HC Deb 01 March 1911 vol 22 cc389-502

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [27th February], "That the Bill be now read a 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.

4.0 P.M.


When the stroke of eleven last night brought the Debate for the day to a termination there was still one point which I was anxious to submit for the consideration of the House; and to enable me to do it, I must ask the indulgence of the House for a very brief period so that I may summarise as shortly as I can the propositions which I submitted. The first was that the Debate which is now being conducted is really a Debate with reference to the choice which we are to make between two alternative processes, and not merely between the acceptance or the rejection of the Parliament Bill. The alternatives upon which our choice is called for are the alternatives between the policy embodied in the Parliament Bill of destroying wholly or partially the powers of the Second Chamber while turning your back, at least for the time, on the reform of its Constitution, and on the Other hand the policy, on behalf of which the Unionist party presents a claim, of endeavouring to solve this question, which must be solved one way or the other, by adhering to the old path of constitutional reform and of honestly tackling here and now what the Preamble of this Bill admits is, after all, the kernel of the situation, the reform of the Constitution of the Second Chamber. And, in order that there might, if possible, be left no doubt as to the reality of these two alternatives, I asked the Government the question which, in view of a reply from the Front Bench, I repeat now. Is it or is it not the intention of the Government, of which they intend to give us a hint in the Preamble to this Bill, when they do tackle the reform of the House of Lords, to revive all or any part of the powers of which this Bill deprives them? If the answer to that question is no, then we know, and the country knows, that the policy of the Liberal party is to destroy these powers. If the answer is yes, then we shall want to know, and I think the county will want to know, why these powers are to be only temporarily put in abeyance. I said next that I did not think there is really between the two sides of this House—and when I say that I mean not between all hon. Members opposite and Members behind me, but between the Government and Members on this side of the House—any real disagreement between the view of the Government and that of Members on this side of the House upon the question of the necessity, in any well ordered constitution, of the provision of constitutional safeguards. They acknowledge, as we acknowledge, that all forms of Government, even the most representative and the most democratic, are saved from the risk of being usurped by the despotic power of the Government of the day, by means of constitutional safeguards. Upon that point we are all agreed. As I said yesterday, the Prime Minister himself, in March of last year, enumerated the risks to which otherwise we should be exposed—not new risks; they are the same old risks against which our present constitutional safeguards exist—the risk that the majority of this House should mistake its authority, the risk that the Government should be returned with a majority too small to entitle it to say that it really represents the solid body of the majority of opinion outside; and, lastly—I do not say anything controversial about it—the risk that the majority of the day is not a unanimous, but a coalition majority. They are old risks, not new risks; they are the same risks as our constitutional safeguards are intended to provide against. Next, I would point out that the instrument for safeguarding purposes which the Constitution under which we at present live provides is exactly the same instrument as the policy of the Government, differing from some of its supporters, proposes to use under the Parliament Bill, namely, the instrument not merely of delay, but of enforced delay, enforced by the constitutional machinery which we use.

I said last night that the difference between the use which the Constitution makes of enforced delay, under the present system, differs from the use which will be made by the Constitution of enforced delay under the system which the Government propose to set up, and differs particularly in this respect. At present, enforced delay is prolonged until the electorate has the opportunity of saying whether the Government really does command the confidence which the Government believes it possesses. Under the system which the Government propose to set up the enforced delay lasts for two years, and during those two years, the use which the Government has to make of that opportunity for reflection and consideration is that it (the Government) may make on behalf of the electorate, a decision as to what the electorate would say about the amount of confidence they repose in it, if it gave them the chance. I said, lastly, yesterday evening, that I did not see how it was possible for any Government—I do not care of what party complexion—to ascertain during those two years—except in the case of such a political convulsion as would convince any observer—whether the narrow balance at present of 300,000 out of 6,000,000 had really shifted to the extent of one-half, so as to deprive them, in fact, of the confidence which they hoped and believed they had received from them. I ventured to say that "is an impossible task. I went further. I said it was a pretence and a sham to suggest, as I believe the party opposite does, that during these two years any reliable opinion whatever could be formed upon such a question. Their judgment would depend, and depend necessarily, upon a study of the political meteorological conditions of the day, which are the most fallacious kind of material on which estimates of the kind could be made. There is only one way to find out what public opinion is, and that is to consult it. Therefore, if when a dispute has arisen—and disputes admittedly will arise even under the new system, between the two Chambers in the Constitution—the question is whether the Government do really possess the confidence of the public for some measure which it proposes, there is, in my convinced belief, only one sound form of constitutional safeguard against the risk of an irretrievable mistake, and that is to consult the authority on which alone your power as a Government depends.

The point which I wanted to make further, and which I propose to make now, affects directly an interruption which, I think, I caught from the other side of the House. After all, the charge against us, as I understand it, by hon. Members opposite, is that in seeking to maintain the constitutional safeguards which we have, and putting the exercise of those safeguards into hands which command the confidence of all parties, we are doing something which is either inimical in its intention or in its actual plan to representative Government and to democratic institutions. I want to deal with that. In my belief we are doing exactly the contrary, and the party who are attacking representative Government and bringing democratic institutions into great peril, are the party opposite. It seems to me that the supreme attraction of representative Government and of democratic institutions is this, that by means of them it is possible, if the machinery is well devised, to arrive on the occasion of any great controversy, at least for the time, at a decision which carries with it finality. The advantage of a democratic Constitution is that in the long run—and the party opposite will agree with me about this I should think—the decision rests with no class, but with the final verdict of public opinion obtained on as broad a basis as we think it can safely and wisely be placed. It is because that is its foundation that the verdict which is so pronounced secures this measure of finality. What are the Government going to do? Under the exercise of the constitutional safeguards they propose to retain, they are going to put the Government of the day in the position in which, notwithstanding such differences of opinion, notwithstanding the existence of doubt as to their authority for what they propose to do, they can none the less make up their minds that the wisest thing for them in the circumstances is to press the measure over the heads of the Second Chamber and take their risk of the consequences. I notice in the speeches from the Front Bench, and in the speeches of hon. Members who support the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench, that this difficulty is clearly realised. In speech after speech in this House during this Debate we have heard the difficulty which immediately arises when you refuse to allow delay to be exercised with a view to consulting the popular verdict.

We have here a difficulty which immediately arises in consequence of the possibility of a mistake "which constitutional safeguards are meant to provide against. The Prime Minister has said that no doubt that may happen. I am not attempting to quote what the right hon. Gentleman said, but I give what I understand to be the drift of his argument. The Prime Minister said that after all, this was not very material, because at the end of the quinquennial period which it is proposed to substitute for the septennial one, you must then go back to the source from which you derived your authority. And here is how you think you get out of your difficulty. If the verdict turns out to be against you, if the country says you no longer possess its confidence, then, says the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members behind him, the party who succeeds them will have full freedom and authority—to do what?—to repeal their legislation. This is the doctrine which is put forward by the Liberal defenders of this proposal. Let me ask this question. I am not going to attempt to dogmatise or argue about either the legal rights or the constitutional rights of various bodies in the Constitution, but I am going to appeal to what, I think it will be agreed, is the constitutional practice. It has never been regarded—I said never; it has certainly not been regarded in modem times—as sound constitutional practice for one party when it succeeds another—I am quite aware that there are some individual exceptions to the general rule I am going to state—to make its business the destruction and repeal of the legislation of its predecessors. On the contrary, if there is one thing which is striking about the conduct of parties in this country it is this: that when a measure has passed through both Houses of Parliament, whether after a difference of opinion or appeal to the people or not, and has received the Assent of the Sovereign, that measure is treated by both the successful and the defeated party as being a settlement of the controversy between them, which is not to be upset simply because one Government succeeds another. I am trying, to state accurately what I think is the Constitutional practice.

Of course, there is no complete finality in any political question, but the practice has been that the Act is only to be amended after the measure has had a fair trial and its defects or its inexpediency realised in practice. That is not the Prime Minister's theory now. His theory is that the mistakes which may have been safeguarded against, but which he is going to prevent and to keep the working of the Constitution safe from, that those mistakes are to be remedied by the introduction of a new theory that, if having persisted in passing a measure over the House of Lords it turns out that popular confidence is forfeited, the Government that succeeds them is to be held as authorised by that circumstance to attack that legislation and to repeal it. The right hon. Gentleman says certainly. I venture to say, first of all, that that is a new practice in the Constitution of our country. Secondly, I say that if a doctrine could be established likely in itself and in its operations to be inimical to progressive legislation, it is that doctrine. I go further, and I say that such a doctrine strikes at the root of those very representative and democratic institutions that you want to preserve. I put it that the supreme attraction of democratic Governments is that if their machinery is well devised the proceedings of government can be kept closely in contact and closely in harmony with the public will, upon which alone governmental authority can be founded. If this system is adopted to discover what is the will of the people, and is to involve in its train a series of advances and retrogressions, instead of political progress being achieved by a steady series of steps in advance, it is to take the form of the advance of a man who climbs up a slippery ascent and puts one step forward and slips back two steps as he endeavours to get the next footing forward. For that reason it seems to me that the only safe, and the only wise, and the only democratic solution of this question is one which will keep the ultimate constitutional safeguard committed to the only authority who ought to exercise it, the authority namely on whose behalf a Government always professes to act, and without whose authority its acts are not only not useful but mischievous.

I am the first to admit what has often been said from the other side of the House, that the method of a General Election is a very rough and ready method. To gather the precise character or to know the particular legislative proposal from the verdict of a General Election is difficult or impossible. But I say this, that the verdict of a General Election, and you do not want anything to do with the Referendum, the verdict of a General Election under a representative system is the only means that you have of testing public opinion. There are hon. Members opposite who think that that proposition can be founded by themselves as an authority in favour of this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thought so. Those are the very hon. Members who, during the last election, posed as the reformers of the House of Lords. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] I do not say there are no exceptions, but I do say this, so far as my own part of the kingdom is concerned, and there are not many who took part in more contested elections than I did, with that experience behind me, I say without fear that the great majority of Liberal candidates in Scotland posed—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no."]—Yes, I say, posed on the platform and in their addresses as the reformers of the House of Lords. And no body of men resented more the truth, as I think it, when it was pointed out to them that it was we who stood for the reform of the House of Lords and they who stood for its destruction. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite feel disposed to plume themselves on this question of the alternatives on the result of the last General Election will they remember this, that it was they who took good care that, by hastening the moment at which the popular verdict was to be given, that there should be as far as possible only one alternative before the country. I suppose they want once more to say that it was their opponents who put their alternative policy before the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thought so. That, apparently, is becoming the new electioneering theory. When you have a policy or an alternative policy you are to say nothing about it yourself. You are to keep it dark as far as possible, and if your opponents, having objections to the policy you propose, urge an alternative before the people of the country, you are then to turn round and say, "We went to the country on that alternative; we went to the country on the policy of reform of the House of Lords as well as diminution of its powers." All I can say is, that nobody who had experience of elections would be taken in by them. The fact is that the instincts on which the desire for progressive legislation for stable progress, for sound and safe constitutional Government is based, are instincts which, whatever hon. Members opposite may think, are not dead in this country, notwithstanding the results of the last general election. We may have failed, I do not dispute it, successfully to appeal, but those instincts will awake again. If the result of the awakening of those instincts is once more to raise the opportunity of a real settlement of this question, I pray devoutly that the party into whose hands, whichever it is, that that opportunity comes again, may be given strength and courage enough to use it more worthily than you.


I find myself to a pretty large extent in agreement with so many views expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just addressed the House, that I am sure he will not suspect me of any lack of appreciation of the value of his contribution to this Debate if for the moment I leave it with the observation, with which I think every Member of the House will agree, that that contribution has lifted the Debate from the dead level of most melancholy mediocrity to an altitude more commensurate with its importance. I voted for the First Reading of this Bill. I propose to vote for its Second Reading. Whether or not I vote for its Third Reading will depend entirely on the nature of the assurances and guarantees which I shall hope to receive before that stage is reached. My vote may not be of very much importance, but it has this quality in common with that of even the Prime Minister, that it counts two on a division, and in giving it I shall be guided entirely by the course of this Debate. If I were to consider only my own personal predilections I should do everything in my power to facilitate the passage of this Bill. I regard it as illustrating in its working, whatever may be its merits, the reductio ad absurdum of the party system. It is based and must be based on the principle that in order to keep that system going you are to establish between this House and the other House an endless chain of Punch and Judy Peers who in time are to so augment the numerical strength of the other House that Westminster itself will be inadequate for them. The influence of that on the mind of the man in the street will be to lead him to the opinion I have long since formed, and that is that our present system of party Government may well give place to something nearer and more suited to the spirit of the times. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) incidentally observed the other day that all history shewed that the party system of government is the best guarantee for democratic government.


I did not say "the best guarantee." I said the only instrument.


That makes it even worse to say that it is the only instrument for democratic government. I can only respectfully ask the right hon. Gentleman to favour me with references to one or two historical authorities in support of that contention. I do not know of any myself. Apart from that, I think a just criticism to make of the Bill would be that it will not work. I have listened very intently to this discussion, and I want to say, with great respect and all earnestness, to the Government that I have formed the view that no measure could be better devised for securing the defeat of measures originally rejected by the House of Lords than this particular Bill. I do not agree that lad this Bill been law two or three years ago that the Licensing Bill and the Education Bill and the Plural Voting Bill and other measures would have automatically become law. I think that a Bill, like an egg, does not improve by keeping. I am certain of this in the case of a measure buffeted about between the other House and this, with the right of amendment on the part of this House gone whenever the Bill comes down, I do not think such a measure as that would stand the remotest chance of becoming law unless it had the overwhelming support of the Nation at its back. I will illustrate why that would apply to the Licensing Bill and the Education Bill. In the course of two or three years it is practically certain that there will be many or several by-elections. Any suspended measure of importance would be one of the main issues placed before the country at those by-elections, and in the absence of by-elections there is such a thing as applying for the Chiltern Hundreds, and I suppose patriotic opponents of a particular measure, believing that the country was against it, would not mind resigning and risking their seats upon that particular issue. So it seems to me that under this Bill you do not want a Referendum, as you would get an automatic Referendum on every measure which had been temporarily suspended by the action of the Rouse of Lords.

But apart from that point there is also this provision in the Bill. Evidently it was contemplated by the Government that a measure rejected by the House of Lords might not be either a popular or a good measure, otherwise there would not have been in the Bill the provision to which I wish to direct attention, and which seems to me to be of a most significant and extraordinary character. The Government say, "If we have a mandate of the people behind us, and send a measure to the Upper House, we will, under this limited veto, give to that House the right to reject that measure three times; but after that, willy-nilly, the measure must become law." But in the Bill there is this extraordinary phrase, that a measure rejected by the Lords should become law, subject to the Royal Assent, "unless this House otherwise directs." Why are those words in the Bill? They seem to me to destroy the foundation-stone of the whole measure. The meaning of the words must be that it is quite conceivable that the rejection by the House of Lords may be right and justified, and therefore, in order to save its face, this House retains the power of directing that a measure rejected by the House of Lords shall not become law. In view of that statement, coupled with the working of the party system to which I have referred, I think that the measure as it stands, whatever its abstract merits, is not one which will work for practical good.

But I want to take a larger view of this matter. With the permission of the House I will recall very shortly the course of the events which have led up to the present situation. Everybody knows that for years past the storm between the Commons and the Lords has been brewing. Everybody knows that during the late administration, of necessity, obviously and naturally, there was a lull, because any Second Chamber, constitute it how you will, will always be what is called Conservative. Consequently during the late Administration there was a lull in this controversy. Then came the Liberal Government and the rejection of these various measures. I will not comment upon their merits; I will only say, in passing, that when the House of Lords rejects measure after measure, and the Government pledges itself in that event to go down with colours flying, to sacrifice itself in great causes, and says that if they are not prepared to die for a great measure they had no justification for their existence; when the Chief Secretary for Ireland says that if the House of Lords dares to stand between the people and their passionate desire for the Licensing Bill, let their blood be on their own heads—when these sort of utterances are made and nothing happens, the common, ordinary man in the street, for whom I venture to speak, says that there is a good deal of hypocrisy and cant about the matter. Whatever may be said on that aspect of the matter, we reached the climax when the House of. Lords, departing undoubtedly from custom, leaving all questions of legal right on one side, rejected the Budget passed by this House. Here again, the difficulty I am in when I go to my Constituents and say: "How dare the House of Lords tamper with our Budget? "is that I expect to be able to show that our Budget is our work, that we have examined, considered, and passed it. But every year that I sit in this House I see £50,000,000 or £60,000,000 voted without examination or discussion; and when I find the Prime Minister just before he assumes office severely criticising this blot upon our Parliamentary organisation, but nothing is done in six years to remove it, there is a suspicion of cant even there in saying to the House of Lords: "How dare you touch the sacrosanct document which contains the result of our nights and days of deliberation for the financial service of the country?" Be that as it may, the Lords rejected the Budget.

I confess, as one who calls himself a Democrat, I was amazed to hear the Secretary for War say the other day that if the Lords had only left us alone we were quite willing to go on as we were. That is a strange doctrine of democracy, especially in view of the election addresses and the election posters for which the party of which I have the honour of being the corner man was responsible. We went to the country in January of last year on what was by common consent the greatest constitutional issue of the age. What happened? The Government undoubtedly came back to power—but it came back with its majority halved, which rather suggests that, however unconstitutional the House of Lords had been, the average man in the street was not particularly per- turbed about the matter. Perhaps the view that I have expressed as to the inadequacy of the control of this House over the finances of the country weighed somewhat in his mind. January last year, however, is the date on which the policy of the Government on this question starts. Let me recall what then happened. I do not know why it is that we put these things aside so quickly. We had the King's Speech. It was the shortest King's Speech on record. It was the first King's. Speech we had ever had which contained no general programme of legislation. It concentrated attention upon the constitutional question. This was only February of last year, and this is what the Government told us was their policy. After the usual compliments they came to business, and said:— Proposals will be laid before yon with all convenient speed to define the relations between the Houses of Parliament, so as to secure the undivided authority of the House of Commons over finance and its predominance in legislation. So far, so good. Proposals were to be laid before us. Then the Speech went on:— These measures— —that means these proposals; but no one will assume responsibility for the grammar of the King's Speech in these days— These measures, in the opinion of my advisers— a phrase which you will find in no other King's or Queen's Speech from the beginning of Parliament, and, therefore, carrying with it some sinister significance, which one can only guess at, and emphasising enormously the point I am making:— These measures, in the opinion of my advisers, should provide that this House should be so constituted and empowered as to exercise impartially in regard posed legislation the functions of initiation, revision, and subject to proper safeguards, of delay. "This House," if I may again explain the grammar, means the House of Lords. So we have this Declaration from the lips of His Majesty: "My Ministers have decided that the crisis has reached an acute point; they are going now to limit by certain proposals the power of the House of Lords, but concurrently and as a part of those proposals they are to provide for the fresh Constitution of the other House." I come now to the speech of the Mover of the Address. The hon. Member for the Shipley Division (Mr. Illingworth), having acquitted himself with entire satisfaction on that occasion, naturally graduates to the Treasury Bench. The Mover of the Address is supposed—I am never likely to be in that position, there fore I can only guess—to be more or less in the secrets of the Government, and in this connection he used these remarkable words:— Legislation of a most important character is promised with reference to— What?— To the Constitution of Parliament and the relation-ship of the two Houses, and I do not think, in view of the magnitude of this problem, that any surprise will be occasioned that it is the only item sot down for solution. Then, to make the matter quite clear, the hon. Member went on:— I believe it is acknowledged in all quarters of the House, and in public expression has been given to it which, I admit, varying degrees of intensity, that the system of running two assemblies in double harness, one based on electoral principles, and the other on the nominational and hereditary principle, and at the same time possessing unlinited powers, is certainly a fruitful source of Parliamentary irritation and legislative discomfort; hut it is also capable of amendment and improvement in many important ways, and I gather that with this view steps are to be taken to set up an impartial revising Chamber. That was the Mover of the Address. The Seconder of the Address adopted that argument, and went a bit further. He soared into the highest realms of philosophy, and said:— It is a great task to adapt that which is to that which is to be. And he gave a piece of poetry to support his statement. The Mover and Seconder of the Address having thus taken the House into their confidence, as the result of inspiration as to the policy of the Government—a revised Second Chamber and a limitation of powers—were followed in due course by the Prime Minister, who, for the purposes of my argument, could not have used a more completely convincing phrase. He said:— I congratulate my hon. Friend, the mover-, upon his felicity of phrase—' A revised Second Chamber— and I congratulate the Seconder upon his robustness of statement. If that is not a declaration by the Government of an intention to make the reform of the House of Lords a preliminary step, I do not know the meaning of Parliamentary language. But when we come to the motion to go into Committee on the Resolutions there is this oft-quoted phrase. The Prime Minister, having said:— I quite recognise that by going for Veto first we are leaving the powers of the present House of Lords unimpaired."— Continued:— The problem it is true will still remain a problem calling for complete settlement, and in our opinion that settlement does not brook delay. I think I have established my first point, that as a result of the last election last year the party came back into power, and pledged itself to take in hand a comprehensive and composite measure of reform of the House of Lords, and of limitation of its powers in relation to this House. That being so I venture to say that that was a policy which was statesmanlike and just. But, canvass public opinion how you will, you cannot get away from this view, that the general public say: "We will and must have a Second Revising Chamber." I am one of those who believe that there is no tyranny so great as that of an uncontrolled democracy. Any historical student will support me in that. When we consider that in the administration of the law, as compared with the making of the law, we recognise the necessity, not only for one Court of Appeal, but for two Courts of Appeal, who can say there is no similar necessity in regard to the more important matter of creating the law which is to be administered? It is a theory of our Constitution that every citizen knows the law. If every citizen, being a layman is supposed to know the law, surely every judge is supposed to be perfect in his knowledge of the law? Yet we do not allow the judge to say what the law is until some other Court has reviewed his decision And so little is our confidence in the other Court that we say: "We will again review your decision." If you have such provisions against the maladministration of the law as these, surely in the making of the law something of the sort is equally desirable? The other night the Home Secretary used' an extraordinary phrase. He said:— The existence of a Second Chamber is not vital to the Constitution, but it may be vital to the passage of good laws. In other words good laws are not vital: to the working of the Constitution. A Court of Appeal is not vital to the administration of the law, but it is vital to the administration of justice. In the same spirit I venture to say there is not a man: who seriously thinks these things over who does not applaud the original intention of the Government, and who would not have supported the Government in endeavouring to bring about the establishment of a self-respecting and estimable revising Chamber in the shape of a nationally constituted Senate. What are our qualifications to be independent of such a Second Chamber? We come here, as the result of an ad captandum sort of an election, some of us representing 1,500 electors, and some of us representing 50,000 electors. Some of us are specially interested in one subject, and some in another. One hon. Gentleman publicly proclaimed, in a way that did honour to his honesty, if not to his conception of the functions of Parliament, that he came here to preach the gospel. His services were not sufficiently appreciated, and he was not retained. But is it disrespectful to the House, to ourselves, to say that we are, taken as a whole, an omnium gatherum of cranks and faddists, collected from all parts of the kingdom? My own view is, and it is that point of view I wish to press on the House, that the Government made a serious and solemn blunder when they departed from their original policy, which, had they adhered to, would have been accepted with very little amendment by every section of the House, except, of course, the Labour and the Irish parties, as to whom I will say a word in a moment. The Government, having made their proposal, came forward, and instead of producing a Bill to carry it into effect, under the malevolent influence of my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir Henry Dalziel), and of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood)—and perhaps with other representations which did not come to light from other quarters of the House—we had the historical resolutions, and the Prime Minister was induced to abandon his original scheme, and go for Veto only, leaving that reform which would not brook delay to some future date, as to which we cannot get the remotest intimation at the present moment. I cannot help thinking that the long existence of the party system has brought about a condition of political and moral turpitude on the part of its votaries, and that many sections of the House are too anxious to get to the loot before the main engagement begins. I cannot complain of the Irish party, who are perfectly and frankly honest, but I do say, with great respect, and in my capacity in a humble sort of way as a friend of Ireland ever since I have been in political life, that I do not like to hear even the Leader of the Irish party tell us that our difficulties are their opportunities. The phrase does not ring true in my ears. I do not think it is a good foundation for the reform which they hope to achieve. At any rate, they make no bones about it. They say: "A plague on both your Houses; fight out your differences. In the meantime we will take advantage of the opportunity to get that for which we have waited for so long." May I venture to remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that I do not think that this Bill contains the remotest sort of guarantee for the passage of a Home Rule measure. If this Bill passes, and the Government bring forward next Session a Home Rule Bill, and that Bill is played with between the two Houses for two or three years, or by a system of by-elections, and by an organised campaign in the country, it will stand the more chance of tiring the British public than a straightforward and bold policy of presenting a Bill immediately, and allowing it to be passed or rejected on its merits. The Prime Minister, who was in a difficulty with the advanced wing of the Radical party, represented by the two hon. Members I have mentioned, in difficulty with the Labour party—though I think there is more sympathy between the Government and the Leader of the Labour party than in days gone by—being in that difficulty he ultimately gives way. That was not his only difficulty. One cannot help thinking that there may have been discussions in the Cabinet, and I cannot help thinking myself that the recital of this preamble is a modern illustration of the old doctrine of "dishing the Whigs." There is a distinct intention to do something of which there is no indication of any reality at all. It seems to soothe the consciences of the Whig Members of the Cabinet, justifies them to their Constituents, and with their political tenets, but it has not the remotest effect on my mind as a practical politician. We have got the Bill. We have it before us. We no sooner get it than this arises: The Lords took a counter-move. Rightly or wrongly, the Lords said, "We do not believe your Preamble." It may be a deathbed repentance, and they are supposed to be sacred things. We are quite solemn about murderers before they are hanged. But call it that if you like, say the Lords took fright; they said, "We do not believe in your Preamble, we won't be parties to your cutting away our powers and leaving us in the ridiculous position of having no responsible executive power at all; if you will not reform us we will set about it ourselves." That did not suit the Government. That was one of the predisposing causes of the hurried General Election. The Government did not wait for their resolutions to be rejected. They did not wait to send up a Bill to be rejected. They set the red rag of reform before the House of Lords, and said to them: "We are the democratic party and believe in getting the best possible voice of the people; we will not even wait for the new registers to come into force. In October, 1900, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition betrayed the Government by appealing to the country in October; but we are going to appeal at Christmas time, not on the new registers, which are waiting to be used: we will get the will of the people by that one process which is calculated to prevent our obtaining it." So we went to the electors in December. Is a man worthy to be called a democrat, whatever may be the party considerations of loyalty, who does not in this House protest against any Government appealing to the electorate in the month of December, when you only could get five million of voters—not six million as was said—out of twelve millions; and you call that the will of the people. We went to the electorate under those circumstances. The five million votes recorded included plural votes and University representation. Is it, therefore, too much to say that not very much more than one-third of the male population of this country, and that by a narrow majority, constitutes the mandate of the Government at the present moment? That being so, we come here and say the people have sent us to pass this particular measure. "The people of the country," I suppose, means men, women and children. Excluding the last two, we have twelve million male voters, and five million only exercised the franchise. Were the people of Scotland consulted? I do not want to weary the House, but I can give the figures in a moment. Scotland's figures are rather startling. We speak about the will of the people. In Scotland 320,000 people voted for the Government's proposal, and 250,000 against.


What about the unopposed seats?

5.0 P.M.


I am taking the only figures obtainable. Add what you like for unopposed seats, but that is a very small margin. Make it two to one, which is much more than the hon. Gentleman can fairly claim. Scotland has seventy-two Members. Of these sixty-one are in favour of the Government's proposals, whilst those against number eleven. Take Wales. The figures here are more startling still. 120,000 voters voted for the Government, and 60,000 against, exactly two to one. Out of the representation in this House of thirty-one Members there are twenty-eight for the Government and three against. These being the figures, is it not absurd to talk about this House representing in this mandate the will of the people? Is it anything except the accident of the poll? Not many years ago, some hon. Members forget, the Government in power in this House represented a minority of those who voted. When such a thing as that is possible what right have we to talk about the mandate of the people on any particular policy? As I say, the Prime Minister gave way to those representations, and, having given way, we get this Bill before us in its present form. I do not myself know why it is that the main proposals of the Government were dropped. We have never been told. We have never been taken into the confidence of the Government as to why that policy was changed. I personally am one of those who believe very strongly in the necessity for some revising Chamber, and it is for that purpose that I emphasise this aspect of the case. Coming to practical politics, in other words, leaving the Bill, I want to ask what is going to happen? The hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last, twice in the course of his speceh addressed this question to the Government: When you bring your reform proposals forward, are you or are you not going to retain the provisions of this measure? The hon. and learned Gentleman evidently had not the advantage of hearing the Secretary of State for War the other day, because that right hon. Gentleman stated distinctly that it was the intention of the Government in any Reform Bill to retain whatever advantage they would obtain by this measure. That answers his question therefore, and we know this, that when the Government Reform Bill goes through the House of Lords is to have a limited power over legislation and no power over Finance. As far as Finance goes, nobody would wish that it should, but as far as legislation goes we want a revising Chamber which should be a reality.

I see the House of Lords is now engaged in considering a Reform Bill. Laugh at that if you like, but do not set the example which may lead to their laughing at your own Bill when it is sent up to them. That Bill may come down to this House about the same time that your Veto Bill goes up to them, and if you expect your Veto Bill to be treated with respect by the House of Lords you must treat their Reform Bill with respect, not from any principle of high morality, but from motives of self interest. If you ridicule their Reform Bill, how can you complain if they treat with contempt your Veto Bill? When you get their Bill down you must do one of two things, you must reject it or amend it. If you reject it it must be only on this ground, that the scheme of reform is not that which commends itself to you, but you would be bound alternatively then to present your own scheme. You cannot in common political honesty say, in view of your Preamble, we will not have this scheme of constitutional reform and not say what scheme you will have, because you are bound by way of Amendment to that Bill to substitute your own scheme. You cannot get out of it. An HON. MEMBER: "Never give it a day."] What would you say if they took that course in dealing with your own Veto Bill? The Bill of the House of Lords will come down, and you will have to consider it, and I say it is in the interest of the Government to take into consideration their Bill before this Debate is over and tell us what their reform scheme is. That will influence many of us in voting on the third reading. Tell us whether you are going to give full consideration to any reform scheme when it comes from the Lords. Was there ever such an opportunity? The Leaders of the Opposition say that they will give up and abandon the hereditary principle. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The responsible Leaders of the Opposition have said in the course of this debate that they do not any longer claim that the hereditary principle shall be predominant in the constitution of the Lords. As hon. Members know, this House is not free from the hereditary principle. The constitution of the Ministerial Benches is a standing example in confirmation of that principle. Heredity counts in all things, and in none more than in the constitution of a democratic Ministry. That being so, I venture to suggest that you have an opportunity here of meeting on common ground. You would never stir this country on Veto. [An HON. MEMBER: "We have done."] I do not know whether the hon. Member who says that has seen the listless, sleepy appearance of this House in the last few days and the empty lobbies. It led one to consult the policeman in the outer lobby, and my authority says that he has never known the time when there has been so little interest in our proceedings as to the number of people calling in the Lobby to ascertain what is going on.

You would never stir the country on Veto, you will only stir it on a reality, the man in the street is profoundly indifferent to this particular Debate. You can never arouse any interest on the principle of taking two bites at a cherry. What the country wants to see is an end of these endless discussions and an opportunity for a peaceful solution. The British citizen is a stolid phlegmatic individual. He has through having perhaps had natural advantages for years, become a stolid child of nature. He has got into the habit of letting things take their course, but in the end he has relied always upon the innate commonsense of the national temperament. He relies upon it at this crisis. There is to be no revolution, there is to be no fear of any revolution, but there is to be, unless we are careful, political chaos and commercial confusion. Whilst we quarrel among ourselves our trade rivals—perhaps this is a commonplace consideration, but it always weighs with me—will not be lacking in an opportunity of making further inroads upon our markets and commercial prosperity. All this talk about the will of the people at present is cant. The will of the people is this, get on with your business, and as a first condition of getting on with it, adjust your machinery on the lines of common sense. Do not try and work up an unreal revolution. There is no prospect of its success, and I venture before sitting down to say this to the Government, drop the arrogance of office, do not exaggerate the fluke of a rusty old electoral machine into the divinely inspired voice of the people. Recollect that there is an opportunity here for conciliation of all the parties, and there is an opportunity of taking the hand which is stretched across the Table of the House by your traditional enemies. I think that is worthy of consideration, and I think that perhaps those who laugh to-day will look more serious a year or two hence if they miss this opportunity of arriving at an honourable settlement of this long-standing difficulty, not based upon the shifting sands of party, but on the better, more solid, and enduring foundation of the moral sense and patriotic acquiescence of the people.


The hon. Member who has just spoken has made a very interesting speech, and he has brought a detached point of view to bear upon this question representing as he does probably the party of the man in the street, for whom there is no consideration from the Government, or the party behind them. The Prime Minister has indicated to us by giving us four days' discussion on this Debate, that he considers it a matter of prime importance, and I only wish he had shown that in introducing this measure he realised that it was unwise to treat it in the same manner as he would have treated a party measure, and I am sure he would have been wise, as the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken said in his concluding remarks, if he had taken the hand which was stretched out to him across the Table. We believe that in instituting reforms of this kind, and in bringing about reforms of our system of Government in this country, the only means by which machinery could be set up which could be worked without friction is by the instrumentality of both parties in the realm coming together to settle this great question. The right hon. Gentleman thinks entirely differently, and considers that he is entitled to force upon this country a measure which is only claimed to be supported by a very small majority of the electorate. I feel that the party opposite have become hysterical in regard to this question, and that they have repeated their attacks and their abuse of the House of Lords to such a very large extent and on so many occasions that they are beginning ultimately to believe in what they have been saying during the last election. The keynote of all the speeches of hon. Gentlemen was violent abuse of individual Peers. I do not think that can be denied, and I admit that there is a certain amount of intelligibility in their attitude, because when hon. Gentlemen on either side of the House stand before a democracy it is very difficult in regard to measures of salutary beneficence to interest an audience, but it is quite easy to do so when you come before them with a violent attack upon such a body as the House of Lords, and when you talk about gaily caparisoned Peers as murderers and brigands, and insist that the descendants of those Peers are living by blackmail.

I say that that is the way in which hon. Members have been endeavouring to educate the great democracy on this question of the House of Lords. The great exponents of the art are the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary, and I am quite certain that if either of those two right hon. Gentlemen were to engage one of the smallest halls in Whitechapel, or any other part of the East End of London, and announce that they were going to discuss the question of Poor Law reform they would not fill the chamber. This is not the method in which a great constitutional reform should be brought into this House, and it is in the main due to the woefully inefficient manner in which our party system works that it has been adopted. At the moment there are hon. Members on the opposite side who are not wholly in sympathy with this measure that we know from various passages in the speeches that have emanated from Members on the other side of the House, but they dare not support their opinion in the Lobby, because, if they did so collectively or individually, it would mean a vote of censure on the Government. I think it will be within the memory of the House that on a recent occasion when we had a Debate with regard to the taking away of the time of private Members there were a few dissentients, but there was only one of those who dissented who was audacious enough to support his words in the Lobby. I believe the hon. Member for Bethnal Green was the one solitary Member who dared to record his vote against the Government, because there is a party system under which no hon. Member will dare to vote according to his conscience with regard to these measures of reform. It is true that we are governed to a certain extent in this country under an unwritten Constitution, but I do not think it can be said that that unwritten Constitution has worked injuriously to this country. I think if we look at our past record every hon. Member of this House will be proud of it. There is this unfortunate aspect, that, because it is unwritten, and because in that way it differs from foreign countries, it is claimed that in a situation of this kind the Government should be allowed by a bare majority of the electors to force a drastic reform upon an unwilling minority. Hon. Gentlemen opposite assert that there has been pervading the last three elections a definite mandate for this Bill. It is a significant fact that upon whatever discussion this House has been engaged a mandate has been forthcoming on every one of those questions, and it does not matter whether it is Home Rule, taxing the food of the people, or the Parliament Bill. It is impossible that there can be any proof in putting forward a suggestion of that kind. With regard to the election of 1906 I do not think it is possible to maintain that there was a grievance against the House of Lords on that occasion, because the vast majority of those occupying the benches opposite obtained their seats upon an entirely different issue. The Under- Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Secretary of State for War endeavoured to explain that at the last two elections there was a burning and passionate desire on the part of the democracy to have brought into law at the earliest possible occasion this Parliament Bill. With all due respect to what was said by the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway, I venture to assert that the man in the street knows very little about what is going on, and I do not think many electors are able to say what the provisions of the Parliament Bill consist of. The reason there is a majority of 124 in favour of the Government is that the question placed before the electors at the last General Election was "Your food will cost you more." There is no doubt about that whatsoever. It was an ingenious device used to the fullest extent by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and the verdict, instead of being a mandate to alter the Constitution, was simply a fear that if the Unionist party were returned to power a fiscal system would be inaugurated under which the food of the people would cost them more. We have heard various definitions of a mandate. The hon. Member who is titular head for the moment of the Labour party, told us that he considered it was possible for a Member of Parliament to be sent here with a dozen mandates or more. The hon Member is an exponent and advocate of a Single Chamber system, and I suppose he is willing to state that there is a mandate from the country for Single-Chamber Government. I do not think there is any mandate for any change of that kind. When the people consider this question, I think it will be found that it is their desire that we should be governed by two Chambers. After all the proposals we have heard for reform from hon. Gentlemen on this side as well as from hon. Gentlemen opposite, it is unnecessary to say that there is a grievance with regard to our system of Government, and it appears to me that the grievance on one side is against the structure of the House of Lords, and on the other against the manner in which they have exercised their powers. When there is so much agreement on both sides, when we are agreed in the first place that there should be two Chambers; secondly, that the House of Lords needs reform; and thirdly, that the relations between the two Houses should be adjusted, surely the Government are taking an absolutely indefensible position when they say that they will accept no sort of assistance from Members of the Opposition, and insist that the Bill before us is the only way they intend to deal with the question. They say that they intend to force this measure through this House, and force it upon another Assembly. We are told that this measure leaves the Second Chamber intact. After the speech we have heard from the hon. Member opposite with regard to the composition of the House of Lords, this seems to me to be a very curious position for the Government to take up. As a matter of fact the Parliament Bill gives additional power to the Cabinet, and takes away the already small power possessed by the Peers. In the interregnum between the fashioning of the Second Chamber it is claimed that the passing of this Bill will facilitate the passing of measures on which the Government have no knowledge whatever as to whether the people desire that they should become law. It is true that this difficulty could be got over to a certain extent if the Prime Minister were willing to add a Referendum clause to this Bill, but whenever the word "Referendum" is mentioned in this House it is greeted by hon. Gentlemen opposite with a certain amount of merriment. The idea of referring to the people on a direct issue seems to afford hon. Gentlemen opposite an occasion for laughter. When as a tangible instrument of government it is put before them as a means by which they could appeal to the people on direct issues, then it is the one system which they will not under any circumstances employ. What we would like to know is how far this Parliament Bill is going to be a permanent solution. If this Bill once becomes law it is very unlikely that the Government will ever be in such a position as to give expression to what they have put into the Preamble of the Bill. If this vague measure is to remain as a permanent solution, to my mind it establishes an undoubted preference with whatever Government in the future may be possessed of a majority in this House. This Bill establishes the precedent that a bare majority can sweep away any obstacle to the passing of a measure. May I say a few words with regard to the party majority with which we are faced at the present moment. There is no denying that the party opposite is a coalition, made up of sections who profess entirely different opinions on a great many subjects, but because they desire to see the passage of this Bill from ulterior motives they have banded them- selves together in support of it. Surely a great constitutional reform should not be passed into law by any action of that description, but should be the evolution of time and ought to be carried out as is the case in all foreign countries only when there is a deliberate and obvious majority of the electors returned declaring that that reform should be carried out. The Irish section of this coalition consists of seventy or eighty Nationalist Members who have never shewn any affection for the Constitution of this country. They have always stood aloof from anything in connection with the Constitution, and even within the last few days they have deliberately taken up the position of standing aloof during the Coronation festivities. Under those circumstances it is hardly to that section we should look to assist us in fashioning the Constitution of this country. Hon. Gentlemen comprising the Labour party certainly are honest in the conviction that they desire to see Government by a Single Chamber set up, but I do not think that any Labour Member ought to have any grievance against the House of Lords. The measures for which the Labour party have shown their strongest convictions, and for which they have been returned to this House—I referred to such measures as the Trade Disputes Bill and the Miners Eight Hours Bill—have been passed and have received the acquiescence of the House of Lords. Those are measures which have met with the approbation of the Labour party. With regard to the propositions which have emanated from hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House, some of them are good and some are very bad, but they all err in one direction, and that is they desire to establish a strong Second Chamber. I am all in favour of establishing an independent Second Chamber, but I realise that once you establish a strong Second Chamber, once you establish a Chamber of elected Members elected in the same way as we are in this House, you establish a body which is bound to compete with this House, and I say that if ever we do see a revolution in this country, it will be when two Chambers elected in the same manner and with equal powers compete for mastery in managing the affairs of this country. Some suggest the election of Members of the Second Chamber, and that men ought to be nominated to take their place in the Second Chamber to revise legislation. I maintain that you will have a great difficulty in selecting such men, and you will not get an impartial Chamber if it is filled up by gentlemen of the same type and specimen as those 500 men who-are anxious to join the House of Lords at the present moment in order to provide a majority in favour of this Bill. Some hon. Members of this House—and I am one of them—have been described as "birds of passage." I believe the hon. Member who made that statement (Mr. Hughes) went so far as to call us "gorgeous birds of passage." The simile is apt in some respects, but not in this, because we pass from here never to return, and I do not think that is the habit of a bird of passage. Speaking for myself, I can only say it is a great misfortune at the present moment—and I think it might be one of the reforms of the House of Lords—that there should be any necessity whatever for these birds of passage entering another Chamber when it is possible for them to remain in the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman who made that remark said we develop into birds of paradise, and I suppose he intended to convey that we reached a higher plane of existence by that transition. I entirely disagree with him. I venture to say it is a far prouder position to-represent a section of the democracy of this country. I can only say that that hereditary principle which, so far as I can see, is condemned on all sides, is the great safeguard for maintaining a Second Chamber which shall not compete with this Chamber in predominance in relation to the legislative affairs of this country. If you disregard that hereditary system: which has been handed down to us from generation to generation, and have an elective and a nominative system, you will disregard a system which will maintain the House of Lords, as subordinate to this Chamber. The solution of this great question must be one of compromise, and I believe it will be so in the end. It is impossible for the Government to force the Parliament Bill on the people of this country, and they will be bound to come to this side of the House and compromise. It will be better for all parties concerned if that compromise is brought about at no very distant date. There is no use denying we are at the present moment discussing measures of great party significance; they are nothing more than that; and we are wasting precious time of the House when there are great measures such as a measure of Poor Law Reform, on which we are all to a large extent agreed, which could at no distant date be brought into law if only the House of Commons would turn its attention to them.

I should like to go into the indictment which hon. Gentlemen opposite hurl against the House of Lords. There is first of all the Education Bill. It was perfectly possible for hon. Gentlemen to have introduced that measure again in this House. It only broke down because the Government were unwilling to accept a reasonable Amendment brought forward by the House of Lords. We have heard passionate disquisitions by hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House on the Licensing Bill. When it had been introduced into this House and had been passed by an unprecedented majority of which hon. Gentlemen never cease to boast, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Churchill) took occasion to go to Manchester and consult his constituents. Notwithstanding that there was this great measure of progress before the country, which had been passed by an unprecedented majority in this House, the right hon. Gentleman received a negative vote, and was forced to flee across the border to find a seat in order to return to this House. That was a measure of democracy, but when the democracy were consulted on the question, such an important, such an influential, and such a popular Member of the Government became the rejected of Manchester. There was another measure which we have not heard mentioned, which was passed by an unprecedented majority, and it is known as the Irish Councils Bill. Ostensibly the Irish Councils Bill was passed by the democracy in this country. A rumour of it was sent across the sea, and another body, not the iniquitous House of Lords, tore the measure in two and threw it in the face of the right hon. Gentleman who is now Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Birrell). Those are two very significant measures, and all I can say is that, so far from the unprecedented majority in the House of Commons, of which right hon. Gentlemen make boasts representing the will of the people, they did not represent the will of the people in Manchester, and certainly not of the National Convention in Ireland.

We are asked, in our travels in the country, by various electors whether it is fair that measures brought forward by the Conservative party should be passed, and that measures brought forward by the Radical party should not be passed. Is it very likely that anything very revolutionary will come from hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House?

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Churchill)

Tariff Reform.


Tariff Reform has not been submitted to the House of Lords yet, and it is not at present a matter of practical politics. At present no measures of a revolutionary character have been brought forward by the Conservative party. We are told there should be fair play, and that if Radical measures are rejected Conservative measures should also be rejected. That is putting it on a footing which is entirely unintelligible. The crux of the question is the uncompromising attitude the Prime Minister is taking up with regard to it. The Leader of the Opposition has offered his assistance to him in a manner in which we who support him would have expected, and I say the Prime Minister will be wanting in his duty to the people of this country if he allows anything to stand in the way of bridging over that divergence of opinion which exists at the present moment. It is for that reason. I support the Amendment which has been moved.


I am one of those who, although a Member of the last Parliament, did not venture to address the House. I hope, therefore, to have that indulgence which is so generously, and I believe invariably, given to one who addresses the House for the first time. I cannot claim to take part in the discussion of this great question as an expert on constitutional law or anything of that kind, but simply as a business man who is only able to bring to the discussion of this momentous and far-reaching subject such business principles and, I hope I may add, such common sense as are generally applied to the usual affairs and transactions of every-day life. Many difficulties and obstructions are placed in the way of almost all legislation as it passes through the ramifications of this House, not to mention the still more formidable barrier which exists in another place, and which has for so long stood in the way of legislation desired by the great majority of the people of this country. In spite of the utter impossibility of rushing legislation through this House, we are told by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that in the event of the Parliament Bill becoming law—and I have every confidence it will become law—Members of this House will be immediately seized with some sort of delirium or consuming dementia, if I may use the expression, which will impel them to bring forward measures which have not been approved of and which are against the expressed wishes of the people of this country. Such a contention I for one can neither understand nor admit; nor do I think it possible that any such condition of affairs would possibly ensue. I am not here to decry the electors of the country and much less those who did me the honour to send me here; nor shall I, I hope, ever take part in any proceedings for the purpose of belittling the authority and dignity of this House as the predominant legislative assembly in our Constitution, although, if one is to judge by appearance, that is the policy which has been adopted by those who sit opposite.

I do not propose to follow the arguments which have been used by the Noble Lord who has just sat down. They are not new to us. They are, however, absolutely contrary to the views held in that part of the country which I have the honour to represent. I support the Parliament Bill, not because it goes so far as I myself would undoubtedly be prepared to go in sweeping away the absurd anomaly of the Second Chamber which now exists, but because I recognise, like so many others, that it is the first step and perhaps the only step, based upon peaceable and constitutional means, which can be taken to bring to an end the intolerable state of affairs which Cannot, I think, be longer permitted in a self-governing democratic country. I refer, of course, to the Veto of the House of Lords over legislation passed by a majority of the Members of this House, That Veto, as is well known, is only brought into effective use when a Liberal Government is in power. The grievance, as a matter of fact, is now fully admitted by the whole of the Tory party, and by many, if not the majority of the hereditary Peers themselves. It is not necessary to remind this House that it is but a short year ago we were told that in almost every respect we had an ideal Second Chamber, an infallible instrument of the people's will, and there was not a more impartial and disinterested body of men to be found from one end of the country to the other. Does anybody say that now? Is there anyone who could be found foolish enough to believe that the House of Lords were either impartial or disinterested when they rejected the Budget of 1909? Were they impartial or disinterested when they rejected the Bill to abolish plural voting? Were they impartial or disinterested when they rejected the Small Land Holders Bill for Scotland and many other Bills I might mention which were passed by large majorities in this House during the Liberal Administration of 1906–10? It is futile to pretend, as is done by the majority of hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite, and I think it is worse than absolute nonsense to allege that when the Liberal party were returned to power in 1906 they had made up their minds to provoke a quarrel with the House of Lords. The Liberal party have had to contend with the same unfair and partisan treatment for generations. It is hardly necessary to remind the House that the whole of Cobden's life, or at any rate his political life, was engaged in fighting against the abuses of the House of Lords. Mr. Gladstone, in what I believe was the last speech he delivered in this House, expressed his profound conviction that the question of the relations between the two Houses of Parliament must sooner or later be brought to an issue, if free institutions and representative Government were to survive in this country. I think that the question of the relations between the two Houses has been brought to an issue. The electorate has twice given its decision at the polls, and that decision, as everyone knows, was not in favour of retaining the absolute Veto of the Second Chamber. We are told by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Liberal party has no real mandate to pass this Parliament Bill into law. It is asserted also that the Liberal party were guilty of deceiving the electorate at the last General Election by keeping Home Rule in the background. Further it has been asserted that the Government are going to bring in and pass into law by stealth, and behind the backs of the people of this country, a Home Rule Bill. As far as I am concerned, I made it perfectly clear in every speech I delivered during the last election that I was entirely in favour of granting a full measure of self-government to Ireland on the lines laid down by the Prime Minister in January last year. As regards the mandate for the Parliament Bill, it is surely extraordinary and audacious to allege that there is no authority for us to pass this Bill, and it is still more extraordinary and audacious to say it of Scotch Members in this House, of which I have the honour to he one. Speaking for myself, and I believe I am giving voice to the feeling and opinions of the great majority of the people of Scotland, I was sent here with the fullest kind of mandate, not only to support and vote for the Parliament Bill, but also to vote for the abolition of the hereditary House of Peers, as at present constituted. What did "The Times" say on the 17th December last, after the result of the elections was known. I do not know whether these extracts have been already quoted in this House, but it can do no harm to give them again. "The Times" made the following statement:— We accept the view that the country has been consulted on the Parliament Bill, and has confirmed the verdict of the last election. Some days later the "Glasgow Herald," an ardent supporter of the Opposition, and a Tariff Reform organ, made this statement:— We must therefore, whether we like it or not, allow that the Parliament. Bill has been accepted by the country. In view of these admissions by most ardent supporters of the Opposition, it is futile and even ludicrous, if I may say so without disrespect, for the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition and those who sit with him and behind him, to allege as they do in this House that the Liberal party has no mandate to carry this Parliament Bill into law. We are told further that, concurrently with the Parliament Bill, the Government must bring forward a scheme for the reconstitution of the Second Chamber, as adumbrated in the Preamble of the Bill. I would ask, Does any sane person believe that, without first restricting the absolute Veto of the House of Lords, it would be possible to bring about any scheme of reform in that Chamber which would be fair or just and evenly balanced for both the great parties in the State? I think we might as well endeavour to restore order in pandemonium without first chaining up the evil spirits supposed to inhabit that place wherever it may be. Lord Rosebery clearly foresaw that the peers would never consent to be reformed on popular and democratic lines, as demanded by the people of this country. He admitted that in a speech he made last year in the House of Lords, when he introduced his famous Resolutions for the consideration of their lordships. After all, peers are but human like other men, and it is the merest mockery—in my opinion it is a cruel mockery to tell Scotchmen, Welshmen, and Irishmen, or even the great majority of sensible Englishmen, that they would ever surrender the privileges which they have too often abused until forced to do so by external pressure and by the forward march of democracy in a country which once for all has resolved to get rid of this incubus which has so long barred the way to progress. Speaking as a Scotch Member, I hope the House will permit me to quote some words used by Lord Rosebery. With the Tory party generally it is a favourite means of argument to go through a process of what they call analysing the majority supporting the Government on this question. In other words they attempt to prove that we are all supporting the Bill from ulterior and different motives. Have the Unionist party no ulterior motives in posing as the champions of the House of Lords? The House of Lords is a mere branch of the Tory party. It is part of the Tory organisation which has been used on many occasions to destroy and reject Liberal measures. We in Scotland are quite willing to admit without any elaborate analysis from our opponents that we have ulterior motives in desiring to put an end to the tyranny of the House of Lords. One of the main motives, though not by any manner of means the only motive, is to be found in the fact that until that is accomplished, we shall never be able to obtain a just and equitable settlement of the Land question in Scotland. That question is a most urgent and vital matter for that part of the United Kingdom. It is not only of local importance. It is of national importance. I fully sympathise with the desires of Ireland and Wales, but I certainly do hope, and the great majority of the people of Scotland demand, that, when the Parliament Bill is passed into law, as it must be, the long delayed and pressing needs of Scotland may receive serious attention at the hands of the Government and of this House.

If the House of Lords committed political suicide when it rejected the Budget Bill, the Peers had most certainly previously driven a good many nails into their political coffin when they destroyed and rejected the Small Landholders' Bill for Scotland. I wish to quote some words which Lord Rosebery addressed to the House of Lords, and I take the liberty of doing so, in order to impress upon this House the feeling which exists in Scotland in regard to this great question. Lord Rosebery said:— Now my Lords, I cannot flatter your Lordships by saying that the objection of the Scotch to the hereditary constitution of this Chamber is ever likely to be removed. Strangely enough it is an hereditary objection to an hereditary principle. It is born in their bone and their blood and their flesh. It has come to them; from a century back. That, I feel, is very true. It was well put by Lord Rosebery. The Noble Earl then proceeded to tell their astonished Lordships—I admit he did succeed in surprising a good many of them—about a placard which Mr. Gladstone had seen on his way from his father's house in the North, through Dundee, to London, at the time of the great Reform Bill of 1832. That famous Dundee placard referred to the resistance of the House of Lords to that great measure—a resistance which, as everyone in this House knows, brought this country to the verge of revolution. That placard, which left such an impression on the mind of Mr. Gladstone—in fact, I am told he never forgot it even to the end of his life—bore these words:—"To Hell with the bloody tyrants." That is strong language, but it expresses in a few terse words in the English language the feeling which continues to exist unabated and unmodified; a feeling which has indeed become magnified, and more deeply embedded and impressed in the breasts of the great majority of the people of Scotland. They are not necessarily in favour of Single-Chamber Government although it has been so often stated that they are in the course of this Debate. They certainly have had quite an extensive experience of Single-Chamber Government during the tenure of power of the party opposite. But they are determined, like the great majority of the inhabitants of these islands, that this Bill shall become the law of the land, so as to secure the supremacy of this House, not merely in matters of finance, and the power of the purse upon which our liberties depend, but, likewise, to secure that the will of this Representative House shall prevail in all legislation which has been approved at the polls by the majority of the people. I do not wish in any way to impugn the honesty of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but as a humble Member of this House, I would venture to warn them to hesitate with regard to the course they evidently intend to take on this matter—a reactionary course and downward—one of vainly endeavouring to bolster up the privileges of monopoly and of a landed aristocracy as mainly represented in the House of Lords.

6.0 P.M.

The hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Bottomley) said he did not think there would be any revolution in this country. I certainly hope that that may be the case. The British people are a patient and long-suffering people and a conservative people in many things, but there may be a limit to long-suffering if the Constitutional means of remedy put forward in the measure now before the House are resisted in another place. That Bill has been before the people of this country on two separate occasions and has been accepted on each occasion by a majority of the people as a whole. Like the great majority of my fellow-countrymen, I am neither a Socialist nor, up to the present, a revolutionist. I do not deny the same rights and privileges to peers and to lords as are enjoyed by other people. When this Parliament Bill is carried into law I have no reason to doubt that after due time and consideration is given to this great subject, reform on popular and democratic lines will follow. But this, I think, we may feel quite certain about, that the majority of the electorate of this country will neither permit nor tolerate that any integral part of a reformed Second Chamber shall be based upon the hereditary principle, nor that any man shall have the right to sit and vote in that Chamber simply because he is, what everybody knows he cannot help being, the son of his father.


I claim from the House the same indulgence as was granted to the hon. Member who has just sat down on the occasion of rising to address it for the first time. I should not even on this occasion venture to address the House were it not that I think I can submit one or two points for the consideration of the House not touched upon before. But, before I come to the measure itself and to the consideration of it, I desire to say I decline to agree with some of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, because I found in my own Constituency and many constituencies near where I live—and I have no objection to appeal to the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk as to whether what I say is not true—that round about the Eastern Counties the great factor in the last election was, firstly, Old Age Pensions, secondly the Land question, and thirdly the question of Tariff Reform. In my humble opinion the Parliament Bill was not fairly and squarely put before the electors in the Eastern Counties, or at any rate, it formed but an infinitesimal portion of the addresses of hon. Gentlemen, and they did not really fight their elections upon that measure at all. That is my humble opinion, and I put it forward for what it is worth. I decline to admit that the Lords were not impartial in rejecting the Finance Bill. In my humble judgment the Finance Bill was an atrocious measure. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may have their opinions upon that subject, but I have mine, and I should certainly have rejected that measure if I had the power, because it put a millstone round the necks of certain people in the land while others were let off scot free. It was not a just measure of taxation, and I cannot, for the life of me, see where the charge of partiality lies against the House of Lords for rejecting it.

I come now to the Bill, and I examine it from two points of view—one, the value of this particular Bill, and the other the question of the general reform of the House of Lords. There is one test that might be applied to almost every measure which comes before the House, and that is the test of the reductio ad absurdum. Let me give one small illustration of what I mean. Up to the year 1896 every man in this country was free to dispose of his property as he thought fit. Occasionally eccentricity and flashes of humour also crept into testamentary documents, such as is found in the will of our immortal Shakespeare who left to his wife, as her only bequest, his second best bed. The reason for that is not clearly explained, but it stands as a monument of humour or eccentricity upon the part of our great dramatist. Up to that year everyone could dispose of their property as they wished, but, as is well known to lawyers, at that time a certain Mr. Tennyson died, and decreed by his will that the great bulk of his property could not be touched for three generations. It was to be tied up and allowed to accumulate, so that at the end of the time specified it was calculated it would have amounted to £140,000,000. That was thought to be against public policy, and the country revolted against it. It was the reductio ad absurdum, and the legislature amended the law in the direction in which we have it now. May I be permitted to apply the reductio ad absurdum to this Bill as presented to the House. We know that, after two years, any measure passed by this House must go through the legislature and become law. What is the effect of that? I heard it most ably argued last night by a Member of the other House that right hon. Gentlemen sitting upon the Government Bench would be almost sure to take to themselves certain powers. Under this Bill they fixed the duration of Parliament for five years, but there is no reason, if this Bill passes, why under another Bill they could not give themselves a longer lease of power. They think they are Heaven-born legislators, and that it would be a great pity that they should be dethroned from power and the Opposition put in their places. They might even say they were afraid, if the Opposition came into power, they might make use of the powers contained in this Bill to keep themselves in office. We have had examples of this, not only in this country, but in other countries; but it is unnecessary to look beyond this country for an example of what might happen.

The Long Parliament has been already mentioned. We know that the Long Parliament continued in power for twenty years. What was left of it towards the end was called the "Rump Parliament," and I would suggest that as there are great issues at stake, this Parliament might be called the "stake" Parliament, and that these two Parliaments might go down to posterity as the "rump stake" Parliaments. I venture to ask why we should now have a Suspensory Act, instead of the permanent measure foreshadowed in the Preamble of the Bill Just as adversity makes strange bedfellows, so diversity of interests may possibly unite parties where each has something to gain. I admit it is quite conceivable right hon. Gentlemen opposite might surrender what is vital to the country, in order that they might not have to surrender their places. It is difficult to discover an exact reason why we should have this proposed Suspensory Act. The only explanation seems to be this. There are two parties in this House that have something to gain by it. There is the Irish party which thinks it can get Home Rule, and there is the party opposite that thinks they can be maintained in power. I have heard it contended that if Home Rule was put before the country it would be received with acclamation. I think hon. Gentlemen opposite would be shy to submit Home Rule to the country in the same way that they would be shy to submit Home Rule to a properly reformed Second Chamber, because they think it would be rejected by any ordinary good Second Chamber, and therefore the Suspensory Act is to be passed, obviously because through it alone can Home Rule be obtained and by it alone can right hon. Gentlemen opposite hold their pride of place. This Bill as it stands is not elastic for very plain reasons. We know perfectly well that the Lords never would dare to reject a measure which was really wanted by the people. It has been said over and over again, and it is a mere truism, that the Lords dare not reject a measure required by the people. I think right hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to be confirmed Utopians in the matter of the Constitution and ought to be incapable of being affected by a kind of political delirium tremens towards its destruction, because we have noble examples of men who have risen to the highest places in the land under our Constitution. And what is open to them is open to every man to rise from the lowest point of the ladder to the highest, and in these circumstances surely this Constitution is a Constitution under which we are thriving.

If hon. Members opposite are sore be because their measures are rejected, we can always reply, "Let them put these measures before the country and try the remedy of the Referendum and see whether they or we are right." And if the country pronounces favourably upon their measures they will be passed into law. We want to preserve the aristocracy because it is the main prop of the Throne. I would not venture that merely as an opinion of my own. I can quote much higher authority and give a long list of eminent persons to support that theory. If any hon. Gentleman will read Alison's "History of Europe" he will find several useful quotations upon that point. Here is what Alison himself says:— No other monument is required to the memory of Mr. Pitt and Mr. Burke, but the British Empire as they left it at the peace of Amiens, unconquered by force, undivided by treason, unchanged in Constitution. There we have Mr. Pitt on the one hand and Mr. Burke on the other as witnesses of the value of our splendid Constitution. And again let me quote Polybius. He says:— With the Government of the multitude and the destruction of the aristocracy comes every species of violence. In this country we do not know what that means, and we hope we may never know.

Here is Napoleon, who was supposed to be a democrat of democrats:— Aristocracy is the true support of the Throne, its moderator, its lever, its fulcrum. The State is like a vessel without a rudder. And he adds:— A reasonable democracy will not seek more than equal capacity in all to rise to the highest dignities. I have only one more matter to speak of, and that is a short comparison between the conditions of this House and the House of Lord". I come here as a new Member, full, of course, like most new Members, of ideas and noble aspirations, my pocket bulging with Bills for the benefit of my fellow creatures, and I find at once, as I step into this arena, that I am not the legislator I thought I was going to be, and that I am exactly like hon. Members opposite, a mere nonentity and a registration machine, registering, or opposing, as it may be, the acts of beneficent Governments, and I find the House clogged up to the full, its wheels not working, and almost nothing doing. I know hon. Members opposite would like some form of devolution, would like to see the United Kingdom divided into petty nationalities. I too, would like to see some devolution, but on a different scale from that. Then I turn to the other House, and I find a businesslike assembly, an assembly which is the very model of business. When there is a set debate is there any Chamber in the world which can show such a fine and magnificent spectacle? It has the finest orators, and everything goes like clockwork. I will not commit hon. Members opposite to anything I say, but I, at any rate, enjoy a debate in the House of Lords more than I have ever enjoyed a debate in the House of Commons. I regret to say I only hold that forth as an instance of what the House of Lords is, that it is a working assembly, and deals with whatever you choose to send up to it, which is very little, and we sit here and talk and do little else besides. I should have thought in my innocence as a new Member, that this is the House we should begin on, and that when we had reformed ourselves we might find some reason for asking the House of Lords to reform themselves also.

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. Runciman)

The speech to which we have just listened I take to be a perfectly sincere and honest utterance from one of the very few old-fashioned Tories in the House of Commons. I must confess, without prying too closely into the secrets of party assemblies, I should like to know how exactly the hon. Member expressed his views in the Committee Room upstairs yesterday when, I understand, the hereditary principle was thrown over by the Conservative party.


We were all Unionists there.


If I may take it that the hon. Gentleman's is a fair sample of the view which was expressed upstairs, the House will not be surprised that we shall decline to accept a proposal which was born on such an occasion. I notice that the hon. Gentleman relied on authorities, amongst others Sir Archibald Alison, who wrote a great history of Europe, I believe some time in the first half of the nineteenth century. May I remind him that Mr. Disraeli once described Alison as Mr. Wordy who wrote his history in twenty volumes to prove that Providence was always on the side of the Tories. No more suitable author could the hon. Gentleman have gone to for support for his principles. I will pass to a speech made earlier in the afternoon by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Clyde). He had three main faults to find with the proposals of the Government. The first was that it was unaccompanied by any proposal for the reform of the Upper House. The second was that constitutional safeguards are always necessary, and that this Bill removes them, and the third was that the delay provided by the Parliament Bill was not sufficient to secure the country from mistaken or hasty legislation. He seems to think that the Parliament Bill removes all constitutional safeguards. I would suggest that the most valuable constitutional safeguards that we have in this country are to be found not in the other place, but in the constituencies—that the real basis of Conservatism in this country is to be found in the constituencies, and not in the other place. That is a matter of fact, as we all know in this House. There is a solid substratum of Conservatism in the English people on which the Tory party can always count. That is so nearly balanced by Progressive and Radical opinions, which by their majorities have sent us here, that very little movement in public opinion at once places in predominance in this House, as well as in the other, those who represent Conservative opinion. That is the main safeguard.

But the Bill itself provides safeguards. It provides certainly for delay, and, although the hon. and learned Gentleman said the delay was too short, I should like to point out that every great contentious measure which can survive two years, not only of criticism here, but on every platform in the country, must have some goodness in it. It is the experience of all politicians that they win their elections on their programmes, and they lose them on their achievements. I am speaking now purely as an electioneerer, and I say the difficulties that every party has in an election is withstanding the attacks which are made on the measures for which they them- selves have been responsible. That would go on during these two years with activity, with bitterness, with acumen in every constituency in the country, and the attack which would be made on Members in their own constituencies would be quite sufficient to make them live up to the standards of moderation, which apparently are still the most popular in England. This two years' delay, the hon. and learned Gentleman said, would not be sufficient, for during that time the Government might have failed to interpret what the electorate means. It may have failed in the first instance, but I think we may guarantee that, in a very short time, its eyes will be opened. But if a Government with a great majority behind it, dependent absolutely on the support of that majority, fails to interpret the will of the people, who else has authority to express that view? I can understand the views which have been expressed by the hon. Member (Mr. Ingleby), for he believes in the divinely inspired insight of the hereditary legislator. But that has been thrown over even by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, and the only means known to us of ascertaining the will of the people is through the elected representatives of the people. In repeating a truism of that kind, I must apologise to the House, but it is really the whole basis of the representative system, and when the representative system is attacked I think we are justified in repeating even the stalest of true principles.

The next point that the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Clyde) made was that repeal is by no means a safeguard, if mischievous legislation is passed. He said Governments have not been in the habit of repealing the measures of their predecessors. I do not know how far he is likely to carry that intention of policy, but if it is the accepted doctrine of the party to which he belongs, that repeal is not to be resorted to by great parties when they come into office, and that they are not to repeal the work of their predecessors, I must congratulate the supporters of the Government on the fact that we now have an admission from the Front Bench that the greatest financial proposal of the last twenty years will go unchallenged by those who have most denounced it in the country and in the House. I will remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that when we came into office in 1906, almost the first thing we undertook was a measure of repeal. I am sure he would not think of riding off on the word "repeal," but the Education Bill of 1906 was meant to upset the 1902 Education Act. The Government put it forward with the deliberate object of providing public control, which the 1902 Act had withheld from schools which were receiving financial support from the rates. The 1902 Act may not technically have been repealed, but it was a reversal of policy. If any satisfaction is to be got out of that phrase I give the hon. and learned Gentleman the benefit of it. I take another case, the Licensing Bill. That was a definite reversal of policy. It is quite true the Government did not propose in a single clause that that Act should be wiped out. There are other and better ways of dealing with measures of which a great majority would disapprove, but I should like to know exactly how far this doctrine is to be applied to finance. I have suggested that the 1909 Budget will not be repealed if hon. Gentlemen adhere to their doctrine. Does that mean that Free Trade finance is to be established in this country because it has been affirmed, once, twice, fifty times by the decision of the majority in this House? Does that mean that the Tariff Reform League is to be dissolved? Does it mean that the Land Union is no more to do any work in this country? Such doctrines cannot be put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and they know perfectly well, whether under the Parliament Act, or under any other measure, repeal must, of necessity, be made one of the functions of the House of Commons, and one of the functions of the Government, if their majority demand it of them.

But the attack which has been made on the Government is that we are now putting forward this Bill with undue energy and haste although we are supported by a mere chance majority—a chance majority of log rolling factions, I think, was one of the phrases used. I am not surprised that this language is used in the course of this Debate by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Abuse of victors is an undignified, but by no means an uncommon, source of consolation to the defeated, and they appear seriously to have forgotten that on three occasions in a General Election they have been totally defeated. It is not a chance majority that is now in power, it is a majority which has three times received authority from the constituencies.


made an observation which could not be heard by the Official Reporters.


The Noble Lord would be only too glad to have had a majority of 120 behind him. They do not seem to realise what is the majority. They imagine that it is a majority made up of the Irish party. If the Irish party did not come near the House of Commons at all we should still have a majority for the Bill. I go further, and say we are not dependent on the Irish votes, and I am sure members of the Nationalist party will forgive me if, for the moment, I put them out of the arithmetical calculation. We are not dependent on the Irish votes. They can only throw us out by a coalition with the Conservatives, and I fail to see why it should be unpatriotic for the Liberals to go into the same Lobby with Irishmen and a patriotic act for Conservatives. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would be only too glad if they could persuade the Nationalist party to go into the Lobby with them and vote against this Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite forget that they themselves existed for a long time with a coalition, and for my own part I am not at all afraid or ashamed of a coalition. It simply means that men who have not previously acted together have a common object in view, and that for that common object they are prepared to work and act together. If the right hon. Gentleman opposite admits that there is nothing to be ashamed of, then why does he twit us with being supported by a coalition? It is just as good to have a coalition majority as to have one made up of men all answering the same Whip.

I leave the matter of the majority on one side for a moment while I examine the alternatives they have put forward. The alternative put forward by the other side has not been explained to us very closely in detail. What we know of their proposals has been communicated to some extent to the Press. We do not know what happened last night, but it is possible that last night's meeting slightly upset their plans. We do know that two proposals were put forward by men in high authority. Lord Lansdowne, in November last, rather hurriedly enunciated a scheme for the reform of the House of Lords, and Lord Curzon since then has told us of a scheme which he himself has devised. In these reform schemes, so far as we know them, there appears to be the greatest care exercised to prevent a Liberal majority at any time finding a place in the House of Lords. I hesitate to criticise Lord Lansdowne's November scheme, for I understand it is now discarded. I hesitate to put any numbers to his scheme, but putting any numbers to it you like, I find there is no way in which Lord Lansdowne's scheme could be worked which would not provide a permanent Conservative majority in the House of Lords. He would suggest something like 400 Members, and he says it should be made up of three parts—the first part to be selected from those who had held high office, Governors, Viceroys, and ex-Cabinet Ministers, and possibly some Admirals or Field-Marshals. Those who have held high office will not increase. Looking round the House of Lords for men who have held high office, there may be forty or fifty from whom to select. The next category is to make up halt by gentlemen sent there as representatives of county councils and of great towns. The remainder were to be selected from among the hereditary peers by the hereditary peers. Let us see how this would work. Take the first category—those who had held high office. It would be a generous estimate to say that half were Liberals and half were Tories. I take the next category—those sent by indirect election. It would be generous to say that half were Liberals and half Tories. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Anybody who knows the country knows that that would be a generous estimate. Then I take those elected from the hereditary peers by hereditary peers. I think it would be a generous estimate to say that thirty would be Liberals and 130 Conservatives, and that would be only on the ground that Lord Lansdowne was prepared to adopt proportional representation in selecting his hereditary peers. At the end we find on adding up the figures providing the new reformed House of Lords, that the quintessence would be the hereditary principle with a few outside people introduced, and a permanent majority of well above 100 Conservatives. That scheme may have gone by the board, and we may hear no more of it.

I come now to Lord Curzon's scheme. In that there were to be fifty Members of the House of Lords, selected because they had held high office; 100 were to be sent there by indirect election, representing the county boroughs and county councils, and fifty were to be nominated by the Prime Minister first, and when the first fifty were elected the Prime Minister was to fill up vacancies as they arose, and 100 were to be elected from the present peers by the present peers. If you examine this new House of Lords, you will find that almost the same result is arrived at, only the permanent Conservative majority is rather less. As to those who have held high office, I cannot find that there are tweny-five Liberals in that category. Out of the 100 to be elected by county boroughs and county councils it would be a generous estimate to say that fifty would be Liberals. Again, as to the fifty to be nominated by the Prime Minister, if every one of those nominated were Liberals, and taking the others as elected on the principle of proportionate representation, and adding the figures once more, you have a permanent majority, in spite of the fifty elected by the Prime Minister, of over 100 Conservatives. That is not fair. It is suggested that, having got a House constituted in this way with a permanent Conservative majority you are to solve all the difficulties between the House of Lords and the House of Commons by joint Session. That means that the Liberal majority, under Lord Curzon's scheme, was never to get its own way, although the Executive had to obey its opinion. Always the House of Lords will be able to override the Liberal Government if its majority was below fifty. But if a Conservative Government had a majority of ten the course would be perfectly clear. That is not fair play. Under a system of that nature we would have in a rather less acute form very much the same grievance as we have at the present time.

I would ask, in reference to these reform schemes, Where have the Bishops gone to? The Noble Lord opposite (Lord Hugh Cecil), who will probably speak in the course of the Debate, will no doubt tell us how they are to be dealt with under these schemes. There are no Bishops included in them, for the hereditary peers are to be a minority in the House. Who is to guard the interests of property if there is such a thing as a hereditary instinct in the hereditary peers alone to know the will of the people? If the hereditary principle is right why touch the lords at all, and if it is wrong why have the hereditary element? If the placing of their reform scheme on a business-like basis is a thing for which hon. Members opposite would live and die, I would ask what power they have to put it through. There is no power to put through any scheme in this House that will provide them with a permanent Conservative majority in the House of Lords, and they have no power to put it through the House of Lords. They have not squared the "backwoodsmen" in either of the schemes. They are to be obliterated; they are to cease to be; when the "backwoodmen" come into line and are all pre-pared to give up their rights, then I think the Conservative party may say that they are able to bring forward their proposals and get them through. It is true that they may even in this coming summer see them producing a Lords Reform Bill in the House of Lords, but are they sure that there will be a majority for it? Is it at all likely that the majority would be of the same opinion? If it was at all likely to be passed by the House of Lords would it be passed by the House of Commons? I believe that the proposal for the reform of the House of Lords is put forward now by hon. Gentlemen opposite, just as a famous proposal was put forward at last election, very much with the idea of saving the face of the Tory party, and with the view of putting a better appearance on their case. They know that the hereditary principle is unpopular in the country and they know perfectly well—everyone of the young Tariff Reformers knows—that they cannot hope to win a Tariff Reform election if they carry the Lords on their backs. It is a commonplace of their war cry. I should like to ask why are the Tories so attached to Reform—why are they so fond of reforming the House of Lords? I have no doubt that the reason will be given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand Division (Mr. Walter Long) when he speaks to-morrow. He is always perfectly straightforward and frank, and he will tell us that the reason they are in favour of the Reform of the House of Lords is because they will remain strong against Home Rule. That is the reason why they are in favour of a reformed House of Lords.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) talked about a national settlement. What he means by that is some scheme that will save them from Home Rule. That is what he means and nothing else when he talks of a national settlement. It is to save them from Home Rule, but there are a great many other things. Their real aim is to perpetuate the Tory majority in the House of Lords by entrenching them behind a less vulnerable fence than the present House, and then to devise means of preventing Home Rule going through that House. Is it reasonable that they should invite us to consent to a reform of the House of Lords on their lines? Why should we consent to a scheme under which the majority must remain permanently opposed to the policy to which we are pledged? I think both Chambers ought to be answerable to the people. I think the reformed House of Lords should be one which will add to and not take away from the representative character of the House, which will throw sidelights across party cleavages, which will not thwart the will of the people but express it more efficiently and have the power of criticism and delay, and which will not erect a permanent barrier in the path of popular progress. If Conservatives will agree to a scheme of that kind then will be the time to parley with them. All we ask is fair play. This country is very largely divided into two camps of opinion as well as two organisations. There is the Liberal on one side and the Conservative on the other. There are the Labour and Radical parties as well, but for the purpose of striking political opinion in this country you may say that it is almost equally divided between Conservative opinion and Liberal opinion, and yet, although that be the case, the country has three times declined to have anything to do with the policy of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. What I want is fair play from a different point of view to theirs. I believe the majority chosen by the country should have as much power to work in a Liberal direction as in a Conservative direction. I believe it should have as much right in this House to do justice to Ireland as to coerce Ireland. We should have as much right to give Ireland self-government as to give her landlords cash. We should have as much right to give Nonconformists freedom as to preserve the privileges of the English Church, and we should have as much right to promote temperance legislation as to strengthen the position of the liquor trade. I do not think it matters much how they constitute their House, but the principle which must lie behind any Second House that can be satisfactory to the progressive party in this country is that it shall be answerable to the people as this House is answerable, selected by the people as this House is selected by the people, and going about business in the same way as we are invited to do it.

After all, the principle of British Government is representation, representation balanced by checks, and inspired by mutual confidence. I may point out one serious evil in the reform schemes which have been put forward by Lord Curzon and Lord Lansdowne, the only schemes of which we know anything on their side at the present time. Once for all they do away with the right of a peer to sit in the Second House in the future. I should regard that with equanimity. But if the reform scheme were to go through, and Peers were only to sit in the Second Chamber provided they were selected by other hereditary Peers, or sent from outside, it means that the prerogative of the Crown, which under certain circumstances is the only way of cutting through a deadlock at the present time between the two Houses of Parliament, would be swept away. That is a serious proposition which we cannot agree to. The Constitution is balanced by checks. The only check we know at the present time upon the House of Lords is the prerogative of the Crown. The check on Ministers is the control of a majority in this House. The check on this House is the electorate, and the check on the Crown is the granting of supplies. It would be grossly unfair if the Second House in our Constitution were to have the right to do what they please, while the check upon it was to be taken away. That I should regard as a great public danger. Hon. Gentlemen opposite chaff us, because, they say, our Parliament Bill has no permanence. I should like to know what permanence there is in these reform schemes? There is not very much permanence about their application to Tariff Reform, yet it served a very useful purpose for a short time. The Referendum is the other way of getting through a deadlock between the two Houses which hon. Gentlemen put forward, when we say that the method of joint session would be grossly unfair to a Progressive majority in this House. The Referendum is to get us out of the trouble. By its means the will of the people is to be truly ascertained.

The Referendum cannot, unfortunately, be applied to a deadlock between the two Houses as simply as some hon. Gentlemen suppose. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire made up his mind during the election, that it could not be applied to the Budget. If I read his opinion aright, the Budget of 1909 could not have been submitted to a Referendum, and especially any Budget for which he may be responsible, any Tariff Reform Budget, is not in the future to be submitted to a Referendum. Why not? Not because the Referendum is wrong in principle—he thinks it right in principle—but because it is technically impossible. How absurd it would be to submit a Budget to the Referendum. I think I know the human nature of my countrymen well enough to know that they would vote "No" against any tax that they would have to pay, and "Yes" in favour of every duty on any article that they wanted to sell. I take two good samples of a deadlock between the two Houses. I take the Budget of 1909, and I take next the Education Bill. The Budget at once is dismissed. It is dismissed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire. What of the Education Bill of 1906? I have some acquaintance with that Bill. I have taken the trouble recently to look up the points on which the two Houses disagreed. I find it is absolutely impossible to put, I will not say in one clause, but to put in twenty clauses, the points of disagreement between the two Houses. Imagine a Referendum being taken on the points of disagreement. This is the kind of question you would have to put to the simple electors: "Are you in favour in Clause three, page 5, line sixteen of the words 'may also, if they thnnk fit' being inserted instead of the word 'shall? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Balfour) recognises at once the impossibility of that. I would point out that the deadlock which arose between the two Houses on that Bill was over an accumulation of such Amendments, which he knows perfectly well during the Conference which went on with regard to those Amendments, were not things which could be put down on one sheet of paper, but covered something like seven pages of foolscap in print.

The idea of taking a Referendum on each one of those Amendments is absurd. Then how else would you conclude the deadlock between the two Houses? Would you put the question to the electorate: "Are you in favour of the House of Lords Amendment to the 1906 Bill?" The electorate does not know what the Amendments were I venture to say there were not many men on those benches who did know what were the Amendments. It would be impossible to put that question to the electors. Everybody knows that during the time when the pourparlers were proceeding there were suggestions of giving way on some points, and of granting a little more on others. The whole deadlock between the two Houses was such that it could only be readjusted by a readjustment of details, and the proposal that it should be settled by Referendum is most absurd. I am not the only person who holds that view. Lord Curzon used to say so quite openly. Only a few years ago he declared that you could not apply a Referendum to a Home Rule Bill. I agree with him you could not apply it to a Home Rule Bill. You might apply it to the phrase Home Rule, but you could not apply it to a measure. Unfortunately deadlocks arise between the two Houses, not on phrases, but on measures. Is the Referendum such an easy way of getting over the difficulty. I say it is certainly not easy. The only way in which you could make clear in the constituencies the points of disagreement between the two Houses is by the ordinary methods of electioneering. As one of my right hon. Friends suggested the other day, the Referendum would always mean something in the nature of a general election. You would have to have canvassing, speeches, meetings, the distribution of pamphlets and leaflets, and placards which would be decorating or disgracing the walls. The whole machinery of a general election would be put in motion. During that time what is going to happen in Parliament? Are Members of Parliament to be tied down here every time a Referendum is taken, while their opponents are free to canvass the constituencies? Or is the House to adjourn during the campaign on every Referendum? How often each year is the Referendum to be taken? In one year of Parliamentary work three Bills of first-class importance were thrown out by the House of Lords. That would have meant three Referendums in the course of that single year. When is a Referendum to count?

Here is one of the important points which right hon. Gentlemen opposite apparently have discarded as unimportant. Are you going to allow a Referendum to decide once for all grave matters of public policy, if only 20 per cent. of the electors go to the poll? The experience of other English-speaking countries where a Referendum is taken is that it is most difficult to get a large poll. Also we know what is the experience of nearly all municipalities in municipal elections. At present in numbers of municipalities you cannot get 50 per cent. to poll. If there were a Referendum, which could not be understood, I venture to say you would be lucky even if you got 25 per cent. of the electors to go to the poll. A majority of that 25 per cent. according to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, is enough to decide for all time a matter of great public policy. Last of all, we come to one objection to the Referendum which has been already referred to. We are only to have a Referendum when the House of Lords desires it. I hope that the Noble Lord below the Gangway, who is not only a minority in this House but in his party, would recommend to his Friends elsewhere, as well as here, the right of a minority to ask for a Referendum, as well as the right of the House of Lords to ask for it. Why should you not give a minority the same right which you are going to give permanently to the House of Lords? But I say even then that the Referendum is an unworkable instrument, and when we are told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire that it is the only way of getting over caucus control, I say that he has largely exaggerated the power of the caucus. I have seen something now of electioneering and party organisation during the time I have been in this House, and I believe that the power of a caucus over a party is easily exaggerated. Party Government in England is one of the blessings of our public life. It always provides us with an alternative Government. There are always gentlemen under the party system who are prepared to take our seats and offices if they get a chance. That has a great influence on those who are in office. In vulgar phraseology it keeps them up to the scratch.

It makes them continuously cautious and steady, and I believe that England owes a great deal of its liberty to party organisation and to the fact that its successes, which have been won by prolonged struggles, have been retained by the vigilance of a party organisation. That is the good side of the caucus. It may have a bad side too; but organised combination is just as essential to defence of liberties as to attacks on privileges. Whatever harm is done by the caucus is far more in details than on large principles. On general matters of detail, as every Member of the House knows, there must be a certain amount of rope given to the party manager. Those who comply with the wish of the party manager on points of detail and procedure may do so without injury or disadvantage to themselves. Party exigencies, however they may sometimes conflict with the higher claims of political morality, I believe are never such as to persuade any large body of Members in this House to obey the party whip rather than the dictates of their own conscience. Some men it is true with equal honesty will go farther in support of party than others. Some of us can make larger mental reservations than others. But when great national issues are at stake very few men are prepared to sacrifice their own self-respect, and I believe in these emergencies Members of the House have not hesitated to express their individual opinion or lacked the necessary courage to act on them. If you are not going to allow the House of Commons to work under the party system and representative Government to have some play in the Government of the people, I see no other way in which you can bring about Government by democracy. The system of representation in this House is still in progress. I quite agree with what has been said in this Debate that our representative system has many faults. One is that under it we who are sent here by the votes of the constituencies find that some of our supporters have too many votes and some have no votes, and that the balance of votes varies. Some are in large constituencies, and some are in small. But however imperfect that system is, it is more completely the image of the people than any other scheme that has ever been devised by man. As a result of two centuries of progress we have created in the House of Commons the best way of ascertaining the tendencies, wishes, and opinions of the people of this country. The drift of modern thought is all in favour of popular power, and the only way of achieving it is by allowing the people of this country to govern it. That is the only way now of governing the people of this country. This is the plan which we put forward, the Crown retaining constitutional control of the House of Lords whether reformed or unreformed. There is only one way now of governing the people of this country, and that is by allowing them through their own duly elected representatives to govern themselves.


The right hon. Gentleman has adopted a somewhat unusual course; I understand we are met here to discuss the Parliament Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman having been put up to support it, and apparently finding that he has little or nothing to say in its favour, he has spent at least five-sixths of his speech in discussing quite a number of different schemes, none of which, so far as I know, are matured, or supposed to be matured at the present time, instead of defending his Bill.

7.0 P.M.

Upon these different schemes to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred I may have a single word to say before I sit down. In the first place, let me say a few words in reply to the right hon. Gentleman's criticisms of the admirable speech which was delivered by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Edinburgh (Mr. Clyde) this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman takes exception to the statement of my hon. and learned Friend that a delay of two years was no safeguard whatever against dangerous legislation. And why? Because, said the right hon. Gentleman, whenever you pass legislation, whether it be good or whether it be bad, you are certain, sooner or later, to be attacked in different constituencies of the country. I think that is very probably true; but that was on the assumption that we were coming to an election before this dangerous legislation had passed. But supposing we did not reach an election—and that is the very point we have to consider, as the object now is to render the House of Lords powerless—supposing you carry your measure, what safeguard is there in a delay of two years? The very mischief we hoped to avert may have been carried beyond hope of recall. The right hon. Gentleman went on to speak of repeal, and he stated that my right hon. Friend had said there never could be any repeal of legislation that had been passed. I did not understand my right hon. Friend to make any unqualified statement of that kind at all. Of course, it is always difficult, and generally undesirable, to repeal a great measure which has been discussed at great length and carried by both Houses of Parliament, but there may be occasions, and some occasions have been cited during the course of this Debate, when it would be the duty of Gentlemen on this side of the House, in their opinion, to make efforts to repeal legislation of a specially disastrous character. Then the right hon. Gentleman attaches immense importance to the majority which has been secured by the Government on three successive occasions. Yes; that is all very well, but majorities come and majorities go in a very wonderful manner. In my earlier-days we were always in a minority, and, before that, the Tory party was in a minority year after year, and Parliament after Parliament, but yet they survived it all, and I have very little doubt in my own mind—though perhaps I may be no longer able myself to take part in it—that we shall have a majority again, and that all the predictions of the right hon. Gentleman will be falsified.

Then he accused us of twitting the Government with the fact that they were only supported by what we call a coalition majority. I do not remember that they have ever been twitted at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] It has been stated as a matter of fact that they have a coalition majority, and so they have; they do not deny it themselves; but I do not understand, when "I speak of the coalition majority by which they are supported, that I am especially twitting the Government; at all events, when I make reference to the coalition majority myself, it is not done with that object or with that intention. The right hon. Gentleman dwelt at considerable length, first, upon Lord Lansdowne's scheme. I understood him to say that Lord Lansdowne's first scheme was abandoned. If he thinks so, may I say, with great respect, that I think he had better wait until he sees what the new one is like that has been announced. He went on to Lord Curzon's scheme, and he made some observations with regard to that which seemed to me not to be at all apposite to the present occasion, because, as I say, we are here to discuss the causes, the effects, and the consequences of the Parliament Bill which is now before us. One word more on another point. The right hon. Gentleman asked why we are in favour, why are the Tories in favour, of reform of the House of Lords. I think I can best answer in a single sentence, because, in our opinion, the time has come for it. That covers everything. Having endeavoured to reply to such observations as the right hon. Gentleman has offered in the present position, perhaps he will forgive me if I pass to the consideration of the causes, effects, and possible consequences of the Bill which is now before us. I am anxious to do so because I think I approach this question from a somewhat different standpoint from most of those which have been suggested up to the present. I say this because I hold very strongly that the chief and great determining factor of the whole of this controversy in which we have been engaged has been the question of granting Home Rule to Ireland, and the unbending purpose of the hon. and learned Member for Water-ford (Mr. John Redmond) to wring that concession from the hands of this Government in the constitutional crisis with which we are now confronted. The immediate cause of the crisis, of course, was the rejection of the Budget of 1909 by the House of Lords. But the Irish party in this House, and the people in Ireland were quite as much opposed to the Budget, and hated it quite as much as the Unionist party in England. The best possible proof of it is that, on the Second Reading they voted against it en bloc, and on its final stage, before leaving this House, they absolutely declined to give it the smallest support of any kind or description. Their Leader himself actually stated, at a later period in the Debates, that there was never any question of their voting for the Third Reading of the Bill; on the contrary, the only question before them on that point was this, whether they should vote against it, or whether they should abstain from voting at all.

That being so, in the natural course of events, when the Bill was re-introduced in the new Parliament, the Irish party would have voted against it, and in that case both the Budget and its authors would have perished out together. And I heartily wish that they had done so. The action of the House of Lords would have been completely vindicated by the people to whom they had referred it, and, under these circumstances, there neither could nor would have been any constitutional crisis at all. It is for that reason I want to examine as closely as I can what it is that has brought us to the position in which we are at present. There may be other causes, of course, of that I am quite aware, besides the Irish question. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, said the other night that the Liberal party came back in 1906 determined to pick a quarrel with the House of Lords. The Home Secretary, who followed him, took great exception to this statement, and he disputed it and denied it with some emphasis. He adduced a number of other reasons which were plausible enough in themselves, I admit, but not sufficient in my judgment at all to account for our present position. I believe in what my right hon. Friend said that he was perfectly right and I should have endeavoured to make this position good to-night by certain references to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But as he is not in his place, and as I do not like as a rule, to attack a man in his absence, I shall leave that for some future possible occasion, when I may have an opportunity of doing so. What I should have done would have been with the object of showing that even on the Front Bench opposite there was a considerable amount of support for the policy of what was so well known as "filling up the cup" against the House of Lords. When my right hon. Friend made that statement the other night I think he was going very near indeed to the truth of the whole matter. Having abandoned any attempt to charge the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, let me proceed to the argument which would have naturally followed if I had been able to make good the attack I should have made upon him. There is an old quotation, which I am quite aware he has contradicted, but on very insufficient grounds in my opinion, with reference to his having caught the House of Lords like rats in a trap. I think it would be of some interest to consider what the trap was. The trap, of course, was the Budget, and nothing could have been better devised in my humble opinion to create a quarrel between the two Houses of Parliament than the Budget as it was first introduced in this House.

I do not think it was very much better at the time when it left this House. But even then it was not the introduction of the Budget, but it was the inclusion of a vindictive and sweeping Licensing Bill, a question which was pretty sure to make difficulties with the Irish party. And as the election drew near it became more and more necessary every day to do something to secure the support of the Leader of the Irish party and so save the Liberal party from a smashing defeat, which they would have most certainly suffered, upon the Budget on which they had gone to the country. How was it done? It was done, as everyone knows, by two concessions made by the Prime Minister, one in the Albert Hall on 10th December, when he announced—but only, remember, after the Dissolution had been announced, after Parliament had been actually prorogued, and within a very few days of the issue of the Writs—that Home Rule would be included in the policy of the Government. The other assurance given was that Ministers would neither assume nor hold office unless they were able to secure the necessary safeguards for their legislation. We know that this was so, and that that was how the support of the Irish party was obtained at the General Election, because the Leader of that party told us so himself in this House. He said it was on the faith of that pledge—and the Home Rule pledge—that they supported the Government at the General Election. It was on the same day, and I remember the occasion perfectly well because of an observation that fell from the then Member for North Louth, who I hope may soon be- come a Member again, he told us he went down himself into Yorkshire and Lancashire and organised the Irish vote in those counties in a way in which it had never been organised before, so that they supported the Liberal Government with unity and enthusiasm that had never been known before. I have no doubt that that was perfectly true, because undoubtedly at that time Lancashire and Yorkshire were weak spots in the Unionist campaign. Probably the results in Lancashire and Yorkshire by the aid of the Irish party contributed mainly to our defeat at the election.

Be that as it may, it was by those means and by the bait of Home Rule that this coalition majority, with which we have been charged with twitting the Government, was obtained at the very last moment, and that the General Election was won, not by any constitutional crisis, not for any love whatever of the Budget, but entirely by the support of a party which hated the Budget as much as we did ourselves. It was not all plain sailing even then, because when the new Parliament met, and when the Prime Minister found it desirable to take measures to correct some of the impressions which had been formed from the statements he had made at the Albert Hall and elsewhere with regard to the securing of guarantees and safeguards for his legislation, he found almost at once that, although the support of the Irish leader had been obtained for the election, it was not by any means assured for the passing of the Finance Bill into law. That was a very different question altogether. The Prime Minister went on to make his celebrated statement, in which he pointed out that to ask for a blank authority for the indefinite exercise of the Royal Prerogative in regard to a measure not submitted to or approved by the House of Commons, was a request which no Minister could properly make, and which no Sovereign could be expected to grant. The moment he said that, the hon. and learned Member for Waterford was up in arms at once, and he made it perfectly clear to the Minister and to the Government that there could be no support for the Government whatever at that time unless it was made perfectly clear to him that any safeguards or guarantees necessary for the passing of Home Rule would be absolutely forthcoming if they were needed. He pressed those views on the Government again and again with great persistence and force, and the climax was reached on 28th February on a Motion made by the Prime Minister to take the whole time of the House until Easter. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford, on that occasion, concluded his speech with a threat in these significant words:— Unless I heard farther from the Prime Minister on these two points about the guarantees to be asked from the Throne and the suspension of the Budget, meantime my friends and I will vote against the Motion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1810, col. 609.] That would have meant a crushing disaster for the Liberal Government, and it would have gone to perdition at once. The results make it perfectly clear that the Prime Minister found that he had to surrender to the Irish Leader on his own terms, and the Member for Waterford, of course, got his own way. What does it all mean? It all means this, that under the guise of the Parliament Bill, the hon. and learned Member for Waterford is to obtain Home Rule for his country, and his object is to be gained by a measure that will remove the great stumbling block, namely, the House of Lords, which at present stands in his way. That really is the whole position which, in my humble judgment, we have got to consider at present. He is to pass a Home Rule Bill, and how? He is to pass it over the heads of the Lords and behind the back of the people. That is the real issue upon which we shall be asked to vote in this House to-morrow. A safer vote I never gave than the vote I shall give against it, and a safer vote I never shall give. As to Home Rule, the right hon. Gentleman repeatedly stated that that matter was perfectly clear to the people, and that the question was most prominently put before the people. How was it put? It is perfectly idle to suppose that a nebulous sentence of six lines in a speech at Hull, and referring his hearers to a still more nebulous statement in a speech at the Albert Hall, made more than a year ago, is a way in which you could possibly submit an enormous question of this vast and unlimited importance to the people of this country, and to believe that you have made it clear that they will understand what they are going to vote for, and that you are asking them to pass a Bill during the present Session in order that the Home Rule Bill, of which neither you nor I, nor any single person in the country knows at this moment the real bearings or real consequences, or has the slightest idea of, shall be passed.

There is another thing to be remembered, and that is, that this generation have either forgotten or have never heard of the convincing arguments which were used in the prolonged Debates in both Houses of Parliament in those days, and which ultimately convinced the people of this country that it would be a most mischievous measure. I cannot find language in which it would be sufficiently courteous to describe my opinions of the action of the Government in this matter. All this is being done with regard to a Bill which has been twice submitted to Parliament and twice rejected, once in this House by the House of Commons and once rejected by the House of Lords, and when it was referred to the people it was found that the people supported the House of Lords for their action then. I have not the slightest doubt they would do so again unless you prevent the people having that opportunity by the Bill you are now asking us to pass. That was the one great issue they had before them at that time. It was the one question on which they all understood that they had to say "Yes" or "No," it was as good, or better, than any Referendum in the world at that time, for their minds so to speak, were absolutely concentrated on that one issue and on nothing else. Now, as far as possible,. it has been kept back from their view altogether. As for this Bill which is now before us, it has been so much discussed I need say only one single word upon it, I regard it simply as a means to an end, of forcing Home Rule through Parliament before we have another election. It creates government by Single Chamber,. that is the beginning and the end of this Bill as far as I am concerned. It seems to me, it has been thrashed out pretty well already. That is evident, I think, from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who spoke to-day. In any case, I venture to think our course on this matter is perfectly clear. What interests-the country at this moment, if anything in politics interests them at all, is, I believe, to know what the plans of the Government are, first with regard to reform of the House of Lords, and secondly as to Home Rule in Ireland which is kept, and has been kept in the dark altogether, and whatever the Prime Minister may say, until he discloses his hand, I shall repeat this statement on every occasion which offers here and in the country. What we do know is, that it is proposed to destroy what is admittedly an effective Second Chamber now, or as hon. Members opposite would say, a Chamber which is too effective. They propose no substitute whatever for it, and until the schemes of the Government, both for the reform of the House of Lords and as to providing a substitute for it, and also the full scheme they have in their mind for the establishment of Home Rule in Ireland, until they have been disclosed our plain and our bounden duty is to do all that is possible, all that we can by any means accomplish, all that is within the most strenuous efforts of any political party in the world, to defeat and to overthrow it.


The House has listened to the right hon. Gentleman as it always does, with that interest and attention which the survivor of by-gone ideas is entitled to receive. The right hon. Gentleman spoke as an aristocrat. I perhaps may be allowed to offer a few observations from the point of view of a democrat who believes in democracy, and who is fully aware of the dangers and the weaknesses of democracy, and as one who believes that representative institutions are the very best way in which to give effect to democratic aspirations, and the very best way of obtaining good results from government. It has been urged very often in the course of this Debate, and on the agitation upon this Bill, that there is no section of this House or of the country who have less reason to feel a grievance against the House of Lords than the Members of the Labour party and the organised workers of the country. If it could be with truth said that the House of Lords had never opposed the will of the people, or if it could be shown that the Labour party and the workers of the country had no grievance against the House of Lords, on the ground that it had rejected or mutilated measures that they were anxious to see passed into law, that would not lessen, indeed it would scarcely touch, the fundamental objection that we have to the continued existence of that body. But if hon. Members opposite wish to join issue upon that question I am quite prepared to meet them. I am prepared to maintain that the Labour party and the organised workers, the great toiling masses of this country, have a long indictment of grievances against that hereditary Chamber. I am not going into ancient history to support that statement. I might show how for seventy years the House of Lords has always opposed the extension of popular government and the desire of the majority of this House to give education to the child of the working man; but, for the sake of my present argument, I will confine my references to the last five or six years.

The Labour party has no grievance against the House of Lords! Reference was made by a Noble Lord to the fact that the House of Lords did pass the Trade Disputes Bill. It is perfectly true that they did, but we know the remarks with which the passing of that measure was accompanied in the House of Lords. The remarks made by Lord Lansdowne on that occasion have often been repeated. The Lords did not pass the Trade Disputes Bill because they loved it; they refrained from rejecting the Trade Disputes Bill because they were afraid of the democratic power behind it. There was another measure promoted by the Labour party, and passed without a Division in this House, having for its object the prevention of the importation of foreign blackleg labour into this country during the time of a trade dispute. It was claimed by one of the speakers on the other side that the House of Lords always do their business in a thorough workmanlike manner, and that they were far more devoted to the discharge of their duties than Members of this House are. The Lords rejected this particular measure by a vote which in the aggregate did not amount to sixty Members out of a House of more than 600. This House of Lords, which it is claimed has never established a grievance which can be felt by the Labour party, rejected that measure, which went to them with the unanimous approval of this House, on the ground that it might be necessary in the interests of capital to import alien labour at the time of a trade dispute. They also rejected a measure, not altogether a Lalbour measure, but I think one of the greatest Social Reform measures ever passed in the House of Commons: I refer to the Licensing Bill. The Labour party were whole-hearted in support of that measure. As a party we recognise the disadvantage under which the working-classes of this country suffer by being exposed to the temptations of the drink traffic; and therefore we are anxious to give our support to every measure calculated to lessen those temptations and to encourage sobriety amongst the democracy. There were also other measures. During the last Session of the 1906 Parliament the House of Lords rejected two measures in which the Labour party were very deeply interested. One was the House Letting (Scotland) Bill which they destroyed because they were unwilling that it should be passed into law unless it was accompanied by a provision which would have meant the disfranchisement of tens of thousands of working men in Scotland. They also rejected a very simple measure intended to place the working men of London in the same position as regards being able to transfer their votes, as is enjoyed by householders in the large divided towns. The result was that at the last election something like 40,000 working men in London, I believe, were unable to record their votes. This is not only a general grievance; it is a personal grievance. I myself have lived in London for more than four years. I have never during twelve months simply owing to the fact that time ceased to be a householder and ratepayer. But yet at the present moment I have no vote, and I shall have no vote for that I happened to remove once from one part to another.

The indictment we have against the House of Lords is, I say, a long one. Our objection to that assembly does not rest mainly upon the fact that it has always opposed democratic progress and always been opposed to the realisation of the aspirations of the people. We have a fundamental objection. For good or for evil we have accepted democracy as the principle of government. A hereditary House of Lords is inconsistent with democratic government and democratic institutions. Ever since 1832, when the franchise was partially extended to the people, when the principle of representative government was established, the feeling against the continued existence of the House of Lords has been getting stronger, and every extension of the franchise has made that Assembly more of an anachronism and more of an archaic institution. I have amongst my colleagues one who has in his Constituency nearly 30,000 voters. There is also in the Constituency one peer of the realm. That peer of the realm cannot vote for my hon. Friend, but in this Parliament that one resident in the Constituency has more legislative power than the whole of the 30,000 electors. Is that a state of things which can be defended? It is the negation of democracy. It makes every extension of the franchise a mockery, and it makes that part of our Constitution the laughing stock of the world. There is only one sensible and logical way in which to deal with an institution like that, and that is to sweep it away into the same limbo to which other feudal institutions have been consigned. I know that the Bill now before the House does not propose to do that. It does not propose, except by an expression of opinion, to deal with the question of the Second Chamber. One of my colleagues has stated that he does not hold the opinion that a majority of the people of this country are in favour of the abolition of the House of Lords. I do not share that view. So far as we have been able to ascertain the popular opinion upon this question, I think it goes to prove that the country is in favour of the abolition of the House of Lords. The great organised bodies of Labour are all united in demanding the abolition of the House of Lords? There is no settlement so rapturously applauded in public meetings as the demand for root abolition of that Assembly. I think that if the Liberal party for the last twenty years had taken a more determined and forward attitude upon this question they would have discovered that the country were behind the proposal for the complete abolition of the House of Lords.

The question of a Second Chamber is, I say, not in this Bill except in the form of a pious opinion, nor has that question ever been before the country. That is the reason for my opposition to the Preamble of the Bill. The question before the country at the last election was the question of the restriction of the Veto. Of course there were individual Members who favoured the abolition of the House of Lords. Every one of the forty-two Members of the party, with which I am associated advocated the abolition of the House of Lords, and we were the only party which came back to this House increased in numbers. I object to this Parliament dealing with the question of a Second Chamber, because that question has never been definitely put before or discussed by the country. I have a open mind on the question. I am prepared to consider any proposals put forward for a democratic Second Chamber; but I confess I do not know of any Second Chamber in the world which is not reactionary and which does not act as a drag upon legislation. I can see no need for a Second Chamber if the one Chamber is really representative of the will of the people and elected upon a wide and democratic franchise. Because, if this House of Commons were elected under a full franchise, it would represent the will of the people, and its legislation would be an expression of the desires of the people. In that case, if the Second Chamber were also representative of the people, and if it acted in accordance with the mandate it had received, the only thing it could do would be to support the decisions of the House of Commons. If it supported what was done by the House of Commons, I see no reason for its existence at all. If it did not support what was done by the House of Commons, and if the House of Commons were representative of the people, the Second Chamber would not represent them, it would be reactionary, and, therefore it would not meet with the approval of the democracy.

What are the reasons advanced in support of the Second Chamber? There has been no argument advanced except that it would act as a drag upon a too impetuous progressive House of Commons. A Second Chamber is advocated on the ground that it would prevent too drastic legislation being carried into effect. This is the very reason why I am opposed to a Second Chamber. I do not want a drag on progressive legislation. I do not want a drag on the democratic aspirations of the people. I do not think we need ever fear that this House of Commons will go too fast. The danger is that, even if it be elected under a wider franchise, it will still lag behind the aspirations and desires of the people. What are the proposals in regard to the reconstruction of the House of Lords, or the establishment of a new Second Chamber?

We know very little of what the Government proposal is. We had a statement made yesterday by the Minister for War that the Second Chamber he would like to see constituted would be one which was in sympathy with the popular will. Well, I would not object to a Second Chamber that was in sympathy with a House of Commons that was democratic in its character, and democratic in its legislation. But I would object to a Second Chamber that was sympathetic to a Tory Government. And I do not think that we shall ever see two Chambers in perfect sympathy with each other, and realising the ideal of— Two souls with but single thought. Two hearts that beat as one. I do not think that we shall ever see perfect sympathy between the two Chambers unless the lower Chamber is engaged in some kind of retrograde legislation. The Minister for Education dealt with the proposal that has been put forward by the Members of the House of Lords themselves. Are they such as any democrat can support? Hon. Members opposite and Members of the House of Lords will have no reform of the Second Chamber unless it is a Chamber which will continue to be powerful as a protector of vested interests, and of monopoly! Hon. Members opposite say they want a strong Chamber; that they want an effective Second Chamber! Effective for what? Effective to prevent legislation like the Budget of 1909! Effective to prevent legislation like the Licensing Bill! Effective to prevent legislation like the Plural Voting Bill! The House of Lords are not so blind as not to be able to see what is coming. They are able to see that the people of this country are waking from their sleep; that the scales have fallen from their eyes. The House of Lords in rejecting the Budget did not reject it, because they believed with Lord Rosebery, that that Budget was "the end of all things." They threw down the gauntlet then because they knew that that was only the beginning of far greater things. This reform of the House of Lords is a simple desire on the part of the aristocratic and plutocratic interests of this country to strengthen the Second Chamber, so that it will be a far stronger protector of their interests and a far more powerful bulwark of vested interests than is the present House of Lords.

8.0 P.M.

Not a single Member sitting on the opposite side of the House has, I think, attempted to defend the House of Lords, as it at present exists. Why? Because whatever the House, owing to its indefensible character, does now carries very little weight. But suppose that we had a reconstructed Second Chamber—especially a reconstructed Second Chamber which had been created by a compromise between the two chief parties of the State? That would have a very strong position indeed. It would assert, and it would exercise, far more powers than the present House of Lords dare to exercise because of its present well-known indefensible position. Well, that is the kind of Second Chambers that hon. Members opposite want to establish. That is not the kind of Second Chamber we want to establish. There can be no compromise between them and us. We can have no Second Chamber which contains hereditary legislators. We can have no Second Chamber in which property interests are more strongly represented than are the interests of democracy and the working people. Why, this scheme, which has been referred to by the Minister for Education, is so grotesque that it would be laughed to scorn if it were put before any audience of intelligent working men. The House of Lords to contain a number of Peers elected by the great body of Peers! How many Peers are there in the country?—about six hundred I believe. Six hundred Peers out of an adult male population of 12,000,000 are to elect 100 members of the Legislative Chamber. Thirty-four thousand working-men electors are to send one Member to this House. And it is in order to give effect to an ideal like that that hon. Gentlemen opposite are appealing for our sympathy and our support. I have no right to speak for Liberals, but I misjudge their Radical sentiments altogether if they would give a moment's countenance to such a proposal. If it were impossible to agree upon a compromise by the negotiations which took place in the Conference, it is impossible to do it now. A compromise cannot be agreed upon without involving the Liberal party in what the right hon. Gentleman described just now in another connection as perdition. If the Liberal party were to give their support to any reform of the House of Lords which gave representation to the hereditary element, or to any reform of the House of Lords which gave undue representation to property, then that compromise accepted by the Liberal party would mean the damnation of the Liberal party without the hope of resurrection. We support this Bill not because it abolishes the House of Lords, or because it promises in the dim and distant future to give us a popularly elected Chamber. We support this Bill because, in the first place, it has been before the country, and the country has endorsed it. There is a majority of the people in favour of it. We support this Bill because it is a temporary expedient for relieving an intolerable position. I was reminded by an hon. Gentleman opposite a day or two ago of a description of the Veto—which I had quite forgotten—which I gave twelve months ago when this question was before Parliament. I described the Veto Bill as being an instrument for gagging and binding the Peers so that they would not struggle so violently as they were being taken to the guillotine. That may be blunt or bold, but that is the real reason why we are supporting this Bill, We want to take away as much as is immediately possible of the power for mischief of the House of Lords. We would not support this Bill if we thought it was going to be a final settlement. We are not supporting it because it is a logical Bill. I do not think it is a logical Bill. I should be sorry indeed to think that the House of Lords was going to remain for many years with the powers for mischief that they will have after this Bill becomes law. But I do not, by the way, share the fears which are expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite as to what is going to happen when the Bill does become law. The right hon. Gentleman who preceded me repeated what several Members have even advanced, that this Bill means Single-Chamber Government. If it did it would the more strongly be recommended to me, and, I think, my colleagues too. But it does not establish Single-Chamber Government. This Bill will leave the House of Lords a great many of its powers for mischief; and I think we may be prepared for the fact that in the future the Lords will exercise their powers under this Bill to a greater extent than ever they have done in the past. We have been told that the passing of this Bill will degrade the House of Commons. No, it will not do that! It is in order to raise the dignity, self-respect, and usefulness of the House of Commons that we support it. The House of Commons is in a degraded position to-day. It spends its time—weeks and months—giving the best of his energies to legislation, and then all its efforts are made of no avail in a ten-minute conference of peers held, not within the precincts of Parliament itself. That is degrading Parliament, and it is a position that Members of the House of Commons are not going to be content with any longer. Again, of the fears expressed by hon. Members, one of the most absurd and grotesque that was ever advanced even in connection with any controversy—and it has been repeated—was that in this Bill there is nothing at all to prevent a despotic House of Commons from repealing the Septennial Act and giving itself a perpetual lease of power. The first time that I heard that argument advanced was by Lord Robert Cecil when he had the temerity to come down to my Constituency and attempt to wrest the representation from me. Can there be any intelligent man living who can honestly hold that opinion? If the House of Commons, democratically elected, attempted to give itself a perpetual lease of power may I inquire what the country would be doing? I may ask something else: Have hon. Members forgotten that under this Bill the Veto of the Crown still remains? I have no great respect for the Veto of the Crown. For 200 years we have been told that that Veto has not been exercised. But it remains! If that Veto could never have a justifiable use; if there ever should be an occasion when a monarch worthy to sit upon the Throne would be justified in exercising his Veto, it would be in the inimitable position of the House of Commons trying to give itself a perpetual lease of life. An hon. Gentleman opposite, speaking last night, quoted some remarks I made a while ago in regard to the character of this House of Commons. I stand by every word that I said. But if it can be shown that the House of Commons is not fit; that the House of Commons is capable of improvement, that is no argument for maintaining the House of Lords as it is at the present time. One of the reasons why we want the Veto of the House of Lords taken away is that we can mend this House of Commons. Whenever we have in recent years made an attempt to improve the representation in this House it has been thwarted by the House of Lords. We tried to make this House more democratic four or five years ago by removing plural voting. The Lords refused to endorse that. There is no hope of making this House of Commons thoroughly democratic and thoroughly representative until the Veto power of the House of Lords has been removed. We all know—we on this side of the House at all events know—how much requires to fee done before this House of Commons can really represent the will of the people. We want the most perfect electoral machinery that the wisdom of man can devise. This House of Commons cannot be regarded as representing the workers, for a considerable part of the male adult population have no vote. It cannot be regarded as representative of the democracy until women, too, have the vote. I began my political life at a very early age, and an incident which I recollect was marching in a great demonstration behind the inspiring strains of a brass band, and helping to carry a banner aloft on which were the words: "Down with the House of Lords." We really believed in those days that if we shouted loud enough that the gilded Chamber would fall down as did the walls of Jericho at the sound of the trumpet. With age has come some little political wisdom. I know that privilege does not fall so easily as that. I have since that time seen many futile agitations against the House of Lords, but I believe that this is not a futile agitation. I believe that this Bill will pass into law, and if the House of Lords were wise from their own point of view they would pass this Bill, and I cannot but think it one of the greatest privileges of my time to have been permitted by my voice and my vote to assist in striking this first effective blow at the arrogance and tyranny of the House of Lords.


The hon. Member who has just sat down might have spared himself the usual long indictment of the House of Lords, which I thought was most ungenerous and most inaccurate, because he began by saying that even if it could be proved that that House had not opposed the interests of labour he would vote for its abolition. Why does he advocate the abolition of the House of Lords? Because he knows that the House of Lords is the one and only barrier between the country and Socialism. That cannot be disputed. He knows that in other countries the Veto is exercised by the Crown, or else it is exercised by the Senate or the President, or again by the President and the Senate. But the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, when he moved this Motion, told us that no responsible Minister of the Crown would even think of advising the Sovereign to exercise his Veto, and that means that the House, which this Bill is seeking to abolish, is the one and only barrier between the country and Socialistic anarchy. What other barrier is there? The Royal Veto has not been enforced since the days of Queen Anne, and we have the Commons thus left at the mercy of the first effective mob monger. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why should there be a barrier?"] Because we do not wish Socialism, and the country does not wish for it. We are going to vote against any such proposal, and as soon as the country knows what it means it will have no chance whatever of success. There has been a great controversy in the country on a point of constitutional law. There has been a great controversy as to whether the Lords had the power to tamper with a Money Bill. On this question there was great division of opinion, and I believe two Lord Chancellors agreed to differ. But what I would ask experts in constitutional law is this: What earthly right have the Commons as one estate of the realm—what right have they to tamper and interfere with and mutilate another estate of the realm? What right have the Commons to interfere with the privileges of the Lords? After all, the Lords have rights.

The Lords are independent, and they are perfectly willing to satisfy the people in every way. They are perfectly willing to adapt themselves to new conditions and to different circumstances. I can understand this House interfering with the privileges of the Lords if that House persistently refused to bow to the authority of the nation. But the very opposite is the case. Here are the Lords, who say, "We are willing to reform ourselves, we are willing to satisfy the people," and here are the Commons, who step forward and say, "No, we will have no such thing; we intend to reform the Lords in our own way so as to enable us to carry out our compact with the Irish." I say that the Prime Minister is establishing a most dangerous precedent. There is a group in this House which I consider a very dangerous one, and which advocates Single-Chamber autocracy. Why do they do it? This group consists for the most part of Socialists, and the Socialists wish for the abolition of the Lords. But they go further. They do not stop at that. They also advocate the abolition of the Monarchy. Will that be denied by hon. Members opposite. And they advocate the abolition of the Monarch for precisely the same reason that they advocate the abolition of the House of Lords. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO; prove it."] Do you deny that you desire the abolition of the Monarchy? [HON. MEMBERS: "We do."] Very well, I hope that the Hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. William Thorne) is here. [HON MEMBERS: "Oh."] You repudiate the hon. Member for West Ham. I am glad of that. But he is evidently not here. When he comes I hope you will tell him that you repudiate him. Speaking at Nottingham on 1st May, 1910, the hon. Member said:— I believe the Lords, Monarchy, and Church will all go at the same time. Do you repudiate the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). He is a member of the Social Democratic Federation, and I have here a programme of that body, and the first and foremost reform they advocate is the abolition of the Monarchy. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not the Labour party."] Then I am glad to hear now that the Labour party repudiate the Social Democratic Federation. This is the first time that I have heard it, and I hope it will go forth to the country. Do hon. Members who say "Hear, hear," to that repudiate the words of their former Leader, the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie). He said at Chester-le-Street in July, 1910:— I regard the existence of a King as a proof of lunacy among the people. It is impossible for you to set up now as Loyalists. You have spoken too much and too freely in the country, but we know it is like the gust of the patriotism which we see suddenly coming from those Irish benches, and it is not going to take in the country. You are going to arrogate to this House the right to destroy the effective power of the Lords, and then you establish a very dangerous precedent because if you do this, what reasons have we to suppose that your socialistic allies when they come into power will not pass resolutions in this House to abolish the Monarchy, and that without the consent of the people. I really commend this phase of the question to the consideration of all moderate Liberals on those benches. I think it is a very serious one. I will take one of the arguments which I have heard reiterated and re-echoed time after time in speech after speech that has made this Debate even duller than it should have been. The speakers said the Lords stood in the way of the people because they rejected the Education Bill, the Licensing Bill, and they refused to pass the Budget. I say that by doing that the Lords more correctly gauged the will of the people than the Commons. You lost bye-election after bye-election on your Licensing Bill, and your Education Bill pleased nobody. It was roundly rated by the heads of every denomination and of every religious body, and that cannot be denied. But what I would like to point out is this, that under the system now proposed those unpopular measures would be on the Statute Book. Then I must say one word about the Budget because it has been referred to by the hon. Member who has just sat down. The Lords did not reject the Budget simply and solely because it was financially unsound. They rejected it as it was their bounden duty to do because it was revolulutionary in principle and socialistic in essence. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have nothing to do with finance."] That, as I have said, is a debateable point on which two Lord Chancellors differ. Let me ask hon. Members opposite who really favour a strong or any Second Chamber what is the Chamber to be? Is it to be a sham or a reality? Is it to be nothing more than an office for the registration of Radical measures, or is it to be a strong and effective Second Chamber, which is empowered to suspend all legislation which it honestly believes to be revolutionary or socialistic? If you are really going to have an effective Second Chamber and make it something more than a sham, I venture to say that that Chamber would always reject a Budget such as that of 1909–10. It must reject it, as it was a complete departure in Radical finance and it was revolutionary and socialistic.

We hear a good deal about the suspensory powers for two years, but what I ask is the good of that? It is all very well for measures that are introduced at the end of a Parliament, but it is absolutely meaningless in regard to measures which are introduced before that. I hope that hon. Members opposite will claim one thing for this revised Second Chamber and that is power to suspend legislation which they believe to be unwholesome until the people have had time at any rate to put their stamp upon it, either by means of a General Election or by means of the Referendum. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was most amusing the other day and very eloquent with regard to the Referendum and this right hon. Gentleman who is prepared to shatter the Constitution pales before the thought of a Referendum which he despises as a most vicious and revolutionary proceeding. He also tried to frighten the Tory party by dangling before it the hideous possibility of the Radical party submitting the question of land nationalisation to the people by means of the Referendum. Let me tell him it will never be carried by means of a Referendum. You may carry it by means of a General Election, where the issue is obscured by wilful misrepresentation and catch-vote cries and a hundred and one minor issues, but if you submit this question on its merits to the people when there can be no skilful paraphrasing of language and there can be no discussing it, the people will know that land nationalisation does not mean the land for the people, as Socialists point out that it does—it does not mean confiscation of the land held by the rich and giving it to the poor. It means the grabbing of all the land of rich and poor alike by the State, who, I suppose, would then lease it out to us on their own terms, and I think the people of this country knowing something of State landlordism, what a good and generous landlord the State is—how long and patiently the State waits if a man is in arrears with his rent, will pronounce against any such scheme, and I therefore advise my right hon. Friend to dismiss that delusion under which he has so long laboured from his mind. The people of this country will never accept land nationalisation with their eyes open. There is only one other argument I wish to deal with. Hon. Members opposite talk about their majority, and they say they have received a mandate from the people. I did think that the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) had shattered that romance when he dissected your majority. What my hon. and learned Friend did not say was how that majority was acquired. I speak after careful consideration, and not hastily, when I say perfectly honestly and straightforwardly that that majority was filched from the people by an inventory of slander and misrepresentation unparalleled in the annals of Radical electioneering. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Do you deny that the Lord Advocate won seat after seat by his inventive genius. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] Then you sent down the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who turned on the hose of his masterly, well-reasoned, dispassionate invective, and that did the trick. By his speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer has enormously enhanced his reputation as a statesman in the East End. With all deference to the Chancellor of the Exchequer I say that so courteous are his methods and so gentle is his manner that he has earned for himself from friend and foe alike the title of "The first gentleman in Billingsgate." [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I have often wondered, when I have been listening to the emanations which come from the Front Bench, at the brazen boldness with which right hon. Gentlemen opposite make the most audacious statements, with their tongues in their cheeks the whole time; but, after all, I remember that nine out of ten of them are lawyers, and it is one of the characteristics of a lawyer to speak with equal sincerity to any brief. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the hon. and learned Member for Walton?"] Take the most celebrated lawyer in this House, the Prime Minister. He said that the rejection of the Budget by the Lords was the "suicide" of the Tory Party. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that he forgot to say that the immediate result of that suicidal action was the loss of 100 seats to the Radical party. What is it that hon. Members opposite want? You do not know your own minds. There never was such a heterogeneous Government before, and what is it you want? Some of you say you want a Single Chamber, and others want Two Chambers. Most of you say that you want a non-party Chamber, but mark what chasms there are between your words and your deeds. Almost in the same breath you say, "We are going to create" 500 puppet peers at popular prices." You are going to create 500 peers whose only qualification for a seat in the House of Lords is their blind, servile allegiance to party. Perhaps it is a more intellectual Chamber you desire. I have not heard very much said against the intellect of the Members of the House of Lords, but on the hustings they have been spoken of as "congenital idiots, suffering from senile decay." Perhaps you wish for an aristocracy of brains. I would favour that, because I would like to see the cleverest men in every sphere of life—in art, in trade, and every profession—honouring the House of Lords with their presence. I think that a really strong Chamber should be dependent for its majority on the judgment of men who are not tramelled with the ties of party. But if you establish your aristocracy of brains think in what a ridiculous position you will place this House! Conceive some measure going up to the House of Lords, and imagine your assembly of intellectuals passing a measure, or shall we say a Budget, which they know in their wisdom to be unwholesome and unsound, and passing it solely and purely because they do not wish to interfere with the privilege and prerogatives of the predominant and more foolish Chamber. Whatever may be said about the House of Lords you cannot deny that it is the resultant of the evolutionary process of centuries. I do not say that it is a perfect Chamber; what assembly is perfect? What assembly can be perfect composed of imperfect human natures. I say that the House of Lords, through the dignity of its Debates and through its expert knowledge, has won for itself the admiration and respect of every Parliament in the world. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then why do you want to reform it?"] To try and make it even better and bring it more into touch with the people and the times. The House of Lords is perfectly ready for these reforms. You may destroy the House of Lords if you like, you may at one fell swoop destroy the work of centuries, you may, if you like, make a laughing-stock of the Mother of Parliaments, but if you do that it will not be forgotten or forgiven by the people of this country.


I have listened to nearly every speech made on the Second Heading of this Bill, and I have heard most of the speeches which have been made from these benches. I may say that, with the exception of the hon. Member who has just sat down, no new arguments have been added to those which were used by the Leader of the Opposition when he moved the rejection of the First Reading of this Bill. What are the objections which have run through all the speeches this evening? It is not so much an objection to the Parliament Bill as to the fact that an interval will elapse between the passing of this Bill and the reform of the Upper Chamber. That objection seems to me to be based on the assumption that when the House of Lords is reformed the Parliament Bill will be repealed. So far there has been no suggestion of that kind from the Government Bench. If the Parliament Bill is not going to be repealed when the House of Lords is reformed why do hon. Members fear the interval? Because any Bill that can pass during the interval can pass far easier than when the interval is over. Another objection is that Home Rule and Welsh Disestablishment will have gone through the Lords during the interval. I do not suppose that the most sanguine hon. Members will contend that in a reformed House of Lords the Unionist party will have a greater majority than they have at the present time. If not, why do they fear the interval? The hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division said that the majority in favour of this Bill is not homogeneous; that the Welsh Members only want to pass the Veto Bill in order that they might have Welsh Disestablishment and they are not really opposed to the House of Lords. The hon. and learned Member also said the same thing with regard to Home Rule, and he stated that but for the fact that we Nationalists wish to get Home Rule we should be inclined to support the House of Lords. I deny that entirely. Speaking on behalf of every Gentleman on these benches, I say that if there were no question of Home Rule whatsoever we would nevertheless all vote in favour of this Bill. I ask the House how could it be otherwise? What portion of the United Kingdom has suffered so much from the action of the House of Lords as Ireland? When any Bill has been sent up from this House to benefit the Irish tenant farmer, or, indeed, any class in Ireland except the landlord class, Noble Lords, who take no real interest in public affairs and whose very faces, I am told, are unfamiliar to the doorkeepers of the other House, come out of their nooks and crannies down to the House, and vote against or mutilate that Bill, and then retire, not to be heard of again until another Irish Bill is sent up. I agree with hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway so far as to say that if the House of Lords had always treated Ireland fairly in the past, I believe the Conservative instincts of the Irish people would probably have led them to give them more support at the present time than they will get from any other part of the United Kingdom. The next objection that has been made against the Bill is that it does not really represent the wish of the majority of the Liberal party, but that it is a Bill forced upon them by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond). We have heard that contention and charge against the Government made over and over again, as if they had committed some awful crime in consulting the wishes of the majority of the people of Ireland in matters concerning Ireland. The policy which has been pursued by the party now in opposition has been to consult only the views of the minority in Ireland, and it has reduced them to their present plight. Does the House imagine for a moment that the present crisis would ever have arisen or that the December election would ever have taken place if it had not been for the terror exercised over the Members of the Opposition Front Bench by the minority from Ireland? I go further, and ask hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway if the Home Rule question would not have been solved, or, at any rate, if an attempt would not have been made to solve it long ago, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham) was Chief Secretary, had it not been for the same fear. It comes ill then from them to taunt the Government with adopting an opposite and a more constitutional policy.

The next objection against the Parliament Bill is that the question of Home Rule was never submitted to the decision of this country. That is the most outrageous contention of the lot. In all candour, I would ask hon. Members above the gangway what other argument they used against the Parliament Bill? They said that if the Parliament Bill was passed Home Rule for Ireland would certainly follow. Will they deny that something like 1,000 speakers were obtained from Ireland to influence public opinion in England? Will they deny that every town and village in England was covered with posters of the most unfair type trying to prejudice public opinion against the people of Ireland? I went down into an English county just on the eve of the last election. We were holding a meeting to explain the position of the Irish party. A poster was produced which began with a copy of the original address of the present King to his subjects on the death of his father. It was not signed, but apparently, as though in continuation of the Proclamation, it went on to say:— Do you think the best way to show your respect and your love to the great King, would be to turn over the government of Ireland to dynamitards and the paid servants of Patrick Ford? Hon. Members above the gangway must know these things occurred, and yet they have the effrontery to come down to this House and tell us that Home Rule was not an issue at the last election. If it was not I should like to know what was. Another suggestion made to defeat the Government Bill, or to prevent Home Rule following after the passing of the Parliament Bill was made by the Noble Lord, and it was that the Home Rule case should be submitted to the Referendum. I might say there is no such thing as the Referendum in the British Constitution, and that it is only drawing a red herring across the path and is merely intended to delay and put off the introduction of Home Rule. I do not propose, however, to ride off on any such issue. I submit that if there is one question on which the wish of the people could not fairly be ascertained by a Referendum it is Home Rule. If you want to get a fair expression of opinion on any question by means of a Referendum it must be on a question equally affecting all parts of the United Kingdom, You might do so on a Licensing Bill, or on a Bill for the Nationalisation of Land Values, but you could not do so on the question of Home Rule or on the question of Welsh Disestablishment. I would ask hon Members from Wales what sort of chance they think they would have of getting a fair expression of opinion say in the Home Counties on the question of Welsh Disestablishment. Naturally, people living under a local landlord, whatever his politics may be, must be swayed to a certain extent by his views, and, when it is a matter which does not concern them deeply, they will naturally, for the sake of a quiet life, agree with him. It is altogether different in a General Election. There are many questions outside their own lives which they do not study, but they come to the conclusion that they will trust a man or a party, whether it be Conservative or Liberal, and they are, as a rule, quite willing to trust them to take action about questions on which they are not so well informed. I respectfully submit, therefore, that, if there is one question on which it would be impossible to obtain a fair expression of the opinion of the people by means of the Referendum, it is the question of Home Rule for Ireland. I would ask Scotch Members what sort of opinion they think they would get from England on a Scotch Land Bill? Would they get a fair unbiased opinion? I do not see how they could.

I ask hon. Members above the Gangway if they do not think it is time they freed themselves from the bondage under which they have lived for so long, and if they do not think the unification of the British Empire is of more importance than the maintenance of minority rule in Ireland? Ireland wants to take her part inside of the Empire. Never was there such an opportunity to make peace. We all realise the desirability of drawing more closely together the bonds which unite the Empire, and we all realise the desirability of knitting closer together the ties which unite the British people all over the world. Could anything be done to advance more the cause of the world's peace, and in what better way could you erect a memorial to the late King or celebrate the beginning of a new reign?


I trust the House will be as kind to me as it was to the last speaker who made his maiden speech in this Chamber. I am sorry he is not now present. Perhaps it is just as well, because he might class me among the "Socialistic anarchists" who seem to have alarmed and frightened him so much. I notice hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to regard the English Constitution as some sacred thing dropped down from Heaven. They seem to think that it is not the outcome of the human mind at all, but is something absolutely divine, that no human creature must dare to touch. That is the standpoint from which they seem to Debate the whole constitutional issue. I have no wish to dive into ancient history or to deal with musty precedents. But our Constitution, such as it is, has been handed down to us by people who either preferred it or had to put up with it in centuries gone by. It was created at a time when almost the entirety of the population had no voice in the Government of the country; and even if they were satisfied with it, they have been dead and buried for centuries. And if they had a right to say what they wanted, and what was good for them, surely we have an equal right to say what we want and what is good for us? The will of a living people must be quite as valuable and quite as important as that of people who passed out of the world hundreds of years ago. That is the way in which I view this question.

I firmly believe that the House of Lords might have lasted for some few years longer under the present system had it not become more and more audacious as years rolled on, had it not thrown out the Budget and other important measures in the Parliament of 1906–10. The English nation largely gives its mind to business affairs. It does not entirely concentrate its thoughts on the Government, and it would have tolerated the House of Lords for some time longer had it not thrown out the Budget, the Plural Voting Bill and the London Elections Bill. But when the Lords did that the day of their doom was undoubtedly sealed. The Opposition assert that they threw out no popular measure, and hon. Gentlemen opposite have recited various Bills thrown out by the House of Lords, which they say would never have been accepted by the people. But when they have been reminded of the London Elections Bill, and of the Plural Voting Bill, they have at once shirked the subject and passed on to some other part of the controversy. Take the case of the London Elections Bill—forty thousand men in London were deprived of the opportunity of voting at the last two elections because that Bill was thrown out. The constituency which I represent contained nearly one thousand men who saw the elections taking place on those two occasions, and were not allowed to express their opinion. With regard to the Plural Voting Bill, the Leader of the Opposition represents a constituency which contains twenty-three thousand plural voters out of a total of twenty-five thousand voters on the register. Of course, when the House of Lords dealt with proposed legislation on such lines the people made up their minds on the subject, and the Prime Minister introduced a Bill to deal with the difficulty. Both the Prime Minister and the Liberal party were bound to take up the question and deal with it on these lines. The nation would not have stood behind them any longer had they not done so. Hon. Members opposite regard with the greatest anxiety and concern, and well they may, the rapid disappearance of the Lords' powers. Their chances are gradually going, and the next few years may see a flood of democratic legislation passing through Parliament, such as will sweep the Conservative party entirely away, or, at any rate, utterly change its constitution.

The Preamble of the Bill has been frequently referred to in this Debate. I have no very strong opinions on that subject. To me it is a matter of utter indifference whether we have one, two, or three Chambers; all I want is that the one Chamber elected by the people shall be predominant, and that I believe is the view of the English nation generally. The people do not enter into close arguments, little details, or technical points; they feel that the forty millions of people who inhabit these islands are entitled to decide what laws shall be made, and to insist on their being passed by the majority of their representatives. They care very little what takes place in other Chambers, so long as the majority has the power to say what shall become the law of the land.

I should like to say a few words with regard to the Referendum. How is it to work? I have been trying in my own mind to ascertain how it would operate. Suppose we decided that we will put it into practice. As far as I understand it, the operation will proceed somewhat on these lines. Some time next year two or three measures will probably be introduced into this House. There will be a Home Rule Bill, a Bill dealing with our electoral system, and, possibly, one with Redistribution. The three measures may happen to pass through this House by the middle of the summer, and will go at once to the other House. When they got there we may have this condition of affairs. The Home Rule Bill will be immediately rejected, a Referendum will be taken, public meetings will be held all over the country, and practically a general election will have to take place within three or four weeks. In the middle of that general election the Lords may throw out the next Bill—that dealing with our electoral system—and then we shall have to start a second general election before we finish the first, in order to ascertain the opinion of the country on the question of electoral reform. Then, before it is quite settled, the House of Lords, damning the consequences, may decide to throw out the Redistribution Bill, and, as a result, we shall have a third election on that question. How are these Referendums to be conducted I Surely details must be submitted to the people, and not merely principles. For instance, if we had a Referendum on Redistribution, the nation might say that it wants redistribution, but the real struggle will be as to how the seats shall be allocated. What, for instance, is to become of the City of London? Is it to be merged in White-chapel, or become a part of Shoreditch? Then there may be a question whether Wandsworth shall have three Members or four—whether the redistribution should be prospective, and give Wandsworth five Members, having regard to its future possibilities of population. If all these details are to be submitted to every voter it will be impossible to get their opinion upon them. In fact, in a nation of over 40,000,000 people, such a system of collecting the national opinion is absolutely out of the question.

It may suit very well for Gentlemen opposite and for those who have long purses that they should fight General Elections which cost a million or a million and a-half of money each time. They have ground rents and they have the landlords of England to fall back upon. But what about the other section of the community. I dare say many Members of this House know what a hard struggle it is to get through their elections; and is the position we are to be placed in this: That we are to have three or four of these extraordinary inventions. I do not think the English people want the Referendum. They want to deal with the House of Lords because they believe it is a House of well-organised trades unionists. I am not going to say a word against trades unionism. If men feel inclined to combine, whether as landlords or otherwise, they are welcome to do so, and if they are not satisfied with the laws, they can try to get the people's representatives to alter them. But the Lords claim the right to prevent any laws they dislike from being passed. That is where we join issue with them. That is why we are engaged in this struggle. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are trying to protect the trade union in which they are interested—the House of Lords. That is why for the last twenty-five years we have seen this long struggle between the other Chamber and this House. But their day has gone. To me it is a matter of delight. I have lived in this country for many years and in the latter years of my life I have walked about almost in despair, because the main political question that interested me was one that could not be reached and did not seem possible of solution. I have the pleasure of knowing that in the course of the next few weeks it will be settled, and settled finally. When I sit here and see the consternation and alarm and despair of Gentlemen opposite particularised in their speeches, it is to me some gratification that at last the people who have been so long having the worst of it are now going to have the best of it, and that those who were willing to see the nation suffer are now suffering the pangs of defeat and forthcoming disaster. The English nation will be the better for their loss, and the English people will have a better prospect in front of them in consequence of that which is now in store for those gentlemen.

When we had the question of Home Rule discussed in this House a few weeks ago I heard several Gentlemen on the opposite benches say if Home Rule was carried the Unionists of Ulster would take up arms. I wonder if this Bill is carried whether the ground landlords of England will take up arms. If they do, and if they can, force into their ranks some of the rack-rented tenants who had to pay large sums on the expirations of their leases they will muster a very formidable army. I do not think anyone will pity them. The position has gone from them, and I for one as a citizen who loves his country am delighted that the day of reckoning has come.


I think the Debate this afternoon and the speeches we have heard can bring but little consolation to the Government. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down indicated in his speech that he wants to be rid of the House of Lords. A little before that another supporter of the Government distinctly stated that the measure now before the House was a preliminary step to the sweeping away of the House of Lords. When the Minister for Education spoke he did not refer to that, and I think before the night is over some declaration should be made from the Government Benches upon these points raised. There is no doubt about the views of the Labour Members. They are quite solid upon the point of sweeping away the House of Lords. Probably the Home Rule Members are also solid upon the point, but now we have some of the orthodox supporters of the Government declaring that this is the first effort to sweep away the House of Lords. My own opinion is that that is the intention of the Government, but at the same time we cannot ignore the fact that the Preamble is in the Bill, and it clearly indicates the intention on behalf of the Government to reform the House of Lords. But apparently the Government's opinions are not their own. These opinions are forced upon the Government now by their own orthodox supporters on the benches behind them, and the statement was well received by hon. Gentlemen opposite. So we have development to this point, that the intention of the Government really is the abolition of the House of Lords. The question of reform or abolition of the House of Lords is a matter of peculiar importance to the loyal minority in Ireland.

This Bill would never have been introduced but for the action of the House of Lords with regard to Home Rule. We hear talk about the Budget and other Bills, but the real cause which has developed the situation is the effort of the House of Lords to prevent what we consider to be the breaking up of the Empire by the granting of Home Rule to Ireland. The position in Ireland remains unchanged. The minority there are as determined as ever they were. They have increased in strength and they will fight this matter as far as it can be fought. Newspapers in Ireland and also in this country have endeavoured to train the minds of the people in this House and in the country to look upon the Unionist minority in Ireland as made up all together of bigots. We hear talk not only in Ireland but over here of the bigotry of the people of Belfast. The Nationalist Members from Ireland pose as being the only tolerant people in Ireland. Again and again they have tried to illustrate that by pointing to the number of Protestants to be found upon the county councils and the various public boards in Ireland. There is a simple test for all that. If any Member on the Irish Unionist benches adopted the principles of Nationalists below the Gangway and joined them there is no reason why the Nationalists should not have Protestants who agree with them upon public boards. But the real test is who pays the rates, and out of the rates so paid who gets the salaries? I am in a position to give figures. The centre of bigotry, we are told, is Belfast, but in Belfast nine-tenths of the rates are paid by the so-called bigoted Protestant majority. The Nationalist minority hold eight seats upon the Corporation; the bigoted Unionists hold fifty-two. Out of the employés, clerks, workers, and all others employed by the Corporation of Belfast the Nationalist minority get more than their share according to population even assuming that they pay their share of the rates. They are barely a quarter of the population, but they draw more than a quarter of all the salaries paid by the corporation. In one department I found nearly half. Under these circumstances there is no foundation for asserting that there is any bigotry in the control of the business of the City of Belfast—fifty-two members belonging to the Protestant bigots and eight belong to the enlightened minority. In Derry the population is about equally divided, but the Protestant bigots have a majority on the corporation. There again you find that the other party get their share of the money spent by the corporation. I take that now as indicating the temper and tone of the Unionists of the North. I go now to Dublin. The greater part of the rates in Dublin are again paid by the Unionist bigotted minority. They are the property owners. They are in a small minority on the corporation. I have made inquiries, and as far as I could ascertain, there is not a penny of the rates in Dublin which goes to pay any Protestant. A similar state of matters exists in Cork. These charges of bigotry have been made against the North and we find on investigation that they do not fit there but they fit exceedingly well with regard to the enlightened Home Rulers of Dublin and Cork.


May I ask whether the hon. Member is aware that the late chief engineer of Dublin and the present chief sanitary inspector for Dublin are both Protestants?

9.0 P.M.


I believe this gentleman is a survivor and has occupied his position for fifty years. If there is any substantial reply to the charge I have made it can be very easily investigated, but I have not been able to find it. I can say the same about Limerick and other enlightened Home Rule places. I can say nothing about Waterford, the centre of civilisation in Ireland, but I trust the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. John Redmond) will inquire and state what amount of the rates of Waterford are paid to either Unionists or Protestants. I think that deals with the important question of bigotry because Ulster is supposed to be incapacitated from taking a fair view of the matter. We are particularly interested in the Bill in a double sense because there is no part of the Empire which contributed more to the completion of our Constitution, which was completed some 220 years ago. There is no part of the three Kingdoms more attached to the Constitution. The most important thing for us, of course, is the question of Home Rule being granted as soon as there is a way clear in the House of Lords. If a measure of Home Rule be introduced the first thing is that there will be a great disturbance in trade. I am in a position to say that the mere introduction of this Veto Bill has begun to disturb trade in Belfast.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)

The hon. Member has forgotten that we are not now on the King's Speech, we are on the Second Reading of the Parliament Bill.


I am trying to speak on the question of Home Rule.


That is admissible only so far as it is relevant to the passage of the Parliament Bill.


I will keep as close to that as I can. I was speaking of the disturbance of trade caused by any reference—direct or indirect—to Home Rule. The proposed Home Rule measure is practically a part of the Parliament Bill. That has not been disputed. It has been said again and again that it was definitely an issue before the electors. The last time that the Home Rule Bill was before the House, and when it was passed, the price of the stock of the Bank of Ireland fell over 50 per cent. With a more excitable population there would have been a run on the Bank, and that would have meant trouble to other banks, and would have led to unparalleled disaster. If this Veto Bill gets through there will be an immediate decrease in the volume of trade and the banks will be uneasy, and if a Home Rule Bill is later on passed through the House there will be a run on the banks, and a disaster, which will not be confined to Ulster, but will extend to this side of the Channel, because you would have had £10,000,000 of Consols thrown on the market, to be realised in a fortnight or three weeks. The question of Home Rule is mixed up first and last with toleration. With regard to individual toleration, there is no charge made against hon. Members. We know that hon. Members must be guided by the opinion of the active men in the country. Hon. Members cannot get up and say what we on these benches are prepared to say, that the use of the rifle, firing into houses, and killing people on the roadside should not be allowed to continue.


I am afraid the hon. Member is not observing the rule of keeping to the matter before the House.


The levity on this side of the House seems to be as great as on the other side. It occurred on the introduction of the Bill, and has been carried on all through. I should consider, so far as the serious community is concerned, from which I come, that an effort to disband a home for stray dogs would receive more attention than has been shown to this matter of the House of Lords. I was prepared to speak chiefly on the Home Rule question. It is mixed up with the other, and we cannot get rid of it, because it is distinctly stated that this is to be introduced in order to pave the way for Home Rule. I regret that the discussion of Home Rule is ruled out.


We are all gathered now to consider one of the most important questions it is possible for a representative assembly to consider, and in approaching this subject it appears to me to be necessary to look at the cause of the present situation. We have to remember the conditions which have led up to the present situation, and therefore, seeing that this matter has worked its way down into the deep convictions of the people, I think it right to allude to the historic aspect of this question as it has been regarded by the constituencies. Those of us who sat in Opposition during the Parliament of 1900–1906 remember how under our unwritten Constitution the legislation of the country was conducted. We remember how in the life of that Parliament the decrees of this House were sent up to the House of Lords, although opposition was brought to bear upon them here from time to time. They went along the Lobby and were passed without that careful consideration which was due to the importance of the subjects. Under these circumstances the memories of those days have burned themselves into the recollections of those of us who went through them, and when we found that the Lords thwarted the wishes of the people and refused to pass the measures that were sent up in the Parliament of 1906, when the position of parties was reversed, we saw at once the necessity for a change, and it is in order to secure a measure of equity between the forces of progress and those who would rather delay those forces and turn them into less active channels that we are to-night discussing this Bill. It is within the recollection of the House how that strong Liberal Government, which was backed up by some of the largest majorities ever counted in this House, sent up measures which met with scant courtesy. Then it was that the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was driven to declare that a way must be found so that the will of the people as expressed by their representatives in Parliament shall become law. Following on the twenty years of Unionist Government, the policy of the Lords culminated in the arrogant refusal to pass the Budget Bill of 1909. By that Act the Peers practically asserted their right to determine the existence of the House of Commons and to fix the date of a Dissolution. That had hitherto been regarded as the Royal Prerogative.

The guidance of affairs has passed into other hands, and we have in the Prime Minister a Leader we are glad to support. Tie appealed to the country to support him in a policy which should rectify the position as it presented itself at that time. In January last year we had the opportuity of appealing against the action of the Lords in claiming to control finance. The Prime Minister further asked that when that had been settled there should be a limit put to the Veto which the Lords exercised over general legislation. In the front of our appeal these two vital subjects were put, and they were sanctioned, and so we came back to Parliament in order if possible to improve the efficiency of the working of this House as part of the great constitutional machine. We have come through the memorable year in which, owing to the death of the Sovereign, a truce was called, and we recognised, not as was suggested, that the Prime Minister acted from a desire to evade certain questions, but rather that in his action the right hon. Gentleman showed that loyalty to truth which characterises him. He had made the statement that he would not attempt to govern the country unless he had power to see that the measures sent up by the House of Commons would become law, and that he would refuse to carry on the Government of the country unless he had that power. It is therefore to his credit that, when he found at the end of last year that it was impossible by consent to find a readjustment between the relations of the two Houses, he advised His Majesty to dissolve the Parliament which had only been a few months in existence. He refused to waste the time of this House in discussing measures which he knew would be rejected because of that refusal to come to terms.

Look at the question which was submitted to the electors in December last. Was it not whether the Parliament Bill now before us should be confirmed by the vote of the electorate, or whether it should not? Hon. Gentlemen opposite have the advantage now of recognising that although their representative, in perfectly good faith entered the Conference, they were unable to go the full length asked of them by the Government in settling this question in a friendly way. Being unable to go as far as was necessary to secure a settlement, the issue has been carried from the Conference room to the nation, and now is there not justification in our asking that the Conservative party should understand that there is a necessity to bow to the will of the people, which has been declared in the recent election—a necessity which, perhaps, they were justified in hesitating to recognise before the election. The Crown has seen this struggle between the two parties, but the Crown does not enter into the discussion of the policies which we discuss between ourselves. One or other of the two Houses must of necessity have the final word. Surely it is right that we should ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, as they expressed themselves willing before to meet in Conference, to bow to the decision of the country and now recognise and accept the principle that underlies the Bill, and then to endeavour to mould in Committee the details, so that the fears they have in relation to its working may be minimised. If we have a bonâ fide effort to compare notes across the floor of the House and meet each other, as long as the principle of the Bill is maintained, there will be satisfaction on both sides, and I may say that on this side there are many Members who would welcome such a spirit. It is interesting to note, also, that, while there has been willingness to meet and discuss the situation, the anxiety that has been shown by hon. Members opposite is rather marked. The House has listened with interest to the views that have been expressed on each side of the House. It was with special interest I listened to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for the Walton division (Mr. F. E. Smith), in which he distinctly stated that he adhered to the views which he had expressed in his letter to the Press voicing the object of this Bill—namely that a change is needed, and that it should be a change which would give Liberals as good a chance, or as bad a one, as Unionists. That is exactly what we claim shall be secured by this Bill.

If you can offer suggestions that will secure that end then let us have them; but where as yet have we had any suggestions put forward in this House? We hear of changes that are suggested in another place; they will be dealt with on their merits. But there was another expression which the hon. Member used: "How little divides the two sides at the present moment." If that view holds among hon. Members opposite it bids fair for hope of some more reasonable treatment of this important issue than has been suggested in some of the extremer speeches that we have heard. Take the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment to this Bill. Is it not a little extreme to have such language used to describe this Bill as 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. Surely that may be regarded as extravagant. At any rate, we hope that this almost grotesque language will be regarded as scarcely representing the situation as it really exists. Surely the General Election means something. If so, is it not right that we should be able to interpret as a result of the election an authority to step forward in the direction of making it possible for the will of the people, as expressed through the representatives sent to this House, to prevail, and that the measures which they pass here shall receive very different treatment from that which they have had hitherto in the other House. We are determined, as far as we can, that the position which the other House has held it shall no longer hold. If no better plan can be suggested than has been given to us as yet, then we say that our own Bill holds the field. It is not so much a question of the constitution of the House of Lords that stands in the way of this, but the fact that the House of Peers hitherto has been able to destroy the legislation of the House of Commons. That is the state of things which we claim must be ended as a result of the verdict that was given in the past few months. So I hope, in conclusion, that we shall each of us yet be able to do something to bring about a better state of things than prevails at the present moment, and that by putting our heads together we may secure a revival of that spirit of compromise which for the moment has been put aside.


The hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat has suggested—like so many other speakers on that side—that the question we are now here to discuss is the outcome of the last General Election, or, in other words, that the party now in power have a distinct mandate for this Bill. I am not so sure that they have a mandate for this Bill. I am rather inclined to think that they have a mandate for the Preamble. It may be said that they have possibly a mandate for the Bill so long as they seriously intend to consider the Preamble. But I am perfectly certain that the people of this country have given no mandate whatever for the Veto part of the Bill. What they really always intended was that the constitution of the House of Lords required changing rather than that its powers should be abolished. It is quite evident that the arguments which have been used, and necessarily must be used, in favour of this Bill are arguments against the fulfilment of the promise given in the Preamble, and, vice versa, all arguments in favour of the reconstruction foreshadowed in the Preamble are arguments against the effectiveness of the Bill as placed before us. The Prime Minister, in introducing this measure, said:— No one proposes, I certainly do not, to dispense in this country with a Second Chamber. And when asked "Why?" by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University, he said:— I will give the Noble Lord a reason among many others. We hare suffered enough from the evils of "Single-Chamber Government. We hold, as the Preamble of the Bill asserts, that there ought to be a Second Chamber, and that it should be a body which, unlike the House of Lords, rests not on the hereditary but on the popular basis. The Prime Minister asserts most definitely there that he is not a Single Chamber man, and that he regards the Second Chamber as essential to this country. If the Second Chamber is so necessary why is it not necessary in the immediate future? It is suggested that in the immediate future, for some extraordinary reason, no Second Chamber is necessary, but that in the far distant future, when Bills of enormous importance and magnitude, such as Home Rule and Disestablishment have been passed without the criticism of the Second Chamber and the party opposite have got all they think they require, they are prepared to set up a Second Chamber for the benefit of generations to come. Why do they not propose now to set up the Second Chamber which the Prime Minister considers so necessary? He says it would be a long and laborious process for which, apparently, he cannot afford the time at present. When are you going to find time for this long and laborious task you set yourselves? If you ever find the time, do you think hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway who have declared themselves frankly in favour of one Chamber are going to support you? [An HON. MEMBER: "You are."] Will not they use the arguments you use? You are using arguments to prove the efficiency of the Single-Chamber system which you propose as a temporary measure, and they will be thrown back in your teeth when the time comes to fulfil your Preamble by setting up a Second Chamber. The fact is that you may honestly intend at some future date to set up a reconstructed Second Chamber, but there is very little doubt that honestly as you may purpose to do that you will not have the power, even if you have the time, ever to carry it out. Let us turn now to the arguments used in favour of the Bill. We naturally express our fears as to whether, if this Bill is passed, the interval which will elapse before you can carry out the reconstruction which is foreshadowed in the Preamble, there are sufficient safeguards against hasty legislation and ill-considered measures. I was rather astonished in the early part of to-day's Debate—I think it was during the speech of the hon. and learned Member for West Edinburgh—when the Prime Minister suggested by an-interruption that these safeguards were hardly necessary, because it was always in the power of one party when they came into office to repeal the legislation of the party which had just gone out of office. Apart from the obvious loss of time and the impossibility of conducting public affairs, if the whole time of one Parliament was to be taken up by counteracting the work of its predecessor, is it not quite evident that the measures which the Government desire now to put through during the interval which is to elapse before a Second Chamber is set up, measures like Home Rule and Disestablishment are not measures that can be repealed once they are granted. How are you going to repeal Home Rule once it is granted? And how are you going to repeal Disestablishment once it is granted? Those are not measures which can be repealed.

Therefore, the suggestion that this power of repeal can in any way take the place of the safeguards which have hitherto existed will be an illusion. But that was not what the Prime Minister told us the other day about those safeguards. He told us that the proposals in this Bill provided very adequate safeguards against hasty legislation, and especially safeguards against tacking. He said, as regards other Bills than money Bills, that the delay of three years or two years, with the suspensory Veto of the House of Lords interposed, precludes the possibility of covertly or arbitrarily smuggling measures into law, or of embarking on hasty or slovenly legislation. In fact, the Prime Minister tells us that this Veto Bill, quite apart from any Second Chamber, provides absolute safeguards, and that we need have no fear in our minds that there is any chance whatever of hasty legislation or anything of the kind becoming law. If so, why have a Second Chamber at all? If this safeguard is as he would have us believe it is, what need is there for a Second Chamber in future any more than now? Why enter upon a long and laborious process of creating a new Second Chamber? The fact is, as I think has been really admitted by the Government itself, the Preamble has never been seriously meant. It is merely a sop to the Whigs to make them think that in time they will get a Second Chamber. It is an attempt to put up what I think may fairly be described as the "Asquith umbrella," to cover at the same time the Whigs who desire two Chambers and hon. Members below the Gangway who only desire one. I think that perhaps that umbrella may be found to have a hole in it, through which will fall a very serious storm on both the parties who stand underneath it.

The fact is that I do not think that you can depend on the adequacy of this Bill without admitting that a Second Chamber is not necessary. If you admit that a Second Chamber is necessary, then you are at the same time necessarily admitting that this Bill is not sufficient in the way of safeguards to prevent us from suffering those evils which we fear. All the speeches which you are making now must necessarily be quoted against you when you try to reconstruct the Second Chamber, whatever form that reconstruction may take. I do not think you can have your cake and eat it. So far as the Bill itself goes, I think it might really have been paraphrased somewhat in these words—

"Whereas it is desirable to have a new and better Second Chamber, be it therefore enacted that there shall be no Second Chamber at all."

There is no doubt that the real truth of the case is that you do not want a Second Chamber. If you do want a Second Chamber, and if this Bill is going to do away with the effectiveness of the Second Chamber, then of course, it is quite immaterial what form of sham Second Chamber you have. If the present Bill gives us the necessary safeguards which you believe to be so essential, then obviously nothing more is required; but if this Bill does not give those safeguards, if this Bill does not set up a machinery which will prevent ill-considered or hasty legislation such as we have often seen in this House from becoming law, then I think it is quite time that hon. Members opposite admit the truth, which is that they are no longer in favour of a Second Chamber at all, and are Single-Chamber men, and we had better let the country know what they intend.


So much has been said on the subject of this Bill, and said so well, that it may be considered there is exceedingly little left to say; but the issues raised are so grave and far-reaching that it may yet be possible to find some topic which has not been touched, or something that may well bear repetition. When I look at the Preamble of the Bill I see that it is essentially intended to be a, temporary measure—"Whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords"—something; and "Whereas it is expedient that provision should be made for regulating the relations of the two Houses, be it therefore enacted"—that something is to be done at once, pending those larger measures which are no doubt in contemplation of the Government. A new Second Chamber is to be made, but not now. A new definition of power is to be effected, but not at present. In the meantime, what is to happen? Provision is to be made for restricting the existing power of the House of Lords. That is to say, that for the first three years of Parliament the House of Lords is to be powerless. It may interpose an irritating delay, it may make suggestions which we may or may not accept, and nothing will happen. They are to have no power of rejection because after two years the Bill will be passed over their heads. They are to have no practical power of Amendment, because if we do not like the Amendments we can ignore them. I think from the temper in which the action of the House of Lords has been spoken of on the other side of the House, it is not very likely that Amendments suggested by the House of Lords, unless they are purely drafting Amendments recommended for your acceptance by the law officers of the Crown, will receive any attention from this House whatever. What would be the result of that? During this interregnum there is no constitutional change, no social change, no economic change however far reaching or however important but may be carried into effect by a bare majority of this House, in spite of the considered opposition of a large minority, and in spite of the protest of the other House, whose capacity in public affairs so far as regards the leaders on both sides, nobody can doubt. At the end of that time a new Second Chamber is to be created. It is to be created by a party majority in this House, if it can be called a party majority, which represents three distinct groups representing three perfectly different characteristics of political opinion. The other House is to have nothing to say to the composition of its successor, or at any rate nothing to say to which this House need or will pay any attention whatever.

The House of Lords is co-ordinate with this House, it is coeval with this House, if not older. The House of Lords has in the past done good work for the liberties of the people. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] If the hon. Member who says "No "will carry his historical studies to the end of the Seventeenth Century he will find that the Bill of Rights and the Protestant Succession were largely secured through the action of the Whig Lords. That House will have no voice either in the creation or composition, or as to the duties or powers of their successors, and the party opposite, with their allies, will determine the character and the powers of the House which is to be the only check on the powers of this House. What will happen then? When the Government have abolished the existing Second Chamber, and set to work to constitute a fresh one, they will then discover some of the difficulties which beset the makers of Constitutions, and particularly the makers of Second Chambers. If you are dealing with a Federal Constitution the task is comparatively easy, because under a Federal Constitution the Second Chamber represents the localities and the Federated bodies, whereas the other House represents the people at large. You have no such basis to go upon here. You would have to create the body, and if it is to be a representative body the character of the representation must be different from the representation in this House. If you are to give powers the powers must be carefully regulated. If they are too much it will be a very formidable rival to this House. If they are too little you will not attract anyone to be a Member of your Upper House, if you put it in the position in which you are now putting the present House of Lords under this Bill, a position of inferiority in point of practical influence and power, to a county council. You are going, therefore, to remove the present Second Chamber, and constitute another on a popular basis when you have material ready to hand, and I think I may say without fear of any contradiction, of the present House of Lords, whatever its faults may be, that it contains the best material for a Second Chamber the world has ever seen, when you have this material ready to hand, and when you have a willingness on the part of the Second Chamber to discuss proposals for its own reconstruction.

I heard the President of the Board of Education comment unfavourably on the proposals of the House of Lords. He said that to create a group of peers chosen by the hereditary peers would be to interfere with the prerogative of the Crown. At the same time he is, I understand, under the Preamble of the Bill, in favour of a representative Second Chamber, and if that is so what happens to the prerogative of the Crown? He also said that this Prerogative was the only present safeguard against a deadlock, that being the King's power to create peers. When we deal with this great constitutional safeguard of which we have heard so much within the last fifteen months, I sometimes wish that those constitutional authorities would find some precedent later than the reign of Queen Anne, because if you go back to the reign of Queen Anne for your precedents you may have the King sitting at every meeting of the Cabinet Council. I know we are told, at the time of the First Reform Bill, when the country was on the verge of revolution—which, I think, can hardly be said to be the case at present, from the attitude of the people at the last election—that the King very reluctantly assented to a request which Lord Grey very reluctantly made that he would do something which, as events turned out, there was no occasion to do. I have always regarded a precedent to be something that happened. I think, therefore, we hear rather too much of the great precedent of the first Reform Bill, and of the action of William IV. and Lord Grey. The country is not on the verge of revolution, or, at least, I saw no signs of it in the small part I took in the election, and I have heard no rumours about it. The truth is that the real safeguard for the action of the House of Lords is public opinion, and I think we shall find, if you look back at the history of the Bills which the House of Lords have thrown out, and at the effect of the General Election after the House of Lords has dealt with any Bill in a way of which the other side complain that the House of Lords have been pretty well in touch with public opinion. I doubt very much, when confronted with these difficulties, whether the Government will not hesitate in the course of construction of a new Second Chamber. I think there will be this further obstacle referred to by the right hon. Member for St. George's, and that is when this House has tasted power it will be reluctant to give it up, and when hon. Gentlemen opposite have enjoyed for some two or three years the pleasure of being a Single Chamber, they will not be very willing to create another Second Chamber of a representative character, and with definite powers which may very fairly from time to time controvert their will, and perhaps more frequently and quite us effectively as a House of Lords.

Meantime there is a minor question, but one which, I think, is not unimportant to some 600 very respectable persons. You are depriving the House of Lords during this interregnum—which for aught I know may be a great deal more than an interregnum—of all practical interest in politics. Are you in consideration of this going to allow these Gentlemen access to this House? Are they to be eligible for Membership of the House of Commons? Or do you seriously mean to banish these 600 men, all men of some experience, and most of them men of marked ability, from all practical political life? I see no trace in the Bill of any consideration for the position of these peers; and I confess that the Preamble is so vague, and the Government has so far receded from its attitude as set forth in the King's Speech in January, 1910, that I do not feel at all secure against the permanence of the state of things which in the Preamble is assumed to be an interregnum.

By this Bill we are ostensibly conferring immense power upon the House of Commons; but is that power really conferred upon the House of Commons? More and more the power that we attribute to the House of Commons belongs to the Ministry of the day. It is not this House, but the Government which is made supreme. Several things are suggestive to my mind. In the Debate on an Amendment to the Address, when the Government was censured for its attitude with regard to the relations between Canada and the United States, the Prime Minister said that a censure on the Government is a censure on the electorate—as though the Government was the direct issue and outcome of the General Election; as if Parliament and this House were squeezed out, and nothing stood between the Government and the electors, as if it were really an approximation to the state of things in the United States, where the Executive is the direct issue and outcome of the election, and is not in any way responsible to the House of Representatives. I do not wish to attach too much importance to a phrase, but a straw shows which way the wind blows.

When we couple with that the persistent invasion of the rights of private Members, the persistent demands by the Government for the whole time of the House, so that the private Member is reduced to rare opportunities of introducing a Bill which has no chance of passing or of moving resolutions of an academical character, and when his main business is to discuss, when he can catch the Speaker's eye and during such short periods as the guillotine allows him, the measures which the Government introduced into this House, then I think the powers of the Government are really those which are being increased under this Bill. Private Members' time is gone. The business which we have to do is to discuss Government Bills in such time as is permitted to us under the rapidly increasing operations of the guillotine. Under these circumstances, does not the House of Lords do something for the public life of the country? Under present conditions, in the House of Lords at any rate, Debate is free. There is no suggestion there of the guillotine. In the House of Lords Debate is business-like; nobody talks unless he has something to say. A Debate in the House of Lords on an important subject is a valuable piece of political instruction to the country at large. If, therefore, you reduce the House of Lords to such a position that its Debates have no practical effect, the country will lose something from that point of view. We shall also lose the right of appeal which the House of Lords provides in the case of measures in regard to which the country is insufficiently informed, upon which it has not made up its mind, on which it is desirable it should think twice, or on which it has not been fully consulted. If this Bill passes we shall henceforth do nothing but discuss Government measures for so long as the Government chooses, and the majority, no doubt, will vote as the Government directs. The Lords may talk if they like, and as long as they like, but their discussions will come to nothing, because we shall decide the matter. They may say that a Bill is bad, but we shall pass it. They may say that it is not a bad Bill, but it requires Amendment. We may reply that we shall have nothing to say to their Amendments; and the Bill will pass all the same. Lender these circumstances such instruction as the public may derive from the Debates in both House of Parliament will be reduced to a minimum. These are great powers to confer on the House of Commons, but, as I say, I think they are practically conferred upon the Government. We are to be governed for a term of years by an oligarchy: the electors when they make an election have surrendered themselves altogether to a body of men who are to govern them for five years; but if we were satisfied that the Government really represented, in their legislative and executive action, one of the great parties of the State, it would be some poor consolation. But we know that it is not so. The masters of this House are the servants of groups within the House. These, groups are not, as the Home Secretary endeavoured to make out the other night, wings of parties or sections of opinion within parties. As everybody knows, every party contains within itself men of varying opinion, varying in the extent to which they hold or express the considered opinion of the party, men who are interested especially in this or in that political topic. I quite acknowledge that on this side of the House there are Conservatives and Liberal Unionists, and I believe that in the great Liberal party the Liberal Imperialist may still drag on a precarious existence. But the groups are different. Their objects are not your objects. What is of more importance, their Whips are not your Whips. They will not come to your call. They only vote with you after negotiation. Their numerical power in this House is out of all proportion to their numerical power in the country. Small as are the numbers that these groups represent, they might turn out the Government whenever they please. Therefore, it is always possible that the Government may be driven—I think I use the expression of the Prime Minister—" to save its skin," to do something which pleases the group, but might not be acceptable to the electors of the country. To meet this danger of the domination of groups, to meet the danger that great measures might be carried through this House under their control, which the electors have not been made aware of at a General Election, or have not been made sufficiently aware of, and which are actually inimical; it is, I say, to meet this danger, not by any means as a council of perfection, but as a palliative of our present electoral system, that some of us believe that the Referendum might be applicable. It might be applicable to two purposes—to save our Constitution from sudden and violent inroads and great organic changes, and to correct the obvious and acknowledged defects of our representative system. I think in one of his election speeches the Prime Minister said that the election in December might be taken as a Referendum on the Parliament Bill. I believe the voice of the electors was heard on other matters—Free Trade, Home Rule, and other things. I took note of those remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, because it occurred to me that if the last Election must be regarded as a Referendum, we were entitled to look not merely at the returns, but at the poll. If you look at the figures, hon. Gentlemen who sit on the opposite side of the House are not entitled, by the voice of the electors, to the great majority with which they confront us. I have some figures here, worked out by a method of calculation which was accepted by the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform as taking account of unopposed returns, and of getting as approximately as possible to the actual result which would have been obtained if the figures had prevailed at the poll in the General Election. I have noted that your majorities decreased in many parts of the country where hitherto you were strong, although you won the seat. I noted also that the number of unopposed returns on our side was very much larger than the number on your side. On this method of calculation, I find that in January, 1910, you were entitled to a majority of fifty, and that in the election of last December that majority had dropped to something under forty. Anyone who looks at the figures of the total number of votes polled will see that there is nothing there to justify a revolution; that the country cannot be said to be in the state in which it was in 1832. Whether we are acting through this House to bring pressure upon the other House, or whether you invoke the Royal Prerogative, you are not entitled to say that the country is aflame with zeal for the Parliament Bill.

10.0 P.M.

To correct some of these defects in our representative system the Referendum, in which every man's vote would count for one, is at any rate applicable. The President of the Board of Education poured contempt upon the Referendum. He employed a very common rhetorical device. He put up a number of possible cases—or rather impossible cases—and bowled them over. "Would you," he said, "ask the electors to decide on an amendment to Clause 3 Sub-section 3 of the Education Bill of 1906?" I have no doubt the electors would have been puzzled if they had been asked to discuss the clauses of the Education Bill of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. But I think the electors would have been even more puzzled if they had been asked to decide between the Education Bill of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, the Education Bill of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Education Bill of the President of the Board of Education, and I am not sure the Government would have with a light heart sent any one of these Bills to the Referendum—still more their Licensing Bill—which no doubt the House of Lords dealt with very promptly. I very much doubt whether the electors of this country would have passed with acclamation that Licensing Bill. I did not follow its electoral results except in this way, that I notice that a gentleman who has been welcomed back to the House lately, and who was one of the most vehement defenders of that Bill, lost his seat in the first election of 1910. I put aside the objection of the President of the Board of Education. You can, of course, produce any number of possible technical difficulties about the Referendum. An obvious thing is that the electors must have a Bill or two Bills put before them to say whether or not they will have them. As to the Prime Minister's speech the other day, I am not aware that the Jacobins ever put their views as to the rights of man in the form of a Referendum. But I do not go to the Jacobins or to Napoleon III. for an example. I go to the authorities of the Commonwealth of Australia and the States of the Commonwealth of America. They use the Referendum for two different purposes, and for very much the purposes to which I have said it might be applicable in this country. The Commonwealth of Australia uses the Referendum in the event of any great change being introduced against the existing Constitution. It certainly strikes one that there are great organic changes in this country which ought not to become law unless we were assured that the people of this country are thoroughly satisfied. The Referendum has been put to the test and has proved itself a most workable machine. The Referendum in the United States is used for several different purposes. The citizens may be dissatisfied with the action of their Legislature—with the work it has put out—and with those who represent them. There are no doubt electoral difficulties which may prevent the best sort of man taking to politics, and which I need not go into. Anyone can find them out for himself if he will study Mr. Bryce's book, but the fact remains that a good many States refer their legislation directly to the people because they are dissatisfied with the work and the personnel of their legislatures. We have something of the same difficulty. We are not dissatisfied with the outward garb of Parliament, we are not dissatisfied with the Members who are returned, but we are dissatisfied with the disproportion which votes bear to the returns made to this House, and we say that where the House of Lords differs from us, as it frequently has done in the last few years, that there is no absolute assurance that the people are not with the House of Lords rather than with the House of Commons. That can only be ascertained under our present representative system by a direct reference to the people. I have the instances of the Licensing Bill, the Education Bill, and the Budget. If you take the vote polled you will find that although the Budget was accepted it was not accepted with enthusiasm, and I am not at all sure that some hon. Members of this House did not prefer Home Rule to the economic interests of their country, and that if they had not done so you would not have carried the Budget at all.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Rufus Isaacs)

Why did the House of Lords pass it?


The Lords passed it because they had referred the Bill to the country, and they said that if the country approved it, they would pass it. I am not concerned to inquire what were the negotiations which provided the Government with their majority, but that majority was obtained, and, I presume, the House of Lords no more than I wanted to inquire into it. But they passed the Bill, as they said they would. I think I have stated reasons which show that this Parliament Bill not only does a great injustice but does not meet the practical difficulty by which we are confronted. In this situation, what are the differences between us? Both sides are agreed that our Second Chamber should be reconstituted, and I say that you had better work on the existing material than try to build up a new Second Chamber. We are both agreed that the present mode of settling differences is not satisfactory, and that we should find some means of settling differences between the two Houses other than dropping a Bill or dissolving Parliament. You hold that we should settle the matter by taking over absolute power to this House. We propose to settle it by conference and a joint session if necessary, and in certain limited and defined cases by a poll of the people. Are there not here the materials for a settlement, and will any settlement be final unless it is made by consent? You have in various speeches from that side of the House, or, at any rate, many of your speakers have set aside the possibility which many who sit behind you do cherish in their minds, namely, the hope that some settlement may be arrived at, but you may be quite sure of this—that if you drive this Bill into an Act of Parliament over our heads it will never be permanent so long as we have the power to endeavour to alter it. You are pulling down a Constitution which has deserved better of you than that. It is a Constitution under which we have in a way which no other country ever has before combined the principles of freedom with the facts of Empire. We have not only built up a great Empire and a world wide commerce, but we have carried the principles of freedom and civilisation into the uttermost parts of the earth under this Constitution, and we should be false to our traditions, ungrateful to the past, and guilty of an infamous betrayal if we did not resist this Bill to the utmost of our power.


The hon. Baronet who has just concluded his observations has made a very interesting speech and has called our attention to many interesting points, but it occurred to me as I listened to him that at the back of his mind there was some feeling of disquietude at the task which the Conservative party had taken upon its shoulders, because every now and then he seemed to be feeling pain and trial at the idea of reforming the Constitution of the House of Lords. So far as I can understand from what I am reading in the daily Press at the moment, and so far as one can judge, it appears at any rate that there is some attempt being made, and some attempt has been made, both by the House of Lords and by Lord Lansdowne, and it may be, as we shall hear later by others, to reform the constitution of the House of Lords. He told us that difficulties beset the maker of a Second Chamber. No doubt that is true; and then he said at the close of the speech, in the same words, or, at any rate, in words to the same effect as the Leader of the Opposition, that there must be a reform of the Second Chamber, and we are agreed that you must set to work to alter your Constitution. That, at any rate, is travelling a long way to meet us; that is going very far to admit the grievance of which we have complained for a very considerable period, without ever until recently having received any recognition of those grievances which we were always mentioning in this House and throughout the country. I notice also that the hon. Baronet said that there was no attitude so far as he could ascertain of revolution at the last election. No; why should there be? So long as the electorate has an opportunity of expressing its opinions on appeals made in the Constitutional manner, why should we have a revolution? It is a most extraordinary thing that, as the hon. and learned Member proceeded with his observations, I could not help noticing that before he had gone very far he told us that there was not enough majority at the last election upon which we could found a revolution. Sir, there is no question, so far as we are concerned, of a revolution. We have been agitating for a considerable time for a reform which we think we are now about to obtain. So far as I can understand from the speech of the hon. and learned Member opposite (Sir W. Anson), he seemed to think that in truth what we are doing was, for the first time in the history of this country, putting forward proposals for the abolition of the House of Lords. The hon. and learned Member, in common with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities (Sir E. Finlay), talked of this measure of reform which we are introducing as one of a violent and revolutionary type. I would like to contrast a little later, in the observations I am about to make to this House, which of the two propositions is the more revolutionary—the one which we are introducing in this Bill, or the Referendum of which we have heard so much?


The Prime Minister approves of it.


I think the right hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken, I heard what the Prime Minister said. I have heard it stated before that the right hon. Gentleman approves of the Referendum. I do not profess to be giving the exact words, but I know the sense of it, and, as I have heard it misquoted so often, I will deal with it. I think "the Prime Minister said:— I Will not myself shut out from all consideration the possibilities of a Referendum in certain cages. That is a very different thing from what has been said in reference to it on various occasions during this Debate, I cannot help saying, in answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken, that we on this side of the House supported this reform originally. In the year 1883 it was first mooted. I agree that hon. Members will be quite entitled to say it was not put forward as a practical part of our programme at that time, but it was suggested in 1883 as a means of dealing with the House of Lords. In 1884, at Bingley Hall, Birmingham, Mr. John Bright spoke with reference to this very proposal. As the House knows, there was then this very important difference: that the minimum period, according to his view, was to be one year instead of two years which we propose. The matter did not stop there, because in later years this question has been raised again, and, as I will show, has been discussed at length and in detail, until at last it was presented in an issue, somewhat differently I agree, from the issue of January, 1910, but still embodying all the terms of the Veto Re-solutions in the Bill put before the country at the last election on which the country pronounced its verdict. As has been shown in the Debate and discussion which has taken place upon this Bill, it no doubt involves very important issues, which I shall certainly not attempt in the slightest degree to minimise, which are worthy of the speeches which have been delivered, and of the speech which the hon. and learned Member who has just sat down has made to this House. But after all this the electorate, having heard what has been said upon this question on both sides, in spite of all the opposition, has placed us in power, has placed this Cabinet at the head of the country, so that we are enabled at the present moment to produce this Bill. It is said, and, I think, said rightly, that if this Government had a mandate for anything at the last election, it was for the abolition of the Veto. Yet the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. J. F. Mason) seemed to think there was no mandate at all for this Bill at the last election. He said so in terms. That is not the view which some hon. Members on his own side, at any rate, hold, and is not a view which can prevail when you come to consider what really has happened.


There is the Preamble.


That is the most amazing proposition I have ever heard. The hon. Member says that what we have is a mandate for the Preamble.


I suggested that what had been before the country and what the country felt was that the constitution of the House of Lords was at fault.


I will not discuss the exact words that were used. I quoted the words from the hon. Member, but it makes no difference to the point I am making. What is put as the enacting part of this Bill is as plain as possible. It embodies the terms of the Veto Resolutions. It is substantially the same plan as was definitely produced in the House of Commons by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1907, with some slight alterations and with some additions no doubt in reference to Money Bills in consequence of what happened at the end of 1909. There was the whole plan, and the Preamble states in terms that:

"It is intended to substitute for the House of Lords, as it at present exists, a Second Chamber"— [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If hon. Members will read the Preamble and follow it and wait until I have got to the end of the sentence, they will see what it says: but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Let me ask hon. Members not to get away from the point that we are discussing. The question at the moment is not "why not." I will deal with that matter later on. The hon. and learned Member (Sir W. Anson), who, after all, is an authority upon these matters, referred to the Preamble and said he would be the last to suggest that there was any breach of mandate on our part because we are not at the same time introducing the reform of the House of Lords. The very argument which he addressed to the House was that this was only a temporary measure, because, in truth, we were only dealing with the Veto Resolution by itself and were deferring the substitution of the Second Chamber and its reform till later. I cannot do better, with all respect to the hon. Member for Windsor, than refer him to so distinguished an authority as the hon. Member for the University of Oxford on this point.


I certainly did not throw over what my hon. Friend had said, and I cannot be quoted as having said anything different from what he said. I said: "You contemplate a reform of the House of Lords; it is part of your Preamble; it was part of your mandate; why are you not doing it?"


I certainly did not suggest, and I should be sorry to suggest that the hon. and learned Member threw over the hon. Gentleman who sits behind him. I should not expect him to do so. [An HON. MEMBER: "You said he did."] I beg pardon; I never used the expression. I pointed out emphatically that the hon. and learned Member's argument and the argument of the hon. Member for Windsor could not possibly hold together and I again say it would be impossible for anyone with the authority of the hon. and learned Member to contradict my proposition, that the enacting and operative part of this statute begins at Section 1, and the rest of it he is quite right in regarding as a statement of intention, put forward in the Preamble, to which I entirely assent. What is the one definite statement in this controversy for which we asked support? It was not for any plan of reform of the Constitution, but it was to adjust the relations of the two Houses by limiting the functions of the House of Lords immediately the Bill came into operation. That is what we put before the country: we went to the country with the statement which appears in the Preamble—a statement to every word of which I adhere implicitly. What was the object of the General Election? The result, at any rate, is known to hon Members from the seats which they occupy. The object of it was to endorse the policy which we put forward, and when hon. Members ask me why was the General Election held, let me remind them of a fact they appear to have forgotten. What was it that happened during the year 1910, which, in fact, deferred the General Election from the period at which everybody knew it would otherwise occur until a later period in the year? It was the lamented death of his late Majesty. Thereupon there was a long period of conference, and at the end of that conference, after every honourable attempt had been made on both sides to arrive at something approaching a settlement, the result was, when we found that no settlement could be come to, this Bill, which had already been introduced into the House of Commons, and which we knew perfectly well would never be carried in the House of Lords, was put to the country in order that the country might have the earliest opportunity of endorsing the policy which the Prime Minister had submitted. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why was the Bill not debated in this House? "] Because it had been stated definitely by the Prime Minister that, as soon as it became clear we could not carry on, and that this Bill was not to be allowed to pass we should go to the country and submit ourselves to a General Election. Is it suggested that the Bill would have been carried? Is it suggested that the House of Lords would have passed it if we sent it up to them? Does not everyone in the House know perfectly well that the Bill would never have passed the House of Lords? The consequence was that we submitted the whole policy to the electorate at the General Election, and with the result as I have said, that they returned us here to make this Bill a Statute as soon as we possibly can in order that we may carry out the one definite step that we put before the country, and that we might send it up to the House of Lords.

Is it necessary to answer the statement that the issue was not clearly stated? [An HON. MEMBER: "Certainly."] I am rather astonished to hear a right hon. Gentleman opposite say, "Certainly." I know something, at any rate, and I dare say he does, of the Literal addresses issued, and I know something, naturally, of my own address; and I say, without fear of contradiction, that every address that was issued by a Liberal candidate put this Parliament Bill in the forefront. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] I will come in a moment to what actually did take place, and I will point out what really did happen and what was done. Let there be no mistake about it. The country had this issue placed before them as plainly as possible, and, as I submit, clearly understood it. It was no new issue. It was not quite the same as the issue put before the country in 1906, because then what we were saying was that we would adjust the relations between the two Houses. But in 1910 the question had been before the country for some time and had been passed in this House by a very large majority. In 1910, as the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly justified in observing, the Budget was also before the country; that is quite true; the two matters went together, and throughout the length and breadth of the country both the Budget and reform of the House of Lords by the Veto Resolutions were discussed. When we got to the end of 1910 two important things happened. First, the Parliament Bill had been introduced, and, secondly, there had been a very vital change in the announced policy of the Opposition. The issue was changed for this reason: that whereas in January, 1910, when we went to the country it was said by the Opposition that the House of Lords was the bulwark of British liberties and had been the great champion of British liberties, and the guardian of public rights. When we got to a little later period, in November, 1910, why was it that suddenly the Opposition abandoned all that policy of defence of the House of Lords, and for the first time came forward to meet us and admitted that we were right in saying we had not been getting fair treatment from the House of Lords. That changed the situation, and for that reason it was that when we went to the country at the end of 1910 the issue was to this extent changed, that instead of having to discuss the one question of whether or not we should modify our unwritten Constitution, the question then was: Did the country ap- prove the Parliament Bill and the proposals which were contained in it, or did they prefer the alternative which was suggested by the Opposition? That was the changed issue. That was the reason why at the end of 1910 we were dealing with a totally different state of things. We presented to the electorate a clear and concise policy. We made it very plain that what we were asking them to do was to authorise us in the first instance as a temporary measure to deal first of all with the restriction of the Veto. That was the Parliament Bill which was hot intended to be final, but that was what it was intended to do.

As against that what was their proposal? There was a vague misty and obscure proposal which has never yet, so far as I know, been made clear to the country, which contained in it the addition of something which hitherto had been quite foreign to our Constitution, and that was the introduction of the policy of the Referendum. That was submitted to the country. It was discussed, without doubt, and in the result, after we had had the matter placed before the electorate and after they had pronounced upon it, we are asked by hon. Members opposite over and over again to treat this election as if it had never happened, to wipe it off the slate completely. "Let us go back to where we were." That really is an absolute impossibility.


No one has said so.


It has been the burden of a number of speeches which have been made. I understood the hon. Baronet (Sir William Anson) to say at the end of his speech, as so many others have said, "Is not this a great opportunity for a national settlement of this matter?" We had discussed the whole question, we had had our Conference, and had failed to arrive at a conclusion. The matter had then been submitted to the country. It reminds me exactly of the position of two litigants, who after an honourable negotiation with a view to a compromise had failed, submitted the issue to a jury. The jury then find their verdict, and it is said, "Oh, treat it as if no verdict had been given," and one of the extraordinary reasons given for it is, following out the arguments of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith), who gave us a statistical analysis of our coalition majority, as he termed it, and of the various reasons which actuated the different groups of the House, "you must not treat it as if this is a verdict of the jurymen, because really they have not all been actuated by the same reasons in arriving at the conclusion which they have announced."

When we have dealt with the issues at the General Election, as we have, let me examine for a moment or two the main arguments upon which it is suggested that we ought not to give effect to it. I say "give effect to it" because if we are true to the pledges which we gave to our constituents at the last election, if we keep faith with the people who returned us here, we are bound to do our very utmost to pass this Bill, which contains the proposal which was before the country. Let me examine the arguments. The first is, it is said that the Preamble pledges the House to the reconstitution of the House of Lords, and until we are ready to reform the House of Lords we ought not to pass this Bill. That is the argument which has been put forward by various sections and various Members during this Debate. I quite agree it has been seriously urged and argued, and I propose to deal with it in the same spirit. First of all, let us examine what the Bill is. The Bill is framed with one object. It is to bring into operation the plan of Veto restriction which we had placed before the country. That is what it is intended to do, and that is what it must do. It is suggested for some reason that we must not proceed with this Bill until we have introduced our scheme of reform of the composition of the House of Lords. Indeed, it is said by the Opposition that we must proceed with the two plans concurrently, whereas what we say is that the plan which was put before the country and is embodied in the Bill is that which we must carry out first. These two plans must proceed successively. Let me examine the position further. Surely there can be no obligation upon us to substitute immediately a reformed Second Chamber for the proposal for a reformed Second Chamber, when the Preamble of this Bill itself says that such substitution cannot be brought immediately into operation. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] There is no use asking that question, when I am explaining that it cannot be immediately brought into operation. Why is it in the Preamble of the Bill? It is in order to give expression to our view, that precedence should be given to dealing with the restriction of the Veto, which can be brought into operation at once.

Another argument which has been used, and in some detail against us—I think it was referred to by the hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford University—is that we have no mandate to pass the Bill. I would ask the House to consider for a moment what that means. I did not think the hon. Baronet would have said that in view of a passage which I find in his book. This argument is advanced on the ground that the Government have no special mandate to pass the Bill, and that the only mandate we have is in favour of the general policy of the Government. On the other hand, there are some critics on the Opposition side of the House who say that the Government have no mandate in favour of the general policy of the Government, and only a mandate to pass this Bill. I will deal with the two arguments, although it might be simpler to leave the two sections of the party opposite to answer each other. In considering this aspect of the question let me ask which of the two views is considered the right one. If we have a special mandate we have a right to put this Bill before the House as our earliest measure. If we have only a mandate to carry out the general policy of the Government, this is in the forefront of our policy, and we have a right to put it through. Therefore, from whatever point of view you take it, and whatever you choose to say is right, it still remains that we are entitled to proceed with this measure because we have a mandate for it. Either of these views confers the right, and I think the duty, to proceed with the measure. The true view is that the Government is justified, as the result of the election, in passing the Bill and also in pursuing the present policy because it has received a definite and plain vote of confidence from the electorate. At least that cannot be disputed. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] The hon. Member who disputes that would dispute anything. I quite agree that hon. Members are entitled to argue, as was argued, that we have not a large majority, a point as to which I may have something to say. But whether we have or not it is not disputed that we have a majority. Otherwise we should hardly be sitting on this side of the House; but I want to pass on to deal with this theory of mandate in a few words. This measure, and the items which made up the general policy of the Government, were placed before the electorate. We know it has been said that Home Rule was never before the country. Does anyone assert that now? Why is not this the election that will go down to history as the election of the Dollar Dictator? I cannot help for a moment just referring to a sheet which was produced throughout the country in almost every newspaper, and which will be familiar to hon. Members opposite as it is to us:— Unionism means safety. I thought hon. Members would cheer that, but I am about to prove that Home Rule was before the country:— To the moderate man.—If you believe that the good of the British Empire is more important than a particular part of it, will you consider these points: First, Home Rule. The Home Rule that Mr. Redmond demands is not justice to Ireland but injustice to Great Britain. It is an injustice to which the Unionist party will never consent. Now after that I might go on to refer to the alternative plan of the House of Lords. Tariff Reform and so forth, but the important matter is that during the whole of this discussion it has been said that Home Rule was not before the country when Home Rule was the first item in the advertisement which it was thought worth paying for in the "Times" and other newspapers, so that it was put well before the country that everybody might know that the first item in the Government programme was Home Rule. It is said, further, that this matter was not referred to by Members of the Government. I am not going to refer again to what the Prime Minister has said with reference to it, and what everybody knows occurred in this place either on this question or in the speeches that he made upon it. The whole object of the campaign of hon. Members opposite—and it is impossible to deny it—was to rouse up throughout this country a great prejudice against Ireland and against the Irish Members.




I do not want to say anything which the right hon. Gentleman thinks he has a right to object to, and I will change the phrase "against Ireland" to "against the Home Rule question." That was the intention. With what object? It was in order to induce the voters not to vote for the Liberals, but to vote for the Conservative party. It was for that reason that when you walked up and down the streets of your Constituency all you could find on the Conservative posters was things about the Dollar Dictator. When it is said that Home Rule was not before the constituencies, I may tell the House that the night before the polls in my Constituency there was a Conservative meet- ing. I should have known nothing of it if it had not been for pamphlets brought to me. But pamphlets were circulated, which were published by the Unionist Alliance in Dublin and sent over to be circulated among my own Constituents in Reading, and were distributed to them at the Town Hall unknown to me—I say unknown to me—and containing some serious accusations against the party to which I belong. The accusation to which I refer is much more serious, but I do not propose to read it to the House. All I say is this: I sent it to my opponent—at the Town Hall, Reading—I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon was present and addressing a meeting at the time—with a note asking him the question whether he approved of the particular lines in this pamphlet issued by the Unionist Alliance. He answered me at once in a letter which I possess, to say no; that he repudiated them. But they did their work. The only point I am making with reference to it is that it was a pamphlet issued by the Unionist Alliance for the purpose of dealing with Home Rule. Let me go to one other matter. Is it suggested that Tariff Reform was not before the constituencies? May I ask whether hon. Members opposite were returned to oppose Home Rule? Were they returned to oppose the Parliament Bill? Were they returned to oppose the Maintenance of Free Trade? Of course, they know they were. I do not suppose anyone will dispute that. If hon. Members opposite were returned to oppose those questions in the election in which we were taking part, how can it be said that we were not returned to support them. With reference to what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford University on the question of mandate, the only mandate to which I, at any rate, would subscribe, apart from supporting the general policy of the Government, is that kind of mandate which is a negative mandate. I do not say this in any controversial spirit. I mean that sort of negative mandate which, in 1900, was given to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and his party, that they were not to deal with certain social legislation; just as in the Parliament of 1906–9 the mandate was given that it was not to deal with Home Rule. A mandate in that negative and limited sense can be given. Ministers and Members of Parliament are bound by the ordinary rules of honour just as are private gentlemen, and if they undertake not to pass certain things they are bound by their word. So far as I am concerned, that is the doctrine of the mandate to which I am prepared to subscribe. I should have liked to say something about the Referendum, but I will content myself by calling attention to what has been said by a distinguished Leader of the Opposition. This Referendum policy was discussed at one time, mooted at any rate with reference to the Veto Resolutions. It was spoken about and written about in the newspapers; and there was a pronouncement made of very significant importance, and by no less an authority than Lord Curzon, a pronouncement, not in 1894 or 1904, but one made when the Veto Resolutions had been introduced into this House, made in May of 1910. This is what he said, dealing, as I have indicated, with the particular Veto Resolutions. He said:— The suggestion of the Referendum had been put forward, but the examples of foreign countries in its use was not pertinent to this country. He would be sorry to see this country plunged into the policy of the Referendum without considering the effect it would have upon the House of Commons, on the minority of the day, on legislation in general, on our natural temper and sentiment, and our future of the Empire. Depend upon it if they adopted the Referendum it would have an enormous incalculable, and at present unforseen, effect upon each one of those institutions. He believed the suggestion as a solution to be wholly illusory and impracticable. He went on further to say:— He ventured to think the proposal to solve the present difficulty by means of the Referendum was one which was not worthy of being considered. I commend that to those who are assisting him in the manufacture of a new Second Chamber, or with the alteration of the Second Chamber so that they may see how they can embody those views about the Referendum by Lord Curzon. In truth, in this matter what has happened here and what we know always must happen in a Constitution which is unwritten, which is not fixed, which is flexible, such as ours is, that you cannot have a change without, of course, it being submitted to the country. We have never drawn any distinction between constitutional changes by Act of Parliament and any other. The equally ultimate authority, I will ask the House to remember this, with our Constitution is a newly-elected House of Commons. That is the greatest authority that is known in the Constitution. We have this advantage that we have returned to this House as a newly-elected House of Commons. We have come here after we have put the point at issue in this Bill which we have submitted to the House of Commons, and the result is that the verdict, as I said, has been pronounced, judgment has been entered, and all that remains for us, and all that the electorate is entitled to ask us, and rightly entitled to say is that we should proceed earnestly, conscientiously, with the utmost of our ability, with the utmost of our power, as soon as possible, to place the Parliament Bill upon the Statute Book of the Realm.

Ordered, That the Debate be now adjourned.—[Mr. Pike Pease.]

Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Thursday).