HC Deb 08 May 1911 vol 25 cc915-48

As amended, considered.


I beg to move, that the following Clause be read a second time:—

Bills on certain subjects excluded front operation of Act until after a Referendum.

A Bill which—

  1. (a) affects the existence of the Crown or the Protestant Succession thereto; or
  2. (b) establishes a National Parliament, or Assembly, or a National Council in Ireland, Scotland, England, or Wales, with legislative powers therein; or
  3. (c) affects the qualification for the exercise of the Parliamentary franchise, or affects the right to vote at any Parliamentary election, or affects the distribution of Parliamentary seats; or
  4. (d) affects the constitution or powers of either House of Parliament or the relations of the two Houses one to the other;
shall not be presented to His Majesty nor receive the Royal Assent under the provisions of this Act unless and until it has been submitted to a poll of the electors and approved on such poll in accordance with the Schedule to this Act.

I think that none of us in this quarter of the House desire to debate over again matters which have been fully debated and decided by the House in Committee, but this Amendment raises a question never yet decided, and I think never yet debated even, in the form which it now takes. The question is this: we are assuming that Bills containing proposals for grave constitutional changes are to be withdrawn from what is called the Veto of the other House, and, assuming that they are to fall within the provisions of this Bill, in that case is there to be no check whatever upon the passing of such measures? I think that question must be the gravest which could arise at this stage. At all events, that question has never been considered and I venture to think that the omission of any check whatever on constitutional changes is one of the most remarkable points in the present Bill. For the purpose of this discussion I am, of course, assuming that the decision of the Committee will stand and that there will be no exception from the provisions of the second Clause in this Bill, under which measures can be passed into law without the assent of the other House. I also assume that the decision of the Committee on the question of Referendum stands, and that there will be no provision in the Bill for referring all deadlocks between the two Houses to the electorate. I am, therefore, putting forward this Amendment as regards the greatest changes of all, the constitutional changes falling under this particular Clause, and I am proposing that when the two Houses have differed, and differed for three Sessions and two years, there shall be in these particular instances a poll of the electors before the measure is submitted to the Sovereign for the Royal Assent. The Prime Minister said the other night that our British Constitution had been the subject of imitation and admiration by the whole world, and I think that enables me to quote as an example in this particular Debate what is done by other great powers.

I venture to say that there is no great country in the world which permits its Constitution to be changed even by the ordinary process involving the assent of the two Houses of Parliament without some special check such as I propose. It was not long ago, I think in 1893, that this House ordered and obtained a return to be presented to Parliament on the subject of the majorities, numerical or proportional, required by foreign States for changes in their Constitution. On going through that return I will take only the statements affecting the great Powers, leaving out of the question Russia and Italy, where practically no change in the Constitution can be made by legislative enactment. In Germany no such change can be made if there are in the Federal Council fourteen votes against it, and that is a very strong check. In Austria they require a two-thirds majority of the House before any such change can be made, and I may mention in passing that Belgium and Holland also require a two-thirds majority, together with a dissolution ad hoe, before the final decision is taken. In France, when changes of the Constitution are proposed, both Houses must assent, and then the two Houses must meet in what is called a National Assembly—that is, a Joint Session of the two—and there must be a majority in the National Assembly for the change. Lastly, in the United States' Constitution, which I think received great consideration when it was framed, a change of the Constitution is subject to very special and very severe checks. First, it must be initiated by a majority of two-thirds of both Houses or by two-thirds of the States, then it must be considered in a convention and passed by the convention, and then it must be ratified by the legislatures of three-quarters of the States, so that before any such change can take effect in the United States—a democratic country—you have all these checks and all these tests. There are also checks in each particular State on a change of the Constitution of such State.

I venture to think that this general consensus of opinion on this point does deserve some consideration in this country. There must be some reason why in every great country in the world there is a limit to the power of constitutional change, and when we are asked to put it in the power, not of both Houses together with the Crown, but of one House only, to make such a change, at all events we should ask ourselves why it is that this particular kind of legislation is subject to these special checks. If we do so, I think the House will see that this particular Amendment or an Amendment of this character does deserve very serious consideration. I do not think that these checks exist abroad because they do not understand the representative system, T think they exist because they do under- stand it. It seems to me that we and other representative bodies are sent here to carry out what we think is right and what we think to be for the good of our country within the Constitution. We are not sent here for the purpose of changing the Constitution. A change of the whole system under which we work ought to be the act not only of those who sit here, but of the country as a whole. It is the affair of the nation as a whole, and that kind of change which is the most important that we can make ought not to be a matter of party in this House and ought not to be at the mercy of those party influences and those sudden impulses which must have effect and very rightly have effect in a body of this kind. A change of that sort is so important that it ought to be the deliberative act not only of the representatives of the country, but an act deliberately sanctioned by the country itself. That is the effect of this Amendment. I venture to put it forward in the form of a list of the changes which would appear to rue to come within the definition of grave constitutional changes.

7.0 P.M.

We were met by the right hon. Gentle-man, and very fairly met, the other day by the argument, "Oh, you have not defined the constitutional change." I do not pre-tend to have put in this list everything that comes within that definition, but I think the House will find in it a certain number of changes which every-one will admit to be of very grave and very real importance, and I desire to suggest to the House that when such changes are proposed they ought not to be passed by one House, how-ever determined, within a period of two years, and that they ought to be subject to some kind of special sanction in order that they may obtain validity. Leaving that statement as its stands, and assuming for the moment that the House will agree with me that some kind of sanction is needed, I ask myself, what is the check that ought to be put upon a change of this kind? I do not wish to go over the ground which was covered when this question was raised in Committee, but I should like to refer to an argument which was used against the Referendum by the Postmaster-General. I proposed, a short time ago in Committee, that where there was a deadlock you should take a poll of the electors, and the right hon. Gentleman used against me a quotation from a former speech of my own, which, not unnaturally, amused the House, because he made it appear that only a year before I had spoken against the very proposal which I was then putting before the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman, I know, desires to be fair to his opponents, but this quotation did not fairly represent what I had said. I had not before me any report of my speech. Indeed, to be quite frank, I had entirely forgotten that it had ever been made. But since that time I have refreshed my memory, and I find, what I rather expected to find, that what I had said in April, 1910, was directed, not to what I recommended to the House last week, but to a totally different proposal. I was speaking on that occasion of a Referendum not on Bills under Clause 2 but on Money Bills—Bills falling within Clause 1—and if the right hon. Gentleman had extended the quotation, either by including the sentence immediately before the words he quoted or the sentence immediately following them, he would have enabled the House to see at once that that was so.


Does the hon. and learned Gentleman propose to read the quotation now?


The right hon. Gentleman thought fit to tear from their context certain sentences of mine which gave to the House an impression certainly different from what I intended my words to convey, and, I think, different from what they fairly conveyed to anyone who heard them at the moment.


I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman is going to read the quotation now in full.


I am reluctant, at a moment when we are discussing in both Houses questions of great moment, to trouble the House with what is, after all, an unimportant matter, and is perhaps not of much interest to anyone but myself. I was proposing at that time an Amendment to the First Veto Resolution. That corresponds to Clause 1 of the Bill. I proposed an Amendment to refer differences on Money Bills to a joint Session of the two Houses, I dealt entirely with the question of Money Bills, and I have the speech here. I said I only knew of three solutions. One was the Government solution, the second was the Referendum, and the third was Joint Session. I went on to criticise the proposal of the Government. Having done that I said this—I am quoting the first sentence which the right hon. Gentleman might fairly have quoted to the House:— Therefore I reject entirely the proposal of this Resolution, and the point for me to consider is what can we put in its place. That is, put in its place for the purposes of solving differences on Money Bills. Then come the sentences which the Postmaster-General quoted the other day, and then comes another.


Will the hon. and learned Gentleman read those sentences? They were perfectly general, and were not limited to Money Bills.


Then comes the concluding sentence, which was not quoted. It is in the same paragraph:— Therefore I really do not feel satisfied with a Referendum, certainly not as a remedy for differences on a Money question. because that is the last question you ought to refer to the country in all its details."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th April, 1910, col 655.] I do not deny for a moment that there are sentences which the right hon. Gentleman quoted which, if applied generally, would be opposed to the proposal of last week, but I assure the House that I did not apply them generally. I applied them only to Money Bills. I hope the House will accept the statement that that was my intention, and I think, on a fair reading of the speech, that was the effect. I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not dive further into my speeches, as they are of very little importance, but if he had taken the trouble to look at a speech which I made the very week afterwards, when we were discussing the question of differences on Clause 2 Bills—that is, general legislation—I clearly recommended to the House that very proposal of the Referendum which I put before the House last week.


I am sorry to interrupt again, but I am very sensitive to any suggestion that I have made an unfair quotation from a speech, and I much regret that in spite of repeated requests the hon. and learned Gentleman has still not read the passage in full, an extract from which I quoted.


The right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to make a statement now.


I do not object to the Postmaster-General reading my words, but I hope next time he will read them all, and will not pick out from a paragraph certain sentences which will convey to the House, as I think he did last week, a wrong impression. I do not say intentionally, but in fact he did convey a wrong impression. I hope I have made my point clear to the House. I think on these proposals for grave constitutional changes, the right sanction to obtain is the sanction of the electors. Something was said the other night about a recent Referendum in one of our dominions in Australia, and it was suggested, I think by the Prime Minister outside the House, that that was something like an argument against the Referendum. I hold it to be a strong argument in its favour. Here was a case of a Government returned not long ago with a majority in the Representative House. They put before the House a proposal for a change in the Constitution. The House accepted it. It was put to the country under a provision similar to this, and the country by a very large majority rejected it. I think that shows, what we have all along said, that you cannot rely upon this, that in every case your House, however fairly elected, can represent the country in regard to every question put before it. On these matters of such grave importance I think what you want to get is not the Will of the House at the time, but the Will of the country as a whole. That we have succeeded in getting in one of our Dominions overseas. We have had more than one statement from the Prime Minister on this point. He has always said that he does not desire to rule out this proposal as an expedient in grave and exceptional cases. I think we should all like to know what exactly he means by grave exceptional cases. The matters referred to in this Clause are all matters of grave importance, such as will rarely come up for decision, and they come within the phrase which the Prime Minister used. We shall be glad to hear exactly what his meaning was, and how far he will permit and accept the Referendum in order to solve difficulties. To throw away all checks on constitutional change is without example among all the great countries, and it is an experiment which this House should be slow to try because you will by so doing open the door to limitless changes in the great fundamental laws upon which the Constitution of this country depends.


I beg to second the Motion. I think it is not only moderately conceived but it will carry out in its entirety the policy which the Leader of the Opposition has always advocated on the platform and had in his mind—the Referendum. It has never, I think, been a part of his policy that the Referendum should be applied to all deadlocks between the two Houses. He has invariably confined it to questions of very great constitutional importance and change, and this Clause most distinctly and carefully limits the use of the Referendum to questions of that very large and important character. The Prime Minister has told the House that in times past he has coquetted with the Referendum. He also has said he would not rule it out for certain questions of grave importance. I should like to ask what graver question could possibly be under consideration of the House of Commons than those which are embodied in this new Clause, and if, therefore, it cannot be accepted for these great questions, for what purpose did the Prime Minister have in his mind the acceptance of the Referendum at all? I at all events cannot be accused of having embraced my hon. and learned Friend's proposal as one of a novel character, because I am glad to think that eleven years ago I made a speech in my own Constituency strongly in favour of the Referendum on questions of very important constitutional change. I have therefore a fairly consistent record on the question, though I admit there was a period during which I did not say anything about it. I have been to Switzerland and seen something of its action there. I have heard a good deal about its educational advantages and also its democratic advantages, and I am sure the effect of its recent use in Australia should make us pause before we give to this or any other House of Commons the autocratic power which this Bill seeks to give to it. There have been many discussions in this House between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition upon the question of the representative character of the House. I suppose the Australian House must be regarded as being quite representative, as it was only elected the other day, but it has been proved that, however representative it might be it did not on an important question represent the people of the country, and no one can say that it is anything but fortunate that electors in the colony had the opportunity of expressing themselves in the way they did. I am pretty sure that so far as Scotland is concerned one of the best ways of getting the views of people would be by means of the Referendum, because the people there are so wedded to their own. political beliefs and so attached to the mere name of Liberal, that it is difficult at an election to separate the wheat from the chaff. I believe if they could give an honest and straightforward vote on any important constitutional question, and feel that in doing so they did not require to consider the interests of the Liberal party or Cabinet, you would get a different result from what you would get by the present form of representative institutions in Scotland. I may be wrong, but that is my view. I second this Amendment with pleasure, because I look with horror and apprehension, largely, I am afriad, on account of the short experience I have had of the House of Commons, to the country entrusting itself to the autocratic power which this Bill gives. I have a very vivid recollection of the manner in which two Scottish Bills were passed through this House in the second Session of the 1906 Parliament, without being threshed out in the Session before, and I am well convinced that what happened then might well happen again under this Bill.

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

When any Member of the House of Commons has to make a statement in the tone and manner which the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Cave) has employed, no one would be more likely than he to secure complete acceptance of the statement by his political opponents, and, of course, when the hon. and learned Gentleman tells us that he did not mean his condemnation of the principle of the Referendum to apply to the principle generally, but that he only meant it to apply to the principle in regard to Money Bills, we at once accept his statement on that point. We shall not, as far as we are concerned, prefer against him any further the charge of inconsistency of view or intention. But I am bound to point out—and I hope he will not think it out of harmony with what I have just said—that the language which he employed was language not only likely to lead my right hon. Friend (Mr. Herbert Samuel) into drawing the conclusion he did, but was so framed as to make it very difficult indeed for my right hon. Friend, or anybody who happened to read it, to arrive at any other conclusion. I have now been able to refresh my memory as to the actual quotation, and I think I am bound to read it, not for the purpose of reproaching the hon. and learned Gentleman with inconsistency, but for the purpose of vindicating my right hon. Friend against any charge of negligence or carelessness in making a quotation which might amount to misrepresentation. The actual words which were used by the hon. and learned Gentleman on 7th April last year are reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT, in Column 658, under the head of "Money Bills." He said:— Therefore I reject entirely the proposal of this Resolution, and the point for me to consider is what can we put in its place. As to the Referendum, I will not say much in regard to it except that my feeling is similar to the feeling I entertain towards proportional representation. In theory, there is an immense amount to be said for proportional representation, but in practice I do not like it, because it seems alien to our party system and is incompatible with the system of Government under which we live. If you are to submit to the people a question which arises here… That objection is equally valid against the Referendum dealing with constitutional questions and general questions. Under that system an adroit Minister could still carry on the Government, simply relying on the Referendum, when really he did not represent the feelings of the country. Therefore, I really do not feel satisfied with a Referendum, certainly not as a remedy for differences on a money question, because that is the last question you ought to refer to the country in all its details. It is quite clear that the hon. and learned Gentleman was no doubt considering the question from the point of view of Money Bills, but he used language which, so far as the ordinary sense of the words is taken, would have been read by anyone, without the explanation just offered, as meaning that the objection he entertained to the Referendum in regard to Money Bills was only an extreme form of the general objection he entertained to the use of the Referendum on general questions.


I quite accept that, but if the right hon. Gentleman had quoted the sentence which followed or began his quotation I think the House would have seen that I was referring at the time to the Referendum on Money Bills.


I am anxious that this matter should remain satisfactory to everyone. We do not prefer any charge against the hon. and learned Gentleman. However much he might quarrel with the text of his words, I am sure he will not accuse my right hon. Friend of any inaccuracy in the quotation he gave. I think very few words are required in reply to the moderate speeches in which this Amendment has been commended to the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman has not changed his views at all between last year and the Committee stage, but he has changed his position between the Committee stage and the Report stage. He has reduced the scope of the machinery of the Referendum.


I believe that half a loaf is better t ban no bread.


I am willing to admit that. The insuperable objections which may be urged against the application of the Referendum to the whole scope of our legislation are less numerous, though I think not less insuperable, when applied only to the limited portion of the field to which the hon. and learned Gentleman now desires to direct it. I think he has been very wise in reducing the scope of his Amendment. I have always felt that the Conservative party were straying very far from their general view of the best way of maintaining the stability of the country when they proposed to submit all measures, great and small, to the arbitrament of the Referendum. [HON. MEMBERS: "We never did."] Well, all measures which might be challenged in a certain way. I have often thought that the more they considered what may be the result of referring to the Referendum of 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 people, such a question as the nationalisation of the land and the amount of money to be obtained in compensation—the more they reflected on this possibility the more they would be inclined to do as the hon. and learned Gentleman has done, to moderate their views as to the scope of the Referendum and reduce the area to which they would allow this extremely democratic instrument to apply. I think the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman is no longer general in its scope, but it covers a very wide field. The hon. and learned Gentleman asks us to do what the Prime Minister showed in the Debates in Committee we had not in this country done before, namely, to specify a class of questions apart from the ordinary general legislation of the country, to put certain measures on one side and submit them to an entirely different treatment from the ordinary Parliamentary treatment dealt out to others. Since the hon. and learned Gentleman has selected certain constitutional questions for this treatment I think I cannot do better than allude again to the quotation from Professor Dicey which the Prime Minister read to the House when this subject was last under consideration. Professor Dicey says:— He may search the Statute Book from beginning to end but he will find no enactment which purports to contain the articles of the Constitution. He will not possess any test by winch to discriminate the laws which are constitutional or fundamental from ordinary enactments. He will discover that the very term constitutional law, unless my memory deceives me, which is not ever used by Blackstone, is of comparatively modern origin, The hon. and learned Gentleman has made a considerable plunge before getting to the present proposal as to the application of the Referendum in defining a number of constitutional questions apart from the ordinary legislation of the country. I admit that the hon. and learned Gentleman has endeavoured to define these, and they figure in the text of his Amendment. Although they appear fairly definite on paper, I think there is no doubt whatever that disputes and questions would arise in connection with almost every one of the categories he has placed on the Paper, which would require for their solution the intervention of a judicial body of some kind or other. Questions would arise as to the actual character and effect of measures as they came up, and as to whether they fell within the categories or not. It would be absolutely necessary, if you were to proceed on this basis, that there should be some judicial body to determine whether the line had been over passed which separated the measures from constitutional questions. That is the great objection which we hold on this side of the House. We are entirely opposed to the erection of any judicial body external to Parliament itself to sit on the proceedings of either House or both Houses of Legislature, and to declare whether or not they have acted within a purely legal definition of the ever-changing needs of our constitutional system.


Why not submit them to the Speaker?


Of course, it is perfectly true that for the purpose of this Bill in other respects we have used the position of the occupant of the Chair to determine certain questions, but we have felt that the burden laid upon the Speaker is as heavy as it should be, and we have been frequently reminded of the fact by hon. Members opposite, and it does not he with them to press us to lay on the occupant of the Chair a burden which, compared with those already imposed under this Bill as it now stands, would be regarded as almost inconsiderable. Let us consider some of the Bills which in recent times would have come within the scope of the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman. First of all the London Elections Bill is a measure which undoubtedly he would have. claimed under his proposal should have been subjected to a Referendum. Then the Bill to abolish Plural Voting should have been subjected to a Referendum. Why should it? Is not the House quite competent to arrange its own methods of election A Liberal Redistribution Bill would, under this Amendment, have to be submitted to a Referendum. Why should it? Would a Tory Redistribution Bill have to be submitted to a Referendum? I am anxious to press that point. It illustrates the one-sided character, the essential vice of these proposals, which pervades so many Amendments that we get from that side of the House. A Liberal Redistribution Bill, though it may proceed purely upon mathematical lines and lines of severe arithmetical logic would be forced to be submitted to a Referendum; while a Conservative measure of Redistribution, however unfair—I am only assuming that for the purpose of argument. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I do not say it would be, but if hon. Gentlemen ever were associated with a measure which was unfair, or even if it was a measure to contract or reduce the franchise and deprive people of the single vote they possess, such a measure would not be the subject of a Referendum at all; because I observe that neither in his Amendment nor in his speech supporting it, does the hon. and learned Gentleman say anything whatever about any provision to make the working of a Referendum not one-sided.

Lord Balfour of Burleigh, in introducing his Bill into the House of Lords—whatever the merits of the Bill, and I think very little of the merits of the proposals—at any rate, provided machinery which would work equally between the two great parties in the State, because he placed it in the power of a certain minority of Members of this House to claim a Referendum, and there was machinery by which undoubtedly the system, whether good or bad in itself, could be applied equally to both parties. But Lord Balfour of Burleigh's scheme received very lukewarm support from those who are assembled on the Conservative side of that Chamber, and I noticed that that one provision in the scheme, namely, that the Referendum could be put into operation by Members of either party in the State, that one provision which had in it evidence of fairness, has been put forward neither in the Amendment nor in the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, nor in any other speech or speeches or proposals that I have heard on the subject from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House. If your method is to provide for a minority of Members of Parliament putting the Referendum into operation, if that is your proposal, then I am quite willing to withdraw the argument as to that portion of the measure being one-sided. But where does it carry you? It carries you directly to the abolition or nullity of the Second Chamber, because it is perfectly certain that if the Referendum is to be invoked by the minority in the House of Commons on any important issue which is controversial, or, as it is proposed in this Amendment, on all the great questions of constitutional issue, it is quite certain that that is a constitutional position which could not exist side by side and in harmony with other parts of the proposal of the Conservative party, namely, a strong reconstituted Second Chamber. What would be left for the Second Chamber to do? When the appeal to the country would be made on the decision of Members of the House of Commons on the whole of the great range of constitutional quest ions, and when, as we know well from their own attitudes which they have adopted, they are prepared to abandon the right to control purely Money Bills as such, then there would not be left the material, even if the hon. and learned Gentleman reduced the scope of his apparatus, to occupy the attention of a body half so big as he no doubt desires to see the Second Chamber in his system.

That is the first alternative which I submit to hon. Gentlemen opposite. If the Referendum is to be worked by both parties, it is a substitute for, and not an addition to, any machinery for a Second Chamber that may be set up. If, on the other hand, it is not to be worked evenly by both parties—and that is the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman—then I say it is astonishing that at this hour of the day, after these long discussions, he and his Friends should come forward and ask us to agree to a proposal which bears the stamp of inequality, partiality, and injustice upon its face in every line and in every phrase. The hon. and learned Gentleman has not in any way attempted to meet that charge of one-sidedness to which I have said this Referendum would lead, and he has not done anything to show us how to meet the argument that a Minister would not continue in office after receiving a rebuff on some great question such as those which are contained in this Amendment. How could he remain in office? After the Government had made a proposal of extreme magnitude and importance to which they had pledged their faith and their convictions, then when this proposal has been rejected, they are, we are told, to continue to administer the affairs of the country on an entirely different basis, and with an opposite purpose and opposite methods to those which they had been hoping and believing it would be right and proper for them to fulfil. Politics may be an humble profession, but I am glad to say it is not quite so humble in this country as yet.

No doubt there are sometimes questions which are non-party in their character, for which you get no party and no Government to be responsible: questions about which it cannot be said that a single Member of the House was returned in consequence of them or prevented from being returned in consequence of them. I can conceive in certain circumstances, if there should be such a question that it might be a conceivable procedure to apply the machinery of a Referendum to ascertain the feelings of the country, which had not yet been decisively or effectively evoked, through any of the ordinary proceedings of party representation. In regard to those it is quite true that a decision is not a rebuff which would affect the position of the Minister of the day, but, except upon a nonparty subject, clearly the reversal of a policy put forward by the Minister of the day would destroy the whole credentials of the Government and would render a General Election necessary as the inevitable and immediate consequence. I have indicated very briefly to the House the general objections which we consider apply to the larger scheme and which apply slightly in a different number, but not with less complete effect, to this and the smaller varieties of the Referendum scheme which have now been put forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman. Let me say that at the end of these discussions our position is the same as at the beginning: We have produced our proposals and still adhere to the opinion that the machinery which we bring into existence by the Parliament Bill is machinery adequate in itself by its checks and safeguards of delay for the discussion and settlement even of the gravest question with which the politics of this country can be concerned, and we find that the machinery of the Referendum which the hon. Gentleman has now restricted to constitutional questions alone is objectionable, not only in regard to the constitutional questions, but over the whole area of public affairs.


I do not think that anybody would complain that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Churchill), who has just sat down, has occupied too much time in discussing this Amendment. The Amendment is indeed one of considerable and confessed importance. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman has had to devote all that time to the Amendment, shows how all too brief is the period of discussion given to us on the Report stage of this Bill. I shall not go back on the question of my hon. and learned Friend's speech. I think I might under other circumstances have said something about that and about the manner in which my hon. and learned Friend's explanations were met by the interruption of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Herbert Samuel). But I have got more important matters to deal with, and I mean to confine what I have to say, which will be purely in the nature of a reply to the right hon. Gentleman, to the public aspect of this controversy. The right hon. Gentleman began his speech by a very unworthy taunt against hon. Gentlemen sitting on this side of the House. He said, "You have changed your attitude since the Committee stage of the Bill. The Amendment you are now discussing is smaller in its scope than the Amendment, which was discussed a few nights ago," and which I think was also moved by my hon. and learned Friend. That surely is a most amazing way of meeting serious arguments. The Opposition are naturally, and I grant rightly, hampered by strict rules of Debate in discussions in Committee, but all that ought to be asked of us is that the broad principles underlying our Amendments are consistent, and that we may well think any Amendment we propose is an improvement on this Bill.

Frankly, I prefer the Amendment now moved by my hon. and learned Friend, in one view, the Amendment moved in the Committee stage. That Amendment covered a much larger area, and was an immense improvement on the Bill; whether it covered too large an area is a moot point. In both cases the Opposition have done all they can. They have laid down broad principles, and have embodied them in a practical form which carries out and is intended to carry out great improvements in the substantial machinery of the Bill. That was done by the Amendment moved in Committee, and that was done by the new Clause now moved by my hon. and learned Friend, and I really think that for the right hon. Gentleman to take the trouble to explain that those two Amendments were not the same was hardly worthy of the occasion, and hardly worthy of himself. He proceeded to abuse the party on this side of the House, and he said that the Tory party are now shrinking from some of their previous heresies, and that they would have been prepared, under the Amendment as moved in Committee, to submit to a Referendum the question of private property in land how dangerous to allow the electorate of a country to pronounce on such questions as private property in land! There are two observations to be made on that. The first is that the Referendum is an additional precaution to such precautions as now exist to preserve the rights or the properties of any citizens or individuals. There is nothing in the proposal either in the Committee or here to remove any of the existing precautions by which the rights of individuals or corporations will be preserved. Secondly, he said that if really the great body of the electors of this country are so ignorant of the very foundations on which civilised, commercial, and industrial society must exist as to think you could in a barefaced manner [...]ob the owners of a particular kind of property from one end of the kingdom to the other, I think that the future of this country would hang by a thread. I do not believe that the majority of the electors of this country have the least desire to disturb the rights of any class of the community. They may make mistakes, but they do not lay down legislative propositions of that character. Once morality sank to that very low level, then, I frankly admit, the securities on which our existing system must inevitably depend would receive a shock from which they would never recover. The right hon. Gentleman represented us as introducing novelties, and said, "Read your Dicey, and you will find that learned professor states there is no distinction between the constitutional law and other law; it is indistinguishable in substance from every statute law which is to be found in the Statute Book, or from any other principle which may be embodied or embedded in the common law of this country." If that were the case things might well be, and would have been, left had the right hon. Gentleman kept his hands off the Constitution. But things are not really the same, and our complaint is that this Bill violates the Constitution of the country by substituting a Single-Chamber for two Chambers. That is a very elementary proposition. The right hon. Gentleman does not realise when he sets about it that he destroys the precautions and safeguards which the present Constitution provides, and it does not show a Radical spirit of destruction when we look round the world for lessons which will enable us to find other methods and other precautions to supply the place of those which are being so recklessly and so foolishly destroyed.

We see in that no evidence of a reckless desire and unconsidered desire to violate the ancient forms and traditions of the Constitution under which we live. Having dealt with the high ground of the constitutional practice the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that it was an impossible burden to throw upon the Speaker to ask him to decide what Bills would come under the provisions of my hon. and learned Friend's Clause. The Bill itself asks the Speaker to decide questions of incomparably greater difficulty than those which my hon. and learned Friend proposes he should decide—incomparably more. Everybody will admit the difficulty of deciding what is or is not a strictly Money Bill, even if all party questions are put on one side. Between Bills which are obviously Money Bills and Bills which are not obviously Money Bills, there is an ambiguous territory which the acutest intellect, without party or political prejudice, unmoved by any eddies of passion inside or outside of the House would find it extremely difficult to determine. But that problem Mr. Speaker is asked to determine. I assume for my argument that the machinery by which this question is to be decided is the machinery which the Government have set up in Clause 1. I object to the machinery in Clause 1 which makes the Speaker decide the question. I think the machinery ought not to be a court of law, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in that. The right hon. Gentleman said he objected to a court of law, and there I am with him, but he went on to say in reference to the Speaker—


I was dealing with the question of an extra judicial tribunal, and then somebody on the other side of the House suggested the Speaker, and I dealt with that additional point. But my argument was directed against the court of law as the determining authority.


I did not mention the point of the Speaker as having been introduced in the right hon. Gentleman's speech.


I mentioned the Speaker parentheticaly.


And I am dealing with the parenthesis. I will express my view in a few words. I do not think that the deciding authority should be a court of law. I do not think it ought to be the Speaker. I think that question should he decided in a simpler way than is proposed in Clause 1. I object to the Speaker being used as the deciding authority. In my view it ought to be quite another authority, and ought to be such an authority as is provided for by an Amendment—a Joint Committee of the two Houses, with the parties equally divided, and the Speaker in the chair with the casting vote. That is in substance an Amendment already on the Paper. I think that would be incomparably better than any other method. The right hon. Gentleman went on to put this dilemma—if you are only going to apply the Referendum to Bills which are rejected by the other House, the result will be that when a Radical Government are in office there will be the Referendum as a check, and that when the Conservatives are in office there will be no Referendum. But if you are going to make great constitutional changes take your precautions so that action of this kind may be dealt with. I think those fears are quite illusory. If Unionists indulged in legislation of a revolutionary character the majority in the House of Lords of which the right hon. Gentleman speaks would give as little support to revolutionary proposals brought forward by Gentlemen sitting here as it would to those of hon. Gentlemen sitting on the other side. But if the right hon. Gentleman thinks it likely that there is going to be done what has never yet been done by the party to which he is opposed, or by any party, let him take his precautions, and we will not quarrel with him if he will give us the safeguards for which we ask. That was the first part of his dilemma. The second part of his dilemma was as to what would be the use of the Second Chamber if both sides can claim a Referendum. He said if we took Money Bills from the House of Lords, and also constitutional changes from it, then there would be nothing else for it to do.

8.0 P.M.

But is the party opposite henceforth going to bring in unjust Budgets and violent revolutionary changes, and is all the possible legislative activity which proceeds from that side to be of that character? The right hon. Gentleman entirely mistakes the case. It is not only with those measures the House of Lords would have to deal. He asked who would serve in a Government that could be over-ridden by the Referendum. I cannot imagine that any Government would regard it as an indignity to be overridden by the views of those who returned them to the House of Commons. And if the House of Lords should take the view that to be overridden by the voice of the people was to suffer some gross indignity that would make it impossible for any self-respecting man to work in the House of Lords, then there would be a better reason for ending or for mending them in the most drastic fashion than any the right hon. Gentleman has ever yet been able to bring forward. That really brings me to his last argument. He went on to cite the example of Australia, and asked what self-respecting government could remain in office after it had received a rebuff at the hands of the electors. My whole instinct runs contrary to the view of the right hon. Gentleman. To say that no self-respecting Government could retain office if their view is overridden by the country seems to me grossly and absurdly extravagant. It is just possible that there may be cases in which the Government would feel that in regard to their whole policy they could not usefully retain office. That that is the universal case or the general case I absolutely refuse to believe. The hon. Gentleman, cannot have present in his mind all the measures which the Government, believing themselves to have the confidence of the people, have dropped even through the pressure of the House of Commons, and yet have not gone out of office. Surely that is much more humiliating, and I do not think that there is humiliation in either case. I remember mentioning in Committee the Irish Councils Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. I believe he felt it deeply at having to drop that Bill, but most rightly and constitutionally, in my opinion, he retained office, and the Government, of which he is a Member, retained office, and I should have thought it would be a gross dereliction of duty, simply because they found that the general trend of opinion was against the measure, I think it would have been perfect madness for them to have diversed themselves of responsibility which the majority of this House, and apparently of the country, desired them to retain.

I am quite convinced the more this proposal is talked of in this House and the country the more it will receive support. There are difficulties in its application, or there may be difficulties in marking off the thing which ought to come under it, and that which lies outside, but still in the Referendum, lies our one hope of getting the sort of constitutional security which every other country but our own enjoys, the sole hope on great questions of arranging for differences of opinion, whether with a reformed House of Lords or a purely elected House of Lords. I further believe, so far from its demoralising, that it would be a great practical education in politics. How many elections are now fought on purely personal grounds. How many people give their vote blue or yellow because they have always voted so, or because their fathers voted so. How often a man is content to say, "I stick to my party, I am loyal to the principles I always professed," or, like a Scotch voter, of whom a friend spoke to me a few moments ago, who said, "Tariff Reform is an excellent policy, and as soon as the Liberals bring it in I will vote for it most heartily." How many elections are decided by sentiments of that kind, and very respectable sentiments they are, too. Though they are respectable, they do not involve a study of politics. I really think to have a controversy thrashed out in the House and then in the Second Chamber, and then refer it to the electors for revision, not on the merits of either the Member or the Government or the party, but on the merits of the Bill itelf, that that, so far from corrupting the sources of democratic life, would only be a great education for political people. I am sure for all those reasons that the House be ill-advised if it rejects now the Amendment of my learned Friend. But I am convinced whatever is done now that the controversy that has been started on this great method of constitutional reform must and will bear fruit, and that before long, and practically in the lifetime of all of us, we may see this great democratic engine brought into practice.


I desire to say very few words as one of the Members who did not take part in the Debate on this subject in the Committee stage. I want to put this point to the Home Secretary. He says this is not fair to both sides, that if you have a Referendum in one case you must have it in the other. That is to say that if the Opposition put forward a Bill it would go through both Houses with no Referendum. Whereas, if the Liberal party put forward a proposal it would be referred to the people. That is an argument we have heard before, but that vice of inequality between parties belongs to the Bill. The Government have deliberately chosen to prefer the method of restricting the power of the Second Chamber to that of reforming the Constitution. As long as you leave the Second Chamber in that prejudiced condition any constitutional check you have within the purview of this Bill must necessarily have the vice of inequality. Therefore the fault lies in the Bill. If the Government will only bring in reform and carry out the Preamble, then the Home Secretary would be answered directly. Let me put this dilemma to the right hon. Gentleman. He says this will be unequal, but then, presumably, the check left in the Parliament Bill of delay will also be unequally used. Then you have this alternative that either the check leaves the Liberal party disadvantaged or, what I am afraid in fact is the case, the check is a nugatory one. No one objects to submit to a check which is a wholly ineffective one, however one-sided it may be. To argue that you must not have a better check because the machinery that is going to use the check is unfair to you is absurd. Have a good check and have a fair authority to put it in force, but do not say you will not have a good check because you will not have a fair authority. The argument for a Referendum really amounts to this, that the people are to decide all great controversies. I understand the Government to say that they must have a mandate for vital issues and constitutional reforms, and the Prime Minister argued at great length at Manchester to defend himself against the accusation that he had not got a mandate for Home Rule. What is the difference in principle between a mandate and Referendum. There is a difference in machinery and on the side of the Referendum. A mandate is obscure, the Referendum is clear. A mandate takes place before discussion; the Referendum after discussion. And in both points the mandate is the worse way. Let me put the matter in this form. Suppose a man goes to one of those shops where a number of animals are sold, and suppose he is anxious to buy a Persian kitten; what would be thought of the shopman and his way of conducting business if he said, "If you have a kitten you must also have a guinea-pig, a fox, and a snake?" The customer would say, "I want a kitten; I dislike guinea-pigs and foxes, and I abhor snakes." That, is the position the electors were in. They had the party opposite offering very different things, some of which they liked, and some of which they did not like. Conceive the position of the unhappy customer who to get a kitten has to buy a snake! That is the system of the mandate. We are told the customer ordered a snake because he ordered a kitten too, so absurd is the existing system. If you believe in the will of the people, how much better the Referendum.

I believe that a perfectly satisfactory solution of our constitutional difficulties can be found in this way. If you will make t his House really representative, have some plan of proportional representation, vote by ballot, in order to give protection against undue pressure. If you have those changes you will have a proper reform of the other House, and the deciding voice shall be in the hands of centrally-minded persons and you will be able to settle nineteen out of twenty questions by a Joint Session. You will never be able to settle deep-seated party controversies, because you will never get this House to act as a truly representative Chamber on those matters, since you will not get any consideration for the rights of the minority. For those purposes you must have the Referendum. My hon. and learned Friend proposes a catalogue of certain great constitutional issues which are to fall under the Referendum. I could conceive desirable additions to the catalogue, but those mentioned offere some additional security beyond what we have, which would give reassurance to those who are seriously alarmed. What we propose under the Referendum is to do formally and regularly what the Government propose to do informally and irregularly. They say that the whole object of delay is to consult the country, to give the country an opportunity of expressing an opinion, and the Bill is to be sent twice or thrice solely that public opinion may be signified. How can it be unless there is machinery for expressing the public will. How is it consistent with the dignity of this House to pass the same Bill through three times, and no doubt with the guillotine and all the apathy of re-going over that to which hon. Members have pledged themselves, and on which they cannot alter their opinions. How much more consistent with the true dignity of this House to submit the matter to the tribunal of the people, and accept their decision.

We are told it is inconsistent with the dignity of the Government to have its Bills rejected, and that the Government would be obliged to resign. The mere rejection of Bills does not imply the resignation of the Government. The House of Lords has repeatedly rejected Liberal Bills, and the Government has not resigned. The Home Rule Bill was rejected, and the Government did not go out, but stayed on for a year and a-half. The only difference would be that they would have the Bill rejected by the people, and not by the House of Lords. It does not imply a general want of confidence in the Government, nothing of the kind. The people would vote on the clear issue of the Bill, and not on the general merits of the Government. There would be merely disagreement with the particular Bill put forward. The truth is that this House is the proper tribunal to decide the existence of the Government. We must all hold, and even the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, in his most enthusiastic moments, would admit that there is an absurdity in the close connection between the existence of a Government and every division on every Bill which comes before this House. The House is not free, necessarily not tree, apart even from party pressure even in the minds of Members themselves. According to their own conscience and judgment, the two things are bound together. The Referendum would, therefore, really increase the liberty of this House. It would separate the Legislature from the administrative functions of this House, and would bring back to it some of that liberty of management in legislative matters which it has now lost. I am persuaded that that is the true solution of the constitutional difficulty. I have noticed with great interest that the Prime Minister has never spoken on the Referendum without making a mysterious exemption of some peculiar exceptional case in regard to which the Referendum might be used. I wish I could persuade him to take the House into his confidence and to tell us what that exception is. Something the Home Secretary said seemed to me to suggest that it might be Woman Suffrage. The Government often find a new suggestion helpful when it will get them out of a difficulty. Woman Suffrage would no doubt be one of the matters that would fall within the four corners of this Clause.

But that is not the only subject which was not fairly before the country at the last election, but which might, nevertheless, be decided under the Parliament Bill during the present Parliament. The question of the Welsh Church might be decided in the present Parliament, but it was certainly not before the country in any real sense at the last election. And there are other matters. Personally, I should prefer a larger sphere for the Referendum than is given under this Clause. You cannot get all the great important matters that really divide parties within the four corners of a category such as this. I should like a larger sphere because I honestly believe that the will of the people must prevail in this country. I agree that the people are not infallible, and that they are liable to make mistakes; but we cannot fill the Constitution on any other basis. I have immensely more confidence in the judgment of the people than in the judgment of this House, governed as it is under the rigorous party system under which we now dwell. If we could see our way to relax that system we might feel more confidence in the deliberations of this House; but, as things are, the alternative is between the free and decisive arbitrament of the people at large and the control of this House under the management of the party system, regulated by all the machinery that that implies.


I wish to speak only on that portion of the Amendment which deals with a national Parliament, or Assembly, or a National Council in Ireland. On 20th April the Prime Minister made the following amazing statement:— I have never concealed from the country, and not only have I never concealed from the country, but I explicitly stated to the country in the clearest possible terms before the election took place, that if the electors gave us a mandate to pass this Bill, we should use the machinery created by the Bill, and use it in this Parliament for the purpose of carrying out Home Rule."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th April, 1911, col. 1112.] It cannot be seriously contended that the electors understood that they were to have Single-Chamber Government for an indefinite period till great constitutional changes had been made irrespective of their will. The average elector knows now since 20th April, when the fact could no longer be concealed, that Home Rule is to be introduced next year. How many electors in Great Britain knew when they were voting at the last election that they were voting for an Irish Parliament, and, if the words of the Prime Minister meant anything, for an Irish Parliament upon the Colonial model? How was it before the electors? Scarcely a word was said on this constitutional question until, during the progress of the election, it became evident that the Government could not be returned to power without the aid of the Nationalist vote,and when that fact became apparent there were a few, but as few as possible, references made to Home Rule. There was not even a suggestion of Home Rule in the Prime Minister's election address. It was not until a persistent Scotch heckler elicited the fact, long after the election started, that the Prime Minister said he was in favour of some form of Home Rule. The Chief Secretary for Ireland in his election address did not make a single reference to Home Rule, and yet he is the Minister responsible for Irish affairs. One would naturally have expected the utmost prominence to be given to an issue which above all others concerns the country which he professes to love so much. Out of the whole Liberal party I have a list of only eighty-three Members who made the faintest allusion to this Constitutional question in their election addresses. I challenge any Member or supporter of the Government to tell the House that he sits here by reason of the fact that he explained to his constituents the effect of Home Rule or even what Home Rule was. It was not until long after this Parliament had assembled that the Prime Minister himself explained that Home Rule was an independent Parliament in Ireland with an executive responsible thereto, a formula which he, a somewhat reluctant pupil, has learnt from his stern master, the hon. Member for Waterford.

The only place where Home Rule was a real issue at the last election was Ulster. Every contest there was fought on this one clear issue, with the result that the Liberal candidates were ignominiously defeated, although they had the direct supervision of the chief Liberal Whip and his most experienced lieutenant. The Unionist Members came back with an increased majority. If that was the result in the only place where this was a living issue, surely we have every reason to expect that if the question were left to the Referendum, as proposed by the Amendment, the verdict of the people would be against the proposal. I do not intend to discuss the argu- ments for or against Home Rule; I simply say that it cannot be argued that any of the fundamental principles underlying the question were before the country at the last election. In 1886 and 1895 the principles and details of the Home Rule Bills had been thoroughly discussed, both in this House and in the Press. Since then a new generation of voters has arisen; circumstances have changed; and this question ought in all justice to be put be-fore the country as a fair and square issue, and the voice of the country taken upon it. Take, for instance, the question of the attendance of Irish Members in this House, or the financial question. If those questions were difficult in former times—and they were—they are now vastly more difficult. It cannot be said that hon. Members explained that there would be an Irish Parliament upon the Colonial model, with power to spend at its own sweet will money found by the British Treasury. It is now admitted that the Irish Exchequer will be bankrupt unless the Imperial Exchequer contributes a huge, indefinite sum for an indefinite period. No British Colony has ever dreamt of asking for such powers. If this question were put to the British taxpayer, as the Amendment suggests, I greatly doubt that he would agree to any such proposal. The Cabinet themselves did not know at the General Election where they stood on this question, nor do they know now. They have appointed a Committee of experts to consult secretly and to advise them secretly with regard to the financial proposals, thereby throwing over the Report of their own Financial Relations Commission of 1896. The Prime Minister stated on 21st February of this year:— The House of Commons may, through the crush of business, or through hasty procedure, pass a measure in an imperfect, incomplete, and even misleading form."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1911, col. 1749.] Supposing Home Rule is next year, the year after, and the third year forced through this House by means of the gag and the guillotine? Remember we cannot change the provisions of this Bill once it is introduced. Supposing, before it passes in 1913–14 this Committee of financial experts finds that the financial provisions of that contemplated Bill, having regard to the effect of such novel questions as old age pensions, state insurance, and the new valuation which are now going on in Ireland and Great Britain, are, to use the words of the Prime Minister, "wholly imperfect, wholly incomplete, and wholly misleading," what is to be the result? Either the financial provisions must be dropped—which means dropping the Bill itself—or a grave injustice will be done either to Ireland or to the people of Great Britain. We have got something like £200,000,009 invested in Ireland for Irish land purchase. Is the British elector not entitled to give his approval to these financial Irish experiments? Surely he ought to know what security there is for this vast advance to a country which was demoralised, not many years ago, by the plan of campaign and the No Rent Manifesto. Has it been explained that the Parliament in Dublin would mean the sole control in Ireland of the judiciary and the police, of the Customs and Excise, taxation and revenue, of all education and all religions—that these must be entrusted to the Irish Parliament, the control of all these things, if you have a Parliament at all worthy of the name? Surely all these things should be placed before the electors, and therefore I, for one, support the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend. I suggest that it is an eminently reasonable Amendment and for these reasons I urge its acceptance upon the House.


I desire to intervene to draw the attention of the House to instances which have never yet been referred to, and which seem to me to be extremely important if the House is to arrive at the right conclusion in regard to the question of the Referendum. From the weighty words which have fallen from the Leader of the Opposition tonight I think there is no one on this side of the House who is not convinced that the ultimate solution which we shall arrive at to settle the constitutional question will be upon the lines of the Referendum. I believe I am right in saying that so far as the Conference was concerned the rumour was—and I believe that rumour had a good deal of truth behind it—that upon one subject at all events both sides of the Conference had come to the conclusion that the Referendum was the proper solution. I want to refer the House to instances which have never been referred to at all in regard to this matter. We have heard speakers on the Government side who have referred to Switzerland and the United States, and on both sides speakers have not only referred to these, but to most of the great Continental Powers of Europe. But what we have not heard, and it seems to me of much more importance, is of certain instances which we can get from our own Colonies. The Constitution of our Colonies is more closely modelled upon the Constitution of the United Kingdom than upon the Constitution of any foreign Power and the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution of the United States, for instance, which is Federal, is not a Constitution which is at all comparable to the Constitution of the United Kingdom. Therefore it becomes more important that the House should look to what is the experience of our own English people across the seas with the Referendum. I have not seen or heard in a single speech—and I have read, I think, every speech which has been made in this House upon the question of the Referendum—any reference whatever to two most important cases in which the Referendum has been used and used with effect.

One of those instances was in 1909 in Natal, when the question of joining the South African Federation was put to the Referendum. Everyone who was familiar with the conditions that obtained in South Africa know that the small Colony of Natal was built up in a different way largely to the other colonies. The position was one which was extremely critical. If there was any possible way in which the Colony of Natal could join the Federation of South Africa in a way which was likely to bring peace, harmony, and consolidation, it was by the adoption of the Referendum for every single citizen of Natal, so that the whole consensus of opinion of the Colony should be obtained in the very best way. I am going to refer to another case that is even more important than that of Natal: that is Queensland. Curiously enough Queensland is absolutely on all-fours with the situation that faces us to-day. With the indulgence of the House, I should just like, as shortly as possible, to give the Constitution of Queensland in 1907. It consisted of a nominated House—most of the Colonies of Australia have either elected Houses or Houses which are partly elected or partly nominated, or Houses which go out of power after five or seven years.

In Queensland there is a partly nominative House. What happened in that case is almost exactly parallel with what has happened in this country at the last two elections. There happened to be returned in Queensland in 1907 no party with an absolute majority. There were three groups. The three groups were nearly alike in numbers, with the exception of the Labour party, which was the smallest group. That party had considerable power, as the smaller groups in this House have. The situation became extremely difficult, because the Prime Minister of Queensland found that by allying itself with the smaller party he was in a position to pass Bills against a very powerful Opposition, an Opposition which I believe was even larger in numbers than the, Government. That particular condition is, I believe, seen at-the present time in this House. So that we find this, that the Government in Queensland, with the aid of a small group, were enabled to checkmate the Opposition. They passed Bills which were of a far-reaching character and very progressive in their scope. They sent them up to the Second Chamber, to the Nominative Chamber, and the Nominative Chamber rejected them. Therefore there happened what we have got in this country, a constitutional deadlock. How was that deadlock settled, because, after all, that is the whole point of this instance from Queensland? The Governor of Queensland, of course, represents the Crown, and when the Prime Minister was unable to pass his progressive legislation through the Upper Chamber, he went to the Governor and asked him to create new Members of the Upper Chamber, so that he might be enabled to pass his legislation. He asked indeed that the Upper Chamber should be swamped. I have endeavoured by questions put to the Secretary of State for the Colonies to elicit whether this matter was in any way referred to the Home Government for their advice for consideration. I am told, or put off—I daresay it was entirely proper—with the suggestion that these great matters of State between the Governors of the Colony and the Home Government are not to be disclosed. But I do think, if the Government could help us by disclosing to us the advice they gave to the Governor of Queensland—


How does this bear upon the proposed new Clause?


I am trying to show the analogy. One of the arguments against the Referendum was that it was revolutionary, and another, put by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, was that it was undemocratic. I want to say, with the permission of the Chair, that the institution has been tried by a distinctly democratic country, by a country as democratic as the world knows, and it is used for the very purpose which we now suggest the Referendum ought to be used, namely, solving these constitutional questions, and if I am in order I should like as shortly as possible to continue—


The hon. Member is perfectly in order in making use of that argument. He was not doing that, but was pursuing another line altogether.


I am extremely sorry I should have transgressed. I was alluding to the fact that I asked questions and was unable to obtain any information from the authoritative head of the Colonial Office of this country. The Governor, in fact, refused to swamp the other House, a very good precedent for the Government in this case, and the Prime Minister of Queensland, with the majority at his back, found himself in an impasse. He passed the Referendum Act for the very purpose, and the sole purpose, of getting rid of the constitutional deadlock, and for no other purpose. I have here the Act, which shows how it is done. The Government here say that this matter is impracticable, and that it cannot be done. They say you cannot put it to the people to say "Aye" or "No." The people will be distracted as in a General Election. I can show hon. Gentlemen opposite the actual Act. We find in the words of that very Act that it shall not only be an Act of the Colonial Legislature, but reserved for His Majesty and the Government the assent to the Referendum Act in Queensland in solving deadlocks between the parties in both Houses. Yet Members of the Government come down here and say we do not understand the Referendum, and it is too hard for the people to understand. One hon. Member opposite said he put the question of the Referendum to the people, and asked whoever heard of it to hold up their hands and found that nobody had ever heard of it; but that seems to me the sort of argument which is addressed to ignorance and ought not to come from the supporters of a Government who themselves sanctioned this particular solution of constitutional deadlocks when they arose in Australia. The solution there is very simple; it only consists of eight or ten Clauses. The title says, "The Act may be cited the Parliamentary Bills Referendum Act of 1908," and then there is an interpretation Clause which I need not read.

Clause 3 says:— For the purposes of this Act a Bill shall be deemed to be rejected for the first time whenever such Bill has during a Session of Parliament not less than one month before the close of the Session been passed by the legislative assembly and transmitted to the legislative council for its concurrence therein. Following from that we get the actual words in the Parliament Bill, to which the resemblance is so close that it looks as if the wording of the Parliament Bill was taken from it. Clause 2 says:— For the purposes of this Act such Bills shall be deemed to have been rejected a second time, And so on.

Clause 4 (1) is important:— Whenever a Bill has been twice rejected by the legislative council, the Governor in council may by proclamation published in the 'Gazette' after the close of the Session in which the Bill was rejected a second time, direct that the Bill so rejected shall be submitted by Referendum to the electors, and a Referendum poll shall accordingly be taken thereon under this Act at the time appointed in that behalf. The publication in the 'Gazette' of such proclamation shall be conclusive evidence that the Bill as last rejected is the same Bill, or substantially the same Bill, as the Bill rejected in the Session last but one preceding, and has been twice rejected by the Legislative Council. (2) When a Bill is so directed to be submitted to a Referendum, a copy of the Bill in the form in which it was finally agreed to by the Legislative Assembly shall within twenty-one days after the issue of the said proclamation be transmitted by the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly to the Home Secretary. I do not think I need go on with all these provisions; then there is the last part of Section 10, which says:— If the Referendum poll is decided in favour of the Bill, the Bill shall be presented to the Governor for His Majesty's assent, and upon receiving such assent the Bill shall become an Act of Parliament in the same manner as if it had been passed by both Houses of Parliament, and notwithstanding any law to the contrary. So we have here actually two instances of this particular solution of the constitutional crisis applied in Queensland by a people who are as progressive as we are, and absolutely as democratic as we are, and possibly more so. The suggestion was made by right hon. Gentlemen opposite that this was an undemocratic measure, and that it undermined representative government, and we heard a great deal about the way in which representative government can be undermined. But what I should like to ask the Government is this. Did they sanction the Referendum Act for the purpose of undermining representative government in Queensland, or for the purpose of getting rid of deadlocks between the two Houses? It must have been one thing or the other. Either they did not like the democratic constitution of Queensland, and wished to have it destroyed, or they saw and admitted that this was a reasonable solution of the difficulty, and for that purpose they advised His Majesty to give assent to this particular Act.

Another suggestion made was that made by the Home Secretary with a considerable amount of force was in reference to the Education Bill, which raised such an enormous amount of feeling between the various parties in the State. "We would suggest," he asked, "such a question being put to a Referendum?" If we never heard of such a question being put to a Referendum, one might say there was a good deal of force in the right hon. Gentleman's argument, but unfortunately for the right hon. Gentleman such a question actually has been put to the Referendum, and again in this most democratic country. The difficulty between the two ideas of secular education and religious education arose in Queensland, and as with us here, people there found it extremely difficult to be reconciled upon these matters. The more deeply you think and feel the more difficult it is to be reconciled upon matters which fundamentally divide people who otherwise are far more closely united than they suspect. I have got here another Bill, and it completely answers the question put by the Government. The first allegation was that our proposal was undemocratic, and the second that it was impracticable. The Bill I refer to is the Religious Instruction in State Schools Referendum Act, 1908, in 'Queensland. This contains a different form of Referendum. It is a very short Act and contains a Schedule in which we find the actual ballot paper which has to go to each one of the electors so that he is able to deal with the actual question of religious or secular education. Section 3 says:— A Referendum polled under this Act shall be taken on the same day as the day of the first General Election which ensues after the passing of this Act. That is an extremely useful suggestion which will enable an immense amount of friction to be avoided. Besides this, if you could arrange that a Referendum should be taken at a General Election you avoid an enormous amount of expense, and you give the country an opportunity of reconsidering their determination and they have a chance of dealing specifically with a specific thing. This is what it says:— And during the same hours and at the same places as are appointed, and if there is no contested election in any electoral division the Referendum poll shall nevertheless be taken in all respects as if that contingency had not arisen. Section 8 deals with the ballot paper for the Referendum, which has to be of a different colour from the paper used for the General Election. Consequently, there is a distinction drawn between the ordinary ballot paper and the special Referendum ballot paper dealing with any particular question. The schedule is extremely instructive.


What country is the hon. Member referring to?




That is not as big a place as Manchester.


I am aware it is a small country, but I do not think the size has anything to do with it when we are considering countries equally democratic and equally progressive. I know there is a certain amount of weight to be attached to the question of size, but this is an interesting experiment I think we can look at with advantage. This is the schedule: The Religious Instruction in State Schools Referendum Act, 1908.

Forward to