§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [21st February], "That leave be given to bring in 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."—[The Prime Minister.]
§ Question again put. Debate resumed.
§ Dr. J. ESMONDE
I trust the House will give me its attention while I continue the remarks interrupted by the operation of the Eleven o'clock Rule last night. One of the arguments which has been adduced by the Opposition Leader is that the Prime Minister has only a Coalition majority 1924 But no party, no matter how large or how influential, has anything but a Coalition majority because every party consists of a Coalition of individual Members, and it is quite impossible for all the members of any party, no matter how loyal, to see eye to eye on every measure the party may adopt. Are the Opposition themselves absolutely clear from the charge of having had coalition Governments? I do not know whether the Liberal Unionist party is dead or not. I have heard it asked whether the Liberal Imperial League is dead. Are we to understand that the Liberal Unionist party is dead, or has it managed to swallow up the Tory party altogether? Then, again, there are other parties outside the official Opposition in this House. We have a party which I may call the Ecclesiastical Free Trade Tory party, which is so ably led and kept in such good order by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University. Then we have what I hope I may call—without being thought offensive by the Unionists from Ireland—the Little Ireland party. I do not think they will object to that description when their un- 1925 doubtedly ablest Member compared in this House the other day the nation to which he belongs with Quebec.
I support this Bill for three reasons: First, because I think it is a good thing for my country that we shall obtain Home Rule; secondly, because I believe it clears the decks for those crying reforms which are so necessary for the Democracy of Great Britain; and thirdly because I believe if this Empire is to go on and improve you must acknowledge that there are many nationalities inside the Empire, and you must keep them inside, instead of trying to exclude them and depriving them of the opportunity of using any spirit of nationality they may possess for the common good of the Empire. We on these Benches recognise that the first question put before the electors of the United Kingdom at the last election was the Veto Bill, and for this reason there is no other measure which the Liberal party at the present time propose to bring forward in the present Parliament that has not already been submitted to the people and approved of by them. I maintain that it is absurd and ridiculous for any hon. or right hon. Member to say that the people of this country were not equally aware, with every Member of this House, that if the Veto Bill got through the very next thing that would happen would be the introduction of a measure of Home Rule for Ireland. I believe the electors are equally intelligent with the Members of this House. They read their papers, and I am quite prepared to admit that there may be many people who, while they are in favour of the Veto Bill, are against Home Rule. That is the reason why there are so many Members sitting on the Opposition Benches to-day. But it makes the case for Home Rule all the stronger. It is one of the disadvantages of putting our question before the country mixed up with other questions that we do not obtain as large a majority as undoubtedly we would have if it were put to the country by itself. Hon. Members may not agree with that, but, in my opinion, the vast majority of the people of this country have made up their minds that the only possible solution of the Irish question is to bring the people of Ireland into loyalty with the Empire. They have further made up their minds that active and loyal support in the progress of this country will never be forthcoming until the Irish people receive that measure of justice which the country at the polls decided they should have. We who sit on these benches sympathise most 1926 thoroughly with the masses of the people of Great Britain because, although they have the franchise they have no opportunity of exercising it, seeing that the House of Lords has either stopped, rejected, or mutilated every Bill for the advantage of the working classes. I speak from some experience of this country, in which I have been engaged for twenty-five years as a professional man, and I unhesitatingly say in this House that I have seen hundreds of people suffering from disease brought on by absolute want and starvation. I say it is a desperate thing to think that in this country we should have laws to compel people to feed cattle, horses, and dogs under which they will be sent to gaol if they do not do so. It is a scandal to the greatest Empire in the world that there are thousands of people in this country who lack the bare necessaries of life. I look forward to the day when the Veto of the House of Lords is abolished, and when these thousands of men in the country and their wives and children will have sufficient to eat. I look forward to the day when legislation will be brought in to do away with some of the crying wrongs from which the British democracy are suffering. Furthermore, in this Bill I see the regeneration of my country and the burying of the hatchet between England and Ireland. I see the two countries working well in harmony together, and I see Irishmen, when they have obtained Home Rule, vying with the Scotch and Welsh people in their loyalty to the British Empire. I think the democracy of a country have a right to rule it, and I look forward with every satisfaction and confidence to the day when the people of this country will really see the liberty and justice which they demand. I consider that this Empire, great and prosperous as it is now, has not yet reached its zenith, nor can it do so until the mass of the people of this country are entrusted with its future destiny.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
The hon. Member who has just sat down did not establish as clearly as I should desire the connection between the number of destitute patients of whom he spoke and the action of the House of Lords in the last few years, but I hope he will not think me discourteous if I postpone any comments upon the interesting speech he has just delivered until I approach the Irish question and the Irish attitude in relation to the Parliament Bill of the Government. I listened, as other hon. Members did, to the Debate in 1927 the House yesterday, and I confess that what surprised me more than any other subject was the levity with which it was assumed by hon. Gentlemen opposite that, for some reason insufficiently explained in their speeches, these proposals, the importance of which no one in any part of the House denies, are necessarily, and within a short period, to become law. Some sixteen years ago, when the House of Commons dealt somewhat more scientifically with these questions, a Liberal Government, of which the Prime Minister was also a Member, directed a Report to be presented to the House of Commons showing what constitutional steps were necessary before great changes—changes of the character under discussion here—could be taken under the various Constitutions of the great countries of the world. I do not propose to ask the House to follow me in any details of that Return, but I may at least appeal to them to consider, if only for a moment, some of the lessons which are taught by the terms of that Return. If you take the case of Austria, a two-third's majority of the Chamber is necessary to carry such a reform. If you take the case of Belgium a two-third's majority would be necessary after both Chambers had been dissolved, and dissolved on the particular reform-In Germany fourteen hostile votes in the Federal Council would defeat the proposal utterly, and in the United States of America, before Congress could even propose such an Amendment in the Constitution as we are considering to-day, it would be necessary that two-thirds of both Houses should make a requisition that there should be a requisition by two-thirds of the legislatures, and after these precautions had been taken, it would be necessary that the change should be ratified by two-thirds of the legislatures which compose the union.
We are to-day the only first-class country in the world where a Single Chamber could attempt to destroy the Second Chamber by bare majority, and let me here observe that of all the astonishing features of the Debate last night the most astonishing of all was the complete failure of any speaker from that side of the House to assail the position laid down by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, that, whatever else this Veto Bill does, it introduces into the Constitution of this country Single-Chamber Government. No speaker directed himself to controverting that statement, while 1928 many speakers openly and undisguisedly based their support of these proposals on the ground that they will set up Single-Chamber Government. How did the Prime Minister deal with that. The Prime Minister with the exception of his illuminating sentence as to the considerations influencing Members immediately before and after an election made one reference and one reference to it only. He said that Members of the House of Commons in recent times considerably underrated the likelihood under changed conditions of legislation being introduced into a new House of Commons destroying the legislation of its predecessors. That is the point to which the modern statecraft has carried us. I have always understood that it was a salutary and wholesome rule in the main acquiesced in by both parties, that where legislation had received the sanction of both Chambers and passed into law that that legislation should be maintained, and that there should be some degree of continuity established in respect to the changes and vicissitudes of parties. The Prime Minister tells us to-day that in the new heaven and earth which is to be put before a grateful country under the terms of this Parliament Bill, we shall spend the activities of a new Parliament in correcting the activities of its predecessor. I wonder whether the Prime Minister would suggest that that consideration is applicable to Home Rule, and let no one entertain the least doubt that supposing a demand were made on the Prime Minister that for instance the very securities in this Bill on which so much insistence is laid—the security in other words that the House of Lords may delay legislation for two years—does anyone doubt that if a powerful representation were made to the Prime Minister either by the Labour party or by the Irish party that this power of delaying on which so much stress is laid should he corrected—does anybody doubt that the Prime Minister would give way.
It is clear that if the support of a section of his supporters who applied to the Prime Minister to correct the period of two years delay were necessary to the life of the Government, the Prime Minister would immediately give way. We know his career in the Trades Disputes Bill. We observed his career last January on the subject of the relative precedence of the Budget and the Veto, and there can be no doubt at all in the mind of anybody who has analysed the political psychology of the right hon. Gentleman that because he 1929 happens to be in the unfortunate position in which he is not the master of his own destiny, but the plaything of one of the groups which support him, that if a preemptory demand were presented to the Prime Minister that it should be altered this safeguard would immediately go. Therefore we are face to face with this, and I hope the Home Secretary will deal with this point and address some of his arguments to it, that this is a Bill which sets up Single-Chamber Government pure and simple; it enables the House of Commons to deal, not only with the Monarchy, but with the very instruments of Government which we are told is to be the only security left in the Bill. Such a proposition is absurd to those of us who know the conditions under which business is carried on in the House of Commons. We know perfectly well that it is only a form and a a name when we say that these decisions are arrived at by the House of Commons. They are not arrived at by the House of Commons; they are left to the Cabinet of the day, and only to the Cabinet of the day. The Home Secretary attempted to draw a distinction the other night. He said that the Cabinet exists, and exists only, by the support of the private Members; and he added this significant observation that a breath from the House of Commons would blow the Cabinet away. An entire fallacy underlies that observation. It is quite true that if the Cabinet are lagging much behind the views of extreme party men at the moment—if the Cabinet are behind the full tide of party feeling—that the House of Commons by the failing of the party majority can blow the Cabinet away. We all saw that process in full blast last year.
We saw Minister after Minister—the most attractive rhetoricians on the Front Government Bench—come and address persuasive and impassioned harangues to a stone cold audience night after night. That is perfectly true if you are lagging behind the party spirit of your own side. It is not true if you are at the head of a party. If, in other words, the Government is in advance of the party feeling of the day and holds strong and unanimous views, then the Cabinet, as every Member of this House knows, is the supreme master of the destinies of the House. It is therefore not true that these powers are given to the House of Commons, but they are given to a small oligarchy, which decides what the Cabinet is to do. We all know that the days of the private Members of this House have gone, never to re- 1930 turn. There is nobody who has followed the changes in our procedure, even in the comparatively short period that I have been in the House, who does not know that the influence of the private Member has become a thing of the past, and it has progressively declined as the strength of the caucus has progressively grown. I remember on the great Budget the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley—a very independent and influential Member of this House—described the Chancellor of the Exchequer who introduced it as the devil going about with his pitchfork and attacking every industry. In the space of a few months such was the power of the caucus in this House and in his Constituency he was supporting the Budget, and I think he stood upon it at the election. I remember another case in which a Member for a Derbyshire seat joined what was called the cave after the Budget was introduced, and he went to the extreme limit of independence by writing a letter to the "Daily Mail" expressing his dislike of the Budget. A week later I went down to speak at a by-election in the High Peak Division of Derbyshire, and I saw that hon. Member addressing an open-air meeting, and at the conclusion of his speech I saw him waving his hat while he gave three cheers for the Budget. As the power of the caucus has grown the power of the Cabinet has grown, and the growth of those powers has made constantly growing demands upon the independence and strength of private Members. Whatever else the Veto Bill does, it gives uncontrolled power over every branch of legislation to that small oligarchy which is known as the Cabinet. The Home Secretary made an observation the other day more or less in this connection. He said it would be the fault of the Opposition if this discussion or this crisis were not ended by the date of the Coronation. That statement was inaccurate, and also extremely' ungenerous. Did not I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that if this crisis was not ended by the date of the Coronation the responsibility would rest with the Opposition?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Churchill)
No. I did not say that at all. I said if there was a crisis the responsibility would rest with the Opposition.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I really, strange as it may appear, did not mean that the responsibility for the crisis would rest with the Opposition if there was not a crisis, and I 1931 have only to add that that statement in its modified form is not only a demonstrably inaccurate, but, under all the circumstances of the case, is an extremely ungenerous one. I may point out, in the first place, that the Government chose the time of the Election to suit themselves. When they chose it, they knew perfectly well the date of the Coronation, they knew what was the necessary financial business, which, owing to their arbitrary conduct, had to be got through before the Coronation, and now they have chosen to take the Parliament Bill in the few months which intervene before the Coronation, the impossibility being obvious of working for ten weeks in order to correct the accumulated anomalies of a thousand years. If the Government think that under these circumstances we shall be deterred from any defensive step which would otherwise be open to us, I can only say that the progress of this Debate, and what will follow this Debate, is likely to afford very considerable disillusionment to the Government. It is very much as if the revolutionary committee in France said to the victims of the guillotine, "We beg of you to expire with tact, and even, if possible, with gaiety, in order not to cloud a day of national festival which happens to synchronise with your funeral." The really serious arguments of the Prime Minister were founded entirely upon the supposed mandate which has been given to him by this last Election, and the position is most perfectly clearly stated in the House and stated in the Liberal Press in the country, and they ask the question, "Do elections mean anything or do elections mean nothing." As I understand that is the point of view upon which great reliance is placed by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I have tried to understand the precise claim which is put forward in connection with the Veto Bill, and, as I understand it, it can be stated in something like these terms. An appeal was made to the country at this last election, following upon previous elections, so exclusive in its terms and directed to this one single issue, that we, the Government, are entitled to say that we come back with a clear mandate to deal with it, whatever other mandate we may have. I hope I do not state incorrectly the view put forward by the Prime Minister and other speakers. May I point out in the first place that the more a Government exaggerates the singleness of their mandate the more do they attenuate the claim put forward by the hon. 1932 Gentleman (Dr. Esmonde) that a mandate is also given to the Government to deal with Ireland. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour) dealt with that yesterday. It was assumed by hon. Gentlemen opposite that it was a very subtle and fanciful method of dealing with General Elections and analysing the various mandates. Whether my right hon. Friend's classification of the value of elections is sound or is unsound, whether it is fanciful or the reverse, he was not the author of it. The Liberal party was the author of this view that it is not treating the democracy fairly to place before it, in order to elicit a man date, two issues of overwhelming importance, and the Prime Minister, more than any other man, is responsible for that view. What did he do in 1906? The right hon. Gentleman in those days, apart from his many activities in connection with the Liberal League, was the protagonist of Free Trade. I cannot say how he stood at that moment in relation to Home Rule, but, at any rate, he was the protagonist of Free Trade, and he expressed himself immediately after his then Leader's (Lord Rosebery) speech in Cornwall, as being extremely desirous that a simple and single mandate should be given by the country upon the fiscal question. How in the judgment of the Prime Minister was it necessary that a mandate should be given? What was the condition, and the only condition upon which, according to him, a single mandate could be so obtained from the people? It was by saying. We will not submit Home Rule as an issue to the constituencies at this election, because, if we did submit it, we could not obtain from them a clear mandate on the fiscal question. If it be true that in 1906 it was impossible to obtain at one and the same election a mandate for Free Trade and Home Rule, how could it possibly be constitutionally sound law that a mandate can co-exist in 1911 for Home Rule and a revolutionary constitutional change? I do not imagine the answer would be possible to the right hon. Gentleman—I am sure no admirer of his would accept it—that in 1906 he was not dependent upon the Irish vote, and in 1911 he was.
What is the effect of the mandate that has been given, such as it is? I do not suppose anyone will put it so high as to claim that we are not entitled to analyse the nominal face value of the majority. I do not suppose anyone will put the result of the election high enough to make the contention necessary that on the mere figures which have been obtained, without 1933 any examination of the circumstances under which they have been obtained, a statesman will be well advised to base a great constitutional change which he hoped would be permanent in its character. What is the great dominating fact altogether ignored by everyone on those benches? It is that in these proposals you are outraging the convictions of nearly one-half of your fellow-countrymen on a matter which can never be settled except by consent. There is actually, if I am not mistaken, at the present moment, an English majority which is opposed to your proposal. What does this mean? We are told that we are on the eve of happy devolutionary days and that Wales and Scotland and Ireland will each attend to their own affairs. It is not contemplated, so far as I know, under that happy state of things that the House of Lords shall be given any power of vetoing the legislation of the Welsh, Scotch and Irish Parliaments which are to be harmoniously established. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Haldane), indeed, intimated that the House of Commons would possess such a power, but, as far as I know, no one has suggested that such functions are to be committed to the House of Lords. If that be so the future holds out the prospect that the legislative activities of the House of Lords, whatever they may be, are to be confined to dealing with English measures, and the last swan song of those who are going to leave us for Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, is to take away from the House of Lords, in dealing with our business, functions which the English people by a majority at the election have shown they desire the House of Lords to retain. I will undertake to say that few aristocracies in history have ever perpetrated so great an outrage on democracy as you are contemplating in the name of democracy.
It is very necessary to observe, for the information of some speakers, that this difficulty is not solved by using the term people, even if you spell it with a capital "P." I may ask the question, and it is very necessary after listening to two or three hours of speeches from that side of the House, what is the people? A little definition would appear to be necessary on the point. The Labour party appear to have taken the people under their special wing, and I gather that they identify it with the relatively small section of the electorate which sends them to the House of Commons. Three hon. Friends of mine who come from Lancashire, one 1934 the present Member for St. Helens, one the present Member for the Newton Division, and one the present Member for Wigan, were fortunate enough at the last election to displace Gentlemen who previously sat in this House as representing the Labour party. The gentleman who formerly sat here for the Newton Division was not infrequently in the habit of speaking about the "people" and about mandates. I want the House to consider what has become of the "people" in these three constitutiencies. Are they attending consolation banquets at Socialist Clubs in these constituencies, or is it to be supposed that their voice is still entitled to be considered as the voice of the people? If that be true, I hope we shall have little more of the monopoly of the term "people" in this controversy, and certainly I hope we shall hear little more of its crudest manifestations in the shape of that placard which was very familiar at the General Election: "Shall 600 Peers rule 6,000,000 electors?" I do not suppose there is a Member opposite who did not use it in his constituency, and I hear that some are still bold enough to cheer it. They did not think it necessary to inform their constituencies that there were nearly 3,000,000 of the electors who took the opposite view. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will not have solved the very elements of the question until they realise that the "people" does not inhabit a pigeon hole at the National Liberal Club, and that nearly half the people of this country will support us in any resistance, however desperate, to your proposals.
But let me do more justice to the it is put forward by hon. Members themselves. I understand from the speech of the hon. Member (Dr. Esmonde), and I understood also from a speech made by a Welsh Member yesterday, that their view is something like this. True, the Leader of the Irish party said, "Don't trust Asquith," true the hon. Member (Mr. Keir Hardie) is never tired of bespattering the Liberal party with contempt. He said, not long ago, that the Liberal party was a rich man's party, organised and financed by rich men—an opinion which his senior colleague (Mr. Edgar Jones) may usefully notice, because he seems to entertain a higher degree of the solidarity of the coalition than the view of his colleague would altogether justifyI understand however much we despise one another's fundamental aims and the honesty with which we pursue them, we are agreed at least on this, that we have a majority of 120 for the Parliament Bill.1935 Whatever else may be said about heads they count all right. This majority, repeated at the second election, dominates the whole political situation, and I understand that the hon. Member pledges the Government to submit the Bill, unaltered in essentials, to the House of Lords, and pledges the Lords constitutionally to pass it unaltered. That, I understand to be the view. Having regard to the admitted subordination of the House of Lords to the constituencies—a subordination which, in matters other than those affecting the lawmaking power, has been well settled since the memorable letter written by the Duke of Wellington to Lord Derby in 1846—I assert that that is a powerful argument which requires careful treatment and consideration on the other side of the House.
Is it true on the merits of the Parliament Bill that the Government can claim a majority of 120? Let me deal with the observation made by the hon. Member for North Tipperary (Dr. Esmonde). He spoke as if all sections of the Coalition—the Labour party, Liberals, and Irish Nationalists—entertained one general and common grievance against the House of Lords. Let me admit in the most candid manner possible that if it were true that the Labour party, the Irish party, and Liberals entertain an identical grievance against the House of Lords, and that on the merits of that grievance they were all equally determined to end the House of Lords, I agree at once that you are entitled to deal with the majority so obtained as you are entitled to deal with a homogeneous Liberal or Conservative majority. But suppose—and I take an extreme ease—your majority is composed of three groups, suppose that each of these groups has supported for many years the legislative policy of the Lords on every subject but one, suppose that all these groups are prepared to destroy the general legislative prerogative of the Lords, acceptable in the main to them in order to carry through the House of Lords, thus rendered impotent, each its own Bill to which the House of Lords has been the obstacle—is it not true that such a majority would afford no real security for the will of the people? What is your policy? Your policy is Veto abolition coupled with future reform. Let it be observed that this is a complete, self-contained, inter-dependent, and complementary policy. Veto abolition and future reform! I will not insult the Government—I will not, at any rate, at present insult them—by supposing that the 1936 Preamble of the Bill is not honestly and sincerely meant. I do not entertain the slightest doubt that the Prime Minister means the Preamble with great sincerity and honesty, but the difficulty with him is that he has meant so many things with sincerity and honesty which he has been wholly incapable of carrying out. It must be perfectly obvious that it would not be honourable to make the use which the Liberal party deliberately made of the Preamble at the last General Election unless they recognise an honourable and peremptory obligation to carry out that Preamble in the House of Commons. Observe how grossly dishonest any other view would be. It would mean that you are to appeal for the support of moderate men on the assumption that having dealt with the abolition of the Veto of the House of Lords, you are going to set in its place a new Chamber "breathing the new spirit of modern times"—I quote that phrase from one of the Ministers—"and in harmony with the needs of the present generation." It would mean that, having obtained the votes of the electors for that purpose, and having used the Foreign Secretary as a sort of decoy duck in order to, persuade the electors that reform is imminent and is contemplated by you, then, when in the House of Commons, you may indicate with great vagueness when the change is to be made. I would point out to the Prime Minister that it goes even further than this, and that it is dishonest to indulge in a single invective against the hereditary principle, and against supporting the hereditary principle, unless you can show that you can do something to correct that principle when you have come into office. If the Government have any mandate at all, it is to abolish the Veto. I hope I have made it clear that this policy is complete, self-contained, and interdependent. I am not going to ask how far you have got a mandate for that interdependent policy. Let me add this. It is abstractively very intelligible that men may favour the conversion of the absolute veto into a suspensory veto, if that is to be followed by reform, and that otherwise they would not have been in favour of it.
The hon. Member has indicated that many people are in favour of the Veto Bill who are not in favour of Home Rule. Let me ask, have you a majority of 120 for the twin heads of this interdependent and publicly declared policy? That is the only point, if you assent to the view that the obligation of the Preamble is an obligation which no honourable man can repudiate 1937 What is the position of the Labour party on this point? I will not say that their election pledges are made for everybody but themselves, but I would point out that they repudiate that Preamble altogether. The Leader of the Labour party (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) spoke yesterday, and he made it perfectly clear that his party are not only not in favour of the Preamble, but are in favour not only of nominal but actual Single-Chamber Government. They support the first part of the Government policy not because it will lead up to the second, but because they believe that it will destroy the second. That is to say, forty of your supporters—and the Government are not in a position to despise forty supporters—utterly repudiate an integral and fundamental portion of your declared mandate. They are here to destroy the House of Lords, and they are not here, according to your own showing, to reform that Chamber. There is not a Labour man in the House of Commons who would not rather destroy the coalition than strengthen the House of Lords by reforming them. No one will contradict the view that they would not vote for the Government if they thought that would enable the Government to strengthen the House of Lords. That means that you can dismiss the moral strength of this majority in a sentence. You cannot carry out what is an honourable obligation without the support of the Labour party, and the Labour party will not allow you to carry out that honourable obligation. Let me ask whether the Government are likely to be more fortunately circumstanced in the future? When is the happy day coming when the Liberal party will be strong enough to carry out the Preamble? Have you strength enough to do that after the elections which took place in January and December last year? Both of these battles took place at times, happily selected to secure for the Government successful polls—I mean after the latest issues of their declarations on class hatred. If they have not been returned with a majority to enable them to carry the Preamble now, I will leave to the imagination of others to define the precise period at which they will be able to do so.
The hon. Member (Dr. Esmonde) has spoken of the position of the Irish party. Let me push the analysis further, and ask how far the Irish party are entitled to be considered as supporters of the mandate? Hon. Members speaking on the other side of the House do not appear to recollect 1938 that for twenty-five years the Irish party has been openly and unashamedly in the political market. There has not been one moment in twenty-five years in which the Irish party would not have made a deal with the House of Lords on the basis of foregoing as regards this country every legislative view they have got, if the House of Lords would undertake to pass Home Rule. They do not care a brass farthing about your reforms, or rather their interest in them is contingent upon one point and one point only. They do not mind how much reform you have, provided you postpone what is an honourable obligation to reform the House of Lords to such a period as will make it impossible for the House of Lords to take the sense of the constituencies on the Home Rule Bill. Let this be observed, that the Irish party has never troubled even to pretend that they have the slightest sympathy with your alleged grievance against the House of Lords in the last ten years. Let me take the list of grievances with which the Prime Minister dealt last night. He complained that after the war election of 1900 the House of Lords had passed our Education Act and our Licensing Act, and he stated that no impartial Second Chamber would have passed either of these measures.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I understood that the Prime Minister said that.' I certainly understood the right hon. Gentleman to complain of the apathy of the House of Lords during that period. I have a quotation from a speech he made to that effect. How does the Irish party stand on that matter? When our Education Act was introduced the present Chancellor of the Exchequer appealed to the Irish party to vote against the Second Beading. What happened? The Irish party supported the Second Reading and never gave a single vote against it. They were the valuable and the voluble bulwark of the Government. When the Licensing Act went through the House what happened? Speaking at Gloucester, the Prime Minister said that the votes of the Irish party enabled the Conservative Government to pass the measure. Therefore, it would appear, that the Irish grievance is that the Lords would not assist in rejecting Bills for which they voted in this House. What happened in 1906? When my right hon. Friend was speaking yesterday the Home Secretary interposed and complained that the House 1939 of Lords had also interfered with the Education Bill of the Liberal Government, and stated that that was the first quarrel they had with the House of Lords, It is interesting to inquire how the Irish party stood in relation to that measure. They voted against the Second Reading of the Bill, they also voted against the Third Reading of the Bill, and when it left the House of Commons, when the House of Commons had altogether lost saison of the Bill, when the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman declared that the Bill was saturated with concessions, and when Lord Crewe said that, but for the action of the House of Lords, the Government would never have altered Clause 4, the Leader of the Irish party, speaking in this House, said:—Let me say in conclusion that it is my firm belief that this Bill in its present shape, will never pass into law. I and my colleagues will say that we repudiate it as a settlement, and condemn and resent it as an injury.The hon. Member (Dr. Esmonde) said that the Irish party stand side by side with the Liberal party and the democracy of England in their great grievance against the House of Lords. There is not one of the great controversies of the last ten years with the exception of Home Rule—or I hardly recall one at present—in which the views of hon. Gentlemen from Ireland, where they were not bargained, were not in sympathy with the House of Lords. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Plural Voting?"] The hon. Gentleman asks me about Plural Voting. I have never suggested that it was not possible to combine in a homogeneous body all sections of a coalition if they believe the change would have a deciding influence in their favour in an election contest.
Let me take a further illustration if the hon. Gentleman is not satisfied. Take the Licensing Bill, which was beautifully described by a Nonconformist paper as the trumpet note of the people's morality. That trumpet note has awakened no echo in the Nationalist party. They rather gravitated towards what is aggressively, but a little inconsiderately, called by their present allies the party of bung. Many Nationalists voted against the Bill, and neither the Leader of the Irish party nor the hon. Member for East Mayo voted for either the Second or Third Reading of the Bill, so that the position of the Irish party and the House of Lords, always setting on one side Home Rule, is that the House of 1940 Lords delayed an Education Bill which was an insult to Ireland and a Licensing Bill for which the Leader of the Irish party would not cross the House of Commons to vote. It is wholly unnecessary to pursue this controvery in relation to the Budget. We know the position perfectly clearly. The Leader of the Irish party said in Liverpool:—The question of the Veto is supreme because it means Home Rule, and to it we are willing to subordinate any number of Budgets, and any conceivable issue that can be raised.They do not dissent from that. They have always been perfectly frank in the expression of their views. We have analysed the moral strength of your support from the Labour Bench, and now if you take the Irish party there are seventy odd votes, supporting you on this Mandate which you claim from the people, not in the least on the merits of your proposal, but on a collateral branch which they do not hesitate to voice by their cheers in this House? The Prime Minister spoke of the backwoods men last night. These backwoods men in the House of Lords who have been so stupid and reactionary in all the great controversies. But at least they have been in respectable and democratic company below the gangway. On the subject of backwoods men may I respectfully suggest to the Prime Minister that that very threadbare taunt might now be left in hands inferior to his, both in dignity and authority. The taunt is as offensive as it is unjust. These gentlemen live on their estates, for which they were thanked last year by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They do their duty to the best of their ability, a fact which was also recognised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and they are not conspicuously inferior to those who jeer at them, either in breeding, education, or public honour. If they lived in London, hon. Gentlemen opposite would brand them as idle rich, or absentee landlords. As they live in the country, they sneer at them as backwoods men, except when they want them to preside over their county associations; and then the Government slobbers over them with unsolicited flatteries.
At a certain stage in the last two Elections, when the Home Secretary found that the results were not quite consistent with his always sanguine expectations, he delivered the same speech in which with lyrical enthusiasm he compared the present majority which supports the Government to one of Mr. Gladstone's great majorities, and said they were about the same, and 1941 he saw no reason why they should not hold office as long. But after all, all of Mr. Gladstone's majority wanted the same thing, and wanted it for the same reason. You want the same thing, and you want it for different reasons. If the Government were to pass the Parliament Bill with a majority so obtained, does any reasonable person in this House believe that they can ever hold it? Does anyone believe that if as a result of the coalition majority, you pass the Parliament Bill now it would survive the next House of Commons? It may be that some people suppose that the Unionist party will always be out of office. I can only say I do not address myself to the persons who hold that view, but to those who hold the view that they may one day come back; and I ask anyone who supposes that the Unionist party will not be always out of office, whether they really suppose that we shall come back to office not pledged to deprive the Commons, or the oligarchy which rules it of unrestricted control over legislation? It is absolutely certain that if this Bill became law it would be altered the first Session in which we came into power. Do not let me put it too high. I do not gather at what point hon. Members quarrel with my view, that at some period or another we shall come into power. Let us suppose it takes the country twenty years to weary of your Excellencies, it may reasonably be anticipated if accumulated human experience teaches us anything, that at some time or other, as remote as you like, the people will desire a change, and when that the comes, whenever and wherever that change does take place, I cannot conceive that this will not be one of the very first things which will be corrected by the new administration. If that is so, will three years' legislative supremacy, however used or however abused, compensate the Government for the ground that they would have lost in this controversy? Let me be the first to make this admission unreservedly. Hon. Gentlemen have carried this controversy, a controversy which has now lasted at intervals for sixty years, to a point of success to which it has not hitherto been carried by the Liberal party, to a point at which the vituperative genius of O'Connell and the compelling eloquence of Gladstone failed to place it. I own that freely. Is it wise, the Government having fought so long to obtain the ground which they hold, to compromise what they have gained by a success which it is absolutely 1942 certain they can never permanently retain? Would not a success less extreme, but permanently tenable, be more profitable, even on the lowest grounds of party?
Let the House observe how little divides the two sides of the House at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Preamble is to come hereafter. We say that reform is to come, and ought to come now, and I am at least entitled to remind the House on that point, that I wrote a letter to the Press about a year or so ago which I see many hon. Members have read, in which, after expressing the opinion that it must be remembered that a change was urgently needed in the Constitution of the House of Lords I said that it ought to be a change which would not stereotype existing inequalities under a less assailable form, and I added that it ought to be a change which would give Liberals as good a chance, or as bad a chance, of carrying their legislative proposals as Unionists. I adhere to every word I wrote then. What is wanted, in my humble judgment, is not merely a Second Chamber, a Legislative Assembly, of which we should be able to say that it consists of men who have been put there by us to carry out our views, or of which you should be able to say that it is made up of men put there by you to carry out your decree. What is wanted, in my humble judgment, more than anything else is an independent Second Chamber. If that principle be once conceded, then a mere slight discrepancy of numbers matters very little indeed; the moment one accepts the principle of joint Session, because if there is a joint Session of the two Houses, a smaller accidental discrepancy in the numbers' of the Second Chamber is far less important. I daresay the House has read some proposals made by my Noble Friend, Lord Curzon, elsewhere. I can quite conceive somebody saying of these proposals, which I know were made with very great sincerity as a contribution to this discussion, that they would give Unionists rather too many Members in the Second Chamber. It may be so. I think that the objection is quite honestly made. But the reply is twofold. If you think so, then make it the basis of your objection. Point out that in your opinion it would have that effect. But remember also, in correction of your opinion, that if you adopt the principle of joint Sessions, which is a principle that I believe certainly found support on the Front Bench during the election, if there is anything wrong with the numbers of your Second Chamber it would produce 1943 consequences which would modify that opinion.
If your Preamble is sincerely meant, why not carry it out now, and it would found your reform strongly and thoroughly upon the bedrock of national consent rather than upon the shifting quicksands of party triumph. Such a reformed Chamber could not be divorced from legislative functions, nor would many Members of this House, if we had a Second Chamber of that kind, wish to see it divorced from legislative activity. I anticipate one principal objection from Members of the Coalition. I may be told that they have no mandate for such a change, that whatever mandate they have is for this Parliament Bill. I do not think that that argument can really be pressed too far. Hon. Gentlemen claim two elections. I think the Home Secretary has gone the length of claiming that he has a mandate based upon three elections. In spite of the first two mandates, the Government held a Conference. I do not think anyone will contend that in holding that Conference they did not commit a breach of trust, if as the result of two mandates it was possible for them to discuss proposals. I find it difficult to understand the contention that because another election has intervened, not altering the relative strength of parties, it is impossible for them to consider the proposal which I make. The secrets of the Conference were well kept, but no one supposes that the Members of the Conference spent six months discussing the Parliament Bill. It does not require any betrayal of their secrets to realise that if the members of the Conference found fruitful topic for discussion during those six months, ground so fruitful, so full at one period of hope that the Prime Minister issued a notice in which he said that all the members of the Conference were agreed that it would be wrong prematurely to suspend and determine the Conference—if that is so, after some months' proceedings, what futility it is for the Government to come forward to-day and say that the last word of human wisdom on the constitutional question is contained in the four corners of the Bill.
If the Government refuse to consider the arguments put forward, and the indications given by my right hon. Friend last night, what question would inevitably be asked? The Prime Minister would be asked, I think, "To when are you post poning the Preamble?" He is a master of lucid speech; no one can tell more 1944 clearly in a single sentence what the intentions of the Preamble are, if he knows them. His difficulty is not in expressing them; his difficulty is that he does not know them. I can remember reading years ago, when many right hon. Gentlemen who now sit on the Front Bench earned reputations for themselves by inquiring, night after night, of my right hon. Friend what he was going to do in the contingency of Tariff Reform, with two Houses of Parliament in the way. What has become of their interrogative gifts when we have furnished to us the reasonable question as to when this Preamble is to come in. If there is to be a Preamble, what time could be so fit for it as the present? You have at your disposal the unexhausted energy of a youthful Parliament, fresh from contact with the constituencies, which have given you authority to reform it. Why are the Government not disclosing it? Will it not be said, and truly said, that the Government is guilty of chicanery when it is using the Preamble as a sort of soporific for moderate men while postponing it at Irish dictation in order to smuggle through Home Rule? The Government, in former days, were very fond of accusing my right hon. Friend of tactics These are tactics pure and simple, and observe how bad the tactics are. The Government, it is to be presumed, and the House of Commons, want to get the Bill, and they want it to be passed. If I were a Peer, while I might surrender my own quarrel after two elections, I would never surrender knowing that the surrender was to be used to place upon the Statute Book a Bill abhorrent to millions of my fellow subjects, a right to decide which has been filched from them by a trick. I ask, and I do not ask in an unconciliatory spirit, are the Government wise to put such a conflict upon such a plane. I venture to warn them that they would be wise not to underrate the capacity for resistance of an ancient Chamber, strong in the support of half the nation. There is much loose talk of revolutionary peerages. I think it will be found that the debauchery of a great assembly is a more difficult undertaking than hon. Gentlemen imagine. I would invite those who would not agree with me on that point to consider that the roots of the House of Lords, good or bad, date back for a thousand years in our national history. You cannot divorce yourselves from its past any more than you can that House from its illustrious history. What man knows that when he uproots a 1945 tree centuries old, how far its roots have spread, with how many growths they are woven and intertwined, and how many un-contemplated destructions may follow its uprooting? Let the Prime Minister hesitate before he drives to an extreme the defenders of an ancient institution. Last night the Prime Minister quoted Burke, of whom he is a great admirer. Let me remind him of another passage from Burke:—No Constitution can defend itself; it must be defended by the wisdom and the fortitude of men. These are what no Constitutions can give; they come from God, and He alone knows if we shall possess such gifts at the the time we most need them.
§ Mr. J. M. ROBERTSON
The hon. and learned Member who has just sat down has introduced into this Debate what I may term a system or test by which the merits of many of the proposals of the Bill are to be gauged, and he said that a measure of this kind has never been passed save as a matter of general and national consent. That proposition seems to me to mean that no measure of reform introduced by a Liberal Government dealing with the structure of the Constitution can ever become law until hon. Members opposite, as representing the Opposition in the country, agree to accept the measure. We have heard many extravagant and preposterous propositions in the course of this Debate, but surely that is the most extravagant and preposterous of all. On what principle are we asked seriously to admit the suggestion that measures of reform or change brought in from this side, shall never be permanent, cannot possibly be permanent until hon. Members opposite not only consent to let them pass this House, but agree to let them stand afterwards. The hon. Member put forward something in the nature of a threat. He told us his party would be backed in their resistance, no matter how desperate, to this particular measure. I do not know what the hon. Member meant by that "how desperate." Perhaps he will permit me to suggest, if it means anything at all, which is doubtful, that it is not an expression which should be used in this House. It either means he is going to appeal to physical violence, or it does not. If it does not, it is a stroke of rhetoric grossly extravagant. He need not have resorted to that, because he has quite sufficient command of vocabulary without introducing gross extravagances. But this question of national consent has been introduced. Let me ask how this test of the relative importance of 1946 legislative measures is to be applied, and to what extent must you have the consent of parties, and to what extent you need not. The hon. and learned Member, in the course of the last two elections, made a number of predictions. In connection with the second and last election, he made the prediction—at least it was so quoted in the Press—that before a few weeks were over, not only would a Tariff Reform Government be sitting on these benches, but Tariff Reform would be in operation. So the hon. and learned Member is prepared, and his conscience backs him up, to impose on the people of this country a tariff within a few weeks, without their consent; without the consent either of the districts or of this House, or of parties, or any one else ever being considered.
We do look to the other side on such an occasion as this to rise above the atmosphere of mere taunts. The hon. and learned Member is certainly an authority upon taunts and upon vituperation, and he seemed to share the not uncommon uneasiness on that side of the House when taunts are used against his own side. His party seem to claim a monopoly of taunts. But if on such an occasion as this he would set aside his taunts, and come to something like constitutional principles, we might expect him to listen to the answer to his claim that there should be national consent to a great measure. The hon. and learned Gentleman used the argument which is so constantly used on that side by the party who flaunt the principle of Union. He used the old argument of the English majority—that is to say, the Unionist party treat the phrase of the "United Kingdom" as a mere geographical expression, while pinning their faith on England. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil), said the other night that we are one nation, that there is no division, and that he who scratches a Scotchman or an Englishman makes an Irishman bleed. These are the statesman like declarations introduced ad hoc for a particular argument, and for particular purposes at a particular moment. The hon. and learned Member opposite, whose main weapon in this Debate is to bring charges of collective inconsistencies against Members on this side, should really devote a little attention to the development of consistency on his own side. He spoke of the English majority, but what is it? Why should England be treated as a mere geographical expression? 1947 Does he think that we are really going to allow our destinies to be settled on a statistical analysis, according to districts and the number of people in the counties and divisions?
There is such a thing as the North of England and the South of England, and the next step in this political analysis will be that those who mainly represent the South of England, the non-industrial and feudalist South of England—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—I am forced to introduce this point, and should never have attempted to raise it if not forced by what is said on the other side—the next step will be, if the analysis is to be made a means of flouting and frustrating the declared wish of the majority of the people of the United Kingdom that this analysis will be carried a little further than hon. Members opposite carry it by the industrial North, if you tell them that you are going to force a tariff upon them without their consent. I have followed and read the whole of the Debate in this controversy on the Parliament Bill. My great difficulty is to discover what are the real grounds of the general opposition to-day. Hon. Members opposite charge Members on this side of the House with a certain difference in the mode of advocating this question. The hon. and learned Member quoted all those taunts, and his speech largely consisted of accusations against Members on this side of the House of desiring to carry the Parliament Bill for different purposes. That taunt comes very badly from Members of a party which, by its very name, was a coalition party; which even altered its name at a certain crisis because it was a coalition party, and which then proceeded deliberately to carry legislation to which the majority of its own Members had been opposed—legislation which they abhorred and repudiated—merely for the purpose of establishing themselves as a coalition. If we approach this matter from the point of view either of political science or of common sense I do not think there is any value at all in those taunts, though I am retaliating to show hon. Members how little worthy they are. I do not see any point in an Assembly like this—in raising the question of what is the composition of the majority at a given moment, and turning our backs on the broad and essential fact that this House is representative of the people of the United Kingdom, and that the means of parties have relation to people outside. 1948 We here are the council of the nation, and vote according to our conscience. I see no point in raising the question of what is the composition of the majority or the minority at a given moment. If hon. Members want to try the Bill on that case how do they stand?
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition opened the Debate yesterday on his side by an argument to the effect that a General Election can practically give no mandate for anything at all. If you raise more than one question, then you are lost, and you have got no right to bring in any Bill in particular, from which he deduces that under certain circumstances he would have the right to bring in Bills for anything in general. Let me do him the justice of saying that he would. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition took occasion, in his speech, to justify his own historic policy in the Parliament of 1900. He affected to justify it by the argument used by the Prime Minister to prove that there was no reason for alarm as to what would be done by say a Liberal Parliament after the carrying of the Parliament Bill. The Prime Minister had said, that a Liberal majority in this House, fresh from the constituencies, would introduce Bills which the constituencies wanted, and that when it was near the time of returning to the constituencies, it would not be likely to introduce Bills which the constituencies would regard as outrageous. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition on that point suggested that his Bills in the Parliament of 1900 were practically justified, because the first was introduced within two years of coming in, and the second of them was introduced within two years of going out. But what was the history of those particular Bills? The hon. and learned Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave) yesterday had the courage to warn us that if we carried this Parliament Bill, measures might be carried through this House which the country would absolutely repudiate, if it had the chance of deciding upon them. He had the courage to say that, when his own party, when last in power, notoriously and admittedly introduced Bills, not only that the country had not asked for, but which that party had promised to the country, would not be introduced at all. We have actually had that experience, we have lived through it we have seen Bills of that kind which the Leaders of that party told the country would not be introduced, we have seen those Bills introduced and carried through 1949 this and the Upper Chamber without the slightest attempt on the part of that Upper Chamber to defend the rights and the liberties of the people of England. We have seen all that, and still hon. Members come and tell us of what a dreadful risk we run of uncontrolled despotism by one Chamber.
If we take the operation of the Parliament Bill in the simplest possible way it comes to this, that under the operation of that Bill, when a Liberal Government is in power there will be some approximation, but a very slight approximation, to the state of things that subsists when a Conservative Government is in power. If that state of things is all right when a Conservative Government is in power, how can they argue that there is anything seriously wrong when, under a Liberal Government, there is only a little less freedom of operation? The utter insincerity of the Conservative case as against this Bill is pretty clear when you face this clear issue. The main charge against the supporters of the Bill, and against the Bill, is that it is supported for different reasons. The Leader of the Opposition tells us that we have no mandate for anything in particular. That, however, he does not make any argument against this Bill, as I understand it. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities declared that we could not possibly, and that we were not justified in proceeding after this Bill with the Home Rule Bill because, he said, that Bill had not been before the country. The Home Rule question, he even alleged, had not been before the country. The statements made by the hon. and learned Gentleman on that head are a startling illustration of the extent to which a man can get out of touch with public opinion by becoming a Member for a University. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had had any occasion to be in real touch with the people of this country he never would have made an assertion like that. He seemed to think that it was a relevant thing to say that if a Member had not put a certain point in his address that therefore he had not consulted his Constituents on that point. I do not know that I can recall the words of my own address. I know that I made it as brief as possible. My recollection is that I confined it to the one point of putting down the Veto of the House of Lords. Then I should be told by the hon. and learned Member that I have no mandate 1950 for Free Trade, if it had not been put in my address, although I had it before the constituency for seven years. This kind of argument is absurd. How does it work out when it is confronted by the argument put forward by the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith). That hon. and learned Gentleman would actually have the Government introduce a Bill which he almost pledges his party to support, a Bill that has never been before the country, and as to the question of details upon which he knows it is very hard to get agreement.
It is very hard to discover any principle from the Opposition on which a Bill should be introduced. I take it the principles on this side are pretty simple. You introduce, first, the most pressing measure, the measure for which you got the largest and most nearly unanimous support. Then the second Bill would be one for which you would have the nearest approach to that support. Tried by those principles a new Second-Chamber Bill could not possibly be either the first or the second, if it could be the third Bill. The question of the constitution of the Second Chamber that is desired to be set up in place of the House of Lords—and I will not use the phrase "reform of the House of Lords"—though this Parliament Bill is a Bill reforming it, and very seriously reforming it, the Second-Chamber Bill that must be introduced afterwards must be to have a Second Chamber in substitution of the House of Lords. The details of that Chamber, the nature of that Chamber, the reasons for which you want the functions of that Chamber, those are questions that would have to be discussed for a long time in this country before you could pretend that the people are properly informed or able to give a mandate to any party about details. The hon. and learned Member for Kingston actually invited us last night, when joining in the denunciation of bringing in measures for which we had no mandate, to introduce a Referendum measure. To what extent has the Referendum been before the electorate? In my own last Election I made the experiment at a number of meetings of asking all present, irrespective of their party politics, all of them who could recollect having ever heard the Referendum discussed, or who had read a discussion upon it setting forth the arguments, to hold up their hands. I never found a single person able to hold up a hand as having had that experience. I 1951 make bold to say, I do not think that in the electorate of the country generally, the proportion of electors who had heard the Referendum discussed would be any larger than among the Constituents I have the honour to represent.
The hon. and learned Member for Kingston seriously argued that the Referendum is a matter as to which we have abundant knowledge. He said that the ignorance on the subject is pretended. You might, of course, claim that every Member here ought to know what is meant by the Referendum, but to suggest that the electorate of the country has discussed or considered the Referendum and is prepared to give a voice on the Referendum the hon. and learned Gentleman knows is to grossly misrepresent the facts of the case. The Referendum was suddenly fired, as from a gun, by the Leader of the Opposition. Hon. Members opposite, who tell us that the Home Rule question was not adequately before the constituencies, are perfectly well aware that the Referendum proposition was introduced by the Leader of the Opposition in connection with the Home Rule Bill. What was the object of it but to enable his party to capture votes which were withheld from it for fear of Tariff Reform, but which might be given to it on the question of Home Rule. It was in that particular connection that the Referendum was mentioned. As regards the attitude taken up by the hon. and learned Member for Kingston on the Referendum in general, I would respectfully invite hon. Members opposite, who appear to be so touchy on appeals to the sense of honour, consistency, and sincerity, to consider the position in which their party was placed last night by the hon. and learned Member for Kingston. He suggested that we should adopt, and that there would be no opposition from his party and no question of mandate, a Referendum measure. His view of a Referendum measure is that the Referendum should only be put when there was a deadlock between the two Chambers.
§ Mr. J. M. ROBERTSON
Then there is really no policy on the part of the hon. and learned Member, and I apologise for 1952 having assumed that he had put a definite policy before us. He was inviting us to agree with some measure on which even he had not made up his mind. He has just said, he was going to leave it in a perfectly fluid condition. If his mind was in that condition, in what state could the mind of the electorate be? The one thing that emerges clear is that hon. Members opposite are perfectly prepared, by their own declarations at least, to carry through this House any particular measure on which the electorate has never been consulted. The only test is, that those measures should be advantageous to them as a party. That is all that emerges from the whole of the discussion. The hon. and learned Member for Walton spoke very strongly on the point of honour. The Preamble to the Bill involves, as he understood it, the introduction of a measure for the creation of a new Second Chamber. It involves nothing of the kind. The natural obstacles to the introduction of any such measure are so obviously great that they alone would prevent the immediate introduction of a Bill of this kind. For what purpose do hon. Members opposite put forward these suggestions? Is it with the object of curtailing the power of the House of Lords or of making more easy the passing of Liberal legislation? We know very well that any proposal that they put before us is supported by them in the hope that it will make impossible the legislation which the majority of the Nation desire. What is their final position in regard to the House of Lords? They have now all given it up. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition declared that the House of Lords has practically gone by, and that there must be a sweeping change. What was he doing with the House of Lords a year ago, when the body which he now admits to be utterly discredited, which he admits to have been unfit to exist, which he admits to be indefensible, which he admits to be merely cumbering the ground? A year or two ago, he was using that very body, with the entire support of his whole party, in the destruction of one of the constitutional principles. Hon. and right hon. politicians who thus play fast and loose with every question of principle, and who are willing in one year to use an old institution for the purpose of blocking the path of their opponents come forward now and say: "We quite admit there is nothing to be said for it, it is totally unfit to be preserved, but you will not expect us to give it up."
1953 The very use made of the House of Lords within the year by the party opposite, and by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, is in itself abundant justification for even far stronger measures than are now being taken. They talk now about sweet reasonableness after having gone to the very verge of unscrupulous unreasonableness. The democracy, if we may use the term at all, has sent the hon. Members who sit on this side to do certain things. One thing we are to do is to make an end of the powers of the House of Lords as they at present exist. To that we have nothing in the nature of a clear proposal from the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Opposition, but the suggestion to the effect that we should preserve something of the hereditary Chamber. An extraordinary fact with the party who take up what may be called a fighting attitude, is that there is no general conviction on the other side as to what a Second Chamber ought to be. They may perfectly well make such a charge on this side. We admit there is no general agreement on this side. That a number do not believe in the Second-Chamber principle is notorious, and is not denied; but what belief is there on the other side as to what a Second Chamber ought to be? Hon. Members opposite are perfectly prepared to adopt into their political creed any view of the Constitution that may be put before them in the course of an election by their Leader. Until the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had fired his shot on the Referendum, how many hon. Members opposite had ever said a word about the Referendum? Within a week—nay, the next day—that principle has become one of the planks of the Conservative party. With that ready adaptability to new views and to new propositions, I can understand why hon. Members opposite should expect us instantly to adopt a new policy, and to rush a Bill through before we have consulted our constituents or obtained any mandate on the subject at all. But on this side of the House there is a fair share of what rational conservatism is left in this country. I mean conservatism in the real meaning of the term—the unwillingness on the part of practical men suddenly to pledge themselves to a principle that they have never thought out. Twenty years ago that would have been regarded as conservatism; to-day the Conservative party is the last place where you need look for any such prudence or any such avoidance of rash pledges and promises.
1954 I was suggesting a few minutes ago that the view of the Referendum put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Kingston seemed to me to be in direct antagonism to the view of the Referendum put forward by the Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman had given us a pledge of his own to the effect that a Referendum would be given in the matter of Tariff Reform. As I understood the proposals of the Leaders in the other House the Referendum was to be a matter which should come into force when they gave the signal; it was to lie with the other House when the Referendum should be applied. But the Leader of the Opposition says, "I promise you that the Referendum shall be given. Talk of dictation from a Minister! Talk of arrogant assumption! Here is a Leader, not yet in office, promising, in defiance of the declarations of the other Chamber as to the conditions under which the Referendum should be applied, that at his single will the Referendum shall be given to the nation. If he can make such a promise, and I have no doubt he made it in all sincerity, what does it mean? It means that he has the House of Lords in his pocket. I put the position summarily in that fashion, because the proposals in the other Chamber were to the effect that they should determine when the Referendum should be given. If that promise meant that he could dictate when the Referendum should be given it follows that we are asked to live under the domination of a Second Chamber which acts at the dictation of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. From every point of view the situation has become intolerable for Members on this side of the House. The hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division has admitted that. He has written to the Press stating in effect that the situation under which the House of Lords plays an absolute party part, a one-sided rôle, letting through all Tory measures and checking many Liberal measures, is intolerable from the point of view of general common sense. But he was perfectly prepared to let things go on on that footing until there was an absolute revolt on the part of us who claim to represent what he will not allow us to call the people. The hon. and learned Member himself admits that the position has become intolerable.
What are the suggestions and proposals that are made to us by the party opposite? They say to us: "Yes, it is true that your 1955 position is intolerable; you have suffered in a way that no political party ever ought to have been expected to suffer; you are in that position, and you must be got out of it; but we will not give our sanction to your getting out of it until you bring forward a scheme of reform that we are prepared to accept, and you can carry your plan with the consent of the nation." Will hon. Members opposite, and not merely the right hon. Gentleman, pledge themselves that no measure which they introduce into this House should be passed until they have our consent? Until they give us some such undertaking as that, the principle of national consent, which the hon. and learned Member has introduced, must be regarded as the last extravagance of the party with which he acts. It is a deplorable thing that there could be no consent even in such a private council as the Conference of last year; it is extremely unfortunate, but inasmuch as the deliberations were secret nobody on either side is in a position to pass a critical judgment. The hon. and learned Member for Walton has said, however, that it is quite clear that the members of the Conference were not discussing merely the particular matter which they sat down to discuss; and I suppose that, with that lead, I may go further and say that it is quite clear that they were discussing the question of Home Rule. I think that inference is as clear as the inference of the hon. and learned Member.
§ Mr. J. M. ROBERTSON
No; but I do not think the hon. and learned Member will venture to dissent from it, and that is quite enough for my purpose. The inference that he drew he was entitled to draw, and I also am entitled to draw my inference. See where that leads us on the principle which he has put forward. Inasmuch as Members of the Government were discussing Home Rule with leaders of the Opposition at the Conference, the Government are not only entitled but bound to bring in a Home Rule Bill. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] The hon. and learned Member's argument was that the Government cannot come down and say that they are not properly prepared to bring in, or justified in introducing, any such Bill for the constitution of a new Second Chamber. He says that they cannot say that, because they were discussing 1956 the question of a new Second Chamber in the Conference last year.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
My argument was that it was ridiculous to pretend that the last words of wisdom on this constitutional question rested with the Parliament Bill, when the Government, by irresistible inference, must have been discussing for some months quite another method of dealing with it.
§ Mr. J. M. ROBERTSON
If there is anything in that proposition, I gave a fail-statement of it. The phrase about "the. last words of wisdom is, I take it, so much verbiage. The point is the point that I put. The contention is that the Government have no right to plead any disability; that, having discussed the matter at the Conference, they must have gone further than discussing the mere details of the Parliament Bill; that, having actually discussed the matter with the leaders of the Opposition, there is no real bar to their bringing in a Bill for the constitution of a new Second Chamber. That is the argument, if there is any. I take it that it is equally clear to the outsider—we are all on the same footing in that respect—that the members of the Conference were discussing Home Rule. On that principle, therefore, I submit that the Government are perfectly justified in bringing in their Home Rule Bill as early as they can. The very last argument brought forward against the introduction of a Home Rule Bill is shattered by the argument put in our hands by the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division.
But I do not want to rely on a mere dialectical device for a justification of the introduction of a Home Rule Bill. What did the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition tell us not very long ago in a speech which he for once, to the great gratification of us all, detached himself from party considerations? I refer to the speech in which he discussed the principle of Woman Suffrage. On that occasion, when he was really detached for once from tactics, he declared that the governing principle of democratic legislation is more and more coming to be the principle of government by consent. But not in the sense in which the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division puts it, not that government by consent is to mean that you must get the consent of the Opposition to every measure you introduce; but that you are to have regard in your statesmanship to the obtaining of the consent 1957 of the people whom you govern. That is the ground upon which we justify the introduction of a Home Rule Bill for Ireland. That is our answer to appeals which have been made to us on serious grounds—appeals as distinguished from the mere taunts which are so large a part of the stock-in-trade of politicians, I will not say only on that side of the House, though they are very actively employed there, where the great objections to cheap food are supported by cheap arguments. The Leader of the Opposition has given us, as perhaps from his point of view the most fundamental political principle for the guidance of our actions, the principle of government by consent. I think, therefore, we can claim to have him in respect of his political philosophy on our side when we support the Government in following up their great Parliament Bill as early as possible with a Bill for giving Home Rule to Ireland, for the creation of a real United Kingdom, which apparently does not yet exist even in the consciousness of Members of the Opposition, since they are always discounting every principle of union by their statistical analyses. We may hope that after that Bill is introduced and carried there will be a union so well worth holding to and defending that even Members opposite will no longer hold out threats of what they will do in the way of undoing our work when they come back to office.
I greatly regret that that threat should have been made. If such a practice is to be a feature of our Debates it will not be easy to preserve their dignity. The Leader of the Opposition, if he did not make a threat, came very near it when opposing the Death Duties introduced by Sir William Harcourt in 1894. At least, he declared the proposal to be a revolutionary piece of legislation which was bound to work ruin to half the landed interests of the country. The right hon. Gentleman came into power the next year, and never made the slightest attempt to undo that legislation. I am not taunting him for that; I am merely objecting to the introduction of this new method of threats—of saying, "If you pass this Bill, as soon as we come back to power we will undo it." It would be an easy matter for us to reply, "If you undo it, woe betide you; your work will also be undone." That, surely, is not the line upon which our Debates ought to be conducted. I trust that the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division, who made an appeal to the Prime Minister to abstain from the use of 1958 threats, will himself endeavour to abstain from the use of threats which ought never to be introduced into the Debates of this House.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. STEEL-MAITLAND
In the sweetly reasonable speech which the hon. Member for Tyneside has just delivered he has made one or two charges against Members on this side of the House. He has complained that we have used words which ought not to be used—such as "desperate." In the course of his speech I noticed the words "arrogant," "lack of principle," "last extravagance," "despotism," and other similar expressions. He has adjured us not to use threats. If I remember aright it was Members of the present Treasury Bench who, on the occasion of the Unionist Licensing Act, used threats of repeal. If I remember aright, it was the same Members who, on the occasion of the Education Act, loudly used threats of repeal. If I remember aright, it was the Prime Minister who, speaking not long ago, said that it could not be reckoned wholly unparliamentary to consider the possibility of the repeal of an Act with which the nation might not agree. The hon. Member for the Tyneside Division does not like taunts, but he has said that the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Kingston with regard to the Referendum was fluid. He said that we on this side of the House committed ourselves to principles that we had not thought out. What about the Preamble of the Bill now under discussion? Is that Preamble fluid? Does it not commit hon. Members opposite to the principle of a reformed Second Chamber, which, on the hon. Member's own hypothesis, they have not thought out? Really and truly, the hon. Member, I think—I do not wish to say it with any offensiveness—might take his own speech as an example of some of the characteristics which he has deprecated as obtaining on this side of the House. He has asked, on the other hand, what are the real grounds of our opposition to this Parliament Bill. With many of us our opposition does not arise from any mere spirit of negative criticism at all; it is that we have a perfectly positive desire for a reform of the Second Chamber. The hon. Member does not seem to think it possible because the present Constitution of the Second Chamber is in favour of the Conservative side of the House that, therefore, out of fairness any of us can think from a wider statesmanship that it might be desirable 1959 to alter it. We oppose the Parliament Bill because we think it bad in itself, and because it is one-sided in dealing with a question that has two sides. We oppose the Bill because it postpones and prejudices real reform which both we and Members opposite no doubt freely confess we have at heart. Here we have a question that admittedly has two sides—two sides which are distinguishable but inseparable, just as the reverse of a coin is inseparable from the obverse. There is the question of powers—that is to say, the relations between the two Houses: the powers of the Second Chamber in relation to this, and the question of its composition. Indeed, so closely are the two related that the hon. Member for the Tyneside Division fell into a contradiction himself. He said that it would take a long discussion throughout the country in order to settle properly what should be the functions of the Second Chamber. Yet it is the functions of the Second Chamber, and not its composition, that are being dealt with at present by the Parliament Bill. I think I am entitled to ask if there is really any Member on the other side of the House who has any doubt that if there is to be any lasting or permanent reform of the Second Chamber which is to satisfy the nation, however broadly taken, that you will have to get the concurrent treatment of both sides of the question—both the powers and the composition of the Second House. I know quite well that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) has upheld the position that you ought to first of all settle the functions of the Second House. Mark you, he looks upon the Parliament Bill as settling the functions of the Second Chamber. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken (Mr. J. M. Robertson) says that these functions ought to be the subject of further great discussion throughout the country.
§ Mr. STEEL-MAITLAND
It was the hon. Gentleman who represents Leicester who said that you ought to settle the functions of a future Second Chamber by this Bill.
§ Mr. STEEL-MAITLAND
Not in his speech yesterday, but in a speech before, 1960 the hon. Member said you ought to settle the functions of the Second Chamber before you proceed to define its composition. That was an apparently logically-worded speech. When it is analysed it has really got neither real fact nor true logic in it. When you are going in for a water supply you cannot settle the diameter of the pipes for the supply until you have settled the pressure. If you are devising electric light of a certain brilliancy you cannot settle what the voltage is to be unless you settle the amperes also. The two have got to be settled together. So it is perfectly true, and perfectly palpable also, that you cannot settle what the functions of the Second Chamber are to be until you have settled its composition. Functions which any one on either side of the House would freely admit may be improper for the Second Chamber constituted as it is at present, may be perfectly fit, suitable, and proper for the same Second Chamber to exercise if it is remodelled according to speeches of hon. Members opposite, on a new and democratic basis. Those of us who respect the power of mind—as I do—of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester realise that he could not really imagine the proposition he put forward, and that probably what was really at the back of his mind was something different. He confesses that he himself is for a Single Chamber. He realises, as he has stated in public, that while he is for a Single Chamber, the country is for Two Chambers. And it occurs to one irresistibly that in his support of the Parliament Bill that he is getting, under cover of it, as near to what he wishes himself, and as far as possible from what he conceives the country really wishes. If it should be conceded that, at any rate, for any lasting reform, that both the powers and the composition of the Second House should be settled together, what is the defence for bringing forward the present Parliament Bill? We have been told, and I think the Prime Minister was one who laid stress on the fact that it was the Parliament Bill that was alone, or at any rate principally, before the country for their mandate at the last Election. If, indeed, it was so, then surely to place before the country a merely one-sided thing is really unworthy of true statesmanship. At the same time, do not let us for a moment charge our opponents with being unworthy in that respect, because, as a matter of fact, it is not a fact that it was the Parliament Bill that was principally, or 1961 solely, before the country at the last election. No one can uphold that on the proofs. Go through speech after speech of Members of the Front Bench, of Leaders of the Government, throughout the country, and see what they contain. Was it the powers of the Second Chamber, namely, this Parliament Bill, that they chiefly placed before the electorate, or was it the composition? What they condemned was not the powers; it was the composition, the hereditary principle. Take for a moment the speeches of the moderate men upon the Front Bench opposite. We are sometimes told—as we were in a high eulogy of the Foreign Secretary in the House of Lords—as we were by the Foreign Secretary himself—that he was in favour of a Two-Chamber system of Government. "Therefore, I think," said the ex-Chief Liberal Whip, "in any measure we can leave any discussion on that point one one side." It was not even "trust Asquith," or "trust Mr. John Redmond," but "trust the Foreign Secretary." On this side of the House we have been only too ready to do so. Now we are led to believe—and it seems a pity—that, however admirable their sentiments, they are strangely unable to have effect given to them in the policy of the party to which they belong. What point was it upon which the Foreign Secretary laid stress? He said:—The root of the mischief is——Not in the powers,in the hereditary principle. … It is to me unthinkable that the Liberal should fight that election tied up to the hereditary principle, unwilling to undertake the destruction of that principle which has been at the root of so much mischief.Right throughout, the emphasis was on the composition of the Second Chamber and not on its powers. Go from the moderate to the "wild men" on the Front Bench opposite. Their attitude is precisely the same. What was the object of the criticism of the Home Secretary throughout the country. Was it the powers? Again it was not the powers, but the hereditary principle. He said:—We do not require a number of respectable and superior personages who have either succeeded to their positions by having had the foresight to be born of distinguished parents (laughter and applause)——I think, perhaps, it was that type of sentence which the Chief Secretary for Ireland had in mind when he said: "It is not in the human nature of some persons not to make fun of the hereditary principle. It is the easiest thing to do in the world. It 1962 is a form of wit within the reach of the meanest."or else who have got into a nice idealised house by some process of test, in which their personal position is to count for a good deal. We do not require these people to come to our rescue and govern us.Again, may I just emphasis the fact that the speakers are not laying stress on what is in the Parliament Bill, but in the composition of the Second Chamber. It is not fair to mention one great twin brother without the other. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was also making a speech. He made it in what I think the sporting papers would probably call "his own inimitable style. "He said:—Now we are asking these gentlemen——Meaning the Peerswho sent you there? ('Nobody'). Quite right. Well, we do not require 'nobody' in this country. (Applause). We are going to ask them who signed the certificate and the patent that put you there?'—' By what authority have you got there?' (Applause). We have come to the conclusion that these gentlemen represent nothing but themselves.And so, ad infinitum. That speech was received with very great applause by all the audience. It was written up by all the papers and emphasised. Indeed, I remember one description of the speech which struck me forcibly. It said:—He had stood that day on Penylan Hill, and from that Pisgah he had seen the land of promise. Beyond the mists the sun was shining over the fair city of Cardiff, and for the poor the day of happiness is not far off.This was apparently a very fair way of putting it, because the city was won the next day by the Unionist candidate. Still leaving the question of the election, the emphasis again right through was laid on the composition, not on the relations of the two Houses, as contended in the Parliament Bill. Lastly, the Prime Minister is among the prophets. In the general promulgation that he gave at the National Liberal Club he said:—When I am asked what we are fighting for, I answer two things. Fair play for Progressive legislation and the establishment in all its fulness of representative government.
§ Mr. STEEL-MAITLAND
Perhaps hon. Members will give vent to their sentiments by doing something to get established here and now in all its fulness representative Government, meaning both in the other Chamber and also in this. But there are only two other defences which can conceivably be given for the introduction of a Bill of this kind under these circumstances. What are those defences? I can conceive of two, and two only. The 1963 first is that the composition, the reform of the Second Chamber, can wait. The second is that it would take up too much time to be brought forward at present. Can the question of reform, on the showing of the hon. Member opposite who has just spoken, and in the speech which he has just made, really wait? He says we are the object of an uncontrolled despotism by the Second Chamber. He asks what is the ground of our objection to the present Bill? We have been told, "Oh, our side is under an uncontrolled despotism when the Conservative party is in power." That is not a reason for continuing it for the Liberal party. What naturally occurs to anyone who wishes to take a broad view of the situation on both sides is that it should be curtailed for both sides, and not perpetuated for both. Even so, we are spared all necessity of further proof as to the need for having reform quickly, for again we have the highest authority, the authority of the Prime Minister himself. He said:—But the problem will still, after the passing of the Parliament Bill, remain a problem calling for a complete settlement, and in our opinion that settlement does not brook delay.The settlement did not brook delay on March 29th of last year. Through last year, there is no question, business was interrupted by the lamentable death of the late King. But all through last year the attention of the Prime Minister and his colleagues was directed, not to other maters, but principally and predominantly to the question of this reform. The problem even then, the final settlement, did not brook delay. Why, we ask, if it was urgent then, should not some attempt be made to deal finally with it now? The matter is urgent, therefore, there is no time. The only other possible defence—here again we are spared the necessity of any proof—is as to whether there is time. Again we have the authority of the Prime Minister saying:—To rebuild the House of Lords and to rearrange the relations of the second chamber, if that work is to be thoroughly done, will need one or perhaps two Sessions.Those are the Prime Minister's words. For a complete and final settlement that does not brook delay there would be required one or perhaps two Sessions. A whole Session of last year was wasted, and here we have another Session this year being wasted, and that on a settlement that the Prime Minister himself has said is neither adequate nor final. Yet we are told that there is justification for the 1964 Parliament Bill being brought in. There is one other type of excuse. That is that which was urged by the hon. Member who has just sat down. If I may say so, he has really made an excuse rather than a defence, and really more an appeal to prejudice than to reason. That is that no scheme has been suggested on this side; or that no scheme has been suggested that, in the words of the Home Secretary, is not one which will entrench a solid Tory majority in the Second Chamber. Surely it is a sufficient answer to say that hon. Members on this side of the House are not in the position to bring forward a scheme for the acceptance of the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not in the House of Commons."] I may remind hon. Members that we are dealing at the present moment with the House of Commons, and that the Prime Minister has taken away all the time from private Members, which if he had not done so we might have brought it forward. There was an Amendment to the Address calling for a positive solution upon which this question might come up. Had the Government wished it brought forward by Members on this side they could easily have found an opportunity for it if they had wished. For many of us I do not think any shield or defence of that kind is needed. The Home Secretary has no right to charge us with being unwilling to accept any scheme which would entrench a Tory majority in the Upper House. Speaking for several people on this side of the House, I say we are perfectly willing and anxious and ready to support any scheme which may be brought forward by which a popular or elective element is introduced into the House of Lords. While we are all willing to support that, many of us here, and I myself for one, would give our support to the Government for what would go a good deal further if they would come forward with their scheme. There is a large and growing amount of opinion which, while ready to support the introduction of an elective element, would be willing and ready to see the absolute abolition of the hereditary principle in the Second Chamber and that that principle should no longer be a qualification or of part of a qualification for the right of sitting and voting in that House. I hope I make myself quite clear—we would be ready and willing to support such a scheme for a purely elective Second Chamber, with or without a nominated element, if it would prove feasible, which I myself rather doubt.
1965 What are the principles upon which we press the Government to take a scheme such as this in hand at the earliest possible instant. The reason we urge the entire reconstruction of the Second Chamber, and would be willing to support it, is based upon a principle analagous to some of those which animate my Noble Friend the Member for Oxford (Lord Hugh Cecil) with regard to the Anglican Establishment. We believe absolutely and entirely in the value of the hereditary principle in all that instinct given by long tradition. But we believe in it with sufficient sincerity as to be convinced that it can stand and stand best upon its merits against all comers instead of on the advantage ground of any privilege whatever. Moreover, we are convinced that the essential feature of any successful reform is that for the British Constitution you ought to put new wine into old bottles. Great as the change may be we believe that the continuity might be preserved with such measure of reform, if only it would be brought in. The Second Chamber in its. ultimate origin was anything but hereditary. And lastly we urge this reform instead of the Veto Bill, because many of us are convinced of the need for reform which will be really fair to all parties.
Sometimes hon. Members opposite have jeered at the sincerity of people who are really anxious for constitutional reform, but who would leave to Parliament a Second Chamber as well as a First that should be fair to all parties. The reason we say, that is we think, on the one hand it is the truest statesmanship and the wisest foresight for the party that is willing to adopt it. Put this Parliament Bill to any test whatever that hon. Members would prefer! Let them test it by any rule known to the Constitution. Let them test it by the opinions that would be formed about it by the class of statesmen they respect themselves. Take the long list right down from the virile Walpole to the forcible Chatham, to Disraeli, with his imagination, or Gladstone, with his fertility. Would any one of these statesmen have consented to let his name be allied to a measure of this kind when the whole of the Constitution was not under consideration in a scheme of comprehensive reform. If we are asked what our position is, those of us who wish for entire And complete reform——
§ Mr. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Member asks how many are we? Well, if he will introduce proposals in the first place he will find out, and in the second place it will give him a little more courage, because it would give him sufficient support to make him independent of the Labour party in their desire to abolish the Second Chamber. If we are asked what our own reasons in asking for such a reform would be, I think the answer can be summed up best in the words put into the mouth of Disraeli in regard to his Second Reform Bill—words put into his mouth by probably one of the most endowed of modern political thinkers, and they perfectly express the whole of our opinion:—Through this great forest of fact, this tangle of old and new, these secular oaks, sturdy shrubs, beautiful parasitic creepers, we more with a prudent diffidence, following the old tracks, endeavouring to keep them open, but hesitating to cut new routes till we are clear as to the goal for which we are asked to sacrifice our finest timber. Fundamental changes we regard as exceptional and pathological. Yet, being bound by no theories, when we are convinced of their necessity, we inaugurate them boldly and carry them through to the end. And thus it is that having decided that the time had come to call the people to the councils of the nation, we struck boldly and once for all by a measure which I will never admit to be at variance with the best and soundest traditions of Conservatism.These are the words that really guide our principle. They guide us to support a sound reform, but they guide us also to offer the most uncompromising hostility to a measure not adequate and not final, in the words of the Prime Minister, and which must prejudice any sound reform to be carried in the future.
§ Mr. SPENCER LEIGH HUGHES
This very interesting and important Debate was renewed to-day in a speech which, if I may say so, was worthy of the occasion by the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith). I was very much interested in one point that he made. It was pleasing to know that he took some objection to the use of offensive language. He even rebuked the Prime Minister for making a little slip in taste and using the word "backwoodsman" in regard to a peer. I maintain there was no slip in taste in that, for I myself heard a peer saying in his place in the House of Lords in a most manly style, "My Lords, I am a backwoodsman." If this word may be properly used by noble lips in that serene atmosphere, surely the Prime Minister, who, distinguished though he may be, is only a Member of the House of Commons, may use it without offence. The hon. and learned Member also treated us to a series 1967 of proposals of conciliation alternating with threats. Something has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Tyneside (Mr. J. M. Robertson) about these threats. I do not think too much attention need be paid to them. They are rhetorical devices heard here many and many times. I remember the days of the Harcourt Budget in 1894. When that Budget was going through the House the Opposition threatened night after night that directly they got back to power they would alter and repeal those duties. I believe they did alter them—they increased them. I noticed that the hon. and learned Member said if this Bill went through the repeal of it would be one of the first things the party to which he belongs would devote themselves to when they came into power. So, apparently, there are going to be a series of repeals.
There were twenty speeches delivered yesterday in this Debate and there was the very important speech to-day from the hon. and learned Member. We have heard so much said about present-day depreciation of the House of Commons compared with other days that it is consoling somewhat to find that a Debate can be carried on in so high a tone at the present day. I learnt from the Leader of the Opposition a very interesting fact about the General Election. He said that since 1832 no General Election has meant anything in particular. It may have had some effect, he said, but it is really only a matter of comparing the merits of Mr. X with Mr. Y, or Mr. Y with Mr. Z. Yet there have been General Elections since 1832 which, while they may not have decided anything in particular encouraged the right hon. Gentleman himself to do some particular thing. In the General Election of 1900, when the wind up of the South African war was placed before the country, the electors were told Radicals could support the Unionist party and Nonconformists could vote for the Unionist party, because nothing would be done that would in any way outrage their feelings. A year or so later the Nonconformists were rewarded with an Education Bill they did not want, and the British Temperance people with a Licensing Bill that they did not like. One thing I have to complain of is even if you accept the theory that the General Election is only a series of inquiries, whether X is better than Y, or Y is better than Z, when we turn our attention to the House of Lords we are denied the pleasure of that humble inquiry. There X, Y, and Z are 1968 all the same. You cannot pick and choose. There is no way of testing their comparative merits. They are all assumed to be perfect, or they were until a few months ago, but now we hear some talk about reform. This passion for reform was not so evident at the end of 1909 or the beginning of 1910. I have listened to these proposals, and although I am certain they are sincere, they are rather perfunctory. The promises of reform are toned down to a low key while glowing eulogies of the peers are given at concert pitch. When we hear from hon. Gentlemen opposite that the House of Lords is the envy of other nations we know they are speaking from their hearts, when they say they see some room for improvement, no doubt they mean it, but they do not say it so heartily. I understand the enthusiasm of some Members of this House who sit opposite, for the House of Lords. There are about twenty-one Noble Lords in this House, and they all sit upon the benches opposite. Some of them are heirs to peerages, and it would be idle to expect, indeed it would be inhuman on their part, if they did not sympathise with their future home. They are gorgeous birds of passage now; they will become birds of paradise one day. I can understand them praising the House of Lords, but it must be rather hard for hon. Members on the opposite side who are no more connected with the Peerage than I am—and they could not be less—to have to run about the country enlarging upon the inferiority of this assembly—perhaps bringing it home to the audience by their own speeches—as compared with the other. There are plenty of people who will run down the House of Commons. I have heard many tales told about this assembly. There was a time when I attempted to tell tales myself, not altogether respectable, about this great assembly, but let us leave the telling of tales to the stranger. A stranger the other day was in the Lobby before the sitting of the House watching the procession go through the Lobby just before the sitting, and he had his son with him. The son asked who this and that was, and he pointed to the Chaplain. The father replied: "That is the Chaplain." The son further asked: "Is he the gentleman who prays for the Members?" The father replied: "No; it is not exactly like that; he gets up and looks at them, and when he has seen them, he prays for the country." That is the sort of thing that should be left to the stranger to say. I 1969 am glad to notice that the Leader of the Opposition has a good opinion of this House, and always has had. The right hon. Gentleman said it ought to be the dominating assembly, and that declaration may have offended some of the right hon. Gentleman's democratic friends behind him. I know there was a time when the sympathy of the Leader of the Opposition with this House was in doubt, for Sir William Harcourt used to say of him: "He thinks we are a vulgar lot." I do not think that correctly represents the right hon. Gentleman. The attitude of the Leader of the Opposition to this House has sometimes been one of serene detachment, but I think he has always taken a friendly interest in our proceedings. It is very different when you come to the Noble Lord, the Member for Oxford University. He said only last night that this House was little better than a talking club. If that be so, the Noble Lord has done a good deal to make it so, because there is scarcely a topic that has been debated this Session on which he has not had something to say. [An HON. MEMBER: "Except Tariff Reform."] Well, perhaps that was an exception for a reason. While the Leader of the Opposition takes a sort of friendly interest in our proceedings, nothing of the sort can be said of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University, whose air of pitying condescension is so pronounced that he makes me wonder why he ever came here at all. Possibly he is inspired by that exalted spirit of self-sacrifice which induces, nay even compels the finer souls to go as missionaries to the heathen to try and elevate them. I notice the Noble Lord generally tries to protect himself from anything in the nature of pollution by sitting in a position in which he is bounded by the free air of the Gangway on the one side, and he is generally buttressed and protected by two Noble Lords on the other. I understand that the Noble Lord himself advocated some reform or improvement in the House of Lords, but we may be sure that any scheme that will meet with his approval will not leave the House in too democratic a position, and he will not overdo it in that direction. I saw in a Conservative paper to-day that it was necessary to bring the House of Lords into conformity with the aspirations of the new democracy. It will be rather a pathetic spectacle, if ever Noble Lords are required to toe the line with the new democracy. What I want to know is why hon. Gentlemen opposite want to reform the 1970 House of Lords? When has it done wrong? Again and again I have heard from the opposite side of the House that the House of Lords has never stood in the way of the will of the people, and that it has always carried out the will of the people. Some hon. Members have gone further, and said that the House of Lords know better what the people want than this House, and others have said that the House of Lords know better what the people want than the people themselves. Then why not let them alone? We do not often come across perfection in this world, and when we do encounter it why seek to alter it? Why endeavour to smooth the ice or paint the lily? I wonder if this passion for the reform of the House of Lords would have been heard of if the party of the Leader of the Opposition had won the last election? After a general election circumstances do alter cases. I am not quite sure how far the promise of reform from within in the House of Lords will be carried out. When the discussion took place on this question in the House of Lords before the January General Election, Lord Halsbury, who has the merit of being outspoken, said that some of these reform proposals were only electioneering business, and would be dropped when they had served their purpose. Whether they have served their purpose or not is known only to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and if they are satisfied we are. I think the House of Lords would do well to drop its proposals for reforming itself because they do not impress the man in the street. The man in the street does not like a penitent peer, because he is unimpressive. He prefers them impenitent, and I think I do, and they are certainly more impressive. It is said, when Lord Milner made his famous pronouncement which I need not repeat, the verdict of the man in the street was, "Now he's talking." I should like to know when the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition talks about reforming the House of Lords whether he has any guarantees from the backwoodsmen? I think I can say that without offence, because the Noble Lord opposite has used the word himself. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has those guarantees. I sympathise with their Lordships because I know they put in a lot of hard work at the General Election. One of them—Lord Willoughby de Broke—came down to my Constituency, and he came to support Mr. Jersey de Knoop. The Noble Lord said that what they were engaged in was no-vulgar intrigue. Certainly not. No one 1971 would say anything vulgar about Lord Willoughby de Broke supporting Mr. Jersey de Knoop. It was amusement without vulgarity. I am not sure that these energetic peers will submit to being improved cut of existence. I doubt if they will. It has been said that this subject was not properly discussed at the last Election. The doctrine of mandate is always bandied about from one side to the other. I put the subject prominently in my election address. I cannot remember the precise words I used, but I can candidly say that no fair-minded reader, looking at what I said about the House of Lords, would say that I was a devout worshipper of that Institution. I made that point clear at any rate. I also made it clear what it is we are after. I said that we must have it down in black and white, in statutory form, that this House is not only to be supreme, but the sole authority with regard to finance. I believe that has been conceded by the other side and in another place. Then we want to make it certain that when we are in office we shall have the same right to carry our legislative proposals into law as hon. Members sitting opposite when they get into office. That is an appeal to the fair-play instincts of the nation. The Leader of the Opposition last night said it would be absurd if you had a Radical majority in this House to have another Radical majority in the other House. I do not know that it would be absurd, but it would be a new vision in the other House. In my opinion the only cure for these deadlocks when our party is in power is the removal of the absolute Veto, and after that has been done the House of Lords will be left with very considerable powers indeed—some people think too considerable. There is one remark made by the Leader of the Opposition with which I thoroughly sympathise. The right hon. Gentleman towards the end of his speech said:—This Bill contains proposals as to which there can be no compromise.There are two ways of introducing Bills of this sort. One is to ask for a great deal more than you want, and then you gain a reputation for magnanimity by a series of concessions, although you get all you want in the end. The other way is to make a minimum demand and stick to it. I think the Government has made that minimum demand, and I hope they will stick to it 1972 If they will, I feel sure that this Bill will go through and become law before this year is out.
§ Mr. PAGET
I am one of those hon. Members who has sat through the whole of one Parliament and failed to "catch the Speaker's eye" up to now. Speaking in the light of recent events in the House of Commons, I say, with all respect, that I do not bear any ill-will on that account. We have heard a very amazing speech from the hon. Member who has just sat down. He has given the House many opportunities to laugh, and perhaps some of us are inclined to think that such a style on such a serious question is somewhat flippant. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I trust the House will permit me to speak for a few minutes in a somewhat more serious vein. It is not denied that the questions contained in the proposals of the Government are of great fundamental importance and seriousness to the Government of the State. If I may use a metaphor from the sea, I would say that one set of officers come along and they have a great deal of canvas on the ship, and when the next watch comes on that set of officers may think it advisable to reduce the canvas.
I ask in all seriousness if it is imaginable that any set of officers would give orders to take out the rudder and sink the ship? It is my view that this Veto Bill is practically the unshipping of the rudder of that ship of State. The Government have made constant protestations of their belief in a Second Chamber. It is obvious, however, that if this Bill goes through it can have but one possible effect, and that is to enormously increase the power of the Executive or of the Government of the day. One could quote any number of instances in history, from the time of Cromwell down to the time of Lord Rosebery, to show the bad effects of too much autocratic power in the Government of the day. I do not believe anyone would for one moment consider that either of those men could be called Conservatives. I would like to take an instance from the Constitution which the Government have given to South Africa. I am the last to wish to detract from the good work they have done in having granted that Constitution, though, perhaps, we have not heard the last word upon it. It is perfectly obvious that our own Dominions have had the most ample opportunity of learning from the history of the past what ought to be the best Constitution to set up. While they have had internal dissensions, they have 1973 been perfectly free from outside interference so long as they have been under the æegis of this country. I do not believe that any of our Dominions in considering their Constitutions would ever have entertained such a Bill as this. I might take two instances—one of this country in the seventeenth century and another in France a century later—to show that no great nation has ever made a success of government by a Single Chamber. Then, if I might turn to the Continental nations of to-day, I would take the case of Greece. Greece is not a shining example of a country governed by a Single Chamber. Greece is considering at the present time some kind of an auxiliary Chamber. Another Continental country that I might take is Italy. Italy at the moment is considering how it can further strengthen its Second Chamber. It is obvious that in this and other countries there is a need for a check on hasty impulse and waves of popular passion. As in the case of individuals, so in the case of nations, second thoughts are often best. I would like, in support of the House of Lords, to make a very short quotation from the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond), who, speaking, I think in 1894, said:—The House of Lords have no power to withstand the declared will of the people; they have never done so. Let the popular will be once emphatically declared in favour of any popular reform and the House of Lords must, as they have always done in the past, bow to the popular will.Hon. Members opposite are often inclined to believe that if they can only legislate sufficiently they will change human nature, and that if they can only legislate enough they will bring contentment and comfort to everybody. But in their passion to advance legislation, they cannot always expect to advance the national welfare; on the other hand, they may do it infinite harm. There is an old and well worn quotation, which seems to me applicable:—A thousand years scarce serve to form a State,An hour may lay it in the dust.History shows over and over again that uncontrolled power is demoralising to the very strongest. If the whole of the Front Bench were all archangels, and I think I saw someone who, the other day in his speech, almost suggested that one of them at least was an archangel, the danger would still be as great, and their fate would be that of Lucifer. The chief characteristic of the British Constitution seems to be in its complicity of checks and balances. The Constitution has grown in 1974 the course of some 800 years. It seems to me our race has a genius for compromise and a profound reluctance to give uncontrolled power to any individual or body of individuals. It is a part of the national strength of the country and a chief source of the stability of our institutions, that they have grown up in the period of the past. The Constitution is rooted and grounded in the traditions of centuries, and its very bringing out has been some part of the creation of our national character itself. It has been suggested that very possibly there would be no permanency about this Bill. One could hope that some reasonable compromise and some ground upon which both sides could stand could be found, because I do not think any of us believe it is best that succeeding Governments should go in for reprisals and counter reprisals. I am not going into the question of what constitutes a majority. After all, there is 10 per cent. of voters who have not long certainly belonged to either party. It is apparent that in this particular election they have supported the Government upon the questions that were before the country, but I question very much whether they have thoroughly understood what the Veto means in the destruction, as I believe, of our Constitution. It is perfectly obvious a certain percentage of these voters have been influenced by other reasons, by fiscal theories they may hold, by religious differences and by class prejudices. The Prime Minister himself about eighteen months ago when defining revolution, said:—A revolution describes a change which in principle has never been approved of or even adequately discussed before the people, and which is being carried into effect, if not by an actual violation of the Constitution, at least by some process which transcends and which sets at defiance its normal operation.It seems to me that is exactly what the Government imitates in this Bill. It was Mirabeau who said:—Pigmies can destroy, but it takes giants to build.I think the nation recognises fully the need for reform. Speeches have been delivered all over the country by Members of the other House and by leading Members of this House, and the nation thoroughly understands the need for reform. Sooner or later the nation will stand by the party which stands for reform, and not for the party which, however good their intentions may be, have in mind legislation which is very injurious to the Constitution of this country. Whereas a single stone in itself may not 1975 be a thing of beauty; stones builded one upon another may create a beautiful edifice, a beautiful bridge, a cathedral, and so on, and be a thing of beauty and of joy for the people of this country, an edifice that may last for centuries; and I would only suggest that, though an individual peer may be a very poor edifice, yet the body, the House of Lords itself, is a great institution that has grown up with the growth of this country, is an institution which has been of infinite credit to the country, and is one which I hope may last for a great many generations to come.
Mr. ST. MAUR
As a new Member, I venture to hope that I may receive that kindly and generous indulgence it has always been the graceful custom of this House to extend to those who venture to address it for the first time. It has been with the greatest diffidence that I have risen to address this House, the diffidence arising partly from a knowledge of my own deficiency and of my ignorance of the custom and temper of this Assembly, but to an even far greater extent from the consciousness of the far-reaching and enormous importance of this present occasion, one which it appears to me will be pointed to by generations to come as one of the greatest political landmarks in the history of this country, and perhaps also—as we on this side think—as the beginning of a new era of greater happiness, greater prosperity, greater political freedom for the great majority of the people in this country. It is now some centuries since that form of Constitution was instituted which we now, after it has been subjected to many alterations and modifications, possess. The Leader of the Opposition referred to the composition of that Constitution, but he did not inform us as to how, after years and generations of opposition and of strife, that Constitution was originally wrung from the hands of unwilling monarchs. He did not remind us of the tremendous difficulties that had to be overcome before this House emerged in something like its present form and with something of its present powers and dignity, which it has, and with good reason and just cause, always so stoutly maintained and so jealously guarded. What was the chief obstacle that blocked its road in the past as well as the path of domestic peace and progress? That obstacle was the absolute power and prerogative of the Crown. Both Houses struggled against it, and finally succeeded in setting due limits 1976 to the exercise of those powers which were based upon armed force and upon the arbitrary will of a single person.
And what has been the result? Not only have the powers of both Houses, their dignity, their importance, greatly increased since that period, but the influence, the dignity, the strength of the Crown have increased also. Whence does it derive these? How are they applied? They are applied no longer in keeping in subjection a half-enslaved populace, but in furthering the cause of humanity and peace throughout the world. And they are derived, not from a glittering background of sparkling arms, but from the loyal hearts of a whole people in whom it has unreservedly placed its confidence and trust. As our forefathers worked and strove to limit the absolute powers of past sovereigns, so now we have to strive to limit those of the House of Lords, which has taken so many of the prerogatives that formerly belonged to the Crown. I can understand and sympathise with the thoughts of those who view with regret any alteration of an ancient and historic edifice. We on this side may regret the necessity as much as they. It was not we who desired the alteration or desired it without due cause. We have been driven to it by the actions of those in the other Chamber, assisted by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Had we received, I will not say the same treatment, but anything even approaching that treatment, that is meted out to the party opposite, we should not have spent our time and energy in demanding that which would then have been unnecessary. The question is no new one. It has been before the country for years, and it has become more and more necessary that a final, complete, and satisfactory solution should be found. I venture to say that it has been found. It has been submitted to the nation, and the nation has approved of it. It becomes now our duty to initiate legislation to carry out the nation's will, and the duty of the other House to submit to its verdict.
There has been a good deal of speech from benches opposite as to a reform of the House of Lords preceding or, at any rate, conjoining with the measure now before us. It has even been discussed, in a somewhat languid manner it is true, in the other Chamber, and it has been suggested that some kind of reform, so far but dimly adumbrated, would be more acceptable than our proposals.
1977 There are two kinds of what is termed reform. There are those initiations and applications of new methods designed to improve existing conditions in certain respects or to render the path of progress more easily to be traversed; and there are those changes which, under the guise of reform, are intended to set up, or would have the effect of setting up, machinery which would impede the passage of progressive measures. There would appear to be a great difference between what we term reform and that which is often so-called by hon. Members opposite. But it is too late for reform alone. That might have been accomplished by the other Chamber at any period during the last eighty years, and it would have come more gracefully from within. It is not so much with reform, though that, no doubt, will come in time, that we are here more immediately concerned. What is of far greater importance to the country is that the dignity, authority, privileges, and power of this House should be maintained in their fullness and entirety. This being the seat of legislative, executive, and financial power; being necessarily in close touch with the people's will—by whom it is elected and to whom it is responsible—it is right and proper that this should remain the premier Chamber. I do not think any one here will dispute that. Let us by all means retain, as this measure does retain, due and proper safeguards against any possible hasty or ill-considered legislation, or the chance—a very shadowy one—of highhanded action by any would-be autocratic Government. These safeguards are mainly comprised in the limitation of the duration of Parliament, in the method governing "elections to this House, and in the powers of a suspensory Veto to be exercised by the Lords. These are amply sufficient. Governments in the future will have to keep in still closer touch with the people when they find that they may have to face the country, not only as at present with suggestions for a further development of their particular policy, but also perhaps with the responsibility for measures, completed in every detail, that may have been placed in the pillory by the other House, exposed there in all their attractiveness or unpopularity, and upon which the nation will calmly judge.
I think it will be found that you cannot place the Constitution upon a firm and popular basis and adjust the relations between these Houses upon fair and equitable terms, without a considerable effect 1978 being felt in this Chamber, without to a considerable extent removing the fetters from that bashful and retiring individual who has recently been dragged forth into the glare of publicity—the private Member—and without at the very least loosening the bonds created by the present party system. We shall have gained a House of Commons more truly representative than we have ever had, more free to express its thoughts, more able, within proper limits, to discharge those functions with which it is entrusted and for which it is responsible. This is an age of progress. Some has been achieved, more has become due, and still more will be demanded and will have become necessary in the near future. This has entailed, and will entail, a vast amount of skilful planning, careful execution, laborious and ungrudging work. You cannot carry out that delicate task with the clumsy and rusty implements of the Middle Ages. You cannot maintain the quantity and quality of your work with an antiquated machine, some of the wheels of which refuse to move. Picturesque as many old customs may have been, interesting as are the relics of a former age, they have now ceased to be of any practical utility and must give place to new. So it is with that portion of our Constitution which has failed to carry out, perhaps even rightly to comprehend, what is required of it in this new and bustling age. We are a patient people. And it is marvellous to think of how we have succeeded hitherto in carrying on our business with the same machinery that served us in the feudal ages. But this could not continue. Arrears of work undone, much more but half-completed, are what "we see around us now on every side
We may cherish old memories, have a kind thought for bygone customs. But this is no time for sentimental regrets at the final abandoning of the ways of a past age. How different are the conditions existing between then and now. A teeming population at home, containing in one city alone more human beings than were to be found in the whole country when our Parliament first saw the light. A population requiring every kind of legislative and administrative protection and assistance, presenting daily new problems to be solved, new and just demands to be met. A kind of armed truce existing throughout the world between nations whose only real desire is for peace, but who, in mad, panic-stricken fear, are crowding armaments upon arma- 1979 ments to the general ruin of all. An enormous expansion of territory. Where once we had but to administer the affairs of this little island, and not even the whole of it, now we have vast possessions in all quarters of the globe. Our race is spread even to the farthest corners of the earth. And while vast areas, comprising lands in every clime, peopled in part by almost every known race, gladly and loyally acknowledge our sway—our advice is often sought, our influence is felt, our example is looked up to, by almost all civilised nations, and extends even far beyond into distant places where a state of savagery still exists. And all the threads of Government, of negotiation, of Imperial defence, of the greatest commerce in the world, are gathered in this House whence they radiate to the farthest limits of the earth. It is to this spot that the weaker races look for protection—the stronger for guidance. And it is here—here in the real centre of the world—that we should have, what I am convinced we shortly shall have, the most ideal, but practical, form of sober, reflective, and popular Government that the world has ever seen.
§ Mr. BAIRD
The last speaker has made it quite clear that he, at any rate, is satisfied with the provisions of the Bill, but I may ask, what is the burden of complaint that hon. Gentlemen opposite have against the present system? They complain that the House of Lords is unfit to discharge the functions of a Second Chamber, and they have brought in a Bill to restrict the Second Chamber to its proper functions. But how are they going to be discharged? There is no mention of altering the composition of the House of Lords, and therefore these functions, which according to hon. Gentlemen opposite are proper ones for a Second Chamber to have, are to be discharged by the Noble Lords in the House of Lords to-day. The senior Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rees Jones) informed us that he belonged to an imaginative race, and no one certainly after listening to his picturesque speech would question the accuracy of his description. But there is another right hon. Member for Wales, who I think is entitled to claim a greater degree of imagination than the hon. Gentleman who spoke last night. Not long ago that right hon. Gentleman was reported as having made a speech down at the East End—very well chosen ground, because up to the present, at any rate, Peers are somewhat rare there—and in 1980 that speech he drew a very imaginative picture of an imaginary interview between himself and an Australian, in which he gave an imaginary description of an imaginary House of Lords. After his description of the House of Lords had been concluded he made his friend the Australian say that sooner than have a Second Chamber of that kind in Australia, they would prefer a Chamber of Kangaroos. It is on a Chamber worse than kangaroos, therefore, that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite propose to confer the functions which they say are the proper functions of a Second Chamber. The Prime Minister dilated yesterday at great length on the usefulness of the functions left to the House of Lords, and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down more or less repeated in eloquent terms what the Prime Minister said. And there it remains—that these functions, however useful they may be, are to be discharged by men whom a very prominent Member of the Government has described as worse than kangaroos.
It is quite easy to understand that hon. Members below the Gangway opposite are delighted with this Bill and swallow the Preamble, although they do not like it, quite readily. They do not like the Preamble, but they recognise that it is a dead letter, and that it has been inserted with a view to salving the consciences of orthodox Members who sit immediately behind the Front Bench, and who are inspired by the soul-stirring watchword "Wait and see." There is no doubt that many of these Gentlemen are perfectly delighted and contented to wait until the happy day comes when they can step down the passage and join the Kangaroo Chamber. They have the delightful feeling that as long as hon. Gentlemen have their way little Kangaroos whom they have begotten will succeed them in the House of Lords, because, according to the hon. Gentleman, the hereditary principle is to be kept in full vigour. That may be all very fine for hon. Gentlemen opposite who want to sit in the House of Lords, but there is no denying that the effect of this Bill will be to introduce a Single-Chamber system of Government, and the reason why hon. Members below the Gangway so strongly support it-is because they are in favour of the Single-Chamber Government, and because they are the tail that wags the head of the Government dog. The party opposite claim that they have a mandate for this particular Bill, but do they claim that they 1981 have got a Mandate to alter our Constitution from a bi-cameral Constitution into a Single-Chamber Constitution? It is futile to pretend that the functions which are left to the House of Lords are functions which are of any value whatever in the work of legislation. I do not suppose that hon. Members opposite will deny that there is a solid feeling among all men of all parties in favour of the reform of the Second Chamber in this country, and it is a pure affectation to say that we on this side are not in favour of reform. Anybody who took the trouble last Session to go into the House of Lords and listen to the Debate which took place there must realise that the Members of our party there were prepared to make very drastic changes in the constitution of the House, and that they passed Resolutions in favour of reform, either without a Division or by an enormous majority.
You may say that our proposals for reform are not adequate—that is a different matter—but to pretend, as hon. Gentlemen are accustomed to do, that we are not in favour of reform is, I think, a misrepresentation of the facts of the case. That being so, in regard to a fundamental question dealing with the reorganisation of the Constitution of the country, you are bound to admit that moderate men of all parties are in favour of the reform of the Constitution, and it would have been open to you to have come to some understanding for the purpose of reforming it. Many crocodile tears are being shed by hon. Members opposite with regard to the Conference, but I must say that I venture to think that the Conference amounted to nothing but a trick. My reason for saying that is this: You had a Bill before the last Parliament representing what were then the views of the Government, and the mere fact of consenting to go into a Conference surely indicated that the Government were prepared to discuss the matter. It cannot be pretended, however, that after discussing the matter for twenty odd sittings, nothing came out, which it was possible for the Government to introduce into their Bill with a view of meeting the wishes of a very large number of people. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Members of the Conference said so."] The Members of the Conference have said nothing on our side. I do not know what they have said on your side. I do not doubt the honesty of the light hon. Gentleman opposite, or of any other party, but all that we have got to go upon is this, that nothing was done. Those of us who are in favour of the re- 1982 form of the Second Chamber, as expressed in this Preamble, may well ask what possible chance is there of the Government being able to give effect to it. They will have to meet the determined opposition of hon. Members below the gangway opposite, who honestly are opposed to any kind of Second Chamber, and the bargain which they will make with hon. Members below the gangway here, goodness only knows. It is clear, however, that they will never be in a position to put into practice the "Wait and see" policy which is contained in the Preamble, and they will only deal with proposals conferring what they consider proper functions on a Second Chamber.
I suppose they consider that that point is settled—the functions which the House of Lords will discharge after this measure becomes law, if unhappily, it ever does, which I doubt. The functions which the House of Lords will then discharge will be those which the Government declare belong to a Second Chamber. These are functions which they have not dared to insult any of our self-governing Colonies by offering to confer them upon their Second Chambers, and it does seem to me rather hard that we should have to put up with a system at home which they have not proposed for our Colonies. What is another, and main burden of complaint against the House of Lords? It was, that as long as the Conservatives are in power, we enjoy practically a Single-Chamber system of Government, and they say that is a bad thing. What does this Bill do to remedy that? This Bill perpetuates that system, and secures not only when the Conservatives are in power, but when any party is in power, that we shall have a Single-Chamber system of Government. I do not quarrel with hon. Members below the Gangway, who argue on straightforward lines that they are against two Chambers. This Bill gives them a Single Chamber, and that is what they want. I quarrel with those hon. Gentlemen who go up and down the country saying that the system is bad which obtains when the Conservative party are in power, and yet perpetuate that system, and say it is going to work better when the Radical party are in power. I do not understand the arguments from the opposite benches on this point because that must be the effect of this Bill if you carry it into law.
Other hon. Members say do not we represent the will of the people? If we do not, who does represent it? We have been elected by the people, and surely we know 1983 what it is that the people want. I think a very short experience of this House would convince anyone that circumstances are constantly arising which make it impossible either to give effect to the clearly expressed will of our Constituents or to prevent a measure being passed into law which is in direct opposition to the clearly expressed will of the electorate. There is no perfect system for meeting that difficulty I admit, but certainly a Two-Chamber system affords an opportunity of delaying and the people of the country, after all, may be given an opportunity of saying whether they want a measure or not if there is doubt about it. Hon. Gentlemen opposite say that is very fine. It works when Radicals are in power, but not when Conservatives are in power. The action of the House of Lords has laid it open to that imputation. Last night an hon. Member made a very curious remark. He almost complained that the House of Lords did not throw out the Workmen's Compensation Bill, not on the ground that it was a bad Bill at all, but that it was a revolutionary proposal. There are different degrees of revolutionary proposals. Surely it is fair to say that was a Bill which did no one any harm at all, but did a vast deal of good. If you come to consider the measures which the House of Lords threw out which had been passed by the Radical Government you will find it difficult to deny that a very large portion of those measures was directed to doing harm to a vast section of the population of the country. The Education Bill was designed to do a considerable amount of harm to a very large section of the population, and the Licensing Bill was equally designed to do harm. So that I think there is a fundamental difference in the character of the measures which were thrown out by the House of Lords under the two last Administrations. However that may be, surely you admit that it is desirable that the people at any rate should have the last say when there is any doubt on the subject. But they are not going to have the last say. It was clearly proved last night that these so-called safeguards which are to enable the people to express an opinion which will carry weight with the Government are entirely fallacious. The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir R. Finlay) made that perfectly clear.
That opens up another aspect. As a relatively young Member of the House I am probably treading on delicate ground, 1984 but, if so, I hope the House will clearly understand that I have no wish whatever to be in any way disrespectful. We have in prospect a measure for the payment of Members, and I do not think you can possibly consider that, in view of the alteration which it is bound to effect in the character of the House, except in conjunction with this proposal for dealing with the House of Lords. If you pay Members, Membership of this House ceases to be what it is at present—an occupation and an honourable career and becomes a profession, and you will open the door to a large number of glib-tongued, inexperienced men who will come into the House before they have had any experience of the world at all. It seems to me that even at the present day we are very short in this House, of experts on matters connected particularly with the great public services of the State, and from the nature of things it is quite impossible for a man, except in very rare circumstances—certainly we have a few brilliant exceptions, but very few—to serve long enough to obtain a position of eminence and distinction in one of the public services, and then to come in here, serve his apprenticeship again, and acquire a position of eminence here. Surely it must be admitted that in any Legislature, but particularly in the Legislature of the metropolis of a world-wide Empire, it is essential that we should have at our disposal, when measures are being discussed which are bound to have a far-reaching effect on the oversea Dominions, the advice and experience of men who have earned distinction in the public service. I do not know whether hon. Members noticed a very curious thing that happened on Friday. The question of the horse supply of the Army was being discussed, and the Secretary of State for War mentioned that that was a question which was in a more chaotic state even than other things connected with the Army, and a few moments afterwards he announced the intention of the Army to buy three-year-old foals. Even a right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of an important department of the State should make himself more acquainted with the details of a horse than to describe the winner of the Derby, for instance, as a foal. It seems to me there is a great need for expert opinion on subjects of that kind.
With regard to these matters, Members of the Legislature who are entitled from experience to speak on such subjects, will now be altogether excluded for practical 1985 purposes. The Prime Minister said something about this House being turned into a talking club. There is not the slightest doubt that the proposals of hon. Members opposite would turn the House of Lords into nothing but a talking club, and I do not think that such men as Lord Roberts and Lord Milner and others who have served with great distinction will waste their time by going there to talk at this new-fangled talking club, which is to take the place of the House of Lords. Consequently we shall be without the services of these men, and I think that, though at any time that will be a very great disadvantage, especially in view of the changed character which is likely to be introduced into the composition of this House by payment of Members, it is desirable that we should have an Upper Chamber maintaining an effective power, not dependent on the will of the Government for the time being, but with an effective power of right to express an opinion in legislation before it is put on the Statute Book. I oppose this Bill because it introduces into this country a Single-Chamber system of Government and nothing else. The Government may say what they like; they have not got a mandate for a Single-Chamber system of Government. I do not know how they think they obtained a mandate of that kind. I can only give my experience in my own division. The country-side was plastered with posters asking whether they were going to vote for the peers or the people. None of the peers voted for me. I believe one peer did vote in Ireland, and there was trouble about it; but no peers voted, and anyone who has voted against this measure has done so deliberately not to support the peers, but to support a Two-Chamber system of Government, and that is what I will do to the utmost of my ability; and I do not think it possible to give better reasons for holding that view and for determinedly opposing the policy advocated by hon. Gentleman opposite than those given by Disraeli in the year 1834. He said:—I will allow for the freedom of the Press. I will allow for the spirit of the age. I will allow for the march of intellect, but I cannot force from my mind the conviction that the House of Commons concentrates in itself the whole power of the State, and might. I should say rather would, notwithstanding the great antagonistic forces to which I have alluded, establish in this country a despotism of the most formidable and dangerous character.These are my reasons for opposing this measure. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have it in their power to place themselves at the head of a great constitutional movement 1986 They have decided not to take advantage of that opportunity. They have decided rather to remain what they have been all along, partisans, and only partisans, and, to use the opportunity which now presents itself to pass legislation which, when we come into power we shall have to do the best we can to take off the Statute Book.
§ Mr. RICHARD LAMBERT
Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not yet seem quite to understand the position which we on this side take up in this matter. Our position is that the present state of things is altogether intolerable, because we do not get fair-play when we are in power. We are merely asking that when a Liberal Government is in office we should have equal opportunities for passing Liberal Bills that Conservative Governments have when they are in office. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith) admitted very frankly that he considered that some reform of the House of Lords was necessary. I thought he went so far as to say that he was in favour of some reform which should give the Liberal party an equal chance with the Conservative party when they were in office, but has he considered what that involves? The great difficulty, as I understand, with hon. Members opposite is that they are afraid that by agreeing to this Bill they will bring about Home Rule. They are afraid that this Bill will be followed by a Home Rule Bill, but if the scheme of reform which hon. Gentlemen opposite advocate is to give an equal chance to a Liberal Government to carry its measures as a Conservative Government has, that must necessarily mean, surely, that when there is a Liberal majority here there shall also be a Liberal majority in the House of Lords, and, if so, where is the obstacle for carrying Home Rule? If a Home Rule Bill will pass this House it will pass equally through the House of Lords. You will get discussion, as you can get discussion at the present time. There is no difficulty about that. A Bill passes here and goes to the House of Lords and is discussed there, and we know what its fate is if it is a Liberal Bill. The difficulty which we have to face is that under no conceivable scheme of reform can a measure be introduced which will give an equal chance to a Liberal Government unless you limit the Veto of the House of Lords. Personally I rejoice to think that this Bill will be followed by a Home Rule Bill. Home Rulers are not to be found alone on the benches opposite. Speaking 1987 for myself, at the recent election, and on the eve of the poll, I issued a letter to every elector, in which I clearly placed before him the fact that I was a Home Ruler, and, if elected, I should press forward Home Rule in this Parliament. So far as I am concerned, I have no qualms at all about the matter, and I believe that the fact that this Bill will be followed by a Home Rule Bill is one of the chief reasons why it commended itself to the electors of this country. We were told last night by the hon. and learned Member for the Kingston Division (Mr. Cave) that if this Bill were pressed forward it would be resisted by the Opposition with all their strength and at all costs. Very well, we on this side are equally determined that the Bill shall pass into law, and we are determined to press it forward with all the strength we have at our command. We are backed up in that determination by the knowledge that we have behind us the united democracy of the United Kingdom—a unity which hon. Members opposite are always ready to acclaim when it suits their purpose, but which they decry when they think they have a party advantage to gain in the matter.
§ Mr. W. R. CAMPION
Like the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, I claim the indulgence of the House for a maiden speech. I have been very much interested in listening to this Debate during the last two days and in reading the report of it, and one thing which has particularly impressed itself on me is the remarkable discrepancy between the way in which the case is put before the House here and the way in which I have heard the case of the Government put before the country. We have seen and read leaflets, we have read and heard a number of speeches, and we have seen a number of remarkable posters, all arguing against what is known as the hereditary principle of the House of Lords, and all criticising the present composition of the Second Chamber. That being the case, one would have thought that the most important duty of a Government on this occasion would have been to have made some present and immediate practical suggestion for reforming the constitution of the Second Chamber. We know that there is no immediate and practical suggestion before us. We have read a Preamble which holds out the hope that on some future occasion, in the dim and distant future, there may be a possibility, I am afraid not a probability, of some re- 1988 form of the constitution of the Second Chamber. There being no real practical suggestion at the moment, I would like to put three questions to the Government. In the first place, I should like to ask them why it is that they have not at present been able to evolve any policy for reforming the constitution of the Second Chamber? If they have a policy, why have they not embodied it in the Bill now before us? If they have not a policy, what have they been doing and thinking about since 1906, and, indeed, since times considerably before that year? We have been told by speakers on the other side constantly that this is not a new question which has arisen. We have been told that it was acute at the commencement of last Session when we heard a great deal of the policy of "filling up the cup." We were told last night by the hon. Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby) that this question was the inevitable evolution of our social and Parliamentary system during the last hundred years. If that is the case, if this is such an old question, why is it that we have not got any practical solution put before us at the present time for the reform of the Second Chamber? The fact of the matter is that at present one has the suspicion, which amounts to a moral certainty, that the Government have not been able to formulate any practical policy for reforming the constitution of the Second Chamber. In other words, this Preamble is no more than the mere expression of a pious hope for the future, but there is no probability of the promise in the Preamble ever being fulfilled, and it is in effect to a great extent a sham and a delusion. If that is the case, what becomes of the theory so often adumbrated by the other side that they are supported by the people? I maintain that the principal argument constantly put before the voters was the argument that you had to deal with the hereditary system. If there is no probability and no suggestion of abolishing that system, what becomes of the argument of hon. Gentlemen opposite that they have the support of the people of this country? Though many hon. Members opposite will not agree at all with what I am about to say, I do think that very often the complaints that have been made against the House of Lords in the past by hon. Members opposite have been very much exaggerated. I would go further and say that, to a great extent, the House of Lords has been really the friend of hon. Members on the other side of the House. Indeed, it is exceed- 1989 ingly doubtful whether a great many of them would be sitting there if it had not been for this question of the House of Lords. I will give two reasons. The first is that it has given hon. Members opposite such an excellent cry in the constituencies. "Down with the Lords! Peers versus people!" may not express the actual contest accurately, but at any rate it does appeal very well to sentiment, and it does appeal to the setting of class against class, and so winning votes in the constituencies. Some complaint has been made against the House of Lords because they amended the Education Bill of 1906, and because they rejected the Licensing Bill of a later year. I venture to think that if both of these Bills were now the law of the land—remembering how at the time the Licensing Bill was before the House the party which I support won by-election after by-election in the country—it is very unlikely that hon. Members would be keeping their seats on the other side of the House. I oppose this Bill firstly because, as I have stated, it does not suggest any practical and immediate reform of the Second Chamber, although in the constituencies the reform of the Second Chamber has been inferred as necessary. Secondly, I oppose the Bill very strongly because I believe it will establish a system that will make it possible for Governments in the future to absolutely ignore, if they desire to do so, the wishes of the people. Most of us—all of us on this side of the House—believe in the necessity of a Second Chamber. I believe in the necessity, not only of a Second Chamber, but of one of sufficient strength and efficiency to enable the People's will to be expressed in this House whether the Government may be willing or not. We want a Second Chamber reformed, perhaps, on democratic lines, and brought more into touch with modern day requirements, possessing more thoroughly the confidence of the people, one of efficiency and strength, and one which will be strong enough to see that the People's will prevails by referring measures of importance to the judgment of the electors.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir JOSEPH WALTON
I approve of the course the Government has taken in dividing the question of the reform of the House of Lords into two parts. In the Parliament Bill which they now ask leave to introduce they have chosen in the first place the most urgent part—the limiting of the powers of the House of Lords in order to secure fair play, or at any rate 1990 an approximation to fair play for Liberal legislation. I question whether any Member of the House does not hold the view that an Upper Chamber possessing unlimited power to reject or mutilate a legislative measure sent up from this House is wholly inconsistent with the principles of representative government of which we have boasted as a nation for generations past, and especially when the other Chamber is composed entirely of non-representative peers. We have only to recall briefly our political history of the last ten years to realise that a drastic limitation of the Veto powers of the House of Lords is absolutely essential if we are to have progress made for legislation, at any rate under a Liberal Government. In 1900 we were told by the Tory party that the one issue in the election of that year was the question of finishing the South African war, and that Liberals and Radicals might without hesitation vote for Conservative candidates, because that was the one question which the Conservative Government was going to deal with. But what followed? We had an Education Bill, a Licensing Bill, and other Bills passed by the Conservative Government during the Parliament elected in 1900, for which they sought no mandate whatever from the electors. When these measures went up to the House of Lords, as at present constituted, did the Lords say, "You have not consulted the people on these questions and we must refuse to pass these Bills until you have had an appeal to the country." No. Practically every legislative measure that has been sent up to the present House of Lords by the Conservative party for the last fifty years has been passed by them unquestioned. When we contrast that with the action of the House of Lords since 1906—when a Liberal Government was returned to power with an unprecedented majority of 350, when, fresh with the mandate of the people, they passed an Education Bill, a Licensing Bill, a Plural Voting Bill, and a Scotch Land Bill, we find that all these measures when they went up to the House of Lords were either rejected without any consideration at all, or were so mutilated that they were not acceptable to the Liberal party in this House. Therefore, it is that the urgency has been created for the first step taken in connection with the great constitutional question, the step of at once limiting the power of the Veto of the House of Lords so that Liberal legislation will have some sort of fairplay.
1991 The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Baird) has said that we propose a One-Chamber Government; I will tell the hon. Member what we have had. For the last fifty years, whenever a Tory Government has been in power we have had One-Chamber Government, because the other Chamber always has passed unquestioned every Bill sent up to them by a Tory Government. The Government Bill gives large powers to the House of Lords, and I do not understand how anyone can say that it establishes a Single-Chamber Government when the other Chamber has a power of rejection of every measure sent up for three Sessions. True, we take finance out of their hands, and we do that by general consent, but in regard to ordinary measures of legislation, when you consider that the duration of Parliament is limited to five years, and that they have these large powers of rejection and revisions for a period during which bye-elections will be fought and a political propaganda will be carried on in the country, if any measures are being pressed forward against the will of the country, they could not be proceeded with. The fact is that these proposals are so moderate that we on the Liberal side of the House will still suffer from unequal conditions in regard to ability to pass legislation, for after this Parliament Bill is passed, any measures sent up by a Conservative Government to the House of Lords will be passed by them the first time, while the Liberal party will too often, I fear, have their Bills rejected three times over, and a delay of more than two years in passing these Bills. Let me give one illustration of the unfairness of our constitutional question as it at present exists. From Yorkshire we sent to this House twenty-six Members, elected by a vast majority of electors, to pass the Education Bill, at the election of 1906. They worked on that Education Bill for months in this House, only to have the whole of their work destroyed by seven Peers who came from Yorkshire, representing, in the House of Lords, no one but themselves. I consider that that must be admitted, irrespective of party politics, to be an intolerable situation, and, indeed, it is a situation which hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House could not condemn in strong enough language if they bad been placed in the same position as the Liberal party has been placed in since 1906—since which date we have been practically more than half our time ploughing the sands, 1992 promoting and passing through this House measures for which we had a distinct mandate from the people. I support the introduction of this Bill.
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has taken the line which hon. Members opposite are so constantly taking, He has been finding fault with the composition of the House of Lords, and he has also been finding fault with them for the measures which they have not thought fit to pass. I do not know whether he heard the speech made by the hon. Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) this afternoon. If he had he should have realised the fact that, as was shown most conclusively, one of the wisest things the Government did for their own sake was to allow the House of Lords to reject these two Bills, the Licencing Bill and the Education Bill, because it is quite obvious that that gave them a good chance to go to the country with a very useful cry. I feel quite confident myself that the result of throwing out these particular measures was to give them a considerable number of votes, because they are not particularly careful how they deal with these particular subjects. I have fought four elections in five years, so I know a considerable amount about the methods they use. These methods are somewhat exaggerated, to say the least of it. The ideas which they introduce into their party politics on the platform are somewhat different from what they introduce, as a rule, into this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Both sides."] That, of course, is a matter of opinion. I could, if I thought it worth while, give some instances which occurred in my own Division, which I would have been very sorry to have anything to do with, if they were on my side. However, we are not discussing that at the present moment. But they always choose this whip to beat the House of Lords with, knowing full well that it has been a great advantage to them to go to the country with the cry, which I admit has been fairly popular, especially in those districts which have not much knowledge of the real benefit that comes very often from the fact that a Member of the House of Lords happens to live in a particular part of the country. I daresay some hon. Members do not agree with that. But we have been told constantly by right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench, when it suits their own convenience, that Members of the House of Lords have helped in a most splendid 1993 way to carry on the institutions of the country and the work in the country districts. I remember myself listening two years ago to the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Haldane), who told us quite honestly, and I may say somewhat to my surprise, that he considered that the Members of the House of Lords were doing a splendid work, supporting his own particular pet scheme—the Territorial scheme. The hon. Member for the Walton Division referred to-night to the fact that even the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, who has such a very graphic method of describing the peculiar habits of the House of Lords, when it suited his convenience praised them, and praised them very considerably indeed. Having listened very carefully to this Debate, I have come to the conclusion that the real danger lies in the fact that there are others besides the Members of the Labour party who are anxious to see a Single-Chamber Government as the result of passing this Bill into law.
For my part, I am absolutely and entirely against any system of government by the House of Commons alone. It was mentioned last night by the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby), and very rightly, that the House of Commons as at present constituted does not voice the divine will of the people. The hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Bottomley) two years ago told the Government that if they went down to their constituencies and told the electors that the House of Commons represented the divine will of the people, they would talk with their tongues in their cheeks. Anyone who has considered the question for five minutes knows that this House of Commons does not represent the divine will of the people, and never will really represent it, but it could represent it very much more fully if there was a system of redistribution. For myself, I should like to see a system of proportional representation. But the point is that at the present moment they do not represent the divine will of the people, and therefore I have some anxiety when I see hon. Members not only on that side of the House, but also on this side of the House below the Gangway, supporting Single-Chamber Government. I know very well why, at the present moment, there is so little talk about the reform of the House of Lords, and why we have this extraordinary Preamble. Obviously it is meant to keep the Moderate party quiet. At the same time we know perfectly well that 1994 the hon. Members to whom I have referred will do all that they can to prevent any reform of the House of Lords when they have once taken away their powers. Consequently, the danger will be very great. It is quite obvious, when the Nationalist Members attain what they desire, that is separation from England—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We will call it Home Rule——
The hon. Member may have different ideas of what separation means from what I have. When the Nationalist party have obtained the separation they desire—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—they will not care twopence whether you reform the Second Chamber or not. Are we going to have two Chambers in Dublin?
I shall wait and see with great interest, if you ever get Home Rule at all. I would certainly like to know what the plans of Nationalist Members are with regard to a Second Chamber, because I cannot conceive even this Government allowing Ireland to be controlled only by a Single Chamber.
I should rather like to see the formation of a Second Chamber, and it seems to me very ridiculous that, while we insist upon our Colonies and Dominions having two Chambers, we should be found here, in the great centre of all, talking about a Single Chamber. The hon. Member for Stirling Burghs referred to Costa Rica and other small States for purposes of comparison. But we do not want to compare ourselves with such States, because we have more at stake than a place like Costa Rica, and we need more control than we are likely to possess if the present Government obtain a Single Chamber, and there is no check upon what it chooses to do. The Prime Minister last night claimed that his side has the whole of the people at its back. One thing certainly it has not, and that is the voice of the people of Devonshire, because in that county we turned out no less than five Members who used to sit in the House on the other side. The voice of Devonshire, therefore, cannot be said to be at the back of the Prime Minister in seeking to destroy the House of Lords. The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. St. Maur), who happens to be a constituent of mine, but who did not vote for me, made to-night a maiden speech, on which I congratulate him. He seemed to 1995 be quite contented with the way in which the Government is carrying out this great change in our Constitution. He made one remark which I thought rather curious. He said that the people had wrung their privileges from the monarchs of old. Yes, but he must have forgotten that they won their privileges with the help of the House of Lords when he made that statement. I absolutely oppose this Bill, because I sincerely believe, if it become law, that we shall be going forward on a path leading to we know not where, and I think we shall be putting ourselves far too much in the power of those who, we know perfectly well, will work for their own ends. I am exceedingly gratified that the leaders of the Conservative party, backed up by a united following, have made it quite clear that they will be in no way a party to this unstatesmanlike measure.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
The hon. Member who has just spoken, like every other hon. Gentleman who has taken part in this Debate, sought to interpret various elections to the advantage of his own particular party. He made one more interesting statement, wherein he claimed that certain Lords have performed certain duties in connection with Territorial Associations, and have received the commendation of certain Ministers. The idea underlying his observation seems to me to be this: that if a lord does his duty it is something remarkable. Certainly we expect Lords, as well as everybody else, to do some duty or other, but, if a man does the ordinary duty of a citizen, in our opinion that does not entitle him to the special privileges which he possesses as a Member of the House of Lords. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Baird), in his interesting speech, suggested that we on these benches were under an obligation to the House of Lords because that august body allowed the Trades Disputes Bill to pass through. Evidently he had not followed the proceedings of that time very closely; but we on these benches did, and we know very well that the Leader of the Conservative party in that House designated the measure as wicked and pernicious, that it was pregnant with great disasters, and that his party would very much like to reject it, but that he did not regard it as suitable ground for a conflict with the people. Here we see that they were not taking a dispassionate view of that legislation, and that they were not coming to a determination according to 1996 their conscience and their convictions, but that they were moved purely by expediency and a desire to avoid conflict with the people themselves.
I am one of those who have long contended that the controversy in which we are engaged at the present time was inevitable. As soon as the people were enfranchised they learned that after all the possession of political power is not an end in itself, but simply a means whereby they are to work out their economic salvation. That means they must challenge the privileges and vested interests of other classes. When hon. Members on the other side speak of the necessity of having a Second Chamber to restrain hasty legislation, I apprehend that they are more concerned to restrain the desires of the working classes for a greater measure of justice in our time. It certainly does help us to perceive that the particular interest which is overwhelmingly represented in the House of Lords is one which must recede as the working classes press forward. There is no other method of establishing social right and justice, and I interpret this present struggle as meaning that the working classes are claiming equal political power with any other class in the land, and that means that the special privileges now enjoyed and exercised by the House of Lords must cease as early as possible. We the practical politicians on these benches have to recognise, of course, that although the present Bill will not assure that the whole of our desires will be fulfilled, nevertheless it does take us in the direction that we would move; hence we have good reason for the support we are giving to the measure. We are told by the other side that they must have this restraining influence; nevertheless, it seems to me that there is a greater necessity in the land: I want to see a Chamber in existence that will stimulate and facilitate progress. Hon. Members opposite seem to regard the function of the House of Lords as always to be a drag on progress I am one of those who believe we have suffered far too long from this restraint, and that the real need of the people demands that we shall have protection against reaction in the land, and that the great social laws with which we are all acquainted shall receive full and ample consideration. There has been a great deal of controversy as to what really happened at the last General Election. Of course, each Mem- 1997 ber is entitled to speak of his own experience. I am bound to admit that this question was the primary question that was submitted to the electors of the city I have the honour to represent. The Opposition were anxious to trail other questions across the track, but, nevertheless, this question undoubtedly did emerge as the one issue of that great election. At the same time I made it perfectly clear that I was supporting this Parliament Bill, because I recognised that it would help to clear away the great obstacle and barrier to the larger aims that I had in view. I have never burked consideration of the Home Rule question or other great issues. I advocated the Parliament Bill in the course of my election because I wanted to see the Irish people realise their ambitions, and because I desired that we of the Labour party also should be able to realise the aims that we have placed before the country. I am perfectly satisfied, so far as my experience went, and it was not confined to the city I contested, as I visited a number of other constituencies in different parts of the country; everywhere I found this question occupying the primary attention of other candidates. And I believe that they may every one of them claim that the constituencies they represent gave an emphatic determination in favour of the general principle of this Bill. The questions that I submitted were these. First:—Do you desire that the House of Commons shall prevail over the House of Lords?That is clear and understandable enough. I argued, of course, the reasons why the popularly-elected Assembly should have supreme control over finance and legislation, and the constituency in very solid fashion affirmed that principle. I put the question also to them:—Do you agree that those should be effected in finance without limitation?That need not be argued any further, because I believe the party opposite now recognise that the Lords' action on the Budget was not to be defended, and the Lords themselves have even abandoned that claim to the power they exercised on that occasion. It is perfectly obvious that in my own particular case, and with the others with which I am familiar, that it was the question of the relation and not the composition of the two Houses which was put to the people.
Personally, I candidly confess I wish the Government had not persisted in their adhesion to the Preamble. We on these 1998 benches have made our attitude perfectly plain. We are opposed to a Second Chamber. I cannot contemplate any Second Chamber that will not be of a statutory reactionary character. Of this I am certain, that all the schemes that have been foreshadowed by hon. Gentlemen or right hon. Gentlemen representing the party opposite, would fulfil that idea of theirs of having a statutory established Second Chamber with a permanently reactionary majority simply reflecting their own views and purposes. I do not know how it would be possible to set up a Second Chamber that would give fair representation to even the varied interests represented in this House of Commons. We are supposed to be a democratic people, and we claim that all the forms of Parliament ought to be open to the common people, provided they have the character and quality for Parliamentary representation. I do not suppose it is proposed in any of the schemes which have been set forth by hon. Gentlemen opposite that say the Labour party should have representation in their revised Second Chamber. At any rate, you may count upon it that any form of Constitution which would restrict the right of the Labour party, to which I belong, would have our consistent opposition. It is suggested that the Government are unfair in their intention to have this question settled this side of the Coronation. I believe that the Government are wise in their action. They have a mandate from the people to settle the question. I believe it is a remarkable experience in British politics to find one party returned at three consecutive elections when the same question was prominently before the electors. Certain it is that we have to look back along history before we are able to find anything to parallel that. Therefore we believe that the Government are perfectly justified in declaring that the people desire that this should be a fight to the finish. I am certain of this, that if the Government were to withdraw from this matter now in response to the appeal made to them from the other side, they would get short shrift when they were compelled to go to the country again, because the people would claim that they had proved false to the promises and the trust which they had reposed in them. We object to all the reform schemes which have been foreshadowed. Under the existing system we can always when a crisis arrives call in the aid of the Crown's Prerogative. I know everybody admits the advisability of keeping the Throne out 1999 of political controversy as long as and as far as it is possible to do so. Nevertheless in this dilemma when it seems impossible to peacefully adjust the relationship of the two Houses, and when the House of Lords display a disinclination to yield to the clearly expressed will of the people, then it is competent for the Prime Minister to call upon the King to exercise his Prerogative by appointing peers to help them out of their difficulty. We contemplate in a written Constitution that this statutory reformed House, which hon. Gentlemen opposite seem so anxious to set up, that this Prerogative will be destroyed. If my apprehension is true, a Second Chamber on the lines so far suggested must be of a permanent reactionary character, and there will then be the alternative between stagnation and revolution in the country. Therefore I venture to suggest it will require far more consideration than we have hitherto been able to give it in order that we may have anything like general agreement upon the constitution of a reformed Second Chamber. I am glad the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), speaking yesterday, declared that we would in no way acquiesce in any Conference being set up on this matter. We were opposed to the original proceeding. We regarded it as unconstitutional, and certainly we entered our protest against the Front Benches entering into compact on this matter. We believe that the differences between us are fundamental and irreconcilable, and we believe there is no possibility of any agreement that would be acceptable to all sections of this House emerging from any such Conference. In the last resort the people, through their declarations at the polls, have given determination in this matter, and we trust that the Government will recognise it, and that they will not be trapped into a further Conference, although the hon. Member for Rugby seemed to think his leaders were trapped when they entered into the Conference last year. We heard a great deal during the election about the Referendum, but we have not had much explanation of this new-fangled idea from speakers on the other side. I can remember the time when it was very attractive to me, but in those days I looked upon it as a possible alternative to a Second Chamber, and I know there are a considerable number of reformers in the country who are in favour of the Referendum, but not the Referendum with a revised Second 2000 Chamber, or the House of Lords as we understand it to-day. In 1894 Lord Curzon contributed to a symposium in the "National Review," when he set forth very emphatically one of the objections that I have to the Referendum as now proposed. He said:—Is not the Referendum in the hands of the Lords equivalent to the prerogative of forcing a dissolution whenever they please.I believe that if we were to assent to the setting up, or the embodying of, the Referendum in our Constitution it would so work, as far as we are able to conceive it that the Lords, or a revised Second Chamber, would refer to the country only such measures as were objectionable to them. They would not be able or competent to take a dispassionate view of matters, and those interests which must inevitably be overwhelmingly represented in that Chamber would simply determine what should be remitted according to their objection, or otherwise, to the particular measures. We may at any rate claim for the House of Commons that it has the virtue of having to go to the people every now and then. The people themselves may rapidly and easily change the constitution of this Chamber. That seems to me to emphasise our demand that the popularly elected Chamber shall be the supreme factor in our Constitution. Now that we have a proposal to limit the duration of Parliaments, I think we may claim, with greater emphasis than ever, that this Chamber which represents the people is the real Chamber, and that this is the Chamber which must prevail, both in finance, as is now admitted, and, as we trust it will also be admitted by the passing of this Bill, in schemes of legislation.
§ Mr. W. R. PEEL
I certainly think, after the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. G. Roberts), there will be very great difficulties in the way of the Government if they are in favour of any sort of compromise on this Bill. Of the three parties composing their composite majority, two are absolutely opposed to any Conference. As to the Irish Members, if I were an Irish Member and wanted Home Rule for Ireland, I should be as uncompromising an opponent of any sort of compromise as they are to-day. Now that we have had this definite declaration from the Labour Members as well I confess I do not understand the position of those moderate Liberals—and they are very moderate indeed, who are supporting this Bill still in the hope that some sort of arrange- 2001 ment will be come to between the two parties. Another point which comes out of the speech to which we have just listened is that the Preamble, of which we have heard so much, is mere waste paper. The hon. Member opposite declares that he does not want any sort of change in the composition of the Second Chamber. He is, in fact, a strong supporter of the hereditary principle. He does not want to alter it in the least. He is ready that it should go on.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
I admitted it only so far as the result of the last election was concerned. My point was that it was simply the question of the relationship of the two Houses, and not the constitution of the Second Chamber, that was submitted to the people, and that reform proposals would need to be further convassed before we could reach any line of agreement.
§ Mr. W. R. PEEL
Anyhow, the hon. Member is so far a supporter of the hereditary principle that he wishes it to remain unimpaired in the Second Chamber until there is some further Conference or arrangement, which is, no doubt, relegated to a very distant future.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
I have no objection to a Second Chamber as an ornamental body, but I object to it so far as it possesses legislative power.
§ Mr. W. R. PEEL
The hon. Member wishes the Second Chamber to be an ornamental body, and I think he expressed a faint regret that Labour Members were not to be admitted into it. I would only hope that that might be done, and that the hon. Member should find a seat, say by the Bench of Bishops. So far as this question has been discussed by hon. Members opposite, I have been greatly struck by the purely party attitude that they have taken up. The speech of the Prime Minister himself, following the example of his followers, entirely considered the matter from the point of view of the sectional interests of which for the moment he is at the head. In the whole of his long and very carefully-balanced speech I did not hear a single argument dealing with the question whether a Second Chamber, or what sort of a Second Chamber was the 2002 proper Constitution under which the people of this country should live. He considered the matter purely from the party point of view, and not at all from the point of view of whether for the present and' for the future some sort of bi-cameral system was the best for the citizens of these islands. Moreover, he considered the matter from a very short historical point of view. After all, whatever you may say about the Second Chamber, it has existed for 600 or 700 years. Having, therefore, a long history, it might at least have some sort of long historical consideration. The review of the Prime Minister was entirely confined to the last ten or fifteen years, and his objection was confined to their dealing with two or three Bills in the last six or seven years, and to the fact that the Second Chamber during the ten years of life of the late Conservative Government had not shown sufficient activity in throwing out the Bills of that particular Administration. From that I am led to infer that, supposing the House of Lords had been active in throwing out the measures of the Conservative Government, there would have been no objection on the part of hon. Members opposite to its existence as a Second Chamber.
I was trying to consider what sort of Second Chamber hon. Members opposite wanted. They object to the Second Chamber because it passes measures promoted by the Conservative party. They apparently want a Second Chamber which will do two things—first of all throw out the measures of the Conservative party, and, secondly, pass the measures of the Liberal party. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think that was the ideal Second Chamber at which they aimed. I have heard nothing from hon. Members opposite about a fair Second Chamber, which would hold the balance equally between the two parties. I am inclined to think that in the present state of thought in this country such a Second Chamber is almost an impossibility. Such being the state of the case, I find it is very difficult to forecast what the Second Chamber is which the Government really wish to set up. I am quite certain that the Prime-Minister himself looks forward dimly to set up the Second Chamber, but at the same time he tells us that the Second Chamber that he wishes to set up is to be purely an elected body. So far as the elective principle is concerned I have nothing to say against it. Great admirer as I am of the hereditary principle, know- 2003 ing how in ordinary life and in science what a latent force is to be attached to it, I am not going to say a word against it. At the same time, I am one of those who think that possibly, so far as the Second Chamber is concerned, the hereditary principle has for the present served its purpose. If we are to have a Second Chamber at all it had better, on the whole, be largely elected. There I agree to some extent with the Prime Minister. But I am at a loss to consider what sort of an elected. Second Chamber the Prime Minister is really going to decide upon. Is that Second Chamber when elected going to have a sort of illusory power, or is its power to be real? One feels after all that if these gentlemen are to be elected to the Second Chamber that Chamber probably will contrast their own wisdom with the narrow wisdom of the old hereditary Chamber. They will say: "If these powers were good enough for an hereditary Chamber, what powers ought we, elected of the people—and also elected by a larger number of the people—to possess? I should like to ask the Prime Minister this question: Is he then going to restore larger powers to the Second Chamber when that Second Chamber is at some remote date put up? Is the present curtailment of power only to extend over the short period, the interregnum, which must exist between the death of the present Chamber and the birth of that new and glorified Second Chamber? If so, I am afraid he will find himself in great difficulties, for he will have this alternative to face: the elective Second Chamber, indignant at being given the same paltry powers that were good enough in the hereditary Chamber, or the Second Chamber demanding, and perhaps asserting, powers and influence as an elected Chamber which will come into very severe conflict with this House of Commons itself! I have some sympathy with hon. Members below the Gangway in that they are stern, unrelenting supporters of a Single Chamber system. They see its difficulties, and having the frankness to say that they are absolutely opposed to a Double Chamber system, place all their hopes and all their chances in the future on the powers and existence of a Single Chamber. I always like, when party passions are high, and struggles are going on in the country, and violent statements are made, to hear a man like the Prime Minister get up, and in his philosophic fashion point out that all that is 2004 really being done is to bring the practice of the State into line with theory. It makes one feel that one is in a pleasant philosophical area of discussion, where heated passions have fallen away, and we are able to consider matters from a detached and purely philosophic standpoint. He told us that the fact that the Lords had thrown out the Budget made it absolutely necessary to define the legal situation. I hate exaggeration, even when it is made use of by my opponent; but I have never been able to see how sincere and honest men—because I credit my opponents with sincerity and honesty—could suggest that the fact that the House of Lords on one single occasion, in referring the Budget to the people—once only in the history of Budgets—could possibly have constituted by that a claim or an assumption that the House of Lords were going to usurp for themselves powers which they had never before had in the Constitution, or overturn the whole balance of the Constitution? Talking not in the atmosphere of this House, but in any practical atmosphere—such as the smoking-room of this House—is there anybody who really supposes that by that reference of the Budget to the people the House of Lords really meant again and again to throw out Budgets, and thereupon assume a power of control over the finances of the country which they did not possess? It is quite impossible that any sane practical man could ever imagine anything of the kind.
§ Mr. W. R. PEEL
That precedent was also an exception. The fact that they had only done it once in fifty years was pretty fair evidence that they were not going to do it regularly. Unfortunately, perhaps they made a mistake in their calculations. The Prime Minister says that this was "the most signal example of political blindness in the history of this century.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Quite so. What the Prime Minister—and his supporters who lead him so effectively—seem to think is that the House of Lords were actuated by perfect party tactics. They seem to think that the calculation of the House of Lords was that they could claim further powers in the State by referring the Budget to the people. May I suggest one other consideration to hon. Members opposite? It is that the House of Lords was actuated by a sense of duty. Duty is 2005 perhaps a strange word nowadays in political conflicts. I am afraid hon. Members opposite belong to the school which attributes bad motives to all those who differ from them in opinion. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh."] I do not accuse all of them of doing it, but I do accuse a section. I am certainly convinced of this: that considerations of party advantage had nothing whatever to do with the action of the House of Lords. I do think they would have been neglectful of their duty if they had not referred that Budget to the people. I am quite convinced that that Budget contains matters extraneous to a Budget, and if that principle had once teen allowed to pass, you would have had Budgets gradually curtailing, swallowing up, and absorbing the legislation of the country. Afterwards the Liberal party, or the Labour party, would have turned round on the House of Lords and said, "Your House has admitted the principle of non interference for tactical reasons, and you cannot turn round now and say tacking is not to be permitted in the Budget." There was one observation made by the hon. Gentleman opposite which I fully agree with. He said after all it is only an incident and only part of a general campaign against the House of Lords. It seems to me most shallow political philosophy or history to maintain that the action of the House of Lords on the Budget really had very much to do with the general campaign. After all if the House of Lords had not acted in the way they did they would have been discredited and dishonoured as well as, perhaps, destroyed. If the House of Lords was to be destroyed it could not, in my opinion, do better than stand by those tactics, principles, and constitutional rights, and act up to principles which, I believe animated these Noble Lords. If you want any evidence that the House of Lords was going to be attacked and its constitutional rights were to be taken away, if possible, by the Liberal party, you have only got to look at the contradictory criticisms that are made by that body. I remember perfectly well; in connection with the Trades Disputes Bill, the "Westminster Gazette," the great organ of the Liberal party, nearly went into hysterics because the House of Lords did not throw out the Bill, and because the House of Lords acted upon its self-imposed principle of passing measures upon which the will of the people was taken. The House of Lords was appealed to on the Licensing Bill to act upon higher principles, and the 2006 Chancellor of the Exchequer appealed to them on most astonishing grounds. He said:—This is the greatest opportunity that had ever been offered to the House of Lords to rise to the dignity of its great pretentions as an independent institution far removed from the passions of the multitude
§ Mr. W. R. PEEL
I do not think it was a joke, and I will tell the hon. Member why. Because the same observation was made by the Lord Chancellor, who is a Scotchman, and the Lord Chancellor said that the subject was very unpopular, and on that ground he urged the House of Lords to face it; so that when the House of Lords gets this advice from men of every nationality and opinion, I think it is quite clear there was a general attack upon the establishment itself. The House of Lords is attacked on the ground that they are unrepresentative. I am not myself, I am afraid, so absolute a believer in the representative system as all that. I believe it is perfectly possible for persons not directly affected themselves to form a very good idea as to the popularity or unpopularity of a particular measure. I have myself seen measures passed by this House about which Members did not entertain the slightest doubt that they were unpopular. Nevertheless, they were passed in the hope that they might be dealt with by the Upper Chamber. The Prime Minister declared himself strongly in favour of a Second Chamber, and he also declared that the powers he left to the Second Chamber were considerable powers, and that they established and maintained the principles of a Second Chamber. Now, if that is so, I should like to ask him how is it that he is going to leave these powers in the hands of a hereditary Chamber? It is quite true, he told us, that in the future a change was to be made, but at the present there was going to be an interregnum and millenium, so to speak.
There is going to be a sort of land of saints, when every Nonconformist will sit down with every Churchman, and when different sections of the Liberal party will be able to obtain all they desire. We heard reference made also in somewhat contemptuous tones to the Referendum. First of all, the right hon. Gentleman made a general attack upon the Referendum. He told us that the Referendum in Switzerland had reduced Ministers to mere clerks, and that with it Parliament would be a 2007 mere registering body. He did not tell us to what the party system has reduced the House of Commons, but he made a curious reservation when he told us that, for certain purposes, the Referendum might be a wise way of dealing with the question. I hope the Home Secretary will elaborate that point still further, because in some of his speeches he expressed himself in favour of the Referendum as applied to certain questions. He is not in agreement with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that point, for the Chancellor of the Exchequer drew a terrible picture of the expenses of the Referendum, showing the first care for economy which I have ever known him to display since he occupied the position of Chancellor. But, although the Referendum may be revolutionary, surely from this point of view it ought to commend itself to the Labour party. How far do you trust the people at present? You trust them to select a candidate placed before them by the party caucus. That is a certain degree of trust, but are you going to limit your trust to the extent of saying, "We trust the people so far and no further?" You trust them to select between certain candidates, but you do not trust them to decide upon some great question which is put before them. You say, "We are going to have a General Election, which we claim to be a Referendum, but we will not put a specific question before them after the General Election is over. "I am myself a strong supporter of the Referendum principle. I believe there is a certain vagueness, say what you will, about proposals put before the country at a General Election. I am sorry to say I found audiences, which had been addressed by some of the most eloquent Radicals, totally ignorant about the Parliament Bill, and when I tried to explain it they thought I was inventing the details out of my head. I found they would scarcely believe in the details until I had an opportunity of putting them before them. That shows there is a great difference between a sketch of a Bill and the details of it in black and white. That is why I myself am a very strong supporter of the Referendum, because at least you have a discussion in Parliament, and you give an opportunity to the country of knowing what the details of the Bill are, and you leave very little excuse to electors for not understanding the details of the Bill after its discussion. I am not, I 2008 am bound to say, an out-and-out supporter of the Referendum. I am only a supporter of it in this sense—I would rather have a strong Second Chamber, but if you are going to have a Single Chamber then I am bound to say you must have some corrective in the shape of a Referendum. These are the days when Second Chambers are really more necessary than ever. These are the days when a full discussion in a Second Chamber is far more necessary than it used to be thirty or forty years ago. One reason given for passing this measure into law before the Coronation is that it will give great satisfaction to those representing the Colonies when they come here if they are told that the House of Lords has been done away with. As far as that is concerned, it will not make much difference at the Coronation, because the whole pomp and circumstance of the peerage will be the same. Therefore, as far as the Dominions are concerned, there is no reason why they should be gratified with this Bill. On the contrary, if they find that we are reduced to Single-Chamber Government, if they find there is no opportunity for the representation of themselves and their interests in a Second Chamber, they will not be so gratified as some hon. Members opposite seem to think. On this side of the House we have laid it clearly down that if this measure passes in the form in which it is intended to pass, we are not at the end, but really at the beginning of a great constitutional struggle. Whatever the time may be when we come back to power, "we shall reserve to ourselves the right of altering, reversing, or changing these proposals. It is a most unfortunate situation in which we find ourselves. At a time when it is most necessary that we should be considering social reforms, proposals for the strengthening of our national defences, and closer union with our Colonies and Dominions, we find ourselves starting upon a long and desperate constitutional struggle from which I believe we shall emerge not stronger, but weaker. If there was only the disposition shown on the other side which has been so clearly shown on this to arrive at some fair and reasonable compromise, we might have been free to consider and settle those vast and important questions affecting our future welfare which are now so strongly pressing for settlement.
§ Mr. ESSEX
It is not possible at this stage of the Debate to add much that is new to the discussion before us. I wish to utter one little complaint against most 2009 of the speakers we have listened to from the other side of the House. My complaint is that hon. Members opposite have treated this question very largely as though the Government's proposals affected the whole Constitution of the Upper House. There is certainly nothing in the proposals of the Government that would introduce as large a change into the Constitution of the Second Chamber as many proposals which have been put before the country by the Conservative party. After listening to the discussion during the last two days, I have begun to wonder whether there is not a deep spice of ancient wisdom in the phrase that we have bandied one with the other in the use of the term a Second Chamber. The contention seems to be that the House of Lords should not be the Second Chamber but the First. We desire that the House of Commons shall always be the first Chamber. I would like to ask hon. gentlemen opposite, in all fairness and candour, whether it is not a fact that the Liberal party, the Labour party, and the Nationalist party have had for many years a very real grievance against the Upper House which has long called for redress. Will they not at least grant us that point. The nearest approach to conceding that was reached when the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) spoke of the accumulated anomalies of a thousand years. May I say that this subject of the House of Lords was the first question that brought me into public life thirty years ago, and I have looked for the coming of the day, with a warm passion that has never abated when we might come to grips with the people's foes across the floor of this House. Some hon. Members have spoken as if the Liberal party had no right to complain of its treatment by the House of Lords. What are the things of which we complain? We cannot take the remark of the hon. Member opposite seriously, that all we want is a House of Lords which will let our Bills through and fling the measures of our opponents out. What we want is just as much for our opponents as we want for ourselves—that is, absolute fair play. How many hon. Members opposite have got up and in all candour frankly stated that there is a real grievance which the Liberals may well bring before the country. The people outside have recognised that, and they have returned us in large and overwhelming numbers because of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] At any rate, a solid majority of 126 will want a lot of 2010 getting over. Our party is as solid as the party of hon. Gentlemen opposite. We are solid on a Second Chamber. The party opposite is a composite party. There are Liberal Unionist Tariff Reformers. There are Liberal Unionist Free Traders, Conservative Tariff Reformers, and Conservative Free Traders, and I need not multiply them. We have a right to complain when our measures have been thrown out year after year whilst the measures passed by the party opposite have been passed into law. Do hon. Members opposite urge that all the measures passed by the Conservative party are always good?
§ Mr. ESSEX
Well, that is courageous, coming from the hon. Member for the City of London, but perhaps we shall be forgiven if we differ from him. It cannot be denied that a lot of our best and most important measures which we have fought out on the platforms of the country have been indignantly thrown aside by the House of Lords. It is not only what they spoil, but it is a fact that many of our measures are begotten under a fear of what the powers of the House of Lords are. Even a Member of this House who has only been here a few years, as I have, knows that when a Bill is before the House which embodies points of great interest, and he goes to his party Leaders and says he thinks it should be strengthened in this or that detail, it is the common experience for his Leaders to say: "I agree with you, but we have now in the Bill more than we think we shall get through the other House." I consider that is a scandal. We can see what has been lost to us by the mutilation and destruction of our Bills, but what the country has lost by this fear we shall never probably know.
It has been said we want to institute Second-Chamber Government. Is that charge true? It undoubtedly is not. We want a Second Chamber, and we want to keep the first Chamber in closer touch with the people. We have proposed that there shall be a succession of "sendings," if the phrase will be allowed me, to the Upper House of any measure that is the subject of dispute between the two Houses, that we shall go through, without any curtailment whatever, the needlessly long drawn-out debates, as some of us think, of any Bill in this House, that all the Committee work shall go on with all the deputations and the rest of the machinery, and that 2011 then the Bill shall go up to the other House, and there receive in unstinted measure the same amount of treatment it receives to-day. If there is a difference between the two Houses we propose a conference. The Bill will then again come back to this House, and if the Government have not been convinced by that time by what has happened elsewhere that they are on the wrong track, the Bill goes through all this tedious process and again goes to the other House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] Well, with some abbreviation in this House. It will go to the other House and be again considered. There is a succession of these passages. Between twenty and thirty years ago John Bright said he would only allow a double reference to the House of Lords, and that thereafter the Bill should pass over their heads. We have given extended terms of favour in this matter. Is not that a sign of our desire to be conciliatory? Will it mean any hardship to hon. Gentlemen opposite when they are in power? Will they have any cause to complain of the existence of a rule of that kind? It will never be used against them. If they were in power for the next fifty years, you would never hear of these powers in the Parliament Bill, and a generation might rise which had never dreamed they were on the Statute Book. We are voluntarily proposing things which will only affect, and which will only be used as an hindrance and an obstacle to our own legislation. We are therefore voluntarily entering into a one-sided arrangement that will affect us and will not affect you.
The tyranny of this House is spoken of. Whence comes this tyranny? Do we not all know that we are very susceptible to the opinions of our constituents. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] Well, the majority of us. There are some of us with large majorities behind us who can afford to do what we like, but the majority of us are susceptible to any movement of disapproval in our constituencies. These Bills held up in the House of Lords in the eyes of the whole country, year after year—for two years at least, at any rate—are exposed to all the fire and criticism of the public press, public meetings, and every little gathering wherein you find people talking over public affairs. No measure with inherent weaknesses could stand the fire and criticisms of those months and years without harm and peril, and, when it had emerged substantially undamaged from exposure during those two years, at 2012 least, to public criticism and consideration, it might safely then be carried over the heads of my Lords, or anybody else. Some of us on this side of the House hail the coming of this struggle with high courage and abundant hope. We have waited for it, and we have prayed for it for years. We were told last night that there was to be no compromise. I would we could have come to the consideration of the matter in a more temperate way. I would we could have come to an agreement, and that we might have laid the laurels of that agreement on the bier of the late King. It seems, however, that this thing is to be fought out. Well, let it be so; and, if in this struggle the unthinkable should happen, and we should have a set back, I trust it may yet be given to us not to have to sing out Nunc Dimittis before this injustice is remedied and wiped away as a thing that all men shall soon learn to forget.
Perhaps no part of the United Kingdom is more affected by the proposed changes than the Province of Ulster. We have heard a great deal about the democracy and the people. We represent the democracy and the people, and we have successively fought out battles in the past because they have been open and above board. Perhaps the Home Secretary, when he comes to his speech, will answer one of the questions that we Members from Ulster desire to put to him. The coupling of Home Rule with this Bill has now been announced by the Prime Minister and practically by every Member on the other side of the House, although I discover by a carefully prepared return, which was sent to me, that out of all the Radical Members only eighty-four submitted the question of Home Rule in their election addresses. Who can say that a vital question has been submitted to the electors of this country when even a majority of the majority in this House have not placed it in their election addresses? Not even the Prime Minister, or the Home Secretary, or the Chief Secretary for Ireland mentioned it. Therefore, we see clearly that what the Radical party have failed to get by a straightforward issue they are now striving to get by a back door. We think it right to let it be known from the outset that it will meet with our strenuous opposition. This is not a question, as some people seem to think, of a Bill. They say, "Oh, well, if the Parliament Bill goes through; if, after that a Bill has been sent up to the House of 2013 Lords and they say they cannot pass it; if that operation is repeated in another year, then it comes back again and automatically becomes law." But Home Rule is not a Bill. Hon. Members who think it is must imagine that they are talking about some Corporation Bill, some Drainage measure, or some small trifling affair of that nature. This, however, is a question affecting the whole inner life and existence of 1,300,000 people who are loyal to the Crown and Constitution and have no desire to be separated from the Empire or from this kingdom. Yet, forsooth, for party purposes, without consulting the good of the country, without considering what it means to the people of Ulster, but as a party move, and at the bidding of hon. Members below the Gangway, this is the only measure which is mentioned as the immediate consequence of this Parliament Bill becoming law. How is it no other measures are mentioned? Not a single other subject is pledged beforehand, but we have the certainty that Home Rule is to be thrust on Ulster at the dictation of hon. Members below the Gangway. I say that, having knowledge of the feeling that exists against this trickery and dodgery—and it has been open knowledge to all who have studied the course of events in Ireland—they at any rate have not been humbugged by the procedure of the Government. Then the Prime Minister, in order to slur over the thing, gave an assurance yesterday that there was no intention of smuggling into law measures which were condemned by popular opinion and that there would be ample opportunity for the reconsideration and revision of hasty or slovenly legislation. That is absolutely absurd. It is ridiculous to suggest to the country that if they pass a measure of Home Rule it will be possible for the Unionist party to reverse it in a year or two. Such an argument should only be addressed to children. It may be taken by some as an assurance of generous treatment by the Radical party, but you must remember that if once a Home Rule Parliament is established in Dublin, which God forbid, and the whole machinery for carrying on the administration is set up it would be impossible for the succeeding Government to reverse it in view of the fact that the institutions which would have been established would be so gigantic. Once you have the establishment created for carrying on the government of the country, once you have the Ministers in office, how, I ask, could you abolish them? [An HON 2014 MEMBER: "We will give you a post."] That is only trying to draw me on to a side issue. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty, I think it was, who declared that if Ulster-men would not take Home Rule they would be made to have it. But the only leakage "which has occurred with regard to that measure has been the few words of the hon. and learned Member for Water-ford, the leader of the Home Rule party, who said that under the scheme of Home Rule—and seeing he has now got his thumbs up we may take it that the Government will have to swallow what he says whether they like it or not—under the proposals for the creation of a new Parliament in Dublin. Ireland will still have its representatives in this House, although it may be a reduced representation. But with this Parliament Bill passed, and with the power nominally in the hands of the Front Bench, but in reality in the hands of the hon. Members below the Gangway, I would like to ask in all seriousness how that reduction of representation in this House is to take place, and if it is not clear that Ulster would be deprived of any representation whatever here, because the whole power would be in the hands of hon. Members below the Gangway, and such a minority as we should form in Ireland could not by any possibility hope to carry any suggestion against the majority. We should, therefore, in future have no representation in this House, and hon. Members here would only have placed before them the Nationalist side of questions; they would never hear a voice from the loyal part of the country.
§ Mr. GEORGE WYNDHAM
As it is desired to give the Home Secretary a full opportunity for replying on behalf of the Government I shall refrain from criticising one set of arguments which have figured very prominently during the discussion, and which have been put forward with great force by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Essex). Those arguments embodied a retrospect of the political events of the last four or five years—a retrospect which enables the hon. Gentleman to discover that the House of Lords has acted, if not uniformly at any rate very generally in opposition to the wishes of the people. I feel justified in not attempting to reply to criticisms of that kind because they were disposed of by the very brilliant and convincing speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool, and we are quite-ready to let that part of our case rest 2015 where he left it. I shall only invite the House to consider two matters. The first is, why do you ask us to acquiesce in your proposals, and the second is what is the nature of the proposals you ask us to accept? I think it convenient to divide the subject under those two heads, because I have been unable to discovere any real connection between the two arguments that you have urged and the proposals you ask us to assent to. In the first place then I would ask the House to examine the grounds which justify you in your opinion in advocating a change, the magnitude of which I freely admit you have not sought to disguise. Some speakers like the last speaker from the Government Benches before the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that this was a measure of a very normal character, but the Prime Minister and his colleagues on the front Government Bench have not attempted to minimise the gravity of the innovation which they contemplate. After all it is unprecedented in the whole course of our history. We are asked to substitute a written for an unwritten Constitution, and we are asked to destroy the independence of one of the estates of the realm, and by destroying its independence to destroy its function of securing what no other part of the Constitution does the decisive voice of the electors of the country on grave measures which effect their interest, and it may be the honour and safety of their native land. That is a large question.
We have heard two classes of argument with which I must deal. Some, I say it with all respect, are inappropriate to that view, and even irrelevant to it. We are asked by some to acquiesce in the view that this is a normal and almost inevitable development of the situation—in fact, I should not be putting it too high if I were to say that some of the supporters of this Bill charge us and, contingently, another place with unconstitutional action if we venture to refuse, as we do, to take any part in the proposals of the Government. I would instance two arguments of that kind. One is, to put it briefly but, I think, quite fairly, that there have been two elections upon this measure, and that two elections constitutionally ought to decide any issue. I may first admit that that argument would be proper and relevant to a Bill even of a very revolutionary character, but it is not appropriate, and it is not relevant to a measure which changes the law-making machinery of the country. The 2016 Prime Minister yesterday did not in any way attempt to justify what the hon. Member for Leicester urged, that one election is sufficient to justify this Chamber in altering the Constitution, and as I think he will agree with me that I am not overstating my case if I say that under those circumstances the Constitution would cease to exist, because it is obvious that any majority, however narrow and however composite, would be in a position to make further changes in the Constitution if we assent to that doctrine that one election or two elections would justify one Chamber in altering the Constitution. It would then become impossible for the authors of this Bill ever to fulfil their Preamble, and it would become impossible for them or anyone else to set up a substitute for the Chamber whose functions they are now attempting to destroy. Therefore, that argument is, I say with all respect, inappropriate and irrelevant to an issue of the magnitude of that by which we are now confronted. There is another argument of the same character which has been used by the Prime Minister. I am referring to the words of the speech made last year to which he alluded. Speaking last year he said the absolute Veto of the Lords must follow the Veto of the Crown. He seems to think there is some inevitable succession of events, and if the Veto of the Crown disappeared for all practical purposes 200 years ago, now is the time that the Veto of the House of Lords should follow suit.
I am not going to call into question the historical assumption that underlies that argument, but I think it is very questionable indeed whether the Veto of the Crown when it was a reality was uniformly or generally exercised in a manner which was opposed to the will of the people. I do not think that is true historically, but I waive that to say that because the Royal Veto has become obsolete that is no reason why the Veto of the Second Chamber should follow. On the contrary, it is a reason for preserving the only portion of the Constitution by which grave questions can be referred to the people. If very properly we think acquiescing in the views of our forefathers that the Royal Veto should become obsolete we are the more bound to preserve the only part of the Constitution remaining which safeguards that right of the electorate in this connection Indeed, the Prime Minister sees that that is the crux of the whole question which we 2017 are now discussing. When the Prime Minister comes to the most formidable obstacle in his course he always develops a most impressive manner and endeavours to dismiss from the minds of those who differ from him all fears which they may entertain. When he came to this point in his speech yesterday he was kind enough to say that he did not challenge the sincerity of those who believe—as we do sincerely believe—that this measure will erect a despotic Single Chamber rule, and becoming more and more impressive in his manner he wound up that portion of his speech by saying that this was the most unsubstantial nightmare that had ever affected the imagination. As his manner became more and more impressive so did the matter which he was unfolding become less and less convincing. I pricked up my ears and listened with the closest attention to the argument with which he sought to dispel our fears upon this point, and I have studied his speech very carefully in the Official Report. But although, in speaking yesterday, he deviated somewhat from the track of his argument in order to meet a point put by my right hon. Friend when I read his arguments I found that the only substantial ones that he addressed to the House on that point were two. The first was that under this Bill the duration of Parliaments was to be shorter, but that is an argument on our side. With shorter Parliaments the despotic power of the Cabinet becomes greater, and not less. With shorter Parliaments also comes the too great power of the caucus, and that is another great danger with which our Constitution is threatened, because rich people who can pay for General Election after General. Election become more powerful, and the general type of elector and individual candidate becomes less and less powerful as the despotism of the Cabinet or the caucas becomes greater. What was the second argument—an argument to which he apparently attached very great importance. May I quote his words?:—Lastly, and this is as clear as daylight, in ninety-nine cases out of one hundred 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.Suppose the hundredth case should be a Home Rule Bill. Is his argument really relevant to the situation which the Government have themselves contrived, in which, if this Bill passes into law, the "lectors of this country are to have no say whatever upon so far-reaching, and, as we think, so disastrous a proposal as one 2018 which would loosen the bonds between Great Britain and Ireland. I hope I have made good, at any rate, a primâ facie case for saying that arguments of that character, that two elections in succession authorise a fundamental change in the Constitution, and that the Veto of the Lords ought to follow the Veto of the Crown—and arguments of that character have been very freely used throughout the country—are quite inappropriate and irrelevant to the proposal of the Government, and to the situation which those proposals will create.
I pass on, then, to another class of arguments which are indeed relevant and pertinent to the constitutional issues we are considering, but of which no trace can be found in the Bill which the Government are asking us to accept. We have heard arguments against the hereditary character of the Second Chamber, but that is to be preserved. The country has rung for two years with denunciations of the Second Chamber, because it is a hereditary body. That charge is receding gradually into the background. Even during the General Election the Prime Minister spoke, almost with tears in his voice, of our ancient, venerable, and historic Second Chamber, and last night, to my intense astonishment, I heard a defence of the hereditary character of the Second Chamber from the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) who is the Leader of the Labour Party. I will do him no injustice. It is quite true that he would prefer to have no Second Chamber, but if we are to have a Second Chamber let it be hereditary, said he. It is because you want to have a sham Second Chamber, which is a greater danger than a Single Chamber, if I may venture to read your thoughts, that we have the Prime Minister talking about the ancient, venerable, historic institution, and the hon. Member (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) dwelling upon its æsthetic value. He now discovers a picturesque charm in these very senators whom some on the Front Bench have been denouncing up hill and down dale throughout the country. Positively the hon. Member wishes the backwoodsmen to be preserved as a separate breed for ceremonial occasions, like the cream horses that draw the royal coach. Yet another argument which is pertinent indeed, to the constitutional issue, but which finds no reflection in the Bill is the argument against the unfairness of the present composition of the Second Chamber. Then we have had the argument 2019 against the evil of friction between the two Houses, and much insistence has been laid upon deadlocks between them. What is there in this Bill to diminish friction? What is there to find a convenient solution for a deadlock? Nothing at all. I need not develop that. I do not wish to restate arguments which so far have not been answered. Until some answer is made to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Finlay) we may say that your Bill, so far from diminishing friction increases, and must increase, friction between the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and, incidentally, because of that friction, place this House, no less than the other House, in a derogatory position which all who love this House ought to withdraw.
Passing on to an argument of the same character, which is very pertinent to the constitutional issue, but which is not reflected in the Bill, we have the great argument that the will of the people is to prevail. What chance is the will of the people to have on the question of Home Rule if this Bill goes through? Look back, if you please, to the General Election of 1895 which followed the Home Rule Bill of 1893. Then, according to your own canonical description of what a General Election means, the electors of this country did then decide that they would not have Home Rule. Look forward, and what opportunity are you going to give them under this Bill of ever taking such a decision again? I think I may say with all fairness that the arguments of the Government have been in favour of greater fairness in the composition of the Second Chamber, they have been in favour of diminishing friction between the Second Chamber and the First Chamber, and in favour of. giving a decisive voice to the people of this country, and the Bill contains not a single line which is even remotely relevant to any one of them.
I will now pass to the only other matter to which I shall invite the attention of the House. I pass from the arguments which will not support the Bill to what it is that this Bill will impose upon our country. You are inviting us in this Bill to sanction a Second Chamber, which is wholly hereditary, which is too large for the purpose of joint sittings between the two Houses, and which excludes many men who, in our opinion, ought to sit in the Second Chamber, because no one can sit in our Second Chamber, as at present con- 2020 stituted, unless he is either the son of a peer or unless, with rare exceptions, he has devoted some twenty or twenty-five years, of his life to that party business, infected as it is by the machinery of the caucus, which leaves many of us less efficient Members of this House than we might otherwise be. Any Second Chamber which this country ought to have ought, in our opinion to include men who are neither party hacks nor hereditary peers. I do not believe anyone who has gone through two General Elections in one year, and seven or eight General Elections in the course of his membership of this House, will deny that it will be a good thing if there were places in this Constitution for eminent men willing to serve their country but unwilling to serve it as the nominees of a party caucus, who have to endure all that we have to endure. I pass on to say that you invite us to keep a Second Chamber, which includes many men who would be the first, nay, I may say with knowledge, who will be the first, to recognise that, ready as they are to serve their country as they have served it, fighting for it abroad, and working for it at home, they have no special mission for a political life. That invitation to keep a Chamber of that kind is made, although it is common knowledge, and it is not denied, that there is a large majority in this country in favour, as we are in favour, of a far-reaching reform of the House of Lords. Another invitation which is offered is that we shall divest the House of Lords of the function which alone justifies the existence of a Second Chamber in the long run—the function which secures the ultimate voice of the electors of the country. You invite us to divest the House of Lords of that function, although you are unable to agree upon any substitute to be put in the place of the House of Lords, and although the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) speaking yesterday, frankly admitted that there is a large majority in the country in favour of two Chambers. I do not think he will deny that those who are in favour of two Chambers in this country mean two effective Chambers, and not a sham, disguise, and illusion. A great part of his speech was devoted to proving that the electorate cannot consider the details of measures, and that they take a broad view of questions. If a majority of the electors say that they want two Chambers they mean two Chambers, and not a specious disguise, for the fact is that under the Government proposal, there is to be one Chamber and not two Chambers.
2021 These two invitations, which are sufficiently striking, are accompanied by something in the nature of the grotesque. You avow that you are not agreed upon a substitute. I think I may say so if I go back to the Debates of last year. What the Foreign Secretary and the War Secretary say is something very different from what you desire, and something differing appreciably from anything he himself would propose. You are agreed that you are not agreed on a substitute, and you avow that, pending that agreement, you intend to pass one measure—perhaps two measures—which upon your own doctrine of what a General Election decides the electorate of the country have already refused to entertain. It is impossible for us to accept your invitation. I know that on the first reading of a Bill it has been customary to assent to its introduction, even if there were grave differences of opinion, but we cannot assent even to the introduction of a Bill of this character brought in under these circumstances. Yet this is the First Reading Debate, and on the First Beading of the Bill I do not desire, and I am sure no one desires, to adopt a militant tone, and certainly I do not wish to adopt a provocative tone; and, therefore, in all sincerity I would ask the Government and those who support them to consider whether it is impossible for them to accept, at any rate provisionally, our invitation. Your invitation is one that cannot be entertained. We stand as a party for settlement by agreement. Will not anyone desire settlement by agreement if for no other reason than that a settlement which is not by agreement cannot be a lasting settlement. Is it impossible to agree? One feature of the reforms which we advocate is joint sittings between the two Houses. What has the Prime Minister said to make it impossible for him to consider that proposal? Speaking at the outset of the last General Election he said:—I have always thought and have more than once said that given a Second Chamber moderate in size and constituted on popular lines, I would not exclude, and I certainly would not brush aside, procedure by conference and joint session.10.0 P.M.
Why do you now exclude them and brush them aside? Why do you not discuss that matter and see whether a lasting settlement, which is in other terms a settlement by agreement, cannot be arrived at The Prime Minister paused in his speech yesterday—I do not know whether it was to elicit information or to embarrass his opponents—and asked us for our views upon 2022 the Referendum. I have never denied that there were rare, but quite conceivable, occasions in which some such proceeding must be resorted to. I thought it sufficient to say that, and the Prime Minister thought it sufficient to say that. He admits that there are occasions upon which recourse to the Referendum must be had. Why does he refuse to discuss the Referendum in this House of Commons, and press on in a course in which it is impossible for us to acquiesce or hold out any hope of ultimate surrender.
The fact of the matter is, I think, the real root difficulty is to be found in the alleged unfairness of the present Second Chamber. I can find nothing in the speeches of the Prime Minister which would prevent him from discussing a lasting settlement, but for the views he entertains. The speech we heard from an hon. Member indicated what he thinks as to the size of a Second Chamber. I do not know what he meant by "party fairness." If you really believe that your party always is for progress, and that ours is always for reactionary measures, I say that no Second Chamber could be composed which could meet the hon. Member's view of "party fairness." The Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Birrell) last year, in one of those breezy phrases for which he is famous, said that we were no longer a stick-in-the-mud party, and he instanced measures which cannot be described as of a reactionary or stolid character, but if by fairness you mean a Second Chamber which will register within forty-eight hours different decisions on such a measure as the Trade Disputes Bill, I agree that it is hopeless to pursue the discussion. If you do refuse the invitation which I put forward in all sincerity, and if rather than attempt a lasting settlement we are to discuss these questions of vital interest, and you wish to rush into regions of unknown constitutional expediency—for which there is no example in the whole history of the world of a great country and still less of a great Empire being governed by such a Chamber as you propose, there is no analogy to be found in the contemporary history of the world for anything of that kind—if you wish to rush into the unknown and along a path which has not been explored, I do not suppose that you would advocate the antiquated courses which you will find in the reign of Queen Anne—if you wish us to embark upon a revolution the goal of which you have not been able to ascertain for your- 2023 selves, then I must say, not as a threat—it would be most improper, and it is far from my desire to use any language of menace, and I hope no language of menace will be used at this stage in our controversy—but it is my duty to say that the simple and inevitable consequence of proceedings so rash must sooner or later, and probably sooner rather than later, be the reversal of the proposals which we are now asked to adopt.
There is no known ease of a revolution being proposed except upon one of two pleas, and generally upon both. Either it has been urged that it will increase the strength and stability of the State on the one hand, or else it has been urged that it will enlarge the liberties of the people on the other. Take the classic case of a revolution. The French Revolution effected that great change, and produced both those results. It made the country far more powerful and made the people more free. This revolution which you propose does not achieve either of those results. On the contrary, you have only to read the impression which your proposals have made on foreign observers and among sister States to see that they view with alarm the effect of this revolutionary change upon the power and stability of the Mother country. How can you urge that you increase the liberties of the people when part of your design is to withdraw from their cognisance so great and important a change as a measure of Home Rule? If you are no longer to allow this House the opportunity which the Members of the Conference have had, then there is but one course remaining to us, and that is to fight unflinchingly against the destruction of the independence of the House of Lords, and to labour no less assiduously at the reform of our-Second Chamber, not in order to buy off your revolution, but because it is an end that is desirable, and indeed necessary in itself. We shall not cease from that combat, nor from that effort, until we have once more re-established the Constitution of our country as a model for all nations who seek a sound adjustment between Imperial power and popular liberty.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The right hon. Gentleman has delivered a speech with the tone and temper of which no one on this side of the House would be disposed to quarrel. He has addressed to us a succession of reasonable statements and appeals, 2024 and I say now, speaking not only for myself but for many on this side of the House, that if this question is from the beginning of these Debates to be approached in the mood and temper which he has exhibited, we should be earnestly desirous of removing the anxiety under which he appears honestly to be lying. The right hon. Gentleman said, at the outset of his speech, that it divided itself into two parts, each of which was represented by a question. The first part was, why it is that we asked the Opposition to acquiesce in our proposals; and the second was, what are those proposals themselves? I will endeavour in the course of my remarks to give the right hon. Gentleman some answer on both points. Let us take the first one to begin with. Why is it we ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to acquiesce in the proposals of this Bill? We ask them to acquiesce in the proposals of this Bill because they are the first and necessary steps to meet a disastrous conflict which has long been proceeding. Who provoked that conflict? The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition told us yesterday that the Liberal party came back in 1906 resolved to pick a quarrel with the House of Lords. I do not believe that that is true a bit. The Liberal party came back in 1906 after ten years' exclusion from office and twenty years' exclusion from power, with a desire to pass a number of measures which were earnestly needed, and demanded by that immense section of your own fellow countrymen whom they represented; and one would have thought that after such a long reign of power, and plenitude of power, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition would have been ready and would have been even anxious to see another governing force place its imprint upon the legislation of the country, and would have been anxious to see the redress of grievances which had been accumulating all these years from another distinctly different point of view. But the very first Bill which the new Parliament brought forward, which occupied a whole Session, which was not a violent Bill, which was a Bill of compromise, which was a Bill recommended to the House of Lords to be passed, by no less a statesman than the late Duke of Devonshire, was cast out, wrecked and destroyed by the House of Lords, and the whole work of the first Session of the House of Commons was brought to nothing.
That was the first incident in an altogether new method of political warfare. 2025 We saw the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition beaten at the polls, dismissed from Government, by a majority unequalled for many years, hurled from power in a manner in which no other Minister has been ejected in recent times. We saw him reappear immediately, and before a year was passed, although in a minority in the House of Commons, we saw him, through the exercise of his influence over the House of Lords, master of the political situation in all essential points of the case. What was the modus operandi of which we were the victims? It was held that the House of Lords had the right to veto any Bill which the Conservative Leaders advised them to veto, no matter how large was the majority by which that measure had been passed in this House, or how greatly the subject had formed the matter of discussion on the public platforms at Elections, or how recent was the commission of the Parliament which sent it up. If the Government objected to this treatment they were told they had their remedy; if they did not like it they could dissolve, and if they did not dissolve, they were told it was because they did not dare to dissolve. By-elections occurred here and there, and all of them gave one party or the other cause for cheers, and when they went against the Government we were immediately told that they had lost the confidence of the country, that the House of Lords was perfectly right in the use which had been made of its Veto, and that we were clinging to office, although we were impotent to give effect to any of the pledges on which we had been returned. That was the modus operandi of the new form of political warfare. Why, within eight or nine months of the General Election of 1906, which was a considerable event, the right hon. Gentleman himself, who says that the Liberals have picked this quarrel, and that they came back, animated with a desire to pick a quarrel with the House of Lords, went to the Junior Constitutional Club, and this is what he said:—We are to have, it seems, a fight between the two Houses on this subject—the Education Bill—and when that is over I suppose we shall some day have a fight in the country. I say some day because I think better of the wisdom of the Government than to regard them as so hopelessly lost to all perception of what their fellow countrymen are thinking, as to have the folly to dissolve on a question on which the whole sense of justice of the country is against them. They will not dissolve, gentlemen, they know better.I only quote that as one of the more moderate instances of the kind of language which was beginning to be used at the 2026 end of 1906 as to a Government which had been only a few months before returned by the people at the polls by a majority of nearly 300 available, and a Government which presented an absolutely unbroken front in the House of Commons, which had met with no Parliamentary disaster, and which had experienced no differences in its own ranks: [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] If there were differences then they have been marvellously concealed. This was the sort of language which was being used about us before we had been in office a year. What course did the Government take? They took a very moderate course. They proceeded by the much derided method of Resolution. They brought forward in 1907, in answer to this ill-usage what no doubt will go down in history as the Campbell Bannerman Resolution. The Resolution brought forward in 1907 expressed the same proposals for dealing with the House of Lords which had been put forward by Mr. Bright a quarter of a century before, and that expressed the same proposals which we make to the House of Commons to-night. The party opposite scoffed at our Resolution. The House of Lords replied very effectively by rejecting the Scottish Land Bill in 1907, and afterwards the Licensing Bill, by which the whole of the Session of 1908 had been consumed. On every platform we were again derided for not possessing the power to carry our legislation and for being unable to fulfil our pledges. And we were taunted with being impotent by the very men who had made us so. We were accused of clinging to office without the confidence of the country or the support of the electorate, in order to continue filling up the cup and drawing our salaries until the moment of our dismissal. I quite understand the satisfaction with which hon. Gentlemen opposite contemplate this memory of their vanished triumphs. I quite understand that they now, in the lean years of disaster, look back with pleasurable emotion to the rollicking days of their triumphs. We quite admit that their tactics were terribly effective. We do not deny that they reduced a powerful Government to the verge of ruin. We do not deny that they inflicted on every Member who spent his life in tramping through the Lobbies, and on Ministers who brought forward legislation, humiliations which they will never forget as long as they live. If to-day you see in the ranks of your opponents hon. 2027 Gentlemen beside me on this side of the House imperturbably united on this occasion, if you see there is a solid consensus of opinion which cannot be disturbed, if you see all your appeals to moderate men fall on deaf ears, it is to the experience of those bitter years that you are to look for the explanation. I said the tactics were terribly effective. I quite agree they would have been successful but for one fact—it is always very difficult to know, when you embark on the path of wrong-doing, exactly where to stop.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had travelled far upon that path, but, flushed with success, he went further, and the further he went the worse he fared. I do not expect for a moment that this retrospective survey which I have ventured to take will induce hon. Gentlemen opposite to agree with our views. And I do not even expect to induce them to sympathise with our views, but it would be a genuine advantage if at the outset of this Debate on the Parliament Bill they tried to understand us. If they did so they would, I think, see that the abolition of the Veto, the absolute Veto, of the House of Lords is vital to all of us. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to say why it was we should expect them to acquiesce in the abolition of the Veto. Let me ask him a question. Is the maintenance of the Veto of the House of Lords vital to the Conservative party? I do not think so. I am not here to sound the praises of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I think they have much more strength and existence in the country than is to be gathered by the mere retention of the Veto of the House of Lords. Great as were the advantages which they derived from the illicit use of the weapon in the first three years of the Parliament of 1906 they are not all comparable to the disasters which have come upon them by the use which they made of it in the fourth year. The Conservative party had gathered together, and they had the opportunity now of witnessing an unusual spectacle. They are confronted with a Government—unusual did I say, almost unprecedented, I think, the unprecedented spectacle in British Parliamentary history, they are confronted with a Government—which has been three times returned to power. That is a remarkable fact, and ought to excite the deep reflections of their more imaginative Members. "Gouverner c'est mécontenter." In this country we have a phrase, the expression, "The swing of the 2028 pendulum," which embodies the same idea. What has happened, and what is the cause why the swing of the pendulum is not operative at the present time? I put it to the right hon. Gentleman who appealed to me for a reason why they should acquiesce, May not some of the misfortunes which you have suffered in the country be attributed to your reliance on the Veto of the House of Lords?
The forces by which Conservatism is recruited do not depend on the Veto of the House of Lords. They are the result of profound social and political movements which are at work in every community in the world, and which are at work in every town and village throughout the land. The prime main force which recruits the strength of the Conservative party is wellbeing and the redress of grievances. It is the mission of the Liberal party to redress grievances and to carry measures of reform. It is an unending task to which we are bound. Let no one suppose that the process of redressing grievances does not often exhaust the strength of a Government and an Administration. Where grievances are redressed the opponents of the party are not conciliated. Some of the supporters of the party who redress the grievances are satisfied, others are disappointed, others are offended, and for all those causes there is always a diminution, a decline of the strength of the Government that is carrying on a policy of active, effective, and beneficial reform. After every great series of reforms, of enfranchising measures, of reform measures which have laid broad and wide the foundations of the State there are new classes reconciled to the fundamental institutions of the realm. At every such period of active reform there has been a process, I frankly admit it, of reaction which has very often carried a Conservative Administration to power. That was the fortune of Mr. Gladstone's great Government of 1868. Are you quite sure that your use of the Veto has not robbed you of some harvest which you might have reaped by the natural working of ordinary constitutional forces? The right hon. Gentleman and his Friends have used the Veto of the House of Lords to prevent the redress of grievances. Thus they have arrested the ordinary process of pacification and reaction which might in time have inured to their benefit. Grievances have accumulated; they have been long left unredressed, and they have grown bitter by the constant denial of justice. Fires have been banked up; safety valves 2029 have been screwed down; with the result that energy has been directed with a blast upon the Veto of the House of Lords. You have been the prime movers in that wonderful series of events.
Let the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends look round the House on this question of grievances. What do they see? Irishmen, Welshmen, Scotchmen, English Nonconformists. What have they offered any of these bodies of opinion but the Veto of the House of Lords? There are strong conservative elements in all these great sections of public opinion. I quite recognise that the party opposite could not have redressed the grievances themselves, because their principles and conscientious differences would have prevented their doing so. But if they had allowed the ordinary process of the Constitution to apply the remedy to the disease in the ordinary way, they would themselves have benefited also. But they have forbidden the redress of grievances, and have added a new grievance. They have added the great grievance of an attempt to control the affairs of this country through the arbitrary decision of an unrepresentative Assembly. As the nation advances, as the democracy becomes more numerous, and more educated, as culture and comforts spread more broadly, as the structure of our civilisation becomes more complex, it is absolutely necessary that the influence and control of the Peers of the Realm should he-come less and less, and not more and more. But at the moment when the whole movement and spirit of the age is marching in one direction, the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends have chosen to lead the House of Lords to make assertions of privileges which they had abandoned generations ago, and to state their claims year by year higher than they had ever stated them before. The Conservative party by so doing have committed the folly of embroiling the aristocracy in an attempt to govern a modern State; and after some advantages which they gained at the beginning, they have conferred upon their political opponents the new and prodigious tactical advantages of being at once in certain aspects a Government and an Opposition—a Government for all the purposes of the control of affairs and the direction of policy; an Opposition for all the purposes of protesting against the maintenance of arbitrary power. It is by these methods, and these methods alone, that the right hon. Gentleman has 2030 succeeded in doing what no other party leader in history has ever succeeded in doing, namely, marching his army down, with drums beating and flags flying, for the third time in succession to total disaster.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Walton (Mr. F. E. Smith), who made a very valuable contribution to the Debate this afternoon, dwelt upon the narrow margin of our majority. He devoted his caustic and acrimonious tongue to an examination—not in any very friendly spirit—of the composition of our majority and the moral weight—he is a great judge of such matters—which we have a right to claim for it. He analysed our composition. He ruled out Labour; that does not count. He ruled out Ireland. He said, discourteously, that the Irish Members had been in the market for twenty-five years. He might have added that they had been fighting side by side with the Liberal party to secure a measure of self-government for twenty-five years. He said our majority was not a "homogeneous" one. We could also, if we chose, analyse the minority. We could ask what deductions should be made on the head of plural voting, of University representation—which, professedly impartial, always comes down on one side? We could point to the curious spectacle of Free Traders and Tariff Reformers together. We could point to the still more remarkable spectacle of the two great forces upon which the Conservative party so largely depends—I mean the Church and the Licensing trade! Is my hon. Friend the Noble Lord (Lord Hugh Cecil) who has just come into the House—are they—the party—quite sure that the Church and the Licensed trade, are entirely homogeneous; that they are marching step by step on a common mission? There is, of course, an explanation that hon. Gentlemen are entitled to make: they are entitled to say, "although these many forces which compose our party are different and divergent in their character, yet they are joined together by common interests, and by common principles," which may be called, we will say, a defence of property, or a dislike of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or some other equally general and important proposition. Have we not got common principles uniting all sections of our party?
Why, Sir, in the great Gladstonian tradition we have a treasure which all sections of what hon. Gentlemen opposite are pleased to call the "Coalition" hold 2031 in common? In the assertion of the equality of all citizens under the law, in the desire to remove privileges which tell against the mass of the common people, in the desire to see freedom and self-government accorded to nationalities within the British Empire, we all have principles which unite us, at least as respectably as those that join the other side—"that strong and homogeneous minority." The hon. Gentleman the Member for Walton proceeded in his speech to speak of the absolute power of the House of Commons—the uncontrolled power which the House of Commons and the Cabinet would have over every branch of legislation. That was also referred to by the right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed us. He spoke of the "despotic power of the Cabinet." At the General Election the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Walton put this point in a more coloured form. He brought forward what is called the "Patrick Ford argument." It was this: that the House of Commons is held in the grip of the Cabinet; the Cabinet is held in the grip of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford; the hon. and learned Member for Water-ford is held in the grip of Mr. Patrick Ford, and Mr. Patrick Ford has therefore acquired the mastery of the British Empire for the expenditure of what must be regarded as a comparatively moderate sum of £40,000. The hon. and learned Member found that argument very consoling at the election. No doubt the power of the Ministry of the day appears to be very great, and in minor matters and as against personal claims it is undoubtedly very great; but what is the power of the Ministry as against the House of Commons, as against the party which supports it. Surely there is a great deal of exaggeration in the language which the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham) have used upon that point. I submit to the House, which considers these matters maturely and leisurely, that Ministers are powerful only within strictly circumscribed areas, and those areas are defined by the position, character, interests, influence, and traditions of their party, and are particularly defined at the moment most recent to the elections. All excursions beyond are perilous. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division said only lagging behind 2032 was a subject of correction and pressure. Has he not read the modern political history of this country? Does he not know that in 1886 Mr. Gladstone went further than his party were prepared to go, and that, consequently, his Administration was broken, and his party was defeated? Does he not remember the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in conjunction with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, trying to alter the policy of the Conservative party in 1903–4–5 on the fiscal question? Does he not remember that the right hon. Gentleman although he proceeded with caution, knowing well the dangers which beset party Leaders who make excursions of that character, could do nothing but reduce his Government to impotence and nullity for the rest of his tenure and conduct his party to disaster at the polls?
There sits the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover. Is he going to say that the House of Commons is impotent against the tyranny of the Ministry? I remember the day when he went a little beyond the mark in defence of the party programme, and what was the result? Although the right hon. Gentleman had a. record of substantial achievement in Ireland, and although he was genuinely popular on all sides of the House, he was forced to leave the Government, and he has had to stand in a white sheet at Canossa ever since. If to-night this Government, which we are told has despotic control of the House of Commons, were to announce that we accepted the amiable invitation sometimes thrown out to us from the benches opposite, and that we were going to suspend the prosecution of the Parliament Bill till the year after next, and were going to enter into a conference on reform with hon. Gentlemen opposite, we should not have fifty supporters. [Cheers.] Those cheers are very inconsistent with the argument that we are the dictators of the House. If it be true that Ministries are held within very strictly defined limits, as it undoubtedly is true, by the House of Commons, is it not also true that the House of Commons—and each of the great parties—is held within strictly defined limits by the country? We have heard from speaker after speaker in the course of this Debate of the uncontrolled power of the House of Commons and of the unchecked power of a Single Chamber. The House of Commons is not an absolute power, its power is not unchecked. There never was a more sensitive body in the 2033 whole history of the world. I can understand it being criticised for being too sensitive sometimes. There are 670 Members in touch with as many constituencies, differing one from another in character and complexion, sitting here month after month in touch with their constituencies, in touch with public opinion, in touch with the criticisms of the Press, in touch with each other, in touch with reason, in touch with reality. [Laughter.] I readily admit that the right hon. Gentleman who laughs is not in touch with reality. To say that such a body is unchecked when it is under the constant, ceaseless operation of subtle and powerful checks from hour to hour and operating in every quarter is to make a statement which every single Member of the House of Commons knows to be utterly fallacious. So much for the unchecked power of the House of Commons.
Then we had another argument from the Benches opposite. We are told that our proposals would not merely set up the uncontrolled domination of a Single Chamber, but that they are violent and revolutionary in themselves. This was the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities (Sir R Finlay. Two Universities contributed towards the learning and force of that scolding harangue. Let me tell them that our proposals are characterised by great moderation when viewed by themselves and on their merits, but when compared with the proposals of the party opposite, when compared with the Referendum, they become the veriest Toryism itself. I can quite understand—the Leader of the Opposition having proposed the Referendum at the election—it was necessary to have something that would confuse the naked issue of the charge that the Conservative party were standing for the House of Lords against the mass of electors. I also saw that the right hon. Gentleman might easily have another purpose. He might wish, by means of the Referendum, to rid his party of the incubus of Tariff Reform on the principle that one poison is used to expel another from the system. After the election is all over, after the shouting has died away and the placards have mouldered on the walls, I thought the Referendum would accompany the "Dollar Dictator" with other discarded political trash; and yet here, at the beginning of a great controversy, down comes the right hon. Gentleman, and we find him actually bringing this amazing proposal forward. I am 2034 surprised at his bringing it forward as a regular system of resolving deadlocks between the Houses of Parliament as the Leader of the Conservative party. I noticed the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool, in his long speech, never mentioned the word. He was very careful to choose his ground in that respect.
I quite agree with many that a system of Referendum would not prevent all forms of democratic legislation. I think there is a large class of measures dealing with the redress of great inequalities in the distribution of property in this country, particularly of property in the land, on which a Referendum might be very effectively used. A large Bill for Land Nationalisation might be submitted with great confidence, and I should not at all demur to the introduction of the system on the ground that it would prevent Radical legislation. And if we on this Bench were the demagogues you are never tired of calling us, do not imagine we should find any difficulty in marching forward successively from one Referendum to another. We believe that the system of a Referendum is a vicious system in itself, that it is bad as the basis of the system of Government in any country, but especially unsuited for this country. The mass of the people under the Referendum are forced to take a decisive part in a continuous process of lawmaking. Every Bill would have to be framed as if it were the campaign platform of an immediate General Election. Every clause would have to be drafted to secure an immediate popular vote. You ought to consider these matters. Nothing would be included that would not make sure of that. We should live in an unceasing stream of electioneering prejudice and abuse. Parliamentary Debate would be swept aside for a series of organised electoral struggles. Ministers would be expected to retain office after the measures to which they had pledged their faith and honour had been rejected by the country. Governments would be expected to appeal to the country on one policy, and to remain in office to carry out the reverse. The stable foundation from which this House has so long been able to administer the affairs of the Empire would be exchanged for a tossing sea of frenzied electioneering. Parliamentary and representative institutions which have been the historic glory of these islands would be swept away, and, in their places, we 2035 would have the worst forms of Jacobinism, Cæsarism, and Anarchy. That is the point to which the right hon. Gentleman, with the assistance of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil), has conducted the Conservative party, and that is the crowning blunder to which they have been led after the eight years of disaster which have followed the resignation of Lord Salisbury.
Let me state in a word our position on that subject. We believe in democracy, we believe in representative institutions, we believe in democracy acting through representative institutions. We believe that Ministers should back their convictions by their offices. We believe Members of Parliament are representatives, and not delegates. We believe that Governments are the guides as well as the servants of the Nation. We believe that the people should choose their representatives, that they should come to a decision between men, party and policy, judging their character and judging the circumstances of the hour; that they should choose their representatives and then trust them and give them a fair chance within the limits of their commission for a period which should not be unreasonably prolonged; then these representatives should be summoned before their constituents, who should judge them in relation to all the circumstances proper to be considered, and in relation as well to the general effects of their policy, and should either confirm them in their places as representatives or choose other men to take their place. That is our view, and we are prepared to stand firm by that view against all the changing varieties in constitutional revolution to which we are treated week after week—in almost speech after speech—by the Conservative and Constitutional party.
We are told that our proposals would constitute Single-Chamber Government. I do not believe the bi-cameral system is necessary to the stability of the State. I think it is necessary for the passage of good laws. But we do not propose Single Chamber Government; it is not in our Bill, it is not in our Preamble; it is not in our policy. We propose that the absolute Veto of the House of Lords shall now cease and be determined for ever, and that in the place of that absolute Veto they shall exercise a delaying power over all legislation which will give ample time for fair consideration by the country 2036 and full opportunities for revision as well as for the exercise of a certain bargaining power between the two Houses. We do not say this is the final settlement. Among the legislation which we shall submit to the delaying powers of the Lords will be included, if it be the general wish, a measure for creating that fair and evenly constituted Second Chamber of which the hon. and learned Member for Walton spoke.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
How can I make a statement as to the Government's intentions in reply to a chance question of that nature? It must suffice for me to say that we shall endeavour to move forward with the whole of our policy and to submit to the House of Lords under the delaying powers which they will still exercise proposals for establishing that fair and evenly constituted Second Chamber as to which the hon. and learned Member suggests there is no difference between us. The Parliament Bill is not necessarily the last word. I never said it was. But it is the first, and it is an indispensable condition that the Veto of the House of Lords should go.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir R. Finlay) told us last night that he would have no compromise. Who spoke of compromise? It is a very fine thing to refuse an invitation, but it is a good thing to wait till you get it first. Two policies of change are before the House at the present moment. The policy of the party opposite involves a revolutionary change. That is not denied. It involves the uprooting of the Constitution concerning which the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith) this afternoon invoked the Deity. It involves the destruction of the House of Commons as we have known it and as we have been proud to belong to it. And yet it does not remedy the grievance. It does nothing to remove the unfair advantage which we complain the party opposite have used against us in the last five years. On the contrary, it seeks, in the wreck of every other institution for which this island has been famed, to preserve the ugly, sinister Veto of the House of Lords intact. Our policy is the policy of the Bill which we now ask permission to introduce. It has been long matured, it has been searchingly examined, and it has 2037 never been departed from in any respect. This is the third Parliament which will have affirmed it, and it is now brought forward, after it has been submitted directly and in a specific form to the electorate. It makes the smallest change in the existing position. It makes the least possible break with the historic past of the country. But it touches the point. It meets the difficulty. It deals with the grievance. It gives, not indeed an equal Constitution. We recognise that while the House of Lords remains unreformed, it will always leave you possessed of exceptional advantages. But it gives us, if
§ not an equal Constitution, at any rate a tolerable and workable Constitution for all classes of His Majesty's loyal subjects. We shall neglect no steps which may be necessary to carry this Bill swiftly into law.
§ Question put, "That leave be given to bring in 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."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 351; Noes, 227.2041
|Division No. 20.]||AYES.||[10.59 p.m.|
|Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour)||Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Harcourt, Rt. Hon. L. (Rossendale)|
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Cory, Sir Clifford John||Hardle, J. Keir|
|Adamson, William||Cotton, William Francis||Harmsworth, R. Leicester|
|Addison, Dr. Christopher||Cowan, William Henry||Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)|
|Adkins, W. Ryland D.||Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, W.)|
|Agar-Robartes, Hon. T. C. R.||Crawshay-Williams, Eliot||Harvey, W. E. (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Agnew, Sir George William||Crean, Eugene||Harwood, George|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Crumley, Patrick||Haslam, James (Derbyshire)|
|Alden, Percy||Cullinan, John||Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)|
|Allen, A. A. (Dumbartonshire)||Dalziel, Sir James H. (Kirkcaldy)||Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry|
|Allen, Charles P. (Stroud)||Davies, Ellis William (Eifion)||Haworth, Arthur A.|
|Anderson, Andrew Macbeth||Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)||Hayden, John Patrick|
|Armitage, Robert||Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardiganshire)||Hayward, Evan|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Dawes, James Arthur||Hazleton, Richard (Louth, N.)|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry||Delany, William||Helme, Nerval Watson|
|Atherley-Jones, Llewellyn A.||Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)|
|Baker, Harold T. (Accrington)||Devlin, Joseph||Henderson, J. M. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.)||Dewar, Sir J. A. (Inverness-shire)||Henry, Sir Charles S.|
|Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark)||Dickinson, W. H.||Higham, John Sharp|
|Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)||Dillon, John||Hinds, John|
|Barran, Sir John N (Hawick B.)||Donelan, Captain A.||Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H.|
|Barran, Rowland Hirst (Leeds, N.)||Doris, William||Holt, Richard Durning|
|Barry, Redmond John||Duffy, William J.||Horne, Charles Silvester (Ipswich)|
|Barton, William||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Hudson, Walter|
|Beale, William Phipson||Edwards, Allen C. (Glamorgan, E.)||Hughes, Spencer Leigh|
|Beauchamp, Edward||Edwards, Enoch (Hanley)||Isaacs, Sir Rufus Daniel|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor)||Jardine, Sir John (Roxburghshire)|
|Benn, W. W. (Tower Hamlets, S. Ceo.)||Edwards, John Hugh (Glamorgan, Mid)||John, Edward Thomas|
|Bentham, George Jackson||Elverston, Harold||Johnson, William|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.)||Jones, Edgar R (Merthyr Tidvil)|
|Black, Arthur W.||Esmende, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.)||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Boland, John Plus||Essex, Richard Walter||Jones, Leif Stratten (Notts, Rushcliffe)|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Esslemont, George Birnie||Jones, Sir D. Brynmor (Swansea)|
|Bottomley, Horatio||Falconer, James||Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)|
|Bowerman, Charles W.||Farrell, James Patrick||Jones, W. S. Glyn. (T'w'r H'mts, Stepney)|
|Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North)||Ferens, Thomas Robinson||Jowett, Frederick William|
|Brace, William||Ffrench, Peter||Joyce, Michael|
|Brady, Patrick Joseph||Field, William||Keating, Matthew|
|Brigg, Sir J.||Fitzgibbon, John||Kellaway, Frederick George|
|Brocklehurst, William B.||Flavin, Michael Joseph||Kelly, Edward|
|Brunner, John F. L.||France, G. A.||Kilbride, Denis|
|Bryce, John Annan||Gelder, Sir William Alfred||King, Joseph (Somerset, N.)|
|Burke, E. Haviland.||Gilhooly, James||Lambert, George (Devon, S. Molton)|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Gill, Alfred Henry||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Glanville, Harold James||Lansbury, George|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. S. C. (Poplar)||Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford||Lardner, James Carrige Rushe|
|Byles, William Pollard||Goldstone, Frank||Law, Hugh A.|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Greenwood, Granville G. (Peterborough)||Lawson, Sir W. (Cumb'rld., Cockerm'th)|
|Cawley, Sir Frederick (Prestwich)||Greenwood, Hamar (Sunderland)||Leach, Charles|
|Cawley, H. T. (Lanes., Heywood)||Greig, Colonel James William||Levy, Sir Maurice|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||Lewis, John Herbert|
|Chapple, Dr. W. A.||Griffith, Ellis J.||Logan, John William|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.)||Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|Clough, William||Guest, Major Hon. C. H. C. (Pembroke)||Low, Sir Frederick (Norwich)|
|Clynes, John R.||Guiney, Patrick||Lundon, Thomas|
|Collins, Godfrey P. (Greenock)||Gulland, John William||Lyell, Charles Henry|
|Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)||Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway)||Lynch, Arthur Alfred|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Hackett, John||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Haldane, Rt. Hon. Richard B.||Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)|
|Corbett, A. Cameron||Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||MacGhee, Richard|
|Maclean, Donald||Parker, James (Halifax)||Snowden, Philip|
|Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.||Pearce, Robert (Staffs., Leek)||Soares, Ernest Joseph|
|MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Pearce, William (Limehouse)||Spicer, Sir Albert|
|MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)||Stanley, Albert (Staffs, N. W.)|
|M'Callum, John M.||Philipps, Col. Ivor (Southampton)||Strachey, Sir Edward|
|M'Curdy, Charles Albert||Phillips, John (Longford, S.)||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|M'Kean, John||Pickersgill, Edward Hare||Summers, James Woolley|
|M'Kenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Pirie, Duncan V.||Sutherland, John E.|
|M'Laren, F. W. S. (Lines., Spalding)||Pointer, Joseph||Sutton, John E|
|M'Laren, Walter S. B. (Ches., Crewe)||Pollard, Sir George H.||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Manfield, Harry||Power, Patrick Joseph||Tennant, Harold John|
|Marks, George Croydon||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)||Thomas, James Henry (Derby)|
|Marshall, Arthur Harold||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Martin, Joseph||Priestley, Sir Arthur (Grantham)||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|Mason, David M. (Coventry)||Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)||Toulmin, George|
|Mathias, Richard||Primrose, Hon. Neil James||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Meagher, Michael||Pringle, William M. R.||Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander|
|Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)||Radford, George Heynes||Verney, Sir Harry|
|Meehan, Patrick A. (Queen's County)||Rainy, Adam Rolland||Wadsworth, John|
|Menzies, Sir Walter||Raphael, Sir Herbert H.||Walsh, J. (Cork, South)|
|Middlebrook, William||Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)||Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)|
|Molloy, Michael||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)||Walters, John Tudor|
|Molteno, Percy Alport||Reddy, Michael||Walton, Sir Joseph|
|Mond, Sir Alfred||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)||Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Money, L. G. Chiozza||Redmond, William (Clare, E.)||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Montagu, Hon. E. S.||Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)||Wardle, George J.|
|Mooney, John J.||Rendall, Atheistan||Waring, Walter|
|Worrell, Philip||Richards, Thomas||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay|
|Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Muldoon, John||Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Munro, Robert||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)||Watt, Henry A.|
|Munro-Ferguson, Rt. Hon. R. C.||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)||Wedgwood, Josiah C.|
|Murray, Capt. Hon. Arthur C.||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs.)||White, Sir George (Norfolk)|
|Needham, Christopher T.||Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)||White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E. R.)|
|Neilson, Francis||Robertson, John M. (Tyneside)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncaster)||Robinson, Sydney||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Nolan, Joseph||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Norman, Sir Herry||Roche, John (Galway, E.)||Whyte, A. F.|
|Norton, Capt. Cecil W.||Roe, Sir Thomas||Wiles, Thomas|
|Nugent, Sir Walter Richard||Rose, Sir Charles Day||Wilkie, Alexander|
|O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Rowlands, James||Williams, John (Glamorgan)|
|O'Brien, William (Cork)||Rowntree, Arnold||Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen)|
|O'Connor John (Kildare, N.)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough)|
|O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||St. Maur, Harold||Williamson, Sir Archibald|
|O'Doherty, Philip||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)||Wilson, Hon. G G. (Hull. W.)|
|O'Donnell, Thomas||Samuel, S. M. (Whitechapel)||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W. R.)|
|O'Dowd, John||Scanlan, Thomas||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)|
|O'Grady, James||Schwann, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles E.||Wilson, J. W. (Worcestershire, N.)|
|Ogden, Fred||Scott, A. M'Callum (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|O'Kelly, Edward P. (Wicklow, W.)||Seely, Col. Right Hon. J. E. B.||Winfrey, Richard|
|O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N.)||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel||Wood, J. M'Kinnon (Glasgow)|
|O'Malley, William||Sheehy, David||Young, Samuel (Cavan, East)|
|O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)||Sherwell, Arthur James||Young, William (Perth, East)|
|O'Shaughnessy, P. J.||Simon, Sir John Allsebrook||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|O'Shee, James John||Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)|
|O'Sullivan, Timothy||Smith, H. B. Lees (Northampton)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Master of Elibank and Mr. Illingworth.|
|Palmer, Godfrey Mark||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S)|
|Aitken, William Max.||Benn, Ion Hamilton (Greenwich)||Chaloner, Col. R. G. W.|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Bennett-Goldney, Francis||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Worc'r.)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major William||Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish-||Chambers, James|
|Archer-Shee, Major Martin||Bigland, Alfred||Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry|
|Arkwright, John Stanhope||Bird, Alfred||Clay, Captain H. H. Spender|
|Astor, Waldorf||Boscawen, Sackville T. Griffith.||Clive, Percy Archer|
|Bagot, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Boyle, W. Lewis (Norfolk, Mid)||Callings, Rt. Hon. J. (Birmingham)|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Boyton, James||Compton, Lord Alwyne|
|Baker, Sir Randolf L. (Dorset, N.)||Brassey, H. Leonard Campbell||Cooper, Richard Ashmole|
|Balcarres, Lord||Bridgeman, William Clive||Courthope, George Loyd|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Bull, Sir William James||Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (City Lond.)||Burdett-Coutts, William||Craig, Captain James (Down, E.)|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Burgoyne, Alan Hughes||Craig, Norman (Kent, Thanet)|
|Banner, John S. Harmood.||Burn, Colonel C. R.||Craik, Sir Henry|
|Baring, Captain Hon. Guy Victor||Butcher, John George||Crichton-Stuart, Lord Ninian|
|Barlew, Montague (Salford, South)||Campion, W. R.||Cripps, Sir Charles Alfred|
|Barnston, Harry||Carlile, Edward Hildred||Croft, Henry Page|
|Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N.)||Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H.||Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)|
|Bathurst, Hon. Allen B. (Glouc. E.)||Cassel, Felix||Doughty, Sir George|
|Bathurst, Charles (Wilts, Wilton)||Castlereagh, Viscount||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers.|
|Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks||Cautley, Henry Strother||Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M.|
|Beckett, Hon. William Gervase||Cave, George||Falle, Bertram Godfray|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University)||Fell, Arthur|
|Fetherstonhaugh, Godfrey||Lane-Fox, G. R.||Rothschild, Lionel de|
|Finlay, Sir Robert||Larmor, Sir J.||Royds, Edmund|
|Fisher, William Hayes||Lawson, Hon. H. (T. H'm'ts, Mile End)||Rutherford, John (Lanes., Darwen)|
|Fitzroy, Hon. Edward A.||Lee, Arthur Hamilton||Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)|
|Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)||Samuel, Sir Harry (Norwood)|
|Fleming, Valentine||Locker-Lampson, O. (Ramsey)||Sanders, Robert Arthur|
|Fletcher, John Samuel (Hampstead)||Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt-Col. A. R.||Sanderson, Lancelot|
|Forster, Henry William||Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Sandys, G. J. (Somerset, Wells)|
|Foster, Philip Staveley||Lowther, Claude (Cumberland, Eskdale)||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Gardner, Ernest||Lyttelton, Rt. Hn. A. (S. Geo., Han. Sq.)||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)|
|Gastrell, Major W. Houghton||Lyttelton, Hon. J. C. (Droitwich)||Smith, F. E. (Liverpool, Walton)|
|Gibbs, George Abraham||Mackinder, Halford J.||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Gilmour, Captain John||Macmaster, Donald||Spear, John Ward|
|Goldman, Charles Sydney||M'Mordie, Robert||Stanler, Beville|
|Goldsmith, Frank||Magnus, Sir Philip||Stanley, Hon. Arthur (Ormskirk)|
|Gordon, John||Malcolm, Ian||Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Goulding, Edward Alfred||Mallaby-Deeley, Harry||Starkey, John Ralph|
|Grant, James Augustus||Mason, James F. (Windsor)||Staveley-Hill, Henry|
|Greene, Walter Raymond||Meysey-Thompson, E. C.||Steel-Maitland, A. D.|
|Gretton, John||Mildmay, Francis Bingham||Stewart, Gershom|
|Guinness, Hon. Walter Edward||Mills, Hon. Charles Thomas||Swift, Rigby|
|Haddock, George Bahr||Moore, William||Sykes, Alan John|
|Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight)||Morpeth, Viscount||Talbot, Lord Edmund|
|Hall, Fred (Dulwich)||Morrison, Captain James A.||Terrell, George (Wilts, N. W.)|
|Hall, Marshall (Liverpool, E. Toxteth)||Morrison-Bell, Capt. E. F. (Ashburton)||Terrell, Henry (Gloucester)|
|Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C. (Honiton)||Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Down, N.)|
|Hamersley, Alfred St. George||Mount, William Arthur||Thynne, Lord Alexander|
|Hamilton, Lord C. J. (Kensington)||Neville, Reginald J. N.||Tobin, Alfred Aspinall|
|Hardy, Laurence||Newdegate, F. A.||Touche, George Alexander|
|Harris, Henry Percy||Newman, John R. P.||Tullibardine, Marquess of|
|Harrison-Broadley, H. B.||Newton, Harry Kottingham||Walker, Col. William Hall|
|Helmsley, Viscount||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||Walrond, Hon. Lionel|
|Henderson, Major H. (Abingdon)||Nield, Herbert||Ward, A. S. (Herts, Watford)|
|Hickman, Colonel Thomas E.||Norton-Griffiths, J. (Wednesbury)||Warde, Col. C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|Hill, Sir Clement L.||O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim, Mid.)||Weigall, Capt. A. G.|
|Hill-Wood, Samuel||Orde-Powiett, Hon. W. G. A.||Wheler, Granville C. H.|
|Hoare, Samuel John Gurney||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||White, Major G. D. (Lanes., Southport)|
|Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Paget, Almeric Hugh||Williams, Col. R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Hope, Harry (Bute)||Parker, Sir Gilbert (Gravesend)||Willoughby, Major Hon. Claude|
|Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Parkes, Ebenezer||Wilson, A. Stanley (York E. R.)|
|Horne, William E. (Surrey, Guildford)||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)||Winterton, Earl|
|Horner, Alfred Long||Peel, Hon. Wm. R. W. (Taunton)||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Houston, Robert Paterson||Peto, Basil Edward||Wood, Hon. E. F. L. (Yorks, Ripon)|
|Hume-Williams, Wm. Ellis||Pole-Carew, Sir R.||Wood, John (Stalybridge)|
|Hunt, Rowland||Pollock, Ernest Murray||Worthington-Evans, L.|
|Hunter, Sir Chas. Rodk. (Bath)||Quitter, William Eley C.||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart.|
|Jngleby, Holcombe||Ratcliff, Major R. F.||Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George|
|Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)||Rawilnson, John Frederick Peel||Yate, Col. C. E.|
|Jessel, Captain Herbert M.||Rawson, Col. Richard H.||Yerburgh, Robert|
|Kebty-Fletcher, J. R.||Remnant, James Farquharson||Younger, George|
|Kerry, Earl of||Rice, Hon. Walter Fitz-Uryan|
|Kimber, Sir Henry||Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Sir A. Acland-Hood and Viscount Valentia.|
|Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Rolleston, Sir John|
|Kyffin-Taylor, G.||Ronaldshay, Earl of|
Bill ordered to be brought in by the Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Churchill, Mr. Haldane, Mr. J. A. Pease, and the Attorney-General. Bill presented accordingly and read the first time. To be read a second time upon Monday next, 27th February
Adjourned at Thirteen minutes after Eleven o'clock.