other, unless these Resolutions which we are proposing are carried or unless the Prerogative of the Crown is invoked, there is none.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
So I understand; that is what is to be held over the head of the Liberal party every time there is something proposed which does not meet the view of hon. Members sitting on the opposite side of the House. Personally I have no objection to the interruption of the hon. Baronet, who is also learned in matters of finance, of which I shall have something to say in a moment. But what does all this amount to that fell from the hon. and learned Member? It amounted, as was so forcibly brought forward and illustrated by the interruption of the hon. Baronet, that the remedy is in an election, no matter how many elections you have. If the House of Lords throw out Bills which are introduced by a Liberal House of Commons your remedy always is to be an election. That really is the secret of the objection of so many hon. Members to the Resolutions which we are proposing. This is the sword which can always be held over the heads of the Liberal party. As the Leader of the Opposition said to-day, Radical aims and ends make it necessary that there should be this interference by the House of Lords, so that we may be sent to the country again and again. I quite admit that the figures are very difficult to compute, and I am not aware that any authoritative figures have been put before the country; but bearing in mind that there are 670 constituencies, and also remembering the amount of money spent in the constituencies, not only by the candidates, but by the various organisations which take part in the elections on both sides, I suppose I should not be exagge- 1265 rating if I put the cost of a General Election at something like £2,000,000. That enormous outlay is to be occasioned apparently whenever a Bill introduced by the Liberal party is objected to; the House of Lords may throw the measure out, and say, "If you do not like it, you may go to the country." Before passing to the details of the question, I wish to deal with the legal and constitutional aspect to which the hon. and learned Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave) has referred. I do not propose to engage in any technical discussion about the right of the House of Lords in law to reject a Finance Bill. I think the hon. and learned Member ought to have drawn a distinction between a Money Bill, such as a rating Bill and the Finance Bill for the year. There is all the difference in the world, as was pointed out very fairly by the Lord Chancellor in the speech from which the hon. and learned Member quoted one or two sentences, between a rating Bill, which is a Money Bill, and a Finance Bill, such as was sent up towards the end of last year.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
That does not meet the point I am making. I have not the Lord Chancellor's speeches before me, but I think I am right in saying that when he made the speech from which the hon. and learned Member quoted a passage, he was dealing with a rating Bill, and he referred to Money Bills. Later on, when the Finance Bill was under discussion in the House of Lords the question was raised again, and the earlier speech was quoted, whereupon the Lord Chancellor pointed out that he drew a distinction between a Money Bill and a Finance Bill.
With reference to the legal and constitutional aspect, I am not proposing to argue that the House of Lords may not have the legal power to reject a Money Bill. I pass that by, because it does not seem to mo to be relevant to the discussion once you have to admit that the House of Lords has constitutionally no right to reject the Budget. I quite appreciate that when I say that I am asserting something from which no doubt the hon. and learned Member for Kingston will dissent; but I am also quite certain that he would at once, with other lawyers in the House, appreciate the distinction that would be drawn between what can be done legally and what can be done constitutionally. With- 1266 out troubling the House with a discussion of technical details of law, I will content myself with this observation, which I do not think will be controverted by any lawyer present. When you are speaking of the Constitution you are referring to something which cannot be enforced in any court of law in the country, and when we speak of the constitutional rights of the House of Lords I ask what power is there in this country to protect the House of Commons from an interference by the House of Lords in amending or initiating a Finance Bill? I followed closely the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Kingston, and I understand that he does not assert that there is any right in the House of Lords either to initiate or to amend a Finance Bill. On the contrary, he put it even more generally than I have. He referred to Money Bills, and not merely to Finance Bills, and he does not venture to assert that there is in the House of Lords any right either to initiate or to amend a Money Bill. That is the view of every constitutional lawyer in the country. I am not now dealing with the debatable question, upon -which I will say a word in a moment, but whenever we are dealing with this matter it is of the utmost importance to bear in mind that there is not constitutionally any right in the House of Lords to initiate or to amend a Money Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] One solitary Member says "Yes," but I was dealing with the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Kingston, who speaks with authority, and I have already his assent to my quotation from his speech. Indeed, if it were contradicted, there is an abundance of authority to which it is not now necessary to refer.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I have a book by my side, written by the hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford University (Sir W. Anson), an authority who will certainly not be contradicted by hon. Members opposite, who states what I have just asserted, and what is undebatable ground amongst lawyers. The Question at issue, and, I admit, a Question upon which there is much more to be said, is that raised by the hon. and learned Member, namely, whether there is, according to the Constitution, any right in the House of Lords to reject a Finance Bill. The hon. and learned Member asserted that there was. I want to make the position clear. A constitutional right depends 1267 entirely upon usage, convention, or custom, call it which you will. It does not depend upon any given law. Neither is there— and this is an important distinction between the legal and the constitutional aspects of the matter—any means of enforcing your constitutional usage, however much it is admitted, except by Resolutions such as we axe proposing, which will put an end to any such difficulty, or, as was pointed out by the Prime Minister, by the Prerogative of the Crown. There is no means of enforcing your constitutional usage, as I say, but what I want to point out is this: If the House of Lords choose to amend a Finance Bill sent up from the House of Commons by a majority, say, of 230, there is no means in this House of enforcing upon the House of Lords the constitutional view which would be taken by so distinguished an authority as the hon. and learned gentleman the Member for Kingston.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I quite appreciate that answer, but still it does not meet my point. I quite admit the relevance of the interruption, but I think the hon. and learned Member will see that it does not go far enough, though it goes as far as the hon. and learned Gentleman can make it. What is the use of that unless you can enforce it? I was directing my observations in order to make clear the difference between the legal and the constitutional aspect. If there is some infringement of the law there are the Law Courts open in which the matter can be adjudicated upon by the judges, but there is no sanction to any interference of this kind. There are no means known of enforcing upon the House of Lords the carrying out of the views of the House of Commons, even though with Mr. Speaker's ruling that it amounted to a breach of privilege. We would still be in this position: that there will be an absolute deadlock. There are no means of enforcing the views of the House of Commons except by one of the two alternatives to which I have referred. I observe that the hon. and learned Gentleman in dealing with this matter, and with the recent rejection of the House of Lords of the Budget, said that that was to be justified on the grounds that it was a Bill containing tacking clauses.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
Of course I do not wish to press an argument which the hon. and learned Gentleman did not mean to imply, but certainly he referred to tacking. He certainly did justify the action of the House of Lords at the end of last year on the grounds that though this was a very delicate matter—here I think I am using the words of the right hon. Gentleman— the Leader of the Opposition—that though no doubt there must be very much delicacy in handling such a question as the rejection of a Finance Bill, yet whenever you find that there is tacking involved in the Bill the House of Lords would be perfectly justified in rejecting it. It was said that that was an accusation which might be justly levied against the Budget which was sent up last year. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] I see that that receives some faint support. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] And now it has become a little stronger. But, after all, one cannot do better than refer to possibly the highest authority in finance which is known at the present time to the Opposition—the highest living authority on the side of the Opposition. I was struck with the observations which fell from the Leader of the Opposition in this respect, because, after all, the authority who I am referring to was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was Prime Minister.
Let us see what it is he says about it. He did not vote, as we know, upon the Debate in the House of Lords; but he wrote a letter, and that letter contains statements which are absolutely contradictory to every observation made on this point by the Leader of the Opposition or by the hon. and learned Gentleman. He said:—I may say. therefore, that the wisest Conservative leaders of the past have always held that however objectionable lo the Peers any taxes might be, that objection was not a sufficient reason for their rejection.That seems some answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kingston. Then he goes on:—And that in my opinion the only ground''The only ground—'on which a Budget, regularly passed by the House of Commons—'I would ask the House to note these two sentences—can properly be rejected by the House of Lords is on the ground of tacking.That was the opinion of Lord St. Aldwyn. If that is the only ground, the 1269 sole question that remains is: Is it just to say that there was tacking in that Budget? Here again I would quote Lord St. Aldwyn. He said:—I see nothing in the actual proposals of the Budget so foreign to the finance of the year as to justify its rejection on that ground.''What is left? Oh, I remember, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kingston passed from tacking to Socialism. There might be another ground for rejecting the Budget on the ground that it was Socialistic. I observe, in respect to that, there is no answer from him. But fortunately again, may I say, we have Lord St. Aldwyn's views. Ho goes on:—Nor do I feel that these proposals in themselves, whatever may have been said by their advocates, can properly be described as Socialism or revolution.There never was a better vindication of the position taken by the House of Commons in sending this Budget to the House of Lords last year than that which is given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Tory Administration, the present Lord St. Aldwyn.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I only regret the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) was not here to hear the Noble Lord's interjection. After all, we might at least allow a Free Trader the sincerity of his convictions. I certainly would not have ventured to question even if he had been a Tariff Reformer, the sincerity of his convictions, or to say that his words were not well worthy of consideration notwithstanding his views on Fiscal Reform.
May I turn to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. May I say—and in this I am quite sure I am speaking not only for myself, but for the whole House—when I say how pleased we were to see him back from his well-earned rest, and evidently thoroughly in holiday mood, judging from the way he, to his heart's content, and certainly to our amusement, dealt with the matter in the speech which he was minded to make in answer to the Prime Minister. I listened to it, and wondered, after all, if the right hon. Gentleman was not putting the case a little too high. Anyone listening to him would have thought there never was such a perfect institution as the House of Lords. An excellent House? It does not suffer, undoubtedly, from the kind of changes that take place in this House after there has been a General Election. It is a House that can always be relied 1270 upon to do its duty, and apparently a House upon which the right hon. Gentleman, can always count, and with which he is perfectly satisfied. I do not wonder. I would ask him whether, in all fairness, that position can be considered so satisfactory to our side. It is one which I can quite well understand raises no difficulty in his mind, but, Sir, it is one which we, on this side of the House, have suffered from so long and so many times that we are fully conscious of all the defects and all the deficiencies of the system, and we, are not able to say that the House of Lords is an excellent or a perfect institution. When I think also of what has taken place in regard to it only very recently. I wonder, and I am inclined to inquire whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware of the Debate which took place in the House of Lords quite recently. I do not know whether the newspapers containing that report reached the right hon. Gentleman, but, if they did, they certainly would have shown Him that the House of Lords is not quite so satisfied with itself. By a very large majority, having regard to the numbers that voted, although not in proportion to the number of Members, the House is to reform itself. Why? Why is this excellent institution to set about reforming itself? Why is the hereditary principle to be abolished? Why are Resolutions being discussed there at the same time almost as we are discussing them here? I will not pause to dilate at any length upon what is taking place in that House. It is sufficient for my purpose to state this: that there you have most clearly shown the change which has come over the scene during the last few months. Nothing more clearly demonstrates, first, that after what has taken place in the House of Lords with reference to the Budget, the relations between the two Houses never can be the same again; that from that moment there must be a change, and, as I read the political world at present, and the views of those who write in the newspapers and the magazines on that subject, the Question is not now, as it was last year, "Are you to reform the House of Lords?" The Question now is changed, for it is, "How are you to reform the House of Lords?" The necessity for reform is admitted, and the only question is what form the reconstitution of the House of Lords is to take. Whilst this Budget was being discussed in the House of Lords Noble Lords did not hesitate, in spite of what had been said by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to 1271 state that they did not care about the consequences. The House of Lords never troubled itself about the consequences, and the result is that these Resolutions are some of the consequences which the action of the House of Lords has entailed. Again, when we look back to what has happened since 1906 I confess that I am a little surprised at the Leader of the Opposition airily saying, "The Prime Minister has been speaking about a deadlock—where is the deadlock?"; as if the right hon. Gentleman had never heard of the deadlock, and as if there had not been any Bills rejected or mutilated by the House of Lords. I can understand that view if the right hon. Gentleman was reviewing the position up to the year 1906, but from 1906 the catalogue is a long one. The Bills thrown out or mutilated by the Lords since that date were measures passed by a far larger majority in the House of Commons than the Bills which were passed when the Leader of the Opposition was the Leader of the House. When the Unionist party sent Bills up to the House of Lords they were passed almost without discussion or alteration.
Bearing in mind all these questions, let me hark back in history to the year 1894. I think the Prime Minister quoted what the late Lord Salisbury said in the year 1894 in reference to the Finance Bill. I will ask the House for a moment to contrast the position in 1894 with what it was in 1906. In that year, when Sir William Harcourt introduced and passed his Finance Bill in the House of Commons, the Second Reading was carried by a majority of fourteen. That Bill passed the Second Reading by a majority of 308 votes to 294. It introduced a novelty in finance which led to almost as much vituperation as the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget of last year. By a majority of fourteen only that Budget was carried. There was a Motion to reject the Bill on the Third Reading, but it was defeated by 283 votes to 263. So that at no time did the Finance Bill of 1894 have a greater majority in the House of Commons than twenty, and yet it went up to the House of Lords, and the late Lord Salisbury, in dealing with the matter there, pointed out that it was not for the House of Lords to reject A Finance Bill. I remember, whilst thinking of the speech which he made in 1894, part of which was quoted, that the late Lord Salisbury drew no distinction between amending and rejecting.
1272 Lord Salisbury pointed out that in his view it was an unconstitutional act to amend just as it would be to reject, and it was for that reason the Bill was neither amended nor rejected, but was carried in spite of the very small majority whereby it had passed in the House of Commons.
Contrast that with what happened with reference to the Finance Bill of last year. Its Third Reading was carried by a majority of 230. Yet when it came to the House of Lords, although, as we have it on the authority of Lord St. Aldwyn, it was neither tacking, revolutionary, nor socialistic, the House of Lords refused to pass the Bill. In spite of that the right hon. Gentleman, fresh from, and invigorated by the pleasures of a sojourn in a sunnier climate, brought a sunny smile, and said to us, "Where are your deadlocks t I do not know what you are talking about." Here, again, let me remind the House, is the history written which chronicles for the first time the rejection by the House of Lords of a Finance Bill sent up to it by the House of Commons. Apart altogether from the constitutional questions which we have been discussing, it, at least, will not be disputed that there is no precedent for that rejection. What happened in 1860 and 1861 was really a matter of a different character. The Bill which was rejected by the House of Lords was the repeal of a duty to which the House of Lords objected, arid it led, as the House so well knows, to the finance being sent up in one Bill, with the result that the House of Lords did pass it, and from that time to this it has ever passed the Finance Bill without amendment, hanging up, or rejection. I would add, so that I may not leave out anything that might be said with reference to these precedents, that there has been some discussion about what happened in 1894.
It looked at one time as if those who were speaking from the Opposition side of the House suggested that the precedent of 1861 upon which we relied only really dated from 1894. There is no foundation for any distinction being drawn between the two. I do not think anybody will attempt to draw it in this House. The best proof I can give of this is to refer to what happened in the House of Lords Debate. Both Lord Halsbury and Lord Curzon dealt with this question, and. attacking the precedent of 1861 as the one which was quoted, and rightly and naturally relied upon in this respect, neither of them ventured for one moment to rely upon the precedent of 1894. Whilst I am speaking 1273 of Lord Halsbury, I would also venture to make this further observation in reference to the Finance Bill, that no stronger pronouncement has been made upon the question of the right of the House of Lords to interfere with a Finance Bill sent up by the House of Commons than that of Lord Halsbury in 1897, when the Voluntary Schools Bill was under discussion, which hon. Members so well recollect—I will not weary the House with the details. Lord Halsbury was then Lord Chancellor, and he appealed to Lord Herschell, who had been in the House of Commons, and had been Lord Chancellor in a Liberal Government. He appealed to Lord Herschell to support him. The matter had been contested by Lord Spencer, but, nevertheless, Lord Herschell agreed with Lord Halsbury, and there you had the case of the Lord Chancellor and the ex-Lord Chancellor both making a most definite, clear, bold pronouncement upon the situation which was in accord. If we bear in mind what Lord Salisbury said in 1894 and what Lord Halsbury said in 1897, we have the strongest confirmation of the view we have brought forward with regard to the rights of the House of Commons. Now, may I just say a word or two upon some further matters to which the right hon. Gentleman referred? He said apparently that nothing had taken place, and he wondered that the Prime Minister had not brought forward an indictment against the House of Lords. Again the Leader of the Opposition seemed to be quite unaware of what has been taking place, as if the House wanted reminding of the matters which are so fresh, which we have been discussing upon every platform, and which I do not think that any of us are likely to forget. What happened when we came back to the House of Commons in 1906 with a majority of over 300?
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
A majority elected for the purpose, amongst other things, of considering this one question and dealing with this one question— the Education Act of 1902. What happened when the matter came before this House and the Bill was passed by the large majority of 192 on its Third Reading? Again, what happened in the House of Lords when that other matter, which has been referred to, the Plural Voting Bill, was introduced by my hon. Friend, and it was carried on the Second Reading by a majority of 380, and then the Third Read- 1274 ing by a majority of 229? Yet, remember that Plural Voting Bill was a Bill which concerned this House and not the House of Lords; it dealt with voting for the Membership of this House, but it was rejected in. the same way. I could go through them all, one after the other, all the great measures introduced during the Parliament of 190& until the end in 1909, culminating in the Finance Bill. I could give the figures of the London Elections Bill, which was rejected at the end of last year. And yet the right hon. Gentleman says he wonders we did not bring forward some indictment against the House of Lords, and he asks what is there to complain of? I also observe that the right hon. Gentleman institutes a parallel between the Australian Commonwealth Act of 1900 and also the South African Act of last year. He instanced the Constitutions of South Africa and Australia, and compared them with the Constitution in this country and with the relations between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. He quite forgot what is the most important factor in the consideration of that question, that there, at any rate, a large number are elected to the Upper House, and that it is not an Upper House which consists merely of those who sit by hereditary right. There is no such thing as heredity there. No doubt there is nomination of a certain number which is provided for in the new Constitution which was granted to South Africa and also in the Australian Commonwealth, but in neither Constitution will you find any person who has a right to sit in the Upper House because he happens to be the son of his father. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] That is the whole point. I am not using this as argument. I am only using it for the purpose of dealing with the comparison which the Leader of the Opposition instituted between the two Constitutions and our own. It was part of the right hon. Gentleman's argument put forward to show that you ought to-have two Houses, and that there must be a system of Government by two Houses, such as you have here. I agree that the Leader of the Opposition is justified in making that comparison, but it loses all its force, it seems to me, when it is borne in mind what has been said by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister pronounced himself in favour of a Second Chamber on a democratic basis, and all I can say with reference to finance and the comparison made by the right hon. Gentleman is that even there in matters of 1275 finance in both Constitutions there is no right of initiation and no right of amendment in either of the Upper Houses, and when there is any disagreement or difference between the two Houses a different remedy is provided if the disagreement is one as to finance than that which is provided if it is upon other matters. So that finance is not treated in the same way in either of those two Constitutions.
The right hon. Gentleman, in dealing with the argument put forward by the Prime Minister, said how absurd the Resolutions were. I will not go through the other adjectives, grotesque and silly, and others of the same kind, but after all it is well before you so characterise Resolutions which have received the attention of the Cabinet, and which are introduced into this House, to make quite sure that you have carefully read them, and I would respectfully suggest to the Leader of the Opposition that before he criticised as he did the Resolutions before us and the proposal to go into Committee, that it would have been better to have read them with a little care, because he made very many alarming statements. He said in effect, "How ridiculous it all is; how very absurd your proceedings are. Just see what will happen. Your legislation will go to the House of Lords, and when it gets there, part of it being closured here, that House sets to work to consider the Bill and amend it, and after amending it sends it back to the House of Commons and then," said the Leader of the Opposition, "the House of Commons has to start all over again and introduce a new Bill, and it has to begin all its throe propositions from start to finish again." [Mr. BALFOUR dissented]. I heard what the right hon. Gentleman said, and his view was that if there was an Amendment of the Bill which came from the House of Lords, you would have to send the Bill back to the House of Lords from the point where it was amended or you would have to begin all over again. The second part of the Resolution is clear upon the point. I call the attention of the House to it only because of what occurred in respect of it:—
" For the purposes of this Resolution a Bill shall be treated as rejected by the House of Lords if it has not been passed by the House of Lords either without Amendment or with such Amendments only as may be agreed upon by both Houses."
1276 What would happen? None of the difficulties have any real existence. If the House of Lords chose to amend the Bill when it came down to the House of Commons it would be for that House to say if it approved. If it did not approve, the Bill would go up without Amendments. If they did approve, it would go with the Amendments. In either case it would count as its second passage through the House of Lords. The right lion. Gentleman called our proposed system piebald, harlequin, half-black and half-white, and parti-coloured. That struck me as "particularly appropriate, because, after all, the very thing that we complain of is not that it is harlequin or half-black and half-white, but that under the present system there is too much of one colour. If you had it half-black and half-white there would at least be a justification, there would be some semblance of reason, and you would be entitled to say there might be something like a fair adjudication upon the Bills which are sent up to the House of Lords. But really, when one reviews everything that has happened in relation to this question during the last few years, one really may ask whether there is any man on the other side of the House who can really assert and who really believes that the system under which we at present live, and under which the House of Commons, when there is a Liberal majority, is dominated by the House of Lords, is a right and a fair system. After all, the answer to that question can only be that it is not. No one will assert of any other tribunal to which you might refer any matter that it would be just, or fair, or equitable, to have your dispute, whatever it might be, decided by a packed tribunal on which a. large majority of something like ten to one in number is against the party responsible for sending that Bill up to the particular tribunal. I am quite certain that there is no one who would defend such a system as that outside, at any rate, the House of Commons, and that there is no hon. Member on the other side who would defend it who does not know in his own mind as plainly as we do who assert it that he is standing by the House of Lords and striving to do what he can to perpetuate the present system because it is always to the advantage of the party opposite and always to the detriment of the side on which we sit. That is the state of things which the country has been asked to consider and upon which it was asked to pronounce a verdict, I think one might say the greatest 1277 issue which went before the country at the last election. The Budget and the House of Lords on this question are really 'inseparably one. For the sake of argument and in order that I may not raise too much controversy I will admit that there were two great issues—I will go further and say that there were three. You may take it that the Budget, the Veto, and Free Trade or Tariff Reform were the three great issues, whereas what was certain was the one great issue upon which the last election was fought was whether or not the Lords Veto should be curtailed. One of the matters which was put before the electors and advocated upon every platform—I am quite sure there is not a single Member sitting on this side of the House who has not advocated it upon the platform—was that, if returned to the House of Commons, one of the first things he desired to do was to abolish the Veto of the House of Lords on finance, and the restriction of the Veto of the House of Lords upon other matters of legislation. There is a large majority in support of this policy as we believe. There is a large majority prepared to act upon the views of the constituents who sent them to this House, and when we have passed these Resolutions, as we believe we will by a very considerable majority, then we shall have asserted the right of the House of Commons to take its stand in matters of finance and to deal only with them. I think we may say with reference to those questions that the country will not be so afraid of the House of Commons dealing with finance as the hon. and learned Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave) when making his speech. The remedy, after all, is in the hands of those who sent us to the House of Commons, and that is why we propose to carry these Resolutions in this House. It is because, as a result of the election, we think we have a large majority in favour of the Resolutions. We will wait with regard to the Budget. I do not think that the House wishes me to deal with the Budget tonight. What I say with reference to the Budget—speaking for myself, so far as I am justified in expressing an opinion— is that I entirely dissent from the view that there is a majority against the Budget in this House.
In conclusion, I would add that what I wish to impress upon the Members of this House is that we are dealing now with the privileges of the House of Commons. I am not going to quote many speeches which have been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition 1278 when he has asserted that he is a House of Commons man and will stand up for the liberties and privileges of the House of Commons. I will pass them by with this observation, that it is, at least, satisfactory to find that he is anxious, or at least was as anxious in those speeches, that the House of Commons should be kept the predominant House, as we are. When these Resolutions have been passed and when these matters go to tie consideration of the House of Lords, as they must, if the House of Lords in its wisdom should refuse to accept the Resolutions and reject them, we believe that it will be the last time the House of Lords will have any opportunity of passing any judgment upon Resolutions such as these coming from the House of Commons.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Wednesday).