HC Deb 28 February 1911 vol 22 cc305-31

Postponed Proceeding resumed on Amendment to Question [27th February], "That the Bill be now read the second time."

Which Amendment was, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words "this House would welcome the introduction of a Bill to reform the composition of the House of Lords whilst maintaining its independence as a Second Chamber, but declines to proceed with a measure which places all effective legislative authority in the hands of a Single Chamber and offers no safeguard against the passage into law of grave changes without the consent and contrary to the will of the people."—[Mr. Austen Chamberlain.]

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question." Debate resumed.

Captain MURRAY

When the Debate was interrupted for private business I was endeavouring to show that the policy contained in the Parliament Bill had been submitted to the electorate of this country, and I quoted some observations made by Lord Lansdowne in the House of Lords shortly after the general election of 1910 in support of that contention. Those of us who were in this House during the last Parliament know that resolutions on which this Bill is founded were introduced in this House in March of last year, and debated at some length, I think, for a few weeks, and finally the Parliament Bill, this very Bill, was introduced and read the first time on the 14th April last. I do not think that any hon. Gentlemen opposite will contend that the Debates which took place in this House at that time with regard to those Resolutions upon which this Bill is founded escaped the eyes or the attention of the watchful electorate of the country. Then we come to the general election which took place in December last. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, speaking a few days ago on the first reading of this Bill, said:— The Government are going to usurp the function of compelling the people of this country to accept constitutional changes upon which they have never been consulted.' That, I gather, is the view of many hon. Gentlemen opposite. But I have here a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition at Reading on the 1st December, 1910. He says:— For my own part I consider Tariff Reform one of the two questions upon which the country is asked to decide. I ask the attention of the House to those last words, "upon which the country is asked to decide."

He went on to say:— It is not the only one. There is a great problem of constitutional reform and constitutional revolution. And further down he said, and having regard to what has been said to-night these words may be of some interest:— Even apart from these two questions to which I have referred there is a third question, that is the question of Home Rule. Therefore I submit that out of the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman himself there come words which prove that the policy of the Parliament Bill and the question of Home Rule for Ireland were submitted to and were before the electors of this country at the general election which took place a couple of months ago. The long and the short of it is that there is now in this House a majority of 124 Members returned by the people of Great Britain and Ireland to carry out the policy which is contained in this Bill. We have heard various observations not only in this House but outside concerning the manner in which hon. Gentlemen sitting on these benches are dictated to and made to toe the line by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond). But if the argument brought forward in that sense by hon. Gentlemen opposite has any weight it destroys the argument which they use to support the union between Great Britain and Ireland. Do they really mean to suggest that while hon. Members for Ireland sit in this House they ought to have no say in matters which come before this House? So long as hon. Members from Ireland sit here, in whatever numbers they may be, so long are they entitled to vote. Any Member, from whatever part of the country he may come, may vote upon any question or any discussion on which Debate may arise, and I am surprised to hear, as has been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that we on this side of the House have no real grievance against the House of Lords, and that it is at the dictation of bon. Members from Ireland that we are engaged in this campaign, against the Veto of another place. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir Gilbert Parker) speaking this afternoon, said it was only very narrow-minded people who held the belief that we on this side of the House had any grievance against the House of Lords. We retort that any hon. Gentleman holding the belief that we have no grievance against the House of Lords must be a very simple-minded individual indeed, and totally blind to what has been going on around us during the last twenty-five years. Speaking, at any rate from the point of view of Scotland, I can assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that—take, for instance, only one measure, the rejection of the Scottish Land Bill by the House of Lords, and moreover the rejection of English progressive measures with which the Scottish people are in sympathy, has produced in Scotland a determined desire to limit once for all this Veto exercised at the present moment by the other House. I notice that the hon. and learned Member for Walton (Mr. F. E. Smith) on the First Reading of this Bill said—and very much the same thing was said by the hon. Member for Gravesend this afternoon:— We are to-day the only first-class country in the world where a Single Chamber could attempt to destroy the Second Chamber by a bare majority. Incidentally, I may say I am not much concerned with the comparison between this and other countries. I, personally, and I believe that many hon. Members on this side of the House share my view, am quite content that this country in this as in many other matters, should lead the way. Despite the croakers, we have done pretty well up to date by leading the way. But I am surprised when the hon. and learned Member refers to a majority of 124 as only a bare majority. It is a majority of eight more than that which carried the great Reform Bill of 1832. The real point of the hon. and learned Member, if I understand him aright, is this—that this House should not attempt to limit the Veto of the other House except under certain conditions which obtain to-day in other countries. In respect of that, I would ask the hon. and learned Member what means have the people of this country, in our Constitution as it exists at the present moment, of carrying out their wish which they have expressed at a General Election, to limit the Veto of the House of Lords except by giving authority to this House, through their representatives here to carry out their wishes and limit those powers? As was well said by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford University, in his great work on the British Constitution:— The will of the electorate can only be represented through its representatives. What does that mean?—that the people of this country voice their desires through this Chamber and they are now desirous of a change in our Constitution whereby the powers of the House of Lords may be limited. They accordingly, at the last election, as at the previous election, returned to this Chamber a body of representatives pledged to carry out that change. Passing to another aspect of the question, there are many of us on this side of the House, particularly those of moderate opinion, to whom an appeal was made by the right hon. Gentleman for St. George's, Hanover Square, who are told that we are not sincere in our desire to alter the constitution of the House of Lords because we did not at once set about the task, and because we have introduced this Bill to first limit the Veto of the other House, leaving the reform of that Chamber to a later date. For my own part I am one of those, as I think are the majority of those on this side of the House, who consider it an indispensable preliminary to any reform of the House of Lords that there should be a limitation of its Veto. It is to give effect to that object that this Bill was introduced. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite hold out the olive branch and invite us to draft a Bill for the reform of the House of Lords.

I can only say that this suggestion reminds me somewhat forcibly of the invitation of the spider to the fly. What sort of a reform of the House of Lords might we expect if we left it to be carried out without the limitation of the Veto. We can only judge by what has been said in another place and in the country. We know well that Noble Lords in another place have been very busily engaged during the last year in preparing various kinds of reform, which do not seem to suit them, and which up to the present moment certainly do not suit us. Reference has already been made once or twice in this Debate to a meeting which has taken place upstairs to-day, at which no doubt other descriptions of reform have been mooted and discussed. I know nothing—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and I do not know whether the majority of hon. Members opposite know anything, of the latest venture on the part of would-be reformers of the House of Lords. We can only judge by the speeches of hon. Gentlemen, which are of a very varied description. I see that a Noble Duke, speaking in the country at Bedford, on the 25th February—and I believe he carries great weight with the Tory party—said:— It is when you come to the powers of the second Chamber that I am not hopeful of any agreement being possible. If we are to maintain the two Chambers, then the Second Chamber, however it may be composed, must have full powers. Here there is no room for compromise, and I am perfectly certain that I speak for a great number of Members on this side of the House, when I say that this is not the sort of Chamber we are prepared to accept. I have here a quotation from a speech on this subject made by the Leader of the Unionist party m the House of Lords (Lord Lansdowne) at Glasgow, on the 25th November, 1910 He made reference to the first Education Bill, the Licensing Bill, and the Budget, and he said:— I hope I have said enough to show you that in the case of these three Bills, which after all are the only foundation upon which rests the charge of obstruction against the House of Lords, the House of Lords acted as any self-respecting Chamber would have acted in the circumstances. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am very glad to hear those cheers from, the other side of the House. They strengthen my argument. They make it perfectly clear, and prove, if proof be needed, that any Second Chamber set up under the ægis of hon. Gentlemen opposite would be such a Chamber as exists to-day, would be a Chamber capable, and not only capable, but willing to carry out against Liberal legislation in future that destructive policy which the House of Lords has carried out against Liberal legislation in the past. From these speeches of the Noble Duke and the Noble Lord the Leader of the Unionist party in the other House, and from other speeches made outside this House, we have clear proof that until and unless we limit the Veto of the House of Lords, as it is proposed to do under this Parliament Bill, there will be no guarantee that Liberal legislation in future will find a passage to the Statute Book of this country.


The hon. Member who has just sat down, in speaking for many of his party, said he would not accept a reformed Second Chamber with full powers. That is what we want to get at on this side. It has been very remarkable throughout this Debate on the Second Reading how Members opposite have avoided reference to the point when we have reasonably asked for the broad principle of further change which the Preamble foreshadows.

Captain MURRAY

I do not wish to be misunderstood. I wish to make the point perfectly clear that when I said I would not accept a Second Chamber with full powers, I meant I would not accept a Second Chamber with powers such as the present House of Lords possess.


I quite understand the hon. Member's point. The Government, in putting up their spokesmen, have left the Preamble alone, because their intentions are even worse than we on this side of the House generally suspect. It has been generally assumed, on that side of the House, that if the Government do ever carry out this Preamble for the reform of the House of Lords they will establish an effective Second Chamber. There has been some talk of an interregnum, and the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment has assumed that during that interregnum there will be passed Home Rule and various other measures, which could not be passed in a Second Chamber which had been reformed, and given real power. We have never had any reference to this point from the Government Bench, and we wish to know whether there is any foundation for assuming that when the Chamber is reformed the Government will give back the effective powers which they now propose to take away.

The Secretary of State for War in his speech yesterday pledged himself in favour of establishing a Second Chamber of a character and composition "in accordance with the ideas which he put forward." It was regarded in the Press as a very specific statement. Although I carefully studied his speech I could not find that he put forward any ideas as to the particular Chamber that was to be set up or as to what powers it was to have. The Preamble definitely states that when the House of Lords is reformed its powers will have to be limited, and the Prime Minister the other day based his argument for the need of reform, not on the necessity of electing an uncontrolled House of Commons, but merely because he said the powers which were to be left to the existing House of Lords would be too great to put into the hands of a Chamber of that kind. The truth is that the Government, it they do reform the House of Lords, wish to only substitute one dummy for another dummy, and that they do not like to-frighten their more moderate supporters by saying so. They cannot set up an efficient Second Chamber and they dare not do it. Hon. Members below the Gangway opposite who have a great deal of weight in their councils have clearly shown they would never tolerate it. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) told us last week that he was interested in devising a Constitution which would place this House absolutely supreme, and both his predecessors in the Chairmanship of the Labour party have made it quite clear that they are in favour of a Single Chamber. The Labour party do not do-this from any respect for democracy. The hon. Member for Glamorgan said yesterday that he stood for the right of the people to govern themselves. He may stand for that in the peroration of his speech, but in practice the Labour party stand for keeping as much power as they can in their own hands. They have shown very great resource in capturing trade union machinery, and they naturally think it is possible to coerce pliable Governments into using mechanical majorities to grind out sectional legislation. If once the House of Lords were out of the way the Labour party would be perfectly content with a system whereby the oligarchy in this House would be able to control the whole legislation. I suppose that hon. Members opposite will admit that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) is a good instance of the intellect of the Labour party. He wrote in the "Christian Commonwealth" of 10th August, 1910, that:— The will of the people as represented by the House of Commons is a patent delusion. Under the system of Party Government the will of the people is the will of the Cabinet. Nine-tenths of the measures passed by the House of Commons would not be passed in the form in which they re passed if the House of Commons had a free and unfettered power to express its will. … The British Cabinet is a despotism wielding a greater power than any crowned autocrat, because it exercises its authority in the name of democracy and with the nominal sanction of a popularly elected House of Commons. In spite of that the Labour party are quite content if they have an uncontrolled House of Commons and an uncontrolled machine for grinding out sectional legislation put before it by the Cabinet. But the Government are not only able to misrepresent the will of the people by the party system, but it is also impossible for this House really to reflect the opinion of the people owing to the fact that by our system of single-Member constituencies the votes of the minority are thrown away. If we had a system of proportional representation in this country the Government, instead of having a majority of 126, would only have a majority of thirty-eight, and even proportionate representation would not get us out of the difficulty of mixed issues put before the country at a General Election. Reform of this kind can only be completed by giving the electors greater discrimination in the legislation which they support by means of the Referendum. I know that it is a very far-reaching proposal, and that in some ways it strikes at the root of representative Government, but just think what the alternative is. We have been told by the Prime Minister that there is no way of gauging the popular will in this House, and that the only way in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred is for a new House of Commons to go and reverse the legislation shown by the General Election to be opposed to the will of the mass of the electorate. Is that a satisfactory system? Is it satisfactory that your only means of ensuring the popular will is by continually chopping and changing? Surely if there is to be any respect for the laws there must be some security for their permanence. How is the elector to show his disapproval of any given law? Is he to vote against a party with which he agrees, perhaps, on nine-tenths of its policy simply because he disagrees with one-tenth? His only alternative would be to vote for the party with which he agrees on only one subject, and I submit that that is a heroic remedy which is not suited to the difficulty of the elector. The elector has to put up with individual measures which he certainly does not want and which are often passed in obedience to the order of a group who are accidentally powerful in the House of Commons. One cannot on this occasion go into the merits of the Referendum; but I would like to point out two attractive features. Firstly, the Referendum would destroy one of the greatest evils of the party system. It would allow much more latitude to the opinions of men who seek to represent the constituency, and it would open the doors of this House to men who cannot support any party on the whole of its policy, and who at the present time are debarred from being elected. At the same time it would enormously save the time of this Assembly because once a measure had been proved unequal to the stress of popular judgment, as shown in the Referendum, the House would no longer go on debating it, and we should be saved several barren discussions with which we are so very familiar and which go on for long terms of years, and lead to nothing.


"Hear, hear."


I am sure the hon. Member does not think Home Rule is one, but he knows that if Home Rule were submitted to the Referendum it would not be heard of for very many years afterwards.


What about the time of the country?


I do not think it would take much time. If the hon. Member would read "Lloyd and Hobson's Swiss Democracy" he would see that it works very comfortably and cheaply there. The Unionist party are perfectly willing to give up the absolute Veto of the House of Lords, and even to shorten its powers of delay beyond the proposals of the Government, if only we can be certain that the ultimate control is vested in the people. It has been conclusively shown from this side that what the Government propose amounts to a Single-Chamber system, which experience shows always leads to tyranny. The Long Parliament in this country consisted of patriots according to their lights, men of integrity, men who had risked their lives, bearing arms in support of doctrines of liberty, and against an attitude which they considered unjust on the part of the Crown; but even these men were not proof against the corrupting effect of uncontrolled power. Having abolished the House of Lords, they proceeded first of all to set up a new court without any system of jury, from which the only appeal for mercy was to this House. There was no appeal to an executive officer; there was no appeal to the Home Secretary; the Speaker of the House of Commons actually saved the men from the scaffold by his casting vote. That is liberty under a Single-Chamber system. They proceeded to muzzle the Press; they interfered with the rights of popular election; they threw the Lord Mayor of London into prison; they banished 30,000 men from London without any sort of trial; they confiscated quite arbitrarily the estates of their enemies; and finally they so neglected the Navy that Van Tromp was able to land a raiding party on the coast of Kent and to sweep the Channel. When it was suggested after twelve years that it was time to have a new House of Commons they calmly proposed that the existing Members should retain their seats and have the right of vetoing Members elected to future Parliaments. Perhaps the House of Commons does not know what Oliver Cromwell, who cannot be suspected of very Conservative views, said:— As for Members of Parliament, their pride and ambition and self-seeking ingrossing all places of honour and profit to themselves and their friends … their delay of business and design to perpetuate themselves and to continue the power in their own hands … do give much grounds for people to dislike them, nor can they be kept within the bounds of justice and law or reason, they themselves being the supreme power of the nation, liable to no account, nor to be controlled nor regulated by any other power, there being none superior or co-ordinate with them. … Unless there be some authority and power so full and so high as to restrain and keep "things in better order and that may be a check to these exorbitances it will be impossible in human reason to prevent our ruin. 10.0 P.M.

Human nature is just the same to-day as it was in the days of the Long Parliament, and I have no doubt that an uncontrolled House of Commons to-day would prove just as arbitrary as it did at the time of the only historical precedent that we have in this country. It has been clearly shown that we on this side are not afraid of reform. We welcome the reform of the House of Lords, not because we believe they have done their work badly [laughter]—I am very glad it amuses hon. Members. [An HON. MEMBER: "They did it very well from your standpoint."] The hon. Member is apparently alluding to the argument that we have heard over and over again—that we have only a Single Chamber during part of the time, while the rest of the time we have two Chambers, and Members have pointed out the terrible calamities that have happened under a Single-Chamber system. Surely that is an argument for setting up two Chambers. If you are going downhill in a motor and the brake is out of order part of the time, you do not proceed to take the brake off altogether; you put your brake in repair, so that it works not only occasionally, but always. Hon. Members do not seem to see where their argument leads them. The party opposite do not seem to understand how it is that we can support the reform of the House of Lords, while we say that on the whole they have done their work well. It is because we believe it is essential to have two Chambers in this country, and we see that to-day the hereditary principle is not a strong enough basis to enable the Second Chamber to do its work without fear of the consequences. [Laughter.] I do not see that there is anything to laugh at there. Whenever the House of Lords throw out any Bill they are always told that they will in consequence be punished and abolished. I think it is obviously wrong that a Second Chamber should have these threats levelled at it, and that it should not be able to carry out its work without danger to its own existence in the Constitution.

Any Constitution can obviously be made unworkable if the Government in power deliberately sand the gear of the engine. Now that we have in this country a party committed to open war on the Second Chamber, it is time to look for a stronger engine than sufficed in the past. If we can get a reformed House of Lords on a democratic basis the Government will not dare to attack it. That is the only way in which we can obtain finality. For my own part, I would not be afraid of a Second Chamber entirely based on popular election. I believe you will not get better men in that way, I think you have the pick of men in the House of Lords at the preset time. At the same time, I recognise that the principle on which they sit there is open to criticism, and my opinion is that as long as the principle is retained even in a modified degree, the House of Lords will still be open to these attacks of class prejudice which have become so very familiar lately. It is much more important that we should have a Second Chamber able to do its work efficiently than that we should have too much respect for historical continuity. It is better to make a great break with its slow development, if only by that means we can set up a body which will last and which no Government of this country will dare to attack. I know that the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out that the danger of a Second Chamber resting on popular election is that it may become the dominant partner in the Constitution, as it is in France and in the United States. I think, however, that the unparalleled financial powers of the House of Commons would prevent it from sinking to the subordinate position occupied by the popular Chamber in the two countries I have named, where the Second Chambers have not only the right to reject Finance Bills, but also the far more important privilege of being able to amend them.

I think that those who stand for a real Second Chamber, one which shall not merely be a dummy, or the fifth wheel of the coach, but that shall exercise true powers of revision in our Constitution, hold all the cards in their hands. Let the Government refuse compromise. Let them create their 500 dummy Peers. The first result if they refuse compromise in this way will be that they will cover themselves with contempt and will cover the Chamber to which they appoint these Peers with ridicule. Public opinion will refuse to tolerate the small powers that are supposed to be left to the House of Lords when that body is made up to a large extent of "puppets," and numbers something like 1,100. The country will all the sooner become disgusted with those who wish to twist the Constitution to party ends, and will insist on substituting a democratic Chamber, with real powers, for the waterlogged wreck which will be the creation of the Government. If the Government are relying in their hope of resisting true reform on the action of their marionettes, let them remember that "they who take the sword shall perish by the sword "; that the weapon of constitutional violence can be used a second time, and can be used against those who forged it What is there to prevent, when the other side come into power, another creation of Peers, not dummies, but to ensure the passing of a measure which will give us a real Second Chamber. This wrenching of the framework of Government which the present Government propose to meet party needs cannot possibly be a final settlement. Those who dig deepest, build surest. The only way in which we can reach finality is by ignoring party considerations and by giving an equal chance to all opinions to get on the Statute Book, if such views are supported by a majority of the country, and by basing the ultimate sanction for legislation neither on this Chamber nor on that, but upon the bedrock of popular control.


There have been many speeches from all parts of the House which I think have advanced the discussion of great and high constitutional problem, and have thrown perhaps more light than the speaker intended upon the position which he really holds. Not the least amongst those speeches is the one to which we have just listened. It might have struck many Members as a little odd that a gentleman who conscientiously believes that he holds all the cards in the pack in his hand should apparently show such a sense of annoyance, of indignation, and of all those symptoms which in ordinary life go with a sense of conscious failure. Even more important than this in his peroration there are psychological traits which suggest that he looks forward to the time when the legislation of this country will be settled, not by this House or the other, but by some abstraction, or some notion, which he only adumbrates, and which seems to be the Referendum. Will the House realise that, like many hon. Members on the opposite side, his real enmity is not against the parties who are opposed to his own, nor against this House as at present constituted, but against representative Government as it has existed in this country for centuries? He talks of the Referendum. He appealed to the example of Switzerland. Is he aware that only 38 per cent of the Swiss electorate voted at the Referendum, and that the Referendum there is becoming increasingly ineffective as a test of real popular opinion. I am personally grateful—and I do not think I stand alone—for the clearness with which his speech, like some others, has drawn attention to what is the real point at issue between that side of the House and this. The point at issue has certainly to be disposed of before we deal with those other matters, such as the partisanship of the other House and the relevance or adequacy of reforming its composition. Behind his speech, and behind most of the speeches which have been heard from the Conservative Opposition, lies the notion that it is the province of the Second Chamber, and the present Second Chamber, to really decide whether measures passed by this House are to become law, or whether they are to be referred, in one form or another, to the electors. That is the very conscientious view of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is, of course, a perfectly arguable point of view. But it may be as well to remember that it is not a point of view which has been held by men of any political party in this country, as a rule, during any part, for instance, of the reign of Queen Victoria. The notion that the Second Chamber is to have power to stop legislation, no matter how often it has been before this House, no matter by what strength of majority, or length of debate, it may have received sanction—either, as the modern version is, to send it to an undefined Referendum, or, as an earlier version puts it, to force a dissolution when it chooses—is a point of view unknown to the great Conservative Leaders of the last generation and the one before. It is an invention of the last six years, an invention which arises directly out of the increased pretensions, and the unconstitutional developments of the peers in another place. Let me give an historical illustration from the period of the great Reform Bill of 1832. I think the sequence of facts since 1831 are entirely opposed to the fundamental contention which lies behind the argument we have heard from the other side of the House. The effect of the Reform Bill of 1832 was not only to pass a great reform in the Constitution against an acute opposition from another place, it was to settle in the same form, and in the same definite way, the great constitutional principles which emerged in the seventeenth century, and which were, again and again, affirmed in the 18th century: that this House is the predominant partner in the Constitution, and that the House of Lords, with all its powers and with all its historical interest, is but a subordinate part of the Constitution It is true that during the Ministries of Grey and Melbourne we had measures proposed in this House and repeatedly thrown out in the other. With regard to one remarkable Bill, the Irish Church Temporalities Bill, you undoubtedly had that rejected several years running. Those who look back upon the history may possibly imagine that the House of Lords was not altogether wise in what they did. They might have settled that question for £300,000 then. They had to meet and accept disestablishment thirty years later because of what they did at that time. When you come down a little further you get an instance which, I think, bears out what I am now venturing to put before the House, that the idea that it is the duty or right of the House of Lords to have a final word in the legislation of the day, more than sending measures back here to be considered a second time in this place—the idea which lies behind the whole of the contention of the Opposition in these Debates—is an idea discussed and rejected by the highest authorities in one of the greatest political crises in our history. In 1846 the Bill which abolished the Corn Laws went up to the House of Lords. It ever there was a measure which would have justified the Second House in putting forward the claims which we hear now made for it it would have been that. That Bill was only passed at the price of the breaking up of a great party. It was passed in the fifth Session of a Parliament with a new election near, and it was passed by a majority far more composite, far less united, than the majority which will pass the Second Reading of this Bill on Thursday night. And yet what happened when it came to the House of Lords! The point taken up by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite now was taken by Lord Stanley, afterwards the great Earl of Derby. His point of view was identical with that which we hear from the benches opposite. He argued:— It never has been the course of this House to resist a continued and deliberately formed public opinion. Tour Lordships always have bowed, and always will bow to the expression of such an opinion: but it is yours to check hasty legislation leading to irreparable evils … and it is your duty to protect the people. not against their own hasty judgment, but against the treachery of those whom they have chosen to be their representatives. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is exactly my point. That is what the Opposition is saying now, not always, if I may say so, with the stately diction which distinguished the expressions of Lord Derby. Although that was the position put before the House of Lords it did not lead the House of Lords to reject that Bill. What led the House of Lords to pass the Bill was these memorable utterances of the Duke of Wellington which laid down, as I submit the principles of subordination of the Second Chamber in accordance with which the history of this country has proceeded for forty years without violent constitutional agitation, and which we are asserting now and which we believe are revived, and will be carried out by the Parliament Bill. This is what the Duke of Wellington said:— This measure, ray Lords, was recommended by the speech from the Throne and it has been passed by a majority of the House of Commons, consisting of more than half the Members of that House. But my noble Friend said that that vote is inconsistent with the original vote given by the same House of Commons on this same question, and inconsistent with the supposed views of the constituents by whom they were elected. But, my Lords, I think that is not a subject which this House can take into its consideration—for, first we can have no accurate knowledge of the fact; and secondly, whether it be the fact or not this we know, that it is the House of Commons from which this Bill comes to us. We know by the votes that it has been passed by a majority of the House of Commons; we know that it is recommended by the Crown; and we know that, if we should reject this Bill, it is a Bill which has been agreed to by the other two branches and the Legislature; and that the House of Lords stands alone in rejecting this measure. Now that, my Lords, is a situation in which I beg to remind your Lordships I have frequently stated you ought not to stand; it is a position in which you cannot stand, because you are entirely powerless; without the House of Commons and the Crown, the House of Lords can do nothing. You have vast influence on public opinion: you may have great confidence in your own principles, but without the Crown or the House of Commons, you can do nothing—till the connection with the Crown and the House of Commons i.5 revived, there is an end of the functions of the House of Lords. That sound doctrine, laid down by one of the greatest Conservatives who ever served his country, was a constitutional doctrine acted upon without break and without any divergence of importance from 1846 to 1884, and it was not until the misjudged action of Mr. Gladstone in allowing the House of Lords to have a share in the Franchise and Redistribution Bill that we arrived at the beginning of the claim of the other place to equality in legislation—while it was not until 1906 that you had the entirely new and unconstitutional position taken up by the other House that they were entitled to pick and choose freely between all the measures sent up by this Rouse, disregarding the magnitude of the majority, disregarding the fact that they had been before the country; it was not till then that you got the new unconstitutional doctrine developed that the other place is to be the Chamber to decide whether legislation shall be referred to the country or not. Therefore, when we are asked why we will not discuss reform, our reply is that before that can be thought of we have to settle the question which of the two Houses is to be subordinate and which is to be predominant. If you have got a new House of Lords made according to the last formula invented in the Committee Room upstairs; if you had a Second House according to the last receipt that the interests of the Tory party dictate, we should still say that that Second House is not entitled to full equality with this, still less to supremacy and to the final determining word in legislation. Therefore, on that ground I support the Parliament Bill because it deals with the first of the problems which is before us, and unless and until that problem be settled, and settled in a sense which is consistent with the best constitutional period of our history, and with the predominance of representative government, we are not, as the Secretary of State for War said, in a position to deal on fair terms with any question of reform. I wonder and regret that so many hon. Members opposite—and particularly right hon. Gentlemen of great eminence on the Front Opposition Bench, whose gifts are the property of the whole House and not only of their party—should not in this great controversy have been more anxious to preserve unaffected the ancient predominance of this House, and to feel that the predominance of this House is a matter which they should support whether it works for their party at one time or for our party at another. Surely, Mr. Speaker, they are involved in what occurred in the last Parliament but one. Hon. Members opposite, no doubt, remember well that from the date of the speech of the Duke of Wellingtion, which I have just referred to, down to 1886, and with scarcely an exception down to 1906, there is hardly an example of the House of Lords rejecting a first-class Government measure which was passed by a large majority which neither dwindled nor failed during its passage through this House. It was true our ancestors lived under an unwritten Constitution; but whatever their party was, they were loyal to this great idea, and, when the House of Commons, under the responsible leadership of the Government, had passed any measure by a large majority, and had shown that the support of the House of Commons remained with that measure in all its stages, and after full discussion, then some of the greatest names in our history who were responsible for leading the Tory party in another place, acted uniformly with that deference to this House. It is not a question of partisanship or absence of partisanship, but is a question of the right conception of the true constitutional proportions of the powers of the two Houses.

I would venture one comment on the reiterated assertion of the other side that the Parliament Bill involves pure Single-Chamber Government. We have heard that in every variety of phrase. Is it true? What is the proof given from that side? It is almost always in the nature of forecasts. I thought it was the general characteristic of human nature that forecasts depended more on the sentiment of the prophet than on his knowledge. What would have happened in the days of Lord Palmerston, Mr. Gladstone, and even earlier in the Russell Government of 1846 to 1852 if the Parliament Bill had then been the law of the land? I submit that in every one of those cases the House of Lords, under the Parliament Bill, would have been able to act as in fact it did act with regard to the primary measures of those Liberal Governments. I admit the Parliament Bill would have prevented other actions of the House of Lords. They showed their partisanship by the way in which they treated Bills which were not of the greatest magnitude and which had not the whole of the Government behind them. They kept Jews out of Parliament for many a long year; they deprived Nonconformists for a generation of access to those liberal studies which could be the only cure for the alleged narrowness from which they suffered; they smote the Liberal party whenever they caught stragglers within range, and they did all they could to embarrass the party to which they are opposed, but for all that there is no instance of their rejecting a first-class Government measure for more than two years running; and everything that was done by the Conservative Opposition from 1846 to 1852, from 1858 to 1865, from 1868 to 1874, and from 1880 to 1885 could be done by the House of Lords next year under the terms of the Parliament Bill. Were we living under Single-Chamber Government then? Even hon. Members like the hon. Member who spoke last, with their humorous and romantic notions of the history which they have acquired so hurriedly, would hardly dare to describe it as Single-Chamber Government in the period to which I have referred; and, if it Toe true that the provisions of the Parliament Bill would have allowed to an unreformed House of Lords and to a House of Lords dominated by Conservative instincts and by Conservative ambitions the same power and the same liberties of actions which they had in those periods, then, whatever other arguments may occur to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, let them abandon this fantastic fiction that the Parliament Bill means absolute One-Chamber Government.

May I, for one instant, recite the reasons why I support the Government alike in their Preamble and in their refusal to be drawn away at this stage into the discussion of reform. My first reason I have already given. It is as to the priority of the question of the relations of the two Houses. My second reason is that even now we on this side are not convinced that you on that side really mean business about thorough-going reform. It is perfectly true that there have been certain utterances by certain Members of the Opposition. There is the famous utterance of the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith), when he took up his pen in the autumn and wrote a memorable letter. We on this side are not likely to forget his admission that the Second Chamber should be fair to both sides, coming as it did as a brief flash of sound statesmanship amid the innumerable diatribes which are the chief staple of his political warfare. So shines a good deed in a naughty world. That lead was followed in the Debate on the First Reading by his amiable and industrious understudy, the Member for East Birmingham (Mr. Steel-Maitland), and subsequently by the hon. and learned Member for Preston (Mr. Tobin), until it actually crept down to the sacred region of the Front Opposition Bench, where the hon. Member for the Farnham Division (Mr. Lee) actually inserted it in a fierce attack on the Government and the party which supported them. But it stopped there; and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has never committed himself to the dangerous doctrine that the House of Lords should be fair to both parties. In his speech on the Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman poured that delicate contempt he so admirably uses on the notion that because there is a Radical majority here there should be a Radical majority there. But underneath that careful sentence lies the complete retention of the old position that that House is to be a check on this when the Liberals are in power, but it is to be a subservient colleague when he himself holds the reins of office. Can it be wondered that we believe the problem of subordination should be dealt with first, and that none of us are in the mood to go forward with the problem of reform when we doubt the bona fides of the responsible leaders on the other side? Are we not justified m supporting the Government, seeing what has been the result of their policy of concentration on the Veto. When reform was talked about in the days when Lord Rosebery spoke in chilling silence elsewhere years ago nothing was done: nothing happened. We heard nothing then from the other side of the House as to their willingness to reform. We heard nothing then about the defects of hereditary principle. It was only when the Government concentrated on the Veto that the minds of the Opposition began to move and their wills to shake and their speeches to vary in tone. The concentration on the Veto through two Elections produced a transformation scene, and it is good ground for the Government continuing to pursue the same policy. A few more conclusive majorities, and the passing of this Bill into law may perhaps complete the process of conversion which is going on. Then, when the supremacy of this House is established once more indeed, may it be possible for men of all parties to confer and consider as to the position of the Second Chamber. But that can come on two conditions only. The first is that the Chamber, however constituted, shall remain subordinate to this House, and the second is that it shall be so constituted as to bear in mind the weighty warning of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) that any reconstituted Second Chamber shall be representative of Labour as well as of Capital. It must, at any rate, be freed from the restrictions of economic sympathy which attach to it now as from political partisanship, and as one of those who will be grateful if it be his portion to take the humblest part by voice or vote in the ultimate decision—as one who feels that the only step and the inevitable step is now to support the Parliament Bill, I shall vote without hesitation against this Amendment, and in voting against that, and for the Second Reading of the Bill, I am confident that I am loyal at once to the best constitutional traditions of my country and to the needs of my country at the present hour.


The House has listened to an address as eloquent as it was obviously inspired by perfect sincerity, and those qualities in that speech make any of the more or less partisan generalities which the hon. Member threw at his opponents void of all sting. But there is one thing about this constitutional controversy which this speech, and others which have preceded it, are bringing into sharp relief and that is that the true aspect of it is not a simple one with regard to the acceptance or rejection of the Parliament Bill. The true aspect of this controversy is a choice between two alternatives—between the alternative which, with all his sincerity, the hon. Member who has just spoken is going to devote his efforts to achieve, namely, the destruction of the powers of the Second Chamber in our Constitution, and, on the other hand, the alternative, a preference for which I myself as fearlessly and honestly avow, of the old path, which, when I was a Member of his party was supposed to be the path in which we were united of safe and sound constitutional reform. The true alternative which we are discussing to-day is that between the destruction of the powers of the Second Chamber, and on the other hand the alternative of reform. There is one point which I think in the hon. Member's mind is quite clear, and which I think was equally clear in the mind of the hon. Member for Kincardineshire (who spoke this afternoon), but in regard to which, so far as I know, although the Home Secretary said something about it, I do not think the Prime Minister has given an "Aye" or a "No." I will put it in the form of a question. Is it or is it not the intention of the Government foreshadowed in the Parliament Bill to revive all or any part of the powers which they propose to destroy by that Bill? I understand entirely the attitude of the hon. Member who has just sat down. He has convinced himself that the object of the Unionist party on this question is to make the House of Lords supreme and predominant over the other Chamber in the Legislature, while, so far as I understand it, there never was a delusion more complete—there never was a conception more fantastic. But that is not our purpose. I am not aware that we have ever said so. So far as I am concerned, if that were the test of the policy on the other side of the House I should be on the side of the policy which had made up its mind that the House of Lords should not be the predominant of the two Chambers. The hon. Member said our idea was that the Second Chamber was to have the final word. It is his party who have made up their mind that the final word is to belong to some element in the Constitution other than that upon which alone the authority of any part of it relies, the opinion of the electorate outside.

Let me bring this matter to a test. So far as the Parliament Bill goes, it does not propose to do away with all constitutional checks. A great many hon. Members opposite frankly say they do not see any particular use in a Second Chamber at all. That is where hon. Members opposite are a house divided amongst themselves. That is not the opinion of the Government, and in particular it is not the opinion, as clearly expressed, of the Prime Minister. He has himself itemed some, at all events, of those risks which in his opinion it is the function of a Second Chamber to safeguard us against. It is he who pointed out in March of last year that a particular majority in the House of Commons might make a mistake, even a very grave mistake, in interpreting the authority which it had received, and, as I understand it, he does not abolish the Second Chamber. He does not absolutely deprive it of all vestige of power because he thinks this country ought to have some protection against that risk amongst others. But there were others which he itemised. He said also that sometimes a majority in the House of Commons was too small to be regarded as adequately representing a clear expression of the public will outside, and he added a third which perhaps touched him more nearly. He said that sometimes majorities in the House of Commons were not homogeneous. He indicated that sometimes they represented not any unanimous stream of public opinion but the confluence of very diverse tributaries, and again he sought, in the existence of the powers of a Second Chamber, some of the risks to which he thought that state of matters exposed us.

What is the instrument upon which, under the system to which we have succeeded, and in like manner under the system which the right hon. Gentleman wants to set up under the Parliament Bill, he relies for some protection for these risks? It is the instrument of delay. Some hon. Members who have spoken on the other side, who talk about giving the House of Lords the last word, seem still to be of the mind that what is called the absolute Veto of the House of Lords is by us so valued because we suppose if to be a means of stopping legislation. There never was anything so absurd. Under the system to which we have succeeded the House of Lords has the power of rejecting a Bill. Under the system which the right hon. Gentleman wants to set up, the House of Lords is to have the power of rejecting a Bill, and both these rejections are for the purpose of obtaining delay. The difference in the character of the delay under the system to which we have succeeded on the one hand, and the system which the Government want to set up on the other, is this: Under the system to which we have succeeded the delay is sufficiently prolonged to enable a consultation to take place with the only authority upon which a majority is entitled to act—the opinion of the electorate outside. I appeal to the hon. Member as an historical authority to state what instance he has got in his mind of the persistence of the House of Lords in rejecting a measure which, when the people had been consulted about it, did not meet with their condemnation, but, on the contrary, apparently with their approval. What instance has he got in his mind in which the action of the House of Lords effected anything except delay?


I would instance the Irish Church Temporalities Bill, which had a majority in the House of Commons in the last two years prior to the accession of Queen Victoria. There was an election, as hon. Members know, in consequence of Queen Victoria's accession, and though there was a majority in the new Parliament for the measure, the House of Lords again rejected it.


I confess I am not able to offer either an acceptance or a denial with respect to the instance which the hon. Gentleman has just given. I do not know myself. This I do know, that in his review of this matter he put his statement as covering the whole period from 1848 to 1884. He forgot the case of the Irish Church. There was a case undoubtedly. I do not complain of the instance the hon. Member has given. On the other hand, in the case of the Irish Church, there was the clearest case of the exercise by the House of Lords of its powers to effect the obtaining of delay. I do not know about the Irish Church Temporalities Bill, but if there are any instances they must be singularly few. It has often been said by Statesmen belonging to the Liberal party that the cases are non-existent in which the House of Lords has persisted in rejection after the opportunity for consultation, and the opinion at a General Election was in favour of the party which had promoted the measure. Therefore the instrument to be used in both cases is the same. I want to ask the attention of hon. Members opposite to the way in which this instrument is to be used under their system. It is to be delay, not until there is an opportunity of gathering the opinion of those in whose interests, after all, the Bill was promoted, but there is to be a delay of two years. I want to examine for a moment or two what it is during these years is supposed to take place. During these two years, according to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Government, after the House of Lords has rejected a Bill, are to make up their minds. That is to be the use of the Bill. They are to make up their mind as to whether they have really misinterpreted their authority, or whether the majority is really too small to warrant going on, or whether, after all, their majority is non-homogeneous. They are to make up their minds, yea or nay, Let us see the alternative you have to making up your minds. You have misinterpreted the authority because the Second Chamber has told you so. Then your prestige is lost. You have lost your authority and your usefulness as a legislative machine. On the other hand, if you do not do that, you are to make up your minds that you are going to take the risks; and how would that be done? I can imagine the captain of the ship standing on the bridge on a dark night, with the sky fully clouded over with the conflicting elements of party all around—with panegyrics on the one hand and with philippics on the other. I can imagine him observing the meteors in the sky, and I can imagine him ordering the forecastle grand organisers to whistle for the wind as the result of his inquiries. Will anybody say that any Government or any party could make up its mind out of these materials, whether 150,000 voters out of 300,000 voters, who support the Government at the moment outside, have or have not shifted the balance? And yet it is on that question that the answer to the problem depends, and alone depends.

It is a hollow pretence to say that that delay of two years could be usefully used by the Government. Bring it to the test. Suppose that this Parliament Bill was passed now. The Government that is in power to-day must bring forward a Home Rule Bill or commit political suicide. Having brought forward and passed the Home Rule Bill it is rejected, and for two years the Government is going to try to make up its mind whether, on the question of Home Rule, which it has not had the courage to put to the country at the last election, which its supporters now say we put to the country for them, out of that 300,000, the balance on six millions, 150,000 had or had not changed on that vital question. I venture to say—and this is not prophecy, it is business and plain sense—you could not make up your minds about anything of the kind. There might be, I admit, cases of political convulsion so marked and unmistakeable that the current of the stream could be ascertained and definitely told. But in the ordinary case, without importing any constitutional or political question between this House and the Second Chamber, it is playing with the nation to say that those two years could be used in making an effective judgment on that question. If that is so, human nature being human nature, your judgments will inevitably be made on those balances of political fortune, on those prospects and forecasts of political meteorology which are all that a political party in power in these circumstances has got to guide itself by. And my proposition is this: If you ask me to choose, as this Debate asks all of us to choose, between a constitutional safeguard which puts my fate and the fate of my country in the ultimate hands of the verdict outside, I would rather have that, with all its disadvantages, than accept as the arbiter of the destiny of my country a Government compelled to make up its mind on this question without the materials to do it, and ultimately driven to form its judgment on politic considerations. It is certainly not the case that on this side of the House the view is entertained that there is no necessity for change. But I want to state as clearly as I can, in almost every speech delivered on the other side, that did not complain of it, most naturally, I think, there is some recollection of the bitterness of 1906 to 1909.

The complaint which is put, it was put on the platform a thousand times, that the party opposite thought—I am not going to inquire the grounds of it—they did not get fair play. That is a perfectly natural and intelligible complaint. I am going further than that. The reason why I for one recognise the necessity of change is this, that, whether a party judgment with regard to the treatment of party measures is sound or not, this at least is true, that if the Second Chamber is to exercise its (functions with any general usefulness, I think it is absolutely essential that that Chamber should be so composed that no man can say against it, because of its composition, that it can have a partisan or class character. Then observe that I truly said that we were here on a question of alternatives. It is neither logic nor sense to say that the party which makes this complaint had not the ground to make it. The complaint has really never been against the power of the Second Chamber, the complaint has been not that there is too great power in the Constitution, but that the brakesman has not had your confidence.




If it is both, it is both for the first time. We are twitted with not having turned our attention to the reform of the House of Lords earlier; but I would be perfectly justified if I were to retort by twitting the party opposite with not having knocked the Veto about earlier. What you complained of was that a Chamber, which you said was partisan and out of harmony with democratic conditions, was using the powers which historically and traditionally the Second Chamber has always asserted. Therefore it is that I said we are really here with alternatives to choose from. I have endeavoured to give my own grounds as shortly as I can for preferring the alternative of reform, but there is another reason which has been supplied by the right hon. Gentleman himself, amongst many others, and it is this. He says this applies constitutional checks and constitutional safeguards, particularly in that of delay. I believe the right hon. Gentleman himself would agree with me and disagree with the hon. Member who spoke last in saying that, so far from this being inconsistent with or destructive of representative government that you should have constitutional checks, it is just the other way, and it is the existence of constitutional checks and safeguards that distinguishes even democratic government from the government of despotism.

And, it being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Wednesday) Adjourned at Two minutes after Eleven o'clock.