§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [29th March], "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."—[The Prime Minister.]
§ Question again proposed. Debate resumed.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
We have had the opportunity since yesterday of reading the very important speech delivered by the Prime Minister, and of drawing some more deliberate conclusions from its tenour and contents than were possible yesterday. I imagine that the most striking conclusion which anyone is likely to form would deal with the extraordinary omission on the part of the Prime Minister to meet the expectations which had been generally held out that when the proposals of the Government were made known to the House they would deal with the subject of reform of the Second Chamber. I do not suppose anyone will have forgotten that in the Gracious Speech from the Throne there glimmered faintly and fitfully through the ambiguities of its language, but still equally unmistakably, the expression of an intention to recommend certain proposals to the consideration of the House for the reform of the House of Lords. What is the position which that question occupies to-day? It occupies some political territory even more remote in practical politics than that which at present is filled by the "People's Budget." Surely, as a matter of fact, it is of some importance when we are asked to deal with a Constitution which has existed for 800 years, and when we are told by the Government that an essential part of their plan is, either as a preliminary to destruc- 1304 tion or as accompaniment to destruction, that we shall have some constructive proposals of reform indicated—surely it is somewhat astonishing when these proposals are brought forward that, with the exception of a single vague sentence, there is not a single proposal brought forward in the present or relating to the future which has anything whatever to do with the reform of the House of Lords. Surely we are entitled to analyse the position a little more carefully to discover if we can what is the explanation of the entire disappearance from the political stage of the proposals for the reform of the House of Lords. It does not require a very subtle or trained gift of analysis to discover what the explanations are. The first explanation, and the more obvious one, is that on this, which is the very fundamental part of their policy, the Cabinet have not yet reached the commencement of an agreement. They cannot make up their minds whether they intend to reform the House of Lords or not, and up to the present their minds have been continually made up for them. We may take two recent important pronouncements in the country from different members of the Government as an index of the uncertainty which exists at the moment. Not very long ago the Home Secretary made a speech at Manchester in which he said, "I would not myself be frightened by having only one Chamber." [Some MINISTERIAL cheers.] There are some supporters of that. But the Foreign Secretary, in the remarkable language quoted by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, said a single-Chamber policy meant the political death and damnation of the Liberal party.
Nothing has struck me as more interesting than the function that is being discharged by the survivors of the Liberal League in the Cabinet. They were put in the Government, if one may trust this dark chapter of domestic history, to act as watch-dogs. The only thing they have ever watched for four years is which way the cat is jumping. I read the whole speech of the Foreign Minister with considerable care, and in the whole of that speech, in the tentative consideration which he gave to the question of Reform of the House of Lords, he never examined it, or purported to examine it from the point of view of the interests of the country or the Empire. He examined it from first to last with unconcealed attention to the one question of what effect it was going to have on the fortunes of the 1305 Liberal party. The conclusion he reached was that to go to the country with a proposal for a single Chamber would mean political death and damnation to the Liberal party; and what we see is that, in spite of that prediction, and in spite of the fact that there is not going to be any reform of the Second Chamber, he is still prepared to link his fortunes with the party opposite. But there is a second reason which I am convinced has weighed not less persuasively with the Government, and that is that, as usual on this question of the House of Lords, they have had the orders of their followers. They were perfectly clearly given. The Prime Minister stated at Oxford that he was not in command of a homogeneous majority, and he regretted this fact, and after the great Progressive triumph at the polls, which was so much advertised a few weeks ago, the result is that although the Government—and this point is not disputed—as a Government are convinced that it would have been both in the interests of the country and wise as a piece of party strategy to introduce proposals for the reform of the House of Lords, they are not in a position to do so. I venture to throw out this challenge to hon. Gentlemen opposite. Am I not stating what is within the knowledge of everyone when I say that an overwhelming majority of the coalition which keeps the Government in office will not allow the reform of the House of Lords? I may quote in that connection the observation of the Foreign Secretary:—We are not strong enough to reform the House of Lords with a majority of thirty.The House will observe the inference, that although they are not strong enough to reform the House of Lords they are strong enough to destroy it. I will carry that challenge, and I think not unreasonably, a little further, and I would ask whether a majority of the Coalition, or anything like a majority, would tolerate now anything like a reform of the House of Lords? I accept the statements which were made on the Address by many Members who spoke on the other side of the House, and who said that whether reform of the House of Lords is well conceived or not we have obtained no mandate from our constituencies for such reform. I would therefore throw out this further challenge: How many of those who are going to vote oil this Resolution when a Division is taken propose to ask in May or June, or whenever the next appeal to the con- 1306 stituencies takes place, for a mandate for a reform of the House of Lords? The House will judge whether I am dealing with this matter fairly when I say that not 20 per cent, of those who are united, and united only for the purpose of these destructive Resolutions, have the slightest intention of going to their constituents in June and asking them for a mandate to reform the House of Lords. If that is to, I say to the Government let them drop their talk of reform of the House of Lords. Neither now nor in the next House of Commons can they reform the House of Lords. The Foreign Secretary has told us that the Government are not strong enough to reform the House of Lords in this House of Commons, and everybody who has observed the statements made upon this point by their supporters, upon whom they are dependent politically, will know that they do not propose to let them reform the House of Lords in the next Parliament. "What follows from this, unless I have mistaken the attitude of the Labour party? It follows that the reform section is a negligible minority of the whole of the ranks of the Coalition. I do not think I am over-stating the attitude of the Labour party in this Parliament when I say that there is very little they will not swallow from the Government— I can never understand why they keep up the farce of separate Whips—and nobody has a greater gift than the Leader of the party (Mr. Barnes) for swallowing his own words; but, on the whole, I think it probable that when they say they are in favour of the abolition of the House of Lords they mean to adhere to that article at least of their political creed.
Then we have the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) on behalf of the Irish party saying in the House yesterday that he rejoiced that the Government had laid aside their proposals for reform. Probably he and no other Member of the Irish party will dissent when I say that the Irish party are as strongly as the Labour party opposed to any proposal to reform the. House of Lords, and are merely prepared to give their assent to the destructive proposals embodied in these Resolutions. If that is so, let us face facts. It is the fact that it is indisputable that the whole atmosphere of reform is a farce which would not deceive a child. It would not deceive anyone in this House or the House of Lords. It is the inexpensive coinage with which the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer 1307 pay their way among their colleagues in the Liberal League. Therefore, no one, I think, will quarrel with the reasonableness or fairness of the view if I say that I ignore the reform proposals of the Government altogether, and I come to the fundamental position which is that hon. Gentlemen opposite, some of whom do not want reform, and some of whom do, are proposing to eviscerate an Assembly which everyone knows with one instructive vicissitude has weathered the political tempests of 800 years. I propose to discuss whether they will accomplish their object. What is the plan put forward by this Resolution? It is that what the House of Commons says three times is right. That is the proposition. The only historical analogy that I can recollect for the moment is that of the Snark, who said, "What I say three times is right." I think the Resolutions must have been founded upon that precedent. May I be permitted to ask why three times? After all, every Bill has three formal stages in the House of Commons, and I cannot understand why, when once a Bill has been through the House of Commons, you are not entitled to say of it, in that impressive phrase which is so frequently on the lips of the Prime Minister,it is the considered judgment of the Commons of England—like the Irish Councils Bill. I cannot understand, moreover, if you may be wrong once or twice, why you should suppose you cannot be wrong three times. Is it something like an incantation? I take, for instance, the view of the late Liberal Whip Lord Marchamley, better known to Members of this House as Mr. Whiteley. He was the Chief Liberal Whip at the time the Campbell-Bannerman Resolutions were brought forward in the last House of Commons. All hon. Gentlemen opposite who were there voted for them, and many voted for them who have not survived. Lord Marchamley recently wrote a letter to "The Times," and he said it was quite true he was shepherding the democratic sheep into that particular fold, but he never agreed with the Resolutions himself, and he thought they were a great mistake. He thought they meant single-Chamber Government, and he was not prepared to-day to vote for the same Resolutions unless they provided for a dissolution between one of the stages and the final stage in the House of Commons. Therefore I am entitled to 1308 say that the Chief Liberal Whip at the time the Campbell-Bannerman Resolutions, which were identical in character with these, were introduced, did not believe in them, and recognised, as he recognises to-day, that the whole point of them is that you abolish Second-Chamber Government altogether when once you say a mere threefold repetition is sufficient to ensure the passage of a Bill.
This obligation that there shall be a threefold repetition is one of the fraudulent securities with which the Government is never tired of concealing its real object. You have only to analyse the paragraph which always appears in the perorations and the resolutions of hon. Gentlemen opposite and is used as an introduction— "In order to give effect to the will of the people." I am quite prepared to treat this as the touchstone of the whole question and the whole issue between this side of the House and that. I am prepared, and my Friends I believe are prepared, to stand or fall on the adequacy of this formula of yours as applied to the Resolutions. And I advance a counter-proposition. I say that your real object is not, and never was, in these Resolutions to give effect to the will of the people. Your real object, if you stated it honestly, is to give effect to the will of the Radical caucuses, whatever relation they may bear to the will of the people. I think I can show this very shortly. I am quite prepared to test it by reference to one of our great historical controversies, I mean the Home Rule controversy. I suppose no one will quarrel with this statement of fact, that under these Resolutions, had they been operative at the time of the Home Rule controversy in 1892, that Bill would have become law. We shall all be agreed about that. Many hon. Gentlemen opposite would think that was a prospect which would be gladly welcomed. I am not arguing that. We are all agreed that had these Resolutions been effective the Home Rule Bill would have become law in 1892. That is a totally different consideration from whether a Home Rule Bill ought in our judgment to become an Act of Parliament now. The question is, ought it to have become an Act in 1893. May I quote on that an observation made by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. John Redmond), and quoted later in this House by the hon. Member (Mr. William O'Brien):—The trouble with the House of Lords is not that it threw out the Home Rule Bill, hut that the country endorsed the rejection. The House of Lords has never withstood the declared will of the nation.1309 The hon. and learned Gentleman himself candidly assents when I read this extract from his speech. I ask a plain question of the Chief Secretary for Ireland: Was it right or was it wrong in relation to the democratic theory, which I am sure he understands, that the Home Rule Bill should have become law in 1893? If it was right, what becomes of the will of the people, because the hon. and learned Gentleman has admitted what everyone knows—that it was not the will of the people as tested at the following election. [HON. MEMBEBS: "No, no."] I cannot help thinking that anyone who would deny that proposition would deny anything.The trouble as to the House of Lords is not that it threw out the Home Rule Bill, but that the country endorsed the rejection."In order to give effect to the will of the people." That is the proposition. The question I ask the Chief Secretary is, if it was right that Home Rule should become law in 1893, what becomes of your formula that these Resolutions are calculated to give effect to the will of the people? If, on the other hand, it was wrong, in reliance again upon the democratic principle, that the Home Rule Bill should have become law, how do you justify these Resolutions? The Government is driven to the position, which is grotesquely ludicrous, that there is some special virtue in repetition, that if you add obstinacy to error you are entitled to a degree of political success which is refused to error when it stands alone. If there was no other illustration of the profoundly undemocratic character of these Resolutions the Home Rule case will abundantly justify it. But there are plenty of other instances. I take two other cases which have been very much relied on by hon. Gentlemen opposite both in the House of Commons and in the country, the Education Act and the Licensing Act, which were passed by the Government of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour). For three years hon. Gentlemen opposite filled the country with groaning and moaning for these two Acts. They said their passage was unconstitutional, and that any effective Second Chamber would have thrown them out, and that, I am sure, is still their view. They said the people of England did not want those Bills. Then why are you proposing to stereotype Resolutions which will always enable the House of Commons to pass similar Bills into Acts of Parliament? It is not creditable that hon. Gentlemen can be found ready to vote for Resolutions which they show at 1310 every stage they are intellectually incapable of understanding. Their whole case is that, in order to give effect to the will of the people, any Bill which the House of Commons passes three times ought to become law. Does anyone doubt that the House of Commons would have passed our Education Act and our Licensing Act three times if it had been necessary? Therefore they ought to become law on your theory. The only comment which can be made is that hon. Gentlemen complain of the evil that there is no Second Chamber when the Conservative party is in power, and what is your remedy? You say you will have no Second Chamber when Liberals are in power. You find a fault and you duplicate it. That is the measure of your statesmanship. You stereotype for all time a system—and I accept for the sake of argument your hypothesis that the Licensing Bill and the Education Bill were not desired by the people—under which we can continue to pass Bills which are not wanted by the people, and you do that under the name of the preliminary formula "in order that the will of the people may prevail." Could political ineptitude go further?
Let me examine the grievances which are stated in exclusive relation to the last five years. I will not pretend to examine all the grievances which have been alleged, but I think the House as a whole will consider that I am not dealing unfairly with them if I select as the three main counts in the indictment against the House of Lords in the last five years their treatment of the education policy, their treatment of the Licensing Act, and their treatment of the Budget. I apprehend that no one will pretend that you are going to uproot the House of Lords because they would not allow you to tinker with the electorate in their own political interests. Therefore I confine myself to these three main illustrations, which have been the gravamen of their case in the country. Let me ask the House this question: How many people are there now occupying seats in this House who complain of the action of the House of Lords in relation to the Education Bill of 1906? Last night the Solicitor-General stated that the House of Lords threw out the Education Bill of 1906. I think his many occupations must have prevented him at the time from giving that exact attention to the state of the education controversy which was necessary to the giving of a correct statement 1311 of what occurred. They did not throw out the Bill of 1906. They insisted upon three fundamental Amendments. [Laughter.] I really think that that merriment must have proceeded from new Members. I can only say that the Minister in charge of the Bill, the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, will agree that either in his own speech on the Third Beading of the Bill, or, rather, when the Bill came back from the House of Lords, he stated that there were three fundamental grounds of disparity and difference between the House of Lords and the House of Commons on the Education Bill; and it was in relation to these three points that the House of Lords introduced Amendments. May I point out to hon. Gentlemen opposite that the three fundamental Amendments which the House of Lords insisted upon were these: First of all, that there should be religious instruction in all schools unless the children were withdrawn by the parents; secondly, that there should be right of entry into all, schools; and, thirdly, that the teachers should be at liberty to volunteer to give religious instruction in all schools. Every one of these points was introduced by the present Minister of Education in the Bill which he proposed. Let us see the extent of the grievance which hon. Gentlemen have against the House of Lords for their conduct. I read from the speech which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education made in regard to the Education Bill subsequently brought forward:—When I went to the Education Office I laboured for co-operation and not for conflict.—"'rather a reflection on his predecessor—I have since been asked why I have attempted compromise at all. A wise statesman once said that all good government, and, indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every prudent act, is founded upon compromise and bargain.That is the justification which the right hon. Gentleman made for his Education Bill, which embodied every one of the three fundamental points upon which the House of Lords insisted in the Bill of 1906. And then, so perfunctory is the treatment which the Solicitor-General gives to this question that he tells us the House of Lords threw out the Bill of 1906. Let me ask the Irish party, and the Leader of the Irish party, whether they agreed with the indictment against the House of Lords for their treatment of the Education Bill of 1906? I remember on the Third Reading of that Bill hearing the 1312 hon. and learned Member (Mr. J. Redmond) make a grave and weighty speech, in which he recited the grievances which animated his co-religionists in regard to the terms of that Bill, and I remember the memorable sentence in which he summarised them. He said:—I and my co-religionists consider it as an insult, and resent it as an injury.''That was the observation made by the hon. and learned Member on the occasion of the Third Reading, when once for all the House of Commons lost seisin of it. Under what circumstances was he able afterwards to give a qualified support to the Bill? He was able to give, only a qualified support to the measure when it came back with Amendments from the House of Lords.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman deny that that was after the Bill had come back from the House of Lords to this House?
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
May I point out how completely the hon. Gentleman has ignored the whole points Is the hon. and learned Member for Waterford really so simple as to think that after this Government, which had been as adamant for months, in spite of him, and after the right hon. Gentleman had resisted his arguments and despised his threats in the House of Commons, would ever have accepted that Amendment if the Bill had not been sent back from the House of Lords? The House of Lords gave the opportunity of further discussion which alone was the soil from which this Amendment sprang. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford, not only in relation to education, but in relation to other questions, because he wants Home Rule for Ireland, will be very glad of similar opportunities of supporting the Government in future.
There is a far more striking comment for those who believe in democracy so profoundly and obviously than is to be found in the relation of the Lords to education, and that is, the plain result of the last election. The right hon. Gentleman failed with his Education Bill in the last House of Commons, partly, I agree, because of the action of the House of Lords. 1313 Does he think he could carry that Education Bill through this House of Commons? He knows he could not. He knows he could not carry the Second Reading of it in this House of Commons. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If he does not know that, I must say that he is not particularly observant. If that is true—and everyone who knows the constitution of the House of Commons to-day knows there is a denominational majority in the House— surely everybody can see that that is a final vindication of the attitude of the House of Lords in the last four years. You must develop other and more promising lines of quarrel with the House of Lords. Let me suggest one—the Licensing Bill. What is the history of that measure? Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the people of England wanted the Licensing Bill or did not? Is it the view of the Government that the House of Lords were violating the will of the people when they threw out the Licensing Bill? The Prime Minister, dealing with that subject, said, "I agree it is not a Bill by which we ever expected to gain votes." As to these champions of democracy, I confess that their attitude is very difficult to follow with any precision. The object of the Prime Minister is to give effect to the will of the people, but he introduces a Bill which he confesses is not likely to gain him the votes of the people, and then he quarrels with the House of Lords because they threw rut the Bill. The Lord Chancellor also dealt with this. He said:—The Bill may be an unpopular measure. So much more reason why this House should pass it.That is democracy according to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, leaving for the moment his invective manner for what I may call his "soapy" manner, said:—It is the greatest opportunity the House of Lords has had to rise to the dignity of its great profession, far removed from the passion that sways the multitude.That is to say, the Government appeal to the multitude to punish the Lords for throwing out a Bill which the multitude do not want.
I take the case of the Labour party, and I think I owe them an apology for treating them separately from the Government. What did the Leader of the Labour party say in regard to the Licensing Bill? He said:—The Licensing Bill did not stir the pulses of the people.1314 The Chairman of the Independent Labour party (Mr. Jowett) said:—It is putting it mildly to say that the popularity of the Licensing Bill was doubtful.In view of these utterances am I not entitled to make this moderate claim, that by the mouths of Ministers themselves, and of their supporters below the Gangway, the people of England did not want the Licensing Bill. Had these Resolutions of yours been operative, the Licensing Bill which, ex hypothesi, the people of England did not want, would have been law to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I confess I do not understand why not. I suppose what would have happened is that the right hon. Gentleman would have made his speech three times instead of once. That, of course, might have conciliated the Opposition. Assuming it had not that effect, I apprehend that the position would have been precisely the same as to-day. I claim, therefore, as regards two of the great historical controversies, the whole case has gone of those who say that the House of Lords stood in the way of giving effect to the views of the people. But what is the great case and the final case? It is the one which depends on the Budget. The Prime Minister and the Solicitor-General said last night that the House of Lords had no legal, or, at least, no constitutional right—
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I think that the Solicitor-General said no legal right, but it is quite sufficient for my argument that the right hon. Gentleman said that the House of Lords had no constitutional right to reject the Budget. I will adhere closely to that adjective in considering the question. I can say that that proposition, if it had been stated by the great authority of the Prime Minister and the Solicitor-General judicially, is one which, as a member of the same profession, would have commanded my most profound respect, though certainly it would have elicited my most extreme surprise. But put forward, as it is put forward, by Ministers who are in extreme political difficulties, I can only say it is a legal paradox which is defended by the greatest farrago of bad law and bad history ever offered to the attention of the House of Commons. Let me see if I cannot satisfy hon. Gentlemen on that. Mr. Gladstone—I observe that hon. Gentlemen have founded a league in honour of his name at a moment when they are departing from every con- 1315 siderable point of his politics—spoke with the most explicit clearness in the discussion which was preliminary to the crisis of 1861. He founded his view upon the supreme importance of the House of Lords keeping open for any proper case this power of rejecting a Finance Bill, and this follows even more clearly, that the Resolution of 1861—unilateral as far as controversy between the two Chambers is concerned; but I waive that—was ostensibly limited to the exercise of an admitted legal right and in a serious case. But I will give the Prime Minister and the Solicitor-General dicta which are both more authoritative and more recent than those which they cited to the House of Commons yesterday. The speech made by Lord Spencer, a colleague of the Prime Minister at that time, in 1894, in introducing the Finance Bill into the House of Lords, is an authority still more valuable than an American speech by Lord Chatham. He said:—We all know that we in this House cannot amend a Money Bill, but we have the full right to throw it out if we so will.I did not gather that the right hon. Gentleman dissents from that. His colleague Lord Ripon said even later:—After all your Lordships cannot amend the Bill, and as you are not going to reject it as yon constitutionally could, we may take it that the discussion is ended.''I take a final instance on this point, the speech of the Lord Chancellor on 25th March, 1909. When he was persuading the House of Lords to pass the Finance Bill because the Rating Bill which followed was a Money Bill, he said:—The Rating Bill will be a Money Bill. Well, if a Money Bill is brought forward. this House has always power to throw it out.The Solicitor-General last night, if he will allow me to say so, was really quite unworthy of his ingenuity and finesse in dealing with this quotation of the Lord Chancellor's, because he said that there is a difference between a Finance Bill and a Money Bill. There is no constitutional difference and no authority upon which such a difference can be founded, and furthermore, in your Resolutions, you do not attempt to draw such a distinction. You take the case of a Money Bill and you treat the case only as a Money Bill. Therefore, as far as constitutional authority is concerned, authority is only one way. But I confess I care far more about the political view than about the constitutional view. If I thought that the people of England by a large majority were op- 1316 posed to this Budget it would trouble me very little indeed even if the authorities were against its rejection. I adhere more closely to the true democratic thought. I ask the right hon. Gentleman again if the result of the election has been that the constituencies do not want the Budget, does that, in his view, justify the House of Lords? I give the Labour party as an authority upon that. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) made a speech at Cardiff on 7th March, in which he said:—The Labour party wants to see the Budget passed into law, but unfortunately there is not a majority in favour of it in the House of Commons.There we have this spokesman of the democracy who desires that the House of Commons should pass a Budget which the constituencies do not want. That is the Labour view of giving effect to the will of the people. There is not one of us in. this House who does not know perfectly well that the one and only reason why the Budget so far has not been introduced is that the Government has not yet made up its mind, or the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond) has not yet made up his mind, or the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. W. O'Brien) has not yet made up the hon. Member for Waterford's mind, whether there is a majority in the House of Commons for the Budget; and so the Government cannot introduce the. Budget. I remember being startled in the middle of my election by seeing a large placard on the walls of my Constituency, which contained this legend: "Don't budge on the big, bold Budget." The Government have been doing nothing but budging on the big, bold Budget ever since. It has become a kind of legislative Mrs. Harris, so that many people do not believe even in its existence at all. What a contrast that is with the stimulating utterances of the Home Secretary during the election campaign ! He made a speech at Frome, in which he said:—We are going to rain the Budget through. I appeal to Liberals to join with us in carrying it through at a run, through the Lords or over it.4.0 P.M.
They have been running ever since, but in the opposite direction. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, in that breezy manner which one associates with the quarter deck, said, on 11th February:—The Budget is going to be law in double quick time, and don't forget it.It all comes to this—we are perfectly frank with one another—you are going to destroy the Second Chamber for delaying 1317 a Bill which you dare not present to the First Chamber, fresh from contact with the constituencies. Your object is not to abolish the House of Lords because they are in conflict with the people of England, your object is to abolish the people or England when they are in conflict with the Radical party—an undertaking which, under democratic conditions, would be one of very considerable difficulty. Liberal attacks upon the House of Lords have always been chosen for the last thirty years as the sword with which a moribund Liberal Government commits kari-kari. At last, we are told, the revolutionary period is reached. Greater nonsense was never talked. Why, when you are talking of revolution the country is attending to its business with tranquil and indifferent stolidity. There is nobody excited save the leader writers of the "Daily News" and "The Star." There is no revolutionary crisis, for two plain reasons— there is no revolutionary crisis and no revolutionary army. I do not wish to be offensive, but it seems to me that hon. Gentlemen opposite are not the kind of stuff of which revolutionaries are made. The respectable and even benignant countenances with which I am confronted are ill-suited to the red cap of the revolutionary, and they are much better suited, perhaps, to a tea meeting or a pleasant Sunday afternoon. They are not suited to a committee of public safety or the barricade. I may point out, and the rank and file of the party, I am sure, will at least joint in this, that the Front Bench is not occupied by Jacobins. When I see the leaders of the parties and their caucuses manœuvring for a strategical position, I am reminded of nothing so much as the stage donkey, the legs of which move, though not together, but in different directions. I would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite—because we on this side are reproached with being actuated by party reasons—to make up their minds whether they are really well advised in their own interests and the interests of the Liberal party, once for all, to commit themselves to a policy which, as surely as night follows the day, will involve two more General Elections in the next twelve months—giving us three elections in twelve months. The Solicitor-General told us last night that on an exact financial calculation an election cost £2,000,000. I desire to speak for nobody but myself when I express my profound conviction that unless some of us can unite our Parliamentary duties with a happy attention to the vicissitudes of the 1318 rubber market we will have little or no money with which to fight another election. I desire to speak for myself in saying that. The policy which hon. Gentlemen opposite offer to the country and to the business community is this: They are going at a time of reviving trade [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] Really, did anyone ever contend that even the adoption or practice of Free Trade prevented any revival of trade? They are going at a period of reviving trade to offer the country a long and convulsive agitation, to be followed by two or three General Elections? We have heard from hon. Gentlemen that there are great social problems to be solved—problems urgently crying for legislative treatment. What kind of treatment are they likely to get if this is to be the course pursued? I am profoundly convinced that, if it comes to the choice of the business community as between whether they will have that party which, with all its faults, is at least going to do its best for legislation and that party which says, "We shall give you nothing but three General Elections in twelve months," the Liberal party have nothing to gain from this.
§ Mr. J. A. SIMON
In the greater part of the observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman that we have followed, I am sure with attention, I am not very sure whether the indignation which he was ex pressing was genuine or was feigned; for when he told us at the end of his speech that he quite realised that the election taken on this issue could not be accepted by his party, and that at least two elections were the best he could hope for— and I think in his peroration he got three elections—then I began to realise why it was that the hon. and learned Gentleman was so anxious. That being so, it throws a little light on the first matter to which he gave his attention. He expressed great perturbation and great annoyance because the proposals embodied in these Resolutions deal with one thing at a time—the limitation of the powers as distinct from an alteration in the composition of the Upper House. I do not know, I am sure, whether he had anticipated that alongside of some proposals to limit the powers of the other House, there should by some elaborate and contemporaneous suggestion for its reform, with the infinite Amendments possible to his ingenious mind. That may have been his idea, and if it was it shows two things of some service to many of us in this House. The 1319 first is that an attempt to combine at one and the same moment elaborate and complicated proposals for reform with a simple proposal for a limitation of powers, is an attempt which would be welcome to the other side. It shows how wise has been the judgment which has proclaimed that we must first deal with the necessity of the moment, that is, we must deal directly and simply with the limitation of the powers of the other House. I really do not know, when my hon. and learned Friend rose to speak, whether he felt himself in a position to defend on any ground of logic the position of the House of Lords in our Constitution. He certainly has not done so. He has endeavoured to meet the proposals, which ho obviously feared, and which have been put forward from his Front Bench, in substance by advancing two propositions which I believe are both unfounded. The first is this, and it is already quite obvious that it is going to be the simple cry from platforms, hoardings, and posters, if and when this matter is discussed at a General Election—it will be said, "Your proposals to limit the Veto of the House of Lords are nothing more nor less than a proposal for single-Chamber Government." That is a view which seems to have received some thought from hon. Gentlemen opposite. Let me just for one moment examine that, and see whether there is not between the two propositions a real difference, and whether hon. Gentlemen are not doing their intelligence some injustice when they attempt to treat this question as one and the same thing. It seems very strange that Members of the Conservative party, the party which has been in authority and power in the House of Commons for the greater part of the last generation, should express anxiety at the prospect of single-Chamber Government; but, be that as it may, whether it be wise or whether it be unwise to adopt a single-Chamber Government, the proposals which are embodied in these Resolutions are not and do not mean single-Chamber Government. To assert that they do is to fail to observe the obvious distinction, a distinction not merely of theory, but of fact, between a restricted Veto and no Veto at all. There is no walk in life in which the distinction between these two things is not perfectly well observed. One may take a very different department of life. There is many a hasty and ill-considered engagement 1320 which has been brought to the breaking-off point by the simple process of the veto of the parent for twelve months, and the veto which imposes delay brings about, and necessarily brings about, an opportunity for further discussion, further reflection. Surely hon. Gentlemen opposite are not going to pretend that opportunity for further discussion and further reflection is of no value to them at all? If they tell us that it is useless to give the House of Lords an opportunity to use a restricted Veto, they are, in fact, saying that nobody would ever attend to the arguments of that Assembly. It would be saying that it is of no good giving them an opportunity to speak, and that the only possibility of the House of Lords having any effect upon popular legislation or upon the popular judgment, is by the mechanical interposition of an uncontrolled power of rejecting, and rejecting as they choose and when they choose. Yet they are actually coming forward and announcing that they are the true depository of real democratic feeling. No; a restricted Veto gives an opportunity, first, I say, for further discussion and argument, and, secondly, for further reflection; and the very instances which the hon. and learned Gentleman gave afforded amongst them an illustration of this very fact when he referred at some length to the history of the Education Act of 1906. I was thoroughly familiar with his line of argument on this point, because he had made a speech on the subject before, and had done what is rather mare imprudent, published it in a book. Therefore I have had the advantage both of following his line of reasoning and considering at leisure numbers of the quotations which he has been good enough to give us to-day.
§ Mr. SIMON
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman gave me a copy of the first edition and also of the second edition, for, as one would expect, there were some excisions from the second edition which I am sure my hon. Friend will be grateful for in the future.
I will not do him the injustice of saying that it is only the third edition we had to-day. Take the illustration which he gave, the Education Bill of 1906. He calls attention to the fact, when that measure went up to the House of Lords, and when the House of Lords returned to this House, and after the interval, and when 1321 further discussion had taken place, that a change was introduced into the text of that measure by the House of Commons, and by the Government of the day, and which, as he claimed, and rightly claimed, might not have been introduced, and would not have been introduced, if there had not been the return of that measure by the House of Lords to this House. Does he really suppose that the Resolutions which we bring forward are going to stop that? We are going to recognise that as the true function of a Second Chamber, and it is precisely because that opportunity is still given, still deliberately preserved to the Upper House under these proposals, that it is the height of absurdity to assail these proposals as if they amounted to single-Chamber Government.
Take another instance. The hon. Gentleman says, and I do not know whether he is right or wrong, as these matters are still matters of controversy, that the Licensing Bill was a measure which, in fact, so far from representing popular wishes, flew in the face of the most popular opinion. I do not know as the thing is still a matter of controversy, and it is an unsettled question, but be it so. Does he really and seriously maintain, if that was the view which the people of this country took of the Bill, that it was going to survive the period of discussion between one House and the other which these Resolutions provide? I do not know how hon. Gentlemen opposite claim to feel any respect for public opinion, and claim to take any serious part in popular discussion, and present themselves as persons who are anxious for popular suffrages, if their views of the intelligence of the people of England are such, that for two years a grossly unpopular and unjust measure, such as in their view it may be, may be discussed in one House and in the other, and yet at the end of that time the steam-roller is to pass over it in despite of the popular will. It is just the case that does not happen, will not happen, and everybody knows is not meant to happen. Some of us, who do not pretend to be too deeply wedded to two Chambers as against one, none the less recognise that proposals which limit the. Veto in that manner are proposals which, none the less, make for the real and for the determined and final expression of popular judgment in these matters of legislation. The instances which my hon. and learned Friend took in the Education Bill and the Licensing Bill are not, if I may venture to say mo, well chosen for the matter in hand, and 1322 for this reason, that they are still matters of public controversy. I quite accept the hon. Gentleman's view that the Education Bill of 1906 was a thoroughly bad one, and thoroughly unpopular. Be it so, but there are other people who take the other view. I quite accept his view that the Licensing Bill was a Bill rightly rejected, and rejected by the mass of public opinion in England. Be it so, but there are many who do not take that view.
Let us bring this matter to a test, not by choosing as our illustration some present matter of public controversy in which two contrary opinions may be fairly held. I will bring it to a test without going into ancient history, but by going back far enough to choose a series of great public controversies which are now settled controversies. Let me take a question, happily settled for all time, and which hon. Members of this House have some good reason to remember. Let me take the removal of tests from the University of Oxford. Is there anybody on any side of this House of any form or faith, or any form of opinion, who doubts to-day that it was right, and wise, and just, to throw open the doors of Oxford and Cambridge to people without regard to their religious opinion? No one disputes it. There may possibly be some hon. Gentlemen who do so, but I do not think any hon. Gentleman who has to look forward to an appeal to popular suffrages will do so. Let us see what the true history about such a matter as the abolition of tests is. For thirty-six years in one form or another those who were speaking, or endeavouring to speak, in the name of the masses of the people of this country, were denied the opportunity, which to-day every man in this House who sits for a popular constituency will admit was very rightly conferred. It was in 1835, if I am not mistaken, that the matter was first agitated in this Chamber, and that there were some efforts made to allow even a despised Nonconformist to share in the education of Oxford and Cambridge. But it was not until 1871 those doors were flung open. In the meantime, what was the history of this revising Chamber so admirably secluded from the gusts of popular passion, so determined to secure that it should be the deliberate, carefully formed, carefully sifted will of the people-that should prevail? Continuously, time after time, in one form or another, not, I am sure, from any desire to do evil, but simply from the necessary circumstances under which that particular House forms 1323 its own opinions and lives and has its being, it continued for a whole generation to remove from hundreds and thousands of honest and sober citizens the opportunity of sharing university education. The point is that nobody to-day dares to suggest in any public place that the proceedings of the House of Lords in that regard are not now shown to have been for a whole generation subversive both of popular will and of good government.
Take another test, that of Army Purchase. Does anybody contend that the view that the House of Lords entertained and the view which it expressed on the question of Army purchase as recently as thirty-five or forty years ago is a view which could be justified on any ground whatever now? Nobody suggests it. Take the Ballot Act. I am not quite certain that everybody who takes part in political agitation in this country is always careful to assert, as the fact is, that the Ballot Act makes a vote perfectly and effectively secret. Be that as it may. Will anybody anywhere in this House stand up now and defend the action of the House of Lords in rejecting the Ballot Act, in endeavouring to introduce a contracting-out clause in the Ballot Act, say that that action was not contrary to solidly-formed public Opinion, and only served to postpone the day when democratic liberties might be developed? Take the history of the Test Act, of the Ballot Act, of the Franchise, or any of the great set of controversies of; the last two generations, and it is true to; say that the last place in England in which the tide of popular feeling has welled up until it has compelled attention to the flood has been this same House of Lords, which we are assured is only acting in the public interests. I have not selected my instances with any other desire than to show that once we get a settled controversy some matter in which all reasonable people in the country are agreed in every case and without exception, everywhere and under all circumstances the House of Lords proved themselves to be wrong. If there be any instances to the contrary I shall be very glad to hear what they may be. It may be said there is Home Rule, but Home Rule is still, I admit it frankly, an active controversy, and going to be more active yet. The Education question is an active controversy, Licensing is an active controversy, One Man One Vote is an active controversy. But can anybody, can the Noble; Lord the Member for the University 1324 of Oxford, mention any single controversy which by common consent is settled, where a generation ago there was a division of opinion between one side and the other, where the House of Lords has not shown itself deliberately, obstinately opposed to what has been ultimately discovered to be the real popular verdict?
Do not let it be said that I take only instances which are musty. Let me take an instance from the very last Parliament, which is recent enough, vivid enough, to be worth quoting in this connection; There are some matters happily which were matters of controversy in the last Parliament, but which are matters of common consent to-day. One of the first was the settlement in South Africa. Nobody who desires to be thought, or who desires to act as a patriot, will endeavour to revive the memories of a bitter controversy. It was a bitter controversy across the Table of this House. When Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman proposed to extend self-government to the Transvaal he was denounced, and bitterly denounced, as a traitor, no less, by the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Mr. SIMON
I am very sorry if I have used language I should not have used. I withdraw it unreservedly, but I am within the recollection of the House when I say that there was never much more bitter, more persistent, and some people thought more unpatriotic criticism. I am sorry if I have used language—
§ Mr. SIMON
On the granting of self-government to the Transvaal. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House himself made a speech which, at any rate, in the view of some people, was unusually bitter, but certainly the rank and file of his followers excelled him in the extent of their denunciation. Suppose the House of Lords had to approve of the granting of self-government to the Transvaal, suppose that accumulated and hereditary wisdom had been called upon to save the English people from a wicked Radical Government, what would have happened? Does any single person dispute that it was only 1325 because the granting of self-government to the Transvaal was an administrative act, for which the Government was responsible to the House of Commons, and to the House of Commons alone, that it was possible to lay the foundation of that which everybody now admits is a blessed reform? Therefore I claim, and I submit it to the House, that, whether you take the controversies of the past or whether you take the controversies of a more recent date, whenever one finds a controversy which is settled, and on which both sides in this House, and all sides, are now agreed, we shall find in those controversies, which are the only controversies you can take for the purpose of test, that the theory that the House of Lords showed its superior wisdom is a theory which utterly breaks down.
The other observation which was made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walton has to do with the Budget. I very much dislike taking part in the controversies in this House which seem rather more appropriate for the technicalities of lawyers than for the broader considerations which I think ought to prevail. I really do not understand what the hon. and learned Member means when he says that it is constitutional for the House of Lords to reject the Budget. I cannot help thinking he is using the word "constitutional" in some quite new way. It surprises me very much that any competent authority who has been trained, as I know he has, in a matter of this sort should really assume such a proposition to be tenable at all. When one says that certain things are constitutional one is asserting something which is quite different from saying that certain things are legal. I find it not altogether without significance that at any rate when the hon. and learned Member began this part of his speech he seemed to think that the two things were the same. He began by attributing to the Prime Minister the assertion that the House of Lords had no legal right to reject the Budget. No one, I should have thought, ever maintained so absurd a proposition. The way to test whether or not there is any legal right to do a thing is to see whether the courts can prevent it, or whether or not if the thing is done it can be treated as null and void by a court of law. Everybody knows that the moment the House of Lords rejected the Budget any attempt to exact taxes under that Budget became impossible. That is sufficient to show that 1326 it was at any rate legal for the House of Lords to reject the Budget; but it shows nothing more whatever, and it is only because there is in the minds of people who have not been trained on this subject a certain amount of confusion between what is legal and what is constitutional that the question arises at all.
Is it really contended by anyone that there is no distinction between the relation of the House of Lords to a Money Bill and the relation of the House of Lords to ordinary legislation? If there is such a distinction, what is it? The distinction is, and can be nothing else, that from the point of view of legality the House of Lords has the same power to reject a Money Bill as an ordinary Bill, but that from the point of view of constitutional practice and theory it has not. The ordinary matter of discussion in this connection has not been whether it is constitutionally in a position to reject a Money Bill; it has been assumed not to be so; but whether that is not a necessary and inevitable part of the working Constitution of this country. The reason which has always been given is that though you may have controversy between one House and the other as to whether a certain Bill should be passed, you cannot have controversy between the two Houses as to the Budget of the year, because if you did you would not have a Budget. That is precisely the difficulty into which the House of Lords put us last year. Whether one takes the history of the House of Lords in regard to ordinary legislation or in relation to the Budget, no one can seriously put forward the claim that it is in theory an inevitable part of our Constitution. No one can seriously justify the claim made on its behalf by its defenders to-day that it is acting as an impartial Chamber, referring to the people ill-considered legislation without regard to party. One overwhelming fact will always remain, and anyone who defends the House of Lords has got to see if he can get over it. He has to show, if he can, why it is that for the last forty years there has been no instance of any Government measure introduced by a Conservative Government in this House which has ever suffered injury in the House of Lords; while, on the other hand, the list of mutilated and rejected measures introduced by the Liberal party gets longer and longer. The Leader of the Opposition says that that is because Radicals nowadays are people of such extravagant ideas that the House of Lords quite rightly rejects their measures. 1327 That is not only the excuse given by the Leader of the Tory party to-day, but it is the excuse which has always been given. It was the excuse given when the House of Lords rejected the Ballot Bill. It was the excuse given when the House of Lords insisted on capital punishment for small crimes. It was the excuse given when the House of Lords refused to admit dissenters to the universities. It was the excuse given when the House of Lords refused to remove Catholic disabilities. It was the excuse given when the House of Lords refused elementary justice to Ireland. It is the excuse which is always given in every generation, by every leader of the Conservative party, because we have across the way a House which is in alliance with that party and with their point of view to preserve for yet another generation the people of this country from the reforms which they really desire. I quite well understand why it is that the hon. and learned Member exhibited so much anxiety on this matter. I quite understand why it is that he appeals that this matter should be dropped. I trust and believe that it is not going to be dropped. I believe that whatever other difficulties may exist in the situation, and they are many, there are no difficulties as long as a plain, simple, and straightforward course is pursued with regard to the House of Lords. I assure the Government, as one who has not been uncritical at certain stages of their proposals, that if their proposals are carried forward, with a simple determination to secure the maximum result in the shortest time, they will find behind them a party which, however it may be composed, is at any rate united in its determination to redress the balance between one House of Parliament and the other.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
It is difficult to take part in this Debate without a sense of the contrast between the atmosphere of unreality that hangs over the discussion and the gravity of the issues involved. Everyone who listened to the very able speech of the Prime Minister in opening the Debate must have felt that, lucid and closely reasoned as it was, it was a speech which in tone and temper would have been more natural in proposing to take the time of the House before Whitsuntide than in proposing, as was actually the case, to change fundamentally the Constitution of the country. That tone and temper have 1328 not changed throughout the discussion. As my hon. Friend (Mr. F. E. Smith) said in his brilliant speech, there is nothing revolutionary in the manner and demeanour of the Government; the revolutionary character of their proposals is not justified by anything in the manner of their advocacy.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Simon) has endeavoured to bring a more detailed accusation against the House of Lords, and in defence of these Resolutions, but I cannot honestly compliment him on the felicity of the illustrations which he has chosen. He told us that he is not concerned with recent controversies or with controversies that are not completely closed. He goes back, picking and choosing, as suits his purpose, to all the controversies of the past. Of course, a controversy that is closed means a Bill that has passed the House of Lords. In the nature of the case he is entitled to assume that public opinion has endorsed the proposals originally made by the House of Commons. He is entirely mistaken if he thinks that the opposition to the University Tests Bill, for example, was confined to bigoted and unreasonable Conservatives or to persons for whose authority he would have no respect. The House of Lords, he thinks, deserves to be abolished, because it resisted the University Tests Bill; but I find on reference to a recent history by Mr. Herbert Paul, a great authority, that as late as the year 1865 Mr. Gladstone wrote, with reference to a Test Removal Bill introduced by Mr. Goschen:—I would rather see Oxford level with the ground than its religion regulated in the manner which would please Bishop Colenso.I do not know whether he thinks that the late Mr. Gladstone ought to have been abolished early in his career?
§ Mr. SIMON
I do not know whether the history goes on to tell the Noble Lord that in 1867 the University Tests Bill passed the Second Reading in this House without a Division, and that it did not become law until 1871.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
That is to say, the House of Lords did not change its mind quite so swiftly as Mr. Gladstone. The hon. and learned Member actually asks us to alter the Constitution, which has lasted, I do not know how many centuries, because the House of Lords took four years more to change its mind on an important question than Mr. Gladstone did. I may say that the history does go on to state 1329 what happened in 1871, and it does not in the least bear out the allegation that the House of Lords is the creature of the Conservative party, or is deaf to the arguments of Liberalism. It states:—Nonconformists, especially those who had supported the Education Act, could not longer be ignored, and in 1871 a measure was introduced from the Treasury Bench, which abolished all theological tests for professors, tutors, fellows, and scholars … Clerical fellowships were also, in spite of Mr. Fawcett and of sound principle, retained. Clogged with these unlucky restrictions, the Lords passed the Bill, and refused to stand by the Chancellor of Oxford (Lord Salisbury), who felt it incumbent on him to propose a new test in the shape of a promise that no tutor or lecturer would controvert the Divine authority of the Scriptures.So that it appears from the illustration which the hon. Member chose that the House of Lords actually defied Conservative influences and prominent Conservative leaders, and passed the Bill notwithstanding their opinion. The hon. Member also dealt with the Education Bill of 1906. He said—and I really thought that self-deception could not go further—that there is being retained under these Resolutions an opportunity for the Government to change their minds, and that just as the right hon. Gentleman modified the Education Bill when it came back from the House of Lords, so he could do in the future in a similar case. Does the hon. Gentleman really believe that the right hon. Gentleman sat through all the Debates in this House with a perfectly open mind, always waiting for the light that never came— that he then went elsewhere to the steps of the Throne, when suddenly it came to him; that he exclaimed "How true !" and, coming back, after a few words of conversation with the hon. Member for Waterford, whose assistance he happened to need in order to get up an agitation against the House of Lords, and in order it present a united front in this House, he was converted, and introduced the Amendment? Is there any Member in this House who does not know that the right hon. Gentleman paid not the slightest attention to any arguments in another place? He is a very able man, and he would have to be an idiot indeed if he sat through all the Debates in this House without coming to a conclusion on the merits of the question. Of course he came to a conclusion. He yielded because he wanted to get his Bill through the House of Lords if he could. If the House of Lords had not been able to reject the Bill in the end he would have yielded nothing. What is the use of putting forward pretences which no one believes? These are really the arguments of a falling cause, a cause 1330 which knows its own weakness and shelters itself behind excuses which are altogether unreal.
Following the example of the hon. Member, I have taken the matter out of its order; but in dealing with the second Resolution it is impossible for anyone to have listened to the Prime Minister without being struck by his omission of any reference to what is the principal legislative authority, as things now are, in the Government of this country. He gave a very interesting review, but he said nothing about the legislative power of the Cabinet or about the relations between this House and the Cabinet in the exercise of its legislative power. This point is really of great importance. The power of the House of Commons as now exercised is not exercised substantially upon the floor of this House or in Debate; it is exercised elsewhere. It is, therefore, wholly in the hands of supporters of the Government; while Members opposed to the Government exercise no control whatever over the real trend of controversial legislation. When the Cabinet has once made up its mind and committed its Premier on an important matter, under the existing party system it forces that Bill through this House. [An HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If the Government have a large majority they have no substantial difficulty. At any rate, that difficulty once overcome, when the Bill has once gone through this House, no subsequent discussion would have any reality whatever in it. Does anyone suppose that the second or third time proposed in these Resolutions would be anything but an empty form? Of course it would not. The way this Resolution would be worked would be that in the first year of Parliament there would be a tremendous lot of lobby discussion, and external pressure would be used to get the Cabinet to put forward Bills which this or that section of their supporters wanted to pass into law in the first Session. The Session would extend from January to December. Every Bill that it was at all likely that the House of Lords would reject would be passed through. Then the House of Lords would take any course it thought proper. Whatever course it took, many of the Bills would be rejected. They would all be carried again in the first week of the next Session. Does anybody believe that a great party, with its credit committed to legislative proposals and its supporters out of doors working for them, would submit to have them substantially altered or lost? As the 1331 right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, to substantially alter a Bill, even—as he said in a memorable phrase—"to alter it by a comma," would be to destroy it, and it would need a new Bill. Therefore the Government would have to bring in a Bill and, of course, pass it.
There is no greater hypocrisy than to represent this House as a free deliberative Assembly. Everyone knows that it is not so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Does any hon. Gentleman deny it?
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I will illustrate it. I am fortunate enough to sit for Oxford University, and my Friend Mr. Harold Cox is a very striking illustration of the opposite. Hon. Gentlemen profess to reverence this House of Commons. Some wish to make it the supreme authority in the State; indeed, the only authority. When Mr. Harold Cox was driven out of Parliament, did right hon. or hon. Gentlemen opposite do anything to save him?
§ Mr. BIRRELL
If the Noble Lord puts the question to me, I say that if I had been an elector of Preston I should have voted for him.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
It is easy to say that now, but the right hon. Gentleman's party did not give Mr. Cox an iota of sup port. Now, forsooth, when the right hon. Gentleman interrupts me to make a party point he makes this profession. The Home Secretary knows very well he could not make a similar interruption. He had not courage or high principle enough to stand up in defence of Mr. Harold Cox. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I am conscious the observation went too far, but the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that I do not throw any doubts whatever upon his moral character. I do say that he acted in a most blamable way in not interfering in that election. The independence of Members of Parliament is not a trivial matter. It is a matter—
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that I appealed to him to intervene. Perhaps I should not have mentioned a private matter, but I appealed to him privately, and he refused to do it.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I had very little authority or power or influence in the matter, but, of course, as far as I could properly, I endeavoured to secure the return of Mr. Harold Cox.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
The right hon. Gentleman took no public step. It was only public steps that would have been of value.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I did assist him. I wrote a letter on his behalf. I should be ashamed to defend him now if I had not done whatever I could publicly and openly to help him.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
At any rate, we are wandering from the point. He stood for independence of Parliament; but the independence of the House of Commons was finally put an end to, we may say, when it became clear that a Member, however able, could not retain his seat in it without actually playing the party game. Does anyone suppose, for example, that the second and third discussions under this Resolution would have any reality whatever? Members would troop into the Lobbies where the Whips were standing, and would be told that they had to vote "Aye" or "No." Members would pass into the Lobbies like so many sheep. If that be so let us not deceive ourselves by imagining that a Second Chamber would not be disestablished under this Resolution. This Resolution, so far as it goes, is surpassed by the Resolution relating to finance. What is the justification for the Resolution put forward by the Prime Minister? He quoted what he called the dicta of eminent men. I have not looked up all. I was naturally interested in the observations he quoted from Lord Salisbury. I have looked up the speech on the Finance Bill by Lord Salisbury in 1894. I am bound to say that, though I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman is quite incapable of anything that is wanting in candour, the quotation of that passage out of its context—probably it was put into his hands and he did not investigate the whole speech—gives an utterly false impression. The speech is a perfectly clear one. Its arguments are perfectly easily understood. It argues that it is well within the constitutional 1333 powers of the House of Lords to reject a Finance Bill, yet that it is nevertheless an inconvenient course, and not often to be taken. I will only quote one or two passages out of very many. Lord Salisbury protested, to begin with, against the reference to the Judicial Committee of the Pi ivy Council, which held that the Upper House of a Colonial Parliament was not to amend a Money Bill, and on which the Lord Chancellor founded an argument that the House of Lords could not do it either. Lord Salisbury said:—It appears to me to be a matter of considerable importance, because I do not think in the present state of things the legal power of this House ought to be diminished in the very slightest degree by any action of this House or concession which this House may make.Then he pointed out the inconvenience in the passage I have mentioned. He then said:—I do not therefore in the least degree dispute the necessity of the accepted practice that this House should not as a rule interfere with the finance of the year; but at the same time I think it is very, important, in view of the changes which have come over the Constitution, the proceedings, and I must add, the authority of the House of Commons, that we should rigidly adhere to our legal powers, whatever they may be.Finally:—I confess I heard with great disquietude the language of the Noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, which seemed to me rather like an attack. The Noble and learned Lord, basing himself upon some extraordinary proceeding of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, attacked the legal powers of the House of Lords. We know not when they may be wanted, hut I earnestly protest against any attempt to diminish them.Can it possibly be maintained, in the face of what I have quoted, that Lord Salisbury had any doubt about the constitutional propriety of the course he was taking? He thought, as everyone thinks, that it is a very convenient power not often to be used. No one disputes that. That it is a power essential to the sound working of the Constitution I think is quite, indisputable. It would be possible—my right hon. Friend has already quoted quite sufficient dicta on the other side—it would be possible to quote largely on my side. I could quote the Duke of Argyle and Lords Granville and Grey in support of all I have said: that it is perfectly constitutional for the Lords to deal with a Money Bill. But, in fact, such dicta are not the proper authorities in matters of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman calls them dicta, as if they resembled those answers of the learned which in Roman times were given by great lawyers and which had authoritative force. But they are, as we very well know, the speeches of politicians who have an immediate object in view. You will find amongst 1334 both Liberal and Conservative statesmen that in the heat of discussion in stating their case they sometimes exalt, sometimes diminish, and sometimes underrate, the position of this House or of the other House. Well, then, where are we to look for constitutional authority? The answer is perfectly plain. In the Journals of the Houses of Parliament. I invite any Member of this House to point to a single entry, except the entry of last December, which suggests or indicates in any degree whatever that the House of Lords has not the right to reject a Money Bill. It is well known that on more than one occasion this House has expressly recognised that right of the House of Lords to reject Money Bills. They have never denied it, or suggested denial. The nearest they came, before last December, was in the Resolution in 1861, when the House of Commons said that this power was one to be regarded with great jealousy.
How, then, can it possibly be maintained by anyone who desires fairly to discuss the matter that for the House of Lords to reject a Money Bill is unconstitutional? It may be inexpedient in some particular case. The Journals of this House are the only authoritative source, and the conclusion drawn from the Journals is sustained by examination of the Constitutions which this House of Parliament, or Government, have set up in the Colonies. I believe I am right in saying that in every one of these Constitutions the Second Chamber has been given the right to reject, but not the right either to initiate or to amend. Why is that done if it be not necessary? If it be not needful in the public interest to have that Second Chamber, why was it given? Secondly, how came such proposals in the Constitution at all? Every one knows why that particular rule was inserted. It was copied from what was universally regarded as the rule in this Parliament; it was the rule that regulated the relations between the House of Commons and the House of Lords in this country.
The truth is that if it were unconstitutional, we should now have to amend the Constitution in order to make it so. No one who really looks into the matter can doubt that a Second Chamber shorn of power to deal with finance cannot properly perform the function of a Second Chamber at all. Let me remind the House of the extraordinary difficulty of distinguishing between political proposals which are clothed in a financial form and financial proposals which are finance pure and 1335 simple. There is a controversy as to how far the Budget contained political proposals, and how far it was only financial. The Chancellor of the Exchequer claimed, I think, that it had great social and political value. The Valuation Clauses opened up the great policy that makes for the cheap acquirement of land. In point of view it was not pure finance. In the main perhaps this was not technical tacking, but it was tacking in the spirit, if not in the letter. Take the whole of that class of proposals which are known by the name of the nationalisation of the land, and the nationalisation of the means of production. It would be perfectly easy to nationalise land by a purely financial Bill. You would only have to provide a certain amount of money by means of an Appropriation Bill and by putting certain taxes which would become penal if the owner of the land refused to sell. You could say that if the owner of the land did not sell to the Lands Commissioners who were appointed by the Government or the Board of Trade, he shall be taxed until he is obliged to sell. There would be no difficulty in applying the same principle to railways, and in taxing the railways into the hands of the State. If it is so in these extraordinary cases, it is, of course, so in much smaller cases towards which we seem to be stepping in the immediate future. Let me ask anyone who wishes to give a fair and candid opinion on the matter whether he can seriously maintain that it is worth while having a Second Chamber if that Second Chamber should not be allowed to stop measures of that class?
I could quite understand a person saying "we do not want a Second Chamber at all. We would rather have a single Chamber." That is quite a logical and consistent position. We said we must have a Second Chamber with substantial powers over ordinary legislation and over finance, but I cannot understand a person saying "we ought to have a Second Chamber which ought to have some power over ordinary legislation, but when it comes to the nationalisation of land or railways or anything of that character then a Second Chamber is quite unnecessary." Generally the great mass of the people of this country who are supporters of a Second Chamber want it precisely for the reason that a Second Chamber would be a check upon Socialistic proposals; and if you 1336 leave open the door there would be an end of all prospect of checking Socialistic proposals. There is nothing in the Socialistic programme which could not be carried by financial means. How absurd it is to say that a Second Chamber is to have no voice whatever in finance. There are opinions erroneous and there are opinions which are silly, and I confess that I am of opinion that the proposal that a Second Chamber should exist and not have any power over finance belongs to the latter category. There is one argument that always impresses me as a good one, namely, that the House of Lords is an insufficient check upon the Conservative Government. That is a good criticism, but it is not so weighty a criticism as the Government think, and for two reasons— the House of Lords does sometimes check Conservative Governments. There were several instances within my recollection. Take the case of Irish land. In 1896 important Amendments were introduced by the House of Lords into the Irish Land Bill. I think I know what hon. Members would say in reply to that, "that they like the Amendments less than the original Bill," but that is always the argument of hon. Members opposite-They always apply the political test, and their political test is whether they agree with the thing done or not. Everyone ought to be abolished who does not agree with hon. Gentlemen opposite, and the more one disagrees with them the sooner one should be abolished; but looking at it impartially, the question is whether the House of Lords interfere with Conservative Governments or not. As a matter of fact, they sometimes did. Parties are not like two cricket teams; they are not merely to be divided into two groups under names like the "Perambulators" and the "Etceteras"—although the term "etceteras" might well be applied to the Ministerial party. There is a real distinction between the two parties—between the party in favour of Conservatism and the party in favour of change; between the party which wants reform slowly and cautiously and the party which wants reform hurriedly and in a revolutionary manner, and violent and radical changes.
If the Government had said, "We recognise this evil in the Constitution, we want to have a Second Chamber," as indeed the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had said, "that will protect us against a Conservative Government, and here is our plan," then I think it ought to be respectfully considered, and supposing it did 1337 nothing but that, I, for one, should be quite ready to consider it. I should be ready to see stronger checks put upon the Conservative Government, especially such Governments as are likely to come into existence in the future. I could quite imagine them doing that, and I should have sympathised with them. But they did nothing of the sort; they have done their best to exclude the House of Lords altogether from the region of finance. I shall be very glad indeed to see such a check, but they do not propose anything of the kind. They complain that the House of Lords does not check the Conservative party, but the Conservative party will be as unchecked under these proposals as before. It will still carry out its wicked will just as freely as now. What advantage is there, then, in multiplying the evil? Why allow both diseases to have a free course. It is like, as I said elsewhere, asking that people should not be vaccinated because vaccination is no restraint upon influenza, and that makes it very unfair to the smallpox. It is quite true that vaccination checks small-pox, but what we desire is that something else should be found to check influenza. But to abolish vaccination because it is unfair that influenza should not have the same checks as small-pox is an inexcusable course, and that is why we complain of your attitude towards the House of Lords. Because the Conservative party is allowed to do foolish things you claim the Liberal party should be allowed to do foolish things. I do not think it is beyond the region of Parliamentary ingenuity to invent something that would restrain the House of Lords. What remedies might be invented? The Referendum is one. The Prime Minister thinks it could never be used except in case of difference between the two Houses, but surely in other cases it would be open to us to invent other machinery that would suit them.
Now I greatly regret that in the last few weeks the Secretary for Foreign Affairs and other Members of the Government have not been able to prevail on the Cabinet with their scheme of reform. I have the greatest respect, I might say admiration, for the character and abilities of the Foreign Secretary, but I confess to a feeling of great surprise that he should continue a Member of the Government when these Resolutions did not include any reference to reform. What is the point which has been brought out in the course of these Debates? It has been made per- 1338 fectly clear that no reform of the House of Lords can ever be carried by the Liberal party. An hon. Friend of mine puts the figures in favour of reform at 30 per cent. We know that there are more than 150 Members of the party opposite who are against any reform. Does anyone who knows anything of Parliamentary methods believe that a party—a coalition which numbers in its ranks 150 Members who are against a particular proposal, can ever carry it? Of course, they will never do anything of the kind. Reform of the House of Lords will never be carried, it is perfectly clear, unless it is carried by the Conservative party. What consolation is that to the Foreign Secretary? So that the right hon. Gentleman's policy, whatever else comes into existence, is gone altogether into the abyss. His plan of reform can never be realised. Holding the strong opinions he holds as to the necessity of the Liberal party adopting reform, it does seem to me inadequate to his high reputation that he should continue to remain a member of the Government. But, Sir, the scheme of reform which he advocates was, I believe, a mistaken one. I believe a completely elective system ought never to be adopted, and for these two reasons: You do not want a Second Chamber which would merely reflect the mind of the first; you want a Second Chamber that would disagree with the first on occasions. The essence of a Second Chamber is that it should disagree on occasions with the First Chamber. No Second Chamber is worth having unless it disagrees with the first, otherwise it is merely redundant. You do not want a Second Chamber of co-ordinate authority with the first. It seems to me, if you elect the Second Chamber on substantially the same franchise as the first, you will have both these evils. If a Second Chamber comprises a larger measure of ability it would supersede the First Chamber precisely as the French Senate, I am told, has superseded the Chamber of Deputies in public confidence and esteem. Therefore I do not think it is a good proposal.
May I try to make a suggestion which really, I think, would meet many of the objections hon. Gentlemen opposite have found, and which would effect a far-reaching reform and at the same time a reform strictly congruous with the history and traditions of the House of Lords? My proposals would be that the whole of the Lords House of Parliament should be nominated by the King on the advice of his Ministers. Of course there would 1339 be a transitional period through which the present House of Lords would have to pass before you got your new system into complete working order. But let us consider my proposal. As I say, I would have the whole Assembly nominated by the Crown on the advice of responsible Ministers. I would make it 400—numbers do not matter for the moment for the purposes of my proposition, but let us say 400 —I would require that 350 of the Members should be chosen from the hereditary Peerage. I think it would be perfectly open to a Liberal Minister to create a Peer in order to nominate him, and so the Liberal Government would be able to fill up the vacancies as they occurred by creating Peers if no suitable person in the hereditary Peerage should be nominated a Lord of Parliament. The result would be that the Chamber so set up would reflect the mind of the average Ministry. If a Liberal Government held office for a prolonged period then the Assembly would gradually become more and more Liberal. If a Conservative Government held office for a prolonged period it would become more and more Conservative. But as Governments in this country normally alternate the general trend of the Assembly would be to get a tolerably equal balance with some slight bias in favour of the late Government. I conceive that to be what would occur. You would have a democratic tenure of appointment, because no one disputes that appointment by the Crown on the advice of the Ministry is democratic. It is the way in which that august body, the Cabinet, is appointed, and no one disputes that the Cabinet is democratic. You would have a plan that would be fair to both sides. I cannot help saying I think the arguments about a plan being fair to both sides is a very improper and unworthy one, although I use it in this case. I do not think we ought to judge great constitutional changes by asking whether they are fair to one side or the other. It is something that has been imported into political discussion. I conceive we ought to have solely before our minds what is good for the nation as a whole and not what this party or that would gain; but, for what it is worth, this plan would be fair to both sides and both sides would have an absolutely equal chance. Whenever a Liberal Government was in power they would be able to appoint Members to that House, and whenever a Conserva- 1340 tive Government was in power they would be able to do the same, and this proposal would secure a thing to which I attach great importance. It would maintain the relations between social rank and public service which now exist. Let me take quite a small instance of where the hereditary principle is still respected. I could give a great number of instances, and I will take one. When honours are given on the recommendation of the Crown it is invariably found that the dignity of a baronetcy is preferred to the dignity of a knighthood, and it is preferred because it is hereditary. I have not the least doubt that at this moment the Prime Minister and the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury are probably considering what honours are to be bestowed by the Crown, and they will find in the exercise of that difficult and responsible duty that those recommended for knighthoods will regard those recommended for baronetcies with a certain amount of envy. That shows that the hereditary principle is valued. It is valued in all matters of social rank, and I believe it to be a matter of considerable political and social importance that social rank and public service should be linked together. That is done more conspicuously in the House of Lords than anywhere else. There you have a body, dignified by high rank and by nature, and which is part of the political mechanism of the country, and actually you find that the House of Lords is a nursery of that tradition. You generally find the eldest sons of peers go into the Army or the Navy or other branch of the public service. We differ in that respect from America and France, because to serve the public is what is colloquially called "good form," or, to put it into more classical language, it is genteel to be a politician in this country. We may smile at the idea, but it is really a matter for very considerable congratulation that the public service is dignified, honoured, and respected. There is not an official appointed by a local authority who, by reason of the dignity of his official position, is not preserved from the temptation which assails officials to some measure of corruption. In this way the public service is dignified, the chance of corruption is decreased and the public are better served. I think we may also say that the public health is better looked after. If sanitation is well looked after, and if the dust-bins are properly cleansed, it is partly because in our country the baby that is born a duke is also born a legislator. In view of that intimate con- 1341 nection, I consider it a matter of the highest public concern that we should preserve the association of social rank and political service, and the proposal I have ventured to sketch in this connection preserves, with a democratic title, a system equally fair to both sides; you get the association of hereditary peerage perpetuated with the legislative function.
Nomination by the Crown for life is the proposal I make, and observe it will have the advantage of many other proposals in being a perfectly simple one, having a simple principle underlying it. Fifty of the Members of the new Assembly would be drawn from outside the hereditary peerage, and would comprise those distinguished persons generally mentioned in this connection, such as English Colonial Ministers, distinguished Nonconformist ministers, and other distinguished persons of various kinds. There is this further consideration, that the principle is pressed at the outset, as far as it can be pressed, and, therefore, you get some prospect of finality. I do not know whether the Government have looked so far into the different proposals for the reform of the House of Lords as to realise the great danger of for ever tinkering at the House of Lords in the future. Nothing is less desirable than to have a perpetual constitutional revision. When the Liberal party comes into power we shall have one type of House of Lords, and when the Conservative party comes in power we shall have another type. Let us endeavour to have finality by pressing our principle as far as it can be pressed at once.
The Assembly I suggest would not be at all insensitive to public opinion, because it would consist of people appointed in middle life, and it would change in character very rapidly. Probably a period of ten or fifteen years would suffice to renew the great majority of the Assembly, and there would be no prospect of an obstinate Second Chamber standing for years against the will of the people. In any case, this danger might be met by adopting some method of appealing by Referendum, which would enable you to overrule the Second Chamber if it seemed unreasonable. I believe by adopting some such scheme as that you would preserve the historic traditions of the Constitution. I think hon. Members in every part of the House will agree with me when I say it is desirable that we should in the future, as in the past, make our changes rather by the method of development and growth 1342 than by planting down new institutions in our midst. I am for a reform of the House of Lords of any kind or on any basis rather than the proposals of the Government. Any reform of the Second Chamber would be better than the sham they propose to set up. I confess that I prefer to walk as far as possible in continuity with the past. I remember a saying of Arthur Young when he went to Paris in 1789 and found everyone speaking of making the Constitution as though you could make it like a pudding from a recipe,
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I am glad the Chancellor of the Exchequer agrees with me that it is most undesirable to make an artificial Constitution of that kind. Are we not in the position of those who seek to repair or restore an ancient edifice which we think needs some improvement? How would you proceed in that case? You would acquaint yourself with the history of the building, and you would attune your taste by study and reflection, in order to know what was congruous and what was seemly. I look upon our Constitution with much more than the reverence with which a man of good taste would look upon an ancient and beautiful building. I look upon it as the temple of the twin deities of Liberty and Order which Englishmen have so long worshipped to the glory of their country. Let us then go into the temple, con over its stones, and saturate ourselves with its atmosphere; and then, continuing its traditions, let us adorn and embellish it, and then we, too, shall partake of something of its renown. Their figures may perhaps be found in it, and their names graven on its stones. In this way we shall attain to a measure of its immortality, and high on the eminence of its glory we shall find that our fame will stand safe and secure—safe from the waters of oblivion, and safe from the tide of time.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Birrell)
The latter part of the speech which has just been made by the Noble Lord, concluding as it did with a fine peroration, is an excellent justification of the wisdom of His Majesty's Ministers in not proposing a scheme of their own for the reform of the House of Lords at this stage. The Noble Lord has a scheme which he has adumbrated to the surprise, I am sure, of his attentive audience. I do not think that he, expert as he is in forming an opinion of the feeling of the audience he 1343 is addressing, can feel satisfied that he carried with him any very enthusiastic reception from any quarter of this House. I would remind the Noble Lord, in commenting as he did upon, my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs remaining a Member of a Ministry which has not put upon the Table any scheme of reform of the House of Lords, of what he himself pointed out, that the scheme of my right hon. Friend, and the scheme of many of us, would meet with the bitter opposition of the Noble Lord. The scheme associated with the name of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is a scheme for the abolition of the House of Lords; for its total and complete abolition. Under that scheme there is to be an end to the House of Lords we have known, which our forefathers have known, for scores and hundreds of years. That House is to go, the hereditary principle upon which it is based is to disappear, and is not to come back again through any loophole whatsoever. The House of Lords will not then be a House of Lords', but it will be a Second House, a Second Chamber, where any man may sit, be he a miner, a Nonconformist, a landlord, or a merchant; be his quality what it may, he will, if he can obtain the support of a sufficient number of electors in the new constituency, find himself sitting in a Second Chamber for some period which will, of course, have to be named. That would not be the House of Lords which would pay tribute to that sense of heredity for which the Noble Lord so eloquently pleads.
I confess that to me, with some degree of assent, he almost made a baronetcy acceptable to my mind. Until I listened to him I sympathised with a distinguished Liberal in former days, who, when accepting the honour of knighthood upon becoming a Law Officer of the Crown, said, "Thank God the indignity will perish with me." I confess that so insidious were his arguments that for the moment my sturdy Radicalism was almost undermined, but I recovered myself in the short interval which elapsed while the Noble Lord was concluding his speech. Let us look at the consequence of introducing at this stage of our proceedings a reform of the House of Lords. Everybody has got a scheme. Some have got a scheme for its total abolition, and some a scheme for the introduction into that aristocratic body of the representatives of the people. Nonconformist ministers are to be appointed with an opportunity of 1344 exchanging their pulpits for the atmosphere of another place.
Many of us, at all events, would have schemes of our own. When the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said that it was impossible in the present state of parties in this House to carry through any reform of that character, he only spoke the language of the sternest common-sense. I think, therefore, we were wise in dealing with the House of Lords as it at present exists. The Noble Lord's scheme, after all, would have small attraction for me, because it would not alter things for the next twenty or twenty-five years, so slow is the process. It would be a long time before it became an Assembly obedient and responsive to public opinion outside. We are bound to assume, and here I am making an observation of a Conservative kind, that the House of Lords, as we have known it for so many years, is likely to remain in existence, at all events for some little time, and we shall have to deal with it on that footing. The Noble Lord did what some of the previous speakers have not done. He dealt with the: Resolutions themselves, and he pointed out how in his opinion they were most foolish and silly Resolutions. I do not complain at all of that. He dealt, for example, with the Financial Resolution. He is one of those who is convinced that whatever Second Chamber you have, be it the existing House of Lords, be it his House of Lords, or be it the Second Chamber of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, it ought to have complete power over the financial provision of the Government. He would be no party to a limitation of their power by an exclusion of finance from their control.
I do not propose for a moment to follow the example of my legal Friends, and to enter upon the quagmire of Parliamentary Privilege. All I know is that for years and years past the House of Lords has never attempted to interfere with the constitution of Governments. They never took upon themselves to do anything which would of necessity throw a Government out. So far as Liberal Governments are concerned, we have for years past gone on, and we have got into the habit, perhaps more than we were entitled, of totally disregarding their opinion as affecting our position. Liberal Governments, so long as they have had a majority of two in this House, have considered themselves perfectly entitled to remain where they were, although they perhaps could not at any time command more than 1345 thirty, forty, or perhaps fifty supporters in the House of Lords. We have gone on with that idea, be it right or wrong, until it has entered into the minds of us all, into the minds of electors as well as of Members of Parliament.
Nobody has ever disputed that legally the House of Lords can do whatever it likes. It can not only reject, but it car amend a Money Bill. If it does, what can you do to stop it? Nobody can go into a court of law and ask for a writ of quo warranto. If we go to custom, it is only Parliamentary custom. It is not custom such as our old Common Law custom. When there is no precise authority one way or the other, our judges fall back upon what they call the ancient Common Law of the country, which has an authority quite separate from mere Parliamentary privilege. All we know is that the House of Lords has never until the other day thrown out the financial proposals of the Government. They did it then, and there is an end of the matter. It is no use our saying they could not do it. We may say they were very foolish to do it, and I think the present proceeding and their vain attempt to reform themselves shows they did something which, if they had been wise, they perhaps would not have done. All we know is that for years past they never attempted anything of the kind, and everybody knows why they have done it now. It is not because of the Socialism and the land valuation in the Budget, and it is certainly not because of the Lime-house speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Great institutions in this country do not engage in a course which must—and which, in this instance has already threatened their existence simply because somebody makes a speech. We are made of sterner stuff than that. Speeches more violent than that made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer have been made by persons who have lived to become pillars of the edifice of State.
Everybody knows why the House of Lords threw out the Budget. It was because they thought it a favourable opportunity to have a Parliamentary Election on Tariff Reform. If it had not been for Tariff Reform the House of Lords would have done what they did with Mr. Gladstone's Succession Duties and Sir William Harcourt's Death Duties. They would have grumbled and they would have made effective criticisms, but they would have, passed the Bill. Tariff Reform being in the offing they thought it was a very good chance for taking the view of the country 1346 upon it. Now all of a sudden they are giving up their hereditary principle. Why? Simply because a number of gentlemen who have either lost their seats or did not succeed in gaining seats in the North of England came back and told the Tadpoles, and Tapers of the Tory party they really cannot hope to win the North of England for Tariff Reform if they have to go there with the hereditary principle behind them. The House of Lords, because of mere electioneering reports from persons upon whose judgment I attach no value whatever, be they Liberal or Tory agents, are now busily engaged in reforming themselves, and they have actually passed a Resolution whilst we are here still fumbling—[Cheers]—thereby exciting the enthusiasm of all the Tariff Reformers in the House, abolishing and destroying the whole basis of their existence. This is indeed a miserable ending of "an auld sang." As a man of strong Conservative tendencies it grieves me to see the hereditary principle for which there is a good deal to be said thus harshly sacrificed at the bidding of Tariff Reformers. We have to deal with the House of Lords as it exists, and I am quite sure that, notwithstanding the promise of the assistance of Tariff Reformers when we put forward a scheme for a reformed Second Chamber on a democratic basis, it will remain what it is for a considerable time. I am old fashioned enough to believe we have got to deal with the House of Lords as an existing institution, and, dealing with it as an existing institution, we have put forward these Resolutions.
We are told—and the Noble Lord approached the question more closely than some former speakers—that the effect of these Resolutions will be to weaken and reduce the powers of the House of Lords to so contemptible an extent as practically to amount to the abolition altogether of any Second Chamber. That is not the view I take of these Resolutions. I believe the inevitable effect of limiting and defining the powers of the House of Lords will be to a certain extent to strengthen them very much. At the present time the powers of the House of Lords are all in an artistic haze. Nobody can say precisely what they are, and nobody can say precisely what the House of Lords will do. We cannot say what Bills they will pass, and what Bills they will refuse to pass. We cannot say what Amendments they will make and what Amendments they will insist upon. I do not say it in any spirit of disparagement, but they know 1347 themselves the delicate nature of the tenure of their office, and they have adopted in a strange and hasty sort of way, but I believe quite genuinely, the feeling that they must not too long resist the will of the country. Therefore, they proclaim themselves to be really better democrats than the Members of this House. As soon as you have been elected to a House of Commons, they say, you bid farewell to your constituents, and exist for four, five, or six years wholly independent of their power to turn you out. You may, therefore, the moment you have become a Member of this House, cease to be a genuine representative and exponent of the people's will. We at the other end of the passage, say the House of Lords, are always ready to gauge, as best we can and with such information as is placed at our disposal, the opinion of the country, and, when we know it pretty securely, why, we bow to it. That is a hazy point of view, and it is one which makes all their powers very uncertain.
When we come by our Resolutions to limit and define their powers, we inevitably increase them. That has always been the result of definitions. Theologians have pointed out again and again in the councils of the Church that the declaration and definition of a dogma at once increases in a sense the authority of that dogma, whilst it may in other directions limit it. It was so said of Papal infallibility. The Church always believed in Papal infallibility, but, when it was decreed as a doctrine of the Church, it was only Papal infallibility exercised in a certain way, at a certain time, and subject to certain conditions. It was, therefore, a limitation of the power and the extent of that dogma. In the same way it strengthened the Church in one sense, but limited it in another. Here we limit the constitutional and legal powers of the House of Lords in certain directions, but we increase them in certain other directions, because we recognise their right again and again to deal with measures coming up to them from this House, however large may have been the majority by which they passed, and we entitle them, without any demur and without opening them to any hostile criticism, and we justify them in keeping open questions perhaps for longer periods than they would have been disposed to keep or justified in keeping them open had these Resolutions not been passed. It is not therefore correct or true 1348 to assert that a Second Chamber, living under these conditions, would not have power well worthy of a Second Chamber, and powers in some respects greater than those enjoyed at present by the House of Lords.
The Noble Lord and the hon. and learned Member who opened these proceedings in a powerful speech—neither of these distinguished men have ever stood at this box responsible Ministers charged with the conduct and pioneering of a large Bill through this House. I make no claim to be an old Parliamentary hand, but still I have done that, and I did it in interesting circumstances, because in those days we had a very large majority indeed, and the Education Bill, which was the first great controversial measure the Government attempted to undertake, was a question which nobody would deny had played a very large part in the election. God forbid that I should ever attempt to say what issue plays the larger part in any election, but nobody will deny that the education question formed a large proportion of the oratory and arguments of hon. Members and candidates on both sides. Very well. We came in charged with what appeared at first to be a simple issue and a clear issue, namely, to give legal effect to certain principles which had been stated during the election with rather more than the usual clearness. But when we were brought into contact with this House what happened? And here, I think, the Noble Lord cannot congratulate himself upon the temper of mind which he has got into. He has shown a. constant desire to asperse the character of this House as a deliberative Assembly. If ever he gets into—I have no doubt at all he will in course of time—a corresponding position or has such a task as I had he will be quickly and largely conscious of the fact that, however big his majority, however mechanical it may be, as the orators are accustomed to call it when they do not like it—whatever his majority is, he will feel that a man in charge of a Bill—no matter what his majority is—if it is a Bill really affecting the lives and conditions of the people, has got to listen to arguments coming from this House, from whatever quarter they may come. He cannot say—no Minister ever says—simply. "There are only thirty men in favour of this, or fifty men in favour of it, or sixty, and I can come down upon them. My Whips can stand at the door." He simply cannot do it. I do not think that in this House anybody, of whatever party he is 1349 a Member, for whatever constituency he may sit, or whatever may be his Parliamentary authority, if he gets up in this House and makes a point, and makes that point good, and supports it by reasonable arguments—it may be by overwhelming arguments—but that the Minister of the Crown who is sitting listening to it feels, "This has got to be attended to. I must make it good." He cannot merely vote him down.
What happened upon the Education Bill? The moment we brought it forward we found that on all sides candid opinions were expressed. On one side we had the Members from Ireland, who, as they were justified and entitled to, espoused the cause of their poor co-religionists, mostly Irish, in this country. But it was not only these Gentlemen. I had to deal with a large number of Members, and Liberal Members, and Members who sit for Lancashire. Lancashire is a denominational county—you cannot get over that—it is a denominational county, and its Members were infected with denominationalism. I do not say it is a bad or a good thing to be infected with, I only say they were infected with it. Then there was the pure doctrine of the Word, as represented by the West Riding Members, representing the dissidence of Dissent, if not the protestantism of the Protestant religion. They had to be attended to, and to be considered; and there were the Jews. I do not know whether anyone remembers it, except myself, but I remember the deputation of the Jews, and what I said to them. I do not remember whether reporters were present or not. In this review I am only meeting the argument of-the Noble Lord, who does not do justice to this House of Commons, or any House of Commons, if he assumes that any man, with however big a majority, can have his way. Nobody could well have had a bigger majority than I had, but good heavens, Mr. Speaker, I very often was not aware of it.
We are told that by this Resolution we are trying to force our Bills down the throat of the House of Lords and to disregard, or as one Member said, "abolish the people of England." We are going to abolish the people of England; some junta of Gentlemen sitting upon these benches with a majority are going to do just what they like, wholly regardless of public opinion or outside criticism. How is this to be done? First of all we must do what at last I succeeded in doing with the Education Bill. We passed it through 1350 the House of Commons, altered— "rammed it through," somebody said. It was not rammed through with extraordinary rapidity in this House. I was here night after night, week after week— I do not want to say that anybody is in favour of closure by compartments. Nobody hates it more than I do. I know perfectly well that hon. Gentlemen opposite hate it, but will adopt it when they come in. But honestly, I believe that both parties desire to discover some way of getting rid of closure by compartments. It does a Minister in charge of a Bill no good whatsoever, although sometimes, I admit, it may save him five or ten minutes of an awkward situation; but he has got to face it some time. When a measure of this kind has been taken through the House of Commons to the House of Lords, and they will not have it, what follows? They propose Amendments which the majority of the House of Commons do not feel themselves in a position to accept. Then the Bill must come on again in a second Session, and I admit that is a very astounding thought. It has to do so in order that this Resolution may work. That Bill has to come on again. It has been suggested that it will be, of course, a most perfunctory performance, but I think it is fair to say that that will depend on the character and nature of the Bill. If it is a Bill largely affecting the interests, the pecuniary or religious interests of the people of this country, who are reflected in this House, all I can say is, I do not care who are the right hon. Gentlemen in charge of it, and I am quite sure the Education Bill is a case in point. I do not think the Education Bill would have been the same Education Bill in a literal sense as was the Bill even after it left this House the third time; because discussion, consideration, the natural desire to get a Bill through, I agree, would operate.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
Oh, yes, if by agreement; that is part of the Resolutions to which hon. Gentlemen did not give full weight. The latter part of the Resolution —the second one—says, "Bills shall be treated as rejected if not passed by the Lords, without Amendment, or with such Amendment as may be agreed upon by both Houses." That is where the Second Chamber comes in. It makes its Amendments. If this House agrees to these Amendments, the Bill is still within the Resolution.
I think it is important to understand the Resolutions. As I apprehend the argument, if the Bill was dropped, the Government might reconsider the whole problem and bring in a new Bill with Amendments—not the Amendments of the Lords—but Amendments which had commended themselves to the Government in the interval given by the action of the Lords.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
No; I do not mean that. I mean to introduce a Bill with Amendments agreed upon in another place. That is the only proposal I mean. There you get the full effect of the Second Chamber, a reviewing, debating, and argumentative assembly. It makes Amendments, and if these Amendments are agreed to, the Bill ceases to be a Bill under this Resolution and can pass in the ordinary way, and we shall not be obliged to go through the form of passing it a third time. I do ask the House before they accept the view that this Resolution is a single-Chamber Resolution to consider it as sensible men, who know that this House is not in a glass case, but that all we do is the subject matter of criticism which is extended over year after year, and that we have to give full force to the weight of public opinion. If a Minister of the Crown feels himself obliged to face the difficulties and accept arguments presented to him suddenly across the floor of the House, and feels he has no other choice as an honest man—and Ministers, after all, may still continue to be honest men for the next twenty-five years—if he is bound to do that, consider what the effect of this long consideration must be. I do not agree that this country can debate and discuss any measure of real importance for three years without the opinion of the country being made as definite and determined upon it as it can possibly be on any question whatever. And, therefore, far from curtailing opportunities and limiting debate, this Resolution, I say, increases opportunity and increases debate, and makes, I sometimes think, possible the amount of discussion almost intolerable to which Bills will be necessarily subject by this Resolution. I, therefore, do ask the House to consider and make up their minds before adopting the idea conveyed in the catchword of a single-Chamber Resolution. We are all the great majority of us at any 1352 rate, strongly in favour of a Second Chamber, and we have got a Second Chamber now. The only thing is that half the country is deeply persuaded that it exercises its functions in a manner which is not impartial, and that really was our strong platform point against the House of Lords. No doubt when people are attacking the House of Lords it is not in human nature not to make fun of the hereditary principle. It is the easiest thing to do in the world—it is a form of wit within the reach of the meanest. We all wish to make as good points as we can on the platform—it is a good point—you cannot deny it. Nobody can be got to assert that it is a rational basis for a legislative Chamber that a Member should be the eldest son of his father. I am thoroughly persuaded, however, that, is not the real cause of the unpopularity of the House of Lords. As the Noble Lord has suggested, after all there is some feeling for the hereditary principle and that sort of thing, and the Lords are by no means unpopular persons, and if you go into qualifications there you get into difficulties, because you find certain people in the country who think that a Master of Foxhounds is as much entitled and qualified to be a Member as a retired Governor from New Zealand. You will get all that, and though not a sporting man I am all for the Masters of Foxhounds.
I do not want to go more than I can help outside these Resolutions, and with regard to the financial Resolution, all I can say is I am perfectly certain there is no hope of compromise between parties upon that point. The House of Commons has acted in the belief that it can, by its custom and by the assertion of its own privilege and by resolution, and on the dicta of distinguished Parliamentarians, exercise these full financial powers. The country— I am speaking now of the Radical portion of the country—takes the same view. There can be no compromise upon that question. This House will not tolerate for a moment on that point the downright assertion of right that has now been made by the other place. We are leaving the hazy realms of Parliamentary custom and usage, and we are coming down to the hard facts of statutory provision. I am certain there will be no compromise upon that question. This House, this House alone, must retain the sole power of arranging taxation and appropriating and voting money raised by the taxes. To do anything else would be to deprive ourselves of the position, won, if you like, by encroachment and usage. 1353 which we have obtained, and nine men out of ten thought we had securely obtained it until the action the other day of the House of Lords. Therefore I am thoroughly persuaded that whatever you do with the House of Lords, whether you strengthen it by the introduction of Nonconformist ministers or introduce new men as a leaven in the old aristocracy, or whether you abolish the House of Lords as it now exists, and leave the present Members free to be Members of this House or Members of the other House, just as they chose, wholly independent of birth or privilege or distinction, whatever you do, the people of this country in the long run will never allow such a change as would prevent the House of Commons from asserting and maintaining their powers of directing the financial proposals of the country. Upon that point there is no use to entertain any hopes of compromise.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
The Colonies have not got a historic House of Commons. The whole thing with them is started de novo. Hon- Gentlemen opposite laugh at that, but on the platform they represent themselves to be House of Commons men. The whole history of the Constitution of this country is the history of the absorption within itself of the powers of this House, and we are not going now, when we practically have attained, or were told we had attained, all that we wanted by common consent, to give it all away in a statutory form even to the old House, or to a new House which may hereafter come into existence by the full vote of the democracy. In regard to the second Resolution, I will not repeat the arguments that have been advanced, but I believe that it will have the effect of strengthening the Second Chamber as a debating and a consulting Chamber. It will increase the power as a, revising Assembly, and in a great number of new cases its powers of imposing delay. To such an Assembly I pay profound respect. The argument has been implied that a Second Chamber of this kind is, of course, more useful when the Liberal party than when the so-called Tory party is in power. Strait-waistcoats are made for lunatics and prisons are built for thieves, and therefore when lunatics and thieves are in office you want a Second Chamber. I do not, however, feel any confidence in hon. or right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I wish my friend Mr. 1354 Harold Cox, to whom the Noble Lord made a brief allusion just now, was a Member of the House now, and for this reason: that nothing delighted him better, and he was never tired of pointing out that almost all the Socialistic measures that we have on the Statute Book proceeded from hon. Gentlemen opposite. He was as dissatisfied with you as he was with us, and that was the charm of the man. Were I a multi-millionaire, which I am not, or even a single millionaire desperately fighting for my wealth, I should be as anxious to see delay and revision and time for better judgment interposed between measures of a Tory Government passing on to the Statute Book as between those of a Liberal Government. We are all Socialists now, and there are hon. Members behind the Front Bench opposite who have, with all the fervour of the deepest conviction, on platforms spread Socialistic sentiments. My hon. Friend the junior Member for the City of London (Sir Frederick Banbury) is in very bad company at the present moment, and, at all events, I do not agree that a Second Chamber is only necessary when the Liberal party—the party of progress—is in power. I do not object to its being called the party of progress, but hon. Gentlemen opposite are also a party of progress. Their social programmes, as I understand, are of the most extensive character, and none of them will get up and declare themselves good old stick-in-the-muds.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
What is one amongst so many? It does not go very far. However, quite seriously upon this point, it is a mistake to suppose that a Second Chamber is more required when one party is in power than when the other is in power. Whether the party opposite be a party of Reaction or of Reform, a Second Chamber in the present day can only have authority by virtue of gaining time. We all of us appeal to the people, and whether they are right or wrong we have to abide by their decision. What we do desire is that no empty phrase should go forward, that everything should be fully discussed. There is no dissolvent of false rhetoric or sham proposals like time, and it must be a good Bill which stands the criticism of two years. I think these proposals are the best that we can offer at the present time. The Prime Minister, speaking for the Government, made it perfectly plain that he in no way dissociated himself 1355 from, on the contrary, he looks forward to, proposals being made which will require full consideration for a Second Chamber which will not be the House of Lords, but which will have to bear some other name and derive its authority from some other fountains of inspiration, and be a wholly different Assembly. Until that time comes we have as wise and sensible men to deal with this limitation of the Veto of the House of Lords, and when these Resolutions came to be fully considered by men accustomed to affairs in this House, it will be found that so far from turning it into an uncontrolled Chamber they will give on the whole increased power to the Second Chamber.
§ Mr. GEORGE WYNDHAM
Those of us who sit on these benches awaited the speech of the Chief Secretary not only with an expectation of having a delightful treat, which has once more been gratified, but also with a feeling of growing curiosity. We felt, with great respect to the Solicitor-General, and the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Simon), that the criticisms passed on the plan of the Government yesterday by my right hon. Friend (Mr. A. J. Balfour), and to-day by the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) had not been met, and I should not be exaggerating if I said that no attempt had been made to meet them, and no disclosure has been made of the whole policy of the Government. What is the main charge made against the plan and procedure of the Government? It is that unless you have a Second Chamber that is a reality the will of the majority may be overridden by the Cabinet. That is really our case, and nobody has attempted to meet it. Last night the Solicitor-General adduced a series of modern instances in order to make an attack on the House of Lords, and this afternoon the hon. Member for Walthamstow threw over the modern instances, and gave instead a number of antiquated instances. One of the modern instances, which is wholly hypothetical, has reference to the new Constitution in South Africa, and neither of those two sets of instances is in the least relevant to the controversy in which we are engaged. We hold that no far-reaching change should be imposed upon the majority of living electors, and it is no answer to tell us that generations yet unborn of electors will agree with the opinions now entertained, and yet that is 1356 the way in which the case is stated. He would be a very bold man who would get up and say that in every one of the antiquated examples given by the hon. Member for Walthamstow the majority of the people living at the time shared the views of the Government of the day. What we care for is that a change should come with a consensus of opinion behind it and not in opposition to the expressed wishes of the great bulk of the people. I will not refer at more length to the speech of the Solicitor-General or that of the hon. Member for Walthamstow, but I come to that of the Chief Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman began his speech by throwing cold water upon the idea of my Noble Friend (Lord Hugh Cecil) of the reform of the House of Lords. He said it would not be popular in any quarter of the House, and that seemed to him to be an adequate reason for the Government of the day not explaining to the country what their idea of a reformed Second Chamber is. He excuses the non-production of their scheme upon this singular plea, that everybody has a scheme. I knew that there had been some differences in the Cabinet, but I did not know that every one of the Members of it had his own plan. The Chief Secretary only referred to the plan which is associated with the name of the Foreign Secretary, and still applying this test of immediate popularity, he said that it abolishes the House of Lords, and, therefore, it would meet with a great deal of opposition. But if I understand it, the plan of the Foreign Secretary is to substitute a real Second Chamber. I am not concerned with the merits or demerits of the plan, but I do say that it differs from the policy of the Government, because his plan is to have a really effective Second Chamber, and their plan is to paralyse the functions of the existing Second Chamber, without setting up anything in its place. The Chief Secretary will not deny that the Foreign Secretary thinks that a strong and effective Second Chamber necessarily must be maintained on the penalty of death and damnation to the Liberal party. The Chief Secretary said that most of us think that a Second Chamber would be a good thing, but was his reference to "the new House which may, I hope, come into being hereafter," a pious hope, which takes the place of the definite elected Chamber of the Foreign Secretary. That is what the Chief Secretary calls dealing with the House of Lords as an existing institution. I am sure I am now quoting him correctly. 1357 Dealing with the House of Lords as an existing institution means binding them from any action which could safeguard the will of the people, and at the same time gagging the House of Commons from any speech which could elucidate the fact that the will of the people is diverse from the opinions of the Government. It means having a Second Chamber bound but loquacious, and a Second Chamber gagged but able, of course, to turn out a Government, provided that the Government does not avoid that catastrophe by pandering on every occasion to the wishes of a group who are minorities in this House and who represent minorities of opinion throughout the country.
The heart of the contention is really here. The Chief Secretary says that his plan does not do what I attribute to it. He declares that the plan of the Government, so far from weakening the House of Lords, will strengthen it, but strengthen it for what purpose? It will strengthen the House of Lords for the purposes of Debate and of delay. I ask whether in the constitution of any civilised country the Second Chamber exists only for the purpose of Debate and for the purpose of delay? That is not what it is there for. It is there, not to oppose novelty, not to oppose change being carried out at too great a pace, though these may be disadvantages; it is there fundamentally for a consensus of opinion behind any great and far-reaching change which is advocated by the Government of the day. The plan of the Government destroys that function of our Second Chamber, and, therefore, brings into our Constitution a fundamental change, a change which would be fundamental in any constitution of which we have knowledge. The Chief Secretary dealt in a tone of delightful banter with the stationary instincts of the Conservative party, but he is quite mistaken, and he belies them if he says the Conservative party as such have always objected to change. Not so. It is not true that they object to change in the Constitution on æsthetic grounds, as he seems to suggest, or that we regard these ancient institutions with so much reverence that we are opposed to any change. You can add a wing to an old building or you may put on an extra storey at the risk of making it top-heavy, but if you make a fundamental change you will knock the bottom out of the thing altogether, and this paralysis of the power of the Second Chamber to consult the people is a fundamental change which, if carried out, alters our 1358 Constitution from top to bottom and differentiates it from the Constitutions enjoyed by every other civilised country in the world.
I think I could prove that very easily by referring to some examples which have already been given. Take the case of Home Rule. We think Home Rule disastrous to this country and to Ireland, but we have never said that if a majority in both countries differ from us for all time they were to be debarred from expressing their opinion if they arrive at it. No one has been such a fool as to say Home Rule is a bad thing for the country now, therefore you may have it in ten years' time. Perhaps I have not put that in a very complimentary way to the Government, because that is exactly their proposal. They say, therefore, you will have it in three years' time. What other people have urged is that the United Kingdom should not have Home Rule until the majority of the electors living in the United Kingdom say that Home Rule is a change which they desire. That change could be carried out in two years behind the backs of the people if the House accepts the policy of the Government. In the case of education the same argument applies. No one is such a fool as to say that it is a bad thing to have a universal system of undenominational education, if more than half the people object to it now, and therefore you are to have it in two years' time. So with licensing, and so with the Budget. Debate and delay do not meet the point—they evade the point. The point is that whether Home Rule be good or bad, and we think it bad; whether universal undenominational education be good or bad, and we think it unjust; whether Licensing Bills of the character with which we are familiar be good or bad, and we think them tyrannical; whether the Budget which we had last year be good or bad, and we thought it menaced agriculture, and would lead, when that new House of Lords, perhaps, comes into being, to the nationalisation of the land—however that may be we are entitled to say that the Government ought not to be able to carry any one of these four great changes unless the majority of the living electors have been converted to those changes, or, at any rate, are prepared to acquiesce in them. Therefore the first consideration which we ought to entertain before we commit ourselves to these changes is that this is a fundamental change in our Constitution.
1359 But there is another which I would add to that. It will alter our Constitution far more profoundly than it would alter the constitution which every other civilised country enjoys. Our Constitution—it is a platitude—has grown up and has roots in distant parts. You cannot treat it in a drastic way with nearly so good a chance of escaping the penalties of fundamental change as would be the case if you were applying a fundamental change of this character to the constitution of any other country. In other countries the Parliament, although it does endure as a rule for the period which you propose, cannot be dissolved during that period, but in this country the Prime Minister of the day is armed to a great extent with all the ancient prerogatives of the Crown. He is already a most powerful person. If he can keep a majority—whether composite or compact does not matter—at his back there is scarcely any limit to the power which he wields. Are not you going to increase those powers Alone, as I believe, he can now dissolve Parliament; alone, as I believe, he and the Government of the day can set up Supply, which no one else can do, and can let down Supply, as the Government have recently done. Now to that power—and there are many others which I might enumerate, powers which we have never abolished because we have not had a revolution for more than two centuries, but which we have borrowed from the Crown and placed in the hands of the Prime Minister of the day—you are going to add this, that Parliament is to be curtailed to four years with the threat of dissolution hanging over its head during the whole of that time. If the Government proceed in this reckless manner I believe they will dissolve the Constitution itself. This fundamental change in our Constitution, which is alien from the spirit of our Constitution, is a blow not only at the House of Lords, but at the House of Commons also. If the plan is ever developed to its full conclusion both are to be elected as often as the Prime Minister of the day likes, but he is not to be elected. He is still to remain the nominee of the Crown, and to wield all the powers which belonged to the Crown in times past, and which he can now wield as best seems good to him. The other estates of the realm depend directly on the will of the people, but he, who is not an estate of the realm, is not to be forced to accept direct election as is the case with the President in 1360 other constitutions which I have in my mind, and he alone remains, reminding me of a gentleman I heard of the other day who designed aeroplanes and put other people into them, and when asked if he ever flew himself, he said, "No. What is the matter with the earth?" The Prime Minister alone will enjoy the security which is necessary if we are to preserve the balance of the Constitution not in one part of the State only, but distributed throughout all the component-parts of the State.
Perhaps I shall be told that these fears are chimerical, and that we are in no danger of suffering from the tyranny of a strong Prime Minister, and that Prime Ministers are not always strong. I think that is true, but it does not follow that, to borrow a phrase of Lord Morley, the flexibility and adaptation in this or that Prime Minister guarantees that the wishes of the democracy will be fulfilled. Not at all. A weak Prime Minister exaggerates the power of crowds; he puts the majority of the nation for the time being more completely under the heel of organised and combined minorities—minorities which often desire changes, which are not acceptable to the whole country, and which often desire changes, which are not acceptable even to that party, if we are to judge from the wry faces with which they swallow some of the changes which they are now attempting to digest. To put too much power into the hands of a strong Prime Minister is a bad thing, but it is a worse thing that the Prime Minister of the day should happen to be a puppet pulled by several strings, each one of which is grasped by the firm hand of a militant minority, and it is worst of all if these strings can be entangled in such a way that one, say the uncrowned King of a Nationalist minority, can by pulling one string work the whole. I do not know whether, when the Prime Minister dropped yesterday into poetry in a foreign tongue, that was the Gordian knot which he thought might not be unworthy of his Alexander's sword. He thinks, I am convinced, that it is a danger to the people of this country that a puppet Prime Minister, of the future of course, should be jerked whilst he is armed with the powers and all the ancient prerogatives of the Crown.
The third reflection which, perhaps, might give us pause before we committed ourselves to this change is that the Ministers, who advocate it, go very near to pro- 1361 fessing its absurdity, until it is followed by a reform in the constitution of the House of Lords. The Foreign Secretary does. The Chief Secretary, taking a more sanguine view of the future, does not go as far as that. I am not exaggerating the position of the Cabinet, in so far as it has a collective position, when I say that their plan, as at present developed, is only a truncated instalment of a plan which they think ought to be completed. But these professions are made under circumstances which rob them of any weight. They have not the power to complete their plan in the near future, or in any future which we can foresee. If the Government could not stick to the Budget first and the Veto after, how are we to suppose that they will stick to reform after the restriction of the Veto? We know they will not, not from any lack of will but from a lack of power, because we know they will not be permitted to complete the plan, and if they carry out their present policy we shall only have this first half of it which paralyses the functions of the Second Chamber to a degree for which no parallel can be found in America, France, or any other civilised country. They advance this amazing proposal for reasons which do not bear a moment's examination. The Chief Secretary threw over one of them just now. He said, talking about heredity: "It is good enough, and in any case too tempting when we are on the platform." Arguments against the Second Chamber, based on the ground of heredity have not found a large place in the discussion in this House. If the argument is to be founded on heredity it is an argument in favour of the reform of the House of Lords and not in favour of the plan of the Government. These arguments are irrelevant.
I will take the argument upon which the Chief Secretary laid far greater stress, and I think it is the best case they have. At any rate, it has force and plausibility—I mean the argument in favour of their charge on the score that the present Second Chamber is unfair. They have developed that argument in a very singular way, for they have attacked the House of Lords chiefly for passing Bills and not for rejecting or amending them. The charge of unfairness is based on the statement that they pass our Bills. That is equally irrelevant. There is much to be said for having a House of Lords which would not be open to the imputation of performing its functions in a slack and idle manner when the Conservative party are 1362 in office. I agree, but you could remedy that by reform. You cannot touch it by the plan of the Government. The whole of that argument is quite irrelevant to the plan of the Government, and it cannot be adduced in support of the profound change they are inviting the House to take. There is the other charge of unfairness alleged, namely, that the House of Lords rejects and amends unduly the Bills of Liberal Governments. What evidence is cited in support of that charge? The Education Bill. It does not support the charge. It is adverse to the whole contention of the Government. The case of the Education Bill is familiar. It is not denied that the Government themselves introduced three, if not four, Bills subsequent to the Bill of 1906, and every one tended to approximate closer until the last was almost identical in the most important matters with the Amendments passed by the House of Lords. The argument based on the treatment of the Education Bill of 1906 by the House of Lords is adverse to the contention you are now pressing upon us. I need not remind the Chief Secretary that that Bill would not have the ghost of a chance of passing through this House of Commons.
As to the Licensing Bill, I am perfectly certain that the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Belloc), if he were here, would inform the Government that their licensing proposals were not popular in the country, and that the treatment of the Licensing Bill by the House of Lords is adverse to the policy the Government are asking us to adopt. And so with regard to the Budget. It is postponed because it is notorious that it has not a majority of supporters in this House, and still less in the country. These cases chosen by the Government to bolster up their case do afford an argument, but it is an argument against a Ministry which is the creature of combined minorities, and against such a Ministry being armed with any further powers over the liberties of this House and the will and wishes of the majority of the people.
There is one other reflection to which I may invite the attention of the House. If we look only to the immediate future and consider the practical needs of the people of this country, can anybody pretend for a moment that, so limiting our gaze to the immediate future, this is a wise policy, or one which the country desires? I should like to put this question to the electors of the country, Do you prefer to have what you want and need now, namely, an attempt to reform the Poor Law, or to wade 1363 through three or four years of constitutional turmoil in order to get then what we do not want—Home Rule, universal undenominational education, teetotal Licensing Bills, and a Budget for which there is not a majority even in this House of Commons? It may be said that the opinion of the country as to Home Rule is doubtful. We know that on the only two occasions on which the electors were consulted they decided against it. On the other three subjects opinion is not doubtful. It was at the last election that the people of the country vindicated and justified the action of the House of Lords. Therefore in the immediate future there is nothing to be gained, much to be lost, and a good deal to be feared if the country accepts the policy of the Government. It is almost rash to look further ahead, but if you look into the more distant future you can only judge of its features through the light we can glean from the past. In the past this nation has been famous in other lands for its political stability and Imperial power. Imperial power depends upon political stability. Without the first you cannot have the second, and both of these great inheritances of this country have been freely ascribed by foreign observers to the balance of the British Constitution. That description may be ill-founded, but it is not unreasonable to say that it is well founded. It is unreasonable to destroy that balance at the instance of a Prime Minister who confesses that its destruction is not ultimately defensible unless followed by further change which his followers will not allow him to carry out. This change is a fundamental change. It is alien to the character and to the whole genius of our Constitution. It is presented as a truncated instalment of a plan which the Government dare not complete, and it is supported by evidence either irrelevant or absolutely adverse to their case. It is obviously opposed to the wishes and welfare of the people in the immediate future, and not improbably fraught with the greatest menace to the Imperial greatness of our State.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
We have listened for two days to a Debate the equal of which has not happened since the Reform Bill of 1832. The proposition before us involves a change in the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament. May I respectfully say, however, it does not involve destruction 1364 in the balance of our Constitution as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham) seemed to argue towards the end of this speech. We have listened in this Debate for some sound and solid arguments. There has been a good deal of cavalry charging, both light and heavy, a good deal of literary gymnastics, a good deal of sharp debating practice, fine sword-play, and so on, but the essential fact of the situation, I think, has hardly been dealt with at all. That fact is that at the present moment the supreme constitutional authority, so far as the working of the Constitution is concerned, is a body of men who represent nobody but the class from which they are drawn. They are not even elected by that class. They are that class. They do not require to consult the nation with respect to their decisions. If they go so far as to endanger their own existence, then, of course, they have put themselves in a very difficult and dangerous position, but so far as the normal destruction of ordinary progressive legislation is concerned that House can act without consulting the national will, without considering the national well-being, and without considering any consequences whatever. I am bound to say that I agree with the Noble Lord (Lord Hugh Cecil) that under these circumstances or any circumstances the change which we propose should be of the nature of organic and not revolutionary mechanical change. The difference between him and myself is this: he, in the delightful political Utopia which he pictured with so much chastity of language and felicity of phrase, is of opinion that he can pull down this old fabric and rebuild it that he can put new stones into the structure between the old stones, while I am for preserving what we have got and taking care that it will not fall down and endanger His Majesty's subjects. I preserve, and he rebuilds and restores. He knows perfectly well, from the point of view of constitutional taste and aesthetic fine feeling, that he is in the wrong and I am in the right.
The simple situation is this. I am not going to look through history and try to find cases where the House of Lords has thwarted the will of the House, of Commons. That is always an unprofitable undertaking in a House like this, but no body can deny the general statement that perhaps not a deadlock but a crisis has come. We have it now proved to us beyond dispute and beyond doubt that the House of Lords is going to reject Finance Bills because it disagrees with some things they 1365 contain. The Noble Lord says that is perfectly constitutional. I am inclined to think with the Noble Lord that it is perfectly constitutional, but I do not care. The argument which he tries to apply against us can equally be applied against his own case. What does he mean by a thing being unconstitutional? This proposed new constitution of the House of Lords is unconstitutional and will be unconstitutional until actually the change has taken place. I am much more concerned with the political aspect than the constitutional aspect of the problem. The question that arises is this. Can this House any longer allow a constitutional assumption—allow a habit to regulate its proceedings, or must it take steps to protect itself by statute? I venture to submit that when this Assembly became unworkable under our old Rules and code of honour in debate, and when we made the closure essential to our proceedings, we also made it essential that this House should by Statute protect itself against the encroachments of the other House. I am really beginning to be afraid of my own opinions. I agree with the Noble Lord that the spirit of partisanship has gone so far in this country that we cannot trust to those old methods of honour and to those old Parliamentary usages which forbade any party in the House from laying his hands on the constitution of a democratic Government. I am sorry to say that I am coming to believe that that time has gone, and that the time has come when usage has no longer the sway it once had. We have had the pluck to introduce the closure and statutory restrictions.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover raised some interesting points, and one regrets that there is not time to discuss them all in this Debate. Take one very important point, and one which it is very difficult to get over if it is valid. He proposes to retain the Second Chamber because he is afraid of Cabinet tyranny. That is an important point, and I would probably agree with him, only he would be compelled to convince me first of all that he can devise a Second Chamber that can protect us from Cabinet tyranny. He built up a great fabric about Cabinets passing legislation which nobody wanted, and so on. Is that a pure figment of the right hon. Gentleman's imagination or a fact? I am bound to say that he himself compelled me to doubt gravely his original position when he began to sneer at the present Cabinet because they were moved by minorities. What is the explanation 1366 of all this? He talked about my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Waterford as the uncrowned king of the Nationalist party. That is very nice, very excusable, but very imaginary, and altogether irrelevant to the present position. Why the very essential condition of the Cabinet's dependence on the will of the House is that minorities should influence the Cabinet, and, moreover, that the Cabinet should listen to representations which come from minorities, whether they come from Ireland or from anywhere else. I am not at all a supporter in theory of the group Government. I am not at all in favour of coalition government. I like to think that a time will come when we shall have two great parties—a party standing for the status quo and a party standing for progress on well-defined lines—standing for the application of certain principles which when they are applied to our social life will change fundamentally that social life. I hope that that time is going to come. Meanwhile, I have to live in the human, and therefore imperfect, conditions in which I am now. So long as that exists, so long as we have got hon. Members from Ireland sitting as independent bodies in this House, so long as we have got a Labour party in this House, also independent—I pass by the sneers of the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. F. E. Smith) and the others—so long as that state of things exists, whether a Liberal Government is here or a Tory Government is here, it will be bound to listen to those minorities in order that its acts may reflect public opinion outside and the House of Commons opinion inside.
That seems to me to be the common sense of Government quite apart from any partisan interpretation. I venture to say that the Leader of the Opposition was much more near the point yesterday when he said that the real reason of the existence of the Second Chamber is that whenever the party of progress, or, as he called it, the party of revolution, is in office here, a Second Chamber might check it. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Simon) dealt with one point which I wanted to elaborate here, but I will not attempt to do it after the way in which he has handled it this afternoon. You say that we have now a Government that is supposed to be a revolutionary Government, or, as you call it, a Socialistic Government. The point which I would like to add to my hon. Friend's remark is this: that that judgment in itself is a partisan judgment on 1367 your part, that it is not a fundamental proposition accepted by everybody. I deny it, for instance; I absolutely deny it. So that all that the point amounts to is this, that when the Tory party imagines or says or believes that a revolutionary party is in power, then the Tory party may have the machinery of the Constitution, which may come to its aid to hamper the work of the party which it opposes.
As a matter of fact, the position is even worse than that. They say that certain changes are revolutionary. They say that they themselves are in favour of change, but that their change is not revolutionary. Our argument, however, is this, that the change which we want is a change which is an essential condition of stability, and not of unstability. So that you and we stand on precisely the same ground in asking for a change that is a condition of stability. But you classify one kind of change as being opposed to that, whilst we classify precisely that same change as being the condition which is required. All that the right hon. Gentleman's argument comes to is this: He wants a partisan Assembly independent of this House sitting in another place, that comes in when he is in opposition to help him to fight the Government. It really amounts to this: What changes are to be acceptable to the other party? Take Tariff Reform. Is there any Member of this House who says that, even if this first Resolution were never carried, if this Money Resolution never became part and parcel of the Statute of this land, and of the opinions of this House, he believes that a Tariff Reform Budget sent up by the right hon. Gentleman opposite would be rejected by the House of Lords on the ground that the country had never been consulted on the j point. The House of Lords would say, "We have a perfect power to determine that this Budget is going to make for national stability." They might say it perfectly honestly, because they confuse national stability with their own pockets. They will say perfectly honestly that they j will accept the Budget, the Budget will go; through, and there will be no appeal to the country. That is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman wants. But what are these safeguards? I believe in safeguards. I belong to a country that lives on safeguards. We think day and night of safeguards. What are the safeguards? We cannot create a system of safeguards outside the system of democracy itself.
1368 If the democracy is revolutionarily inclined it would sweep away all safeguards, even the Utopian safeguard of the Noble Lord. If the democracy wants a thing, it will get a thing, even though very grave difficulties may be put in its way in getting it. If unjust and unconstitutional and unwise difficulties are put in its way, yet ultimately it will get it if it desires it. But the greatest safeguard we have got is that the mind of the people may be trained in political intelligence to decline to allow any party in this House or any majority in this House to do what the majority outside does not desire. Hon. Members and right hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about the abolition of the people of England. Why, listening to their speeches, one is inclined to say that they have never discovered the people of England. It is simply futile to imagine that you are going to get, say, the Sovereign to nominate a certain number of gentlemen on the advice of Ministers, or against the advice of Ministers, or that you are going to have a crowd of gentlemen, or of families subject to hereditary principles, being created as a safeguard against the democracy. The whole thing is not only futile, it is mischievous, because it removes your attention from the very weakness which you and we together ought to be studying for the purpose of removing from the electorate of this country. But that is all the worse when we deal with the present situation, because your safeguard now is the representatives of certain economic interests and of certain social prejudices. We cannot listen to hon. Members and Noble Lords opposite without feeling this difference of social prejudice. That is perfectly candid. They do not occupy to us the relative positions of wealthy men and poor men, nor of university educated men and board school educated men. That is not the relation. The relation which they always impress on us is the relation between a Brahmin and a Sutra. I am perfectly aware that that is the case, that the difference between us is a difference of caste and not a difference of social position; and to allege that the present condition is that this Brahmin caste, this twice-born son of England, sitting in another place, armed with the absolute Veto, is the security which is going to stand between us and some wild revolutionary antics of the Cabinet, not a democracy, that happens to hold temporary position and power in this House, is ludicrous. From such a section, the Brahmin section, you can create a most admirable party Assembly, 1369 such as the House of Lords is. Some of its members will undoubtedly be distinguished, but the great majority of its members will be much more distinguished by their faithfulness to the party Whip than by the independence, of their political intelligence and conviction. To imagine that you are going to make that god-like instrument of impartiality from such an assembly is one of the most ludicrous ideas that have ever been given voice to within these walls.
But it may be said that all that simply will not amount to reform. It does not. I am not in favour of the reform of the House of Lords, and, candidly, my reason is this, that I am much more a believer in the fox-hunter—and in that I range myself with my right hon. Friend here—than I am in the ex-Viceroy of India. On the shoulders of our ancient aristocracy tippets hang naturally, and the coronets sit quite properly upon their brows, but on the shoulders of our newer nobility, of those who have just left holiday-making on Blackpool Sands, the tippets do not hang naturally. They are not an aristocracy. They have purchased their way into the other House, and whatever respect—and I am bound to say that, as far as I am concerned, I have a respect for them—we have for the old aristocracy, we have absolutely none for the new. Therefore, I am not at all in favour of the reform. I think that for certain purposes the old aristocracy would do very well. They would give us time to reconsider our Bills, if their House decides that we must reconsider it, and so on. I am quite willing to allow them to do that work. I do not think that you will break the continuation between the dukes and the dust-bin men which was so fully explained by the Noble Lord. It would still be there. They would still have our respect. They will still wield their legitimate and illegitimate influence in elections for this House. They will still enlighten and darken the minds of the people who come under their influence. That is all I expect them to do, and I believe all that this House and the people of the country will allow them to do. And suppose it did make for reform. Then it ought not to be reformed first. The right hon. Member, a countryman of mine, is going to rise I believe tomorrow, to demonstrate to us that the Tory party believe always in putting the cart before the horse. His Amendment is that we ought to reform before we adjudicate what their functions are. Can any more absurd and inverted method of doing 1370 business be imagined? Surely the very first thing we have got to find out is this: What are to be the functions of the Second Chamber? And when you have determined its functions then you have got to ascertain how you are going to create the organ of reform.
We will have something to say when the Amendments come before us At the present moment everything that has been and can be said in this House regarding the House of Lords, its constitution, and its present powers, undoubtedly points to this, that before you reform you are bound to assign the functions that it has to perform and the place that it is going to occupy in our Constitution. We have heard a great deal about the Education Bill, the Home Rule Bill, and the Trades Disputes Bill. I am bound in a general way to confess that if you have got a House of Lords, or a Second Chamber of any kind, form, or composition, which is able to say to the people of the country, "You will have to work yourselves into a revolutionary movement before you get your will," the House of Lords could over and over again defeat the democratic will, and there would be little indication shown of that defeat in the election returns that may be made. That is perfectly simple. I do not believe that a. single Member opposite disputes it. Yet surely it is the very essence of democracy that such defeats should not take place. If these defeats have to take place, then there is no democracy at all. There is another point. You can get a general desire for temperance reform, or for educational reform, or a general desire to settle the difficulties of the Irish problem; you can get all that, you can get the country determined that these things shall be done, or ought to be done, and while you can get a Government to propose details for meeting the democracy, still not a single scheme can be carried by the Referendum process or by a General Election. What does that mean? That does not mean that the people of the country do not want Home Rule, do not want temperance reform, or do not want educational reform; it simply means, as has been shown over and over again in the case of the Swiss referendum, that after all they do require a legislative organisation that will make itself responsible for details which will embody the general principles accepted by the people, and which will then be subject to the decision of a general election after they have been carried into law and not before.
1371 I do not know whether this is heresy or not, but I venture to say, with due humility, it is good, sound, common political sense. What we must look to is that no Cabinet, or no majority in this House shall embark upon legislation which embodies the general principles that the majority of the people outside have not assented to. Another very interesting point has been raised by the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me. He talked, if I may say so without offence, most grandiloquently about the experience of civilised countries, and he challenged us to explain why it was, for instance, that the Australian Commonwealth had a constitution which gives the Senate powers over Money Bills. He said it was because they copied this country. Nothing of the kind. As a matter of fact, the present High Commissioner of the Australian Commonwealth moved an Amendment at the second Convention met to discuss the constitution, the effect of which was that the money powers of the Senate should be the same as the money powers of the House of Lords in this country. That proposal received so little support, that it did not even go to a division, and the Amendment was defeated because it was simply put from the Chair and declared lost. What is the explanation of this money power? It is very simple. When the Australian Federation was started, West Australian, South Australain, and other States, which had independent or separate financial authority, would not consent to giving that up except within very narrow and clearly prescribed limits. The Senate of the Australian Federation is a body which vindicates the quality of State representation. It is not a Second Chamber in the sense that the right hon. Gentleman used the expression; nor is it a Second Chamber that carries out all the ideas that he has got in his mind. One cannot go into all the details, but supposing the right hon. Gentleman proposed to create an Upper House for this country, say, of six Members from Ireland, six from Scotland, six from England, and six from Wales, I feel perfectly certain that every Scotch Member of this House, and certainly every Irish Member, would demand that such a Senate should have power over money bills, because such a Senate would be able to readjust or bring pressure to bear in favour of the readjustment of financial relations which hon. Members from Ireland require in the interests of their 1372 country. That is a condition which has nothing to do with our experience
I would also beg the right hon. Gentleman not to fall into the mistake of making superficial comparisons regarding Second Chamber Colonies. It is perfectly true that there is not a single British Colony that has not a Second Chamber, but it is also perfectly true that there is not a single British Colony—I am compelled to use the word "British"—that has a Second Chamber which is working or has worked. I could take any one of them, but I will take Canada as an instance. Will the House allow me to quote from three reports of absolutely different bodies in Canada? I take, first of all, an extract from the biography of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, written by an exceedingly eminent Canadian publicist—I think the hon. Member for Gravesend knows him—Mr. J. S. Wilson, who wrote a very voluminous and careful life of Sir Wilfrid. This is what he says about the Second Chamber:—Since the very organisation of the Commonwealth the Senate has proceeded on the principle that to question the expediency and justice of our conservative legislation is a, flagrant treason to British institutions in North America.That was the opinion and experience of a Liberal Prime Minister before the balance of power in the Senate was adjusted, when the members of the Senate had been nominated by the late Sir John Macdonald. The other day the "Montreal Witness," a sort of independent paper of more or less Liberal views—[An HON. MEMBER: "Oh, oh!"] I will allow my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend to characterise it as an independent newspaper, and I do not object to his characterising it as of more or less Radical views, with a Scotch Free Church bias which keeps it from being too progressive and revolutionary. Last year, I am sorry I cannot give the exact date, the "Montreal Witness" said:—A House removed from party broils would have leisure for careful and mature legislation on non-contentious, matters. That is all very fire in theory. In practice the Senate immediately became a mere piece of party patronage, where party sentiment is as absolute, if not as great, as in the House of Commons. A few years after a change of Government the Senate is what the House of Lords is to-day, nothing but a lethal chamber where the Opposition may doom any measure to death.I come to an authority who is unimpeachable so far as hon. Members opposite are concerned—the Canadian correspondent of the "Morning Post." He wrote the other day that it was intended that the Senate should protect the interests 1373 of the smaller Provinces—revise and check hasty legislation. It was intended that men of eminence in intellectual and commercial pursuits, and of independent mind and character, should be appointed to the Upper Chamber. It was intended that the revising power should be superior to ordinary partisan considerations. But all these expectations have been disappointed. After the Laurier Administration came into office, the Senate had a considerable Conservative majority, but from 1879 to 1896 only one Liberal had been appointed to the Upper Chamber, and from 1896 to 1909 not one Conservative had entered the Senate, which now contained an overwhelming Liberal majority. It was clear that with the Conservative Government in power the Liberal Senators might make Government impossible, as it would take many years before the majority could be reduced. I could give hon. Members details as regards South and West Australia and New Zealand which would go to show that, try as you like, and make as perfect a paper constitution as you like, a magnificently balanced constitution, in the end one class or another, one political party or another, obtains predominating power in the Second Chamber and hampers the majority in the Lower House which happens to be of a different colour from the majority in the other House. I am not going into the details of the Resolutions, which we will have time to deal with later on. Quite candidly, I am a single-Chamber man. I believe in a single Chamber as making for honesty in legislation. A single Chamber with full responsibility laid upon it would do a great amount of truly democratic work, but it is absolutely essential that that Single Chamber should be short-lived, so that it cannot go very far away from the public will.
A very interesting point was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition yesterday as to whether the last two years or the first two years of a Parliament are the more democratic. What does it matter if your legislative unit begins with the last two years of one Parliament and ends with the first two years of the next Parliament? It is all the same. The Parliament, thinking of the coming election, would produce its programme, and the House of Lords, according to these Resolutions, would reject that programme item by item, and the country would decide. When the country has decided, the new Government, if it is in favour of the rejected programme, would 1374 proceed to put it into operation, and every interest that was active at the election will try and get the Government to advance measures in accordance with its wishes during the first two years. What is wrong in that? That is carrying out the popular will. The next two years will be the beginning of a new political unit, and the old Parliament dies preparing its programme for the election which is going to settle, either one way or another, the fate of that particular programme. Although I am very averse to these Resolutions— was very averse—the more one considers them the more one sees that they may have a virtue that can only be discovered by experience, and that they would make the work of this House much more real and much more in contact with public opinion than it is at the present moment. The only difficulty about that is that they are far too long postponed. It is very easy to be wise after the event. I am very sorry that we did not have those Resolutions before us before we went to the country. Even as it is there is not a single Member of this House who will dispute this fact— that the existence of the House of Lords on the one extreme, or the limitation of the Veto on the other, was the major, or one of the major points fought out at the last election. This House has got a mandate to settle the matter without further reference to the country, and I hope that the Prime Minister will take his courage in both hands, and carry out this mandate without going back again to the country for its will.
The Leader of the Opposition ended his speech yesterday in certain sentences of menace. He said he was going to fight every clause and every line, and that he was going to do so because the controversy which is now being opened up is going to postpone social reform. They are repeating the cry of 1885 and 1896 when they fought Home Rule. They pasted every hoarding with "Vote for So-and-So, the Unionist candidate, and Social Reform." What was the effect? The postponing of Old Age Pensions for twenty years. Not until the party then returned in a majority was beaten, and had surrendered bag and baggage at the polls, and returned in numbers so diminished that there has been nothing like it since the Reform Bill was passed, not until that event happened were Old Age Pensions, which was their chief cry in 1895, and which also had been dangled before the people in many constituencies as far back as 1885, not until they were routed at the polls, was that 1375 pledge carried out by a Government opposed to them. I accept the challenge, and the Labour party accepts the challenge. As a matter of fact the simple truth is this, that in the social class and in the social interests represented exclusively by the House of Lords, is the source of much of the evils which necessitate social reform at the present moment. So far as we are concerned this is no mere barren political issue. It is a great economic issue, and we lay it down categorically, and we say to the people in the country—and we shall continue to do so until this contest is over, and has been settled in the only way it can possibly be settled—we say that so long as there is a bulwark behind which class interests j entrench themselves, so long as there is a camp impregnable and full of partisan battalions, so long as there is a protecting wall behind which men who have sown not, reap very plentifully, and men who have strewn not, gather most liberally, so long as these things exist in the shape of the House of Lords, thwarting the masses of the country, postponing the realisation of its will, and very frequently defeating it, there can be nothing of social reform except what is a mere sham placed upon the Statute Book.
§ Mr. S. H. BUTCHER
Before the hon. Gentleman, who has just spoken, came to the end of his speech, it was very obvious from his general tenour that he was a single-Chamber man, and that although he would if he could get a single Chamber yet he is prepared to acquiesce in the Government proposals. What is there that attracts him in those proposals? Obviously it is this, and this only, that since he cannot obtain single-Chamber Government, he is glad to have a Second Chamber, which is absolutely impotent, even though it is composed of men such as he would decry. That view is quite intelligible, and one is glad after many misleading speeches in this Debate to find somebody who knows his own mind, and who honestly tells us that he accepts these proposals, because this new House, or new Second Chamber, will hereafter be impotent. The plain man outside the House has asked himself what is the meaning of the Government proposals? Is the policy of the restriction of the Veto equivalent to one-Chamber or single-Chamber government? I must say the ordinary man feels no doubt in his own 1376 mind on this matter. When we come inside this House, and listen to these Debates, and hear four or five hon. Members who tackle this question, we hear various views legal and ecclesiastical, some of them based upon questions regarding Papal infallibility, others upon questions equally remote from that which is before us. We have had hon. Members assuring us, such as the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that under the Government proposals the powers of the House of Lords would be rather greater than they were before. I am in the position of the plain man, the man who cannot in the plain meaning of the words see anything but a virtual single Chamber under these Resolutions.
I honestly confess I listened first to the Prime Minister, and then to three or four others, with an open mind to see if, in any sense, there would be a Second Chamber Legislature under the new Resolutions. My point is that no Chamber that is not free to say "Yes" or "No "to a legislative proposal that comes before it, and that is not free to accept or reject, can in truth be called a legislative Chamber at all. You can only call it a consultative committee, with certain limited retarding functions. I go further, and I take the question of Amendment. I say that a Second Chamber which has not the right to reject a measure has not the power to amend, because what does amendment really mean? We have been reminded this afternoon that many Amendments have been accepted from the House of Lords, and that there will be ample time, first of all in delay, and then for discussion of the Amendments; and that they would be accepted by the House of Commons. But why are the Amendments now accepted by the House of Commons that come from the House of Lords? I ask the House to remember the late Parliament, in its flush of victory and insolence, after the election, and I put the question, supposing there had been no effective Veto in the Lords, but merely a retarding and restrictive Veto, which would only operate for a certain limit of years or Sessions, can anybody here say that we should have had any Amendments at all introduced into those Bills? I recall how Bills were passed through, often without discussion, and often without Amendment, and the only reason that the Amendments of the House of Lords, or some of them, were afterwards accepted was that, behind the power of Debate and discussion and delay, 1377 the House of Commons knew that there was also the power of rejection.
I should like to gather up rather briefly what seemed to me from this Debate to be the ground of attack on the Lords. What is the case against the Lords? I would submit that in making out that case the Government use arguments which are not only a little divergent, but conflicting, and contrary lines of argument. The main charge against the Lords undoubtedly has been that they reject Liberal measures, that at the end of this corridor there is supposed to be a lethal chamber, and that Liberal measures which go up there are done for, and that there is consequently a complete paralysis of popular Government and sterility of legislation. That is one side of it, but on the platform what are we told? We have enumerated a long list of Liberal measures which are paraded as the great achievements of the Liberal party. Those have got the assent of the Legislature by the action of the House of Lords, which is represented simply as a body of political assassins. If you take only the four years of the last Parliament you will find that 232 Liberal measures were passed by the Lords and only six rejected. Out of the lethal chamber there came back, perhaps not unscathed, but quite lively and quite sufficiently good to be paraded on public platforms, 232 Liberal measures, so that I think the ground of complaint is not very great. The Lords are denounced for rejecting Liberal measures; they are equally denounced if they accept them. Take, for instance, two Bills of the last Parliament. The Lords accepted the Trades Disputes Bill, and were in consequence called such names as "unprincipled opportunists." They rejected the Licensing Bill, and for that were lectured by Government organs of opinion and on public platforms for pandering to popular prejudice. They were said not to have the courage to pass Bills for the moral improvement of the people against the will of the people. The charge against them in both cases was the same—that they were simply a servile, obsequious Assembly. I observe that it is the Liberal Bills which the Lords accept that leave behind them the most rankling feeling. Their acceptance upsets Liberal plans. The acceptance of Bills which it was confidently expected would be thrown out and added to the account against the Lords leaves an angry sense of disappointment. At any rate, the two charges are obviously inconsistent.
1378 Then there is the third case—the Bills which the Lords refer to the people—that very rare and exceptional case, where it seems doubtful what the real view of the people is, and the Lords resolve to submit the measure to the verdict of the people. That is the supreme and crowning act of aggression. That is the great usurpation of the rights of the Commons. We come there, I believe, to the very heart of the grievance. The main objects of the Lords now is, and for the last half-century has been, to discover the will and mind of the people. It is sometimes forgotten that the Lords are not an immobile, stereotyped element in the Constitution. They are a living part of it, and they have adapted themselves to the needs and demands of the people just as the other branch of the Legislature has done. They have a double and a very difficult function to perform. They have, on the one hand, to judge of the merits of the Bill itself, and, on the other, to judge what is the settled will of the people as regards that measure. It is not always easy to discharge that double function. The Lords recognise, however, that there are cases where the verdict of the nation is likely to be different from the passing whim of the House of Commons. When, in consequence of that, they refer a measure to the people, one hears the outcry, "Unpardonable arrogance of the Lords." The phrase is that of the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. To think that the Lords can either know or discover the mind of the people better than the House of Commons! Have they some mysterious power of divination, some special intuition which enables them to see into the hearts of the people? No, they have not, and they do not claim to have. They are simply a body of men, versed in affairs, many of them practised in statesmanship, shrewd observers, and, above all, independent men who have not always to look forward to the next General Election.
The worst and most glaring of their offences is that, as a rule, the Lords are proved to be right in their reading of the mind of the people. Take two crucial instances, and compare them. One is the Irish Church Bill. That measure the Lords accepted, much as they disliked it, but they had satisfied themselves that it was the deliberate will of the people that the Bill should be carried. The other is the Home Rule Bill of 1893 which the Lords rejected. In spite of the different interpretations put upon that rejection by the Nationalist party and the Labour party, I do not think 1379 anybody hasdenied that the country at the next General Election ratified the decision of the Lords. We touch here what seems to me to be the centre of the controversy—the phrase "the will of the people shall prevail." That formula is common to both sides of the House, but in its interpretation there is the difference which goes to the very root of the problem with which we are now concerned. "The will of the people shall prevail" means, according to what the Prime Minister told us yesterday, that the will of the House of Commons for the time being shall prevail—that is to say, the will of the majority of the House of Commons, or it may be merely of the groups which form a coalition in the House of Commons, between whom there is in reality no binding agreement whatsoever. The position taken up on the part of the Commons is, "We are the people." That is the assumption. The utterance of the House of Commons on any subject at any time is infallibly true, provided always that a Liberal Government is at the time in power. To appeal to the real people, to go behind the back of the House of Commons, to go to the ultimate authority, is unpardonable arrogance and an insult to the electorate.
May I refer briefly to the' plan of the attack on the Lords, because you will find there the same inconsistencies and contradictions. On the one hand, the Liberal party all over the country has been busy in denouncing the hereditary principle, but it is the hereditary principle which they make the basis of their revolutionary project. Then, again, as we have already heard, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs declared that there was not a majority in this House sufficient to alter the Constitution, but that there was a majority sufficient to deal with the Veto— in other words, to destroy the power of the House of Lords. Therefore, the argument was that they should first deal with the Veto, and afterwards proceed to reform. What does that mean, but this: Let us first end the Lords for all practical purposes, and afterwards proceed to mend them. What is the upshot of all this muddle and manœuvring? It is that the Government propose to leave a sham Second Chamber and a hereditary peerage. I can conceive some real advantages from the Government point of view in the sham Chamber. Its greatest merit is that it is a sham. It may possibly delude people; it may give them a fancied sense of security where there is none. That, in 1380 the eyes of the party opposite, is its greatest merit, but in our eyes it is the greatest danger, and it may mean disaster to the State. There are other minor advantages. The House of Lords at once becomes a dignified retreat for Radical plutocrats, after they have grown weary of villifying the House to which they finally aspire. Another advantage is that it becomes a sort of closed apartment or cage, in which the most distinguished Unionist Peers are shut up and prevented from having access to this House. If there are these great advantages, as well as others, why, indeed, should the Government proceed with any reform of the House of Lords at all? Having dealt with the Veto, having got a House perfectly fitted for their own ends, why should they spoil its efficiency by breathing any life into that dead thing? If they reform it, it must be in some way a stronger Chamber, whereas all that they desire is a Chamber which is a sham and a nullity.
The Government scheme of reform appears to be that the new Chamber should be in some way an elective Chamber, and I suppose that some of its powers should be restored. But that we do not know, as the Government tell us nothing about the powers of the new body. But if it is an elective Chamber, will it not be a solemn farce to invite the people to send representatives to that Chamber and at the same time to say to it, "Remember your sole function will be to say ditto to the First Chamber. Your business is merely to register the decrees that come up from the other House. You may perhaps revise the drafting; you may improve the English; you may alter a comma here or there; but, as for making any substantial amendments, you have no such right. You are a superfluous Chamber. You are a historical survival, decked out in democratic costume, and, though we do not object to a Chamber which is a harmless superfluity, be sure we shall object if you show any signs of life. If you develop any dangerous energy you shall be promptly suppressed." That being so, why in the world does reform come into the Government programme at all? Obviously no one likes it. It has hardly had a good word in the whole of the Debate. The simple reason is that reform is an unwelcome electioneering necessity. It would never do for the Liberals to go to the country saying, "We propose to retain the hereditary principle pure and unalloyed; the Conservatives propose to alter that principle, and to say that from henceforth, 1381 to some extent, birth shall be no title to anyone to belong to the Legislature." Therefore, for the purposes of an electioneering programme, reform has come in. On the Radical side of the House, who desired it? We know the Nationalists do not. Their hope is simply this—that if this whole programme is carried out with sufficient expedition, while the Lords are still in a state of suspended animation, inert and inoperative, Home Rule may be slipped through. It may go through, they hope, in that convenient interregnum between the present condition of affairs and the future reconstituted House of Lords. Are the Socialists in favour of the reform of the House of Lords? Of course they are not. Neither are the disestablishes of the Church, nor the secularisers of the schools, nor the nationalises of the land. One and all they are against doing this beneficent work. The fabric of the House of Lords will be in ruins. Why should it be rebuilt at all? The different groups which form the Radical coalition will then be assured each of getting its own ends by means of that sham, and not a real, Chamber. That being so, it seems to me to be perfectly clear, and we may rest assured of it, that there will be no internal reform of the House of Lords from the Liberal party. Conceivably the first part of this revolutionary drama may be carried out, and the Veto of the House of Lords may be abolished. If that be so, a counter-revolution will undeniably follow. History will repeat itself. The Act will be repealed. The House, which will have been shorn of its powers in a passionate moment, will be re-established again with a remodelled constitution, reconstituted a strong and effective Chamber; strong not, perhaps, in increased power, but strong in moral authority and in the confidence of the people.
The ideal of the Radicals, of which we know something, is widely different. It as a Legislature which shall seem to express the voice of the people, while it really expresses the voices of the caucus. That was the ideal which prevailed through the last Parliament—through all those years and that period of delirium, and which prevails still. It is still what we hear in the Press and on the platform. One question which is asked on the Liberal side is: "How and how far will any of these changes strengthen the party machine?" If this momentous problem of the House of Lords is to be solved—and I "believe it must be solved—it must be approached hot in the spirit of the wire- 1382 pullers, but in the spirit of statesmen. The paramount question must be not what is for the interest of the Liberal party or, for that matter, what is for the interest of the Conservative party, but what is for the welfare of the nation. We must not, and the nation will not allow you, to tear down the patient work of centuries in a few months or in a year's time. We must certainly look to the future, but in doing so we must surely build on the past, and have some reverence for what has gone before and' some sense of historic continuity. Unless the people of England have experienced a mighty change we may be quite sure that they will never consent to pull down the most ancient portion of their Legislature in order to set up an autocratic Second Chamber and a despotic Cabinet.
§ Mr. LEES SMITH
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Mr. Wynd-ham) used an argument throughout most of his speech which has been repeated in all the speeches delivered from the other side of the House. It was that we were by these Resolutions setting up a single Chamber. I think one fact has been ignored whenever that statement has been made—that is, that these Resolutions are the beginning and not the end. We shall not have finished with the House of Lords when the Resolutions are passed. If I understand aright the Prime Minister, they are not a complete scheme of reform— they are merely the key of other reforms. The position, as I understand it, is this, that if the Resolutions are passed we shall be able to do with the House of Lords what the nation will. If they are not passed we can only do with the House of Lords that which it itself is willing to consent to. The issue is not between a single Chamber and a double Chamber, but as to whether the future of the House of Lords is going to depend upon the verdict of the nation or upon the verdict of that institution itself. In order to prove this point hon. Members opposite have had to brush aside all that the Prime Minister said with regard to further proposals which were to follow these Resolutions. The ground which they took up Was this, that these further proposals were not contained within the letter of the Resolutions, end that therefore they were no part of the policy of the Government. It seemed to me, when the Leader of the Opposition first stated that, that it was a very strange doctrine. Is it one of the doctrines of this House that no policy can be 1383 regarded as belonging to a party unless its details are embodied in Resolutions? What about Tariff Reform? Is not that the policy of the Opposition. Have its details ever been embodied in Resolutions? Is there agreement upon it?
§ An HON. MEMBER: Absolute.
§ Mr. LEES SMITH
An hon. Gentleman says "absolute." If so, produce your scheme. The point is that the Prime Minister has spoken of what is to follow these Resolutions with far greater precision than has ever been forthcoming from the Leader of the Opposition about the first constructive work of the Unionist party. The Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover referred to the Budget. Both of them argued that the House of Lords had been justified in rejecting the Budget because at the last election there was not a majority of Members returned clearly in its favour. The hon. Member for Walton said:—If the constituencies hare shown that they do not want the Budget the House of Lords were justified in refusing to pass it.The House of Lords exists to carry out the will of the people. The people, it is argued, do not want the Budget. The House of Lords were justified in refusing to pass it. The question which occurred to me when the Leader of the Opposition was using that argument was:—"If the Budget is again passed through this House will the House of Lords again refuse to pass it?" According to the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman that would be their constitutional position, their duty, and yet I remember that in the very first speech the right hon. Gentleman made this Session—the first speech I heard in this House—he distinctly laid it down that if the Budget were to pass this House again the House of Lords would no longer reject it.When the Budget is again brought forward, if, as I must anticipate, it receives a somewhat chilling and yet numerically adequate support from this House, without doubt it will become law.It appears to me the Leader of the Opposition did not support his own argument. I suppose the fact was that the Leader of the Opposition had not made up his mind Until he ascertained whether the further rejection of the Budget would be favourable ground. If I understand the point which has been made, may I put another question? It is said that the nation is against the Budget. But there is a clear 1384 majority for the Budget in Great Britain. How then is it argued that the country is against the Budget? Irish votes! The argument is because the country, including Irish votes, has sent back a majority not clearly in favour of the Budget, the House of Lords were justified in rejecting it. But will the House of Lords and will hon. Gentlemen opposite apply the same argument to these Resolutions? Behind these Resolutions there is an overwhelming majority. The House of Lords exists to-carry out the will of the people. Will the House of Lords then pass these Resolutions? It appears to me that the Opposition have got to take their stand upon one leg or the other; either, to paraphrase an expression once used in the other House, "to stand upon their Irish leg or upon their British leg."
There was one class of argument which was used by the Leader of the Opposition and by the hon. Member for the University of Oxford and by a number of others for which I have a very great respect. It was used with considerable eloquence also by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover. He argued that to pass so drastic a series of Resolutions in so short a time was alien to the spirit of British institutions. I think he then pointed out that our institutions had grown. That is an argument which I might venture to describe as legitimate Conservatism, and I hope I might venture to reply to it in the same spirit. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have always laid down this doctrine when dealing with tariff policy that methods which were adapted to the nation two or three generations ago are not necessarily suited to it to-day; and in accordance with that doctrine, if they come into office they will carry out in our fiscal policy changes as drastic as those we propose in our political policy. If that is applicable to our tariff policy, I ask, why not to the House of Lords? The House of Lords has remained unchanged, for at any rate, seven centuries. Has the condition of the nation remained stationary during the whole of that period I would like to answer that argument in a spirit worthy of it, for it is a large argument.
In a century, or little more than a century the whole face and the whole political conditions of this land have been transformed. A little over a century ago this was an agricultural, feudal country. During, I suppose, two lifetimes, we have suddenly developed into a great city-bred 1385 population, into a great factory nation, into the workshop of the world. As a result at the present moment the dominant element in British life is not the country side, but the great industrial centres. We are an industrial instead of a feudal civilisation. Are not these changed conditions?
One thing I think is admitted, and that is that an industrial country is always a democratic country. When you get your workshop population living a life of their own, cut off in great cities from the wealthy and the comfortable classes, then you get a distinct working-class sentiment arising. Feudalism dies and democracy arises. These are changes in conditions, and the question I put to those who use the argument of history is this, do not these changed conditions need, according to your own doctrine, a fundamental change in institutions? I think the history of the last century is the answer. Look at this House. A little more than two generations ago this House was dominated by the hereditary principle. A number of its Members represented boroughs which were owned and controlled by Members of the House of Lords, and yet in 1832 this House had to submit to triumphant democracy, mainly owing to the pressure of these great industrial centres.
Take county government. Up to 1888 the government of our counties was in the hands of the quarter sessions—the very embodiment of feudalism. They had to submit. Take the Monarchy itself. The Monarchy has become a constitutional Monarchy, which accepts the decision of the democracy. This House has had to submit, the quarter sessions have had to submit, the Monarchy has had to submit; but throughout all these changes and transformations one institution alone, the House of Lords, has stood unregenerated, unchanged, and unreformed. I think one can frankly say that if these Resolutions do mean what hon. Gentlemen opposite say they mean—if you like to describe it as revolution—in view of the changed conditions, and in view of the doctrine expounded from benches opposite, I think we are justified in saying that that revolution is as much justified in the condition of the nation, and is as much in accordance with the spirit of British institutions as the great Reform Act of 1832. Hon. Gentlemen opposite speak of revolution, but I wonder whether it is realised that the foundation of the revolution—the undermining of the authority and the position 1386 of the House of Lords—has most undoubtedly come from Gentlemen on the opposite benches, and no one has so thoroughly carried out this policy as the Leader of the Opposition.
Since the rejection of the Home Rule Bill a very ingenious doctrine has been developed by the Unionist party. It has been reflected in every speech delivered from the opposite side of the House, and that is the doctrine that the object and purpose of the House of Lords is to prevent this House from carrying measures which are not in accordance with the will of the electorate. The hon. and learned Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave) said:—It is not this House that mattered; it is not this House whose opinions should be carried into law: it is not the House of Lords; it is the country.That is reflected in every speech, and it is reflected now in the House of Lords itself, for the House of Lords now no longer rejects measures—it claims now that it is only referring them to the country. The position, then, is that the Members of the Opposition have for almost two generations, deliberately taken up the position that the House of Lords is the guardian of democracy, and they have openly stated it. But it appears to me that when once you base your defence upon that argument then the case for the extinction of the House of Lords and the substitution of an elective Chamber is complete. If you want a House to act as the guardian of democracy surely it is clear that the only House which can properly effect that purpose is one elected by the democracy itself. To give such a mandate as that to a House which consists of Members who, after all, are themselves drawn from the very class which is furthest removed from democracy is surely a paradox and an absurdity. Let me say in conclusion, although this may be described as revolution, the real revolution has come from the party opposite, because they have been responsible for the revolutionary idea. All that will be done by the party on this side of the House will be to translate into the formal language of institutions the doctrine which Members of the Conservative party have themselves proclaimed.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Thursday).