§ 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.
§ Sir ROBERT FINLAY
moved, as an Amendment, to leave out from the word "That," to the end, and to insert instead the words, "in the opinion of this House a strong and efficient Second Chamber is necessary; that this House is willing to consider proposals for the reform of the constitution of the existing Second Cham- 1472 ber, but declines to proceed with proposals which would destroy the usefulness of any Second Chamber, however constituted, and would remove the only safeguard against great changes being made by the Government of the day not only without the consent but against the wishes of the majority of the electors."
I am afraid that the country takes a somewhat languid interest in the Debate which is now going on, but there is one question which I am certain a great many people in the country are asking. That is, why the Government have at this time thought fit to devote several weeks of public time to a discussion of this nature? Is there no other and more urgent business which requires the attention of this House? Do not the finances of the country want attention? Is not it perfectly notorious that millions of the taxpayers' money are being lost and grave charges incurred for interest week after week in consequence of the tactics which the Government have thought fit to adopt? The answer to that question which so many people are putting is but too obvious. It lies in the relations between the Government and the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond). The hon. Member for Waterford will not allow this Government to deal with British finance, and it is under his orders that the time of this House is being devoted to this discussion, while the money of the taxpayer is in consequence being wasted. Any private trustee who behaved with regard to trust funds as the Government are behaving with regard to the national finance, would incur very serious responsibility. He would be removed from his office, and ordered to make good the loss. The interests committed to the Government are so vast that they seem to think they may take the course they are adopting with impunity. But they await the judgment of the country, and the country will be at no loss to say what condemnation should be passed upon tactics so paltry and, I will venture to add, so discreditable.
Passing to the consideration of the subject immediately before the House—and which, I venture to say, should not at this time have been before the House—a great deal has been said as to the effect which these Resolutions, if passed, would have upon the House of Lords. It has been pointed out with unanswerable force that they would absolutely destroy the efficiency of our Second Chamber. What I wish to call attention to in the first instance is this, that they would not only 1473 have that disastrous effect upon the House of Lords, but that they would end in the degradation of the House of Commons. That results inevitably from the admission which was elicited yesterday by my right hon. Friend from the Chief Secretary for Ireland when he said that if any Amendments which had not been agreed to by the two Houses were introduced into a Bill in the second or third Session it would no longer be the same Bill, and therefore could not become law under these Resolutions if they are embodied in an Act. Surely that is a most serious state of matters. It means that in future, to get the benefit of this Resolution, it will be necessary for the Government in the second and third Sessions to carry through the Bill in exactly the same form in which it passed the House of Commons in the first instance. And more than that, this is a defect which is incurable. It is inherent in the very nature of the proposal which the Government have submitted.
I have the greatest possible respect for the ability of right, hon. Gentlemen whom I see opposite; but that so many able men should have concurred in a proposal of that kind is one of the most striking examples of what has been termed in an article, which I dare say many hon. Members have read, the "Intellectual Bankruptcy of the New Liberalism." How will that work on the procedure of the House in the second Session? The guillotine will be set up. The measure will be forced through in precisely the form in which it passed in the first Session. Every man who proposes an Amendment, however clearly public discussion and consideration may have shown that Amendment is required, will be denounced as a traitor, because the result would be, if the Bill were altered, they could not take advantage of the procedure introduced in these Resolutions to have the Bill passed into law by taking it up for the Assent of the Crown if the House of Lords a second time refused to agree to it. Is not that the most disastrous, the most devastating, effect that these Resolutions would have on the procedure of this House? On the first occasion, so far as important measures are concerned, you might have discussion, but after that the period for discussion has ceased and the time for action has arrived, and this House will have driven through it under the pres sure of the guillotine the measure in its original shape, without regard to the necessity, however clear and however apparent it may be, of some Amendment being made.
1474 It has struck me that the Prime Minister, in his speech in introducing this Motion, very much exaggerated the evils which he said this Motion was designed to cure. He spoke of deadlocks, and, when he explained himself, it appeared that he referred to a certain number of cases in which the House of Lords did not agree with this House as to the passage of particular measures. What would be of more importance would be to show that there ever has been a deadlock between the House of Lords and the country. I venture to say that in the whole history of the House of Lords no instance can be pointed to where such a deadlock has been occasioned. It has always been the maxim which has guided the action of the House of Lords, as was laid down by the Duke of Wellington, who long led it, that its function was to represent the settled will of the country, and that as soon as it appeared that the country had definitely and deliberately made up its mind upon any measure, it was the duty of the House of Lords to acquiesce in the will of the country. There never has been a deadlock between the House of Lords and the country—[An HON. MEMBER: "Oh, oh!"]—and the suggestion that the fact of the two Houses not having been able to agree upon certain measures of legislation calls for such heroic remedies as those which the Prime Minister proposes is, I must respectfully submit to the House, one devoid of all foundation. The violence of the remedies suggested by the Prime Minister for these evils which he pictures, to my mind almost rivals the way in which he exaggerated the suggested evils themselves. There were two remedies. One was a dissolution of the House of Commons, and the other was the creation of a sufficient number of Peers to swamp the votes of the House of Lords as it exists and to pass a measure in the shape which the House of Commons of the day desires. Is it not a most extraordinary thing that the Prime Minister of this country should get up and in this House speak of these two courses of action as if they stood on anything like the same footing?
The: dissolution of the House of Commons is, of course, that to which it must submit from time to time. The creation of a sufficient number of peers to swamp the votes of the House of Lords as it exists is a measure of an almost revolutionary character. It has never been adopted, except on one occasion, when a very few 1475 peers were created for the purpose of carrying a particular measure. It is a measure which, when it was adopted, actually led to the impeachment of the Minister who had advised it. It is a measure which has never been repeated. It is a measure which was proposed again and acquiesced in by the Sovereign at the time of the first Reform Bill, under circumstances of extreme pressure, and when a grave national crisis existed—a crisis which is not comparable to anything with which we have to deal. The so-called crisis at present exists only in the imagination of right hon. Gentlemen -opposite. The country is totally unconscious of the crisis, and while they have been working themselves into a state of frantic excitement on the platform and in the House over the crisis, the country has been going about its ordinary business in absolute unconsciousness that any crisis was going on. We are actually told now that this prerogative of creating new peers is to be dealt with as if it were one remedy to be mentioned in the same breath with the procedure by dissolution of the House of Commons, which inevitably takes place every few years—a procedure with regard to the House of Lords, which has not been resorted to since the time of Queen Anne, which was proposed at the time of the first Reform Bill, and to which the statesmen who were concerned in the passing of that measure expressed the gravest possible objection, as being a measure of such violence that they were most reluctant to advise the Crown under the circumstances to have recourse to it. And yet the Prime Minister now gets up and talks as if it were quite in the ordinary course of things, as if the creation of 500 peers in the House of Lords would correspond to a dissolution of the House of Commons. I could not help thinking that the Prime Minister dilated upon this subject in terms so remarkable that his observations were addressed more particularly to one quarter of the House, that in which the hon. and learned Member for Waterford and his colleagues sit; and a speech which the hon. and learned Gentleman shortly afterwards made showed that my surmise was not wrong, because he took occasion to clinch what the Prime Minister had said, in words so remarkable that I will venture to call the attention of the House to them again. The hon. and learned Member said, with reference to the Prime Minister's speech, and with 1476 reference to any possible utterances of the Prime Minister:—Any words used by the right hon. Gentleman that would cast any doubt, upon his clean determination to proceed to the Royal Prerogative immediately the Veto has been rejected by the House of Lords would be words that would be received with the greatest disappointment … upon both sides of the House.I venture to say that if the Prime Minister should take any such step, he will be straining the Constitution to the breaking point. These Resolutions propose to make-fundamental changes in our Constitution. They propose to modify most profoundly the law of the Constitution as it has always existed with regard to the relations between the two Houses of Parliament. Their effect would be to reduce the House of Lords to a condition of legislative impotence, and their effect is such that no reform of the House of Lords would render the effect of these Resolutions even tolerable. I go further, and I say that it is perfectly obvious that no reform of the House of Lords is seriously intended by the Government. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford said that he had observed with the greatest satisfaction that there was not a word in the Resolutions about the reform of the House of Lords, and that he would have nothing to do with it. Hon. Members below the Gangway, on the other side, cheered that statement and cheered that view. Do any of the hon. Gentlemen who sit behind the Prime Minister think that under these circumstances reform of the House of Lords is seriously intended?
There was what I may call a plaintive bleating, if I may use the expression, from the hon. Member for Leith Burghs (Mr. Munro Ferguson). He said that he very much regretted the course that the Government had taken, that it did not accord with his views, but that, after all, he would vote for the Resolution on the understanding that reform would be afterwards prosecuted. The political virtue of the hon. Gentleman is a thing of which he is very easily beguiled. If he is deceived no one else is deceived. Such proposals as these with regard to the position of the Second Chamber would make any reform, for the purpose of making it a strong and effective Second Chamber such as he desires, absurd. Surely it would be the very height of absurdity, having begun by tying up your Chamber so as to deprive it of all efficiency, afterwards to proceed to alter its constitution so as to make it strong and effective—if it were only relieved of 1477 the fetters which had been put upon it. Does anyone believe that when these so-called reforms are carried out, if they ever are to be carried out, that the fetters which these Resolutions propose to put upon the House of Lords would be taken off? The thing is absurd; the Government, and still more their supporters, mean that these fetters shall remain for ever, and the hon. Member for Leith Burghs may bid a long adieu to his dream that there is to be any reform of the House of Lords.
These Resolutions mark a definite triumph of the extremist section in the Cabinet. We have heard a great deal from some Members of the Cabinet about its being absolutely essential that there should be a strong Second Chamber. What do they say to their views now? Do they expect them to be given effect to? I venture to say that everyone in the House realises that these Resolutions mark that the policy so warmly advocated by the Secretary for Foreign Affairs has been laid upon the shelf. I think that a good many people would be disposed to ask why it is that the Government in this matter have proceeded by Resolution instead of proceeding by Bill. It involves the expenditure of a good deal more of Parliamentary time if you have a discussion twice over, but I think there is one very good reason for the Government proceeding by Resolution, and that is that it is a great deal easier on such a subject to frame a Resolution than it is to draw a Bill. There are a great many things which you may put into the general form of a Resolution, the utter impracticability of which at once become apparent as soon as you put them in a Bill. I do not know whether any hon. Members happen to recollect the discussion in "The Antiquary" as to the form of verse which should be adopted for a heroic poem which the hero was composing. He settled his subject—of course, an epic—and said, "Blank verse, I suppose." His friend assented. "Yes, it is more majestic and more suited for the epic; but what concerneth thee, my friend, I believe, is the idea it is easier to write." Resolutions are a great deal easier to draw up than Bills, and I fancy that if the Government draughtsmen, already overworked, had been asked to put these Resolutions into the form of a Bill which would stand the fire of Parliamentary criticism it would have been the last straw that would break the backs of those very hardly worked officials.
1478 What reasons are there far these momentous changes? I say that there are none at all. With regard to the financial portion of the Resolutions, the legality of the action of the House of Lords is now admitted. A most extraordinary attempt was made by some learned Friends of mine opposite to say that all they meant by admitting the legality of the action of the House of Lords was that no court of law could interfere with it. Did my learned Friends ever hear of any court of law interfering with the action of either House of Parliament with regard to any matter of constitutional usage? Then what is the meaning of the suggestion put forward by a colleague of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General, who cheers that observation, that all he meant by saying that the action of the House of Lords was legal was this, that no Chancery judge could issue an injunction against what they did.
§ Sir ROBERT FINLAY
I readily accept what the hon. and learned Member said, but I certainly understood him to say that there was no remedy at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Simon said that."] I thought it was said by the Solicitor-General, and that it was repeated by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Simon).
§ Mr. SIMON
I may not have made my meaning plain, but, at any rate, what I. meant is this, when one says that it is legal for the House of Lords to reject the Budget, it means that when the House of Lords has rejected the Budget it is impossible to collect the taxes which the Budget imposed. That is exactly what I said.
§ Sir ROBERT FINLAY
I thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman said that no court of law could interfere with the action of the House of Lords. I am certain he said so. I venture to say that an observation of that kind is utterly beside the mark. No court of law can interfere with either House of Parliament in the course of their relations with one another. It is admitted on all hands, apparently, that it is legal, but it is said it is unconstitutional. That blessed word has brought comfort to many Radical platforms during election time. I venture to say that the assertion that the action of the House of Lords was unconstitutional is utterly and absolutely unfounded. The right of the House of Lords to reject a Money Bill has sometimes been compared 1479 to the Veto of the Crown, which, it is said, and truly said, has not been exercised for a very long time. But why is it that the Veto of the Crown has fallen into desuetude for some two hundred years? It is simply this, that we live under a system of government where the Sovereign acts under the advice of his responsible Ministers. It would be preposterous to suppose that any Minister, after a Bill had passed through both Houses of Parliament and passed through the House of Commons, where that Minister commands a majority, should advise the Sovereign to veto that Bill. That is why the Veto of the Crown is no longer exercised, and is no longer necessary. There is no analogy whatever between the case of the Veto of the Crown and the Veto of the House of Lords. That point is so clear that I really do not propose to elaborate it. But it is surprising that such suggestions should have been made. I do not know that they have been made in this House, but certainly they were made at no distant date on the Government side in another place.
There is another consideration to which I venture, with very great respect, to call the attention of the House, and it is this: The Peers pay taxes. If the House of Lords has not the right to have any say with regard to a Money Bill, what becomes of the axiom that there is no taxation without representation? [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway laugh, but may I ask why Peers are to be under a ban which does not apply to any other of His Majesty's subjects? It used to be an axiom of Liberalism that there was no taxation without representation. Has that axiom been sent to join political economy as used in Saturn and Jupiter? Has the new Liberalism discarded that axiom altogether, and does it consider that it is right or proper that any people shall be subject to taxes in the imposition of which they have no say whatever? The logical conclusion of excluding the House of Lords from any say whatever with regard to Money Bills would be that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have his attention to Peers, and more particularly to Dukes, entirely cut off. He would no longer have the pleasure, having started with the process, of taxing them out of existence, and under such circumstances his political life really would not be worth living. The proposition that the House of Peers are to have no voice whatever in Money Bills, and are bound merely 1480 to register anything that comes up to them from the House of Commons, is as entirely opposed to common sense and justice as it is to constitutional history, and to the expressed convictions of this House of Commons.
Surely the occasion on which this question has been raised is most unhappy. What did the Peers do? They referred the Budget to the judgment of the people of this country, and what has been the answer of the people of this country? If you look at the predominant partner, as England has been called, you will find there is a clear majority of the representatives of England against the Budget altogether. [An HON. MEMBER: "NO."]There is no doubt whatever about it, unless the votes of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway count for two apiece. If you look to the representatives of the whole United Kingdom there is, without any doubt whatever, a majority against the Budget upon its merits, and if the support of hon. Members from Ireland is obtained for the Budget it will mean that they vote for a measure of which they disapprove, because the Government have promised to give them something else in return. Is it a crime on the part of the House of Lords that, with regard to the Budget, it reflected the opinion of the people of the country more accurately than the last House of Commons? That apparently is the crime. The view of Liberal politicians seems to be that to appeal from the majority which they may possess in any House of Commons to the people of the country is a misdemeanour which deserves political extinction. The offence is that the House of Lords gave the people an opportunity of showing that the Parliament of 1906 grossly misrepresented the divisions of political opinion in the country.
The question is often put: Is it the House of Lords or the House of Commons that is to be supreme? The answer returned, amid tumultuous cheering, has been "The House of Commons." I say that neither ought to be supreme. The people of the country ought to be supreme. Both these Houses are merely pieces of machinery for giving effect to the will of the people. Not that every passing gust of opinion should be reflected in legislation, but that the settled and deliberate will of the people should take effect upon the Statute Book. That is why these, two Houses exist. It is altogether a mistake to treat the House of Commons as if it were necessarily, and on every occasion, to be taken as representing finally and conclusively the 1481 national will. The election through which we have just passed affords one of the most conspicuous illustrations of the fallacy of any such doctrine. In the last Parliament the Liberal majority was overwhelming, it was out of all proportion to the number of votes cast at the election between the two great parties in the State, and as soon as the country, after four years of that Parliament, was asked what they thought of it and of its last measure, the Budget, that majority disappeared like snow before the sun. The view sometimes taken by Members of the House of Commons, if they are in a majority for the time being, is "We are the people." Louis XIV. when he said "L'Etat c'est moi," was not more despotic than some Liberal Members of the House of Commons are disposed to be. They treat it as a high crime and misdemeanour that anyone should venture to say: "After all, you are not the people. The people are your masters; and on proper occasions it is only right that the people should be asked what they think." The House of Lords is sometimes spoken of as if it were an oligarchy. It is Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House who desire by these Resolutions to establish a sort of oligarchy in this House—an oligarchy on a leasehold tenure—by which those Gentlemen who happen to be returned at any General Election for the term of that Parliament are to be taken finally and conclusively to be the people of England.
In considering this Question with regard to the rights of the two Houses, there are two periods in our constitutional history that must be looked at, namely, the period before the year 1860 and the period since the year 1860. I submit that it is absolutely clear that both before and since 1860 the constitutional right of the House of Lords to reject any Money Bill is absolutely undisputed. There are three entirely distinct things which have to be considered in this connection: first, the right of initiating a Money Bill; secondly, the right of amending a Money Bill; and, thirdly, the right of rejecting a Money Bill. The rights of initiation and of amending have been established as belonging to the House of Commons. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] They have been established by the course and practice of both Houses. There has never been any formal acquiescence by the House of Lords in the claim of the House of Commons that Money Bills should not be amended by the House of Lords. It has upon very recent occa- 1482 sions been asserted in the House of Lords that the right of amending Money Bills still exists. But speaking for myself only, I think the sound doctrine is that by acquiescence the right of amending has gone into desuetude. What we are concerned with is not the question of the right to amend, but the right to reject Money Bills. The whole stock in trade of the supporters of the Government during the last General Election consisted in confounding these three things, in citing cases where it was held that the House of Commons alone had a right to initiate or to amend, and leading their audiences to believe that those cases had any application whatever to the question of the right of rejection. One of the worst offenders in this matter, I regret to say, is the Prime Minister himself, as I shall presently show. I submit there is no doubt at all that Lord Palmerston, in his letter to the Queen in May, 1860, correctly stated the doctrine of the Constitution. What he said was:—Moreover, the Commons have always contended that the Lords cannot originate or alter a Money Bill, but it has never been contended that the Lords may not reject a Money Bill, though there are few instances of their having done so. These arguments at length prevailed.That was, prevailed in the Cabinet. What have supporters of the Government been doing throughout the country? They have been talking about the unbroken usage of 300 years, showing that the House of Lords could not reject Money Bills. They have been talking about the privileges purchased by the blood of our forefathers which the House of Lords was infringing by rejecting the Budget of last year. But when we came to deal with the matter in this House the Prime Minister said he would not touch upon what happened in 1628, in 1671, in 1678, or in 1860. One reason he gave was that lie did not desire to occupy the time of the House with historical or antiquarian research. There was a much better reason than that, namely, that all these cases are either absolutely irrelevant or dead against the contention of the Prime Minister. In 1628 it was established that in the preamble to a Money Bill it should be stated that the tax was the grant of the Commons, without any mention of the Lords. There is no doubt about it, and it has been the practice ever since. But what possible bearing has that upon the question whether the House of Lords has a right to refuse its assent to that tax becoming law so that it can be imposed upon the subjects of the realm? In 1671, the next date 1483 mentioned by the Prime Minister, the Resolution of the Commons was that a rate- or tax ought not to be altered by the Lords. They did not assert that the Lords might not reject the tax altogether. But more than that. In the discussion which took place between the two Houses with regard to that Resolution the Commons stated in express terms:—Your Lordships have a negative voice to the whole.In 1678, the next date referred to by the Prime Minister, the Resolution was again confined to the point that a Bill ought not to be changed by the House of Lords. It did not refer to the right of rejection at all. In 1689, when a discussion took place on this matter, and the House of Commons drew up arguments for use in the discussion between the two Houses, they admitted the right of rejection in the most express terms, and, indeed, based their whole argument upon it. May I read a few words from that argument, which was drawn up by the Attorney-General of the time, I think, and for which he was thanked by the House? They said:—The Lords are not to niter or otherwise interpose in such a Bill than to pass or to reject the same for the whole, without any alteration or amendment, though in case of the subject.Then they went on to say that that was what the Sovereign of the Realm had to do, to take it as a whole or reject it as a whole, and they said:—So are the Lords to pass all or reject all, without diminution or alteration.Is it not a most extraordinary thing that the Prime Minister should have referred to proceedings which took place towards the end of the seventeenth century, as if they afforded any confirmation of the view which he was presenting to the House? I do not complain of his doing so in this House, because the matter can be brought out and stated; but I do complain of his addressing popular audiences and citing these instances as if they had any relevancy whatever to his contention that the action of the House of Lords in rejecting the Budget was unconstitutional. At Birmingham, in September last, he addressed a large meeting, and cited these Resolutions of 1671 and 1678 as if they bore upon the question of rejection; but he omitted to tell his audience that the Commons in their argument had in express terms admitted the right of rejection. I think it is a matter for the gravest complaint that, under the leadership of the 1484 Prime Minister, on ten thousand platforms, the electors of this country should have been misled on the question of constitutional law. A very high authority upon this matter, Mr. Hat sell, in his "Precedents," says:—That initiation and amendment are barred to the Lords—But he goes on thus:—It would not be for the honour or advantage of the Commons to press the matter further.And Lord Palmerston, in the discussions in 1860, cited that passage, and said:—That to question the constitutional nature of the action of the House of Lords in rejecting the Bill for the Repeal of the Paper Duty would be to bring the House of Commons within the meaning of that passage (which he had read).The matter is still stronger when we come down to the Resolutions of 1860. The Prime Minister said he would not occupy the time of the House by going into them. There was the best reason for not referring to the Resolutions of 1860 in support of his Motion—the very best reason in the world —because as soon as the words of those Resolutions are looked at it is apparent that so far from denying the right of the Lords to reject the House of Commons expressly admitted that right. May I just read a very few of the words that are material. The first Resolution related the right to grant and to annexing limitations to the grant—which no one disputes—at least, I do not. The second Resolution relates to the question of rejection, and so far as material it runs thus:—That although the Lords have exercised the power to reject Bills of several descriptions referring to taxing by negativing the whole, yet the exercise of that power by them has not been frequent, and is justly regarded by this House with peculiar jealousy as affecting the rights of the Commons to grant Supplies and to provide the Ways and Means fur the service of the year.The third Resolution was:—That it is expedient to take steps for the purpose of preventing the undue exercise of this power by the Lords.We all know what those steps were. I defy anyone to get up in this House and to say that those words did not mean that it was constitutional for the House of Lords to reject a Money Bill, but that the House of Commons regarded it with jealousy, and proposed to take steps to prevent its undue exercise. That is a view which was expressed at the time in very clear language by Mr. Disraeli, who was then in the House of Commons, when he said:—That that Resolution admits distinctly and deliberately the power of the House of Lords to reject Money Bills.1485 The Prime Minister went on to refer to what was said in the House of Commons by Mr. Pitt, the Great Commoner, as he then was, in the year 1766. What Mr. Pitt said, quoted by the Prime Minister, was this:—That the taxes are The voluntary gift and grant of' the Commons.Mr. Pitt was then arguing against the power of the Imperial Parliament to impose taxation upon the American Colonies. He maintained the view, as Lord Macaulay has said, in defiance of all reason and of all authority, that the supreme legislative power did not include the right to tax. Why did he maintain that view? Because his view was that the tax must initiate with those who were to be taxed, and as the Colonies were not represented in the House of Commons, therefore the Legislature had not got the necessary preliminary to the imposition of any tax, namely, the grant of the people who were to be taxed. That was his whole argument. The whole argument in that speech was, I think, every constitutional authority will agree, entirely fallacious. The illustration does not help the Prime Minister one bit. I again do not complain of the Prime Minister citing that dictum of Mr. Pitt's in this House, because it may be dealt with here; but I do complain of his citing it to large popular, audiences, as if it showed that the action of the House of Lords was unconstitutional. The Prime Minister went on to cite Lord Rosebery, who, in 1894, said:—The House of Lords has nothing to do with Honey BillsI had the great privilege of hearing the speech which that distinguished Nobleman made recently upon the Budget in the House of Lords. He referred to what he had said before in terms which, to my mind, conveyed the impression that he felt a little fettered by those utterances, and that if he had to speak on the subject again he might not arrive at the same conclusion. He did not say so in terms, but certainly that was the impression he conveyed to my mind with regard to the view lie took upon that subject. I think that was the impression he conveyed to those who, like myself, had the privilege of hearing his speech on that occasion. Most certainly, although it was most strictly relevant to the subject under discussion in the House of Lords, the Budget, he did not repeat the argument that it would be unconstitutional for the House of Lords to throw it out. The Prime Minister said that he would cite the dictum of the 1486 late Lord Salisbury. I will not go over that again. My Noble Friend the hon. Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) has shown what were the views Lord Salisbury most clearly expressed in 1894 in regard to the powers of the House of Lords. The Prime Minister went on to refer to what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said. My right hon. Friend stated, when he followed the Prime Minister, that he never meant to say anything of the kind. What is the use of the Prime Minister saying, "I give you this as an authority for the proposition," when my right hon. Friend says that he did not mean to assert anything of the sort? I have gone through all the authorities that the Prime Minister has referred to, but there are one or two others which I think the attention of the House ought to be called to in this connection. In 1853 Lord Aberdeen, in dealing with the Succession Duties Act, said:—You may, and this you have the full right to do, throw it out on the Second Reading; that is perfectly within your Lordship's competence to do.Since that took place you have a new practice which was introduced in the year 1861. That was simply this: that instead of sending up several taxing Bills you amalgamated a great many of them—not all—into one Budget Bill. What was the object of doing that? It was to make it more difficult for the House of Lords to reject the Bill. The object was that the House of Lords should have to think once, twice, or even three times before it took the step of rejecting a Bill. But such action could not interfere with the constitutional right of the House of Lords to reject a Bill if the circumstances warranted it. This does not rest merely upon the argument as to the nature and effect of that change, because when the first Budget Bill of this nature was introduced in the year 1861 it was stated by Ministers in the most express terms, both in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords. In the House of Commons Sir James Graham said:—We do not fetter the power to assent or to reject, hut we do say they must not partly alter.Now it is said, "Oh, it does fetter, and makes it impossible for the House of Lords to reject." In the House of Lords Earl Granville was equally explicit. He says this:—It. is not for this House to be constantly interfering with the details of public finance. If that be so it must be more convenient for your Lordships to hove the whole fiscal system before you in one Bill and to discuss 1487 it in its entirety instead of by piecemeal. It seems to me that that course leaves the rights of both branches of the Legislature, whatever they are, however large, as they were before, your Lordships retaining intact the power to reject if yon cannot alter Money Bills.The same thing was said in 1894 by Lord Kimberley. It was repeated by Lord Spencer and by Lord Ripon. I am not going to multiply these quotations, some of which have already been referred to. It was stated in 1908 by the present Lord Chancellor, who, without any qualification, said:—That the power of the House of Lords with regard to the rejection of a Money Bill is absolute and complete.Lord Morley of Blackburn said very recently, in another place, that:—The legal right was not disputed, and circumstances might exist which would transform that legal right into a moral duty.The illustration that he gave was that if a "wild-cat" Budget was sent up to the House of Lords by a demented House of Commons it might be the duty of the House of Lords to exercise their legal right. Whether the particular Budget in question is or is not a "wild-cat" Budget must be a matter of opinion. I will not speak as to the other contingency which Lord Morley of Blackburn hypothetically referred to. You may say that the action of the House of Lords in rejecting the Budget was injudicious if you like. You may say that you do not approve, that you do not like it. To say that it is unconstitutional is, I venture to say, nonsense! The hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) in his very interesting speech yesterday said frankly that he agreed with the contention that had been put forward by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University, that the action of the House of Lords was constitutional. He went on:—I desire to alter "the law and to pass a statute to take away the constitutional right which at present exists.I venture to say that that is the only honest way to deal with the subject.
I wonder how many hon. Members have looked at the little book which was prepared by the Clerk of the House and printed for the use of Members, and ordered by Mr. Speaker to be laid upon the Table of the House, in which this subject is dealt with? It deals with the practice which has grown up since the Resolutions of 1861. Under these Resolutions and under the previous Resolutions 1488 of the seventeenth century, and it says that, while no Amendment is allowed, the Lords may reject the whole Bill embodying any such legislative proposal. Hon. Members can get this book in the Vote Office. I am quoting from the second edition, issued in 1908, for the use of the Members of the House. I will read the whole passage if hon. Members desire it, but, if not, and if they will refer to the book, they will find the practice stated in the terms I have quoted. Then it is said, "Oh, there has been a custom since 1881 that such Bills should not be rejected." Well, the right of rejection is not exercised unless a proper occasion presents itself; but what an extraordinary contention it is that, because you do not use the right when the occasion does not arise that you have lost the right when the occasion does arise. When had we ever such a Budget as this? And may I venture to add that it is not very often we have had such a Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Sir ROBERT FINLAY
I cordially join with that; but, Sir, apart from the merits of the Budget with which the House of Lords has to deal, there is a most important fact that that Budget did introduce under the guise of a financial measure various provisions which, according to all usage and practice, ought to have been embodied in separate measures. The Government have charged the House of Lords with violating the Constitution. It is the Government which has abused the forms of the Constitution for the purpose of trying to put pressure upon the House of Lords to pass measures not merely financial in their object, but intended for other purposes. The Prime Minister, I think, in his speech in this House, referring to the action of the House of Lords, said:—The controversy between the two parties was carried on with a false balance and with loaded dice.It is not on the part of the Unionist party that either false balance or loaded dice have been used. Let me call the attention of the House to what the Prime Minister said with reference to his intention as to the use that might be made of financial legislation. Speaking at the National Liberal Club in December, 1908, referring to the rejection of the Licensing Bill and to the possibility of taking drastic 1489 measures with the House of Lords, he used these words:—Finance is in instrument of great potency and also of great flexibility, and it may be found to be in some directions, at any rate, a partial solvent of what under our existing constitutional conditions would otherwise be insoluble problems.These words can bear only one meaning. They mean that the forms of financial legislation were to be used for the purpose of putting the House of Lords in a difficulty in rejecting proposals which were really not germane to finance, and a most excellent illustration of the way in which the policy of the Prime Minister then indicated was carried out has been recently afforded. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking at the Queen's Hall the other day, was referring to a most desirable object, with which, I am sure, everyone will sympathise, and that is that when you are endeavouring to create a peasant proprietary the price to be demanded of the occupiers who purchase should not be excessive. Everyone must sympathise with that, but let me just set out what the right hon. Gentleman stated upon this subject. He said:—There is none of that in our ideas of land purchase.He was referring to the exaggerated prices he said were charged in Ireland:—That is why when I introduced the Budget. I naturally thought the first step in land reform was valuation—a fair valuation, an impartial valuation, not a penny less to the landlord than the place is worth, not a penny more than the thing is worth.Everybody agrees with that, and no one agrees with it more cordially than I do; but what I say is: This is land reform; this is not financial legislation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer pleads guilty to "tacking" in these sentences. The case is equally clear with regard to legislation dealing with the liquor trade.
The Lord Advocate (Mr. Alexander Ure) and the present Home Secretary (Mr. Winston Churchill) both of them said, when the rejection of the Licensing Bill of the Government by the House of Lords was threatened—the first, that if that took place—Swinging duties would be imposed upon those concerned in the trade.And the other, that—They would find they had jumped from the frying pan into the fire.That threat was carried out, and you had portions of the Finance Bill of last year devoted to special legislation affecting the liquor trade which amply fulfilled the threats that these two distinguished statesmen had set out. We are now told 1490 that these liquor taxes, it is true, have not produced revenue, but they have promoted temperance. Is that fianancial legislation? The truth is that the privileges of the House of Lords, as Mr. Gladstone said in 1860, are as important to the balance of the Constitution as the privileges of this House itself. And he went on in most impressive words to point out that the real meaning of their assertion of their rights by the House of Lord was that they desired to prevent the House of Commons from forcing upon the House of Lords other matters of general legislation not covered by Money Bills. Is not this a clear case of trying to force such alien matters through the House of Lords under cover of a Money Bill? You can deal with such endeavours to evade the spirit of the Constitution by incorporating such alien-matters in a Finance Bill by arguing the matter before a tribunal. The Australian Act creating the Commonwealth tried to deal with such by saying, in terms, that any foreign matters, when introduced into a Money Bill should be null and void, so it falls to the lot of the Federal Courts to decide such matters, but no court could deal with the introduction of matters which technically may have some relations to the taxes to be imposed, but are really introduced for other and extraneous and outside reasons. It is proposed in these Resolutions to throw upon Mr. Speaker the duty of deciding whether a Bill is a pure Money Bill or not. I can conceive no more difficult and no more invidious duties cast upon Mr. Speaker. The great traditions of the office would make both Houses perfectly safe in your hands, Mr. Speaker, but I can conceive that in other times and in other circumstances a Speaker might be exposed to a vast amount of misconstruction and misunderstanding if he had so-difficult, so delicate, and so invidious a task thrust upon him as that of deciding whether the matter introduced into a Bill was to be considered as violating an spirit the rule governing "tacking "even though the letter has been observed, and I trust that whatever happens to the rest of the Resolutions we shall hear no more of the Resolution to impose that duty upon you, Sir, and upon your successors in office. It has been pointed out what a great possibility Finance Bills afford in the way of general legislation. I desire to say a few words with regard to the more general question of the abolition of the Veto, upon which I have already touched. To take away the power of the Veto from the 1491 Second Chamber would be to deprive it of its only effective weapon. The life would go out of the House. We have all read with acclamation the Debates that have recently taken place in the House of Lords. What spirit would be left in that House if it was told, "You are only a debating society. You may debate, and you may delay other issues, but you cannot reject and you cannot insure that you shall know in the only proper and authoritative way whether or not what is brought before you expresses the will of the country." You would no longer have the same end in the House of Lords; you would no longer have the same Debates; it would be a different Assembly. The whole efficiency of the Second Chamber would, I venture to say, have departed from us.
What is the reason that these changes are wanted? They are wanted to pass measures and to enable the Government to get through legislation, not only without attending to, but contrary to the wishes of the people of this country. A most excellent illustration of the truth of this matter was given by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. Redmond). He said, some years ago, that—If the people of England were converted to Home Rule the House of Lords would have to give way. The House of Lords never has, resisted the settled will of the country.But the people of the country seem to take a good deal of converting to Home Rule, and the hon. and learned Member for Waterford says now that the only obstacle to the passing of Home Rule is the Veto of the House of Lords. What does that mean? Except that he hopes, if the House of Lords is disabled, to run through Home Rule without the opinion of the people of this country having been taken thereon. And then we are told that the House of Lords is to be obedient, apparently, to every passing gust of popular opinion. The hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes), speaking the other night, used most remarkable expressions. He said:—Democratic thought seems to me to be tidal in character; it surges up in waves, and if you set up a barrier such as the House of Lords to dam it, provided the dam be high enough. you set that surge or democratic thought back for the time, and in doing so you may set it back for all time.5.0 P.M.
Was there ever a more extraordinary statement? Look at the constitution of that great country the United States. What precautions have, they taken to avoid alterations in their constitution being made? How 1492 they have fenced it round with infinite care and with many safeguards. And yet we are told by an hon. Member below the Gangway:—That the danger to democracy is not so much in haste as in stagnation.We are to be exposed to every passing gust of popular opinion, and trust to repelling it after. There is one passage which, if the House will allow me, I should like to read, because it seems to me almost prophetic Sir Henry Maine said:—We are drifting towards a type of Government associated with terrible events—a single Assembly, armed with full powers over the Constitution which it may exercise at pleasure. It will be a theoretically all-powerful Convention, governed by a practically all-powerful secret committee of public safety, but kept from complete submission to its authority by obstruction, for which its rulers are always seeking to find a remedy in some kind of moral guillotine.I think those are weighty words, and if these Resolutions are to be taken seriously, and not as a mere move in the game of party tactics, they deserve the consideration of every one in the country. This change is being proposed in the interests of one party, and it is not being proposed in the interests of the country, still less in the interests of the Empire. This Parliament is not an Assembly simply dealing with municipal affairs, like the Assemblies of some of our smaller Colonies, which neither have nor want a Second Chamber. This is the Imperial Parliament. The King's dominions beyond the seas are interested in this Question, and our self-governing Colonies and the great dependency of India have an interest in the House of Lords. I venture to tell hon. Gentlemen opposite that they will find the opinion of the House of Lords is highly valued and highly respected in those vast communities with which the welfare of the Empire is so deeply concerned. Canada, Australia, and South Africa all have an effective Second Chamber, and is the Mother Country, in a moment of madness, going to break and destroy the model upon which all those Constitutions were framed What would all the great European countries say to us? They have all copied our example, and they have established Second Chambers. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I say they all have Second Chambers.
§ Sir ROBERT FINLAY
It is no use the Attorney-General interrupting by saying that they are elected Chambers. The point is, Are you going to have an effec- 1493 tive House of Lords? These Resolutions are intended to prevent the Second Chamber, however reformed and however constituted, from efficiently discharging its proper duties. This is a new and disastrous experiment which we are asked to embark upon under circumstances to which I have already adverted and upon which I will not further dilate.
In conclusion, I will summarise the matter as follows: The first of these Resolutions has been shown, in the course of this Debate, to propose a vital change in "the constitutional relations of the two Houses with regard to financial matters. It is admitted that the second of these Resolutions would introduce a vital change with regard to all other matters, and would hamper and destroy the effective power of the Veto. These two Resolutions taken together, in the eyes of all who look at the substance and not merely at the form, amount to the creation of single-Chamber Government in this country. The whole experience of the civilised world is against such a course of procedure. Wherever you look, whether to our great democratic Colonies or to the great democratic countries of the world such as France and America, you find no countenance whatever for any such experiment. They will have none of it. It would not be easy to cite the authority of any statesmen or any political philosopher of eminence in support of the Second Chamber system which you propose to set up. It is absolutely alien to the spirit of democracy, which aims at expressing the settled will of the people, and takes precautions to prevent legislation embodying passing gusts of popular opinion. The present Constitution, which we have enjoyed so long, gives us this security. Not a single instance can be produced in which the House of Lords has resisted the settled will of the country, and the creation of a single Chamber may amount to the creation of a most powerful oligarchy, These Resolutions aim at the destruction of the long work of centuries. In these proposals there is no effort at reform or construction at all, and I believe they are intended to have that effect. The House of Commons, if it is true to its traditions, ought to refuse to consider proposals for destroying an ancient Constitution. These proposals have been conceived not in the national interest, but for the purpose of helping a somewhat discredited Government and the congeries of factions by which it is kept in office. 1494 Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir William Robson)
I am sure all of us, more especially those who belong to the profession of which my right hon. and learned Friend is such a distinguished ornament, are very glad to see him back again in the House of Commons taking part in our Debates with undiminished vigour. His language, indeed, retains not only its ancient vigour, but seems to have gained something more. He has denounced our discreditable tactics, and suggests that our conduct in some sphere where it could be more easily punished would be treated like the conduct of a fraudulent trustee. He suggests that we have reached intellectual bankruptcy. We are not so much pained at that accusation as we might otherwise have been had he not added that he very greatly admired our ability. My right hon. Friend's standard of ability seems to have rather lowered if he applies it to people he denounces as intellectual bankrupts.
§ Sir ROBERT FINLAY
I did not say that the hon. and learned Gentleman or any of his colleagues were individually bankrupt. What I said was that the new Liberalism was intellectually bankrupt.
§ Sir WILLIAM ROBSON
That seems to be a Parliamentary method of insinuating what only people outside would assert. But even applied to Liberalism it is not very complimentary. His denunciations, however, do not appear to affect his admiration of our ability. His arguments are transparent. He began his speech by drawing a distinction between what is legal, in the sense that it commands a legal remedy, and what is constitutional. Having made that distinction, he proceeded to enforce it by two most excellent examples, which I commend to the consideration of the House. He gave as instances the right of initiation and the right of Amendment with regard to finance Bills, which some persons have claimed for the Peers. He said he thought it certain that the Lords had no right to initiate and no right to amend. But why have they no such right? For the very reason that we assign as showing that they have, no right to reject—constitutional usage and nothing else. There is no law saying that the Lords shall not amend or that they shall not initiate; neither is there any law saying they shall not reject, and 1495 yet my right hon. Friend considers that the Constitution combines that power in at least two of these three matters without the assistance of any law at all, and therefore he must be claimed amongst the constitutionalists.
But he gave a still better instance. He said that the Veto of the Lords had been enlikened to the Veto of the Crown. He also said that the Crown only exercised its Veto upon constitutional advice. Why can the Crown only exercise its Veto on constitutional advice? There is no law to say that the Crown may not exercise its Veto upon constitutional advice. Let me ask the attention of the House to this point. Not only is there no law against the Veto, but the law asserts in nearly every Statute the Veto of the Crown, so that if constitutional usage is strong enough to supersede the Veto of the Crown it is strong enough to supersede the law, and a fortioriit is strong enough to supersede and abrogate a mere claim not supported by law and not supported by a single precedent. My right hon. and learned Friend has finished a speech of a remarkable character upon law without citing a single precedent in favour of his contention. He has used extremely strong phrases, which it is scarcely worth my while to repeat, they are so fresh in the memory of hon. Members. He said our contention was absolutely unfounded, and so on. Where are his precedents in favour of his contention? Where is there a case where the House of Lords has ever rejected a Bill upon purely or strictly financial grounds until 1860 and the present Bill? There is no precedent known. A great search for precedents was made in 1860. A most able and distinguished Committee of this House was appointed in order to see what were the precedents which could be cited either way in reference to the financial relations between the House of Commons and the House of Lords—that is to say, the relations between the two Houses with regard to Financial Bills? They made a most elaborate search and they made a most able Report. They cited, I think, something like thirty-six cases, and, whilst not expressing any opinion, they submitted these cases and a very minute and ingenious analysis of them to the judgment of the House of Commons. What was said—and said, as far as I remember, without contradiction—by Lord Palmerston and Mr. Collier, afterwards Lord 1496 Monkswell, who were the most distinguished men on that Committee? What was said by these two distinguished and authoritative Parliamentarians in relation to the finding of that Committee? They said that not one single case could be found to show that the House of Lords had ever rejected a Bill of the House of Commons relating to finance. Mark that qualification. I want to be perfectly clear, or if I omit any part of my argument I shall be charged with having gravely misled the House of Commons.
In searching for precedents in a matter of this kind one has to remember that the general legislative Veto of the House of Lords in old days was asserted to extend to the regulation of trade. I do not know that the House of Commons always admitted that assertion, but I am not able to find any case in which they resisted it. There were one or two instances in which Bills were introduced, in form Money Bills, but in substance Bills for the restriction or encouragement of some particular trade. The House of Commons in cases of that kind was content to let them pass under the general legislative Veto of the House of Lords. They were not treated as cases coming within the financial privilege of the House of Commons at all. I am speaking, of course, without having refreshed my memory recently, but I think at the utmost there were four or five Bills of that class out of the thirty-six cases which were considered by the Committee. What were they? They were Bills for the encouragement of particular trades and nothing else, coming within the principle which the House of Commons seemed then always willing to admit, that, where the revenue derived from a tax was small, and where the object was not financial, they would not trouble about the Bills. Wherever you began to touch the financial arrangements of the House of Commons and deal substantially with what was called Subsidy or Supply, then the House was most jealous, and cases of that kind are not to be found in the whole range of our history. I have cited Lord Palmerston as laying down the proposition to which I have just reverted, because Lord Palmerston was notoriously what I may call a House of Lords man.
I would ask, as my right hon. and learned Friend is so particular to know the material facts and as he has insinuated that the Prime Minister has omitted to state material facts, why he, knowing the circumstances, has not told the House the material facts. He has made a most careful study of the Debates of 1860. If I had 1497 known he was going to refer to them I would have more fully refreshed my memory with regard to them. He has made, however, a careful study of the Debates, of 1860, he knows the declaration of Lord Palmerston and the opinion of Lord Monkswell, and he knows that that stood practically unrefuted and uncontradicted in the Debates of the House of Commons. Nobody, however, in his senses would suggest that my right hon. Friend was misleading the House, because ho would not prejudice his case by relating facts which were in favour of his opponent.
What was the other point made against the Prime Minister? In view of the way in which my right hon. and learned Friend put his charges, I think I must deal with them a little more carefully. He said the Prime Minister had cited the Resolution of 1628, and he asked what he meant by citing a Resolution which he must have known had nothing to do with the matter in hand. The Resolution of 1628 is vital to the matter. I will tell the House what it was, and I think they will see that the subsequent stages of this long and ancient controversy cannot be understood unless the Resolution of 1628 be carefully considered. Before 1628 the Preamble of Bills generally ran in the form that the Commons granted a Subsidy, and the Lords assented to the Grant. Then, the form of the Preamble went on to say that the King, Lords, and Commons enacted the substance of the Bill. There were two parts of the Preamble—assent to the Grant, then enacting or placing that Grant in the form of statutory law. In 1628 the Commons protested against the Lords assuming to assent to the grant of a tax. They said: "You have nothing to do with the grant of taxes on our part, nothing to do with it at all." In the old days each House sat separately, and each House separately granted its taxes or benevolences to the Crown. The Lords then got into the way of adopting whatever Grant was made by the Commons. That is the origin of the Lords having, as it was said, power to reject, but having nothing whatever to do with initiation or amendment, because, when they took the Grant from the Commons, they, of course, were not entitled to amend for the Commons. Still they claimed a right to assent to the Grant.
In 1628 Coke, Glanville, and Seldon, and a strong Committee of the House of Commons were appointed to draft a new Preamble, and they struck out those words which expressed the assent of the Lords to the Grant of the Commons. If anybody 1498 will take the trouble to read the Preamble of the Finance Bill of last year they will see that although the Lords are made a party to the Bill they are expressly excluded from any share in the Grant. Yet my right hon. and learned Friend has condemned the Prime Minister, in language which I think surpassed his usual phraseology, for treating the Resolution of 1628 as being material to this dispute. It is most material, and, properly understood, I venture to say it is not merely material, but it is conclusive. The next date he gave us was 1671. I thought that was rather singular for such a purist in completeness of statement as my right hon. and learned Friend, because he missed out 1640. In 1640, which was a period antecedent to the Civil War, the Lords were trying to induce the Commons to deal with Supply before they dealt with grievances. They were very anxious to explain that the line they were taking was not inconsistent with the privileges of the House of Commons. They said: "In matters of Subsidy, that is in matters of Grant, we would not venture to advise you; no, not event to make a suggestion, because whatever relates to Subsidy is naturally and properly your province and not ours." My right hon. and learned Friend who was so hard on the Prime Minister might have remembered to have told the House that.
Then we come to 1671 or 1678—I forget which for the moment. There was a conference between the two Houses, in which a predecessor of mine—I wish he had been a little more careful—the Attorney-General of the day, undoubtedly said that the Lords had what my right hon. and learned Friend called a negative to the whole of the Finance Bill. They were then disputing the right of the Lords to amend, and the Attorney-General did what is very often done conveniently to the case in hand, but perhaps inconveniently for a little later on. All he wanted was to contest the right of amendment, and all he said, as many an advocate has said before, was, "You may have the right to reject, but not to amend."
§ Sir W. ROBSON
Do hon. Members opposite suppose I am attempting to mislead the House? [HON. MEMBEES: "No."] I am speaking from memory, and I say I have not had the opportunity of recently refreshing my memory. I have already said, however, that he told them they had a negative to the whole. "But," 1499 he said, "you have no right to amend," and I think he was quite right. They had in law a negative to the whole. If they had chosen to say we will not give assent there was nobody who had any legal remedy against them. We here come again to the distinction between what is legal and what is constitutional, which is essential to a proper understanding of this controversy. Let me remind the House how far the sphere of the courts of law extend in this matter. The courts of law are the courts of the King. The House of Lords and the House of Commons each has an independent existence. Each is a court in itself. Neither the King nor the courts has any right to interfere between the relations of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. They are independent authorities. The Law Courts have simply nothing to do with their mutual controversies or their inter-cameral relations. It is a region in which no law exists except constitutional law. It is a region in which no law exists except that law which is founded upon custom. That is quite good enough, but as I understand my right hon. Friend and the hon. Baronet sitting near him, they now deny the validity and force of constitutional law. But I would remind them that constitutional law has no legal remedy. We have heard it said that there is no wrong without a remedy, but that is a great mistake. There are many wrongs without remedy, and constitutional wrongs are always without legal remedy. Yet we all talk of constitutional law as we talk of international law. There is in no sense any supreme court for international law, but let any nation choose to disregard its traditional dictates and you will see that it will soon hear about it from the rest of civilised mankind. We have no legal remedy whatever for a breach of constitutional law. My hon. Friend takes up the position now that constitutional law is not to be heard, and he asks what does it rest upon? I say that it rests upon decisions given by a long series of constitutional authorities and upon long practice. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also referred to custom, and I thought lie was going to give us an argument, but he gave us only a sneer. Surely custom is at the basis of our law, and one of the settled principles which regulate the conduct of the two Chambers one with another. Lord Lyndhurst said that in the Wensleydale case. That was the case in which the Queen 1500 set about making a life peer, and the House of Lords objected. They referred the matter to a Committee of Privileges, and it was tried out with great care. What were the grounds of objection? Were they that there was a law against the Queen making life peers? Nothing of the kind? Instances were adduced in that trial which showed that the Queen had exercised the Royal Prerogative in this respect until a. comparatively recent date, about 200 years. The question in that Wensleydale case was whether that period of 200 years was long enough to establish a constitutional custom. They said that for two centuries the Queen had not made a life peer, and that that established a constitutional disability in the Queen's making life peers. There was no law. When they were seeking to protect their own Chamber from what might be an unruly incursion of life peers they pleaded custom. Now they repudiate custom when it is urged as an argument against their own position. You cannot have better instances than these for the proposition for which we contend, namely, that for such conduct as that of the House of Lords, and any conduct like that in the future, we possess no legal remedy. It is lawless conduct. It is conduct without precedent and conduct without justification in constitutional usage, and however it may be called legal in a strictly law courts sense, it in lawless in our constitutional practice.
My right hon. and learned Friend founded the greater part of his speech on the legal question, and I do not complain of that, but, after dealing with constitutional right and the law, he went on to discuss our Budget as being a case of tacking. Tacking, he said, you are really trying by that Budget to bring about land reform, and that is not right in a Budget. He went on to assert that a Budget should be purely financial, that it should have no subsidiary or collateral motive by way of effecting other reforms, however desirable these reforms might be. That is a very remarkable doctrine. I think I remember a speech of the Leader of the Opposition in which he spoke of the future policy of the Tory party and he said that in future we must reverse, delete, and annul wholly the principle that taxes are to be imposed for revenue only. I think my right hon. Friend should consult his Leader. Perhaps he is so accustomed to lead that he must sometimes neglect occasionally to consult his Leader. If he does consult him, he is likely to be 1501 told that his doctrine that there should not be taxes which would seek to achieve reforms is obsolete, deleted, and annulled. I think he will be told that. I am afraid he is behind the times. Supposing a Tariff Reform Budget comes in which aims at Colonial Preference. Will he then denounce that with the vigour with which he denounces our Budget? And yet surely that is a collateral object. It is seeking to achieve that which some persons believe to be a great Imperial reform. Let my right, hon. Friend reflect upon that. But if he did not consult his official Leader in this House, he might have exchanged a word with Lord St. Aldwyn, who is a great Parliamentary and financial authority, and he wrote a considered letter upon it, which my hon. Friend the Solicitor-General dealt with yesterday. Lord St. Aldwyn contended that whatever eke is to be said of this Budget, it contains no tacking. I would like to ask hon. Members opposite who kept us six months, day and night, on the Budget— [An HON. MEMBER: "You kept us."] Whoever was to blame, we were kept here for that time, and I hope the House will take care that we do not have six months of it again. Why did not somebody during that Budget Debate get up and say, "Here is tacking; here is something not necessary for the taxes "— for that is tacking—"put into a Financial Bill, something which is beyond its financial scope." If he did so, we would be pulled up by the Constitution embodied in the Chair of Mr. Speaker. You would say, Sir, you cannot have this as it would be beyond the scope of the Bill. That is why in modern times tacking has become obsolete.
§ Mr. BOTTOMLEY
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman say that during the Budget discussions there was no allegation of tacking?
§ Sir W. ROBSON
During the discussions there was a continual allegation of tacking, but what I said was, why did not somebody point out instances of tacking? Tacking has become a perfectly unimportant matter in consequence of the strictness with which you, Mr. Speaker, construe Bills in relation to their title. We are not allowed, as our forefathers were, to put many multifarious objects into a single Bill. There were complaints continually made in past times by the Lords, I think with some justice, and it was that which led to the Tacking Resolution of 1702. Tacking is obsolete now, 1502 and I am only dealing with the question of tacking as one of the illustrations which tell very much against the Lords themselves. Why did they make these complaints against tacking? Because they felt they could not reject a Finance Bill. If they could reject a Finance Bill as and when they pleased there was no need to complain of tacking. They had the remedy in their own hands. But it was be cause they knew perfectly well that they could not reject a Finance Bill that they complained of tacking.
I think I have dealt with the broad lines of my right hon. Friend's argument. He devoted himself almost entirely to the first-Resolution, and I am glad he did, because-it is useful to deal with that Resolution. I daresay there are many people who will regard it as a smaller matter than the others, but it is one which it is extremely useful now to discuss from the popular point of view. The first Resolution means the retaining—I should perhaps say the restoring—to the House of Commons of its most ancient and most important right, that of imposing or repealing, according to the will of the people, the taxes which the people have got to pay. It is almost misleading to call this a privilege. It is identical with the right of national self-government. It would be destructive of the life of national self-government if you were to vest the control and the last word in taxation in an unrepresentative Chamber. But that is the object of those who are now talking about reform of the House of Lords. I do hope some of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite are going to tell us something about that question of reform, because in this Resolution my right hon. Friend says they are willing to consider proposals, but until they are put forward they decline to proceed with these Resolutions. Apparently "Reform of the House of Lords "is a very good phrase in their opinion, but they intend to keep it as general and as vague a phrase as possible, for some purpose which I fancy we-shall see revealed in the forthcoming election. They do not tell us what their proposals are, but I imagine that they desire to create a Chamber in which some Members shall be elected and others shall be other than elected, and which shall be endowed by Statute with widely extended powers. There is no need to extend the power of the House as it stands, if it can reject a Finance Bill, for it has power-enough; but it appears the Lords are to be reformed, and that there is to be a 1503 Second Chamber which is to receive extended powers. I ask the House to note what a great change has come over the Tory party in this respect. In this House I remember, I think it was 1908 or 1907, a speech of the Leader of the Opposition, in which he most ably—he is always very able of course—defended the House of Lords. What was the real ground of his defence? He defended that House because of its limitations. He said: "Here is a House which cannot interfere in finance; there is removed from its scope the whole sphere of administrative Government," and I think he added it had nothing to do with Government in its relations to the Empire at large. My right hon. Friend spoke keenly of the danger to the Empire under what he thought was going to be a single-Chamber Government. We have had a single Chamber Government for centuries in regard to the Empire. I do not think he as quite serious in that argument. Possibly he felt it necessary to follow the precedent set by his colleagues on that side of the House, never to come to a peroration without some reference to the Empire. But now all these limitations which constituted the defence and the best argument for the House of Lords three years ago have disappeared. In the new affection for reform they are swept away. That brings us face to face with a most serious situation. I regard these Resolutions as toeing not aggressive, but defensive. The first Resolution is purely defensive, because what is now claimed for the House of Lords is not merely that they possess a Veto upon general legislation, but that they must also have ultimate control of finance. What does that involve? It involves the control of administration; it involves the power of ordering or forcing a Dissolution. If a Government may go on without legislation, it cannot go on without money. If the House of Lords is to have the power of dissolving and of refusing money to the Government of the day, it is the supreme Chamber. It has power to dissolve the House of Commons. I think that alone shows how absurd it is to contend that it has always had this power. Why, in the very speech to which I am referring, I remember the Leader of the Opposition said that Governments exist independently of the House of Lords. He certainly would not have said that if lie accepted the idea that the House of Lords has an effective right to reject the Finance Bill, because nobody could say 1504 that the Government could exist under circumstances like that.
It is now claimed for the House of Lords that they shall be able to dissolve the House of Commons when they please. Scarcely any speaker opposite has omitted to make that claim, either directly or indirectly. What does that mean? It means that we are not only to be a subordinate Chamber in legislation and finance, but if ever we, by our proposals in the Budget, cross the prejudices or touch the interests of the House of Lords we are to be fined a sum, I suppose, averaging £1,000 apiece, and nothing is to happen to the House of Lords. When we agree with them they are willing to pass the Budget, provided that if they do not like it we are to go to the country, pay our expenses, and run the risk of losing our seats. That is the principle on which the Chamber is to be created. I say that such claims are outrageous. They are wholly revolutionary. Talk about wanting a single Chamber, which hon. Gentlemen opposite accuse us of, what are hon. Gentlemen opposite now trying to do? They are trying to establish a single Chamber. Just look at the powers which the House of Lords would possess. It would possess the power of controlling taxation and of interfering with administration, and it could force the House of Commons, when it pleased, to the country. It could, in its own party interests, usurp the prerogative of the people, and it is to be in a position to put upon us a heavy financial fine whenever we cross its path, and these men complain that we are trying to establish a single Chamber! There never was a Chamber possessing such powers as those which are claimed for the House of Lords. [Lord HUGH CECIL dissented.] Perhaps the Noble Lord will listen to me for a moment longer. They claim also independence. What does that mean? That they are not to be answerable to anybody? In the Debate in the House of Lords one Noble Lord got up after another and said that they did not mind a little reform, but they must keep their independence. That means that no one is to control them, neither King nor Commons, neither Sovereign nor people. What, then, is the claim put forward for this proposed single Chamber of the Tory party? Unlimited power with complete irresponsibility. I will repeat, if the Noble Lord will allow me, that not a Chamber in the world exists with such a power as that. The Leader of the Opposition said that we could only find our model, I think, in two states—Costa Rica and Greece—but they 1505 are a long way off the ideal of hon. Members opposite. In order to get that we shall have to go to Monaco.
§ Sir WILLIAM ROBSON
Does the Noble Lord suggest that in Prussia a Chamber can be found like that which I have described?
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
What the hon. and learned Member calls an irresponsible Second Chamber appointed for life.
§ Sir WILLIAM ROBSON
Unlimited powers and appointed for life. I think the distinction is sufficiently obvious; but may I put it to the Noble Lord and his friends on that side of the House not to be for ever searching foreign countries for precedents for our conduct. The free Government of England will not need to go to Prussia. We are to be taken there apparently for our finance, but at present we prefer to remain as we are in finance, freedom of trade, and freedom of Government. The most dangerous feature of the single Chamber which the Tory party propose to set up is that it represents a single financial interest. We are told that it is possible that in a short time we may have a change in our fiscal system. I do not deny it, I do not prophecy it, but I contemplate it as a possibility. We are to have possibly hundreds, I should say thousands of taxes—thousands is not an exaggeration—laid upon nearly every article that enters into daily use in this country. They will be passed, if passed at all, by this House and then they will be passed by the other House, and they will have an experimental trial for four or five years. At the end of that time it is just possible that the people of England may desire to get rid of them. The working classes may find that the amazing, appalling and abominable statement that taxes on food did not raise prices was false, and they may desire to reverse the policy of those, by whom the statement was made. Will they be able to do it? They will find then, if they are apathetic, as my right hon. Friend says, on these constitutional questions, that they have thrown away the only constitutional means by which they may relieve themselves from these taxes. What about the manufacturers? They may find that they have made a mistake.
The manufacturers clamoured for taxes until 1842, but in that year those which 1506 affected them began to be cut off in scores and hundreds. They very soon repented of the taxes which they once demanded, and they may do so again, and many of them who are demanding the taxes now may change their minds. What will they say when they find that every trading, every manufacturing, and every financial interest in the country is subordinated to a Chamber which contains only one financial interest? They may talk about giving up this, that, or the other tax, and I daresay the Lords may say, or those who represent them in this Chamber may say, that that is a matter of bargain. They will say they will pass any reasonable Budget, but they will not have the repeal of the food taxes. You will never see them repealed, and let hon. Members reflect on the danger to their own cause of the line they are now taking. Is it safe to tie the future of the House of Lords to the fate of these taxes? Free Trade and self-government have expanded together, but apparently it is now determined that if a blow is struck at one it shall receive no help from the other. Therefore the two will still stand or fall together, and the House of Lords will stand or fall with Tariff Reform, and it will go down with Tariff Reform if it once acquires the powers which is, now seeks, surely it is scarcely safe to give them that power. Of course, if they have got it, we cannot help ourselves, but do not let us give it to them. In a sense they may be said to have it if they choose to exercise it, because, as I have pointed out, we have no remedy against them if they choose to do so, and five years hence the Liberal party, fresh from the constituencies, would have no remedy against the House of Lords. What would it do? It would be driven to say that it would not take the responsibility of accepting power until the House of Lords is dealt with. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may win the next election, but they can only postpone the question which will arise in regard to our Constitution and the House of Lords will have to go. Reform your Chamber, give it all the powers which you think fit, let it exercise them for four or five years, and it will disappear with the taxes which it supports.
§ Mr. ARNOLD WARD
In addressing this House for the first time I ask for its indulgence. I wish to refer to the observations which fell from the Prime Minister on Tuesday pouring scorn and contempt on the Peers in regard to electioneering, 1507 and speaking, I believe, as the representative of the most Peer-ridden constituency in the country—a constituency crammed full from end to end with Noble Lords, every one of whom, without exception, voted solid against the Budget last November—I should like to protest most respectfully against that statement. I am sure it is the experience of Friends in similar constituencies that the energy, public spirit, and popularity of the resident Peers, instead of being one of the most serious handicaps, is one of the most substantial assets of our political cause, a point which demonstrates that where the Peers are most known they are most warmly supported by and united to the people. It is only where they are unknown, perhaps in some of the great industrial centres, that it is possible for misrepresentation to do its deadly work.
The gravamen of the right hon. Gentleman's attack on the other House, and of the attacks of his party, is that they are not impartial, and do not mete out the same treatment to Conservative and Liberal measures. I think there is a great deal in that complaint, and it is founded probably on two facts. The first, which is a credit to the Upper House, is that they are only discharging their duty as a revising Chamber by opposing a greater measure of delay to proposals involving radical changes than to proposals which deal more conservatively with existing conditions. The second fact is a defect which is admitted to exist in the Upper Chamber, and was admitted only the other day by Lord Lansdowne, namely, the disastrous disparity in numbers between the two parties. Lord Lansdowne not only admitted that defect, but offered to remove it. When speaking of the reinforcement proposed to be brought in from outside, he said:—It is necessary to have such reinforcements in order that we may do something to remove the disastrous disparity in numbers between the two sides of the House. Why should it not be possible for the Prerogative to be exercised hereafter in pursuance of some well-thought out and reasonably restricted scheme for the purpose of bringing into this House from time to time a number of Members who might adequately represent that particular sot of political opinions which happen at the time to be inadequately represented in this House?In these proposals Lord Lansdowne struck the very central grievance which hon. Members opposite feel against the House of Lords. It is not that it is not strong, that it is not efficient, or that it is not democratic. It is that their own party 1508 is not adequately represented. That is the root of the matter, and that is the very thing which the Leader of the Opposition himself proposes to remedy. A more generous and statesmanlike offer was never made. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman meet him half-way? Why, in the name of common-sense, does he not proceed to follow that direction, which is the path of peace and the path of sure constructive statesmanship and the path of least resistance, instead of deliberately choosing to follow the path of maximum resistance, the path of turmoil, violence, and endless conflict and bitter division, because the country is already divided into two hostile camps upon the question of the Veto? The right hon. Gentleman in his speech supplied one reason why, no doubt, he feels sceptical about Lord Lansdowne's offer. He conveyed to the House that he doubted the support given to Lord Lansdowne by his own supporters. He thought after the Division on the Budget in the Upper Chamber that any lingering doubt as to the loyalty of the backwoodsmen to their leader would have been utterly dispelled. They have their defects, and they have been very freely attended to on political platforms by hon. Members opposite. But they have, most of them, served in the Army, and they have a very strong sense of discipline and loyalty, and no jungles in the Empire shelter any noble fauns or satyrs at all comparable in political lawlessness to what I might term the freak section of the right hon. Gentleman's own supporters.
There is another reason why the Prime Minister is precluded from meeting Lord Lansdowne half-way, and that is his own rash pledges given before the General Election, when he pledged himself to an extreme course of action before ever he knew what the views of the country upon this question were, and before ever he knew to what extent he might be led to a more moderate course by the Unionist party. There was the famous declaration at the Albert Hall, which, if I may use an illustration from the card-table, reminds me of nothing so much as a wild and desperate declaration of no trumps—a declaration made before examining the hand which was subsequently dealt to the right hon. Gentleman, and which on examination proved not to justify any more extensive declaration than what is commonly known as a protective spade. The right hon. Gentleman's hand consisted almost exclusively of spades, yet there was a certain number of very hard diamonds and 1509 a contingent of heavy and unmerciful dubs. Another point connected with the Albert Hall speech is the extraordinary contradiction between the scheme of these Resolutions and the method by which it is proposed to carry them into effect. Ministers began by violating their old proposals, and, defeated in the ordinary way, they proposed to try to carry these proposals, I do not say by unprecedented, but by a highly exceptional procedure. Ordinarily the House of Lords is still, under the Government's own scheme, to have at least two years to delay a Bill. These particular proposals are only to be delayed for about two months, or perhaps the hon. and learned Member (Mr. John Redmond) will say only for two weeks. Ordinarily they may reject a Bill effectively twice. In these proposals they are not to be allowed to reject at all. What is there in these proposals which justifies the course of dealing with them in a manner differing not only from all past, but also from all future Bills? And why is the Veto, ex hypothesi,still suspensorily valid, to be replaced in this instance, and in this instance alone, by the rarest and most violent form of Parliamentary Closure —the Royal Guillotine?
There was another point in the right hon. Gentleman's speech which showed that he was conscious of the purely party nature of his proposals and of the fact that they were unacceptable to the nation as a whole when he went out of his way spontaneously to suggest to the Opposition that they should take the first opportunity when they will return to power to repeal them altogether. I believe there is more value than was allowed by the Prime Minister in the old prejudice against reversals of accomplished legislation. Do not think that in this case to reverse these proposals would require the same use of extraordinary procedure, because if a Liberal majority has been entrenched in another place by the use of the Royal Prerogative it would be necessary to make a counter use of the Prerogative in order to defeat it. We are faced by a series of inundations of the Upper Chamber in order, first, to limit and then to restore the Veto. It is not a fanciful prospect. It is a prospect which the right hon. Gentleman himself suggested and invited. He compared the Upper Chamber to a simulacrum, but if that is to be the course of things it will be a simulacrum so multitudinous and a shadow so innumerably vast that it will presently overshadow and outnumber, and 1510 eventually overpower all the other branches in the State.
It is not seriously disputed with regard to finance Bills that the House of Lords, by the usage of custom, neither initiates nor amends them. There is a controversy —it is the heart of the present controversy—as to whether or not they are by usage entitled to reject or to refer them to the people. I fully recognise that there is a great deal to be said upon both sides. But whatever may be the case with regard to the usages of the past, I believe the public cares far more for the needs of the present, and we on these benches are unanimous that the needs of the present require indispensably that a Second Chamber, however constituted, should have the power to refer financial as well as all other measures to the judgment of the people. We are now in the twentieth century, and it is an out-of-date form of political science to attempt, as these Resolutions do, to isolate still further Finance Bills from other forms of legislation. On the contrary, the tendency is one far mote consonant with the needs of this age. Finance has encroached, and will encroach still further, upon the field of general social legislation, an idea with which Ministers themselves have made us only too familiar in these last few years. Great political and social needs, far wider than anything which mere financial considerations could dictate, were the greatest justification of Ministers themselves for their Budget. Finance is an instrument by which we on these benches are resolved to effect an improvement in the prosperity of this country, beside which all the con tents of Radical Budgets fade into obscurity. Finance is the instrument, the principal and almost the sole instrument, by which Labour Members and Socialists propose radically to transfer the structure of society from top to bottom. The greater part of the politics of the Labour party and social reformers, and almost the whole of the politics of Socialists, is contained in their financial programme. The finance of the future is the politics of the future, and to utterly divorce the Second Chamber from all control in the sphere which is the most fruitful sphere of future improvement and reform is to take an almost all-sufficient step in itself to govern by a Single Chamber.
§ Mr. STEPHEN WALSH
I have been listening with considerable attention and some degree of amusement to many of the speeches delivered on this occasion. I 1511 think the one speech that caused me most amusement was the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Preston (Mr. Tobin), who spoke not so much for the constituency he represents himself as in a larger and more comprehensive planner for Lancashire and the North. It is quite excusable in the case of young Members who come to the House for the first time to be a little vain, and perhaps a little inflated, but I do not think it is excusable at all in an hon. Member who has taken a great part in public life and who is well past the meridian of his years. I remember there was a previous occasion in the very beginning of the Parliament of 1906 when a young Gentleman spoke in the same manner for Lancashire and the North. He paraded himself as the Member for Lancashire. It is a matter for some regret that the place that once knew him knows him no more. I wish to examine this claim of the hon. and learned Gentleman, because it is a matter of some seriousness. Lancashire and the North have been described, and I believe truly described, as the "solid barrier" in support of the Government in the action they are taking now upon the gravest constitutional issue that has confronted this country for 250 years. It is perfectly true that Lancashire and the North are the real bulwark supporting the Government in the action they are taking, and which I hope they are in earnest in taking. The hon. and learned Member who spoke for Lancashire and the North used terms somewhat of this character: "When the men of Lancashire realise that the Education Bill might have become law; when the men of Lancashire realise that the House of Lords saved the Voluntary schools; when the men of Lancashire realise the meaning of the Resolutions which are shortly to be put before this House; when the men of Lancashire find these things out, they will oppose a solid barrier, and fight with tooth and nail against the proposals of the Government." Well, I would advise the hon. and learned Member to adopt an attitude a little more consonant with the decent humility that ought to accompany public life. As a matter of fact, Lancashire has spoken, and given an emphatic, unmistakable, and very large majority in favour of dealing with the constitutional crisis practically in the manner provided by the Government Resolutions. One other little thing might have been within the hon. and learned Member's memory, namely, that he him- 1512 self only represents a minority of the votes in the constituency he represents in this House. Certain similes naturally occur to people in these connections. I was reminded of a famous resolution drawn up in a street not far removed from this House by three tailors, who affected to speak for the people of England. If there was any county in the Kingdom where the electors had the constitutional issue, and all the tremendous importance involved in it, before them at the election, it was Lancashire; and what was Lancashire's verdict? In the county the verdict was sixteen to seven. I am sure that my hon. Friends here will agree with me that on the constitutional question all parties who support the Government were united. Wigan, for the first time in forty-two years, sent a Member to support the Government on this matter. In the North sixty-one Members out of seventy-two from Scotland alone have been sent here to support the Government on this matter. The only thing I would suggest is that, inasmuch as most of us are simply creatures of the day, our period of life may easily be cut short. Hon. Gentlemen may enjoy a fitful experience on the Opposition side of the House; many of them are here for the first time. I think we had better speak with decent humility, and not affect to talk for Lancashire and the North if we only possess a minority of votes in the constituencies that send us here.
I paid much attention to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave) who, however much we may disagree with him, does at least carry with him the respect and admiration of every man in this House. His speeches always command respect, even if they do not command approval. The hon. and learned Member said:—I think someone wrote that Parliament can do anything except turn a woman into a man…but would you entrust to it the whole destinies of the country for five years, even if it were the present Government? Is it not likely, or at all events, possible that that which has happened before, the mere existence of absolute and uncontrolled power, may lead to its abuse?Why of course it is quite likely, and the very fact that absolute and uncontrolled power has been held by people at the other end of the corridor, has repeatedly lead to its abuse. And it is because that it is not only likely to be abused, but has actually been abused on this occasion because they have overstepped all those lines which any lover of his country and every constitutionalist thought they would not overstep, that we are at this moment faced with 1513 this grave Question. They have grossly abused their power because they possessed absolute and uncontrolled authority. The fact is that, inasmuch as they are non-representative and irresponsible, they do possess absolute and uncontrolled authority. Who is to control them? The Monarch cannot control them at the present time, because every Bill, though it may be passed in this House by an enormous majority, must go through the necessary stages and formalities in another Chamber.
§ Mr. WALSH
I know that is procedure the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London perfectly approves of. But we have no control over them, nor have the people of the Kingdom any control over them, and although the hon. and learned Member for Kingston put the question which I have quoted with what seemed to be real sincerity, he is willing to entrust our destinies to an irresponsible and non-representative body, over whom nobody has any control at all. Surely that which is not safe to be entrusted to ourselves in this House ought not by implication to be safe in a Chamber constituted as the House of Lords is. The hon. and learned Member for Kingston said:—What is said is that if the House of Lords meddle with Money Bills they can make and unmake Governments. That is not so. The House of Lords, although it can reject a Money Bill, cannot bring in a new one, and though it may refuse taxation it cannot initiate taxation. Therefore, while no Government could stand against the will of this House, it is impossible for the House of Lords to make and unmake Governments.Let us examine that in the light of actual facts. It is perfectly true that the House of Lords cannot initiate a Money Bill, but if you reserve to that House the power of rejection, do you not by that means give them the power of making and unmaking Governments? Every Government must exist, and can only exist, upon its power to provide the Supply necessary for the services of the nation. Finance Bills must be introduced every year, and if at any time a Government finds its financial proposals rejected by the other House, then the other House at once compels this House to appeal to the country. Supplies are necessary. You must have the Supplies voted. If that Vote is cut off, if your Supply is taken away, you cease to live. In the words of Shylock, which I think are very apt on this occasion,…you take my life When you do take the means whereby I live.1514 Therefore the power of rejection does of necessity involve the power of making and unmaking Governments. The hon. and learned Member implied—he not only implied but he stated distinctly—that little or no inconvenience need happen to any section of the community, and that had it not been for themalice prepenseof the Government not a single individual in the whole community would have been upset at all. Then in the very next breath he said that the power of rejecting Money Bills was so grave, and the sanctions against it were so heavy, that it must be very rarely used. On the one hand it causes so little inconvenience, and is such a light, trumpery matter, that had the Government not acted perversely, with a double dose of original sin, nobody would have been in the slightest degree inconvenienced. And then the hon. and learned Member in the very next breath goes on to say that the power of rejecting Money Bills is accompanied with such grave consequences, and the sanctions against its use are so heavy, that it must be very rarely exercised. Why is it to be rarely exercised if the consequences are so trumpery and so slight? And if the consequences are so trumpery and so slight, what has been the meaning of all that horrible pother on the other side of the House about the vast millions that the nation is losing? Hon. Gentlemen must at least adopt one argument; they cannot adopt both if the two arguments are dissimilar. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of where absolute and uncontrolled authority should rest. I do not think that any person is asking, at least by these Resolutions, for absolute and uncontrolled authority.
The Resolutions before the House will permit of real delay. They will permit of continued Debates. Are we to assume that all of us here are deliberate partisans who will not give the slightest attention to the arguments used by the other side? Are we to assume that when a Government Bill is brought in it will pass from the first word right down to the last without change or alteration? And are we to assume, when the Bill reaches the other House, after the best deliberation has been given by the Members of the other House, that we will reject everything they have inserted or disagree with every alteration they have made? Is that not to assume that we are silly beyond contempt, and that instead of bringing to our deliberations a fair and decent mind, taking in every point that is capable of 1515 consideration, as a matter of fact we bring to this House nothing but the minds of zealots and bigots? Surely that is too large an assumption. I believe myself that in this House, however divergent and conflicting may be our points of view, there is no Bill which does not receive the attention of the best minds of the House in all quarters of the House. There is hardly a Bill but receives very considerable treatment, in many cases to such a degree that its own mother would not know it after it passes through this process, and on the whole it is the considered judgment of our Chamber. The other Chamber will be given the opportunity of fair and deliberate judgment and consultation and delay, and when the alterations which they have made come back to this House it will be for this House then to consider whether, having regard to all the circumstances, they are not alterations that ought in all fairness to be accepted. When the delay of three Sessions that has been proposed in these Resolutions is given, surely that is ample to bring together all the best minds in the House and to bring out of those minds the best judgment of which they are capable. After all, I submit, it is a question of whether there is to be any conclusion at all, or whether the two Houses are to solve at last for themselves the problem that so long defied philosophers and alchemists, the problem of perpetual motion.
Are we to keep moving in a circle the whole time and never get over the difficulty, and is there to be no definite conclusion? If there is to be a definite conclusion, surely every man must agree that the conclusion ought to be reached after a proper process of revision, deliberation, and delay, and for that process the Resolutions which are to be submitted provide. But the point, after all, arises whether the House of Commons or the House of Lords should be supreme in the political life of the nation. If two men mount a horse one must ride behind. Now which is to ride behind? Not those who represent the considered judgment of the people, because with all our faults, and we have many, we do submit ourselves to the judgment of the people of the nation. Some of us have to fight very heated conflicts, and many of us very expensive conflicts, but we do come here, with all our faults and demerits, as the mouthpiece of the people themselves. Surely, if there is to be any final authority in the two deliberative Chambers, that 1516 final authority must rest with this House. That is the reason why we upon these benches are supporting the Motion to go into Committee, and that is why the Government will find no more earnest supporters than we ourselves when the Resolutions are submitted to the final judgment of this Chamber. I am a House of Commons man. I believe that the real voice of the people can only be expressed by those who submit themselves to the judgment of the people, and therefore I am in every sense of the word a House of Commons man. And I cannot imagine how it is that hon. and learned Members of the Conservative party, a party—and I say it in all sincerity—that has had a really fine past, can lie otherwise. There are demerits in all parties. The Conservative party has fulfilled a useful function in the political life and development of the nation. But I cannot imagine any Conservative Member— this has given me the most tremendous problem to tackle—even a Conservative Member of the House of Commons, who is not prepared to stand by the authority of the House of Commons. It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest. Yes, I mean it, and I mean this too, that I cannot imagine even a Conservative Member of the House of Commons true to his convictions and true to the people he represents, who is not prepared to maintain in the last resort the authority of the House of Commons.
Yes, but you are prepared, you say, by the voice of your Leader, to vote against the Resolutions which are the only means at present before this House or before the Nation of giving effect to the House of Commons authority. We are told that the House of Lords is reforming itself. I am reminded of a little play which was recently upon the boards called, "Dolly Reforming Herself." I understand that the young lady had incurred most extravagant bills for millinery and for dresses, and was seized with a remorse of the moment and proposed some very pious resolutions that she would cut down her millinery and tailors' bills. Of course for a little time she carried out her pious resolutions, but the reaction came, as it inevitably will in these circumstances, and she shortly passed to greater extravagance than ever. Are we not satisfied, those of us who have given serious consideration to this point, that the House of Lords, in pretending to reform itself in a momentary gush of remorse, will simply launch into greater extravagance than ever against the real rights of the House of Commons 1517 and the people of the nation? I attach not the slightest importance to what they are doing. We have been asked to remember that the backwoodsmen and the more sober and sedate Members of the Second Chamber are really quarrelling among themselves, and that shortly the backwoodsmen will be eliminated or they will become a negligible factor in the other House. I am reminded by this matter of a story which I read many years ago. Away out in Kentucky, we are told, one morning the little settlement was awakened by a tremendous noise. The people rushed out in their trousers and shirts to see what was going on, and were horrified to see a bear and a big stalwart Kentuckian engaged in mortal combat. The fortunes were a bit mixed. They had it up and down and over and under. Sometimes the bear was on top, and sometimes the man. At last, however, the bear appeared to be getting the better of it, and the men who were looking on were very anxious to interfere. But a big, brawny woman who was standing there, an Amazon really in strength and height, warned them all back. She said, "Stand back, stand back; let us have fair play. This is the only fight I ever saw that I don't care which licks."
That is my frame of mind with regard to the quarrel between the backwoodsmen and the sedate Members of the other place. I do not care if their fate is comparable to that of the Kilkenny cats. It is a fight in which I take no real interest except that I do not care which wins. The strengthening of that House, the reforming of that House, sought for by Members on the other side, can only be the strengthening and the reforming of that Chamber against the authority and the power of this Chamber. Whence do we derive our authority? Our authority comes from the people. Their authority is derivable from no such source. Surely to give any sanction to the emasculation or lessening of the authority of the House of Commons is to be disloyal to the best interests of this nation. Then we are told that the hereditary principle is doomed. There is no real fault, after all, in being a son of your father. I feel that there is some virtue in knowing your father. He is a wise son, after all, who does know his father. The hereditary principle in itself is not wrong, but the hereditary principle applied to Governments is wrong. After all, a good many people here have been speaking, notably the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University, as if 1518 the House of Lords was composed almost entirely of Members who for long years and through many generations have devoted themselves almost from infancy to the science of politics and of Government, and who, because of that, have become steeped in the past traditions of the nation, and feel that their motto should be that "this nation should be governed in accordance with the highest traditions that have been handed down." That is an absolute travesty of what are the facts. The other Chamber at the end of the corridor is not composed in that manner at all. It is composed of successful draymen, successful brewers, successful whisky distillers, and by men who have been successful in providing party funds, but not by men who have given the State some service. There are, I admit—and I am proud to admit it, Socialist and Labour Member though I am, and I have admitted it continually on the platform—men in the other Chamber, in different political walks, of whom we may well be proud, men whose traditions are a glory to the nation. Ah, but there are others ! Yes, and the others have just as much power as the best. It is invidious to mention names—the names of successful party men, the names of successful caucus managers, the names of people who were really kicked upstairs into the other Chamber. And it is to a Chamber so constituted that we are asked to give final and uncontrolled power. That must be repugnant to every man who reveres the British Constitution. That must be repugnant to every lover of genuine liberty, to every lover of genuine democratic progress. They are irresponsible, they are not representative, they are not there because of services well performed to the State; they are there, in many cases, for dirty services performed in the dirtiest manners. They are there, in some instances, because they have been engaged in a business which has so often resulted in the degradation and debasement of the lives of the people. These are the people to whom we are asked to commit final authority over this House, every single Member of which has to fight for his life at the hustings, who has to give a reason for his political existence, and who derives his political breath from the depositories of political power—the people themselves. I, for one, speaking in the name of the party of which I am a Member, intend to give, in this House and outside, strenuous and most unswerving support to the Government in the Resolutions which they have submitted to the House.
§ Mr. VALENTINE FLEMING
I claim the indulgence which has been so often asked and readily granted by this House to new Members during the past week. I noticed that the Debates have been strengthened and awakened by the intervention of Members who have had considerable personal experience of the subject—Members, I am proud to think, who have risen very often on this side of the House, men who have held different ranks in our Army and Navy, and men who are qualified to speak from personal experience on public affairs. The Question now under Debate is not Constitution making, but, as we on this side of the House put it, it is Constitution breaking. It is a subject which is absolutely novel and unprecedented, demanding most cautious and tentative treatment from even the most experienced Parliamentarians. There are two notable facts which emerge from the Debates on this subject. First, there does not exist on the other side absolute unanimity in their support of the Prime Minister's Resolutions. I daresay hon. Members opposite, by reason of different political and practical exigencies, will all be found in the same Division Lobby; but the reasons which bring them together very probably, nay almost certainly, are profoundly different. There are hon. Members below the Gangway on both sides of the House who quite openly and candidly are single-Chamber men, and who will vote for the Prime Minister's Resolutions, not because they think they go far enough, but because they accept them as an instalment, or as a step towards their idea of a single-Chamber Government. Then there is not an inconsiderable, but I am sure an eminently respectable, party who believe in their heart of hearts that a Second Chamber is necessary for the welfare of this country, but who are able, under the specious and accommodating Resolutions which the Prime Minister has brought forward, at once to satisfy their bi-cameral aspirations, and to throw a sop to their constituents. Not by any means least, we have that courageous and undaunted little band for whom the Member for Leith Burghs spoke the other night, who, forgetting apparently the somewhat rough treatment meted out to independent Members on both sides in the last House of Commons, had the courage to express the conviction of those Members by giving voice to their feelings, which I believe is generally held by moderate men on both 1520 sides, not only in the House, but outside, that the Government, by putting the Veto Resolutions first, are doing something which is unwise and extremely illogical. In making that the first move in this grave constitutional crisis, they are doing so obviously at the instigation of a group, and a very urgent group, and it is a course which is very deplorable from the national point of view.
The second fact which has impressed itself upon me is one which I think will be very readily accepted by all those who sit with me on this side of the House, and which, I think, must be assented to, perhaps rather gloomily and reluctantly, by hon. Members opposite. In choosing this particular mode of bringing the conflict between the two Houses to an issue, the Government have not chosen favourable ground to fight upon; they have not taken their stand on a position that presents very great argumentative possibilities for hon. Gentlemen opposite. It would be very interesting if we could get to-night a satisfactory answer from some authoritative source on the other side to a question which has been asked more than once in the course of this Debate, but which has not, to my mind, yet been satisfactorily answered, and that is, What is the particular grievance which is going to ginger the Radical storming party in trying to assault the citadel of Feudalism? Is it to be education, or is it to be the Licensing Bill? Is it the Budget? The most encrusted democrat would hesitate to mention that a moribund measure, which even in this House gives so complete an endorsement of the action of the House of Lords. Nor I imagine would the Home Rule Bill of 1893 be adduced as an argument against the House of Lords; and I should be very doubtful whether even all the eloquence of the hon. and learned Member for Walthamstow would be able to rouse much popular indignation about so very mid-Victorian a measure as the University Test Act. How then do the Government propose to arouse the people in this country to the fact that their considered judgment has been over-ridden, and to the fact that the wishes of their representatives have been flouted, and so forth? I submit that one thing has emerged very clearly from this Debate, and it is the fact that the Government have given way to the extremist section of their party by making the Veto Resolutions the first move, thus inverting the rational sequence of events in connection with the great constitutional change they 1521 are making, and in adopting that course they have committed a very grave tactical error. They run the risk of alienating the support of not only a great many of their moderate friends, but they seem to have chosen a very inelastic spring-board for the plunge which they urge them to make. I suppose the Government and hon. Gentlemen opposite intend to bring against the House of Lords the charge of generally mutilating and rejecting Liberal legislation, a charge which is not supported by the records which I have taken pains to examine. They have succeeded by the constant repetition of heroic sentiments in this House, and by a no less continuous agitation in the country, in bringing their grievance to a head.
The result is before the House in the shape of the Resolutions which have been introduced by the Prime Minister—Resolutions so conveniently nebulous and so ingeniously framed as to summon the support of constitution mongers so profoundly different as the hon. Member who last spoke and, shall I say, the Secretary of State for War?
It is unnecessary for me to labour the point as to whether those Resolutions do not in effect produce a uni-cameral or bicameral system of Government. Straws show us the way the wind blows, and there is one straw which has exercised this indicative so admirably, and, perhaps, prematurely, that I may be justified in calling attention to it. By that I mean the extraordinary difference between the volume and the vigour and the distribution of the cheers which greet the mention of the question of Home Rule now compared with the volume and vigour of the cheers before the Prime Minister's Resolutions were brought in. I had the honour of listening, as a stranger, to several of the Debates in this House during the recent Session of Parliament, in which Home Rule was mentioned. It was received, of course, as it always is, with enthusiasm by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) and by his supporters. But its reception by hon. Gentlemen opposite was, to say the least of it, cold and unresponsive. The General Election was imminent, and enthusiasm on that subject might have been somewhat embarrassing on public platforms. I have no doubt official cold water had been poured on any demonstration of any such enthusiasm. What a change has come over the spirit of the House on this question! How completely the sophistry of those who 1522 pretend that the Prime Minister's Resolutions do indeed continue in this country an effective system of Second Chamber government is stultified by the universal and vigorous cheers which burst out from the benches opposite and from below the Gangway on both sides of the House when the question of Home Rule is mentioned. We have it on the authority of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford that the abolition of the Veto of the House of Lords will make the Home Rule question imminent.
It has always struck me as rather peculiar. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite realise what a horrible orgy of reactionary feudalism might ensue if a Conservative Government were returned to power when a Second Chamber was left in an emasculated and impotent condition? I have been at considerable pains to look through the official explanation of Radical candidates of their defeat at the last election as published in the columns of that daily organ which has claimed to interpret, and may now not unjustly claim to inspire, the policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite—I mean the "Daily News." I find that the reasons for Conservative victories are attributed by the vanquished to wholesale bribery, intimidation, and corruption—or, to put it shortly, to beer, bribery, and bullying. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Gentlemen cheer that remark, but it is rather remarkable that they have not backed up their beliefs by taking action in the usual manner in the country. Accepting, as we must accept, for the purpose of this argument, the truth of the statements of the defeated candidates, can hon. Gentlemen opposite conceive the condition of things which would result if a Conservative majority obtained by such means were returned to power? The Prime Minister told us the other night that no Act upon the Statute Book was inviolate. The most cherished institutions of democracy might be attacked, the very foundations of popular Government might be shaken by this abortion which had been produced. What a comment it is upon our present electoral system, that majorities can be obtained in this manner. What a comment it is upon the voice of the people to which hon. Gentleman opposite pay so much attention.
Parties who have examined and looked into the speeches and pamphlets and the general conduct of the struggle from which we emerged at the end of last January would be the first to realise that the 1523 accurate ascertainment of the popular will, or of a satisfactory verdict or decision, on any great contentious question is becoming more and more difficult and impossible, and more unreliable as every succeeding General Election passes by. I could not imagine any more potent argument in favour of the existence of a reformed and effective Second Chamber than to take the result of the last General Election and that of the one that preceded it. I believe that the desire is very universal and quite irrespective of party for that change, and that it exists among a very large portion of the community outside this House, and especially among the business community in this country. Speaking for myself, and I believe I voice the feelings of not a few hon. Members on this side of the House, I should welcome the judicious democratisation of that Chamber with a view to redressing the admitted inequality of political parties in the other House, and with a view also to maintaining that continuity of traditions to which the Noble Lord the Member for the University of Oxford referred to eloquently last night, and with a view, above all, to equipping that Chamber more suitably and more efficiently for the fulfilment of those duties which we on this side of the House regard as of such great importance, and for whose effective and vigorous preservation we are so earnestly anxious.
§ Mr. BOTTOMLEY
I was very much impressed with certain words in one of the Prayers in which we opened our proceedings to-day, and in which the hope or supplication was expressed that the result of our councils might be "the uniting and knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the realm in true Christian love and charity one towards another." I thought those words had peculiar application to the subject we are discussing to-night. I approach that subject from the point of view of a Member who, to adopt a phrase of the Prime Minister, is neither tarnished with partisanship nor leavened with panic. I approach it with but one object in view, endeavouring to ascertain whether the proposals now before the House constitute an effective and desirable remedy for an admitted grievance. I approach it also from the point of view of a Member who regards a purely hereditary Assembly, possessing powers co-ordinate with those of the Commons, as a twentieth century 1524 anachronism, but who also regards an effective and real Second Chamber as essential to the good government of the country as is a court of appeal to the administration of justice. So far as the hereditary element is concerned, and I say advisedly the purely hereditary element, I am as free to confess as the hon. Member for Leicester did yesterday, that the traditions of the past, the pride of ancestry, the spirit of true aristocracy, appeal to me, and I go further even than the hon. Member for Leicester, and something in the nature of caste in the country, is not necessarily a bad or undesirable thing. I, however, limit my receptiveness to that view to the true aristocracy of the country, and not to that polluted and corrupted element which is being constantly added to it by the shunting into what is called the Upper House of nondescript individuals, simply because they are perhaps generous donors to the party fund or suspected Chief Whips, who so literally carry out their duties as Patronage Secretaries that no Member of this side of the House is sorry at their departure, an element which, unlike the old aristocracy, boasting that they came over with the Conqueror, would have to say, in most cases, that they came over with the Jubilee or the Coronation. So far as I have indicated, I am appreciative of the hereditary principle, but to have a purely hereditary Chamber with almost co-equal powers with our own is, in the twentieth century, an anachronism.
As regards the necessity for a Second Chamber, if any new Member entertains any doubt on the subject it will be removed before he has been here for four or five years, and after he has seen, as I have seen, the operation and working of the Parliamentary machine, bow we are whipped into the Lobbies, and how in nine cases out of ten we have not the remotest intelligent idea of what we are voting upon. After that experience he will entertain no doubt whatever as to the necessity of some revising Chamber. It was interesting and amusing to hear the explanation given by the Chief Secretary last night of the tender solicitude with which every Minister in charge of a Bill regards the suggestions and criticisms from private Members of the House. That certainly has not been the result of my observations during the last four years. According to my experience, there are two well-understood methods of dealing with 1525 independent Members. The Member who barks but does not bite gets a knighthood, and, having got into the titled class, he considers it no longer genteel to make himself conspicuous in the public eye. The Member who bites but does not bark is dealt with in one of two ways. Either as in the case of my Friend Mr. Harold Cox, an official party candidate is run against him and he is forced out of public life, or, if that method is not available because the particular independent Member is blessed with an intelligent constituency who see through these things, the method is to prosecute him. Those are the only ways in which, as far as I have seen, the independent Member is dealt with in this House.
Leaving the working of the Parliamentary machinery, we claim to be paramount in finance. I am one of those who heartily endorse that claim. But let it be understood how under our system of carrying on business even finance is rushed through this House without the least discussion by Members. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that on an average every year since I have had the privilege of a seat in this House £50,000,000 have been voted in Supply—which is the only check the representatives of the people have over the expenditure of public money—without one word of discussion. I recently quoted from an official publication from Liberal headquarters to the effect that it is becoming customary to encourage private Members to talk about trivial matters during the earlier days of Supply with the sole object of being able to rush through the Estimates in the last few days when no discussion is possible. These are a few rough and ready evidences of the necessity of some Second or Revising Chamber in connection with our general affairs.
I do not propose to embark upon the interesting historical retrospect, which has been indulged in from so many standpoints, of the peculiar faults and failings of the Second Chamber. But such as they are, everybody knows them. That it has of necessity, as a rule, for a long time been in opposition to what is called the popular will, is obvious from the very nature of its constitution. But we must be fair even to the House of Lords. We must not treat it as a country juryman not long ago treated a prisoner in the district in which I live. He was the only member of the jury in favour of a conviction, and the jury had to be discharged. When asked how he could go in the face of the evidence and the summing up of the judge, he said that he took 1526 no notice of those things; he simply looked at the man in the dock and said, "If you have not done anything wrong, what are you there for? "We must not apply that principle to the House of Lords. When the hon. and learned Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Simon) gave us his version of the misdeeds of the House of Lords, I wished that his history were as sound as his law. I have the utmost respect for him in his professional capacity. But the hon. Member must remember that in all these old controversies, whether over the Ballot Act or religious disabilities, or the Penal Code, or anything else, it was not only the House of Lords, but some of the leading Liberal statesmen of the day who were just as emphatically opposed to those reforms in the earlier stages. Therefore no good purpose is to be served at this moment by considering those matters. What I feel is that from the point of view of the Government, and of this reform, it is an untimely period to bring forward some of these proposals. When you cannot point to some recent misdeed of the House of Lords in regard to which you carry the public conscience with you, your agitation is apt to fall flat. It is not necessarily a justification of the action of the House of Lords, but it takes the stuffing out of the agitation. If you refer to the Education Bill or the Licensing Bill, leaving the Budget on one side for the moment, it is mere hypocrisy for anyone to say that either of those Bills could be carried in the present Parliament. But it is not only that. The point is that up to the occasion of the rejection or the threatened rejection of each of those Bills in another place, the same heroic language was used by every Minister of the Crown as is being used to-day. The Chief Secretary for Ireland said that if the Lords dared to stand between the will of the people and their ardent desire for temperance reform, as expressed in the Licensing Bill, their blood would be on their own heads. The Prime Minister said:—If this Bill is defeated the Liberal party will go down with it. Let it go down. There is no use for the Liberal party if it is not prepared to sacrifice itself for such great social objects.And so I could go on quoting Minister after Minister. When the Government is so frequently saying that it is in grim earnest, but nothing follows, the stupid, blunt, dull-minded man in the street shrugs his shoulders, and begins to think, "A plague on both your Houses. There is not much to choose between you." I am not at all sure that the one thing which will emerge from these discussions will not be 1527 that the party system of Government, and not the House of Lords or the House of Commons, will be put on its trial.
The Solicitor-General is one of the few members of his profession who knows all about all branches of the law courts. I ask him to correct me if I am wrong in saying that in the courts of equity it is a well-established doctrine that you cannot go to those courts for any relief or remedy unless you go to them with what are called "clean hands." By "clean hands" is meant clean hands in regard to the particular matter in respect of which you seek redress. I would ask: Are your proposals open in the mind of the uninitiated to the suspicion, I will not say of cant, but of insincerity? Who are we that we should speak about the will of the people? Who are we that we should talk about putting the other House in order? If it be not an impropriety, I would say, because I feel it, that this House, when it poses as the representative of the divine will of the people, is making a claim which will not bear a moment's investigation, and is laying itself open to the suspicion of hypocrisy. An hon. Member has referred to the fact that Scotland sends sixty-one Members on the one side as against nine on the other. He did not mention that if the votes were analysed it would be found that whilst 300,000 elected the sixty-one Members, 255,000 elected the nine. He did not mention that there are three constituencies in this country returning three Members whose total electorate is equivalent to that of thirty-five other constituencies returning thirty-five Members. He did not mention that the total voters on the registers are less than half the male adult population. One could go on illustrating this point by the hour. What I wish to emphasise is that we are not, under our present rusty, mouldy machinery, in any sense a representative Chamber. In the 1886 Parliament the Government party actually polled a minority of the votes recorded at the General Election. That is a good illustration of the working of the present system. If you speak of these things to the party man, he says, "You cannot help these anomalies in any system of popular election. One thing must be set against another. What is wrong here is put right there." It always reminds me of the dying King's Counsel, who with his last breath expressed his regret that he had lost many cases which he ought to have won, but he consoled himself by 1528 the reflection that he had won many which he ought to have lost, and therefore he said, "I suppose, in the end, justice has been done."
I should like to see contemporaneously with any action towards the other House, except in regard to finance, some measure of reform of ourselves. The public is becoming intelligent in these days, and is beginning to understand these things. It does not come with any force from us to talk about the anomalous constitution of the House of Lords when our own is equally, or even more, anomalous from the standpoint of our claim to be a representative Chamber. The Resolutions as framed put some of us, or, at any rate, one of us, in a little difficulty. So far as our claim to be supreme in finance is concerned, I shall have no hesitation whatever in voting for it, whatever may be the constitution of the House of Lords. We are of necessity the masters of the purse, and we must of necessity keep control over finance, so long as it be finance, and nothing but finance; and, with all respect, I am satisfied with the guarantees provided upon that point—that it shall be left to the Speaker's decision. I certainly should not be satisfied with the suggestion in one Amendment on the Paper that one of the judges—say Mr. Justice Ridley—or some other legal luminary of that kind should decide the question for us. But although I am heartily in favour of abolishing the Veto of the other House so far as finance is concerned, I cannot be a party to going on with the second Resolution while we do nothing towards putting ourselves in order. Therefore, I shall have no hesitation in voting for the general Resolution that we go into Committee to consider the matter; but I certainly reserve for myself perfect freedom to criticise and, if necessary, to oppose the second Resolution on the ground that it savours of unreality, so long as our House is constituted as it is to-day.
I want to ask one further question. Why are we proceeding by Resolution at all? I see my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel) present. I have the greatest respect for him, but I hold him responsible for much of the backsliding of His Majesty's Government in regard to these Resolutions, and for the way that the Prime Minister has been led astray from his original intentions. What was the original intention as to these proposals? You have only to refer to His Majesty's Speech to see that there were 1529 to be contemporaneous, comprehensive, and simultaneous proposals for limiting the Veto of the House of Lords in general legislation, and for abolishing it in finance; and concurrently, reorganising it on a more representative and satisfactory basis. That was the course that would have been followed but for the disloyalty of certain of the followers of the Government, which filled me with horror and grief from a party point of view. I want to know why we could not have embodied the whole thing in a Bill? What is the good of Resolutions? We have had them for ages in this House. I was lately looking through old Journals of this House, and I came across something which will, I think, interest the learned Solicitor-General. I think I made a startling discovery. In the year 1693 I find that Parliament by Resolution unanimously abolished the Court of Chancery. I have been unable to find any Resolution or Bill resuscitating it. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave) has a distinguished practice in that court. If he were here now I should suggest to him that the Court of Chancery has no legal jurisdiction at all to sit or to adjudicate upon anything—that is, if the Resolutions of this House have any legal effect. What do we want Resolutions for? Why cannot we have a Bill? Cannot the Government be quite candid and tell us, at any rate, that owing to internal dissensions—into which it is not our business to inquire, and which are incidental to every Cabinet in a time of crisis—it is impossible to proceed with the reform portion of their original policy? Can this be denied? Does the Prime Minister question it? So far as this Parliament is concerned, assuming you carry your Resolutions and your Budget, assuming all goes smoothly and that next Session comes, how are you going to carry your reform? The whole of the Labour party tell you they are against it. The whole of the Irish party tell you—and I do not blame them from their point of view— that they are against it. Many of your own followers under ordinary circumstances are against it. Therefore let it be understood, without any reservation, that so far as this Parliament goes reform of the Second Chamber from this House is out of the question. It is impossible. Can the Home Secretary, on behalf of the Government, any longer promise reform of the other House? He cannot.
Does it occur to the House that, inasmuch as the Lords themselves—smile at 1530 them if you will, criticise them as you like —are seriously applying their minds— never mind from what motive—it may be deathbed repentance if you like—to reform —does not the House remember this: that when they have settled their scheme, whatever it may be, it will have to come down here in the form of a Bill? This House can then introduce into it such Amendments and improvements as it may consider necessary. Could not this House be well occupied in the meantime in endeavouring to reform itself, so that you shall, after the crisis is over, on the one hand have really a representative Chamber reflecting the voice of the people, and, on the other hand, a Chamber so constituted as to command respect and esteem of the nation if it happened to differ from this particular Chamber? I do not possess the parliamentary experience or the mental acuteness of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University to be able to keep myself within the bounds of order if I attempt to explain my scheme for reforming the House of Lords. But I will venture to say that if the Noble Lord were in his place, and heard what I have to say, he would agree that my proposal is an improvement upon his own. It has this great advantage—that it is workable. I would throw out the suggestion that the Second Chamber should be constituted in some such way as this.
At the commencement of every Parliament, let the Peers elect a certain number from themselves, and let the Government of the day nominate an equal number of members of the Second Chamber. You would thus compromise with the hereditary principle—and I have lived long enough to know the value of compromise in politics as in everything else—you counteract and counterbalance it by an elective or nominative element, and you leave the Government of the day in full possession of an equal balance of power, with either House so constituted that each House can be self-respecting and mutually respecting. I throw that suggestion out to the Noble Lord, and hope that with his assistance we may be able to introduce a Bill or amend the Lords Bill when it comes down to us, and put it in working order on a basis that will command the esteem and respect of every Member of this House and of the country.
I have asked why did not the Government introduce a Bill? Why do they not introduce real reform? What is the difficulty in doing this? Pass your Resolution 1531 if you will that the Lords Veto in purely financial matters shall be taken away, and then introduce a real Reform Bill, which shall deal with the reform of this House and the other House, and remove those electoral anomalies to which I have referred. Then you have something to go to the country on. You will never carry the country on the Veto. Some benighted constituents think it is the name of a vegetable. You will never carry the country by Resolutions. You will carry it only by a measure which has been discussed, and made workable, and explained to the House and the country. Why cannot we have this? It is one thing to pass a Resolution, and another thing to show how you are going to carry it out. I could submit a Resolution to this House, which would be carried nemine contradicente, that every hungry man and woman should be well fed and clothed. Who would vote against it? But I should leave my learned Friend the Solicitor-General to draft the Bill showing how it could be done. No doubt that these proposals represent a Cabinet compromise ! I listened with great attention, as I always do, to the speech of the Prime Minister. May I say it was a great Parliamentary oration, a great Parliamentary achievement; but, after all, it was only the brilliant speech of a brilliant advocate acting as leading counsel for the Cabinet. I can almost, in my mind's eye, see the endorsement on the brief: "Brief to the Prime Minister to make it clear to the House of Commons that there are no dissensions in the Cabinet," and also "to make it clear that there has been no change in the plan of the Government in regard to the House of Lords." I think I may also be permitted to mention that I also see the other endorsement: "With you the Solicitor-General and Mr. Simon, K.C." You had only to watch the countenances of the right hon. Gentlemen who sat around the Prime Minister during his speech to note the light and wonderful touch with which the right hon. Gentlemen skipped over their various little idiosyncrasies, with what skill he passed over each particular point in which a colleague was a bit "off the line" ! I observed with great interest how each of them in turn, as his own case came round, assumed that self-satisfied, reposeful attitude which a Minister always adopts when he is in an awkward position ! The policy of the Prime Minister was to conceal 1532 from us the fact that the Cabinet is divided against itself. I ask the Prime Minister to be candid with the House. I ask him not to send us into the country again upon false issues.
Are we entitled to say to our constituents, that unless Parliament as it is constituted to-day, assuming our Resolutions are passed, assuming the Budget to be passed, assuming no interruption occurs in our normal existence—does the Prime Minister say—that it is possible in this Parliament to carry any measure for the reform of the House of Lords? If the Prime Minister says this he ignores the unanimous view of the Labour party, of the Nationalist party, and of the large section of his own followers. So far as the second Resolution is concerned, I do not think I am going beyond the mark to say the House of Lords has done nothing which you have the power, or perhaps—the inclination to undo. Leaving ancient history on one side, I think we must put ourselves in order before we further attack the other House. That is generally my attitude upon these matters. I do not know how far other Members may share it. I shall vote for the Resolution to go into Committee. I will vote whole-heartedly for the first Resolution to take the whole of the powers from the non-elective Assembly to interfere in the finance of the country, but, as I said at the beginning, I say again, that I believe the result of all this discussion—I see in every speech that is made by Members in all parts of the House, it becomes more clear every day, and will become clearer still, that at the next election the issue will be party system Government. What are you going to do if the Resolutions are passed? You know they will not be accepted in another place. No one thinks they will. But suppose they are. What are the alternatives before the Prime Minister? Dissolution or the exercise of the Royal Prerogative ! I confess I wish we could keep the name of the Sovereign out of this discussion. The time has not yet arrived for the exercise of the Royal Prerogative, which has never been exercised in this country, never been invoked, never been threatened to force Resolutions through the other House. How can you ask for it? But suppose you do secure your Resolutions by Royal Prerogative. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition again comes into power. He will undo them by Royal Pre- 1533 rogative. You will then have an endless chain of coroneted party marionettes going backwards and forwards from day to day between the two Houses in order to secure the passage and the undoing of measures. Where are you going to get your peers from? Are you going to advertise for them? So far as my information goes there are only about a dozen applicants at present on this side. In any case it is reducing Parliamentary government to a farce. It is bringing Parliamentary institutions into contempt and discredit to say that we represent the people and reflect the divine will, but cannot carry on our business without invoking the antiquated aid of the Prerogative of the Crown. Let us make ourselves representative. Let us make the other House self-respecting and both Houses mutually respecting. Then between us if we cannot settle these problems it is time we gave the work to somebody else who can—time we changed our whole system of Government. A lot has been said in these discussions about an Albert Hall meeting. I do not want to refer to any personal matter, except that about the same time as the Prime Minister addressed his Albert Hall meeting I also addressed a meeting at the Albert Hall. The dates were so near each other that my meeting is differentiated from the Prime Minister's meeting by the attendants in the hall—it is known as the big meeting— we could not get in all the people. My point is I want to show that if you get 20,000 people to come without any party machinery or any great attraction to protest against the breakdown of the party system something must be radically wrong. I have had similar meetings all over the country while Members of this House, assisted by Members of the Ministry, have been holding their annual meetings in schoolrooms and in institute halls. All this indicates that the man in the street is beginning to see the danger. What is the danger? Eight hon. Gentlemen on both Front Benches keep quoting from the OFFICIAL REPORT and throwing it at each other's heads. There is no man living whom I could not defeat in a competition by quoting extracts from speeches from right hon. Gentlemen on both benches without putting their names to them, and asking him to tell me to what party the particular Member quoted belonged. We hear from the Government Bench and from the Opposition Bench the same talk about the will of the people. It is now the claptrap of both sides of the House. But the 1534 Government says that the will of the people is the will of the Commons, and they allege that the Commons and the people are synonymous terms. They have no scientific relation to each other whatever. When you realise that you may have a Government in power representing but a minority of the votes recorded by a minority of the electors the whole theory breaks down. I am for keeping in this House alone the entire control of the public purse, so long as you do not avail yourself of that power to pass Acts of Parliament which deal with other matters. I am all for reform of the other House and for putting it upon a sounder basis, and, being of that opinion, I shall vote heartily for the First Resolution of the Prime Minister, and shall reserve perfect freedom of action with regard to the second until, at all events, we remove from it the taint of insincerity which I think attaches to it. I think this party system is on its trial. [An HON, MEMBER: "Now for the peroration."] I never perorate. I think it is an insult to the House of Commons to perorate. I do not think we are here to practice on each other. We have plenty of opportunity for that with our poor constituents, and, therefore, without any peroration, I would say to both Front Benches, "Be careful how you proceed in this either real or alleged crisis, because your party system is breaking down, and unless you are very careful and take a practical and straightforward and non-hypocritical course, the man in the street, the plain man, constituted as he is with his fellow-citizens the jury of the country, will condemn that system and sentence it to death."
Dr. ALFRED P. HILLIER
I should not have ventured to address this House for the first time in a Debate of this magnitude and importance were it not for the fact that as I have for many years of my life lived in British Colonies I cannot help asking myself, and I venture respectfully to ask this House to consider, what effect these Resolutions, if they axe carried into law, are likely to have upon the minds of our kith and kin in the King's dominions beyond the seas? I have listened with great respect and attention to the learned speech made by the Attorney-General in which he said, in an airy way, that the Empire was usually reserved by hon. Members on the Unionist side of the House for the purpose of their peroration. I say with all sincerity I intend to 1535 address myself to this problem from the Imperial point of view, not because I believe the Empire exists for speeches or perorations, nor that I think it is a mere sort of ornamental appendage of this country or Constitution, but because I believe that the welfare of the people of this country and the future descendants of the people of this country, is closely bound up with that Empire, and that any step taken, especially any great step dealing radically with the Constitution of this country, can only be taken with due regard and consideration for its relation to that great Empire with which our future destiny is so indissolubly bound up.
How will these proposals be regarded by our great self-governing Colonies? It appears to be admitted by many Members on the opposite side of the House—and I might particularly mention the Member for Leith Burghs (Mr. Munro Ferguson) that these proposals, if carried into law, would be tantamount to depriving the Second Chamber of any real power. In other words, that they would destroy that bi-cameral system of government known throughout the Anglo-Saxon world wherever Great Britain has Colonies with Governments of their own. How must these proposals be regarded by those Colonies to whom this Mother of Parliaments has accorded constitutions upon those democratic, secure and stable lines so familiar to the Anglo-Saxon world, and recognised as the most practical and valuable forms of constitution in any civilised country? We are told that these changes which are contemplated in the Resolutions before the House are required in the true interests of democracy That sort of statement has been made in this House and out of it ad nauseum. I venture to think it behoves us to ask what precedent or experience, what single fact can be gathered from the annals of civilised Governments or from the pages of history which warrant the Government of this country in maintaining that the interests of democracy can best be served or will best be served by what is practically a single-Chamber system. If they are prepared to take up this attitude, we are entitled to ask them to lay before this House whatever testimony or evidence the experience of other Governments has to afford us, whatever may be culled from the pages of history on this point. Let them give Parliament some encouraging facts from the experience of governments 1536 which would support these proposals. If there have been precedents—I, at any rate, have sought the pages of history in vain to find one—ever established in any civilised country showing that single-Chamber Government has been a success. On the other hand, I found many pieces of testimony and abundant evidence showing that where single-Chamber Government has been tried it has been a failure, and has had to be abandoned. I will not venture to go back to such well-known instances as those which may be gathered from the mediaeval Italian Republics. Gentlemen opposite have gone so far as to refer to the invasion of the Anglo-Saxons. I do not propose to go back to those remote historical times. I will not even take a famous instance which has been referred to on more than one occasion of the single-Chamber Government which for a time existed under our great Protector Cromwell, but I venture to say that there are instances in comparatively modern history of experiments with single-Chamber Governments that call for consideration. I merely mention the fact that two of the United States, Pennsylvania and Georgia, had single-Chamber Governments, and both subsequently abandoned them. Single Chambers have been tried in France, Naples, Spain, Portugal, and in every one of them they have been abandoned. We have had many British authorities and constitutional writers given upon this subject. Members on both sides will agree with me that there are many writers of constitutional law and constitutional practice in the United States of America, and among these eminent writers I do not think that any one has greater distinction than Professor Lieber, who, in a classic work on "Civil Liberty and Self-government," wrote as follows: I do not propose to read more than a brief extract, but it is so relevant to the subject that I hope the House will bear with me for a moment if I venture to read it:—It must he a striking fact to every inquirer in distant countries that not only has the system of two Houses historically developed itself in England, but it has been adopted by the United States in all the States, and by all the British Colonies where local Legislatures exist. We may mention even the African State of Liberia. The bi-cameral system accompanies the Anglican race like the common law, while no one attempt at introducing the uni-cameral system in larger countries has succeeded. France, Spain, Portugal. Naples, in all these countries it has been tried and everywhere it has failed. The idea of one House flows from that of the unity of power, so popular in France. The bi-cameral system is called by the advocates of democratic unity of power, an aristocratic institution. In reality, it is a truly popular principle to insist on the protection of a Legislature, divided into two Houses.1537 8.0 P.M.
That is the calm and deliberate judgment of a student and lover of democracy. I submit that the science of human government did not begin yesterday, and certainly did not begin with the General Election of 1906. It is not scientifically true to say that history repeats itself, but at least we may affirm that there is in the recurrence of social and political phenomena a certain similarity and parallelism which calls for the serious consideration of any student of human affairs. I submit that we cannot ignore the experience of the past in this matter and the lessons it conveys. Those lessons unmistakably convey the truth that wherever single-Chamber government has been tried it has failed and has been abandoned. But there is a stronger argument than anything I have yet referred to against the Resolutions to be found in the universal practice of the Anglo-Saxon world and that practice which has been followed by the present Government in regard to the establishment of a United South Africa. In the settlement brought about in South Africa there were special features which call for special consideration, and I have no doubt that they received sympathetic consideration from the present Government. South Africa comprises a group of states, some of which have been for a number of years self-governed, whilst others were for many years republics.
When it was proposed to grant a Constitution to South Africa it is obvious that some latitude of a democratic character would be conceded. What is the Constitution which has been granted to South Africa? Did the Government of this country or the ex-Republicans and British colonists of democratic tradition in South Africa demand a single-Chamber Government? Did they require a Second Chamber with only nominal powers? Were they indifferent to the composition of that Second Chamber or was it carefully provided for and defined? A brief examination of the Act will show a picture and disclose a Constitution which may well receive the serious consideration of this House at the present time. What are the powers of the South African Constitution? The Second Chamber is partly nominated and partly chosen by other elected bodies. This is what the ex-Republicans and democrats have done in South Africa—and their sponsors on this Bench have endorsed their action. The senator in the South African Parliament must have a substan- 1538 tial property qualification. The Senate has the power of rejecting both money and ordinary Bills, and in case a disagreement arises between the two Chambers in South Africa these Democrats and Republicans have not provided that one Chamber shall override the other. Not a bit of it. They have provided that these two Chambers shall sit together and in joint session shall vote upon and decide the question at issue. That is the last effort of the present Government at Constitution-making.
In the face of these facts I ask if the Government propose in the course of one short year so to change their views and their action as to advocate for this country a scheme of Government which would violate the essential principle of the very Constitution which they have just granted to South Africa. That is a measure sealed with the irrevocable approval of the Government of this country, and I ask: Are the Government now prepared to say that what this Parliament has given to every self-governing Colony, and what they have themselves just given to a United South Africa they are prepared to shatter and destroy in the case of the Mother Country. If this House assents to the proposals of the Government in their entirety —I do not believe for a moment it will—we shall stultify ourselves in the eyes of our kith and kin in our Colonies. If these Resolutions are passed in all the lurid fullness of their imperfection and carried into law we shall make ourselves the scorn of the Empire and the laughter of the world. The contention that this step is one calculated to serve the best interests of democracy will not bear examination. If these Resolutions are carried it is not the democracy that will be served, as experience in other countries has shown, as the good instincts of those republicans and colonists in South Africa have shown by the adoption of the Constitution to which I have referred. It is not the democracy that will be served. Even now the Cabinet is supreme for administrative purposes, and under these proposals it will become supreme for legislative purposes, and we should find ourselves face to face with a position which not many years ago was foretold by one of the greatest philosophers England has ever produced, Herbert Spencer, who, in his interesting work on "Man versus the State," wrote:—The time would come when Tories will be defenders of liberties which the Liberals, in pursuit of what they think popular welfare, trample under foot.1539 I associate myself with those views. I believe that time has come, and we are now seeing the fulfilment of those words. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I admit the truth and justice of what Herbert Spencer wrote. I make the concession, if it is worth anything, that the Government are actuated by a regard for the popular welfare, but I challenge them to show from the annals of civilised Government and their own action in South Africa, or from any other source, any justification for adopting the means for attaining this end which are suggested by these proposals. In this matter there are two alternatives before the Government and the country. The Government may, on further reflection, see the wisdom of so modifying their proposals as to render them acceptable to both the great historic parties in the State. The other alternative is, if they adhere to these proposals in their entirety they will have eventually to face an election upon them.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member who spoke last, that if they take that course they will meet with disaster, with blinding catastrophe, because they will be starting this country and this Constitution on the road which leads to death, disaster, and a place which I will not take the liberty of referring to. [Laughter.] In response to that laughter I will give the quotation in full. It is: "Death, disaster, and damnation." That is the phrase in its entirety as it came from the mouth of one of the leaders of the party opposite. I do not believe for a moment that a majority of the electors of this country will endorse extreme action of this kind. I look forward to an election on these Resolutions in all their fulness with absolute confidence. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why grumble."] Because my first consideration is the welfare of my country. That is why I grumble. I think it is time we gave up this bitter party conflict. I do not associate myself with those who think this is a barren controversy. I think it is a controversy of the profoundest importance, and issues are at stake which require to be thoroughly understood by the country and fully realised by Members of this House before any hasty or irretrievable step is taken. In conclusion, let me say that I do not believe for a single moment that the electors will endorse the extreme step which is being taken by these Resolutions. For my part, I can only say that if an election comes, and I am mistaken in my view as to the result, I believe the day is not far 1540 distent for this country of which the future historian will be constrained to write the epitaph written upon the grave of more than one union in the past:—She knew not the time of her visitation.
§ Mr. A. W. BARTON
I am in the position of asking from the House that indulgence which it always affords to new Members. I am speaking towards the end of a very long Debate, when only the crumbs are left for those who attempt to speak. I agree with the concluding observations of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, in which he said that there is before us a serious crisis.
May I correct the hon. Member. I did not say there was a "crisis." I said we were face to face with a very grave and serious problem, or words to that effect. I did not use the word "crisis."
§ Mr. BARTON
I think it will be admitted at once that that is quite the same thing. We are face to face with a very great problem. There will possibly be an election out of which we, on this side, will come badly. I want to point out that he is in immediate and active opposition to the brightest light on his own side. It was only the other day that the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) assured the House in most dramatic fashion that there was no crisis and no serious position. He then proceeded to say that the course which the Government is taking is going to result in two elections. The hon. Gentleman believes that the first of those elections must be won by the present Government and those who follow them, else there can be no necessity for and no possibility of a second election. On the other hypothesis we shall have a Conservative Government and all the goods things that flow from that, and there will be no necessity far the second election.
In listening to this Debate throughout, one thing has struck me very forcibly. It is that there has been largely omitted from it the point of view that this House is at the present time fighting on the defensive for causes which we believe to be of deep importance to the people of the country. We know the immediate cause of the position in which we find ourselves. It is the rejection, or the suspension, of the Budget by the other House. We have had law arguments by most able lawyers on the subject of whether that action was legal, whether it was constitutional, or 1541 whether it was both. I have the honour to represent a very large industrial Constituency, and I have been glad to observe that the conclusions to which the vast majority of the working people in that great Constituency came during the election thoroughly harmonise with the conclusions of the most learned lawyers who have spoken in this House to-day.
I think we realise that, inasmuch as the House of Lords was able to force a dissolution by the rejection of the Budget, it must of necessity be in some respects a legal proceeding. We, on the other hand, know perfectly well that throughout all the centuries there has been no rejection by the House of Lords of the whole of the Finance Bill of the year, and, inasmuch as that rejection was the means of forcing an election on a Parliament which had still valuable work to do, we realise that, if that power were to be the admitted power of the House of Lords, a very serious blow would be struck at what we, at any rate, regard as the rights and privileges of the people. I contend that in this Debate it does not appear to have been fully realised that the Government are to a large extent fighting on the defensive. I believe that in naval strategy it is a recognised axiom that to fight even on the defensive you must attack, you must search out your enemy and deal with him wherever you find him; and I firmly believe that at the present time this House is engaged in one more of the many struggles in which it has had to engage throughout all its history on behalf of the rights of the people.
When I came through Westminster Hall this afternoon my eye lighted on the statue of Charles I., and it occurred to me very forcibly that there is much in the present position which accords with the position of the earlier Parliaments of that reign. Those who have studied Parliamentary history at all will remember that at the beginning of that reign the Parliaments dealt largely with attempts at the redress of grievances and the restraint of Prerogatives, and they had absolutely no taint of disloyalty about them and no thoughts and no desires for revolution. In that line they proceeded temperately and earnestly, but redress was not forthcoming, and what happened in the end is well known to every student of history. The people rose in their wrath and stood behind the people's House. It ended in the overthrow of the Church and of the Lords, and, alas ! it ended by bringing the 1542 King to the scaffold. Those were wild days compared with ours, but let us not forget that you cannot continue to check even evolutionary progress without giving rise to ideas of revolution, and possibly revolutionary action.
I am one of those who believe most profoundly that the country at the present time is deeply and seriously interested, to the exclusion of practically all other political considerations, in the great constitutional problem with which we are confronted. We have had several proposals offered for a solution of the problem. The hon. Member for Oxford (Lord Hugh Cecil), noble and learned as he undoubtedly is, yesterday, to the astonishment of the whole House, and I think to the amusement of some of us, propounded a solution which embodied in the strongest and fullest degree the hereditary principle. It has been frequently contended on the other side that we on this side are a disunited party. I remember at an earlier stage in this Parliament the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool shrieking almost hysterically that we on this side were beaten, and he was surrounded by a chorus of his admirers demanding to know where our majority was. We have now arrived at the main business for which this Parliament has been called together, and I do not think anybody has any serious doubt as to there being a substantial majority behind the Government in their proposals. The point I wish to make is this, that in the scheme propounded by the Noble Lord yesterday for setting up once more a strong hereditary Chamber he stands apart from many of those who sit on the other side of the House. Only the other day there was held in the city of Manchester a great banquet, the object of which was to celebrate t(he Conservative victories in the county of Lancashire. We Lancashire traders are very fully cognisant at the present time of one great economic truth, which is that the scarcity of a commodity largely increases its value, and from that point of view the banquet in question must have been a very important one. At any rate, it was presided over by a Noble Lord (Lord Derby), who on his merits, if I may say so, is admired by practically everybody in the North, if not in the country generally. He went frankly and fully in favour of the hereditary principle, but he also suggested that there might be some modifications in the power of the House 1543 of Lords. Present also at the banquet was a younger son of the same House. Certainly when I do admire a lord at all I like him to be a younger son. They have a way of speaking out perfectly frankly whatever they feel or think, and this younger son got up and quite bravely said he did not believe there was any need for reform of the House of Lords, and he stood for the hereditary principle. But there were spectres at this feast, and these were the successful candidates who were being fêted. One of them was the very clever Gentleman who represents the town of Burnley, and he got up and rather lectured his friends round that board as to how elections ought to be fought, and he had a right to do so because he had managed to get into this House, I say so quite respectfully, as a representative of the minority of the particular town which he represents. He proceeded to warn that assembly that if they were to make any headway in Lancashire at all it would be by throwing over the hereditary principle. Yet here we have a party which boasts that it is a solid phalanx opposed to a disunited party on the other side, and obviously from this series of speeches it is itself absolutely disunited.
Be that as it may, the position seems to me to come to this, that there has to be some change. There is no doubt that there is a deadlock and a crisis. We on this side, and the Government on our be half, have put forward proposals, and I understand we are now considering the desirability or otherwise of going into Committee on these proposals in detail. During the course of the Debate alternatives have been put before us, but I venture to affirm that not one of these alternatives has dealt in the smallest degree with the points which we regard as being fundamental. We regard as fundamental that the power of the purse shall be clearly taken away from the House of Lords. None of the rival schemes put forward has contained any abandonment of their claim to money control. We regard also as fundamental that the final Veto on legislation shall be removed from the House of Lords. In every one of the speeches coming from the other side it has been made perfectly evident that they regard that as being essential to any Second Chamber. So that I am forced to the conclusion that the amiable desire of the Gentleman who preceded me on the other side, that there might be some accommo- 1544 dation between parties, is something which is past hoping for. There is a clear dividing line between the two parties in this House. The right hon. Gentleman who leads the party opposite spoke at the beginning of this Debate, and I am bound to say that anyone who listened carefully to that speech must have realised that we are face to face with a problem which in the most profound and most fundamental way divides the two sides of the House. The real gravamen of the case put forward by the Leader of the Opposition lay in that part of his speech in which he quite unreservedly admitted that there was one kind of treatment meted out by the other House to Bills proposed by a Liberal Government, and, on the other hand, to Bills proposed by his own side. I was astonished to hear that admission, but there it was. I venture to think that if nothing else had been elicited in this Debate, that clear statement of the position would have justified the whole Debate. For here we have him admitting and approving the statement that the other House is, indeed, a partisan Assembly. I quote his very words:—The only reason why the majority of the House of Lords was thrown against modern Radicalism was because modern Radicalism stood for ideas upon which the people should he consulted before they were finally adopted.We know that a Bill can only go to the other House after having been passed by a majority of this House, and the effect of these observations of the right hon. Gentleman is this, that the other House shall discriminate between a majority on one side and a majority on the other. In other words, that the Liberal party, or any possible Progressive party, may obtain a place in the councils of the nation, but the Conservative party shall always retain power in the country. This is the real issue of the moment, and so far as this side is concerned, if that position can be established the sole reason for the existence of a Progressive party will have passed away. Another favourite position of the party on the other side is to cite certain measures which have been rejected by the Lords, and to affirm that such rejection has been subsequently affirmed, condoned, or condemned by the electors. On the face of it a party which has the power to carry its ideas and its programme into the Statute Book must always have an electoral advantage over the party whose main principles and propositions are liable to be thwarted and checked. Whilst one would expect that to 1545 be the case, it seems to be open to doubt whether the particular instances which are set up by the other side will stand the interpretations which they have put upon them. Take, for instance, the great question of Home Rule for Ireland. The other side are constantly thanking the House of Lords for saving the country from that disaster, and so frequently has this been reiterated that most of us had come to believe there must be something in it. But on Tuesday last the hon. and learned Gentleman who represents Waterford gave us the history of the whole matter and chattered entirely the position which is always asserted by the other side. Then we are aware that in this connection the great masterpiece of the Tory party is the fate of the Budget. They appear to know that the reason why the Government does not bring forward the Budget is that it would meet with defeat in this House. I am not sufficiently aware of the views of what is undoubtedly a composite majority in this House to say for certain if that is so, but I do know, as far a England, Scotland, and Wales are concerned, there is indeed a majority in this House for the Budget, and I do know, from anything which I have been able to gather from the mouthpiece of the Irish party, that there is not that great objection to the Budget on its, merits which those hon. Gentlemen on the other side are constantly trying to read into the position of that party.
The point that I want to draw attention to is this, that the House of Lords suspended this Budget and gave as an express reason that they did so in order that the opinion of the people might be taken upon it, and I venture to affirm that from the moment that the Budget came before the people the whole of the speeches of most of the candidates on the Conservative side were directed, not to drawing attention to the Budget, but to distracting attention from it all over the country. We had a great impending war scare raised. I know for a fact that in the South of England aristocratic Tory ladies were busy learning military nursing in order that they might be able to nurse their brothers, their husbands, and their sweethearts, about whom, apparently, it was a foregone conclusion that they were going to be wounded by the Germans. That was only one of the scares, and we all know that Tariff Reform was made to play a great part in that election. We were to get a great Navy, which was going to be paid for without British taxes. The foreigner, in fact, was going to present us with this great Navy.
1546 In the country the duty on corn was going to make prices better for the farmer, and in our towns the people were going to have food cheaper despite that fact. Then our Colonies were to be bound together in a bond of union, and, in fact, there never was a time when there were so many confused issues brought before the people.
This might be excusable in certain instances, but in view of the fact that the declared object of election was to obtain the views of the people on a specific point, I think there can be no doubt whatever that the real object of that forced election was to withdraw the attention of the people from what was the declared object of the election. [An HON. MEMBER: "They talked about unemployment."] My hon. Friend reminds me that amongst other things they constantly talked about unemployment. There was to be a job for every man. [An HON. MEMBERS: "Two jobs."] It is inevitable that the more modern of them got down to that there would be jobs for more men than were out of employment, but, at any rate, there were all sorts of views propounded with regard to unemployment. With all those conflicting views before the country, I think we cannot set very much store by the opinion expressed about the Budget. I had a good deal to do with elections about that time, and what I found was this, that in the constituencies where the constitutional question and the Budget were kept all the time before the people we triumphed, but in the constituencies where the other side managed to distract the attention of the electors to these scores of side issues they triumphed. In other words, I feel convinced in this that time is entirely with us, and a fuller apprehension of the real facts will improve our position from month to month. But we have before us the position as it stands. I for one regard the Resolutions which have been brought forward by the Government as being perhaps not all that we could have wished for, but as being the least that could be expected. But alongside of these there is a constant confusion of thought connected with the question of reform of the House of Lords. My own position is this, that I am not at all concerned what reforms may be brought about in connection with the House of Lords, so long as always the two main points of these Resolutions are adhered to, and I am quite convinced of this, that unless they are adhered to, unless they are put forward strongly, there will be deep and abiding disappointment in the country.
1547 There is another point in regard to which I must confess I find myself rather perplexed with what we learned from the Government Benches, or rather from Members of the Government when speaking outside. We find that they constantly refer to, or at any rate, that they have clearly indicated that before long we shall be in the throes of another election. Following the problem before us from point to point I find myself unable to see where that election comes in. I do not think anybody doubts for a moment that these Resolutions will pass this House of Commons with a majority of anything over 100. I do not think anybody hopes for a moment that they will be passed in the other House at all. Then will come that moment referred to by the Prime Minister when he, as a constitutional statesman, should go to the Sovereign and tender to him constitutional advice. I have heard it deprecated in this House that we should refer to the Sovereign here. But it seems to me that to-day that is only trifling with the position. I cannot understand this, that anybody should at all prejudge what the answer of a constitutional monarch shall be to the constitutional advice of a constitutional Minister. When you assume an election you prejudge that answer. I hope I am an absolutely loyal subject of the King, and I know that we regard him as one who has sought peace throughout the world, and I believe he will seek peace in his own dominions. I believe he is the last Sovereign to, and I shall not believe that he will give any answer other than a constitutional one to his Prime Minister until the Prime Minister comes to this House, as it will be his duty in that event to do, and tells us plainly that is so. The great Constituency which I have the honour to represent in this House was at one time represented by a very great man who took an interest in this constitutional subject, Charles James Fox, and I want to conclude these somewhat imperfect observations with a quotation from him made in this House one hundred years ago, which seems to me to have a very close bearing upon our present position. He said:—The people's liberties strengthen the King's Prerogative, and the King's Prerogative is to strengthen the people's liberties.
§ Mr. WALTER GUINNESS
The hon. Member who has just sat down painted a very graphic picture of the confused issue which was before the country at the last General Election, and he argued very 1548 fairly from that picture that it was quite unreasonable to set large store upon the opinions of the present House of Commons representing the electors on the Budget. Surely that is the case which we have been trying to make in this Debate, that owing to our imperfect system of representation, owing to the fact that you cannot help having these mixed issues, it is impossible to pretend that the opinion of the House of Commons represents the settled views of the country on any given question unless that question has for a very long time been canvassed. The hon. Member made another very interesting statement. He said there was a clear dividing line between the opinions held on this subject on both sides of the House. I agree with him that there is probably a clear dividing line between the opinions of extremists on both sides of the House or between the opinions of hon. Members below the Gangway and hon. Members on this side of the House. But I think there is an equally clear dividing line between the opinions of hon. Members on the other side of the House, and that fissure has only been concealed by the extraordinary cleverness with which the Government have concealed their views so as to flatter both sides in the controversy, that their own opinions are going to be given effect to. I do not think we could have had a better example than the speech of the Attorney-General this afternoon. He made a very interesting speech upon various subjects, but he said nothing whatever as to the opinions of the Government on the question which has been raised by the Amendment from the Front Bench, that it is advisable to have a strong Second Chamber, and that the present Second Chamber may possibly be reformed. The Attorney-General gave us a long and learned dissertation on the present powers of the House of Lords and on their constitutional, or not constitutional, right to reject a Finance Bill.
I think that is entirely irrelevant to the question at issue. We know that constitutional considerations weigh little with that side of the House. Hon. Members opposite wish to destroy the present existing British Constitution [An HON. MEMBER: "No, we wish to restore it."] We have never had a single-Chamber system in the past history of the country, and, as far as one can judge from the very divergent speeches to which we have listened, the majority of Members opposite now wish to set up a single-Chamber system. I think the Government clearly are not very much swayed by constitutional con- 1549 siderations, and I think it is also clear that Members on this side of the House are perfectly ready to listen to any fair case which can be made out for the reform of the House of Lords, and they are perfectly ready to consider any new system of two-Chamber government, so long as a really efficient Second Chamber can be retained in the Constitution of this country. The Attorney-General made a very curious statement. He said tacking was objected to by the House of Lords because they knew that they had no power to reject a Finance Bill. I have looked up, in the last edition of Sir Thomas Erskine May's "Parliamentary Practice," the most recent cases of tacking. The first Resolution on tacking was passed 200 years ago by the House of Lords, and they passed it at a time when it was quite a common practice for the House of Lords to reject Finance Bills. The last occasion, according to this edition, on which they dealt with the tacking question was in 1807, when they rejected two Supply Bills on account of their containing multifarious matter. That entirely disposes of the extraordinary proposition of the Attorney-General that the House of Lords objected to tacking because they knew they could not reject a Money Bill. They objected to tacking because they felt that to reject a Money Bill was a very strong order except in exceptional cases, and they felt that it was a punishment perhaps in some cases too great for the crime, and that it was very necessary to restrict these Money Bills to purely financial objects.
Then the Attorney-General said there was no Second Chamber in the world which had the power of the House of Lords. I do not know if he has studied the French Constitution, and whether he realises that there is a Second Chamber, elected for no less than nine years by indirect election, which has not only the power to reject Money Bills, but also to increase taxation, and which is very much in the habit of putting these powers into force. We were told this afternoon that it was most unreasonable that any Second Chamber should have the power to force a Dissolution. I do not know whether the Attorney-General has realised that in France the Government of the day is equally responsible to both Chambers, and that two Cabinets have fallen as the result of votes of the Senate, and several Ministers have had to resign their portfolios as the result of censure in the Senate. Dissolution can only be brought about, ex- 1550 cept at periods of four years, when the Chamber of Deputies in the ordinary way goes to the country, by the action of the President after consulting the Senate, and therefore they have a far greater power of causing Dissolution or of withholding a Dissolution than the House of Lords in this country has ever had or ever wishes to have. Then when the Attorney-General was tackled by the Noble Lord (Lord Hugh Cecil) on the accuracy of his statement as to foreign Constitutions he took refuge in a statement that he was not searching for foreign countries, and that we ought to be an example. It was the example which he himself had set, and he only made that escape when it was clearly shown that he was wrong. He denied the fact that there were these Second Chambers abroad which were irresponsible, and he had no answer to make to the point of the Noble Lord that in Prussia the Second Chamber is largely hereditary, and Prussia is not the only place I could mention. In Spain the Second Chamber is also very largely hereditary. Anyhow, this argument was only used by the Attorney-General until he was shown to be wrong. His whole speech tended to obscure the point at issue, which is whether the Government are really in favour of reform or whether they wish to bring in these Resolutions as a means of creating a temporary Second Chamber, knowing that eventually it will have to be abolished. I believe everyone who has studied these Resolutions feels that a Second Chamber on these lines might be all right for a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, but that it would be absolutely impossible in the wear and tear of political life. It would have no real power though it would have a good deal of opportunity for being vexatious. The Government apparently realise that it cannot be final, and the Prime Minister has stated that it is not a final or an adequate solution of the problem with which we have to deal.
We want to know whether the Government propose to leave the Second Chamber or whether they propose to set up this extraordinary body temporarily, knowing that in a year or two there will be such an outcry against it that they will be able to sweep it away altogether. They probably reckon that it will be very difficult to go back, and they may be counting on the opportunity of sweeping away all safeguards on the action of the House of Commons. Surely in starting on a journey of this importance we ought to know where the guide wishes to lead us? On this side we think we know pretty well; we see that 1551 it clearly leads to a single-Chamber system and that the authors of this Resolution really know it, and we do not believe that the country is fully seized of the whole facts of the case, and we believe that before any Government comes forward with a proposal such as this they should show their whole hand and explain to the electors what they really intend.
So far, all that we have been told about the reform is that the Second Chamber is to be constituted on a democratic method of representation. It has been assumed in some quarters that when the Second Chamber is reformed it will be vested again with real powers such as are possessed by the House of Lords at present. There was nothing, I think, in the Prime Minister's speech to justify that view. [Cheers.] From those cheers I suppose that assumption would be supported by hon. Members below the Gangway. I think it is a point far too important to be left ambiguous. It is essential to know whether it is the intention of the Government to make this Second Chamber which, in effect, they are setting up transitional or permanent. Will they give it the Veto which they are proposing to take away from the present House of Lords? We know that they will not give back the Veto, and we ask them to come out into the open and say so quite frankly, and then the country will have a clear issue before them. The Prime Minister has caused a good deal of disquiet by the rather tortuous policy and sudden changes which have taken place in his opinions since the apparently clear statement of policy was made in the Albert Hall. I do not think that the country is going to give him carte blanche in the matter and enable him to suit his policy to the political needs of his own party.
We have heard a great deal about "giving effect to the will of the people," and it is said that the Government of the day is in a position exactly to interpret what that is. I think we are entitled to ask upon this great question of reform— Do the people want an elective Second Chamber; do they want a sham, or do they want a bulwark against sudden changes in the Constitution which are not in accordance with the will of the people? It is practically certain that the matter cannot be settled by the existing House of Commons, and I do think that before the Debate ends it is only reasonable to ask the Government to put the whole of their intentions before us. One is reminded of 1552 the fable of King Log and King Stork. We are told that the people of the country are dissatisfied with the present House of Lords, that the Members of that House do not efficiently carry out their duties, and that they are absolutely inactive when a Conservative Government is in power. That may be a fair criticism, but I do not think the country is going to consent to the rule of King Stork. They will first want to see that they are going to have a real Second Chamber, and that before they abolish the existing one they are not going to set up a Second Chamber which will be able to over-ride their liberties, and destroy their will. I think that in this Debate we have had some language of regrettable violence. The Attorney-General followed the example of the Prime Minister, and made very violent attacks upon the motives which actuate the House of Lords in some of their actions. He endeavoured to make out that they are actuated by self-interest. I think that is a regrettable spirit in which to approach a question of this kind. Apparently, hon. Members below the Gangway wish to treat the whole question by the touchstone of party. I think they will defeat their own end if they do so. The question should not be dealt with on a party basis, but with a view to the interest of the whole nation. The late Prime Minister, recognising this, said that this question should be approached without passion and discussed in an atmosphere where it would be possible to deal with it on its merits. I do not think the temper shown by hon. Members on the other side of the House in their bitter feeling against the House of Lords is-likely to add to their power of reasoning. I think that, owing to the policy put before us, we are more in need of keeping our minds clear as to the actual issue. We are told by the Prime Minister that he is going to recast the entire constitutional system of the country. This Constitution has been adapted to the needs of our community by evolution and experience, and I doubt whether any cut-and-dried scheme can possess the elasticity which can only fit it for the complex needs of a modern community. Under this Constitution we have obtained a liberty and freedom greater, perhaps, than is enjoyed in any other country in the world. We were told by the Attorney-General this afternoon that we are first in freedom of government. If we are first in freedom of government under the present system, what is the need of change? It is admitted that 1553 we have more liberty than foreign countries, and apparently more than is to be found in countries with a single Chamber. The reason is that we in this country have enjoyed progress free from reaction. The legislation of the country has not outstripped the popular will. In that way we have avoided the reaction which results when legislation goes beyond the intention of the electors of a country. I think the continuity of the system, which, according to the Attorney-General, has made us first in freedom of government, is of the highest national interest, and it is of such importance that we ought not to allow it to be swayed by party interest. We ought to put it beyond all possibility of being washed to and fro in the tide of popular opinion. If you settle this question in a party spirit, I am perfectly certain that you will get no finality. The Prime Minister, in moving the Resolution, advocated the undoing by a new House of Commons, if they so desire, of what the present House of Commons does if the proposals are agreed to. Surely that is a dangerous principle in a constitutional matter of this kind. Hitherto the Constitution has been accepted by both parties, and it cannot be to the advantage of the nation to have a temporary Constitution which is going to be rigged for party advantage each time there is a change in the opinion of the electorate of the country. I think the conclusion from this is that we ought to search for common ground on which to stand. We ought to see whether there is not some compromise which both parties will accept. From the speeches made on this side of the House I think it is quite obvious that many of us realise the Radical grievance that the House of Lords is one-sided. Because we recognise that, it has been made perfectly clear that the Unionist party would assent to a change if a really efficient Second Chamber could be created with power to check hasty legislation on the part of both parties.
I am glad to notice hon. Members below the Gangway cheering now. They did not cheer a few minutes ago, when they clearly showed that they wanted to have only a single-Chamber and to have no control whatever but by the House of Commons. I am glad that their opinions have so far advanced. It really looks as if they saw the impossibility of smashing the Constitution and that it was advisable to go for a compromise. I do not think that a compromise of this kind is advo- 1554 cated on this side of the House, because we feel that the House of Lords is not deserving of any censure, for we believe that they are perfectly defensible on the grounds of efficiency—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why reform it? "]—but because in this country the generally accepted doctrine is that there is great virtue in the counting of noses regardless of the quality of the brains behind those noses, and the House of Lords, the backwoodsmen, are not in their places owing to popular election, and therefore they do not satisfy the doctrinaires. That does not mean that the House of Lords has not done its work perfectly efficiently. In fact, I think they clearly have done so if you consider the generally expressed opinion that in this country we have got a form of government and an amount of liberty which cannot be rivalled by any other country in the world. If a Second Chamber is set up to secure the services of the best men, and to be acceptable to all parties in the State, I think we should be amply justified in sacrificing perhaps a little constitutional continuity, and in scrapping the Second Chamber, if by so doing—I am glad that hon. Members agree in this—we could create a Second Chamber which will enjoy no less confidence and no less power than the Second Chambers in the United States of America and in France.
Surely the proposals of the Government, either go too far or not far enough. If there is any need of reconsideration surely they are perfectly useless, because no reconsideration would be provided. It is perfectly clear that a House of Commons which never gives way unless it is compelled to either by the electors or by the House of Lords is not likely to listen to a new House of Lords when its numbers have been increased by 500 who are coming from no one knows where, from the other side. Of course we on this side of the House—[An HON. MEMBER: "You are already represented"]—cannot judge where they are coming from. We were told by the hon. Member for South Hackney this evening that there were only twelve of them who wished to join such an emasculated assembly as the new House of Lords would be. I think that another hon. Member on this side of the House has suggested that those unfortunate Liberal politicians who have not hitherto been deemed worthy of election to local benches will find a position of dignity and ease in the House of Lords. At any rate my point is that when you have added this new element to the House of Lords, the House of Commons 1555 will be less likely to listen to their argument than at the present time when those arguments are backed by power to throw out legislation if they consider it necessary. Surely it would be better to abolish the House of Lords right away. The Prime Minister tells us that he is a Second Chamber man. No doubt he trusts that the country will mistake his words for his deeds. Virtually he wishes to set up a single-Chamber system, because deliberation without any power of revision is clearly quite useless.
Anybody who has studied the history of measures which have successfully passed both Houses must know quite well that Debate only affects small questions, and that in essentials it hardly ever changes a vote. Delay such as is proposed by these Resolutions is only useful if there is an opportunity to those who have framed the Bill to change their minds. It has been perfectly clearly shown in this Debate, that owing to the inheritent vice of having to take your Bill in the original form, unless you can get your modification approved of by the House of Lords, it would be quite impossible to make an alteration if the Bill is to be carried over the House of Lords head. That means you really have only a single-Chamber system. You gain no advantage whatever from the Second Chamber, and only a large amount of friction, and the real result will be you will not be governed by representatives of the people, but you will be governed by the Government of the day. They will have complete discretion as to what measure they will bring forward and what will be embodied in those measures. At the present time the Commons have far less voice in legislation than ever they had in the past. I have not looked up the exact figures, but unless my memory deceives me, in the last years of the Unionist Government closure by compartments was only resorted to three times. In the first four years of the present Government it was resorted to over twelve times. It was resorted to ten times towards the end of 1909 Session [HON. MEMBERS: "Obstruction."] Surely the danger will be far greater in future. You will have a great deal more legislation to get through in the first Session of Parliament which will not be considered afterwards, because it will really be very controversial legislation, which cannot be altered, and which, after a process of delay, you will pass over the head of the 1556 House of Lords. The result will be that all these measures will be forced through by the guillotine.
There is a greater danger owing to the fact that for the first time in our history the Government of the day is dependent, not upon a homogenous majority, but upon a number of groups. Under the group system, if you look at the experience of any foreign country, you will find that fanatical and extreme views always prevail. Take the case of the present House. No one can deny that the Nationalist party enjoy a power quite disproportionate to their support in the country. They really sway the opinions of the Government, though they only represent one-eighteenth of the voting power of the United Kingdom. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I can give my authority. I have got my figures here. They were worked out, not by me, but by a statistician, and were published in the Journal of the Society for Proportional Representation. I do not think that is any reproach to the Nationalist party. I only admire their political skill in having made the best use of their opportunities, and I only mention the case not to censure them, but to show the natural result of the group system. Under that system it is necessary to compromise to secure a majority to keep the Government in office. They sacrifice their convictions to the necessity of expediency. But if you do so the electors at any rate should know it. If you have a Second Chamber in name, but in reality set up a single-Chamber system, many of the electors will not realise the limitations on its power, and will trust to it to put right any mistakes of their representatives. It is much better to have no Second Chamber at all than a sham. Then perhaps the electors will take the trouble to examine a little more closely than they have in the past as to the credentials and qualifications of those who sock to represent them.
I think it perfectly absurd to pretend at the present time that the House of Commons represents the will of the people. The country have not a settled will on most questions. It is only after men have been long canvassed that they are in a position to form any opinion upon a subject. They do not elect delegates instructed in the details of any policy; they return representatives who are unfettered in their judgments for the duration of the Parliament. It is perfectly clear that the 1557 country cannot express its opinion on a single question. Take one instance, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes), who said the country has wanted Home Rule ever since 1892. If they wanted Home Rule, and if our present system gives effect to the will of the people, how is it that no Government out of the four Governments that have been in power have not been able to present a Home Rule Bill as sanctioned by the will of the people? Owing to the action of the House of Lords Unionist Governments were returned twice after the 1892 Parliament, and the last Government stated that they did not believe that they were warranted in bringing forward a Home Rule Bill. Since the Reform Bill there never has been an election fought out on a single issue. The complexity of political questions has so much increased that the House of Commons cannot carry out the will of the people even in the first Session of a new Parliament. Take the record of the last two Liberal Parliaments. I will not deal with the Unionist records. I dare say the argument that you cannot find the popular will by a General Election is just as likely to be applicable to the Unionist side as to the other, and that is why I want a strong Second Chamber. When fresh from the polls the Government in 1893 brought in their Home Rule Bill. That Home Rule Bill was thrown out by the House of Lords, and owing to the fact that they had mistaken public opinion to such an extent as to believe that Home Rule was approved of by the constituencies, the Radical party were out of office for ten or eleven years. Their next attempt to translate the popular will when fresh from the polls was the Education Bill of 1906. That has been dealt with in the Debate, and I will not go into the matter again, but no one has been bold enough to assert for one moment that the Education Bill would have the least chance if it were brought forward in the present House of Commons. The truth of the matter is, it is impossible to bring concrete proposals forward at the time of a General Election. You may find the country vaguely in favour of abstract principles, but when you embody those principles in a Bill it often happens that that Bill is strongly objected to by the majority of the electors. Everybody remembers that the crux of the Home Rule Bill was the question of Irish representation at Westminster—whether they should have the right to sit here, or whether they were to sit here in regard 1558 to some questions and not to others, or whether they should sit here altogether. That is a kind of detail which is not brought forward at an election, and upon which the Government cannot have any indication whatever of the popular will. The result of that is that you get very great uncertainty and violent fluctuations in what hon. Members opposite choose to consider public opinion.
You must, for that reason, have some governor to your engine to prevent jerks, and keep legislation in touch with the actual opinions of the people. Elections in the present day depend very largely on chance, owing to the single-Member constituencies, and the fact as to the representation of minorities. In the last Parliament the Government should have had a majority of fifty-four on the number of votes cast, instead of a majority of 300. In the present Parliament the anomalies are rather less, but we still find that in proportion to the votes cast, the majority which the Government ought to have in Scotland is fourteen, whereas the actual majority is fifty-two. In Great Britain you find the like anomaly, fortunately rather less. Although the Unionists polled 174,000 votes more than the Liberal party, they have got twenty-three seats less instead of, as they ought to have on the proportion of votes polled, 16 seats more. [An HON. MEMBER:" Plural votes."] Plural votes cut both ways. I happen to know that in the General Election of 1906 there were more Radical plural votes—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
I think the hon. Member is rather going back to the Debate of last night. The Question before the House is the Resolution moved by the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. WALTER GUINNESS
I was merely mentioning that we have not got a complete representation of the popular will at the present time, and it is not safe to rely on the single-Chamber system to give effect to the wishes of the electorate. The House of Lords have been criticised for passing bad Unionist measures. Surely, to say that is to admit in the clearest way the need of a Second Chamber, not the abolition of the Second Chamber, but the reform of the Second Chamber. I believe, if you look at past experience—for this matter has been considered before—you will find that the people will want to secure a real control over Parliament, and they will take measures to prevent a new tyranny being set up, and to ensure that 1559 this House is not enabled to usurp the mastership which the voice of the electors, and which the whole course of our constitutional history has more and more placed in the hands of the people.
§ Mr. SPENCER LEIGH HUGHES
I believe it is still customary, and I am sure it is a very proper custom, for any Member who is addressing the House for the first time to ask that a certain amount of consideration shall be extended to him by Members in all parts of the House. Such consideration is always needed by a man who is trying to make what is called a maiden speech, and is the more needed by one who happens to stand in the position, as I do to-night, of being a new Member. A new Member is made to feel his position very often at the beginning of a new Parliament. There have been very few speeches in this Debate, or indeed in this Session, by Gentlemen on the other side in which there was not some such phrase as this: "We who had the advantage of sitting here in the previous Parliament, for the sake of the ignorant and ill-informed," and then some extremely elementary truth was put before the House. I noticed that at the beginning of yesterday's Debate the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith), in his very entertaining speech, showed that he had at least a contempt for every Member on this side of the House. He dismissed us all as "benignant," which is a charge which will never be brought against him I think, and said we were fit for tea parties or Sunday afternoon gatherings. Even then he seemed to reserve his deepest disdain for those of us who were new Members. Some hon. Members on this side laughed, and he said that the laughter must have come from the new Members. That is to say, that, while he convicted us all of being guilty of Liberalism, he reserved his greatest disdain for those who had the assurance of being new Members. Though I happen to be a new Member, I have had some opportunity of watching the ways of old Members for nearly twenty years in both Houses, and for a period of ten years I was present at every Sitting of this House. It has occurred to me that in this discussion on the merits of the House of Lords and the proposed scheme for making it stronger, as this Amendment proposes, it might be well if I would say something of what I have seen in the House of Lords 1560 after many years of most respectful and patient watching. Lord Rosebery, speaking there not long ago, referred to some ghastly placard which he said appeared in Scotland many years ago, in which the Peers were described as sanguinary tyrants, and in which they were condemned to perdition in language vigorous enough for Lord Milner at his best. Lord Rosebery said that he really wished the people would come there and look in at the House of Lords and see how unlike sanguinary tyrants they are. Every man admits that the Peers are not sanguinary tyrants either in appearance or in conduct There is nothing more soothing and quieting than an ordinary meeting of the House of Lords. I quite agree with Lord Rosebery that it would be well if the people could see more of them. I know this— that if they were to be watched during the existence of different Governments in this country the people would soon find out, as I found out, that there is a very great difference in the complexion and the tone of that Chamber according to what party is in power here. When the Conservatives are in office here a meeting of the House of Lords might be called a "small and early." On such occasions very few of its Members attend its sittings, and it is impossible to conceive anything more soothing and quiet than the House of Lords on such an occasion. When the other party gets into power here a very different scene is witnessed in the House of Lords. There is movement in the backwoods, solitary figures appear and find their way to Westminster to vote down anything that may be passed in this House. It is then that type of Peer known as the unusual Peer appears on the red benches in the other House. There is then no sign of that cold neutrality of an impartial judge about which Burke wrote, and the House is frankly as partisan an Assembly as any that exists in any State in Europe. They seem to think in that House that any Conservative Leader in this House is too wise to err, too good to be unkind; and, on the other hand, that any Liberal Leader, even such right hon. Gentlemen as are on the Treasury Bench, is, above all things, desperately wicked.
I think that to leave the power of Veto to such an Assembly would be nothing short of a scandal, especially after they have just translated it from the region of theory into the region of practice. After the exercise of that Veto in the rejection of the Finance Bill to perpetuate the Veto 1561 would be only to perpetuate the game, which I have no doubt is very amusing to hon. Gentlemen opposite, of "Heads, the Tories win; tails, the Liberals lose." I do not blame the Peers. Dukes will be Dukes. I admit that, but I cannot understand, while I quite see that it is fit and proper and reasonable for Peers to defend their privileges, the attitude some hon. Members of this House adopt. They seem to be eager and ready to belittle and depreciate this House, and they are always speaking or writing about the superiority of the debating in the other Chamber over the speaking here. I think it was the Noble Lord the Member for Chichester who said in the country the other day that this House could not hold a candle to the House of Lords in regard to debate. The last man who tried to hold a candle to the Lords was, I think, Guy Fawkes. I am sure we all rejoice that he failed. Take the debating of this House, take the opening of yesterday's Debate, and the first four speeches, two of them from this side and two from the other side; that of the hon. and learned Member for Walton (Mr. F. E. Smith), replied to by the hon. and learned Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Simon), followed by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil), and then that of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. Those four speeches were equal to anything we ever had in the House of Lords. I protest against Members coming here and sneering at this popular Assembly. In a House of Commons which I can remember, though my memory does not go back very far, Members on both sides, however much they differed about other things, were proud of the traditions and the history and the powers of this House. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman whose Amendment we are now discussing, not only claimed that the House of Lords had the power to reject a Money Bill, but he said, he was only speaking for himself, that he thought it would be well they should have the power to alter money Bills. I think we should remember that the House of Lords, during all its history, has shown a tendency to advance from one claim to another if they were left alone. We must be very careful that we do not find them claiming the right to alter a Money Bill, because from that step to that of initiating Money Bills would be only a very short one. I have said that the House of Lords has shown a readiness to advance from one step to another in its claims. There was a dispute 1562 between the two Houses in 1664, and I was reading something about it in Pepy's Diary. They had a conference in the Painted Chamber, and, according to Pepys' Diary, Edmund Waller, the poet—Told them how tender their predecessors had been, of the privileges of the Lords; he told them lie thought if they should own all to he privileges of the Lords which might be demanded, they would be led, like the man who granted leave to his neighbour to pull off his horse's tail (meaning that he could not do it at once), that hair by hair had his horse's tail pulled off indeed; so the Commons, by granting one thing after another, might be so served by the Lords.I think that that showed that Edmund Waller was not only a poet but was what very few poets are—a practical politician. I think that here and now in 1910 we have as much reason for vigilance and assertion regarding our own rights as ever the men of 1664 had. It is said, of course, that the House of Lords wants to reform itself. I do not attach too much importance to the repentance of these interesting sinners. It is not often that Members on this side of the House are able to agree with the public utterances of that distinguished man the ex-Lord Chancellor (Lord Halsbury), but we all thoroughly agreed with him when he said that Lord Rosebery's suggestion of reform the other day was nothing else but a bit of electioneering business. The hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division (Mr. F. E. Smith) said something about Gentlemen on this side of the House not being of exactly the stuff of which leaders of revolutions are made. That may be so. I am not at all blood-thirsty; I have no desire to wear a red cap, or to dance behind a barricade, but I do say that the most timid, peaceful, and shrinking man on this side is just as likely to go through with anything he takes up as Lord Rosebery is. So I think it is just conceivable that these reform suggestions brought forward by Lord Rosebery with such pomp and circumstance in the House of Lords, may be allowed to lapse when the Debate has served its electioneering purpose.
I maintain that the Government's proposals do not aim at, and would not bring about a single-Chamber system of government in this country. What they want, and what we must demand, is that in the region of finance this House should be given specifically the rights which it has in practice possessed for a very long period. We must have that specifically in black and white. As to other legislation, it is absolute nonsense to say that the proposals of the Government mean single-Chamber government. They allow to the House of Lords the right to delay, to send 1563 back, to discuss and rediscuss measures again and again—once, twice, and three times; at the end of that, since one Chamber must triumph, I maintain that it is the reiterated and considered demand of the House of Commons that ought to be allowed to prevail. There is nothing wild or preposterous about that. It is only a common-sense proposal which should recommend itself to a self-governing people. I deny altogether that I or my Friends here have any hatred of the House of Lords. I see many charming features in it. I think we ought to acknowledge that. It is really remarkable what an estimable body of men it contains when we remember that the majority of them are sitting there because they are the eldest; sons of their fathers, and that that method of selection has been going on for generations. Because scientists tell us—I saw it in a paper only the other day—that the eldest child in a family is far more likely to be neurotic, insane, criminal, tuberculous, or albinotic. That view has been received with considerable favour by noble younger sons. If that be correct, the House of Lords is to be congratulated that in spite of such a danger the Assembly is not much worse. Of course, it has many Members, as has been acknowledged from the Labour Benches, of whom any country could well be proud. I remember Thackeray writing something about the House of Lords. He refers to one Peer whom he calls Lord Longears, and he describes his son as Lord Fitzheehaw. In addressing this imaginery Lord Longears, he did not denounce the whole House of Lords. His speech ended up in this way:—To Wellington I take oft my lint, because ho is Wellington: but who are you?That is the question, I think, that we might be allowed to ask of some of the "backwoodsmen." We recognise the great men there, the statesmen, the men who have served the State in different spheres of action, but we must be allowed to ask with regard to these unknown Peers, who come flocking up to London I whenever Liberal legislation is to be wrecked, "Who they are?"
Whatever other alteration may be made in the relations between the two Houses, we must insist that it is for this House to decide when the people should be consulted. After all, we are the men. who have to go before the people to consult them, and stand or fall by their verdict, 1564 and we should not hand over that inestimable right and privilege to another House, whose Members may have all the gifts and graces which they claim for themselves, but who, after all, are in no way responsible to anybody but themselves, and who never have to face the populace to have their acts either condemned or approved.
§ Mr. GODFREY LOCKER-LAMPSON
As a new Member I must plead the indulgence of the House. Nearly everyone, to whatever party he may belong, will agree that the Government in proposing these Resolutions are in a peculiarly difficult situation. The complicated nature of their difficulty becomes ever more manifest from day to day. At one moment we are told that they went to the country on the Budget; at the next they shift their ground and it is on the constitutional question of the Veto that they really appealed to the electors. Unfortunately this is their dilemma, and it is not entirely devoid of humour. If, as they say, they went to the country on their financial policy, they have been very badly beaten, the proof of which is, and nobody knows it better than they do, that they would be defeated in this House by the representatives of the people if now on its merits they brought the Budget in unaltered. On the other hand, if they went to the country on the constitutional issue, their favourite platform argument has lost all its virtue during these weeks. For the House of Lords, with much foresight and a true appreciation of the temper of the constituencies, suspended the very Bill in respect of which on its own merits the Government are now in a minority in the House of Commons. Whichever leg they stand upon gives way under them. The House of Lords, I submit, has been abundantly justified in its action. Yet it is in the face of this self-inflicted exposure, in these self-condemnatory circumstances, that the Government ask us to withdraw from the House of Lords in the future all power of referring any sort of legislation to the people before it is passed into law. What is their proposal? A chance majority is apparently omnipotent for at least two years in every Parliament. It might abolish private property, or dangerously reduce the national defences; it might even prolong its own existence indefinitely. What guarantee have we that such an omnipotent majority would be content with only two years of absolute power? What would prevent it from radically and drastically altering the very Veto Bill on which this great con- 1565 stitutional change is to be founded? Members of the Government tell us that they do not want single-Chamber government, and I believe it. But we have to legislate for the future, and are they not opening the door to an uninvited guest? Are they not making the road easy for a Government in the future which wishes to get rid of every sort of constitutional restriction? After listening to the very interesting speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester I was sorry that there were not more Ministers on the Front Bench to hear it. It is impossible not to realise that it is only in this hope and with this conviction that he and his Friends are prepared to support the Government in their present proposals. Where are these safeguards for the future? A chance majority may do all or any one of these things, but so long as it is balanced I want to say it is not easy for the House of Commons to seal a measure three times with the sign-manual of its approval, that it is then to be taken for granted that some Heaven-sent revelation of the truth of things has been vouchsafed to it from this triple procedure, and that then no power on earth will be able to prevent that particular legislation, however repugnant to the common sense of the nation, passing into law ! That is not statesmanship. It is merely a contribution to the gaiety of nations. In fact, your proposals mean nothing less than the elimination for all practical purposes of a Second Chamber as an integral part of our Constitution. The atmosphere of unreality pervades the whole of this constitutional agitation. Concurrently with the alleged increase in the moral obliquity of the House of Lords the Government had actually created thirty-eight peers during the last four years. That is to say, they feed the House of Lords with one hand and try to strangle it with the other. Was there ever a more amusing example of logical topsy-turvey-dom? I believe that is a classic expression. What are Government going to do with these thirty-eight innocent and deluded gentlemen? My heart goes out to them. Every one of them was rewarded, so he must assume, for undeniable services rendered to his country. It is really very hard on them. You first of all insult them by promoting them to a Legislative Chamber which on your own showing is a fraudulent imposture; then, when they have become more or less acclimatized and sunk to its level, you pull it about their 1566 ears without a word of apology or a grain of comfort !
There is a further consideration. Some day, in perhaps the not impossible future to which the more advanced section of the party opposite look forward, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer may be called upon to occupy an even more exalted post than he holds at present. Many things point to it. I need only refer to the unique enthusiasm which he is always able to evoke among supporters of the Government on. the benches behind him, as well as on the Front Benches. When that day arrives some of his present colleagues—the survival of the fittest will have taken place—will doubtless be doing useful work in subordinate but honourable capacities in the right hon. Gentleman's Government, and doing it with their customary ability and self-effacement. I should like to ask them whether, when that day arrives, they will not welcome the assistance of a strong Second Chamber? I think they will be only too thankful for it. We all suspect who was the original inspirer of this campaign against the House of Lords. There seems, indeed, to have been some slight misunderstanding amongst the Welsh reporters as to whom the trap was set to catch. We, at any rate, on this side of the House believe that the Government have worked it clearly, systematically, and with deliberation for a not inconsiderable period of time. The trap has been set, but it yet remains to be seen who will be the victims of this great ingenuity.
I believe that the public are becoming weary of the tactics of the Government. They take much less interest than the Government suppose in their internal difficulties and dissensions, and in their efforts to adjust the party machine. The public expect the Government of the country to be carried on with dignity and respect. What benefit, I should like to know, is it to the public that six weeks should have been thrown away on family bickerings as to whether the Budget should come first or the Veto Resolutions —Resolutions which merely waste the time of the House and are of no legal value. If the Government really are in earnest, why do they not, instead of attempting to delude the Irish Nationalist party with empty formulae, bring in their Budget without further delay. Let them discuss it, pass it, and send it up to another place, and if it is rejected there, or postponed, let them go like men to the country. Let them appeal to the people on their Bill, 1567 and be content to abide by their verdict. This at least would be an honest policy—a policy worthy of a great party, and a policy which every elector would be able to understand. The principal thing, as it seems to me, is that this Government's waste of Parliamentary time should come to an end, and that there should be an Administration in power, not dependent upon a heterogenous assortment of disunited atoms, but a Government with a majority harmonious enough and single-minded enough to carry out those various reforms which are essential to the prosperity of the country.
§ The HOME SECRETARY (Mr. Churchill)
The day has been attractive by the number of maiden speeches which have, I think, given pleasure to the House, and have commanded its interest and attention. Certainly in the speech of my hon. Friend who spoke just now from these benches (Mr. Spencer Leigh Hughes) we see that a very attractive and amusing Parliamentary speaker has been added to the House of Commons. My task to-night is to urge the House to reject the Amendment which has been moved from the Front Opposition. Bench, and to urge the House to affirm and support the Motion of the Prime Minister. The Veto proposals of the Government are real proposals. They are brought forward in an earnest spirit. The limits which they assign to the House of Lords are definite and effective. On the other hand, the powers they leave to the House of Lords, and the safeguards which they maintain are genuine and substantial. The Leader of the Opposition, in his speech two days ago, made an attempt in a flippant manner to laugh these Resolutions out of court. In my comparatively brief Parliamentary experience I have never witnessed a more conspicuous failure of an effort of the sort. The whole course and character of this Debate, maintained throughtout at a level not discreditable to the House of Commons, has been rebuked by the levity of the Leader of the Opposition. The Amendment which has been moved to-day from the Front Opposition Bench in a spirit of portentous solemnity shows clearly that the right hon. Gentleman's party are not content with his singularly inadequate treatment of the greatest and gravest question now agitating the minds of His Majesty's sublets. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of harlequin proposals, and he amused us 1568 with reference to Costa Rica and to the British Constitution, which he has suggested will be blended together in an unhappy organisation. What is the fact? An absolutely clear, homogeneous principle pervades the whole of the proposals of the Government. The principle is a dual one. That is to say, to use a phrase which is no less true because it has become hackneyed, the will of the people, as expressed by their accredited representatives, shall prevail. And the second principle governing our proposals is that the representatives of the people in the Commons should be kept in close and harmonious contact with the constituent bodies which return them. Both these conditions are established by our Resolutions.
Let the House consider for a moment how they will work in practice. Let us look at the first two years of the new Parliament under these Resolutions. At the election a variety of questions are discussed, but there are always, two or three which are prominent and paramount in the Debates which take place in the country. It is these questions, and these only, which are to be the subject of legislation in the first year or two of the new Parliament. I appeal to the experience of every old Member of the House. I appeal to the experience of the last Parliament. I do not think there was any question that could be dealt with by a Bill that was more debated in the country at the election 1906 than the Education Bill. The Members of the great majority then returned came up eager to legislate for the removal of the grievances which their constituencies had suffered under the Education Act of the Conservative Government. But perhaps that was not the best thing or the best question which, in the general interests of the Liberal party, should have been brought forward. I think, looking back now, it might have been much better to have introduced a measure dealing with the Veto of the House of Lords in the first full flush of the victory of 1906. But it would not have been possible to do so; it was not practical politics, because at an election an instrument is created which, while the effect of the election lasts, can only be used within certain limits and for certain purposes. The only exception I can remember to the rule that subjects debated at the election are first dealt with in a new Parliament, the only exception I remember—and that by study and not from my personal experience, which is brief— 1569 was the Home Rule Bill of 1886. That Bill was rejected by the House of Commons. It broke down in the House of Commons because it had not been sufficiently a subject of discussion and debate at the previous election, and parties in the House of Commons were not prepared in their minds to deal with this then altogether new and startling proposal.
And so I say that in the first two years the great controversial questions which will be dealt with in practice and as a matter of fact will be those questions upon which the election has been fought. Now we come to the second part. In this period the majority, although still young, judged by all our previously accepted Parliamentary standards, is further from the election that called them into being, is more, if I may use a barbarous phrase, remote from its original mandate. It can no longer claim the same measure of prescription as it could in the first two years. It must begin to look forward and not back. It must begin to look to some future appeal to the nation, and not base itself entirely upon the results of the last appeal. Then, of course, in the second two years of a Parliament, under the proposals which we are putting forward, there will be two classes of Bills which will be able to be passed into law, which, perhaps, to quote a memorable phrase, will be allowed to pass into law. First of all there will be Bills upon which WP can agree, upon which there is from the first a general measure of agreement—measures like the Anti-Sweating Bill or the Labour Exchanges Bill, or Bills affecting great questions of insurance of all kinds. That is one class of Bills which will be able to be passed into law. Then there is another class— Bills which the Conservative party, though they may not like them, do not think on the whole it is wise party tactics to oppose. These, again, may pass into law. But with regard to the great controverted issues of party warfare they will unquestionably await, and I think with ground of reason, the ratification of a new-decision of the electorate. I cannot think of any greater restraint that could possibly be imposed on reckless or sectional legislation than that it should be hung round the neck of its authors, not merely as something attempted and failed in, but as an actual real living issue when they next present themselves to the electorate. I submit to the House that the power possessed by the House of Lords under these Resolutions would, in the first two years, 1570 be an affective power of delay even in regard to those measures which had formed a specific subject of appeal to the electorate, and that in the second two years the power possessed by the House of Lords under these Resolutions would be a tremendous power of correction and discrimination, and that in either case whether you take the question of delay in the first two years or of correction and discrimination in the second two years, the House of Lords—the Second Chamber —under these Resolutions would possess enormous bargaining power which, if it were wisely and fairly used, might conduce to a substantial improvement in our legislation. It is because the powers left to the House of Lords under these Resolutions are so considerable and substantial that I, for one, should like to see that Chamber constituted in a manner more fair and even-handed as between the two different parties in the State. I have used these arguments in order to show to the House, as was shown so effectively and persuasively by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland, the reality of the proposals which we put forward, not merely in regard to the limitation of the power of the Second Chamber, but in regard to the rights and safeguards which are still maintained within its exercise.
Now, let me turn to the Amendment moved by the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Robert Finlay). To the real Motion of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman is a sham and an insincere Amendment. What is all this talk about the reform of the House of Lords? What do they mean by it? Do they mean to create a fair Second Chamber that would act impartially as between all parties in the State? Everybody knows that this is the veriest pretence. Everyone has a plan of his own. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University, whom I regret is not in his place, has a plan of his own which he unfolded to an astonished party yesterday afternoon. Everyone has a plan of his own, but where do they all lead? Only to one conclusion, and they all end in one way. I ask frankly, can it be controverted that they all end in the establishment and in the entrenchment of a large permanent Tory majority? Who will deny it? [An HON. MEMBER: "We all deny it."] Some people will deny anything, but there are some denials that do not alter the facts. I say that all the schemes and plans put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite lead to a large, permanent Tory majority 1571 in the House of Lords. [An HON. MEMBER: "We shall wait to see your plan."] At present the House of Lords is equipped with a Veto not only over legislation, but over finance. Does the right hon. Gentleman opposite really mean that the great majority in this House which is behind these proposals —[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no"] Does anyone deny that? Let those who deny it wait till Monday night. Does anyone suppose that the great majority in this House, which is behind these proposals, can be expected for one moment to abandon this attack upon the Veto by such clumsy and ineffective parodies of reform as the right hon. Gentleman has been put up to advance? There was one argument used by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and it was also an important feature in the powerful but poisonous speech of the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool. The hon. and learned Member asked, "Where is the Budget?" in that style of derision of which he is so great a master that I sometimes wonder he does not try to perfect himself in other modes. He jeered at me and others who declared at the last election that it was our intention to ram the Budget through, and he asked, in the course of his argument, how we could find it reasonable and logical to attack the Lords for their use of the Veto upon finance unless we were able to show that the Parliament resulting from the election would carry the Budget which that financial Veto had rejected. I recognise the force of that argument. I bow to it, and have no answer to make except that immediately after the Veto Resolutions are disposed of we shall march forward with the Budget regardless of the consequences. Unless the House of Commons carries the Budget, it is idle to look to the King or to look to the country to carry the Veto.
There is much more than that. It is not merely a question of regularising the financial situation. It is more than that, because there is a great series of democratic taxes which constitute the policy of the Budget, and they form not merely the barrier which we erect against a Protectionist system, but they are the actual gage of battle with the House of Lords. That they should be effectively affirmed by the new House of Commons is the only possible foundation of any successful attempt to punish the House of Lords for their unquestionable constitutional out- 1572 rage in intruding upon it. I always hesitate to embark upon the domain of prophecy, but I frankly say that I believe at the proper time, in the proper manner, and under proper circumstances we shall succeed in carrying both the Veto and the Budget to the steps of the Throne. There is a substantial majority of British Members in this House resulting from the election in favour of the Budget. The Irish Members are in favour of the Budget, except for certain points wholly irrelevant to the quarrel which has arisen between this House and the other House. I agree that that issue should be brought forward and pushed to its conclusion. Until then I do not grudge hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite—I do not grudge the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division and his Friends—their right to laugh and exult in that particular argument among the many they have used in the last few days
What is the other principal argument which they have brought forward? We have heard the doleful whine and outcry as to the dangers of a single Chamber. I say quite frankly to the House that I am in favour of a double Chamber, because it is to my mind a much more convenient and a much more effective Parliamentary machine. I do not think anyone who has carried Bills through this House—[An HON. MEMBER: "You have changed your mind, because you said you were opposed to it the other day."] I am repeating almost word for word what I said the other day, and the hon. Member opposite should be a little more cautious before he makes such a statement as that. I do not think anyone who carries Bills through this House will doubt that in many ways it is a more convenient Parliamentary apparatus to have the revising influence of another body which can add Amendments and within certain limits check and correct the original draft and form of a Bill. I would like to see a Second Chamber which would be fair to all parties, and which would be properly subordinated to the House of Commons and harmoniously connected with the people. Speaking for myself, and speaking with entire frankness, I say if we had such a Chamber, which we have not got at present, I see no reason why these differences which arise with the House of Commons should not be settled by the process of a joint Session. But the idea that the foundations of the State; the idea that the stability of society, that perennial triumph of the good influences over the bad in the 1573 heart of man, the idea that those are dependent upon the existence of a Second Chamber, of any Second Chamber, let alone of this comical anachronism—to suppose that and to put that forward as a political dogma is surely the most melancholy and humiliating drivel that ever issued from a political party in a period of marked intellectual degradation. Even now, clipped as its powers are, and hamstrung as is its authority, the House of Commons has the power, and the Government depending upon the House of Commons would have the power, resting on a single-Chamber system, to deal with all the vital organs of the State. We used to think, wrongly I admit, that Governments in this country were independent of the majority in the House of Lords. Perhaps the right hon. Gentlemen opposite will learn in the course of the next few weeks or months that Governments in this country are, at any rate, not independent of the majority in the House of Commons. The powers of the House of Commons, if they were exerted recklessly and wantonly, are still effective, clipped as they have been, to shatter altogether the foundations and the system of the State. War, treaties, defence, Supply, patronage, police, all these functions, which in every country in the world have always been held to constitute the essential securities of the State, are still within the control of an Executive resting upon the House of Commons, are still within the control of a single-Chamber system. Assume a mad House of Commons, assume a mad Government —[Cheers]—I have no doubt that the hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) would be delighted to support it. I thought he was hailing the advent of a Government instrument which would command his whole-hearted allegiance. Assume that majority of the House of Commons and that Executive dependent upon a mad but obstinate majority in the country, and what catastrophe is there within the wildest dreams of imagination that, under the existing machinery, clipped, as it has been, they could not easily achieve? But the majority of the nation are not mad, and they do not elect a majority of madmen to represent them. Hon. Members opposite may not agree with the millions of their fellow-countrymen who vote for the Liberal and Radical party, but, after all, those millions belong to the same stock as they do. They are of the same flesh and blood, they have the same primary interests and 1574 needs, they have the same love of their country, they have the same Christian ethics and the same reasoning powers. How can it be supposed that a Government resting upon more than one-half of this great civilised nation is not capable of maintaining and carrying on the necessary and essential business of the State?
Then the argument has been used in the course of the Debate that the financial Veto of the House of Lords must be reserved. The hon. Member for Watford, in his interesting speech to-day, laid down in a sort of chorus with the rest of the speakers on that side that the financial Veto of the House of Lords, which we never heard of until late last Session, must at all costs be preserved. We, by our Resolutions, take the view that this House should be invited to exclude deliberately and by law the House of Lords or any other Second Chamber from any control in the business of finance. That is a serious decision for us. After all, it is the party opposite which is now the revolutionary party in their finance. Their great preoccupation is to carry Tariff Reform. If they could obtain a majority of twenty or thirty or forty—not 120, something more modest than that—they would immediately proceed to carry out that momentous revolution, affecting as it does our social, political, financial, and economic system at every stage and at every point. I have no doubt it would be very tempting to us who are Free Traders to contemplate a reformed Second Chamber, which would be capable of acting fairly and impartially in the circumstance of the Tory party embarking upon a tremendous revolution with a very small scratch majority. It would be very tempting to contemplate a Second Chamber which would be able to arrest that Tariff and demand a further appeal to the nation; but we have to take the rough with the smooth, we have to face the whole consequences of the position we have adopted. We reject all hope or help from such a quarter. No doubt the problem of finance nowadays touches upon every sphere of government. No doubt the protective taxes, like the land taxes, have other objects than the mere provision of revenue. But the control of the purse, which is the life and the history and the origin of the power of the House of Commons must at all costs be preserved intact by us. I do not believe this House will ever consent for any long period to be deprived of its sovereign rights over finance.
1575 The attempt just made by the party opposite to extend by revolutionary methods the Veto of the House of Lords over finance is unquestionably dictated by a desire to reverse the great extensions of the franchise which were made in 1867 and 1884. I say that is so without the slightest hesitation, although the motive is not avowed. I wonder that it should be so. These great extensions have not proved unfavourable to the party opposite. They have found in the extended franchise the means of enjoying many years of office. The intention behind the new claims put forward on behalf of the House of Lords is undoubtedly to diminish the share of the Government of the country now enjoyed by the wage-earning classes. I know you cannot take away the votes which the people have got. You cannot take them away. They are real votes now, and they have a real value because they are the votes which enable the people to choose the Chamber which chooses the Executive Government of the country, and if they do not like that Executive Government it enables them to change it and get another. There is their great power; but if you take from the House of Commons, which the people's votes elect, the sole power of dealing with finance, you rob them of their effective control over the Executive Government, and you give that control to a body wholly outside the domain of the electors. When you have done that the votes will, indeed, remain, but their virtue and their value will be sensibly impaired, if not destroyed. That is the policy the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. and learned Gentlemen ask us to adopt, and it is the policy of deliberately undoing the extensions of the franchise made under a Conservative Government in 1867 and 1884 which have enabled the great wage-earning class to participate in the political affairs of the country. It is furthermore a political impossibility to allow two Chambers, constituted as the House of Lords and the House of Commons are constituted, to have any simultaneous control of finance. The Executive of this country must rest upon solid political foundations, and no Government can serve two Houses at the same time. No constitution can be discovered, I venture to say, in the world in which the Executive Government is responsible to two Chambers, both enjoying full financial powers, and in which there are no effective means of settling differences between those two 1576 Chambers, and no effective means of solving a deadlock if such a deadlock occurs.
The great feature which has impressed itself on me during the course of this Debate has been the obvious inability of either of the two great bodies in this House to understand the other's point of view. We on our side cannot understand how a number of fair-minded men, using by habitude the language of democracy, can possibly defend such an unjust and one-sided system and consent to profit by such monstrous inequality. They, on the other hand, profess to be unable to perceive that we have any grievance at all. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked, in his urbane manner, "Where is your grievance? Where is the deadlock? What are the grounds of your complaint?" and that has been echoed in every speech, or nearly every speech, in the whole course of the Debate. The right hon. Gentleman says, "There is no grievance; there is no deadlock. I am satisfied with the Constitution, why cannot you be satisfied with it, too?" We who were Members of the last Parliament look back on long accumulations of humiliations and injuries throughout those four years. We gained a tremendous majority. The party which was returned to power by this unequalled or almost unequalled majority was a party which had for twenty years, or almost twenty years, not enjoyed the opportunity of power. For twenty years that party had been under the single-Chamber rule of its political opponents. The new Parliament assembled, and month after month we tramped through the Lobbies, night after night, and all day and all night all through the summer, all through the autumn and into the winter we marched and perambulated in this House. [Laughter.] You new Members who have come into the House laugh at this shameless degradation of the instrument which alone secures your liberties. I have often said that every Conservative Member who stood in defence of the action of the House of Lords last November asked the electors to send him to Parliament to limit and restrict and degrade and humiliate the power and authority of the body of which he asked to be a Member. After hundreds of Members of Parliament, each responsible to a great constituency, have spent weeks and months tramping through the Lobbies, after the whole power of the State has been employed and the whole 1577 debating energy of the House has been employed in examining a great measure and modifying it, when it gets to the House of Lords, we have seen it time after time pass out with a contemptuous gesture, almost with a grimace. Everyone here who has been in the last Parliament knows I do not exaggerate one jot when I say that the main efforts of three years out of four in the last Parliament were reduced to sterility by the most arbitrary, summary, and contemptuous action of the House of Lords. Hon. Gentlemen may not be able to appreciate the grievance, but if they were able to appreciate it, they would certainly not wonder that we are resolved not to endure it any longer. Let me make the grievance a little plainer to the right hon. Gentleman. After the election of 1906, which was not exactly an enthusiastic and rapturous vote of confidence in him, he delivered a speech at Nottingham, in which he said:—The great Unionist party who still control, whether in power or whether in opposition, the destinies of this country.The Chief Whip of the party opposite, a man deservedly respected in all parts of the House, but gifted with a frank and candid manner of speech, at Taunton, on 22nd January last, said:—Whether we have a majority or are in a minority the fact remains that we shall govern the House of Commons and the policy of the country.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I leave it to the Leader of the party to settle matters privately with the Chief Whip.
The right hon. Gentleman, I understand, quotes a speech of mine in 1906, which he thinks has something to do with a speech delivered in 1910. It had nothing whatever to do with it. I do not know the speech to which he refers of my right hon. Friend. The speech I delivered in 1906 had nothing whatever to do with the House of Lords, one way or the other.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The right hon. Gentleman never had any connection whatever with the House of Lords, we all know that, but both the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in 1906 and the speech of the Chief Whip in 1910 expressed the same view and the same fact. They both expressed consciousness of their right to a permanent superiority.
If I understand the right hon. Gentleman rightly to be implying that in any speech of mine delivered at any time the fact that there was a Unionist majority in the House of Lords gave us direct control over the destinies of the country independent of this House, I never said anything of the kind and I never thought anything of the kind, and my speech in 1906 had nothing whatever to do directly or indirectly with the balance of parties in the House of Lords.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have nothing to withdraw, but I think every Member has a right to put his own interpretation on the speech. I do not question for a moment the sincerity and the correctness of the interpretation which the right hon. Gentleman has put on his speech. He did not mean, as his Chief Whip meant, that, whether in office or opposition, in a majority or minority in the House of Commons, the Unionist party would still control the destinies of the country. He did not mean it, and he did not say it, but he might have meant it, and he might have said it with perfect truth. [HON. MEMBERS: "He did not say it."] I said that he might have said it, because, after all, it is the truth. Why are we so squeamish about it? Every Bill which the Conservative party thought would not suit the interest of the party was rejected, and rejected under a very shrewd hint from the Tory headquarters, by the House of Lords. Every Bill which it was thought expedient not to get in the way of, every Bill the rejection of which it was thought would render Tory electioneering at the polls more difficult, was allowed to pass in the House of Lords, irrespective of the opinion of the Second Chamber as to its merits. They were dragooned into accepting the directions which they received in some subterranean manner from the wirepullers of the Tory party. When the moment came when, by the trend of the by-elections the Tory party were of opinion that they might gain an electoral advantage for Tariff Reform and secure success in the country, the House of Lords, as my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary reminded the House yesterday, were at once turned on to throw out the Budget, to bring the finances of the country to a standstill, and to force a dissolution of Parliament. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman did not say, and did not intend to say, what I thought his words meant. I fully accept that, but it is the fact, and it is against that fact 1579 that we bring forward the Veto Evolutions. I say that the party opposite, whatever they may care to avow in the House of Commons, wish to offer to their fellow-countrymen who do not agree with them a lower and a subordinate political status. They deny to Scotchmen, to Welshmen, to Irishmen, and to their Liberal fellow subjects the same political rights and responsibilities that they claim for themselves. It is against such assertions and such pretensions that we bring forward our Veto Resolutions, and to such pretensions and usurpations we can have no other policy but war while life and strength remain to us.
What is the, body which is used against us? What is the body with whom we have to deal? It is in vain to appeal to them. The House of Lords, so far as we are concerned, is not a deliberative Assembly at all. It is a mere instrument and weapon in the hands of our political foes. The Noble Lord who found an asylum in Oxford University, who fell upon me yesterday with all the unexpected, unprovoked, and, I think I may say ineffective fury of a suffragette, spoke in glowing terms to the House about the independence of the House of Commons. Where is the independence of the Members of the House of Lords? Lord Rosebery has said that the House of Lords is the only place where independent thought may be uttered—only it is not very often uttered— and in the result it does not seem to make very much difference. In fact, there is no independent spirit in the House of Lords. If the backwoods peers, as they are somewhat disrespectfully called, only thought out public questions for themselves, only acted on their own consciences, according to their own lights, it would not be so bad. But nothing is more curious than the way in which they let themselves be led by the nose. Here are all these noblemen, placed in an independent station, enjoying easy and even affluent circumstances, gifted with full education, and enlightened society, and well guarded and secured in all the affairs of this world, and so far from showing a spirit of independence, they allow themselves, as the hon. Member for Watford said, to be kept under a very strict discipline; they allow themselves to be led about and driven about, I will not say like a flock of sheep, because that would not be respectful, but like a regiment of soldiers, this way and that way. Only two or three peers followed the Duke of Devonshire in his effort to secure 1580 a compromise on the Education Bill of 1907. Perhaps there were a dozen who voted with the leaders of almost every social, philanthropic, and religious body in the country in favour of the Licensing Bill. All of them bowed their heads towards this Liberal Bill so that it should not be passed. All of them bowed their heads the other day or absented themselves from the Chamber when Lord Rosebery's third Resolution condemning the hereditary principle was passed. Lord Torpihichen alone among the Unionist Peers exhibited a spirit of independence, and supported the Budget. Lord Torphichen is no longer a Lord of Parliament. The House of Lords is a, weapon, an engine, which is used by one party to vex harass, humiliate, and finally destroy the other; and it has been employed so cruelly, so violently, and so brutally in recent times that there is not a single man on this bench who will consent to hold office on these conditions, except for the sole and express purpose and with the reasonable hope of effecting a permanent change in these conditions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman who moved his Amendment said that there was no crisis existing except in the perfervid imagination of His Majesty's Ministers. I think I can prove to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he does not by his acts endorse those words. Why, the right hon. and learned Gentleman after the election of 1906 disappeared from the political arena altogether. He retired into private life and endured those privations and austerities which, I believe, are the lot of ex-Attorney-Generals. Most important political events have taken place in these three or four years, and the right hon. Gentleman has remained silent. But as soon as the rumours of the rejection of the Budget by the House of Lords began to gain ground, the right hon. Gentleman emerged, and took his place in the fighting line. He hurried about the country with extraordinary rapidity, he cast his Free Trade principles to the wind, and harangued audiences of Tariff Reformers and anxious assemblies of Primrose Dames. Even to-day the right hon. Gentleman in a speech of unusual but of sustained solidity showed us that he equally appreciates the gravity of the situation. And indeed it is a very grave situation. The Party system of this country is, I agree with the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Bottomley), deeply involved in the present political situation. The hon. Member for Hackney 1581 does not think much of the Party system. He, in common with Lord Rosebery, Mr. Harold Cox, the Editor of the "Spectator," and the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University, and other members of the John Bull League, derides the Party system. It is very easy to deride the Party system—it is almost as easy as to deride the hereditary principle. I suppose it has disadvantages, and I suppose no one appreciates those disadvantages more acutely than one who, like myself, has been driven from one party to another.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am afraid the term is too moderate. I meant to employ a strong term which expressed short of physical violence. The disadvantages are perhaps more acutely felt by a Member who has either quarrelled with his party, or moved from one party to another. But Party government is an outstanding feature of our political systems of all branches of the English speaking race all over the world. I know of no equal force which assures the stability of democratic institutions. I know of no other method by which the enfranchised millions can be continuously attracted to practical things. I know of no other method by which small intrigues, small combinations, and petty personal rivalries can be prevented from swaying unevenly the course of public affairs. Is it not a tremendous advantage that there should be available two great parties, each capable of providing responsible administrators for the service of the Crown? Are not their balance, and their alternation, their potential alternation, the real source of the security the increased stability of the structure of our Society? The wonderful process by which the forces of successive British Governments have gathered together and rallied round our institutions, and the fundamental principles of the State new classes and new forces to their support — that marvellous process is the envy and admiration of every foreign country in the world. A distinguished French academician came over at the General Election, and he travelled all about the country. He listened to the speeches of prominent men, and what was the feature which struck him most strongly? It was that at a great Radical meeting at which the House of Lords was fiercely denounced, the proceedings were brought to a close by the whole audience singing lustily 1582 and heartily "God save the King." That is the result of the system which has associated every man hitherto, rich and poor, to whatever party they belong in the country, with the great governing machinery of the State; and that is the system which the action of the House of Lords, directed and inspired by the party opposite, threatens with swift destruction.
What are parties? Parties are associations of men, gathered together to pursue common objects and principles and to defend common interests. That is what parties are, bat of one group, or groups of parties, because my argument applies equally to them, but if one party is unable, even in periods of its greatest prosperity, and even in periods of its greatest legitimate success, to give any effective satisfaction to the forces which compose it, if it is unable to achieve any of the objects for which its members have come into association, that party must perish and must dissolve. If no Liberal Government can pass any measures except those which commend themselves to a permanent majority of its political opponents, if it can only hold office from year to year or from month to month by the favour and upon the sufferance of its declared political opponents, if at any moment, on any ground, financial or otherwise, a Liberal Government is liable to have the whole structure of the nation's finance fall tottering about its ears, then I say it is certain that Liberal Governments have become finally impossible. Then I say it is certain that the long reign of the two historic parties, differing no doubt widely in methods and convictions, but agreed in an enormous body of invaluable precepts and principles—that long reign of the two parties is to be closed, and you will have made it finally impossible for any but Tory Ministers to render faithful service to the Crown. Do not suppose, do not let hon. Gentlemen opposite suppose, that thereby they will have escaped from the democratic movement. Those who are now grouped under the standard of party will re-form themselves in those evil days under the standards of class. The class line must become, if the party system is shattered, the line of demarcation. That is what happened in Germany. There you have a tremendous Social Democratic party held down by brute force, utterly estranged from the fundamental interests of the State, holding rigidly to abstract doctrines, unrelated to practical affairs at any point, increasing in numbers, increasing in power, And wholly divorced from any 1583 share of government or responsibility. That, Sir, is a condition which all who cherish the idea and want us to increasingly become one people, and that we shall become, if I may coin an expression, a National Nation, where all have a share in the show, and where every shade of opinion can bring some influence to bear in its turn upon the business or conduct of State; that ideal and dream will pass away for ever, and we shall be reduced to the evil condition from which all foreign nations, with all the forms of democratic government, are struggling in vain to raise themselves. That is why there is a great crisis now. That is why we bring our Veto Resolutions forward now while time may. That is why we shall not hold office unless we have reason to believe that we can carry our legislation into law. That is why we propose no social legislation, though, God knows, it is sorely needed. That is why we have no other object and no other thought in our mind but to deal with this tremendous danger now. We have reached a fateful period in British history. The time for words is past; the time for action has arrived. Since the House of Lords, upon an evil and unpatriotic instigation— as I must judge it—have used their Veto to affront the Prerogative of the Crown and to invade the rights of the Commons, it has now become necessary that the Crown and the Commons, acting together, should restore the balance of the Constitution and restrict for ever the Veto of the House of Lords.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned"—[Mr. Lyttelton]—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned accordingly; to be resumed on Monday next.