§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
asked for leave to introduce a Bill "to make provision with respect to the powers of the House of Lords in relation to those of the House of Commons, and to limit the duration of Parliament."
In making the Motion which stands in my name on the Paper, I am afraid that I must of necessity traverse a certain amount of very familiar ground. The situation is, indeed, in some respects, almost without precedent in our Parliamentary annals. The Bill which I am about to ask leave to introduce is identical in every respect with that which was read a first time by the last House of Commons in April, 1910. Since then, Sir, that Bill has been submitted definitely and specifically to the electorate of the country, with the result that they have returned to this House a majority in its favour in the United Kingdom of, I suppose, something like 120, and in Great Britain of not less than sixty. If ever there was a case, therefore, this may fairly be said to be a case when a Minister may be excused, without any disparagement 1743 of the importance or gravity of the subject matter if he make only a brief and summary presentation of his proposals. I am more disposed to adopt that course, because as lately as 29th March last year, I entered at this Table, and at very considerable length, upon the causes, historical and other, which had brought into existence—and during these last fifteen months into acute urgency—what we call the constitutional question. I pointed out then, and I repeat now, that under an unwritten Constitution such as ours—which has developed not so much by statute as by usage—there must, in time, be a growing divergence between legal powers and constitutional practice. A familiar illustration—perhaps the most familiar—is that of the Veto of the Crown. No Bill can now, any more than in the days of Queen Elizabeth, become an Act of Parliament and acquire the force of law unless it has received the express Assent of the Crown. Yet, whereas, as we know, Queen Elizabeth sometimes refused her Assent to half of the proposed legislation of the Session, no English Sovereign has attempted to exercise the Veto since the days of Queen Anne. No Minister would advise it. Its revival is an imaginary danger. This is a point on which, by universal consent, there is no necessity to bring the letter of the law into harmony with what has become the unbroken and inveterate usage. But there is, and has been for more than two centuries, a similar divergence developing more slowly, but not less clearly, between the legal powers of the two Houses of Parliament in regard to finance and their actual constitutional exercise. I need not go into past history. It is sufficient to say that until the year 1909 the House of Lords had for fifty years not attempted to interfere in any way with the financial provision of the year. It was a sudden assertion as a living and active power of a legal right that had passed into practical desuetude that was the immediate occasion of the acute stage into which the constitutional question has now passed. Further, Mr. Speaker, in regard to their right of control over policy, over administration and over legislation, the legal relation of the two Houses, which have theoretically co-ordinate and co-equal powers, ceased to bear any resemblance to the actual fact. The House of Lords has long since ceased to have any real control over policy or administration. They debate such matters, and we read their 1744 Debates with interest and with profit, but their decisions are academic conclusions and have no direct influence, and can have no direct influence, on the fortunes of the Government of the day. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I thought I heard a faint note of dissent from the Benches opposite. Does the hon. Gentleman who uttered that note of dissent imagine that the House of Lords could turn out the Government by passing a direct Vote of Censure? And why can they not? The reason is a very simple one. It is because the concentration of financial power and of the granting of Supply in the hands of the Commons leaves the Lords without any available instrument for making their condemnation effective. If the precedent of 1909 had been allowed to stand there would, in this respect also, have been a revolution in constitutional practice. If that precedent had been allowed to stand unquestioned the Lords could always, as they did then, by destroying the finance of the year, compel the Government of the day either to resign office or to appeal by dissolution to the electorate. That power, certainly for two generations, the Lords have never exercised, or even claimed the power of saying by whose hands and upon what lines the general administration of the country should be conducted. Let me pass from that. There is no dispute about the propositions I have enunciated so far from anybody who understands the practice of our Constitution. Let me pass from that to the domain of legislation. Even there the legal theory of a co-ordinate authority between the two Houses has for a long time past been tacitly, if not explicitly, abandoned. It is admitted that the House of Lords must at some undefined time yield to the will of the electorate. Till, I think, in January, 1910, it was widely contended—we do not hear that contention put forward to-day—that the present House of Lords were by instinctive divination or by acquired tact possessed of, and exhibited, exactly those special faculties by which an ideal Second Chamber under a democratic system of Government would secure that the decisions of the elected representatives of the people should never transcend, should never fall short of, but should always be brought into conformity with the deliberate will of the electorate who sent them here. What was and what is the Second Chamber in regard to which I said only a year ago this felicitous, this almost miraculous adaptation of means 1745 to ends was confidently asserted? It is an Assembly admittedly which is neither elected by the people nor dissoluble by the Crown. It consists of about 600 Members—and if we deem for the purpose as ostensibly non-partisan the occupants of the Episcopal Bench—it is no exaggeration to say that of the remainder, some 570 or 580, normally 500 at least belong to the Conservative or Unionist party. That is the body, hereditary in origin except so far as its composition is tempered by the sporadic action of the Minister of the day, irresponsible in the exercise of its powers, overwhelmingly partisan in its actual composition—that is the body to which the letter of the law entrusts the right to revise and delay, and, if it will, reject the considered and deliberate decision of the representatives of the people. People talk of the policy and even the necessity in the interests of democracy itself what is called the bi-cameral Constitution. Could the most ingenious and malignant adversary of the system have devised a better reductio ad absurdum of the principle of the Second Chamber? On paper, as everyone now admits, it is an indefensible paradox, which could only be reconciled with the actual working of Democratic Government by an almost supernatural endowment of insight and self-abnegation. No country, no democratic country, and least of all our own, can safely rest its fortunes on the hazard of a perpetual recurrence of special providences. There have been in history benevolent autocrats, there have been in history disinterested and far-sighted oligarchies, but, as has been wisely said, I forget by whom,The chapter of accidents is the Bible of Fools.And so we have found it. For what in practice—I am repeating a familiar question, but one to which no adequate answer has yet been given—is our so-called Two-Chamber system? We who support the policy of the Bill that I am going to ask the House to read a first time, are constantly reproached with the intention of substituting for legislation by two chambers the uncontrolled domination of one. Yes, but what are the facts? I will only go back for fifteen years. I might carry the retrospect a great deal further if time and opportunity allowed. Take the ten years, 1895 to 1905. The constitutional question, as we now know it, was then dormant. Why was it dormant? Because we lived under the unchecked rule of a single chamber. There followed the 1746 four years, 1906–1909. I am stating what is now one of the commonplaces, and the admitted commonplaces, of political controversy when I say that during those years, with the exception of a few instances when in Lord Lansdowne's felicitous and memorable phrase the conflict would not have been on favourable ground to the Second Chamber, the House of Lords resolutely opposed, and successfully defeated, the principal controversial measures passed by the largest majorities in the whole annals of the House of Commons. The climax was reached in the autumn of 1909, when the House of Lords rejected the finance of the year. Although I am loath to assume even for a moment the mantle of a political prophet; I do not think it is a very rash prediction that the judgment of history-will corroborate the coolest-headed contemporary observers that the rejection of the Budget by the House of Lords in 1909 was the most stupendous act of political blindness that has been perpetrated. I do not think I am exaggerating in the least when I say that on that fatal day, fatal to the House of Lords, not to anybody else, of the 30th November, 1909, the House of Lords as we have known it, as our fathers and our forefathers have known it, committed political suicide. But doomed institutions, like threatened men, can last a long time. So long as they act and so long as they last, uncontrolled and unchecked, they can do an infinity of mischief. No one proposes, I certainly do not, to dispense in this country with a second Chamber. I will give a reason, among many others. We have seen and suffered enough from the evils of Single Chamber Government. We hold, as the preamble of this Bill says, that there ought to be a Second Chamber, and that it should be a body which, unlike the House of Lords, rests not on an hereditary, but a popular basis. We think, I certainly for myself think, that the powers of suspensory veto which this Bill confers on the House of Lords are powers which in practice would never be exercised against one party in the State, and that in the long run it would not be expedient to leave them in the hands of such a body as the present House of Lords.
But that is not the question which is immediately before us. The question is this: Are we to wait for relief and release from an intolerable and even a dangerous situation, a situation immediately created by the action of the House of Lords between 1906–09, a situation which places 1747 not only legislation but finance at the mercy of an irresponsible and indissoluble authority, increasingly actuated by the most naked partisanship—are we, I say, to wait until, after what must be a long and laborious process, we evolve a new Second Chamber, possessing in its size and composition the qualities which are needed for the impartial and efficient discharge of the functions, and the only functions, appropriate to such a body? In the meantime, is all progressive legislation, however clearly desired and demanded by the people, to come to a standstill? We say "No," and the country has said "No." It has said so twice within twelve months—once in January last, when it approved the principle of our policy, and again when in December it gave its sanction to the definite plan in which that principle is embodied. No, the country requires a present remedy for present evils, and it finds it, as it has declared, in such a limitation of the Veto of the House of Lords as will secure that the clear and considered will, and only the clear and considered will, of the nation shall, after the fullest opportunity for deliberation and reasonable delay, pass into law.
Our plan, as embodied in this Bill, is a very simple one, and all its features are now so familiar that it would be an unpardonable waste of the time of the House if I were to describe them in any great detail. Shortly, it comes to this: It proposes to give statutory definition and protection to the constitutional doctrine that the House of Commons is supreme in finance, at the same time affording, as we believe, adequate safeguards against possible abuse in the guise of what is known as "tacking." Further, it cuts down the absolute Veto of the House of Lords to a suspensory Veto with the provisions for the lapse of at least two years and of three Sessions, not necessarily in the same Parliament, and the limitation of the term of the life of the House of Commons to five years. That, in a nutshell, is the effect of the measure. I will say nothing about the first clause which deals with finance, except that I feel confident it will be found that the whole of the real controversy between us in this matter is confined to the best way of discriminating between measures which are financial in the strict and full sense and measures which are only incidentally and superficially so. I will say no more about that, but will come to that part of the scheme which deals with ordinary legislation. Here 1748 again I will not weary the House by repeating the laboured arguments which I presented less than a year ago, and which, in my opinion, anticipated most, if not all, of the objections and criticisms. I will refer, however, for a moment to the main and principal one, because I know this is honestly entertained, not by partisans only, but by people who desire, if possible, a reasonable solution of our constitutional difficulty. I see it still persistently asserted that our proposals are intended or, at any rate will have the effect, of enabling a despotic Single Chamber to ride rough shod over the electorate of the country. If I may put the same thing in different words, we are charged with enthroning in the subtle disguise of democratic forms a power which may enthral or set at naught the very spirit of democracy. I want to say with all respect to those who entertain such an apprehension that I think that view to be one of the most unsubstantial nightmares that ever afflicted the imagination. Let me say one thing. We all of us start from one common point—the assumption which lies at the root of representative Government that the House of Commons, itself a product of popular election, is, under normal conditions, a trustworthy organ and mouthpiece of the popular will. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) dissents, but then he does not represent a democratic constituency. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] I confess I thought I should obtain universal assent to that Proposition, but apparently there are some hon. Members opposite who do not agree with it. How else are we to ascertain what the people think or desire?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The Noble Lord is rather in a hurry: I will come to the Referendum in a minute. I ask how else are we to ascertain the popular will? The Noble Lord says "by the Referendum." I do not know when he first entertained that idea or how long it has been a part of his stock of political convictions. But how are we to ascertain the popular will unless we are to substitute, as he and others invite us to do, a plebiscite for the representative system? The whole principle of representative Government is at stake. We are invited to adopt, at the instance of the Noble Lord and his Friends, the principles of the Jacobins and the Napoleons, and substitute them for the well established doctrine of the English Constitution. That is what Toryism has come to!
1749 Having stated a proposition which, I think, is generally accepted, let me, on the other hand, make an admission in the other sense. No one pretends, I certainly do not, that the correspondence between any given judgment of any given House of Commons and that of the electorate is invariable and precise. The House of Commons may, particularly under the unduly long term embodied in the Septennial Act, under which it at present exists, outstay, and we have seen Houses of Commons which did outstay what is called the mandate given to them by the electorate. The House of Commons may pass a measure by a majority small in number, and obviously accidental in its composition. The House of Commons may, through the crush of business, or through hasty procedure, pass a measure in an imperfect, incomplete and even misleading form. But these are risks we admit—I for one certainly admit—ought to be guarded against, and we have guarded against them. In the first place we propose to shorten the legal duration of Parliament from seven years to five years, which will probably amount in practice to an actual legislative working term of four years. That will secure that your House of Commons for the time being, is always either fresh from the polls which gave it authority, or—and this is an equally effective check upon acting in defiance of the popular will—it is looking forward to the polls at which it will have to render an account of its stewardship. Further, the delay of three Sessions, or of two years, when the Suspensory Veto of the House of Lords is interposed precludes the possibility—and I say this with the utmost assurance—of covertly or arbitrarily smuggling into law measures which are condemned by popular opinion, and it will, at the same time, ensure an ample opportunity for the reconsideration and revision of hasty or slovenly legislation.
Lastly, and this is as certain as daylight, in ninety-nine cases out of 100, the new House of Commons both could and would reverse legislation which had been shown by the General Election to be opposed to the will of the masses of the electors. The arguments, which I have just been adducing were used last year, but were not, as I think, and never have been, adequately met. There are, however, new aspects of the situation which have profoundly changed its character since this Bill was read the first time last April. Let me remind the House of 1750 what happened. The lamented death of our late beloved Sovereign, early in the month of May, was followed by a political truce, by the setting up and sitting of a Constitutional Conference. I will say of that Conference once more to-day, what I have said before, both in this House and outside, that it was an honest and sustained attempt carried on on both sides with good will, with patience, and with infinite industry, to find a common ground of agreement. I cannot here refrain from offering a tribute of gratitude and of regret to the memory of one of the Members of the Conference, who, to the great loss of the State, by untimely death, has been taken from us During the three months I sat at the same table with Lord Cawdor, I learned to appreciate his high qualities, and there is no one of my colleagues who took part in those deliberations, on whichever side he sat, who will not join with me in acknowledging the debt due to his fine temper, his sound judgment and his masculine good sense. The Conference failed and the conflict was resumed, but it was resumed, so far as our opponents and critics are concerned, from a somewhat different standpoint and with an almost complete change of weapons. The wholehearted defence of the House of Lords as an ideal Second Chamber, with which we were so familiar in January of last year, was in December little, if ever, heard of at all. The backwoodsmen were cooped up in their fastnesses. They were no longer allowed the free run of the platform. A new model, I should have said, several new models, of a Second Chamber, in which the hereditary principle was to be copiously diluted or destroyed were hastily run up, and my Noble Friend, Lord Rosebery, went about the country declaring that the House of Lords was dead. I will only say that all the schemes so proposed, without exception, so far as I have seen, and been able to understand them, gave us a Second Chamber, still predominantly of one party, and resting on no broad or real basis of popular authority. A still more startling change which the Noble Lord mentioned in his interruption just now, was the sudden emergence, as an integral part of the programme of the Tory party, of the Referendum. I repeat what I said last year, and what I said many times during the election, I am not going to rule out the Referendum as under conceivable conditions, a possible practical expedient for dealing with some exceptional case. But according to the proposals 1751 recently put forward, the Referendum is to be a normal part of our regular constitutional machine. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, No."] The hon. Member who dissents is not so well acquainted as I am with the deliverances of the Leaders of his party. The Referendum was first put forward as a possible solution of dead-locks between the two Houses of Parliament. But very soon it developed into a scheme which would apply not only to dead-locks, in which case, I may remark, it would obviously only be exercisable as against Liberal legislation—it was developed so as to embrace any measure. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] At any rate, that is what I understand, I am anxious to be informed—it was developed so as to embrace any measure, even including an exceptional Budget, in regard to which there was ground—to be ascertained by some as yet wholly undefined process—for believing that, though passed by Parliament, it was not in accord with the popular will. I do not know whether that adequately or fairly represents the present development of this scheme, but if I am right a scheme of this sort might work well enough—though I believe there is great difference of opinion about that—in a small country like Switzerland, where the Ministry act as clerks and the Legislature as registrars of the electorate of the country, but to try to apply it to conditions like ours is infinitely more revolutionary than anything contained in this Bill, and would neither more nor less undermine and overthrow the whole structure of representative Government. I am not exaggerating when I say, that it would reduce our General Election to a sham parade and degrade the House of Commons to the level of a talking club.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is so long as the House of Lords prevents its decisions being carried into law, but this Bill will put an end to that state of things. Our system of representation has its drawbacks. Those I fully admit. It has its drawbacks in the uneven distribution of the franchise, the multiplication of qualifications, the inequality of electoral areas. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We suffer quite as much from that as you do. And it has its drawbacks in the unduly long life of the House of Commons. In all these respects it can be made more perfect than it is. But even as it is it is the best and most practical expedient yet devised 1752 for ascertaining and recording and embodying in law the will of the people. That is the root principle, the governing purpose, the aim and the goal of democratic institutions. It is to-day habitually thwarted and is often frustrated for years by the Veto of a non-representative authority, and we present this Bill to the House once more, approved as it has now been by the people of this country—we present it to the House as the first and the most urgent step towards a more perfect attainment.
§ Mr. A. J. BALFOUR
Perhaps the House and the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, before proceeding to deal with the great subject which he has opened, to express my thanks to them and to him for having so arranged business that I am able to take part in what we all admit is the beginning of one of the most important Parliamentary controversies that either we or our forefathers have seen. It is very kind and courteous of the right hon. Gentleman to take the step he did, and the approval the House was able to give is far beyond any thanks of mine. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman began his speech and ended it by a statement that the Bill he was introducing was one which not merely in certain broad and general characteristics, but in detail and in the letter, had been submitted to and had been approved by the people. He based himself upon the election of January last and upon the election of last December. The verdict of the people given at a General Election is an oracle to which many people appeal, and all when they do appeal find it gives them something at all events which they desire to learn, but it is seldom, I think, that a different interpretation is given by the same individual in so short a space as we have heard given to it by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. It appears that not only are democratic institutions by far the best institutions under which a modern community like our own can carry on its work—a proposition in which we all agree—but it appears that the verdict of a General Election is so miraculous—the right hon. Gentleman talked a great deal of miracles, can any miracle equal this—that when the constituents choose Mr. X rather than Mr. Y, or Mr. Y rather than Mr. Z, they pronounce specifically and precisely upon a large number of utterly disconnected propositions, supported by arguments having no connection with each other, belonging to different departments 1753 of policy, and that when they vote on all these points for Mr. X or Mr. Y they give a final and conclusive answer. It was only ten days ago that the right hon. Gentleman seemed almost to absolve himself from the necessity of dealing with the questions of Tariff Reform or Preference because he said the country had decided about Tariff Reform and had given a verdict about Preference twice within the preceding twelve months. How can the same vote by the same man at once give a decision about Preference and Tariff Reform and at the same time give a decision about the details of a Bill—talking of miracles, can any miracle equal that? Of course everybody knows who looks behind words and things that a vote given at a General Election is given for a vast multitude of perfectly public-spirited reasons—sometimes not public-spirited, but I agree usually public-spirited reasons—but everybody knows that those reasons are complicated ones and do not carry that detailed approval of a particular measure which the right hon. Gentleman in terms supposes when it happens to suit the exigencies of his argument, or whenever he wants to induce this House to carry out a particular policy which he advocates. That is really a misuse of the terminology of our free institutions.
Whether the Referendum be a good thing or a bad thing, at all events it is a decision of the people on a particular thing, but a General Election, be it a good thing or a bad thing, is not the decision of the people on a particular measure. It is not, never has been, and never can be. Of course, there are occasions on which one particular issue absolutely drowns all others. They have been few and far between, and I am not sure that I can recall a single one of which that could be said without qualification, except perhaps one of the General Elections which preceded the final passing of the Reform Bill of 1832. All the General Elections which I remember, and they are now mounting in number, have had mixed issues, and must have had mixed issues. The ordinary issue on which the voter decides must be a complex point and one lot of voters will decide on one set of issues and another on a different set of issues. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond), in the name of his party, issued a manifesto to the Irish electors of this country, and I have no doubt that it had a most powerful effect on their votes. In that we heard nothing but Home Rule. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND
The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. Our manifesto and all our speeches were in favour of the abolition of the Veto of the House of Lords.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I am perfectly aware that the hon. and learned Member wanted to abolish the Veto of the House of Lords, but surely I neither misrepresent him nor his manifesto when I say that the reason which excluded all others was to tell the Irish electors to vote for the present Government because the present Government are going by legislation now before us to prepare the way for Home Rule. It was Home Rule, therefore, and the means for getting Home Rule which were present to the Irish electors. That was not the issue that was present to the English and Scotch electors. Everybody knows that I am right. The issue presented to them was wholly different to that presented by the hon. and learned Gentleman. The terms were utterly different, and the practical reasons which induced the voters to support hon. Gentlemen, when they did support them, were an entirely different set of reasons from those which were mentioned by the hon. Member. That is no blame to the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is no blame to the Government, but it is a proof that you cannot say that because the electorate of this country have sent a set of parties to this House who are prepared to agree apparently upon the letter of this measure that means that the electorate desire this particular kind of reform of the Constitution of this country. I am afraid that the state of my voice, and perhaps the patience of the House will prevent me following the whole speech of the right hon. gentleman from beginning to end—an able and interesting speech, some of it dealing, as it seemed to me, with issues but little germane to the controversy before us. He dwelt upon the action of the House of Lords in referring the Budget of 1909–10 to the judgment of the people. He said that never was there such a case of any Assembly cutting its own throat and committing political suicide in the history of this country, or, I gather, any country. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. In the first place the party which he now leads, and of which he was an important Member, came into power in 1906 determined to pick a quarrel with the House of Lords. It is a commonplace of history. It will be denied by no one who 1755 really throws his memory back to those days. I need not repeat the famous phrase of filling up the cup. You have only to look at Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Resolution, which long preceded any action of the House of Lords.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the DUCHY of LANCASTER (Mr. J. A. Pease)
It was after the Education Bill.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
It may have been after the Education Bill, but it was before the Budget. That is the point. The right hon. Gentleman (the Prime Minister) said it was the Budget. According to the right hon. Gentleman who interrupts me it was not the Budget but the Education Bill of 1906. Let us abandon the Budget argument and take the case back to 1906. The amendment put in by the House of Lords to that Bill, on which it was finally wrecked, was an amendment which I do not believe would have met with anything but the approval of a vast majority of that portion of the United Kingdom to which it applied, and I believe if this House itself, the Irish Members and other Members not concurring with me in general policy, had voted on that Bill according to their views on the Bill it would never have passed this Chamber. You will never squeeze out of the action of the House of Lords in 1906 and 1910 by any process of advocacy adequate reasons for a great constitutional change. I do not myself think this is a particularly proper or a happy moment for going into these ancient controversies. We may have to refer to them again, but I do not think they are particularly germane to the First Reading of this Bill, and I cannot say I fully understand why the right hon. Gentleman dragged them in. Let me come to some of his general views on constitutional policy which are germane to the measure now before us. The right hon. Gentleman has advanced a view of the position of this House, which he declares to be the orthodox traditional view of the Constitution, which I believe is absolutely new. He says, truly enough, that this House is the representative Chamber. So far we are all agreed. But he deduces from that, by what he seems to think an irresistible chain of logic, that when this House has been brought into existence by the votes of the electorate, thereafter everything it does has to be considered as the action of the electorate, and that that is and has been the view of constitutional theorists, Liberal as well as Conservative 1756 statesmen, in the past. That has never been the view either of Liberal or Conservative statesmen in the past. Burke, who was neither a Liberal nor a Conservative, or who was both perhaps I ought to say, would have been scandalised at the theory put forward by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
That was not the reason why Burke would have been scandalised at the theory. According to the right hon. Gentleman it is not a representative body now. He has just told us how far it falls short of it. I do not suppose he would at all approve of some one, some generations hence, quoting his high authority for the constitutional proposition that the House of Commons in 1910 was not a representative body. The old traditional view was that the organ of the nation was the two Houses of Parliament and the Crown. That is the old theory, and that is the sound theory. You may modify, and consciously or unconsciously you are modifying it, and you have done in past times, both the functions of the Crown, the functions of the Second Chamber, and the functions of this House. They have all undergone, either by Statute or by custom, changes and modifications from year to year. But your doctrine is utterly subversive of any true constitutional theory if you take this House in isolation and say this House, and not Parliament, represents the people, and therefore everything that it does must be taken to be done by the people for the people. That is not the old theory. It is not the sound theory. It is not the theory on which any one who wishes to understand the working of representative institutions ought to go, nor is it the theory on which any other country has ever gone. They have never considered the First Chamber as the sole depository and authority of the people's will. They have always treated it as part of an organic whole representing the people, and if it failed to represent the people no doubt it ought to be modified and also changed.
Then the right hon. Gentleman goes on and says, pointing to us, "You who advocate the doctrine of the plebiscite do not understand representative institutions. The people who have historically gone into the plebiscite are people like Napoleon," and I think he said the Jacobins. I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman 1757 that what Napoleon did was to appeal to the plebiscite to give him power, not on a particular measure, but to give him what practically amounted to absolute power. That is the last thing that any advocate of the plebiscite desires in this country. We desire it for precisely the opposite purpose. We say, under the Constitution as it now works, you elect a body of absolute, it may be beneficent, but absolute rulers in the shape of a Cabinet who practically controls the Debate in this House, and are in no sense, as the right hon. Gentleman truly says, dependent upon the other House; and we say that in the course of a domination of such a body as that it may well be that they depart from the desires of the people, and that they should be referred to them on some particular and specific issue. That is the exact opposite of what Napoleon did. He did not refer measures to the plebiscite. He referred his own tenure of absolute power. We want the plebiscite as a check upon absolute power. We want it as a check on power which, I think, anyone must admit may be abused, and which right hon. Gentlemen think has been abused by those from whom they differ in political opinions. The right hon. Gentleman said quite truly that there are defects in the House of Commons, but, after all, the House of Commons, in its early months and years, comes fresh from the people, and, therefore, it represents them. This is the argument which he says was never answered. The argument is this. The House of Commons when it is new represents the people because it is new. The House of Commons when it is old represents the people because it is going to be new; and the individuals who compose it are so afraid of not finding approval from those who sent them that they may be trusted to give effect to the wishes of the people.
If that is so, I think a little less abuse ought to be showered upon the Government, of which I was an unworthy Member, for the Education Act of 1902 was passed when we were a young Parliament, and, therefore, represented the people. It was within the sacred two years. On the Licensing Bill, which was passed just a year or a year and a-half before we resigned, again we must have represented the people, because we were going to the people. These measures, according to the canons laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, were passed by a House of Commons which had a happy infallibility derived from the fact that it had just been elected or from the other fact that it was 1758 just going to be elected. Whatever criticism may be passed, and possibly justly passed, upon the difficulties connected with the Referendum, it is not necessary to defend it by arguments so far-fetched and extravagant as that which the right hon. Gentleman has advanced in favour of the infallibility of this House. There are difficulties connected with it, I grant, though it is not a new thing in the mouth of Conservative statesmen. The Referendum, at all events, has this enormous advantage, that it does isolate one problem from the complex questions connected with keeping a Government in office, and with other measures which it wants to carry out and with other questions of foreign and domestic policy. It asks the country not, "do you say that this or that body of men should hold the reins of office?" but, "do you approve of this or that way of dealing with a great question in which you are interested?" That is a very plain proposition and it is much less open to the charge of bad constitutional metaphysics than the theory which the right hon. Gentleman has with great naïveté laid before the House as if it was a theory which had been held by himself and all the orthodox professors of Liberal doctrine right back from the early stages in the development of our Constitution.
If I turn from these general considerations to any particular measure which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced in his speech—which showed great ability, but not, I think, a particularly conciliatory spirit—or to the general policy of modifying the relations between the two Houses and of modifying the Constitution of the other House, I think the first thing which will strike any one, certainly the first thing which strikes any foreigner taking a note of our controversy, would be the amount of agreement there is with regard to the need of some far-reaching change. I think that agreement is universal. I believe that everyone is of opinion that at the moment of time in which we stand, and taking account of the general development of ideas, some change is necessary if we are to preserve, and I think we ought to preserve, the bicameral system and the relation between the two Houses. It is quite true that we have not all arrived at that conclusion by the same road. It is a conclusion held by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. John Redmond), a conclusion held by the hon. Member (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) and his friends, by the right hon. Gentlemen, 1759 by my Friends around me and by myself. I think if representatives from each of these four sections of the House were separately and privately examined as to the opinions which they all held in common there would be very wide divergencies manifested as to the ground on which that opinion was arrived at.
I do not think it is necessary or desirable to probe too closely into the causes of these differences, though I should be quite willing to do so at some appropriate moment. The fact is, as I have said, I believe everybody is now convinced that for one reason or another the relations between the two Houses and the composition of the other House ought to form the subject of anxious and practical deliberations by Parliament. All of us feel that the constitution of the other House ought to be changed. All of us—I have heard no dissenting voice—think that there should be a reform of the constitution of the Second Chamber. All of us think that there should be some modification of the relations between the two Houses. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] If I were to explain to the hon. Gentleman above the Gangway, to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, to the Irish party, and also to give my own views, it would perhaps carry us rather far. They are all very different and all very interesting, but they really are not relevant to the point which I now wish to put before the House. We are all agreed that there must be, and ought to be, a change in the historical connection between the two Houses and in the composition of the Second Chamber. Most of us, I believe, think there ought to be a bi-cameral system. The right hon. Gentleman has announced or renewed his confession of faith in that matter. I understand that the Bill contains the famous Preamble in which that article of belief is set out at length, and I may take that as common ground between all the Gentlemen who sit behind me and most of the Gentlemen who sit on the other side of the House. I do not know whether Gentlemen from Ireland have an opinion one way or another on that point. There is one section in the House, I believe—the Labour party—who, perhaps unanimously or perhaps not, but at all events a majority, who hold that there ought to be only one Chamber. But still, broadly speaking, I believe the great mass and body of opinion in this country and in the House is in favour of a bi-cameral system.
1760 There is a third point on which I believe we are all agreed. It is a point I have spoken of with great insistence for many years past. We are all agreed that in that bi-cameral system the leading partner should be the House of Commons. The House of Commons should be as between the two Chambers the dominant Chamber, and I may say, in passing, that one of the fears which I most sincerely entertain, and which I have often expressed long before this controversy became acute—one of the fears I entertain of the policy expressed by the right hon. Gentleman of having a purely elective Second Chamber arises from the fact that in no great country I know of has it been felt to be consistent with the predominence of what is called the Lower House. It has never been consistent with that, and I do not believe it would be consistent with that any more in this country than in France or the United States of America. I therefore hold still, as I have always held, that if you want this House to be the predominant Assembly you should use, instead of merely abusing, the hereditary principle which has given you the House of Lords by a long process of historical development. Of course that is not a thing that could be introduced into a new country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer derided the idea of anybody setting up a hereditary Chamber in Australia or elsewhere. Of course, it never could be set up in a new country. But are we so backward in political wisdom as not to do our best to mould and modify the institutions we have got by long and historical traditional development and use them for our own purposes—purposes of modern democratic society? Would it not be folly to throw wholly on one side this principle of heredity, some leaven of which I am convinced is necessary unless you want entirely to destroy the predominance which for many generations this House has enjoyed? I really do commend to hon. Members on both sides of the House this line of argument, which I do not propose to develop further now, and which has always greatly moved me, and moves me still, as a firm believer in the House of Commons, and which I am sure should be considered when you are dealing with the constitution of the Second Chamber. What I want to impress upon the House is this. Why is it, if there be so much agreement, however it may have been arrived at, between all sections of the House, both as to the necessity of some constitutional change in the relations between the two Chambers and in the constitution 1761 of the Second Chamber—why is it all of us look forward with much misgiving to the issue of this controversy? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I do not say misgiving as to the result. Let every man make his own prophecy as to the result, but I say misgiving as to the course of the controversy until it reaches its final conclusion and consummation. I do not hesitate to say that I have always desired a peaceful arrangement by agreement upon this subject. I have always striven for it, and I still think that anybody considering the question impartially from outside, and considering what we have been accustomed to regard the British people as types and models of self-governing sobriety and wisdom, would say they should strive for it, and yet here they cannot arrange peacefully a matter in dispute on which they start with so great a measure of agreement. No foreign country in its revolutions has ever started with such advantage. We ourselves, in the controversies of bygone times, never were agreed to the extent that we are agreed on this matter, and we are free, so far as this particular controversy is concerned, from the theological poison which did such infinite harm in those earlier constitutional struggles, both before the Great Rebellion and at the time of the Revolution settlement.
Why is it that when there is so much agreement, and when there is so much good will in this year of all others we would desire to see some arrangement arrived at? Does any man who has any power of reading the signs of the times look forward with anything but deep anxiety, as I do, to the course of the struggle or debate which has begun to-day. I think the answer to that lies in the strangely illogical course which the Government have adopted and the reasons which have led them to adopt it. They want to alter the relations between the two Houses, they want to alter the Constitution of the Second Chamber, but they propose to alter the relations between the two Houses before they have altered the Constitution of the Second Chamber, and they propose to leave us in an interval of unknown duration without anything that can be described as a Second Chamber for some of the purposes, and for the most important purpose for which the Second Chamber can exist. The right hon. Gentleman tells us to-day, as he has told us before, that the Second Chamber, as he proposes to leave it, is a Second Chamber which will have large powers of modifying the legislative action of this House. I do not at all deny it, I think it 1762 will have large powers. I am not sure, if you judge institutions by their working and not by their paper aspect, that in many respects the House of Lords, as you propose to make it, may not send down more Amendments to this House than the House of Lords as it is now constituted thinks desirable. I think that is quite possible. I am not at all sure, as a Member of the House of Commons, that I greatly desire it. What I do desire, not merely as a Member of the House of Commons, but as a Member of a country which has grown great under an unwritten Constitution is that there should be some safeguard which under an unwritten Constitution can only be provided by a Second Chamber against revolutionary changes which do not meet the will of the people, which profoundly alter the institutions under which they were born, and upon which they never were properly consulted, and which they may find changed over their heads and against their will under the leadership of gentlemen who sit on the Government Benches, but under the inspiration of hon. Gentlemen who sit below the Gangway on this side. I do not think the Government have attempted any defence of this part of their plan, and it is not capable of defence. Here the Government come forward and say to us, "You ought to alter the Constitution of the House of Lords." We agree. They come forward and say to us, "You ought to alter the relations between the two Houses." We agree. They say in the next place, "You ought to have an efficient Second Chamber." We agree again, and that very Government by that very Bill are going to put themselves and the majority which they control, and the minority which controls them—they are going to usurp not merely the functions which other powerful Governments had before them, and will have again—they are going to usurp the function of compelling the people of this country to accept great constitutional changes upon which they have never been consulted, of which they do not know anything up to this moment, about which you were not in a position to tell them anything at the last Election, about which you used the most varying utterances, and upon which there is even at this moment no clear account given by men of authority as to what they mean to do, and for one reason or another, but for many good reasons, they do not even know themselves. There are hon. Gentlemen opposite who seem 1763 to think that we come here as the advocates of out-worn privileges, as a party desirous of maintaining the privileges of the House of Lords, long after those privileges have lost such value, as every historian must admit they once possessed in the development of our institutions, and claiming that they alone have the secret of progress, freedom, and constitutional sobriety. That grossly misrepresents the attitude of my Frends behind me. That is not my view. I think we in this House have privileges, privileges, by the way, which I understand the Government are going very substantially to augment—I mean on the pecuniary side—in the course of not many weeks, but everybody admits as a commonplace that our privileges only exist for a public purpose. That is true in my opinion, and in the opinion of every man for whom I have a right to speak on this side of the House. That is true of the privileges of us all. The privileges, such as they are, do not exist with them. They exist solely and wholly for the community, and, so far as I am concerned at all events, you have only got to prove to me that their so-called privileges, which I do not regard as very enviable, are no longer of any use, and serve no purpose in a modern developing community, and, of course, I shall agree that they should be swept away. Why not? Therefore, that is not the ground on which we foresee difficulty over this Bill. The difficulty we foresee is a different one. The right hon. Gentleman appears to suppose that a Second Chamber must always reflect, and ought always to reflect, the precise shade of politics of this Chamber. I do not think so. It seems to me an altogether absurd doctrine. Hon. Gentlemen opposite profess and claim to be the great authors of bold originative change. It is a great position to occupy—to be the originators of bold innovations. But, if a Second Chamber is to do its work as a revising body, it is clearly against the authors of bold changes, rather than against the timid reformers, of whom we poor people on this side of the House are the representatives, against them rather than against us that this power of criticism, and, if needful, of delay, is to be exercised. It is really an absurd doctrine to suppose that we are going to have—or that we ought to have—a strong Radical party in this House and a Chamber in the other House which has also to be equally Radical in its complexion.
1764 In that sense I think it is absurd to talk either of the House of Lords being a partisan body, or of any Second Chamber that does its duty as being a partisan body. But the real difficulty is this, and I hope men of moderate opinion on the other side will consider it. I would give much that this great controversy should be arranged without any of those controversial violences which I love at no time, and which, in this year of all other years, I should wish to avoid. But there are some gains for which too great a price may be paid. Be we lovers of peace as strong as we may be, anxious as we may be that all should go quietly and smoothly even in dealing with these delicate questions, there are some things which we cannot do, and which we will not do, and which if they be done must be done over our heads. I do not attempt to measure the power either of the majority in this House, or of the advisers of the Crown. I make no criticism at this stage of any machinery by which their policy can be forced on the country, or the minority which, let me remind them, is very slightly a minority among the people of this island. But I say, I think for all my friends, and I certainly say for myself, that I could never be responsible by falling in with the scheme which should make me part, or have part, or lot in forcing, as I believe it would be, on the people of this country a change in their Constitution which they do not desire. They do desire, I agree, a change in the existing relations between the two Houses. They do desire a modification of the Constitution of the House of Lords, I agree. They do not desire that this House, and the Ministers controlling it, should use those great reforms, those great changes, as an instrument of revolution, on which the people have never been consulted, and about which the people know nothing, and that they should do so, not at the bidding of a real majority of this House, but at the bidding of what after all is a minority, though an important minority, coming from Ireland, and openly announcing how little they care for our institutions, provided they get their own way with regard to a particular political change. All these things may perhaps be forced upon us. But much as I desire peace, anxious as I am to insure it, gladly as I would do much in the way of compromise, there are some issues so great that no compromise is possible. If you are going to use the desire of the country to have some change in the relation between the Houses as an instrument for getting 1765 something which they do not desire, then I say we will have no part or lot with your plans, and we should think ourselves disgraced for ever if we gave our consent to it.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I desire to congratulate the Government in having lost no time in bringing this business before the House of Commons. A situation has arisen which from the point of view of every democrat, and every democratic elector, has become absolutely intolerable. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to talk about the ancient methods of our Constitution, but those ancient methods are no longer practicable. The Constitution has been unwritten, and has been elastic. There is not a single Member of this House that would, unless the reasons otherwise were imperative, try to put an end to that state of things. But from our point of view, at any rate, we have got to recognise this fundamental characteristic of the other place. The other place is an organisation of social and economic interests, which have taken a political form, and so long as there was no violent conflict on social and economic methods between this House and the other place, then the unwritten Constitution and the elastic Constitution would last. But so soon as this House began to deal with the economic privileges which find themselves almost exclusively represented in the other place, then the time came for this House to right the Constitution so far as its relation between itself and the House of Lords are concerned and to lay down as clearly as possibly can be laid down what the function of a Second Chamber in our Constitution is to be. It is altogether a mistake to say that that process on the part of this House sets aside the Constitution as Burke imagined it to be. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the classical view of the English Constitution was not that this House should rule supreme and alone, but that it was that this House, in conjunction with the House of Lords and the Crown, should be the machinery of the Constitution.
But that theory is not touched by the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman has asked leave to introduce into the House. The Crown still exists, a Second Chamber is still going to exist, and this House remains, and all that this Parliament Bill does is to determine, so far as it can, what the relations between this House and the other House are going to be, leaving the triple character of the Constitution precisely 1766 as it is, and such as it has been conceived by the classical constitutionalists. There is one thing I would like to say by way of criticism on this Bill, as it has been forecast in the statement made by the Prime Minister. From this corner of the House we regard the present Second Chamber purely as an economic expression. If the Prime Minister and the Government propose to create in its place, either by election or by nomination, another Chamber which will in another form express precisely the same interests, it is only inviting us to go out of the frying pan into the fire. I have a great deal of sympathy with some of the historical reflections made by the right hon. Gentleman, and I am bound to confess, with the greatest amount of candour and honesty, that what you might call the new House of Lords is worthy, in my mind at any rate, of far less respect than the old House of Lords, and if we are simply going to establish the reign of a modern plutocracy, of rich men who are able to spend money in contesting successfully enormous constituencies, and are asked to regard that as an adequate democratic check upon the excesses and follies of this House, then I would just as soon have our existing Constitution as that. I regret very much that the preamble of this Bill is going to remain part of the Bill. At the same time, I am bound to admit that what the Leader of the Opposition said was perfectly true, that the majority of the people of this country insist, and will insist, upon a bi-cameral system of government. It is of no use to shut our eyes to the facts of the situation. I regret that it should be so. I am frankly in favour of a Single Chamber, as I have explained to this House before—and I will not do it again—my chief reason being that the experience of the whole body of democracy—wherever there has been a democracy—has been that a Second Chamber is absolutely useless while you have got anything like a free system of election under an adequate system of checks on the First Chamber. However, that point may come up at a later stage for discussion, and I only refer to it to indicate, on the very first opportunity that presents itself to us, the view of my colleagues, and those for whom I am entitled to speak. The qualifications of a Second Chamber to our mind are twofold. It ought to have a certain amount of æsthetic value, and it ought not to conflict with our political principles. A picturesque House of Lords has a certain 1767 value in the Constitution. There are certain ceremonies which are meaningless, but nevertheless of considerable picturesque and educational value, which we go through from time to time in connection with our legislative processes, and I would be the last man to suggest a constitutional change that would abolish those picturesque ceremonies. The Second Chamber ought, therefore, to have an historical foundation, and to have its roots deeply dug in the ancient soil which has borne the various products and fruits of our historical achievements. But there can be no doubt whatever, from the political point of view, that this House must be the predominant factor and the predominant partner in this constitutional arrangement. And there, again, I find myself very largely in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman who has preceded me in this Debate, in warning the Government that there has been no instance of an elective Second Chamber, calmly and quietly and successfully allowing itself to sink into a mere secondary partner, a subordinate partner in the Government of the country of which it was a part. The position of France ought to warn the Government, at any rate, to think twice before they leave in their preamble. The position in the United States is precisely the same. It is very difficult as yet to say what is going to happen in Australia. I should like very much to have the pleasure of living through the period when the Australian Lower House has a majority of one colour and the Upper House a majority of another colour. I should like, at the present moment, merely from the point of view of political interest, if the followers of Mr. Deakin composed the majority of the Australian Senate, whilst the followers of Mr. Fisher compose the majority of the Lower House. Then you would have a situation exceedingly interesting and exceedingly important—a situation which, I venture to say, would not result in the absolute triumph of the Lower House. However, that is prophecy. We have not yet been provided by Providence with an example of what would happen under such circumstances as those. But, whilst I would be very pleased to see the experiment tried in Australia, I am going to be no party to seeing the experiment tried here.
A great deal is being said about mandates, and we have had the novel suggestion—I think it is novel; I have never come 1768 across it as enunciated this afternoon—that there cannot be more than one mandate given at any general election. Surely that is wrong. Surely the whole underlying assumption of representative government is that you can have a series of mandates given at the same time. If that is wrong then the fabric of representative government falls down. If it is going to be "one mandate, one general election" then, of course, there should be no general elections at all, because you never can have only one mandate. Even the Referendum will not get you out of the difficulty, as I will show in developing my argument. But at the present moment I want to put in a plea against the assumption that at the last General Election, or in the election which preceded it, when we said we were in favour of Home Rule and came to this House and said that we had a mandate in favour of Home Rule, that excluded the possibility of our having any other mandate whatever. As a matter of fact, I think I have got about a dozen mandates from my Constituents, all of which I should be delighted to have an opportunity of fulfilling before I go back to my Constituency again. So long as representative government lasts the mandate is in the double form of carrying out the programme and of applying the policy; and, if in the carrying out of that programme and applying the policy, Home Rule, the abolition of the Veto of the House of Lords, the upsetting of the Osborne Judgment, and so on, are all fitted into one set of general progressive ideas, then the Government of the day has got its mandate, not for this Session, and not for a Bill, but for the whole life of Parliament and for a progamme. That, at any rate, is my theory of representative government.
We have been told, however, that the constituencies have never pronounced upon the details of this measure which the Prime Minister has asked leave to introduce. I am not concerned with the constituencies passing judgment upon details at all; but if I were, I think that my withers would be unwrung, because there has probably never been any question which has been more referred to the country, with perhaps the exception of the Home Rule Bill—none that I remember personally, or that I remember on the spur of the moment—there has been no question more fully referred to the country, or more fully outlined in its details before an appeal was made to the 1769 country, than this Bill which is now before us. But, as a matter of fact, this House does not pronounce on particular details. That is altogether a delusion. We pronounce upon certain details individually and separately as they come up. It is very likely that in the Debates which will follow upon this Bill, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite may occasionally find themselves in the same Lobby as ourselves. But, when the time comes for the Third Reading, this House has got to make up its mind upon the Bill as a whole. We have got to swallow details we do not like. For instance—let me face it straight away now—I am opposed to the preamble of this Bill. I do not like the preamble of the measure, and will take action very likely at a later stage of the Bill, to show our opposition to the preamble; but I am going to take the Bill with the preamble rather than have no Bill and no preamble. Therefore, even this House, although it resolves itself into Committee to discuss every word, every comma, every line and every clause of this Bill, in the long run is in precisely the same position, not in degree, but in precisely the same kind of position, as the constituencies are in, when a general question, with a general outline of the proposal, is referred to them.
And exactly the same thing will happen upon the Referendum. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Referendum gave a decision upon a particular Bill, but surely no Referendum has ever given a decision upon a particular Bill. The Referendum has given a decision upon a proposal full of complicated details. Supposing, for instance, we had a Referendum on Tariff Reform. You could have it in one of two forms—in the form of a general proposition, "Are you in favour or are you not in favour of Tariff Reform?" That would be a very meaningless question to put to the country. The other possible way of referring Tariff Reform to the country is to draft a Bill, and to refer either the whole Budget, or certain specific clauses of the Budget, to the country. But if certain clauses of the Budget were referred to my Constituents in Leicester they would look at them from their point of view. If the same clauses were referred to Bermondsey, which has different economic interests from those of my Constituency, they they would regard them from a different point of view. But my Constituents on the one hand, and the Bermondsey constituency on the other, require to consider another thing, they require to consider the 1770 general national policy which is embodied in the very small and special details of the clauses of the Bill referred to them. Thus a Referendum decision is not so simple as the right hon. Gentleman assumed. As a matter of fact, if Members of this House would very carefully inquire into what has happened under the Referendum in Switzerland, they would discover there is no more definiteness under a Referendum decision in Switzerland than under a General Election decision in Great Britain. Our General Elections have undoubtedly mixed issues, but the Referendum has just as mixed issues, and in some cases even more complicated issues than those found at a General Election. It has been suggested that the Referendum would create a check on absolute power. It all depends upon the character of the absolute power. If you have a dictator in this House—say hon. Gentlemen opposite in their more ancient and unregenerate days, before they began to take any interest in Social Reform, and when they were perfectly content with everything there was, and did not want any change—what would happen? The Dictator who does nothing never can be checked by the Referendum, because the Referendum contains no power on the part of the people to say, "Yes." When the people say "yes," they only say what we have said before them. Therefore it is of no value. If you had your Dictator refusing legislation, or simply occupying a negative political and legislative position, the Referendum, as a possible check, is absolutely powerless. The Referendum can only check the absolute Dictator when he uses his absoluteness to make great and unpopular changes. Consequently the Referendum cannot be used as a substitute for a reformed Chamber, and cannot be used as a check which would work equally on both sides, or be used as an instrument for the purpose of advancing any reform. It can only be used by the people in any violent conflict with the Government, and when it wants to check the operations to which the Government has put its hands.
Then there is the other point, which is more essential to us. The right hon. Gentleman who preceded me, turning to the Irish Benches, said that they were not in favour of the abolition of the Veto of the House of Lords, that they were only in favour of Home Rule for Ireland, and that they used the abolition of the Veto of the House of Lords as an instrument to get Home Rule for Ireland, and, therefore, 1771 their interest in the abolition of the Veto must be regarded as something very secondary and not of the prime importance that the Prime Minister tried to make out. Surely that is not tenable. A mandate or a political interest surely need not come up to the qualification of being an end in itself. If so, I am in the same boat as my hon. Friend opposite. I am not in favour of the abolition of the Veto of the House of Lords or, in fact, of the abolition of the House of Lords itself as an end in itself. I am in favour of these things because they are a very good and assured means of serving our ends. I want the Veto of the House of Lords abolished for the economic reasons that I have just indicated. We have a certain programme of social reform that we want to see carried through. We feel absolutely convinced that the House of Lords would stand in the way of that programme. We may be right or we may be wrong, that does not matter, but the fundamental position is this, that practically everybody in this House feels enthusiasm for the political changes the Prime Minister proposed, because they also have enthusiasm for something that those changes would make possible and practicable.
The final point to which I desire to refer has been so often discussed that it is not necessary to occupy much time in laying down the general proposition once again. It is this. We have been told that there is very general agreement about change. I doubt it very much. I think if we were to sit amiably together, the representatives of the four parties, we would talk in a most amiable way, and we would get over the interview in a most friendly way, but I doubt very much if we would get very far with the solution of the problems which present themselves to the four sections which are represented in this House. I am not interested in any change in the House of Lords, except a change in the function of the House of Lords. I am not interested in the least in a change of personnel in the House of Lords. I am interested in devising a Constitution which will place this House absolutely supreme, and I am quite willing to accept a qualification of that, a limitation by a certain efflux of time. I do not think it is wise, but I am bound to confess that in that respect I am in a most deplorable minority in this House. What I mean is this, that I am perfectly willing to accept a limitation of the Veto of the House of Lords, and not 1772 insist upon the absolute supremacy of this House. The minimum of the limitation of the Lords' Veto is embodied in this Bill. Therefore I hope if there is to be any giving and taking that the taking will be more ample than the giving.
The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Balfour) referred to the possibility of compromise and conference and arrangements in some shape or form. Then he said very wisely, and I for one echo and re-echo most heartily the sentiment which he proceeded to express when he said there are some gains for which too great a price may be paid. To gain a peace which would embrace both sides of this House, the price that would have to be paid would be, I think, a price which would be a great misfortune to the country, and which would be regarded as surrender in the eyes of the electorate. There is a conference which is the only constitutional form of conference of which this House knows, and that is a conference of the two opposite sides speaking across the floor of this House and discussing in public their differences, and I hope, in view of the importance of the Debates, seriously and solemnly discussing their differences. But to suggest once more that this question, which has been the subject of two General Elections, and the subject of much unsettlement, and the subject of the expenditure of political energy, should be again withdrawn from the vision of this House and of the country, is a proposition which I hope the Government will not for a single moment think about. The right hon. Gentleman said, or indicated as he did not exactly say it, that if this peace was not to be declared, and if this truce was not to come, there might be some great conflict. We are ready for it. I believe the country is perfectly ready to support us in carrying out the contest which it demanded we should enter upon, both at the elections of January of last year and of last December. I feel perfectly clear in my mind about this, that if the Government does not pursue that conflict sternly, with determination and with singleness of mind and purpose, the country will certainly hold it responsible for a grave and disastrous surrender.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
No language which is used to-night can exaggerate the real gravity of the issue now submitted to the House, and I suppose that in any case whatever view we take we recognise that to-night is the beginning of the end of the old British Parliament, as it has been 1773 evolved and elaborated by time, and as it has been imitated consciously at different stages by Foreign States and by all our Dominions across the Seas. The Prime Minister gave a definition of the classic view of Parliament which was singularly wide of the mark. The Fathers of the Constitution held views which show that the opinion entertained by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), and, so far as one can gather, by the Prime Minister, is not one which has historic authority. Because one thing which was laid down in the days gone by was that—A single council having both the right of debate and result never was nor could be esteemed a Commonwealth.The Prime Minister in making his case, admirably as he always does, did not show one reason which we always understood was at the bottom of the action now taken by the Government in forcing this Bill on the House. He made out no case for urgency. Why is the Bill going to be pressed home at this break-neck speed? There is no urgency so far as I can see from the Government point of view. I understood last year that the main urgency was that a Radical Government should get a fresh lease of power. The Radical Government has now the fresh lease of power and that argument has disappeared. Nobody can show that there is anything in the relations between the two Houses now, or any question pending which makes it necessary to go on with this Bill in what, as has been pointed out, is the most inappropriate year that could be chosen. The Prime Minister said that the country had been asked, and had given a definite and specific verdict on the question. The hon. Member for Leicester told us that the country had decided that the Veto of the House of Lords has to go and go now. So far as my Constituency was concerned the case was not put before it in such a way as to enable it to decide on any ground of reason. No appeal to the reason of the electorate was made at all. The Chancellor of the Exchequer came down to Mile End and made his Paragon speech, in which he tried to bring in exactly that amount of prejudice which was necessary to enable the Government to secure the majority of which it now boasts. The truth is there has been no plain issue submitted to them at all. The electors had no information as to whether they were voting for or against the hereditary principle, or for or against the recasting of the Constitution.
1774 What was the case the Chancellor of the Exchequer tried to make out at Mile End? He told the people there the older a thing was the more it stank. He proceeded to point out that the House of Lords was composed of French filibusters, whom he compared to the bushrangers of Australia, and of those who had robbed the Church of all its lands at the time of the Reformation, and of the descendants of the illegitimate sons of kings. That was the reasonable case presented to the electors of East London, upon which they were asked to decide a great constitutional question. There has been no plain issue, and there has been no verdict. If you could say of an advocate what is said of a judge, there has been a great deal of misdirection to the jury, and they have never been able to decide whether they were voting as to the composition or the constitution of a Second Chamber. In fact, everything has been done that could be done to poison the wells of public opinion, from which we are expected to draw our authority. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might have told the people of East London that when James I. came to the Throne there were only fifty-nine Peers, instead of letting them imagine that all those who had obtained their estates by nefarious means, which, he compared to the thefts of the Welsh shepherd, were the depositories of political power. He did not point out that the present House of Lords is as remote from the description which he derived from the travesties that had been written as anything well could be. He was not giving them a historical lesson, he was asking them to pronounce judgment on the constitutional issue, and I submit that all this talk about the country having twice given its verdict is mere moonshine. They have not had stated before them the real issue, which is not whether we approve of the hereditary principle or whether we do not, but whether we mean to have the double safeguards of a real Second Chamber in our constitutional arrangements. The Prime Minister said that we held up the present House of Lords as an ideal Second Chamber. I have yet to find a word from any of the speakers on our side of the House who have made any such statement. The most they have asked and the most they have done is to put the rhetorical question which is to the effect "has it worked well?" On the whole, it has worked well.
The hon. Member for Leicester talked of social reform as being a novel expedient 1775 on these benches. He forgets that the House of Lords—long before Lord Shaftesbury's Factory Acts—has always been on the side of social reform. He forgets that Mr. Pitt, years before that, propounded a system of Poor Law Reform which comes very near the proposals which now commend themselves to the hon. Gentleman. In fact, he cannot show a single case in which the House of Lords, which he says frankly he wants abolished, has set itself against social reform. The Prime Minister talks of our holding it up as an ideal Second Chamber. I need not say if that was so we should not have formulated the scheme of reform that has been discussed all over the country, and which proposed to bring the House of Lords more into accord with what is termed the spirit of the age, and perhaps we may admit more defensible in its position. We care for it not as an assembly of hereditary magnates, but as a Second Chamber which can give the country time for second thoughts which is the really important thing in the whole of this controversy. As a matter of fact, the professions and the trades are well represented in the House of Lords. The truth is, those who make a success of business in life are generally in the House of Lords. Those who more or less fail come here, and under the new system of payment of Members we shall get a good many more of the failures of society in this House. We shall get the man who, unable to attain success outside, is content with the mediocre salary, and with small opportunities when he comes to this House. The point is that we wish, no doubt, to improve the composition of the Lords in order that we may do exactly what we have asked every one of our Dominions to do, and that is, to set up a really strong revising Chamber, such as the Prime Minister says he wants. Why is it in the case of Australia, in the case of South Africa, and formerly in the case of Canada, we took a special care to set up Second Chambers without any limitation of their powers such as is proposed now, and without their being maimed and emasculated, as we propose the House of Lords should be in the Bill that will be discussed at such length during this Session. The hon. Member for Leicester spoke of his wishing to see a conflict in the Australian Parliament between the two Houses, and he said he thought it was very unlikely that the Lower Chamber would have all the best of it. 1776 He is aware that in Australia not only has a strong Second Chamber been set up on the Federal principle, but that there is an arrangement by which in case of difference of opinion there may be a direct reference to the votes of the people. There is nothing now proposed by the Unionist party which has not been adopted over and over again in the case of our Dominions across the seas. In fact, they, modelling themselves on our House, refuse to accept such a truncated Constitution as we shall have after we have tried to fix it in the manner proposed by this Bill. Representative Government has never been limited in their case merely to the House of Representatives; it has meant both Chambers under the Crown, just as it has meant it here. The worst of it is that when you treat the House of Lords as is proposed under this Bill, when you degrade the Chair by bringing it into party controversy as is also proposed, you will take away from one class of men all real opportunity of public usefulness. The Peers, under the new Constitution, as under the old, will not be allowed to vote in the election of Members to this House; and they will have no decisive voice in legislation, because after two years or three Sessions any measure is to be passed over their heads. I doubt whether you will get men to pay much attention to legislative work under those conditions, and I very much doubt whether those men who have served the State so well in the House of Lords, as by common admission may of them have for so many years, will even take the trouble to come down. If they did do so, and they were to make Amendments and send them up even more frequently than they do now, it is quite certain that their powers would not long be left in the state in which it is now proposed to put them, but they would be still further truncated.
What is the good of imagining that there would be any free discussion in this House which would make up for criticism elsewhere? I venture to state that under the rules which now obtain, although there may be a fair opportunity for discussing a measure the first time it is before us, when it is sent up a second time the guillotine will be applied in a drastic way, and when it comes up for the third time in two years we shall be very lucky if we have even the ordinary time that is necessary according to our formal requirements for the discussion of Bills 1777 in their different stages here. If there were to be a new reality in the Debates of this House, the proposed delay might mean something; but we know very well that it will be practically reduced to nothing. Standing Orders can be suspended again as they have been before. The second and third times a Bill is discussed here only sufficient time will be allotted to go through the mere forms of the House, and practically all discussion will be brought to an end. On the other side of the Lobby the Peers are to be reduced to the condition of those nodding mandarins which used to be sold in the shops; they are to be allowed to keep their gold and scarlet, but they are not to be allowed any decisive voice in the legislation to which they are made parties. I do not pretend that that can continue; nobody does; but anyhow we are going to try this monstrous and absurd experiment. We have not tried it in any colony or dominion for which we have prescribed a legislature. We have given them more or less a model of our own Parliament; but here, amid the laughter of the world, we are going to do away with the Second Chamber. I think there will fee a great many who will say, like the old Scottish Peer. "If this is the new liberty, give me the old tyranny." If there is to be any real compromise, it can only toe on the basis of allowing the Peers in their House a real place in the Constitution. What is offered now is a sham. I hope that if any conference is entered into it will be a real conference—a conference such as has been held before between the two Houses, and which may perhaps lead to a settlement. But I hardly think there is much hope of that, in view of the decisive language of the Prime Minister, and when we seem resolved in this country, with all the traditions of Parliament behind us, to try an experiment in government which wherever it has been attempted has failed; which, while it has almost always been on a small scale, will in our case be done in the greatest world State ever evolved; and which, I venture to think, will bring about consequences that perhaps can be foreseen, but which certainly the country does not realise, and which the tactics of the Government during the last election were deliberately meant to obscure.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
I believe that this day will be noted in the future as one of the most important in the records of the House of Commons, and in the history of the 1778 country. I must join issue with the hon. Member opposite (Mr. H. Lawson) when he says that a verdict in favour of this particular Bill was not given at the last General Election. This question of the Veto of the House of Lords has been before the country, I might almost say, at three successive elections. It certainly was mentioned by Members on this side in their speeches and addresses at the election of 1906; in the election of January, 1910, it was mentioned in a much more acute form; while at the election in December last the actual Bill was before the electors. I do not think there is any other way of ascertaining the will of the electorate on one specific question if that cannot be acknowledged to be a satisfactory one. It is perfectly true that other-questions must come forward at an election, but there can be no doubt that this was the predominant issue. The fact that a Liberal Government has been returned to power at three successive elections is in itself very significent. The Government and the Liberal party go to the country under considerable electoral disadvantages. We are handicapped by the plural voter. Our opponents start with an advantage of nine University seats. I do not want to go into all the electoral disadvantages under which we labour, but I may add that the Government is always the target for everybody with a grievance. Anybody who has a grievance is very likely to vote against the Government. The position of attack is much easier than that of defence. It is therefore all the more surprising and satisfactory that the Government should have been returned to power on three successive occasions. I think that that may be taken as a most emphatic verdict of the electorate in favour of this particular measure.
The Leader of the Opposition stated that the Liberals came in in 1906 determined to pick a quarrel with the House of Lords. I do not think that is a fair way of stating the case. A quarrel with the House of Lords was inevitable. When we came in with the majority that we had in 1906, any student of constitutional history could have seen that matters must come to a head sooner or later. We treat this question too much as if it were merely an academic discussion in regard to the Constitution and the relation of the two Houses of Parliament. It is much more than that. It is the inevitable evolution of our social and Parliamentary system during the last hundred years. As 1779 long as the House of Commons was practically nominated by, and was an adjunct of the other House there was no fear of any difference of opinion arising between them. They represented the same interests and the same class. But as soon as the franchise was extended, as soon as education spread, as soon as the democracy began to feel its feet and also its power, when this House came more in touch with the democratic feeling of the country and therefore became more and more alienated from the Upper House, it was inevitable that there should be contest and friction between them. As time has gone on that has become more and more evident, until at last we find ourselves with a democratic House of Commons, representing as nearly as we can by our electoral system the democratic feeling in the country, having among its Members a much larger proportion of the working and middle classes, and being therefore a Chamber that is more out of sympathy with the representatives of the aristocracy and vested interests. This controversy, I repeat, was inevitable, and its settlement can no longer be delayed. I myself have been impatient for this Bill ever since I came into the House three years ago, and I most heartily congratulate the Government upon having decided to devote the entire Session to it, in order that the question may be brought to an issue and the Bill passed into law before the festivities of the Coronation.
The Leader of the Opposition, in arguing that a Second Chamber was necessary, said it was essential that there should be some safeguard against revolutionary changes, and he pointed to us on this side as those who were likely to be the authors of such changes. I do not believe that in the British character there is any sign of a desire for revolutionary changes. I was reading the other day the impressions of a Japanese artist who came to London, and who, in describing the parties in the country, said:—Let them be Unionists or Liberals, Nationalists or Socialists, all the Britons are so conservative. This is so admirable.I think to a large extent what he says is true. There is no danger of any revolutionary change. There is another sort of danger—a much greater danger to my mind—for a country which, like ours, stands so far forward amongst the civilised nations of the world. That danger is reaction. That is a very grave danger. 1780 We have no check against reaction. I think it would be difficult to devise any check against reaction, but at present the party representing reaction has absolutely free scope, while we who are endeavouring to take some small step in advance are constantly being hindered and checked. The right hon. Gentleman said that his party are all willing that there should be a change in the Constitution of the House of Lords, and a change in the relations between the two Houses. I noticed when he said that that there were no uproarious cheers. It is the first time that I have heard that the party opposite was united on any desire for a change in the relations between the two Houses. It is true that we have had many schemes brought forward for changing the Constitution of the House of Lords, but I have not yet heard one single speech on the Unionist side in favour of an alteration in the relationship between the two Houses. There are some of us who fight a little shy of the preamble of this Bill. I am one of those. But I am perfectly ready, under present circumstances, so anxious am I to see this Bill passed through Parliament, to accept it for the present. We heard a great deal said about the destructive character of any proposal for establishing single-chamber Government. I am not in favour of single-chamber Government, if it were proposed to-day or this year, because this House is not in a fit state to be a single chamber. I am inclined to think, however, that the constitutional development of this country will tend towards a single-chamber system. I cannot understand how Members on this side of the House, considering the experience we have had in this country of a second chamber, can favour a two-chamber system. I am inclined to agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition when he said that an elective Second Chamber would really compete with this House, and would to a large extent try to act as a rival to this House. The idea that a Second Chamber acts as a check on tyranny or the autocratic action of any small number of men, of any Government or Cabinet, I think can hardly be upheld. Let me read to the House an extract from John Stuart Mill. It represents precisely my view on this point:—The main reliance for tempering the ascendency of the majority cannot be placed in a Second Chamber of any kind——1781 Thai is perfectly true:—For my own part I set little value on any check which a Second Chamber can apply to a democracy otherwise unchecked. I am inclined to think that if all other constitutional questions are rightly decided, it is of comparatively little importance whether Parliament consists of two chambers or one. I cannot believe that in a really democratic state of society the House of Lords would be of any practical value as a moderator of democracy.That I believe in essence to be true. I do not believe that the House of Lords, however reformed, is going to be a moderator of democracy. I have seen no scheme of reform which appeals to me. I quite understand that there is a certain amount of prejudice in favour of a Second Chamber, although I think really the belief in it is a superstition. There was not long ago a Paper issued by the Foreign Office dealing with the Second Chambers in other countries. I do not think that anybody could read through that Paper and say that any one of those Second Chambers was of assistance and real value in the particular country referred to. Again, the single Chamber system has never really been tried. It is no good quoting the cases of Greece and Costa Rica. There is absolutely no analogy between these States and our own country. It is no good quoting France, when in moments of crisis she had adopted a single Chamber system for a few months. The establishment of a single Chamber system would need careful thinking out. It would necessitate the reform of this House. It would need not only electoral reform, but franchise reform. Most essential of all, it would need a reform of the procedure of this House in order that the two weapons which are used now by the two sides of the House—obstruction on the one side and on the other the closure and the guillotine—the one has been constructed to defeat the other—should be attended to. As time goes on we shall find it seriously necessary to deal with this question. These weapons will have to be taken out of the hands of the Government and the Opposition, and the time of the House will have to be differently disposed of, either by a business Committee—I have always been in favour of that—or other means. There will be no question of curtailing the Debates and there will be no question of obstruction. I do not think that that is an impossible ideal for this House. I believe that any Government Which undertoook the reform of this House on these lines, combined with electoral reform and franchise reform, would be doing 1782 a far more useful and necessary task than in devising some scheme for setting up an entirely new Second Chamber. As the matter stands, and as I fully realise, there is still a prejudice throughout the country in favour of a bi-cameral system, and I am perfectly prepared to assist in any humble way I can, by vote or otherwise, in trying to reform the Second Chamber. Therefore I am perfectly content to vote for the preamble of this Bill whenever it comes before the House detached from other parts. In the meantime I should like to say that I congratulate the Government for having taken up a really strong attitude on this question. I should feel inclined to say that if time is needed the Government should take private Members' days, even after Easter, so urgent do I believe this question to be, so important, so overshadowing all other questions. It is the key to all other questions. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that it was Home Rule that the Irish Members were thinking about. That is perfectly true. What were Scottish Members thinking about? The Scottish Land Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "Scottish Home Rule."] English Members were also thinking of the Bills which have been rejected during the last five years. Welsh Members were thinking of Welsh Disestablishment. We all know that it is only through this door that we can realise each particular ideal. Therefore, although our desires may be divergent—because we all come from different parts of the country—we are united on this Bill as the only means for obtaining our end
§ Mr. NORMAN CRAIG
Believing, as I do, that the policy embodied in this Bill is as perilous as the results of it, should it become law, are likely to be disastrous, perhaps I may be allowed to offer a few criticisms upon it. To adapt the language of the Prime Minister, the Bill is a miraculous adaptation of means to end—certainly not in the sense which he used his words, but in the sense which I understand those words to mean. The danger in this Bill and the form in which it is presented; the attitude of the Government upon this measure, are all indicative of a great crisis in our affairs, namely, that the group system and log rolling as part of a considered policy has come to stay. Reference was made by the Prime Minister to our comment upon the manner in which this programme is presented. We comment and criticise the fact that reform is put back, that reform is not outlined, that no indications 1783 is offered of the nature of the reform, or when that reform will come. If we criticise the point as to whether or not the preamble of the Bill should continue to form part of the Bill we are told that we are criticising the personal and political honour of every Member that sits on the opposite side. In any of my criticisms I do not attack the personal honour of anybody who disagrees from me in any matter of reform. I want to call attention to two or three of what I regard as inherent, ineradicable evils presented by this Bill. Reference has been made by several hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to the principles of the preamble. We have gone a long time now since that preamble was drafted. We know nothing of what the attitude of the Government towards reform may be. Inquiry elicits nothing as to when it will put forward, or what will be its character. If the Government is as sincere as it professes to be in the intention of having ultimately a bi-cameral system, and an effective Second Chamber, why do not the Government let us know what the nature of their reform is? Meanwhile the present Second Chamber, which has been good enough to last for centuries is not good enough to last for months while the Government make up their minds upon the question. We are to be left with an interregnum in which we shall have no effective Second Chamber at all, and I think I can point to the reason and prove why this interregnum is to take place. It is because of the very grave fact so apparent in political life to-day, that the Government is existing as a Government supported by groups. Now this Bill is to be run through by gagging this House, for the emasculation of the other. For each one faction that supports the Government a particular measure is proposed, and when everybody is satisfied, you get once again a coherent and homogeneous majority, and perhaps you may again consider the Constitution of some importance in this country. This reform is to pass, and this measure is to go through to ascertain what? In the cant phrase we hear from the other side, "the will of the people," hon. Members believe that they embody the will of the people. Let me remind them that the will of the people publicly known is a mutable thing, while they are constant and petrified in their political beliefs as I am in mine. Are they not fixed in their political convictions? Do they go and look to every current of political favour of this policy or 1784 of that? What happens when someone changes his political opinions? He crosses the floor from one side to another, and there are cheers and counter-cheers of welcome for the penitent and derision for the fallen saint; yet hon. Gentlemen opposite think that from day to day, and month to month, and Session to Session, they are going to perpetually adapt themselves to the changing and evanescent will of the people wavering from side to side. You never do anything of the kind. You never are in real touch with the will of the people, and when you come back, after the elections, you do not come back as representing any great programme, but you represent a policy as the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) rightly said of a number of different pledges. Let me remind hon. Gentlemen, if they did truly reflect the will of the people, that a General Election would never produce a change of Government. If you go on reflecting the will of the people, and if you are divinely inspired, as you believe yourselves to be, you would always feel yourself right when going to the people as much as when coming away, and you would always know the policy of the people and the policy to adopt, and you would always remain in power. So much for your profession as regards the will of the people. You say that this measure is necessary because you have your mandate to pass it: how many mandates have you got?
Everyone has got a different mandate, according to the part of the country he comes from, yet you all sit together and say, "Your mandate is my mandate, and my mandate is your mandate"—an assemblage of mandates for the purpose of maintaining power and passing legislation to be used so you each may attain his desire. You have a mandate for this Bill, and it is the only one for which you have a mandate on a straight issue and on a straight line. You say you have mandates for Home Rule and for Welsh Disestablishment; that you have got mandates for the payment of M.P.s, for the reversal of the Osborne Judgment; that you have got a mandate for insurance against invalidity; that you have got a mandate for insurance against unemployment; that you have got a mandate for shop hours and things of that sort. Did every man who voted for every hon. Member opposite vote for the whole of that lot of measures? And, if not, how are you going to disentangle them and find out for what you have a mandate and for what you have not?
1785 This Bill is nothing more than the Magna Charta of the Log-roller. It is introduced by no sense of right, it is introduced for the express purpose of getting rid of one obstacle to the different views that the Government entertain. The Government of the day is no more than this. It is an aggregation of hetrogeneous atoms held together by nothing more than the hope in every atom that at some convenient time threat of secession will compel concession. The Prime Minister is quite right in referring to a majority accidental in its composition. It is Government by groups once condemned by Mr. Gladstone and by the Prime Minister himself in the days before it began. Now we see it in full operation under his personal supervision and patronage.
The truth is the Prime Minister is engaged in an experiment of political aviation. The Government of the day is propelled by its wings. It has got two official wings—the Labour wing and the Nationalist wing. I am not in the secrets of the Prime Minister, and I do not know which he regards as the better. I do not know whether what is true of gastronomic science is true also of political science, but it is true, jesting apart, that the Government of the day is propelled by its wings, and, in addition to the two official wings, there are several rudimentary wings sprouting out in different parts of the House. You have all these different people making different demands, but all supporting the Government for different reasons. They all hope for the passing of this Bill and through it they combine for their different political reasons. You have the extreme Gentlemen below the Gangway on the other side, existing already in embryo fresh parties themselves. You have hon. Members who affect Socialistic principles and who take as their motto that which is attributed rightly or wrongly to the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, "we want the lot"; and it is a most unfortunate thing that the lot includes the Prime Minister. You have another group below the gangway on this side, who are very frank in their profession that they care for nothing that affects any country but their own, and they say perfectly honestly that they will barter their votes to the Government if the Government will barter their consciences with them; they will support the Government if the Government will give them Home Rule, which many Members supporting the Government desire not to see. And you have another faction, the 1786 Labour party; they have their own views and prejudices; they want to see the payment of Members and the reversal of the Osborne Judgment. And all these things are to be made possible by the passing of this measure. I see that in the last few weeks another faction has sprung into being. We have now got a Welsh Parliamentary party, with a distinguished gentleman as its Chairman. Possibly as the red dragon of Wales was excluded from the Royal Arms, it has taken refuge in the arms of the Prime Minister.
That is the Constitution of this House, that is how this Bill has been projected, and that is why it is here. What is the reason? Not because the other Chamber has proved any permanent obstacle to any real or necessary reform, but because the other place is an obstacle to Home Rule. It has declared in its official capacity against the Osborne Judgment, and it is not likely that in its legislative capacity it would reverse the decision which is demanded by the Labour Party. The other place presumably cannot be counted on to support any measure of Welsh Disestablishment. So the coherent and homogeneous majority hangs together for the purpose of passing this Bill, not because it is a good Bill, but because they desire to get rid of an obstacle. The Government are allowing this Bill to go through, not because it is a good Bill, not because they do not in their heart of hearts, if they had the courage to say it, desire to reform the Second Chamber, but because under the pernicious system of Government by groups they dare not introduce any scheme of reform. Well, it may be good Parliamentary tactics. In my opinion it is very bad for the political condition of this country. Here is a responsible Government saying, "We introduced this preamble and we want reform; but we find that our various sections who support us will not let us do that, so abolish the preamble and perpetuate Party groups." That is a lamentable state of affairs for a responsible Government. The Reform is relegated to some lifeless limbo for the sake of maintaining and avoiding domestic differences in the modern House of Parliament. That is the position. To my mind, this question of Government by groups underlies the whole of this measure, even when these different groups cohere sufficiently to be led. You force the country which will learn and understand that what is described to them as liberty for the people is in truth licence for the Cabinet.
§ Mr. EDGAR JONES
With a good deal of torrent of accusations which have fallen from the hon. Member who has just sat down against the Government and its so-called groups, I am perfectly in agreement. I have the honour and privilege of belonging to what he described as one of the most recent groups, consisting of the bulk of the Members for Wales, and I say quite frankly, that the Welsh people and I think the Irish and the Scotch people are united upon this measure of the Prime Minister's for a purpose. We are not going to reform the House of Lords for the sake of attempting, with the curiosity of a little child, to see the wheels go round. We are reforming the House of Lords—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."]—we are dealing with the House of Lords—I will tackle the Reform question in a minute—in order to get what we have failed absolutely to get, so far—not after one or two years and not after a spasmodic election or an accidental result of the transitory appeal to the people. We want to get things in Wales that the people in the mass have over and over again, without a single exception, declared for, and that we cannot get simply because the House of Lords has power unrepresentative and uncontrolled, and is constantly and unscrupulously exercising it up to the present time. Ireland, I take it, is in a similar position, and I see nothing in the taunt so frequently made that the Irish people do not care anything about England, and that all they want is to get the things they desire for themselves. Do hon. Members who use that argument not see that it recoils upon themselves? Ireland would not be asking for those things to-day but for the fact that England has in the past been treating Ireland from its own selfish point of view. In Wales we are also fighting for our hand just as England has long been fighting for hers. It appears very strange to me that hon. Members, after two elections, should be found quibbling about the plain issue. The Irish people want Home Rule; the Welsh people desire to have Disestablishment; the Scotch people want other measures; and the great mass of the working classes in England, represented by the Labour party, want social measures. For those reasons the various sections in this House are endeavouring to settle this question with the Lords.
Surely it is obvious that there was nothing else for us to do. Anyone who looks at the relation of the House of Commons with the House of Lords from the 1788 year 1906 to the present time will find a remarkable illustration of what the British Constitution has been reduced to. We have heard a good deal about the British Constitution, but I would like to ask if it has ever occurred to hon. Members opposite how ridiculous it became in its working arrangements a few years ago. It has been used as an argument that the House of Lords passed no less than 180 measures sent from the House of Commons, and they say, "Why grumble at the Lords because they threw out a few measures?" It is because they are divided into three classes, or rather because they regard all measures as divisible into three classes that we object to the present system. At present everything depends upon which label the Leader of the Opposition puts upon our measures. The Government of 1906 passed a measure providing popular control over the money spent upon education in this country. That question was before the country in 1906, and a great majority was returned in favour of popular control being established over public money spent upon education. The Education Bill was sent up to the House of Lords, with the result which is known to all of us. It was thrown out because the Leader of the Opposition simply gave an indication to the other place what it was to do. The Liberal Government laboured day and night over the Education Bill, and hon. Members talked an endless number of columns of Hansard; but it did not matter. The fact that the electors had declared themselves in favour of that measure mattered nothing at all, for the Leader of the Opposition remained absolute dictator as to the fate of that Bill. Upon such measures as the Trades Disputes Bill, the Old Age Pensions Bill and the Miners Eight Hours Bill the Leader of the Opposition placed a label "Fragile, and must be handled with care," and the House of Lords promptly obeyed. The Marquis of Lansdowne said:—That the Trades Disputes Bill was going to ruin trade, cause bodily harm to individuals, and mental anguish to the nation at large,Nevertheless the Lords passed that Bill. Did it ever occur to hon. Members opposite to ask why on earth the House of Lords passed a measure which Lord Lansdowne said would have such awful consequences? Surely such consequences are things over which the House of Lords should exercise its function as a Second Chamber. Then again, when the Old Age Pensions Bill was passing through the Upper House, it was said that it would "sap the independence of the race." 1789 Much the same thing happened in regard to the Miners Eight Hours Bill. Why did they pass those measures? They did not care if such legislation ruined trade and "sapped the independence of the race" so long as they did not touch property in which the Lords were interested. Under those conditions they allowed measures to go through. The Education Bill and the Licensing Bill, however, came within another class. In order to pass the Education Bill you had to deal with certain properties in which the members of the House of Lords had a vested interest. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, if the peers had not a direct personal vested interest at least they represented members of their family who had a vested interest. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] Members of the House of Lords boasted of the money they gave to put up schools. That has been the difficulty. That is why Ireland, Wales and Scotland are absolutely solid in demanding that this question should be treated in a different way. So long as the present House of Lords is there in its present form, you will not get any measures of reform, housing, or anything else that touches property, or any type of vested interest. Let your education be haphazard, let the drink evil continue, what does it matter to the Lords? If you deal with property in which they are interested they block the way, and they have always done so. It was the same with Disestablishment. We know if there is any property to be handled the House of Lords will simply throw out the measure. Frankly, I admit that we require the removal of the Veto of the House of Lords in order that we may get our measures passed into law. After making that perfectly frank statement, I wish to say that the bulk of the people of Wales believe in Single-Chamber Government. I do not think for a moment there would be much difficulty in getting the great mass of the electorate to agree to the principle of Single-Chamber Government. We are not afraid of the Empire going to ruin because we know full well what the House of Lords has done for the Empire. Personally, I am strongly of opinion that we could get along very well with Single-Chamber Government. Nevertheless, I am glad the Prime Minister and his Cabinet have put that preamble to the Bill as a declaration of their intentions. I would not mind personally if the preamble were removed for present purposes, merely as a matter of Parliamentary tactics, in order to deprive hon. Gentlemen opposite 1790 of some of the obstructive methods which they will be able to resort to later on. All the same, that preamble is very important to me as a person who believes in Single-Chamber Government, and as one who desires to see the House of Lords as such moved out of the way. I wish to point out that if you remove the present House of Lords and put nothing in their place, leaving the benches vacant, they may come back again some day or other. This has happened once in our history centuries ago, and it is because I do not want to commit the same mistake again that I wish to make certain that the present Lords will be gone for ever by putting somebody else in their place so that they cannot come back any more. I hope the Government will frame their Bill for a popularly elected Chamber later on and submit it to the electorate, so that we can fight the matter out. [An HON. MEMBER: "When?"] At the next election, when we have carried out our great programme of reform. When a scheme for a popularly elected Second Chamber has been drawn up, I trust there will be no tampering with the machinery of the Parliament Bill, and I hope the reformed Second Chamber will possess nothing more than a suspensory veto. The reason I will give for that may appear somewhat strange, but I was very pleased to find the Leader of the Opposition appeared more or less to associate himself with the same point of view. I think it is perfectly fallacious to argue-that under the suspensory veto, such as is proposed in this Bill, the Second Chamber will necessarily be an ineffective body. I think it will be just the other way. I believe the Second Chamber under those circumstances would be a more powerful body in real influence and power than the present House of Lords has been or can possibly be.
Does it ever occur to hon. Members to consider the parallel of what has happened to the monarch or the Crown in the past? You might argue about the Sovereign in the same way as people have been arguing about the House of Lords. Lord Rosebery, when speaking in support of his own scheme, and criticising the proposals of the Prime Minister, said:—What self-respecting man, having regard to his own dignity, would take the trouble to serve in a House of that kind that has only a suspensary veto and therefore no real power?The Noble Lord could have said the same thing of the Sovereign years ago. As the powers of the Crown have frittered away 1791 we might have asked what self-respecting man would care to sit upon the Throne of England under such lack of powers. What has happened? Everybody now admits that, as you remove the Crown from the sphere of responsibility and criticism, and from complicity in making legislation, so in proportion, bit by bit, has the respect, the dignity, the power, and the real influence of the Crown been increased. I can conceive of the same thing happening in regard to a reformed Second Chamber established upon a popular basis. Up to the time of Pitt the House of Commons was more in the position of petitioning, protesting, and proclaiming, and was not so much devoted to associating itself with turning out the details of legislation. In the days of Pitt the Members of the Government were mainly in the House of Lords, and those were the days when we had the speeches of Burke, Fox, Canning, and other great statesmen, as compared with the slipshod sort of talk that the House of Commons engages in to-day. To-day every Member of the House of Commons is directly responsible to his constituency, and we have to be directly responsible for the details of legislation and the framework of measures. Hardly any of us can assume the rôle of the prophet. I know the Noble Lord who represents the University of Oxford does occasionally assume that rôle, but he does it because he is the Member for the University of Oxford. I do not think any man of any party who ventures to assume that rôle, and to simply proclaim the idea and not the acceptation of it, will very long be a prophet either here or anywhere else in public life. I can, therefore, see the possibility of having over the way the same development of influence as has occurred in the case of the Crown. You will have there a body of men selected on a broad elective basis, and why should not that body of men, having been removed from the sphere of direct responsibility and direct complicity in the details here and being freed from criticisms of their action as applied to those details, as in the case of the Crown, gradually get in the eyes of the country and to the ear of the country a greater and a more real influence when they suspend a measure and declare their protestation than could possibly be the case with a Second Chamber involved with us in a bicameral system, with equal responsibilities 1792 for all the details and liable to an equal share of all criticism. There may yet come a day when the hon. Member for the University of Oxford may get out of the damp well and mustiness of the House of Commons, where he has to utter his prophetic utterances on questions of horse-breeding, and when we may lift him, as we did another Jeremiah who was familiar for his prophetic declarations up into another place where, with that wonderful power which belongs to him, I am sure he will make for himself still a great sphere of influence that will be of great good to the academic discussions of the affairs of the country.
I am very much amused at one particular criticism that I have heard in the country. It is said this question of the House of Lords is a serious thing for the British Empire. If there is anything ridiculous it is that statement. I know it is a serious thing for all reforms that affect property or vested interests in this country. That is why people from Wales and elsewhere are anxious to get something done. But so far as the Empire is concerned, the joke of the whole business is that the House of Lords has not been allowed to touch the Empire at all. In all the wars, in all the struggles, in all the settlements of peace, and in all the councils in the Constitution there was no need at all to consult them. We have heard a great deal lately a propos of this the creation of the Constitution in South Africa. I very much doubt whether the British Empire would have ever existed if they had had their share and could have carried out their designs in the years that are gone in cases which must be notorious to everybody here who has read history. We, in Wales, may be people with a very highly coloured imagination, but we are fairly farsighted all the same, and we have seen that what the House of Lords has been doing for the British Empire by retarding all legislation that affects all vested interests or property has been to drive our men from Wales to Canada, Australia, and anywhere they could get free land. If you want the character of those people, ask the descendants of the people who were evicted from Wales years ago.
We are this year celebrating the great Coronation, and I have heard it said that it is a very undesirable thing that we should be engaged in this controversy while our sons and daughters and cousins from over the seas are here. I think, on 1793 the contrary, it is the most opportune time, because the very fact that we are doing it will reveal to those people that we are carrying out the advice given us to "wake up England." I think they will realise that there is hope at last of the old Mother Country beginning to get rid of things that they blush for shame to observe. I can quite imagine several of the Noble Lords who have been blocking the way in the interests of property and vested interests, and perhaps one very distinguished Noble Lord in particular, taking a few Colonials round to see the cities of England, and perhaps the countryside. He will, I know, endeavour to pilot them so astutely that they shall not see the back streets, but simply the main thoroughfares, because he will know, if the eye of the Canadian were to see the slums, it would drop with disappointment, and there would be a good deal of disillusion as to the Old Country. He knows, too, that, if the Australian were to see our emaciated people in the back streets of our cities, he would not probably walk so proudly as in the first days of his visit, and in the full consciousness of being in the Home Land. So the South African, if he happened to see all the mischief, evil, and squalor that are here, would suddenly discover that the Old Country has been living like a miserable miser hoarding her wealth in a few corners and surrounded by poverty and squalor of which, I am sure, hon. Members opposite are genuinely ashamed. All we want is to push on, and I hope the Prime Minister will not stand upon ceremony or miserable detail. In principle this thing has been settled by the country. Plain men outside do not wear velvet gloves, as some of us do here. They want to push right through with the whole thing, so that there may be a hope that some day, let us trust in the Jubilee of His present Majesty, the Colonials may come again on a similar occasion, and that then this Noble Lord will not be glad merely to take his distinguished visitors to see the homes of the mighty and the palaces of the few, but will be quite as proud to take them into the hinterland and to show them our common people dwelling under conditions worthy of a proud Imperial people with a great Imperial responsibility to fill.
§ Sir ROBERT FINLAY
The simple constitutional plea of the hon. Member who has just spoken seems to be that the House of Lords, and the House of Lords alone, is responsible for all the evil under which we suffer to-day; but I think that portion of 1794 his speech to which I probably listened with the greatest interest was when he gave us his view with regard to that preamble, which I venture to think will go down to history as one of the noteworthy parts of this measure. He says, "Reform the Constitution of the House of Lords." Of course, we intend to reform the Constitution of the House of Lords, but not until we have passed all those measures in which we are more particularly concerned. Is that the manner in which a great constitutional question should be approached? Is that the sort of measure which in this year we had a right to expect from His Majesty's Government? The hon. Member referred to the fact that we shall shortly have among us many from His Majesty's Dominions beyond the sea. He said he was glad that they should look on at this struggle. I should have been much more glad if they could have looked on at our arriving at a peaceful and constitutional solution of this controversy. I trust this Bill at this and at every other stage in this House will receive the most uncompromising opposition from those who sit upon this side of the House. I believe this to be a toad measure. I believe that when all reasonable and moderate men are thinking that these constitutional difficulties ought to be settled by arrangement and by compromise, His Majesty's Government have most unfortunately introduced a measure which is such as to render all compromise and all settlement impossible. I shall give my reasons for thinking it a bad measure, but does anybody suppose this measure can settle this controversy? Does anyone suppose that the electors of the country opposed to this policy—almost as numerous as those who voted for the Government—will, if the turn of the wheel comes round, ever allow such a measure as this to remain upon the Statute Book? It is a measure which deals with only one portion of a very large subject, and it deals with it in a way which is calculated to exclude the possibility of all settlement. On the very face of the measure, it is one of a temporary and a makeshift character. When it comes into force we are to have carried those measures of so-called reform of which we have heard so much from the hon. Member who has just spoken. We are to have these measures carried in the interregnum before any attempt is made, if that attempt is ever made, to settle the problem of the Second Chamber on a sound and endurable basis. The proposal contained in this Bill is in its nature merely destructive. Under 1795 our present Constitution we have enjoyed a certain security against any legislation on vital matters which does not embody the permanent will of the people of this country. In the House of Lords we have had an Assembly strong enough to resist the House of Commons until it was clear that it represented the will of the country, but not strong enough to set itself up against the will of the country when that will had been sufficiently declared. You propose to destroy that security, and you do not propose to put anything in its place. The hon. Member, whose views are typical of many of the supporters of this Bill, developed the very comforting theory that the more power you take away from any institution the more powerful it becomes. I do not believe the House of Lords could by any possibility be more powerful for good under this Bill than it is at present. The Bill might interfere with the activities of the House in sending Amendments down to the House of Commons. It most certainly would not preserve—on the contrary, it would destroy—that most valuable feature of the House of Lords, that it gives us security, that the people shall be consulted before any irretrievable step is taken. No compromise is possible on a Bill such as this. It is a measure of a violent and revolutionary type, and if it is carried into law it will be carried only by methods of violence.
I desire very shortly to submit to the House my reasons for regarding this Bill in an unfavourable light. In the first place I say the Bill sets up what is virtually Single-Chamber Government. In the second place, in its working, it will degrade the House of Commons, in the interests of which it is supposed to have been framed; and, in the third place, it will take away from the electors of this country that control which the play of our present institutions secures over fundamental changes in the laws of the country. Will not this Bill establish what is virtually Single-Chamber Government? When the Bill becomes law the powers of the House of Lords will be restricted to rejecting a Bill in two Sessions. In the third Session they will be powerless, and it can be passed into law as the House of Commons wills it, over their heads, and in spite of their protests. Hon. Members opposite cheer that, but do you call it preserving the powers of the Second Chamber for ensuring that the people shall be consulted before their interests are vitally affected? What is a measure of that kind but Single-Chamber 1796 Government? If anything it is worse than Single-Chamber Government undisguised, and I would much rather have no Second Chamber than one inefficient and sham. The country would not then be deluded with the idea that it had some security in the existence of the House of Lords. It would be face to face with the reality that it was governed by the will of a Single Chamber, which is a conclusion some hon. Members most ardently desire, and one which they will achieve in substance when this Bill becomes law, if it ever does. We do not want a mere simulacrum Second Chamber. We want a Second Chamber which will be effective. I would much rather have no House of Lords at all than have that semblance of a Second Chamber which this Bill will give. Under this Bill all life would have departed from the House of Lords. What would be the use of debating, discussing, and elaborating amendments to measures when you knew it was all in vain—when you knew however you had exposed the mischiefs of the system which it was proposed to introduce, and however much you might be persuaded that the opinion of the country, if the country could be consulted, was with the House of Lords, yet you were aware that in the third Session the Bill would be relentlessly passed into law over the heads of the Second Chamber. The opinion of the civilised world is unanimous as to the necessity for a strong effective Second Chamber. Go to any of the great countries of Europe, go to the great Republic across the Atlantic, go to our Dominions beyond the seas, and you will find that everywhere the necessity of a Second Chamber has been recognised, and in many cases the Second Chamber which those countries possess has been modelled on that institution, the advantage of which we have so long enjoyed in this country. I do not speak of the composition of the Chamber, I speak of the powers of the Chamber. You object to the constitution, but that is precisely what you do not intend to touch, until some distant period, and you intend to utilise the interval for passing measures which you know you would have but a vague chance of carrying if there was any possibility of the people being consulted about it.
One does not need to go to foreign countries, or to our kinsmen across the Atlantic, or to our Dominions beyond the seas, to find the necessity for a strong effective Second Chamber admitted. You find it admitted on the face of this Bill. 1797 It is written in the Preamble of the Bill, which tells us that it is to be followed by another measure governing the relations between the two Houses, when a reform of the constitution of the House of Lords has been effected by this Government. You plead for delay in introducing a measure of reform in the constitution of the House of Lords, but in the meantime you set up a Single-Chamber Government, and you propose to utilise the interval when there is no effective Second Chamber for passing into law measures which will most vitally affect the whole kingdom and the future of this country. I confess I am extremely sceptical as to this Government ever undertaking any measure dealing with the constitution of the Lords. I strongly suspect that the Preamble will be found to have done its work in reconciling possibly some Members of the Government to the course that has been decided upon, under the pressure of Parliamentary exigencies, and in reconciling some timid voters some moderate Liberals who gave their support to the Government at the last election. Even if the Government were animated by the most sincere desire to bring forward their scheme for the reconstitution of the House of Lords, I do not believe the great body of their followers would allow them to do so, and if anyone in the House or in the country is persuaded into supporting this Bill, in view of these vague promises and vague prospects, I believe they will find that it is a complete delusion; they will find that this measure, once passed into law, will have come to stay, until in due time it is repealed by a Unionist Administration.
I have another objection to this measure. It would not only destroy an effective Second Chamber, but it would also, in its working, degrade the House of Commons. What is the scope of this measure? In order that a Bill may be passed into law in the third Session, over the heads of the House of Lords, it must be the same Bill which passed through the House of Commons in each of the two previous Sessions. There are certainly exceptions, such as changes necessitated by lapse of time, or the acceptance of Amendments, but these are not worth referring to. With these exceptions, the Bill must be the same in each of the three Sessions, in order that the machinery of this Bill may work, so that the measure may be sent up to receive the Royal Assent, although it has been three times rejected by the House of Lords. I would ask hon. Members opposite, 1798 as well as those with whom I am politically associated to consider what, under this Bill, would happen in the second and third session, in which such a measure was in progress, in order that in the third Session it might be sent up for the Royal Assent. In the first Session the Bill would be fairly discussed, but the discussion would be helped by the use of the closure and the guillotine from time to time in the manner with which we are now familiar. Still there would be some pretence of discussion in the first Session. What would happen in the second and third Sessions? If any Amendment were made in the Bill during either of those Sessions it would be necessary to begin again, and if any man got up to say that he had realised that mistakes had been made—mistakes of great gravity—in the framing of the Bill he would be met with the answer that the Government had staked its fortunes on carrying the Bill unaltered through the three Sessions. In the second and third Sessions consequently the House of Commons would be reduced to a mere machine for mechanically registering what had been passed by the aid of the gag and the guillotine in the first Session when the Bill was introduced. Surely it would be a deplorable state of things that however clear the necessity of some Amendment was the House of Commons should be precluded from making that Amendment. What would happen under this Bill, if it is to have no alteration at all? Suppose that the country were deeply divided as to the principle of the Bill, and many thought that it was so vicious that no Amendment could make it good. Even if those who had supported the Bill realised that it had been drafted in a way which made it clearly impossible to amend it in form or substance, no effect could be given to convictions of that kind, however widespread. Although such views might be entertained by supporters of the Government, they would be told, "You must not press the Amendment, because the Bill would then no longer be the same Bill as it was before." To all such appeals, therefore, the Government would remain deaf, and under such conditions a Debate in the House of Commons, on such a measure, in the second and third Sessions, would become a mere farce. Would not a measure of this kind, introduced in the supposed interests of the House of Commons be degrading to the character of that Assembly? This point has been touched upon in one provision of this Bill, which I think is the most remarkable that has appeared in any measure passed by 1799 any Government. Hon. Members will find there is a proviso in the second section of the Bill to the effect that the House of Commons may, if it thinks fit, suggest for consideration by the House of Lords Amendments which the House of Commons feels to be desirable. I hope the House of Lords and the country will realise that this Bill is vicious in principle. For the House of Commons to suggest the Amendment shows that they think that the measure is substantially wrong in point of form and contains errors in matters of substance, but the House of Commons cannot amend the Bill. It cannot send it up as an amended Bill to the House of Lords. It can only suggest for the consideration of the House of Lords Amendments which set right the mistakes which the House of Commons confesses it committed in the first instance. Then what is to happen? The House of Lords, backed it may be by the opinion of the country—for the opinion of the country can never be taken—the House of Lords thinks that the Bill is so vicious in principle that it ought to be rejected. What passes into law? Not the Bill with the suggested Amendment, but the Bill with all its sins upon its head, as it passed through this House in the first Session. The result is that under the machinery of this Bill you pass into law a measure which both Houses have condemned. The House of Lords has condemned it in principle; the House of Commons has recognised that it contains substantial defects in its structure which ought to have been set right. Is not this the very height of unreason? And yet it is what the Government have been driven to by endeavouring to frame a measure for over-riding the Second Chamber on lines which are so vicious that they do not admit of being carried out to any rational conclusion. I would ask every Member of the House of Commons who values its dignity and efficiency whether, by passing such a Bill containing such a clause as this, he is not only putting the House of Commons in a false position but in a predicament which will be absolutely ridiculous. The House of Commons will be unable to amend the Bill without undoing the work of the first and second Sessions and then doing work for the consideration of the Lords in regard to Amendments, and then the House of Lords, thinking the principle of the Bill bad, do not pass it, and the Bill has then to be passed in a form which both Houses have condemned.
1800 There is another provision of this Bill which I was very sorry to hear from the Prime Minister is again to be introduced in this Parliament, and it is that, which would throw upon the Speaker of the House of Commons the duty of deciding finally and conclusively, and without appeal to any court of law, questions of the utmost delicacy and difficulty—questions of opinion on which views were widely divergent, upon which acute controversy has raged and political feeling runs high on both sides of the House. That is not a subject which I desire to enlarge upon, although I feel strongly upon it. I say that such a position as that in the long run is bound to have disastrous effects. Upon those effects I will not dwell, but I do say this, that the fact that a measure should have been introduced by a Government containing such a proposal as that shows that it has been framed, not only in disregard of sound, constitutional principles, but in disregard of some of the most valued traditions of this House. My third reason for objecting to this Bill, as a bad one, is that it would not only be destructive of the efficiency of the Second Chamber and prejudicial to the working of the House of Commons, but that it is a Bill which is intended to have the effect of depriving the electors of this country of a control which under our Constitution, we have hitherto enjoyed by way of appeal to them in cases of great gravity, on which the opinion of the country has not been sufficiently expressed. We have in this country no written Constitution. We have no such provisions as those which exist in many other countries, where there are many other safeguards which fence round any vital changes to be made in the institutions of the country. Parliament in this country is omnipotent, and may make any change however vital. If the whole power of Parliament were confided, as it would be under this measure, to the House of Commons, there is no change in our institutions which the House of Commons could not make, although the measure affected the institution of the Crown, the dis-establishment of the Church, or was intended to alter the provisions of this Bill itself, and to reduce the three Sessions to one Session. That change might be made at the will and pleasure of the House of Commons for the time being. You will only have the period prescribed by the Act, and as soon as that has elapsed that measure might be passed into law, and you 1801 might find yourselves without the security of the second and third Sessions of which we have heard so much as insuring that a measure will be freely discussed and ventilated in the country. You would find yourselves with that security cut away absolutely, and I should not be at all surprised if such a proposal were made at a very early date for I think there would be in all parts of the House a very general feeling that the discussion and the passage of a Bill through this House in the second and third sessions was an empty formality because the House would enter upon that discussion with its hands tied. This is not a mere academic question.
What is the first use which is intended to be made of this measure? Why, it is to pass a measure of Home Rule for Ireland in this Parliament. It is only on the terms of doing that, that the Government have secured the support of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) and his followers in this House, and if the Government retreat from that, the whole political situation would be in a moment altered. What was it that the hon. and learned Member for Waterford said? He said, that the obstacle to the passage of Home Rule was the House of Lords. The hon. Member did not, of course, mean that the House of Lords could prevent Home Rule passing if the country had made up its mind in favour of Home Rule for Ireland. All that the House of Lords can do is to ensure that before Home Rule passes into law the people shall be consulted upon the matter. The House of Lords has never claimed any right to resist the settled will of the people of this country. Any such claim would be idle. It has never been made, and if it were made it would be brushed aside by the country. But the object is, that the first use which is to be made of this measure is to pass Home Rule into law, behind the backs of the electors of this country. Twice have the electors of this country pronounced on the subject of Home Rule. In the year 1886, and in the year 1895, and on each occasion their verdict was most decisively against it. May I recall to the memory of the House what was said by the present Prime Minister speaking a very few months before the General Election of 1895 on this subject of the relations of the two Houses of Parliament? It was at Newcastle on the 31st January, 1895, and in the course of that speech he discussed the uses of the Second Chamber and said he was the last to deny that there were 1802 advantages in its existence. Then he went on to particularise and alluded to revision, checking hasty measures, and so forth. Then followed the passage to which I call the particular attention of hon. Members, especially on the other side of the House, in which the right hon. Gentleman referred to those powers which the Chamber possessed, in addition to Revision, which in case of extreme need would refer back to the people for consideration, measures which the people could not be supposed deliberately to have approved.
At the election which followed in the summer of that year, the people did express their opinion on that measure which the House of Lords had referred back to the people for consideration, and their verdict was decisive that the House of Lords had been right and the House of Commons utterly wrong when in 1893 it passed a measure of Home Rule for Ireland. What is it that has effected this sinister change in the views of the Prime Minister upon this most important topic? Why is it that he has introduced a measure which is intended to have the effect of taking away from the House of Lords the power of referring any such measure back to the people for consideration? No one can pretend that at the last General Election the question of Home Rule was brought before the people of this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] Hon. Members on this side of the House did their utmost to make the electors realise that that question was involved in the controversy, but what did hon. Members who cry "Oh," do? Something had to be said about Home Rule for obvious reasons, but there was a most extraordinary economy, and not more was said in that respect than for political reasons was absolutely essential. As little as possible was said on the subject before English and Scotch Constituencies, and every art was exerted to that end.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Churchill)
It is quite untrue.
§ Sir R. FINLAY
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon, it is absolutely true. He said as much as he was compelled to say to secure the Irish support, but he did not say enough to frighten the Scotch electors.
§ Sir R. FINLAY
All I can say is that I carefully followed what was said on this subject by the supporters of the Government, and that the impression left on my mind was that they and their followers were careful to say just as little as they felt they must say, and most carefully avoided giving the electors of England or Scotland the impression that that was a matter vitally involved in the election. They preferred to direct attention to any other subject—the dear loaf, the iniquities of hereditary principle, any topic was better than that one on which they knew the English and Scotch electors were justly sensitive, and on which they feared that if it were recognised as a real, living, vital issue they would lose a vast measure of support. There is no one experienced in the conduct of the last election on the Liberal side who would not tell the Home Secretary that if they had pressed forward Home Rule the results of the election in England and in Scotland would have told a very different tale. They were wise in their generation, but they cannot have it both ways. If Home Rule had been presented for the verdict of the country, as Mr. Gladstone had the courage to present it the result would have been of the same nature as it was on the previous occasion on which the electors had an opportunity of pronouncing upon the subject. It is because you know that that you propose to use the machinery of this Bill for passing Home Rule into law before the electors of the country have an opportunity of pronouncing upon it. It is no use saying it will take two or three years to go through and that discussion will take place outside, and that pressure of public opinion will influence the majority in the House of Commons and will have a wholesome effect upon Members from Ireland. The more hon. Members from Ireland realise that the tide of public opinion is setting strongly against Home Rule the more will they insist that the measure should be forced through before the people of Great Britain can give effect to their wishes in the polling booth.
I believe this to be a bad Bill, introduced for a bad purpose, and so far as all hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House are concerned it will have uncompromising opposition, and if we carry it in this House you will only carry it after every legitimate 1804 discussion has been exhausted by those who feel that this is a wrong measure promoted in the wrong way and promoted for wrong ends. It was Mr. Gladstone who once said that the privileges of the House of Lords were in his opinion just as essential for the working of our Constitution as the privileges of the House of Commons itself. That Constitution you propose by this measure to destroy. The measure is a crude, a violent, and an ill-considered measure, and I will appeal against it to every hon. Member and to every man in the country who has any sense of the need for an effective Second Chamber, to everyone who values the dignity and the traditions of the House of Commons, and everyone, above all, who realises that both Houses of Parliament exist only as instruments for giving effect to the national will.
§ Mr. JAMES ROWLANDS
During the whole of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman I could not help thinking that he rather put the real question on one side. It was a speech we should have expected to hear on the Second Reading Debate after the measure is introduced, but he did not deal with the real question, which I understand to be whether the House shall give permission to the Prime Minister to introduce a Bill dealing with the question of the relations between the two Houses. There were one or two points in the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech which were somewhat interesting. He dealt with the suggestion that the Colonies should survey this question when they come over here for the Coronation, and he regretted that they would not be able to see a peaceful solution of the struggle instead of the one that is going on. That is not the fault of the Prime Minister and his friends, nor am I going to blame the Leader of the Opposition and his friends. We had, during the weary months of last year, the sitting of the Conference. I presume both sides would say that the four Gentlemen representing either side of politics were well selected, and were the right Gentlemen to go into the Conference. We outside waited for the whole period while the Conference sat, and we have been told by the Prime Minister that they tried genuinely and honestly to arrive at a solution that they could submit to their party, but that it was impossible for them to do so. What the differences between the two representative bodies were we do not know, and we shall not know, because 1805 it was understood that the deliberations of the Conference should be private, and therefore we have to take the word, as we do undoubtedly, of those who tell us the fact that an honest attempt was made to arrive at a solution. I think, after that, effort was made to arrive at a solution outside the strife of party warfare, it is scarcely generous for the hon. and learned Gentleman to chide the Government, whether the present Bill is right or wrong, with being responsible for not having attempted to bring a solution which would suit both parties.
He again said one of the reasons why the Lords as at present constituted are so useful is that the people should be consulted before an irretrievable step is taken in regard to some measure. Whenever a measure goes back from our party, when we are in a majority, we admit that an irretrievable step, be it good or bad, is prevented. But when, for instance, the other side are in office, what action does another place take to give an opportunity for this irretrievable step being prevented? We had great experience during the Parliament of 1900, when measures were brought forward by the then Government, which we declared were outside the promises upon which they gained the vote of the electors in 1900, at the time of the war. Not one of those measures had an opportunity of being submitted to the electorate outside, but the whole of them were passed with scarcely any criticism whatever on the part of the Lords, and still less Amendment. One of our charges aganst the House of Lords is that it is a machine that works always one way; it works when one party is in power, and fails entirely when the other party is in power, to give the people that protection to which they are entitled. I approach this question of the relations between the two Houses as not a casual or trumpery question. I am fully prepared to join with any hon. Member on the other side in regard to the grave importance of the action that is being taken by the Government. We are in for a constitutional crisis, but we have had this constitutional crisis hanging over us for a long period of years. If I feel strongly in favour of legislation at present it is because my memory takes me back for a very long period in connection with practical experience inside this House. I have vividly before me what took place during the period of the Parliament of 1892–95. I am not talking about a great controversial measure like Home Rule, but, for instance, the Parish Councils Act and the Employers Liability 1806 Amendment Act, measures not making great constitutional changes, but revolutionising in a legitimate manner the local life of the country. What sort of fate did they meet with when those Bills got to another place? Mr. Gladstone accepted the Parish Councils Bill in a memorable speech as one which had been largely mutilated upstairs and which did not carry out the wishes of the Government. What about the Employers Liability Act, which had as much humane purpose in it as the two Compensation Acts—an Act which was called for to extend the original Act passed in 1880 and to put back some of the things which at that time were prevented from going into the Act. That Act again was mutilated beyond recognition, and that was the irretrievable way in which the people were appealed to on that occasion.
The whole issue to-day seems to be, is legislation required to place in better relations the position of the two Chambers? We have had elections in connection with that issue, and it is admitted by everyone that the relations between the two Houses cannot go on as they are at present. What are we to do? We must either have legislation promoted by the Government, or you must wait for the efforts which are being made by the Lords to amend themselves Some people think they are best left to themselves; but I cannot forget that last year Lord Rosebery recalled the fact to his colleagues that it was twenty-two years ago since they last approached that question, and nothing has been done since. I am not talking about Committees bringing up a pious report. Nothing on their part has been done to bring about that change which Lord Rosebery admitted was absolutely necessary. We cannot go on for ever in the same relation. Remember the position we are in. So far as this Chamber is concerned there have been vital alterations during the last seventy years. You have had a change in the Constitution and in the electorate by the Acts of 1832, 1867, and 1884, and then it was anticipated by some of the greatest thinkers that we had that soon following on the Reform Bill of 1832 an Amendment must take place in the Constitution of the other Chamber. These weary years have gone on, and no change has taken place. When there was an attempt to create life peers in the Wensleydale case you had an action brought by some of those who objected to any reform, and that which might, in the opinion of many of us, have been a good change in the constitution of the other 1807 place, was thwarted by that action. We have therefore to consider clearly what is the position. We have had over and over again a large majority in this House. We have sent up measures which have had to be passed. The defence of the House of Lords is that it is a deliberative Chamber. I say that never was such poltroonery shown on the part of a body which sets itself up as being the one great protection against hasty and undue legislation than was exposed by the Leader of the majority in the other place and his colleagues when they were afraid to oppose and allowed to go upon the Statute Book the Trades Disputes Act, which they denounced in violent language the day before they allowed it to pass. Lord Lansdowne said that he would take no responsibility for it. If it were so bad that the Leader of the vast majority in that Chamber would take no responsibility for it, I say that the House of Lords as at present constituted showed that they had not the moral courage to deal with the question. That is only one of the points that could be instanced as to their conduct. We have at the present time given to us for our edification a large number of schemes for the reform of the House of Lords. So far as we can get them, we have to set them oft' against the Bill proposed to be introduced by the Prime Minister. I have read most, if not all, of these schemes, and I think they are exceedingly amusing. First of all they throw over the hereditary principle. Twelve months ago their Lordships were almost prepared to die in the last ditch for the hereditary principle. The hereditary principle is gone. Whether the backwoodsmen like it or not, they are to be sacrificed by their colleagues. The other Peers would allow them to elect 100 as the first basis of the reform of the House of Lords. I am not going to take up the defence of the backwoodsmen. That is a matter for them to settle themselves, but, so far as I can see, they welcome with open arms the proposal to take them out of the House of Lords and make them only electors with regard to the Second Chamber. I ask the House to contrast that proposal with their position under the Government measure. It is true, we say: "Under certain conditions, if this measure is accepted, you will not have the absolute power you have now, but you will have enormous power in regard to measures, excepting those of a highly controversial 1808 nature, which will have to come before you three times." Then it is proposed in one of the reform schemes that there should be fifty Members from people in "high places." Some of us are rather democratic, and do not put the same construction upon "high places" as perhaps the inventor of the scheme does. I presume these Members would be elected for life. Then comes the grand concession to democracy—the concession to the representative principle. There are to be 100 from county councils, who are to appoint a Committee to select the gentlemen whose names are to be sent to the Crown and who may become peers. But there is a qualification here. These men might also sit for a short time. I venture to tell hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that they will never get a reconstruction of the House of Lords on lines like these, with the democracy as it is at the present day. We shall not be prepared to accept it on these lines. If we are to have a Second Chamber we are in favour of one which will be properly representative of the people under some popular system. You talk lightly of altering the House of Lords and of putting 619 coronets in the crucible. If they are put in the crucible and if the furnace is stoked, they will become a mass of molten metal, and the form which that metal will afterwards take will depend upon the person who makes the mould. We shall have to see who is to make the mould.
I do not think it necessary to labour the question. We have had three elections, and one of the main reasons why I trespass upon the House to-night is because I want distinctly and deliberately to say that I put this question of the House of Lords in the forefront of the Address I sent to the electors of Dartford in December last. It was on the question of the House of Lords, above all others, that I asked their votes. I have felt strongly on the question of the Veto since the experience of 1894. I said that as soon as we got a majority in 1906 that issue would become crucial. I told the electors then that I was in favour of the abolition of the Veto, and in January, 1910, I reiterated the opinion which I expressed in 1906. I support the Bill which is to be brought in by the Prime Minister. Though it does not go so far as I would go, I believe it is a genuine, and at the same time a conservative attempt, to get over the crisis which exists, and which prevents necessary 1809 legislation being put on the Statute Book. It has been said that in an election no one can confine himself entirely to one question. That is quite true, for your opponents do not allow you to do it. Some eminent opponents came to Dart-ford and spoke against me. The Leader of the Opposition came and addressed the electors, and I had to deal with some of the things he said. I hope the Government intend to go thoroughly through with this question, not because it is an end, but because it is a means of obtaining the legislation which we believe to be long overdue.
§ Mr. ROYDS
I propose to confine myself to the Parliament Bill itself, and not to deal with the other topics discussed by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Rowlands). The Prime Minister made his first speech at Hull after the Dissolution was announced, and in that speech he said:—The country at any rate have our proposals on this occasion in black and white.The proposals to which he referred were no doubt those in the Parliament Bill. He did not proceed to explain the proposals, nor did he again refer to the Parliament Bill. His supporters throughout the country followed his example. At the last election I was not opposed, and I spent my time in other constituencies. I think I spoke in thirteen, and in no one did I find that the candidates referred to the Parliament Bill. The same remark applies to the election addresses of a very large number of Members on the other side of the House, and even to those of Members of the Government. They did not explain to the country the details of the Parliament Bill. I would take as an instance the election address of the Liberal candidate for the North Lindsey Division of Lincolnshire (Sir W. A. Gelder). It was as follows:—I ask the electors of North Lincolnshire to pronounce in favour of the abolition of the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, and the substitution of a Second Chamber directly representative of the will of the peopleThat is the only reference he makes to the constitutional question. I take now the election address of the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Birrell) to the electors of North Bristol. He said:—The hereditary principle having been abandoned, it is the task of the representatives of the people in the House of Commons to create a Second Chamber in the place of the House of Lords, who have, by their votes, resigned their only title to be there at all.The right hon. Gentleman had not one word to say in favour of the Parliament Bill or in support of the principle embodied in that measure. [An HON. MEMBER: 1810 "Read the whole of the address."] I have read the only reference in the address to the constitutional question, and I propose to confine myself to that. I will be pleased to hand it over to the hon. Member to satisfy himself. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Hobhouse), addressing the electors of East Bristol, said:—I ask you to teach the House of Lords that their day is over and that the hereditary powers for obstruction shall never again he exercised. This must be our principal work.The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Sydney Buxton) referred to the constitutional question in these words:—Twice within the present year the House of Lords, non-representative and hereditary, has forced a dissolution on the country. Such action is intolerable.Is that statement correct? Has the House of Lords twice within a year forced a Dissolution on the country? Did they do so in November or December last? Was the Dissolution not sprung on the country by the Government in direct opposition to the House of Lords and to the people of the country generally? The hon. Member for West Wilts states: That the Prime Minister has, since the breakdown of the Conference, made a further final attempt to save the country from the turmoil of an election, by urging upon the House of Lords the acceptance of the Government's Parliament Bill, but that House refuses these terms. Is that a correct statement of the position? Has the Parliament Bill ever been properly discussed in the House of Lords, and has it been rejected by the House of Lords? I will not trouble the House with any further election addresses. I merely wish to adduce to the House sufficient documentary evidence from the election addresses of hon. Members opposite to prove that what I have stated can be substantiated by any one who likes to take the trouble to read the election addresses of these gentlemen who now say they have been sent to the House of Commons to support the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill, while their whole endeavour has been to conceal the true provisions of the Bill from their constituents. Clause 2, which is the most important Clause of the Bill, provides that any Bill passed three times in the House of Commons shall become law, notwithstanding that the House of Lords may have rejected the Bill. There is a provision that two years must elapse between the first introduction of the Bill into the House of Commons and its final passing. With that Clause the House of Commons can immediately introduce 1811 another Bill dealing with the Constitution. It can pass a Bill providing that when a Bill has been passed by the House of Commons it shall at once become law, notwithstanding that the House of Lords will not consent to its passing. There is a Clause at the end of the Bill limiting the duration of Parliament to five years, but it is absolutely useless. The House of Commons can pass another Bill prolonging the existence of Parliament, and I am perfectly certain that that is a power which the electors do not wish to give to the present or to any future House of Commons. I am satisfied that the electors do not know, and I think that even many hon. Members opposite do not realise that it would be in the power of the House of Commons to amend the Constitution again, and prolong the existence of Parliament without referring to the people, and without the consent of the House of Lords. If those points had been made clear to the people of this country I am perfectly satisfied that many hon. Members opposite would not be here. This new House of Commons, which is to be endowed with these powers, that no other House of Commons ever had or asked for, is to be a paid House of Commons, and being paid, there will be a greater temptation on the part of hon. Members perhaps to prolong their existence if they continue in the receipt of their salaries. I do not know to how many Members that will apply, but it will be a temptation that ought not to be put in their way. I do not think that the people of this country in the least understand that under this Bill they will set up a paid House of Commons, with power to prolong its own existence, and to pass any legislation it may think fit without reference to the electors.
§ Sir CLIFFORD CORY
I take it that the main principle of this Bill is the reconstruction of the Second Chamber. It is stated in the preamble that it is intended to do away with the hereditary House of Lords and to establish a representative Second Chamber in its place. As far as the main principle of the Bill is concerned, I am in sympathy with it. I am not only in sympathy with it, but it seems to me that from all quarters of the House there have been expressions of sympathy with that principle. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that he was entirely in agreement with the desirability of reconstructing 1812 the Second Chamber. I am quite prepared to go forward with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the path of reconstruction, so far as he thinks it wise and judicious to go, and I do not think, so far as I can gauge the feelings of the electors of this country, that they would even hesitate to go to the extent of an elected Second Chamber. It seems to me that the preamble of this Bill indicates that the Veto Resolutions are only intended as a temporary expedient. Not only is this indicated in the preamble of the Bill, but the Prime Minister's speech at Hull last November seems to give colour to that idea. If the Veto proposals are intended to be a means by which it will be possible for this House to pass into law those measures which the Liberal Government were returned to pass in the 1906 Parliament, which measures have been passed through this House, and can be said to have been approved by the country, by the re-election of the Liberal party at subsequent elections—such measures as the Education Bill, by which it was contemplated a national system of education should be set up, and the Licensing Reform Bill—then I am entirely prepared to support the Parliament Bill. I shall vote for the First and Second Readings, and when we get into Committee I shall vote that some Clause or Amendment shall be put into the Bill which will make it quite clear that the Veto Resolutions are going to deal with such measures as I have indicated. If it goes further than that I feel that in view of my election pledges I shall be bound to vote against the Bill in the later stages, because for one thing I am returned as a pledged opponent of Home Rule for Ireland. If the Veto Resolutions were going to apply to Home Rule, then I should be bound, in view of my pledges, to vote against the Bill. I, also, in my election address, made it perfectly clear—and I have been elected on a clear basis in that regard—that my support of the Bill is entirely confined to the Veto Resolutions being applied to such measures as have been approved by the country. I believe myself that the country generally is much more in favour of a reconstructed Second Chamber, of a Second Chamber of an entirely representative kind, being established, than it is in desiring the curtailment of the powers of the Second Chamber. I just wished to explain my position to the House and to my Constituents, that I am quite prepared to support this Bill 1813 on the lines I have indicated. I believe, so far as I understand the Prime Minister's speech, that he only means it to apply to those measures that have been already passed by this House before reconstruction is dealt with.
§ Mr. SAMUEL ROBERTS
I think every Member of the House has this afternoon spoken with a due sense of the importance of this subject—a subject which is of importance to all sections of this assembly. It is not a question for the Government only; it is a question for ourselves on these benches, and hon. Gentlemen on the other benches. The Constitution of this country cannot be moulded in the way proposed by this Bill, to suit the purposes of one party only. We must give the Government notice that if this Bill be forced through as it is, it cannot be allowed to remain by us as a permanent settlement. The moderate opinion of these islands holds it to be a very great misfortune indeed that the late Conference was not able to come to a settlement. We all deeply regret it, and that for reasons to which all sections attach importance. The reason of our objection to this Bill is shortly this, that it does, as a matter of fact, reduce the Government of this country to Single-Chamber Government. You cannot get over it. The right hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir W. Anson), who spoke just now from the Front Bench, told the House very clearly, and explained very clearly how it is that this scheme will be a scheme of Single Chamber government. It places in the hands of the majority in this House for the time being absolute power to pass any Bill they like. They have only to pass it once through the House, perhaps with discussion; but the next two Sessions, and within two years, if they like to apply the guillotine they can force through absolutely the same Bill, and that Bill is to become the law of the land, without the consent of the King, without the consent of the Second Chamber, and without the consent of the people.
That is, shortly, our objection to this Bill, that it does reduce our Constitution to Single-Chamber Government. Single-Chamber Government is a form of Government which has been absolutely repudiated by every nation in the world. And why? Because they see that a chance majority, a coalition at any period in the Lower Chamber, does not, as a matter of fact, ensure that the will of the people will be carried out. That is the reason why every civilised country has adopted a Second 1814 Chamber to guard against the danger of the will of the people not being carried out. Allusion has been made this afternoon to one period in which we were reduced to Single-Chamber Government. This House passed a Resolution on the eve of the execution of Charles I., which declared that:—Whatsoever is enacted or declared, the law by the Commons is to have the force of law, although the consent or concurrence of the King or House of Peers he not had thereto.If this Bill becomes law, practically that Resolution is passed over again. A few months after that Resolution was passed by this House, they passed another Act of Parliament abolishing the House of Lords altogether. It was not found that this led to good government, and Oliver Cromwell four years afterwards came to this House and declared it to be "the horriblest arbitrariness ever exercised in the world." And an end was put to that Single Chamber Government, and after eleven years the House of Lords was brought back again. We have also the experience of other countries. I do not know whether hon. Members have read a report which was issued by His Majesty's representatives abroad respecting the position and functions of Second or Upper Chambers in foreign States. It was issued at the invitation of the present Foreign Secretary (Sir Edward Grey). It is a document which sets forth very clearly the composition and functions of all Second Chambers in the world, and if hon. Members will read it very carefully, they will find that in practice the two-Chamber system is working extremely well. I admit that the composition of those Upper Houses is generally very different from the composition of our Upper House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.] I quite recognise that, and I will come to it presently. But, taking the common position of Second Chambers as they are in various States, the principle has worked extremely well. Their powers are co-ordinate and equal, and in many cases, like that of the United States in America, the powers are even greater. In France, the Senate is composed of 300 Senators. They are elected for nine years, one-third retiring every third year. The Members must be forty years of age. When the Constitution was made in the year 1875, the Republican party in France were very much against it, and they feared that it was going to lead to a state of things which they as the Republican party could not perfectly 1815 trust. But the Republican party has gradually come round to the opinion that business cannot be tolerably carried on with a Senate acting equally with the House of Representatives. As a matter of fact, the arrangement has acted extremely well. The two Houses act together; they do not act as opposed to each other; they act, as I saw it well put a short time ago, as two partners who are anxious and willing to work amicably together for the benefit of the State. That is a condition of things which we all desire in this matter. I should like to add, with regard to the Senate in France, that they are elected indirectly by electoral colleges representing the various Departments in the State. The large majority of the electoral colleges are the representatives of the urban municipal councils, and if we have a reformed House of Lords in this country, it is proposed that the elective part of the House of Lords should be elected in the same way by our county and municipal authorities.
§ Mr. S. ROBERTS
I think we have heard of the statement made in another place that they are prepared and wish that the electoral principle should be admitted into the other House. In this Report our representative shows distinctly that there have been no differences on the constitutional question in France, and that the system works extremely well also in the United States. The Senate of the United States is elected on a different basis. Each State Parliament elects two representatives to Congress. There are ninety senators altogether; they must be elected for six years, and they must be at least thirty years of age. Mr. Seeds, in his report to Mr. Bryce, says this of the Senate:The Senate may he considered to be a more powerful body than the House of Representatives, its comparative permanence enabling it to hold out by its opinions longer than the more ephemeral House, and the recognised political experience of its members lendng it superior prestige with the public at large.There have been no conflicts between the two Houses in the United States. When there is a difference of opinion between the House of Representatives and the Senate it is settled in this way: As a rule, three Members are selected from each body. Those six meet together and generally the difference is amicably arranged. What could be more simple. [Laughter.] 1816 Hon. Members may laugh, but I am quoting an instance of a practice which has proved itself. I should like to dwell for a moment on the hereditary principle. I know it is a subject which is difficult to make quite plain to perhaps a not educated body. I am speaking of the difficulty of making the principle plain on the platform. Our Constitution is an old one. When our country was governed 1,000 years ago the only classes who were at all fit to govern or be consulted were two—namely, the clergy, represented by the bishops and abbots, and the barons. Those two bodies composed the first of our National Assemblies. That went on for some time, and about the middle of the thirteenth century, when the middle classes were beginning to grow up, representatives were admitted to the great Council of the Nation. Writs were issued to the sheriffs to elect two knights for each county, and two citizens for each city, and two burgesses for each borough. In the Parliament of 1295 the first model of our National Assembly was formed in the way I have mentioned. The whole body sat together for some time, but subsequently they divided. The clergy and barons sat in the old Parliament House at Westminster, and the representatives of the cities and the boroughs sat either in the Chapter House or the Refectory of Westminster Abbey. Thus you had at that time three bodies representing the people—the clergy, the barons, and the commoners. Professor Maitland has pointed out, in an interesting passage, that perhaps we are not quite so "common" as some people think, that the word "Commons" does not mean common people. It was a French word, commune. At that time, about the middle of the thirteenth century, all our law, or the greater part of the English law, was written in French, and the commune was taken to be the representatives from the cities and the boroughs; just as a commune in France at present is a district governed by a mayor and corporation. Therefore the House will see that the description of our House originated from the word commune. In the year 1871 the revolt of the Communes in Paris was a revolt of the districts that they should govern themselves; and that they should not be governed by a national Government.
Coming down to a later date it may be said, and has been said, that bur present House of Lords is unwieldy in numbers. I quite agree, for 600 is far too many for a deliberative assembly, and we propose, or it is proposed by the House of Lords, that 1817 their numbers should not be more than 300. But whose fault is it that the House of Lords is so many? I venture to say that the people most responsible are our Friends who sit on the benches opposite. They have done their very best within recent years and within the last sixty or 100 years, to see that they had representation in the House of Lords. The present Government have created forty-five Noble Lords, and during the last eighty years no less than two-thirds of the numbers of the present House of Lords, or something like 440 have been created since the year 1830. I admit that both parties have been responsible. They found it convenient for purposes which I need not mention here to create Peers of those who had done distinguished service to their party. The House has gradually grown up from a small one to a large one. Of the old nobility there are very few now left. I believe there is not a male descendant living now of those who represented the Barons in the time of Magna Charta. I am explaining how it is that the House of Lords has changed so very quickly because the line dies out. At the time of Henry VIII. the number in the House of Lords was 51, in the time of Charles I. the number was 97, George I. the number was 216, and in the time of George III. the number was 339. I do not want to enter into the differences which caused the present crisis. The subjects, I think, have been practically reduced to three, namely, Education, Licensing, and the Budget. [HON. MEMBERS: "Plural Voting Bill," "Scottish Land Bill."] Yes, I include those. The Education Bill of 1906 was so amended by the House of Lords as to establish the principles that in every school religious instruction should be given within school hours, that there should be a right of entry, and that a teacher should be allowed to volunteer to give religious instruction. All three principles were embodied by the Government in their Education Bill of 1908. Is not that an absolute vindication of the course taken by the House of Lords in amending the earlier Bill? As to Licensing, that Bill was no doubt most unpopular. While it was before the country the Government were losing by-election after by-election by large majorities. They dared not go to the country on that Bill because they knew the country would be against the confiscation proposed therein. As to the Budget, a year ago the Government lose 100 seats, and their majority was reduced from 336 to 124. That could not be considered a victory. What does 1818 the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) say about the result of the election of twelve months ago?:—It is no use shutting one's eyes to the fact that the Government has not a majority of votes in this House in favour of the Budget.Nor have they at the present moment in this House a majority in favour of the Budget if the Irish Members voted according to their interests and their ideas as Nationalists if they were not prompted to support the Government for other reasons. The Government know that their Irish partners are really against the Budget on the licensing question, and also on some of the Land Taxes. I will end my remarks by a word as to the importance of this question. It is a question which the man in the street will tell you ought to be settled by compromise or agreement; but we cannot settle it on the lines of this Bill if the Government adhere absolutely to the principle of Single-Chamber Government. Although we should be only too pleased in this Coronation year to see this important question settled, yet there is a line beyond which we cannot go. We cannot conscientiously agree to the establishment of Single-Chamber Government. We must warn the Government once more that if this Bill is put through by force it cannot be allowed to be a permanent settlement, and that at the first opportunity we on this side shall see to it that there is reestablished the two-Chamber principle—a principle which is approved by the whole civilised world and has worked admirably.
§ Mr. STEPHEN WALSH
The hon. Member opposite (Mr. S. Roberts) has given us a very interesting address, in the course of which I was reminded of Hallam's "Constitutional History of England" and how our representative institutions came into existence. A little later we had a disquisition on the theory of elections, and so on. I was wondering all the time how far it was relevant to the matter under discussion. One point which the hon. Member urged as a point against the Government I thought was a most effective point in favour of the Government's proposals. The hon. Member stated that although the right of entry was refused by the Government in 1906, yet in 1908 the Government accepted the very principle which they had previously withstood. That is perfectly true, and it is exactly the process that will take place if the proposals of the Government are placed on the Statute Book. It seems to be argued on the other side as if Members will be deprived 1819 of the ordinary motives of humanity if these proposals become law. But what do the proposals entail? A long period for revision, a long period for amendment, a long period of delay. Surely the same reasonable and natural process of mutual concession and friendly debate which enabled the Government in 1908 to consent to proposals which they could not see their way to accept in 1906 will come into operation when these proposals become law. The idea of the other side seems to be that when a Bill is promoted by the Government it will come in letter-perfect and go through without a single line or letter altered. That is quite wrong. There will be the same process of debate; when the measure gets to the other place the same human motives will be brought into play as at present; when the Bill comes back here it will probably come back with many alterations, and we shall have exactly the same process taking place in the future as took place in connection with the Education Bill to which the hon. Member has referred.
The Leader of the Opposition told us early in the Debate that the House had no sufficient mandate. I really wonder when a mandate is to be given. I speak as a humble member of a humble party. We are few in numbers, and we do not exercise any very great influence; but I say that in 1906, although I have not a large Irish electorate at all, I placed Home Rule for Ireland in the very centre of my programme; I did the same in January, 1910, and I took a similar course in December last. I have my address conveniently near in order to reply on that point. In addition to that, in every paragraph of my address I pointed out—not in any spirit of vindictiveness or revenge, but in a spirit of even-handed justice—that all these great measures of urgency, such as Land Law Reform, were delayed, or that effective dealing with such a question was impossible, so long as the Veto of the House of Lords continued. I pointed out that Ireland was deprived of her ancient rights; that she was standing at the door pleading for a restoration of those rights, and that her hopes were found indeed to be impossible of realisation so long as the Veto of the House of Lords continued. I pointed out that the Osborne Judgment deprived trade unions of the rights they had enjoyed admittedly to very great benefit to the community as a whole, and that the restoration of those rights was impossible so long as the Veto 1820 of the House of Lords continued. So we could go on. Surely the fact that for the first time in English history—it is a most remarkable fact, though the century is still young, and may give us many more remarkable facts—a Liberal, a Progressive Government has been returned three times upon the matters we are speaking of is potent. It may be said that the majority the Government obtained in 1906 was so great that the serious diminution in that majority in 1910 showed a remarkable lack of confidence on the part of the electors. Really, hon. Members on the other side of the House ought to have some sense of proportion. You were simply snowed under five years ago. I remember in my early days there was a little skit upon the Election of 1868. It ran as follows:—The Tory party, where are they?Politically dead, we sayThen on their tomb these trite words trace—'Vale, requiescat in pace,'We dare not use, lest men should laugh'Resurgam' for an epitaph.9.0 P.M.
You were left so nearly dead, that it was almost hopeless to expect a resurrection, and then you come and compare the figures in such a tremendous political earthquake with the figures of a few years later. The Government which has passed the greatest measures of social or political reform in this country has had far less majorities than the majorities in 1910. I know perfectly well that hon. Members opposite really have a better sense of proportion than they exhibit in this House. They cannot delude us. They cannot delude themselves. It is a question of trying to delude the country. How far are they going to press the theory of a mandate? There is a very Noble Member of another place who is a great power in Lancashire. I refer to Lord Derby. Many people are boasting to-day that Tariff Reformers in Lancashire have one more Member than the other parties combined. I do not know how far that statement is arithmetically correct, but what does he say? He says:—We have found anti-socialism to be our best rallying cry, and not Tariff Reform at all.Addressing a meeting of the Conservative Association not very long ago he used similar words. Have hon. Members from Lancashire got a mandate for Tariff Reform? Honest-minded men in all quarters of the House must admit, as we admit, the necessity in these great constitutional questions of arriving at a clear issue. We are all lovers of our country. That is common 1821 ground. We desire to do our best in time of great political excitement—not to confuse the issues. It is not an honourable thing to do. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear those cheers. There is even a more celebrated and famous man who takes a leading part in the other Chamber—I refer to Lord Rosebery. Before the General Election he counselled the Conservative party to make the Reform of the House of Lords their first issue, and to leave Tariff Reform alone for a little while, as it divided good men. Lord Rosebery suggested that it should be left in the background, and that Reform of the House of Lords should be put forward. He suggested that effective reform of the Second Chamber, as a real issue, should be put forward. What was done? There you had a real chance to show a genuine desire not to confuse the political issue. What was done? The first thing that the party represented by hon. Gentlemen on the other side did was to repudiate Lord Rosebery's counsel. "What," it was said, "abandon Tariff Reform—abandon the Dollar Prince! Abandon all the other cries that tend to darken counsel, and to make a clear issue utterly impossible? Not at all; that would be to show ourselves politically impotent." Hon. Gentlemen know perfectly well that that was the case. We are willing at any time in this small party—I think I can speak for my colleagues—to make the issue a straight one; to go upon hustings, and to discuss the question as to whether this House, which, after all derives its authority directly from the people, or the other Chamber shall be supreme. Ah, you dare not do it The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench, declared that the proposals contained in this Bill were degrading to the dignity of the House of Commons and lowering to its efficiency. I never knew anything in my life more degrading to the dignity of a representative Assembly than to have its decisions flouted. Every man of this Assembly has gone through the exhausting process of political justification, has gone through all the trouble and turmoil of the hustings, and has spent hundreds, even thousands, of pounds, has "scorned delights and lived laborious days"; then comes here and takes part to the best of his ability in the council of the nation only to find his work nullified by another House. However many days have been spent by the representative Chamber, we find the possibility of its councils coming to naught, of their being 1822 utterly flouted. What cant it is under these circumstances to talk about efficiency of the House of Commons! I remember a nursery rhyme in my young days, the sentiments of which were always looked upon as being the very height of absurdity. We were told:—There was a king of France,Who had ten thousand men:He marched them up to the top of a hill,And he marched them down again.That was the very height of absurdity. Here a nation is consulted, and it sends up a greater or less majority to this House. We sit here, supposing ourselves to be thoroughly representative of the people at large, and yet we know perfectly well that our decisions are liable to be flouted in the other Chamber. Really, may we on this side appeal to hon. Members to take a more frank view. They know perfectly well do the Conservative party in this House, from the right hon. Gentleman, Leader, to the humblest follower, that when they are in office the most striking changes of political and social life can be carried, and the other House is acquiescent, if it is not entirely dumb. Let me give you a case in point. Take the Workmen's Compensation Act. Was there anything ever more revolutionary than the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897? There are employers of labour on this side of the House and there are employers of labour on the other side, and they all know that there never was a more revolutionary measure than that. I give the Unionist party credit for it. It was a great step in advance, and I give the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain), whose absence we all deplore even greater praise. The Labour party and the working classes of this country will never forget, whatever faults we may have to find with him, that it was his magnificent personality that triumphed against the opposition even on his own side, and though now feeble and in ill-health he has the best wishes of the working classes of the nation for the great work he did then. It was a most revolutionary proposal, but the House of Lords, which is supposed to prevent hasty legislation, hardly said a word at the time. They were quiescent, and we know perfectly well that is the history of most of the changes effected by the Conservative party.
The Leader of the Opposition, in a speech which everyone must admire because of its temperate and judicial tone, and because of the fact that he did not impart any heat into it, deplored that the 1823 House of Lords would be left without authority. I can conceive nothing more remote from the truth. The House of Lords in its very composition is the most gigantic entrenchment of privilege and wealth and vested interest the world has ever seen, and because of these very facts it must always have great authority. I think we may bespeak for that House many ancient and noble traditions. We may regard it with very great reverence in its historic aspects, and many of the Noble Lords there are men for whom one could feel a great deal of respect. But, leaving out its historic and traditional aspect, can anyone deny that it is the most formidable supporter of privilege, that wealth is strongly entrenched there, and that it is a citadel of the greatest vested interest the world has ever seen. How can it be said that such a House with its traditions and great powers and vested interests is degraded and left without authority? The fact is that its authority is too great, and is exercised ruthlessly whenever the decisions of this House come into conflict with its vested interests.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
I know the hon. Baronet will always say that, but we are only using the plain argument of common sense when we say that historic tradition and prestige, great social interest, entrenched wealth, and vested interest must always give great power and authority. The fears of hon. Members opposite seem to be entirely unfounded when they say we are setting up Single-Chamber Government. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) has frankly avowed what is our ideal. We believe, although it may be in the dim and distant future, that a Single Chamber is the best. With all its faults the British community, I think, is a very intelligent body, and national patriotism is instinct in our race, even more than in other races of the earth. You have people living in large communities with a highly intelligent Press. News is flashed from one end of the land to the other with lightning rapidity, and, therefore, whatever might be the danger in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with an uninstructed and uneducated people, there is very little danger to-day, where you have a people who have enjoyed the benefits of the schoolmaster for the last forty years. But, leaving out altogether 1824 the question of setting up a Single Chamber, the Bill of the Government gives time for revision—revision which is to be more than a name—and for amendment during three or four years. [An HON. MEMBER: "Two years."] It can only become law after three years.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
Well, after three Sessions. I cannot hope to add one single word to the instruction in the admirable speech of the Prime Minister, when he told us that the ordinary motive, if you like of political fear, is a very wholesome motive, in many cases. The hon. Member for the City of London will admit.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
No; I wish I myself occupied such a safe position as that of the hon. Member for the City of London. Who would not be a Member for the City in such circumstances as the hon. Baronet is. Still, political fear is a very wholesome motive. There may be a necessity, I daresay the majority of hon. Members believe there is a necessity for checking hasty legislation. If there is that necessity, will not every Member of the majority in this House feel that if he has to make an almost immediate appeal to his constituents, such a motive as that is a preventative, and therefore you have a real safeguard. Hon. Members opposite say, "What we want to do is to give to the House of Lords an opportunity for having the will of the people ascertained." The will of the people can be ascertained in three or four years' time, but what they desire is that the House of Lords shall have the right and the power every time a Liberal Government is in power to force an election. Hon. members talk of the Referendum, but they are not nearly so simple as to believe that under the conditions of our political life to-day you can have a Referendum in effect on one only of the many considerations that affect our political life. You would have men told that the issue upon which they are to vote is one thing, but if they voted for that particular issue they would be keeping a Government in power which is against a thousand and one other issues dear to them. Does anyone believe that a Referendum could be taken under conditions of pristine simplicity that hon. Members pretend?
§ Mr. S. WALSH
Yes, but Trade Unions are not concerned with making laws for the country. They have only to administer their own organisations in accordance with the established law. I come from a district in Lancashire which is famous for football, and one charge against the people in the Wigan district is that they will "Win, tie, or wrangle." Now, that is the position you want the House of Lords to occupy. No matter how many times you force us to consult our Constituents, no matter how difficult may be the conditions even when we have come back once more successful from the polls, you tell us that we have no mandate, that we have confused the issue with a thousand and one other things, and you say to us, "You must go back to your Constituencies again." That is not an honourable method, and it is not that fairplay upon which hon. Members opposite so often pride themselves. I do not look upon the Reform of the House of Lords as so very important. May I remind the House of the words of Sir Boyle Roche, who, when speaking upon a certain Amendment, said, "he did not agree with an amendment that made matters worse." Any amendment of the House of Lords which confers greater power upon a non-representative Chamber, increases its power to delay, impedes and frustrates the will of the people, in the words of Sir Boyle Roche, is an amendment that makes matters worse. For these reasons I view with some misgivings the Preamble of this Bill. I know the time for the discussions of Preamble is not yet. In conclusion, I wish to say that we are prepared both inside and outside this House, to give an unflinching support to the Government upon the steps which they are now undertaking, a measure which has been too long delayed.
§ Mr. MITCHELL-THOMSON
We have had a number of remarkably interesting speeches from both sides of the House, more especially from some hon. Gentlemen opposite. One of the most interesting characteristics of those speeches has been the point of view from which they were delivered. Six speeches have been made from the Benches opposite, and I have heard nearly all of them. With the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for St. Ives (Sir C. Cory) I entirely agree. In fact, I endorse almost every word of it. The interesting point is that the other five speeches—and they are the only speeches made in support of this Bill—are speeches 1826 of hon. Members who frankly confess their desire to see the House of Lords abolished altogether. There has not been one speech from an hon. Member opposite who takes a different point of view. The hon. Member for the Ince Division (Mr. S. Walsh), the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), and another hon. Member, all were in the list of those who voted upon a Motion for the immediate abolition of the House of Lords in the year 1907. The hon. Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby) and the senior Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Edgar Jones) were not in the House when that Motion was discussed, but no doubt they would have voted for it had they been present when the Division was taken. That throws a very interesting light upon the character of the support which is being given to the Government proposals. I do not propose to comment further upon that point, except to say that the senior Member for Merthyr Tydfil made a speech in which he confessed that it was sectional interests and differences which animated hon. Members in different parts of the country with different objects and purposes, and they were all united for this policy, and this policy only. That is a confession which does the hon. Member great credit. In many instances those sectional interests, if this Bill becomes law, would be found divided. Take the Education Act. Speaking as an Irish Member, I entirely dissent from the statement that Ireland is united upon the question of Education. We have been told that the Nationalist Members unite with the Welsh Members in demanding the reform which the Government are proposing, but as soon as they get this reform they will begin to quarrel. The Education question was the stumbling block and the quarrelling ground before. In support of this statement I need not go any further than the speech made by the junior Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Keir Hardie), who said that the Education Act of the last Government pleased nobody and settled nothing. I think the hon. Gentleman will find when he goes into it that the sectional interests are mutually destructive. The hon. Member for the Ince Division has disavowed any decided preference for the preamble of this Bill. That raises a most interesting point. No hon. Member in whatever quarter of the House he may sit will deny that of all the speakers who command the attention of this House the Prime Minister has, above all, the gift of lucidity, and when he wants to he can present a case in the clearest and most emphatic manner, 1827 leaving no section of that case untouched by his argument. I was very much struck to notice the way in which the right hon. Gentleman developed the case for this Bill. He said a good deal about the past, a little about the provisions of the Bill, but not a single word about the preamble. I wish to put two questions to the representative of the Government who is present (Mr. Joseph Pease), who will no doubt reply on behalf of the Government. It is often our lot to put questions to Ministers. Sometimes we get answers and sometimes we do not. Five years' experience in the bitter shades of Opposition have taught me that, as a mathematician would express it, your chance of getting an answer from a Minister is in inverse ratio to his Parliamentary experience. The more experience a Minister has had the less likely you are to get an answer. If you look at the Preamble of the Parliament Bill you will find these words:—And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted upon a popular instead of an hereditary basis.My question is when is it intended to make that substitution? The preamble goes on to say:—But such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation.My question upon that point is why cannot it be immediately brought into operation. I hope before this Debate closes we shall get some answer from the Government upon those two points. They are rather important, and especially so when you remember the original demand upon which the agitation in favour of this Bill is founded. That demand was in the Campbell-Bannerman Resolution in 1907 to the effect that the people should get a greater control of legislation, or in other words that the people should be master in their own House. I agree that is a very wise, a very necessary, and a very salutary principle. It is not the principle of the Government, and it is not the principle of this Bill. Supposing the Bill passed into law to-morrow, you would find this House—and no one can or does say that without some measure of redistribution, this House is really an adequate representation of the opinions of all the individuals who in their sum make up this country—in three years, or it may be five years' time, the absolute masters of the people. You would find the Government 1828 becoming more and more every day—and nobody will deny it—masters in this House, and you would find the Nationalist party becoming masters of the Government in this House. I confess I do not know how the Government affect to regard the present situation. I do not know what answer they would return to the questions I have propounded. I know what the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) would say. He would make short work of the questions. He would have no difficulty in giving the answers. When do you intend to substitute another House for the House of Lords? The hon. and learned Gentleman would say: "When you have passed a Home Rule Bill that satisfies me." Why cannot you do it before? The hon. and learned Gentleman says: "Because I will not let you." The Nationalist party a few months ago were claiming that they governed Ireland. Now they are claiming to govern Great Britain too. That is an amazing claim, but it is far more amazing that a British Government should be found to admit it. I am bound to say that, even if the Government are content, as apparently they are, to live under a system of indentured labour in the compound of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, at all events they get their revenge by taking it out of the private Member. It is one of my gravest objections to the proposals of the Government in this Bill that, if it becomes law, the position of the private Member in this House will not only be not better, but infinitely worse.
I am perfectly sure—and I am sure I command the assent of a number of hon. Gentlemen who differ from me politically—that, when the historian of future days comes to write the constitutional history of this past generation, he will note, as one of the most prominent points and as the most salient constitutional characteristic, the steady, the incessant, and the continuous growth in the power of the executive, in the power of the Cabinet, and in the power of Ministers, and, after all, Ministers by the true constitutional theory are primarily not even Members of this House, not even necessarily representatives of the people but servants of the Crown. To that growth in the past the Second Chamber in this country has offered some sort of a check. The Government are proposing to remove that check. I might bring many witnesses as to the necessity of some check such as that. I might bring one, and one only, whose 1829 radicalism and whose constitutional authority, I think, are alike unimpeachable. Speaking in this House so long ago as 1889—I say so long ago because that was long before the procedure of this House had been—shall I say curtailed? I will not use the phrase "gagged,"' in the manner in which it is at the present day. Mr. Bryce, the present Ambassador in America, was responsible, on a Motion by Mr. Labouchere, for the abolition of the House of Lords for the expression of these sentiments:—I believe, generally, there is a strong feeling in the country that the House of Commons ought not to have the sole charge of the interests of the nation. The introduction of the Closure and the way in which the Closure is worked, makes this House a totally different body from what it was before. It renders it necessary—Let the House mark that was long before the guillotine had obtained its present state of development. It was not only long before the Government had thought it necessary to apply the guillotine in a much more drastic manner, but long before they had invented a much more diabolical machine of their own called the "Kangaroo Closure."it renders it necessary to provide safeguards against the danger of precipitous action which did not exit in 1885 I come to the second point: What the Second Chamber ought to be. I hold it ought to be a reality—I am very glad indeed to hear hon. Members cheer. I will explain why in one moment.and there is no use in continuing it unless we give it some working functions in the Constitution.That is the opinion of a distinguished gentleman who was once a great light in the Radical party and a great constitutional authority. The proposition of the Government at the present moment is quite different. Strip it of all the trappings that adorn it for the purpose of parade on the hustings of the country, and it boils down to this, that in order to give effect to the wishes of the Government of the day in the House of Commons it is necessary that the House of Lords should be deprived of any opportunity of ascertaining from the people of this country whether or not the wishes of the Government of the day in the House of Commons do or do not correspond with the wishes of the people in the country. You may disguise it as you will, and say what you like about the will of the People's House, but when you come to examine the proposition of the Government—and it is apparently the proposition of the Liberal party—the naked truth is, I venture to say, that it is a proposition not of democracy but of tyranny. I do not believe, if that proposition were really put—and it 1830 has not yet been really put—in all its naked truth to the people of this country the Government would command the support for it which they think they command at the present moment. It seems to me they start out on lines upon which progress is not only very difficult, but almost impossible. They start out by saying that whatever else happens, the position of the Liberal party must be improved, and they proceed to squeeze the Constitution perfectly regardless of what happens in the process. I do not believe you advance the national welfare by proceeding by methods like that. They tell us they are paying off an old score. They tell us this is a grievance under which they have laboured long. They tell us this is a weakness in the constitutional machinery which has been long foreseen. All I can say is there is at least one Member on the Treasury Bench in this present year of grace by whom it was not long foreseen. In 1899, and that is not so very long ago as things go in the political world, the Home Secretary (Mr. Churchill) gave his opinion, among many other things, on the British Constitution. He gave his opinion, not in the words of any political oration, not upon the platform, because I believe the Home Secretary, like many of the rest of us, I suppose, says things upon the platform sometimes at night that he thinks afterwards are a little——[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, I think we are all prone to consider that we might express things differently, and possibly that we might have expressed them better after a little more reflection. These words were not the words of a platform speech; they were words presumably considered. They were the words of an Election Address, and, therefore, I say the weight that attached to them ought to be, and is, considerably greater. Here is what the right hon. Gentleman had to say in the year 1899:—I believe that the present Constitution of the United Kingdom is, on the whole, the best, and the most practical arrangement for the purpose of Government which exists in the world, or which is recorded in history.Whoever else saw the coming weakness in the Constitution, it was not the Home Secretary, and when the Government tell us, as the Prime Minister told us to-day, that there is an inherent defect in the machinery of the Constitution, and that the only cure is a radical one—the excision of the offending part of the machinery, curiosity prompts me to ask why, when you were arranging for the giving of a new Constitution to a State like the Transvaal, 1831 while, when you were giving a brand-new Constitution to United South Africa, you did not think it necessary to include the provisions you now declare are essential for the safe working and well-being of our Constitution. I do not know why South Africa should not have had the latest and best improvements in constitutional machinery. The only answer I can imagine is that you may say it was unnecessary to give these provisions to South Africa because the Second Chamber there is composed of level-headed impartial men. I know some hon. Gentlemen opposite apparently think that a large number of those who sit in another place and occupy legislative posts there are rabid Conservatives, whose Conservatism is only tempered apparently, at times, by mental deficiencies. Have it that way, if you will, but remember that every time you use that argument, every time you attack the House of Lords as a partisan assembly, you are stating premises from which the only logical conclusion is not an increase in the power of the Government in this House, but a reform in the composition of the House over the way. There is no escape from that argument. Every argument I have ever heard adduced is an argument not for an alteration of the relations between the two Houses, but for a reform in the composition of the other House. Every argument I have heard repeated by hon. Gentlemen and stated from the point of view of their party—every argument, every consideration of constitutional history, every dictate of common sense, goes to show that the process of reform should at all events accompany the process of the adjustment of the relations between the two Houses. That, at any rate, is my own view. I think it is the view also of my hon. Friends who sit near me, and I believe it is the view, too, of a considerable number of hon. Members who sit opposite. I rather gathered it was a view not repugnant to the Foreign Secretary, and I venture to express a hope that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster may see his way to convey our wish that before this Debate closes the Foreign Secretary will find time to explain to this House and to the country in greater length than he has yet done, his views on this question of the Second Chamber, and how he regards the proposals made by his colleagues in the Cabinet to-day. I hope that our aspirations may be fulfilled. I understand from the Prime Minister, that the Liberal League, like Queen Anne, is dead. It 1832 always was a plant of tender growth, and it never survived the transplanting of its tenderest shoots to the Treasury Bench. I know there are a great many people who still hold, as members of that league used to hold, that the Reform of the Second Chamber is vitally necessary and urgent, and that you ought to have it at once. I hope, before this Debate closes, we shall be told what are the reasons for not proceeding now with this reform. I say there are no reasons in logic or in constitutional practice, but there are seventy-six good reasons below the Gangway, and so the Government apparently are determined to set the party cart in front of the national horse. I do not know how history will judge it. The Preamble of your own Bill admits that a change in the composition of the Second Chamber would be a good thing in the interests of the country, but the Government say "before we do that, and we may do it at some time or other, we must first put the Liberal party in a position of greater advantage." Take these two courses, and I ask the Government which they are going to prefer, and which they believe the country would prefer. On the one hand you have a change which is confessedly in the interests of one party, and to which, after all, nearly one-half the electors are bitterly opposed. On the other hand, you have a change which, on the face of your own Bill, is in the interests of the nation, and to which there is practically no opposition, even in the House of Lords itself. Which are you going to prefer? If you prefer the former, I venture to say you will incur a very grave responsibility, a responsibility which is all the more grave because of the time at which you assume it. If, as my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London said in a year, which should be a year of good omen for all men and of goodwill, you choose to bring, not peace, but the sword, I believe the country will judge you hardly, and I believe that posterity will also judge you hardly. It may be a long time hence; statesmen come and statesmen go, Labour parties come and Labour parties go, but sooner or later we shall all have to stand our trial at the bar, and when it comes, if the Government persist in this course, if, confessing in the forefront of their own Bill the better course they choose the worst, then all I can say is I believe the man in the street to-day, as well as the impartial historian of tomorrow, will give as their verdict that the 1833 Government, haying a chance to look at matters from a national basis, have preferred to look at them from a party point of view, and in order to secure a temporary advantage over one of the parties in the States have been willing to sacrifice the lasting welfare of the nation and of the people at large.
§ Mr. J. A. PEASE
The hon. Member for County Down addressed the greatest part of his remarks to the question of the composition of the Second Chamber, rather than to the Bill which is before the House. He asked the Government two or three questions in regard to the preamble of the Bill. All I can say to him is this, that under our Constitution so long as the Cabinet have behind them a majority of the Members of this House each Session the Cabinet decides what is the relative importance of the various Bills which they think it advisable to introduce, and this Session we think the most important Bill to introduce is this Parliament Bill, and we are prepared to postpone the Bill referred to in the preamble to a future Session. [An HON. MEMBER: "Next Session? "] I say a future Session. By the passage of this Parliament Bill which the Prime Minister reintroduced to-day, the Government believe that they will achieve two great objects. First, that they will give the people's representatives in this House of Commons the power, not only to propose legislation, but to make laws, and, secondly, they believe that they will so restrict the Second Chamber to its proper function. In our previous history it was recognised that revision was part of its constitutional work, and we hope in future it will to a very large extent ignore that recent practice which has grown up of rejecting Bills which are sent to it from this House. No one can assert that in recent history Liberal Governments, when they have been returned to power, have had the same measure of fairness dealt out to them by the House of Lords as our Conservative opponents when they have been in power. A few minutes ago the hon Member for the City of London (Sir P. Banbury) said, by way of interruption, that the House of Lords only rejected bad measures. It is very easy for us who sit on this side of the House to say that when the country has returned the Conservative or Unionist party to power it is suffering under temporary aberration, and that all their measures are bad. It is also quite easy for the Opposition to say 1834 that of the Liberal or Radical party when they are in power, but that really carries us no further.
I admit that in recent years—take the years from 1906 to 1909—several excellent measures, useful measures, were passed by the House of Lords. Bills, such as the Trades Disputes Bill, the extension of the Compensation Bill, the Children's Bill, the Labour Exchanges Bill, were no doubt passed, but I would remind the House that such measures were only passed into law by the almost unparalleled exertions of the Liberal and Labour Members in this House who sat for forty-three out of the forty-eight months of those four years with a view to securing them on the Statute Book. If we were supported to a certain extent by the Opposition, I must say that we did not receive much encouragement, and I do not think they can claim to have given very generous help even in regard to those measures. But on the other hand, what is the record of the House of Lords of mutilation of wrecking and of rejection? Eleven great measures during those four years were either rejected or wrecked. Seven large measures were to a large extent mutilated. This treatment is not new when Liberals are in power. In all cases connected with humanity, in all cases connected with religious reform, with political equality, with social reform, and with our antiquated land laws, the House of Lords have never been pioneers. They have never initiated legislation dealing with those great subjects, but often they have opposed them, as they did when they opposed Emancipation, the Abolition of University Tests, and even questions connected with their own reform, as when in the Parliament of 1868 to 1874 a Bill was introduced to establish Life Peerages they rejected that measure. They rejected the Ballot Bill. It subsequently was passed; but it was mutilated by them in that Chamber.
Coming to the next Parliament, when the Liberal party were in power, the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, and the Arrears Bill for Ireland were also grossly mutilated by that Chamber, and coming to the first Parliament in which I sat between 1892 and 1895, they rejected the Home Rule Measure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I know, as those cheers indicate, that many hon. Members thought that at the election which followed the country opposed Home Rule. Of course, we are entitled to argue the contrary. I think it was much more likely Sir 1835 William Harcourt's Veto Bill, which caused that alteration in the expression of opinion than that it was our Home Rule Bill, but it is a matter of opinion. They wrecked our Employers' Liability Bill, they threw out the Bill for the Abolition of Primogeniture, they rejected the Evicted Tenants Bill, and, as has already been alluded to in this Debate, even by the last speaker, the House of Lords rejected the Education Bill, the Plural Voting Bill, the Licensing Bill, and the Finance Bill in the Parliament between 1906 and 1910. But what is so amazing that the House of Lords should reject these measures which were passed by such enormous majorities. I am not going to dwell upon the figures of those majorities to night. They were enormous, and in many cases the numbers voting in favour of the measure were three to one in this House of Commons. As Whip for fourteen years in this House, I recognise what sacrifices have been made by members of the Liberal and Labour party in devoting themselves to their duties in this House. I have seen many men break down under the strain, I have known many men make great sacrifices of purse and health in order to secure the passage of measures which they, representing their constituents, desired to pass into law. The Education Bill of 1906 occupied thirty-two sittings, the Plural Voting Bill twelve sittings, the Licensing Bill thirty-one sittings, and the Finance Bill seventy-three sittings. We had in connection with the Finance Bill 485 Divisions, occupying 121 hours. The Lords rejected during that Parliament Bills occupying 165 days—nearly two Sessions of Parliament—and all the work done in those days was frustrated by an irresponsible and non-representative body. The hon. Baronet (Sir A. Acland Hood), a year ago at Taunton, speaking of his party, said:—Whether they had a majority or a minority the fact remained that they would govern the House of Commons and dictate the policy of the country.
§ Mr. J. A. PEASE
It has been quoted before, and I have never seen it denied. Of course, I accept the denial, but there are other individuals who have indicated the same kind of thought—that the House of Lords could restrain the Liberal party whenever they come into power, while the Conservative party would have their own way. We are sick of this treatment being meted out to us by the House of Lords, 1836 and it cannot go on. We are neither prepared to remain in office nor to attempt to pass measures unless we can see that there are means provided to secure the passage of those measures. What are the proposals which the Conservative party offer to meet the admitted grievance? What did Lord Lansdowne say on the 21st March last year in connection with his proposals in the House of Lords? In order to carry his proposals in the House of Lords he said:—You put the back bench peers in the position of selecting a certain number of their own body to carry on in the newly-constituted House the work they have done in the old House.10.0 P.M.
That is exactly what we do not want the House of Lords to do. That is the concentrated essence of Unionism. The selection of Peers in another place is going, no doubt, to carry on exactly the same work under Lord Lansdowne's reform as the House of Lords has hitherto carried on. We do not want that, and it is because we do not want it that we are introducing this measure. There is also the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition—the Referendum. In our opinion that is the destruction of our representative institutions. We do not know how it is to be applied. I understand from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) that he does not believe it ought to be applied to all Budgets, and yet we have the promise of the Leader of the Opposition that it ought to be applied to Tariff Reform proposals. We do not know whether it is to be applied to Money Bills or whether it is to be applied to the Army Annual Bill or any other. We are quite in the dark as to how the principle of the Referendum is to be applied. I was taunted in the Recess with having myself suggested the Referendum on one occasion. I have made a great number of speeches in my lifetime, and I believe it is perfectly true that on one occasion, addressing a meeting at Plymouth, I made a reference to the Referendum, but it was not in substitution of this Bill, it was in addition to the provisions of this Bill. It was after Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman had proposed his method by his Resolution in 1907 that I spoke and I advocated that if these Bills were going to be hung up for a period while the House of Lords rejected them the Government of the day might, at any rate, have the power to refer a Bill to the country so as to secure its immediate passage rather than it should be delayed two or three years because the House of Lords continued to 1837 obstruct the measures of the Liberal Government. I threw it out as a suggestion to them and not as a proposal emanating from the Government of the day.
I deny that the House of Lords has any exclusive right to reform itself. It seems to think it only has to consider the question from the point of view of the 606 Peers. The House of Lords is a part of the Constitution, and if anyone has a right to have a voice as to how that Chamber is to be reformed in the future it is this House, representing the nation. For the House of Lords to suggest that it should limit the number of its Members without any limitation of its powers is a direct attack, not only upon the prerogative of the Crown, but also upon the liberty of the subject. The creation of Peers is the only safeguard which this nation possesses against unbridled despotism on the part of the Peers, as they are at present constituted, and we are not prepared as a Government to part with that power until the predominance of this House is fully established. The Government have considered various proposals in connection with the readjustment of the relations between the two Houses. May I say how delighted we were to hear the admission of the Leader of the Opposition to-day that he himself believed in a modification and a readjustment of those relations. But, having considered all these various proposals, we feel that our proposals hold the field. Last Session we marked time, and, having attempted conciliation by means of a Conference which failed, we had no alternative but once again to appeal to the country upon this Parliament Bill which we had introduced, which has been submitted to the House, and which has been also submitted to the other House. Some hon. Members opposite have suggested that the country was not properly consulted in regard to the provisions of this Bill. I have been surprised at some of the statements which have been made here to-night. I suppose I have read more election addresses than any other Member of the House, and in every one of them that I read there were paragraphs from the Liberal party alluding to the provisions of the Parliament Bill and advocating their being returned mainly to support the Parliament Bill as the chief measure in this forthcoming Session.
I should like to deal with the appeal made by the Prime Minister to the country on this Parliament Bill. It is well known that the Nationalist, Labour, and Liberal 1838 Members were returned to the number of 398 as against 272 Unionists at the last General Election. If you eliminate the Speaker, the Chairman of Committees, and the Deputy-Chairman from the Division lists that leaves the party in power with a working majority of 125. After all, the uncontested elections were somewhat equal, though there may have been a small balance on one side. There was an enormous number of Liberals and Nationalists returned unopposed whose majorities would have far exceeded the votes cast for the Conservatives. But the actual numbers voting were 3,269,000 in favour of the Parliament Bill and 2,919,000 against it—a majority of 350,000 in favour of it. In 1895 the Unionist party were returned with a majority of voters in the country of 104,000 against 350,000 for our party at the last election. In the Khaki election of 1900 the Unionist party had a majority of 123,000, as against our 350,000 at the last election. [An HON. MEMBER: "How many uncontested seats were there?"] I am excluding uncontested seats. It is very difficult, of course, if you take into your calculation uncontested seats to agree upon any figures. What I want to impress upon the House is that the Leader of the Opposition has in connection with the Referendum given up the principle of plural voting and accepted the principle of "one man, one vote," and if we are to consider what the opinion of the country is, we cannot take the opinion of one man recorded over and over again under the system of plural voting. The hon. Member for the Walton division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) stated that the number of plural votes recorded at the General Election was about 400,000. My calculation is that there were about 500,000 plural votes. I do not think I am far wrong when I say that 400,000 of these votes were recorded for Unionists and the other 100,000 for our party. Although these figures may not be accepted by friends on one side, or opponents on the other, they are the best calculation I have been able to make with the information which has been at my disposal. That would indicate that instead of having a majority of 350,000 there was a majority in favour of this Bill recorded at last election of 650,000. Perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite would like to know how I calculate how many should be attached to their side, and how many to this side. I have had considerable experience of elections, and I think I am near the mark when I give the proportion of four to one. In constituencies 1839 of about 10,000 electors about 1,000 would not vote at all, for not more than 90 per cent. record their votes at an election. Of the 9,000 voting 5,000 would have voted in favour of the Bill, and 4,000 against, or an average majority in all the constituencies of the country if the constituencies were equal of about 1,000. The whole of the opposition under a system of that kind would have been wiped out.
I have spoken of the record of the House of Lords, and of the decision of the country at the last election. I want for a moment or two to refer to the immediate necessity for this Bill. The hon. Member for the Mile End Division of London (Mr. H. Law-son) says there is no urgency for the Bill What are the powers this Bill will confer upon the House of Commons. It is most important for us to see that the many measures required by Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and by this country in connection with devolution, disestablishment, and social reform are passed. I know that these measures are controversial, and that with the House of Lords composed as it is there is not the slightest chance of their being carried into law. We believe that the country is behind us in all our proposals, in all these matters, and that the House of Lords, and nothing but the House of Lords, prevents them from being placed on the Statute Book. I deny that this proposal will constitute a one Chamber system of Government in this country. Sir John Lawson Walton in 1907 laid it down in this House that the true sphere of an Upper Chamber was to amend, check, and delay the legislation of this House. The Peers for nearly a hundred years have abandoned that Constitutional practice and usurped powers which legally they possessed, but which they had no constitutional right to exercise. They have abused their legal rights, and we propose to restore the proper function of the Second Chamber. Their powers are not going to be confined to the constitutional practices I have referred to. They have power to initiate and also to reject a large number of measures. They will still be able to reject every measure during the first two Sessions of Parliament, except Money Bills, which are introduced by any Government. It is only after the passing of a Bill in three successive Sessions, with an interval of at least two years from its introduction, that the Upper House can be overridden. What will happen in the 1840 interval of two years? A Bill has to stand the fire of public criticism, Having been a Whip in this House for fourteen years, I say it is impossible for any Government to carry a Bill through the House of Commons unless it has got the support of the party Members in this House behind it, and the party behind those Members in the country. What happens when a Bill which the Government introduces does not receive continued support? Why it is dropped like hot potatoes. Take the Education Bills of the late Conservative Government. I cannot remember the date, but I think it was in 1897 and 1898 that they introduced Education Bills which were unpopular. Having been introduced by Sir John Gorst, they had to be dropped. I take as another illustration the Labour Disputes Bill, which was introduced by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Government in 1906. It was introduced in a form which did not meet with the approval of the party behind the Government in this House. The Labour Members took the opportunity of publicly expressing their opposition to its proposal, but long before that opinion found expression the Whips had privately conveyed to Ministers the information that there was no chance of passing the Bill in the form in which it had been introduced in the House of Commons, and therefore the Bill had to be amended and altered in order to secure its passage. Exactly in the same way, if any of these controversial Bills are introduced in a form of which the people of this country, who are behind the supporters of the Government, do not approve, there is not the slightest chance of the Bill being passed through this House during three successive Sessions of Parliament, and the House of Lords' views being over-ridden. Then, again, during the two last years, of what the Prime Minister called this afternoon the working term in the life of any Government, the third and fourth years, under the provisions of this Bill the House of Lords can reject every Bill except a Money Bill. Therefore, for hon. Members to come down to this House and say that we are proposing to deprive the House of Lords of all its powers and to set up a One-Chamber system of government is abuse of language. But what has impressed me more than anything else is the lack of loyalty of many hon. Members on the Opposition side to the interests of the House of which they are themselves members. I have watched the proceedings of Parliament 1841 from the year 1880 to the present time. I have all along longed for the day when this House of Commons would be freed from the domination of the House of Lords, and I think perhaps the incident which impressed itself more than any other on my mind was when in 1894 I saw my then revered Leader (Mr. Gladstone) rise for the last time in this House, and heard his last closing words at the end of a life of work for his country, during which he had been a leading figure in this House, and over which he had exercised a most extraordinary influence. He used these words:—In some way or other a solution will have to be found for the tremendous contrariety and incessant conflict upon matters of high principle and profound importance between the representatives of the people and those who fill a nominated chamber.We claim to have found that way in the solution which we submit by this Bill for the judgment of the House.
§ Mr. CAVE
The earlier half of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite consisted of a catalogue, highly coloured, highly exaggerated, of what he called the misdeeds of the House of Lords, beginning with, I think, the Test Act, and ending with the Finance Bill of last year. I think that that catalogue has done duty on many platforms during the recent election, and I doubt whether those who used it gave the obvious answer to the argument—"If you do not approve of the House of Lords as a Second Chamber why do not you reform it? Why do you continue to abuse and object to the constitution of that House when you will not even touch it with your little finger?" That being so, I do not propose to go at any length into that part of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments. I believe it is true of him, as of so many of his followers, that while looking at the grievance under which they believe they labour—I mean the grievance which consists in the Conservative majority in the House of Lords, they look too little at the remedy which the Government propose to apply, and they do not remember how tremendous an innovation, how tremendous an experiment we are invited to try by this Bill. We may learn something from other countries, and—it will not be disputed—there is not a great Power in the world which has not got the two-Chamber system. What is the two-Chamber system? Is it suggested that we are going to have it under this Bill? It is simply this: that no new legislation can take effect unless it has the concurrence of both Houses. I shall be surprised if I 1842 am told that in that sense the two-Chamber system can survive this Bill. Therefore we are going to have, if this Bill condition of things which no great nation in the world—not even the great Republic of France or of the United States—has adopted up to the present time. And, more than that, in other countries—I take the United States as the most prominent example—in other countries of that kind, any proposal to change the Constitution of the country must receive not only the assent of the two Houses, but must also pass certain special safeguards which make it difficult, even if the Houses are agreed, to alter the Constitution. So far, in this country, the only safeguard of that kind we have had has proved sufficient—the need of the concurrence of the House of Lords. You are going to do away altogether with that safeguard. You are going to put nothing whatever in its place; and if this Bill becomes law, you will be able to propose any change, however great, whether it extends to the Crown itself, and pass it into law at the will of the House of Commons without any safeguard whatever. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] The hon. Member says: "Why not?" Let me first say that I think I have made good my first point, that this is a tremendous experiment never yet tried in any other country. What is it we are asked to do? It is this, that if, for two years, you can get the House of Commons to be of one mind, you can pass what you please into law. I say of one mind, but if by the whip or the guillotine, or by coalitions, or by bargaining between groups you can get the House to vote one way for as long as two years that measure is, without any check on the part of the people or any other House, to pass into law, and that although the measure in question may never have been before the electors of the country at all.
There is nothing in the Bill to prevent the majority of this House from passing a Bill never mentioned to the country at the election that has passed—passing it three times running for two years, and it will become law. You decline to let even a measure of that kind, when rejected by the other House, be referred to the judgment of the electors. This proposal will apply to measures of first-class importance, to measures like Disestablishment, that I know some hon. Members would feel glad to see pass at once—measures for nationalisation of the land and of railways; 1843 measures for the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and other Socialistic measures which Members opposite, many of them, are not prepared to see passed. And yet they are preparing a whip for their own backs, and the time will come when those with whom they act now, when they are a majority in this House, will pass Bills to which they strongly object. It will apply to measures changing the Constitution of this country, to measures altering the franchise, altering the duration of Parliament, and doing away, possibly, with the safeguards in this very Bill. If this Bill passes, what are the safeguards worth, the three passings of a Bill through this House or the two years' delay? They could be abolished in two years' time by this Government or by the next Government. They are perfectly worthless as a safeguard for our Constitution. Other things might be altered. Take the Protestant Succession; and I put this, of course, simply as an instance; not because there is any large body in this House who to-day would do away with it. Still, it remains true under this Bill that such an integral part of our Constitution as that could be destroyed without the country being consulted, and the changes could extend even to the Prerogative of the Crown itself. Therefore, it will not be disputed that the power to reject, which, I think, is the essence of a Second House, will go, and with it the great virtue of a Second House, to which the Government themselves declare their adhesion. It is said "well at all events we leave to the House of Lords the power to amend." You do nothing of the kind. What is the value of a power to amend if when your amendment is passed the other House can say, "we object to it," and the amendment falls to the ground? You have no power to amend, you have nothing but the power to suggest amendments which may or may not be accepted. The result is that instead of the Constitution created by this Bill being government by two Chambers, it will be government by one Chamber with the advice of the other. I do not think that the country has voted for a change such as that. The Chancellor of the Duchy said that it is an advantage to have the two years' delay in the passing of a Bill, because during that time Amendments may be suggested, and the Bill can be revised. I 1844 think he has forgotten that under this Bill that might be, and, indeed, would be, wholly impossible. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities (Sir R. Finlay) made that point good this afternoon, when he showed that once a Bill had passed this House, then, under this Bill, even although this House felt that the Bill had serious defects and wanted amending in material particulars, this House even would not be able to amend such a Bill, because by so doing it would become no longer the same Bill; and so they would lose the whole advantage of the first passage of the measure through this House. The only exception, hon. Members must remember, to that provision is that if owing to change of dates, or some matter of that kind, some formal alteration is necessary, that alteration can be made. Except in that respect this Bill takes away the power of revision not only from the other House, but from this House itself.
It is said, "Oh, there is still a safeguard; there is the safeguard of delay during which public opinion can be heard." Does anybody in this House, who has been in this House even for the short time for which I have been a Member, attach any importance to that? Petitions—who read petitions, or knows what is in them, or even refers to the summary of their contents? If anybody supposes the power of delay is useful as giving time for petitions, he is saying what we all here know to be perfectly valueless. We are told that public meetings may show the feelings of the country. Again, which of us attaches much importance to public meetings? It is easy for anybody with something to say to organise a first-rate public meeting. Some of the least successful candidates have the best public meetings. It would be perilous to draw any conclusion from even a number of public meetings got up throughout the country against a measure. I am sure the present Government would be the last to attach any importance to pressure of that kind. What is left, except, perhaps, by-elections? It is a commonplace with both parties that when we lose a by-election it means nothing at all. I am perfectly sure that if a measure were rejected by the other House and a by-election went against the Government, they would be the first to say that no importance attached to it, because the loss was due to other causes. Therefore I feel confident that even a delay of two years is in 1845 substance no check whatever. All the House would have to do would be under the operation of the yearly guillotine resolution to pass the same measure automatically year after year, and the treble passage of the measure would be of very little more value than its first passage.
One other point suggested was that, at all events during the last year or two of each Parliament, we should have the fear of the coming election before us, and would not desire to go against the popular will. How are we to know the popular will? Members of this House are often mistaken. It often happens when a Dissolution comes that the majority anticipate a return to power, and are disappointed. Men may in perfectly good faith be mistaken as to what the people want, and without intending it may very well go against what, as a result of the election, turns out to be the will of the people. If that happens it is no good saying that you can reverse it in the next Parliament. Under this Bill many measures may be passed which in substance cannot be reversed. Many things occur to me which, if done, cannot be undone. Therefore, it is no answer to say that it does not matter if a wrong measure is passed because it can be reversed later on.
Again, some Members say, "We quite agree that this Bill will not do as a permanent measure; we must have very soon an effective Second Chamber with effective powers," and they point to the Preamble of the Bill—the most obvious trap to catch the moderate Liberal that I have ever seen. Let us see what the Preamble says:Whereas, it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber, constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation.My hon. Friend asked a question of the Chancellor of the Duchy, but he did not get an answer. May I ask the Prime Minister some time when he speaks again on the point to tell us why the substitution cannot immediately be brought into operation?
§ Mr. CAVE
You can effect that substitution with greater ease than you can pass this Bill. You can do it in less time. You can do it with less bad feeling. You can do it so as to make it a final change, 1846 which can easily be brought into operation at once. It is not the case that it cannot be done. It is the case that you will not do it. The Preamble goes on:—Whereas provision will require hereafter to be made by Parliament in a measure effecting such substitution for limiting and defining the powers of the new Second Chamber.What comfort is there in that? How are you going to limit or define? Will these powers be limited more or less than by this Bill? We are not told. Nobody is told. If the Moderate Liberal believes that he is going to get back under the new Bill here foreshadowed the old state of things as regards the relations of the Houses he will be very much mistaken. Even if the Government intended it they cannot ensure such a change being made. [An HON. MEMBER:" They do not."] Then this recital means nothing at all. Already to-day we have seen many Members of the party opposite object altogether to the Preamble. They object to having a Second Chamber on an elective basis, and to giving it effective power. If that is so, surely the Prime Minister and the Government, with the best will in the world, cannot make sure of passing any such measure in the future. If you want an effective Second Chamber, now is the time to get it—now, when you are making changes, and you can say to your followers: "Unless you agree to our proposals for the reform of the Second House we cannot carry out the proposals for the change of relations between the Houses." Now you can make terms. But when you have passed this Bill you will be in the hands of your most extreme followers, and you will never be able to pass your measure for the reform of the House of Lords. So long as there is a strong body of Members of the party opposite who are opposed to it, reform is not likely to come, and anybody in the house—and the many in the country—who found upon this Preamble some kind of expectation of seeing, sooner or later, the House of Lords reformed and with effective powers, are only deceiving themselves, or rather are deceived by those who use these words. We are told—I think most unnecessarily by right hon. Gentlemen opposite—that those who oppose this measure are not loyal to this House. A more unfounded suggestion was never made. My right hon. and learned Friend showed this afternoon that this measure will be detrimental not to the other House only but to this. 1847 Even if it were not so; is it to be said that because somebody proposes to give to this House greater powers at the expense, as we believe, of breaking up the Constitution as a whole, we are to be so partial or so wedded to our own house—whatever the results may be—as to support that proposal! I think we ought to be loyal not to this House only, but to the whole Constitution. If this Bill is pressed it will meet with bitter and prolonged opposition. We will use every fair means at our disposal to prevent it becoming law, and if it becomes law we will never rest until we see the Statute either effectively amended or removed from the Statute Book.
But we do not confine our opposition to a mere negative. I want to say a few words in answer to the speech of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster upon the alternative proposals, which, thanks not to the action of the Government, but to the action of Lord Lansdowne in the House of Lords in the last Parliament, are now before the country.
I admit at once, and none of us deny it, that in the two elections of last year the party opposite have their strongest argument. They have been twice returned by a majority, and a majority, I agree, must mean something. I am not going to shirk the issue at all. What was the great cry of many Members opposite, by which they won the last election? It was, to put it in a short but misleading sentence, "Peers against People." It is true we never heard an issue more effectively confused than by that phrase, because while we were willing to say that the hereditary power of the Peers should be considered, hen. Gentlemen opposite were not willing that that should be done. But I will take it for the purposes of my argument, rightly or wrongly, that a majority, and a very small majority, of the electors voted under this conviction—firstly, that the hereditary power of the Peers ought to be curtailed; secondly, that the will of the people should be the final word in legislation. I put it to the House that upon both of these points, upon which many of the electors voted, we have put before the country and before this House a sufficient and a better alternative than that contained in this Bill. The other House has already resolved that the possession of a hereditary peerage should not, by itself, be a qualification for sitting as a Lord of Parliament; 1848 they themselves were entitled to consider the matter first, and they themselves have voluntarily given up the hereditary principle to which many of the electors took objection. Are the Government willing to discuss that? So far they have received the Resolutions of the other House in an off-hand way and without any discussion at all. If the Government are willing to discuss details we are ready and we will be glad to put before them, when the time comes, details of a scheme for reform of the other House with a view to passing it through Parliament at the same time with a measure dealing with the relations between the two Houses. I think that any change, any well considered change in the constitution of the other House, would be preferable to the Bill now before us. On the other point, as to whether the will of the people should be the determining factor or not, I think our proposals are now well understood in the House, and I do not see how it can be denied that they are adequate. All this professed ignorance as to the meaning of what is called the Referendum—but which I prefer to call the Poll of the Electors—is surely to some extent assumed. It is no new proposal. You will find the same principle in many of our Colonial statutes. It is in operation in our own Colonies, where no one finds it difficult to understand or to work. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster reminded us just now that he himself not so very long ago advocated the Referendum as a remedy. I know he stated that he made no definite proposal, but let me read to the House, the words of the right hon. Gentleman himself, and we shall see whether he was not really in the position of an advocate of the Referendum. Speaking at Plymouth in February, 1909, some time after some of these difficulties arose, the right hon. Gentleman said:—The only solution which could meet the present difficult position, and which would ascertain whether any particularly great capital measure represented the true level of public opinion, was by appealing to the people through the principle of the Referendum.
§ Mr. J. A. PEASE
I should like to say that what the hon. Member has quoted from is not a verbatim report. I have consulted my notes of that speech since, and I am quite sure in my own mind that that report does not accurately represent what I meant. [HON. MEMBERS: "What did you say?"] I have already explained what I meant on this point in my speech this evening.
§ Mr. CAVE
I think it is rather unfortunate that for two years that report should have remained unchallenged. Even that speech, as the right hon. Gentleman remembers it, shows that he had considered the question of the Referendum, and, to use the phrase of the Prime Minister, had coquetted with it for a short time, and understood it sufficiently well to appreciate the proposals we have made. The Prime Minister did not deal quite adequately with this proposal to-day, and his account of it appeared to me something of a travesty of what our proposal really is. May I devote a few minutes to this point? We do not propose that the Referendum shall be part of the ordinary machinery of legislation. [An HON. MEMBER: "Don't you?"] I should be strongly opposed to legislation by Referendum as an ordinary occurrence. If it is desired—and I know many Members of my party desire it—that a particular measure upon which no difference has arisen between the two Houses should be put to the people by means of a Referendum, that can easily be done by a special Referendum Clause in the Bill itself. That would require special legislation in such case, but as a normal matter the Referendum should only be used where a deadlock has arisen between the two Houses. In saying that I say nothing inconsistent with anything that has been said on this side of the House, or with what has been said by the Leader of our party. I would put the Referendum, or the Poll of the Electors, in the place of the third passage of a Bill by this House in this Parliament Bill. Where twice the two Houses have differed, then put it to the people by way of the Referendum, and let that be the decision. Hon. Gentlemen seem to find some occasion for doubt as to what that means. I think it is perfectly simple. I think where the two Houses differ the difference can be as well, and indeed better decided, by the vote of all the electors of this country than by a mere repetition of the vote of this House. You will find it provided for in the Australian and in the African statute. If you take the trouble to inquire, you will find that the vote has been taken, and at all events it has this result: whichever House has to give way as the result of the vote, gives way, not to the other House, but to the vote of the people itself. Time does not permit my going into the details of the scheme, although I will gladly do it when the time comes; but I do believe that sooner or later this matter 1850 will receive further, and I hope fairer, consideration, and that those hon. Gentlemen opposite who are really democrats, and really wish the will of the people to govern will find in this scheme a better, a fairer, and a more democratic solution than that proposed by the Government.
The proposals which we have made and put before the country are genuine and workable proposals. We only desire them to be fairly considered. I believe the Prime Minister has a great opportunity. He may, if he pleases, inscribe upon the Statute Book of this Realm a greater Constitutional Reform than any which has been passed since the time of Lord Grey. He may do it without friction, without bad feeling, and with the general assent of all parts of this House. He may in that way leave to his successor the legacy of a reformed Second House with effective and not excessive powers. He may do all that, but, if he prefers it, it is open to him to take the other course. He may endeavour to force upon the people of this country, upon very little less than half of the people of this country, a constitutional change amounting to a revolution. He may endeavour to carry that by violent means, means which I believe to be wholly outside our Constitution, he may create great friction and great ill-feeling, and he may leave behind him a measure certain to be shortly upset. He may succeed or he may fail. He has a great advantage, but he may press the advantage too far, and find his instrument break in his hand. But whatever the result may be our duty is perfectly clear. We are sent here to resist this proposal. We will with all our strength and at all costs resist it to the utmost of our power.
§ Dr. J. ESMONDE
I noticed, as a new Member, that when the Leader of the Opposition was speaking that the House was absolutely unanimous upon one occasion, and that was when he said there could be no compromise in connection with this Bill. That seemed to me to strike the correct note; it meant that the majority of the House have a verdict from the constituencies that this Bill shall be passed into law. The hon. and learned Member who last spoke asked the Prime Minister why no particulars were given of the Preamble of the Bill, and why it has been decided not to go on with the Bill for the reform of the House of Lords. Had he known anything about this country—about the poverty and misery of the working classes 1851 —he would have known that a great constitutional measure which would take three or four years to pass cannot be allowed to take the place of these measures of reform that are necessary to the masses, not only of the people of the country from which I come, but also to Great Britain itself. It was, therefore, I think, most unreasonable for him to express that the question of Home Rule, of Welsh Disestablishment, and labour questions which have been frely discussed in the constituencies and in this House—should be delayed while we wasted our time in trying, to reform the House of Lords—a task which many of us think to be absolutely impossible. Some persons with the greatest possible intelligence may be able to propound some measure of reform to bring the existing Chamber into some sort of satisfactory condition to meet the exigencies of the present political situation, but that is a question I will not deal with now. We believe on these benches that the measure which is now before the House is a measure which is going to make way for a great and important reform which will be of benefit not only to our country, but of even greater benefit to the British Empire, and therefore I believe it is important to push this measure through with the greatest expediency to make way for measures necessary both for Ireland and for Great Britain, and also to get rid of the responsibility of having a political crisis in the coming summer.
§ And, it being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood Adjourned.
§ Ordered, That the Debate be resumed to-morrow (Wednesday.)